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The Left and the Elections
In the United States for anyone who considers him or herself on the Left voting is (and always has been) a misery. One knows that in order to prevent the most miserable and dangerous kind of obscurantism, fundamentalism, and authoritarianism mediated as these are by neo-confederate and neo-fascist strains of considerable extent one must vote for an alternative which while not as loathsome in exactly the same ways is loathsome nonetheless. Furthermore elections and electoral democracy in their present (and long-standing) forms are substantively depleted of any relation at all to democratic practice as the self-determination and self-constitution of populations. And directly related to this: the politico-economic electoral system and its media-disinformational framework and support function as ever the more intensified forms of social delirium, so abject, so rotted, so infantile–and infantalizing–are the virtual and actual contents of the entire process. Jean-Paul Sartre in the early 1970s wrote an article entitled, “Elections: Traps for Assholes”. But Sartre’s polemic and denunciation while decidedly pertinent–true–nonetheless cannot generate an effective strategy that could alleviate the problem elections pose for those on the Left, namely–and banally–that elections do take place and have repercussions. The Left has a long history in relation to elections and parliamentary and representative democracy and the Left’s critique (which takes many different forms in relation to elections and in a wider and more important framework in relation to representative democracy) is always a definitive necessity–and especially of representative democracy albeit that such critiques are almost always deficient in thinking through to the end an actual means by which a transition can be made in mass societies from representative to direct, participatory, inclusive democratic forms and processes. Yet what has sometimes accompanied critiques of elections and what in many ways emanates logically from such critiques, i.e. calls to boycott elections and parliamentary politics or to vote for candidates of smaller parties, etc., while founded on a proper analysis of elections in general or even elections in this or that particular historico-political moment or conjuncture nonetheless as a historico-political strategy still cannot solve or forestall or eliminate the aforementioned problem posed to the Left by elections in their really existing forms.
Among the immediate problems–certainly when it comes to individualized choice–there is the problem of the desire for investment, the desire to rid oneself of a misery that in actuality cannot be eliminated until such time as elections and representative democracy in their present forms and in their domination by present socio-economic and socio-media structures have been thoroughly transformed. If you are on the Left you cannot hope to vote with positive investment. And the exceptions, rare exceptions (the recent election in Greece [and hopefully the next one even more] which in any event utilized proportional representation unavailable in the thoroughly antiquated and anti-democratic U.S. system), only prove this rule. Certainly in the U.S. with the particular features of its winner-take-all electoral system and its at once anachronistic and reactionary Electoral College–and its long-standing duopolistic instantiation–you cannot find a candidate who will “represent” the content of your politics or be an object of adequate emotional introjection, indeed, you will always find the opposite. In everyday parlance you cannot “vote your conscience” and still less your politics. And because of this the eternally ubiquitous affective and intellectual state represented by the proper and necessary notion/feeling that one is (in the ever beautiful words of Mario Savio–and Fanny Lou Hamer!) too profoundly “sick at heart” to participate and give one’s vote to total subservience and to the systematic social delirium of the electoral-duopolistic-media conglomeration and distortion cannot nevertheless claim to be an efficacious directive: individual boycott is never consequential (even for oneself!) and sizable boycott cannot seem to provide an emancipatory impetus in relation to the trajectory of the electoral system and the socio-political system. Truism and platitude which nevertheless cannot be avoided: elections will be held, will be manipulated–and will manipulate in turn–and will be filled with the most unattractive kinds of content and will have the most unattractive kinds of results. Executive and legislative power (and judicial power) are going to be claimed, taken, assumed even if there is a boycott that is not merely sporadic, but rather emphatically organized, concentrated, and actualized by the Left–or even if the Left were able to actualize a significant third party vote, albeit that this last circumstance would be consequential and would be worth the trouble. In Egypt there were calls from the Left to boycott the first post-Mubarak election because of the absolute immobility of a presidential runoff in which there was the non-choice among two candidates of the Right, i.e. a representative of the authoritarian militarist regime whose political (but not military) clique had been supplanted and a representative of the dominant theocratico-bureaucratic party. Of course that this truism about the inertia of system and sovereignty is often pronounced (absent critical and emancipatory content) in the United States in utter bad faith and with all the shallow, tawdry, and stupid attributes that accompany every kind of anti-Leftism, certainly by centrists and by center-left apologists for the Democratic Party, and with a complete misunderstanding of and contempt for the actualities of politics, socio-history, and the Left in general or in particular, should not dissuade someone on the Left from noting the ratio about the inertial forces and circumstances in question. And Sartre in his essay states just this fact while finally ignoring it: the refusal to vote still co-signs the assumption to power by the dominant parties. His solution, i.e. to organize against established power outside parliamentarism and electoralism, is certainly a sanction of one of the principal necessities obliging the Left, but–again–it does not solve the problem posed by elections.
But there is in almost all situations no positive solution to the problem. In Greece there has been a partial solution given a situation of absolute crisis which has happily led to the collapse of the prevailing duopolistic electoralism of Right/Center-Right. But would a boycott en masse in Egypt have led to the collapse of the duopolistic stranglehold or would power merely have been assumed the more easily? For the Left, the electoral problem remains and remains. But one of the principles that should be drawn from this is that the ever-present and unceasing argument between those who insist that one must simply vote the lesser evil and those who refuse on the basis of a very proper critique of the lesser evil as being, mutatis mutandis, an equivalent or even in certain moments and in relation to certain processes, a greater evil, is an argument that in almost all its past and present forms is at once useless and an argument that cannot be resolved if by resolution one means that the electoral problem will be solved. Consequently, in the immediate situation and in most situations, there is only one way for the Left and for individual leftists to look at voting in the U.S.–but it is true in other countries as well. Voting should be seen not as a question of greater and lesser evil–since often the lesser evil can function, even qua lesser evil, as an elementally destructive force, which is to say that the signifying figure of “lesser evil” already disfigures and distorts electoral and political actualities, but rather as that which poses a meteorological minimal choice. You can have a bad rain storm (the Democrats) or you can have a hurricane (the Republicans). Does this mean the Democrats are not quite as terrible? Only in part. Some of the effects (and affects!) of a bad rain storm are exactly the same as the effects/affects of a hurricane. Either one can flood your city entire. Either one can knock down trees, power-lines, etc. Either one can…drown you. And some effects can be worse: imagining that a bad rain storm is not quite as bad as a hurricane you don’t take as many precautions and, imagining thereby that it is possible to take a quick drive to the store, you find that your house gets damaged all the more and you and your car get swept off the road by a river flooding its banks, etc. But short of eliminating bad meteorological conditions, bad meteorological conditions do exist. And they produce misery, but ipso facto the misery is ineliminable and the desire for a condition absent misery while altogether proper is a vain and self-defeating investment. And in this sense the feeling of misery at having to participate in an electoral system of “greater and lesser evils”, at having no more choice than two very inhospitable meteorological conditions, at having to vote outside one’s politics, is already a form of investment even though–the paradox is also ineliminable!–the feeling cannot be avoided, alas.
But refusing to vote (or “voting one’s conscience or politics” by voting for a minority party) is also a form of investment (one invests in the positive feeling of denunciation and insubmission) and this refusal has problematic effects–as of course does choosing amongst the two meteorological choices! But given all this, the Left and leftists should disengage from any thought that voting can warrant investment either: 1) positively by virtue of voting for a minority party candidate or by virtue of imagining that a majoritarian party candidate might just be an exception to the rule of misery (the mistake of many in 2008 who saw in Barack Obama something other than a scarcely lesser evil) or 2) negatively by abstention and refusal with the feeling that one has engaged in an act of consequence–bracketing, of course, the appearance of a consequentially emancipatory abstention, i.e. the Great Day of a general strike of the electorate or even better the Great Day of a general strike tout court. One should simply and dispassionately (at least if one is in a swing-state) vote for (but not support and indeed vehemently criticize) the Democrat whether it be at the presidential level (in the present case the willful center-right true-believer, ideologue, and submissive careerist, Barack Obama) or whether it be at the congressional level–and be done with it. Be done with it: because the unceasing argument between those who denounce the Democrats quite properly and refuse them their vote and those who share this denunciation in full or in part but insist that a third party vote is a vote for the Republicans is an argument that remains external to the meager truth content of elections. But–and this is the principle: whatever the result of any election one must stand up to and confront power, one must seek to transform all the socio-economic institutions and mechanisms, but it is better if the power, the illicit and miserable power one faces, is the power of the Democrats. It is this last specification that of course will immediately begin the argument again. Of course, even this “vote for the Democrats and be done with it” is not as easy as all that. The present author knows this very well having always had difficulty following his own advice: in his first three participations in presidential elections he voted successively by write-in for tickets of Cecil Taylor and Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor and Andrew Hill, and then (as posthumous tribute) Ella Baker and Emma Goldman (I would have liked to have included Rosa Luxembourg so as to make this an inimitable and–finally after two millenium–the first triumverate which could win admiration as opposed to scorn!). But I should add that these votes took place in states where the Democrats were assured of winning.
How then can the aforementioned useless and ever-recurring argument be eliminated? The logic of the argument forms a chiasm, a crossing pattern. Each side holds a truth not so much over and against a false moment on the other side but in relation to a moment of non-address or absence on the other side. But as such each side of the argument forms an unsatisfactory whole. In the present moment one side of the argument, instantiated in an advocacy of a vote for the Democrats, is put forth (to cite a widely read example) by Bill Fletcher and Carl Davidson. And their general position can be found echoed by many, although at times in quite dishonest and muddled fashion, as for example, Tom Hayden. On the other side there are those who refuse the Democrats the vote and put forth vehement criticisms of arguments in favor of voting for the Democrats and in particular arguments against Fletcher and Davidson. Among the best representatives of this position are articulations put forth by the editors of the journal, the Black Agenda Report, Bruce Dixon, Glen Ford, and Margaret Kimberly. Certainly Dixon, Ford, Kimberly, and others on the Left who share their perspective give incisive relief to something very essential. They refuse the Democrats the vote because of a very sound critique of the Democratic Party’s long-standing ideological inclination to and politico-policy efficiency in enacting portions of the Right’s program. In the present epoch the Clinton/Obama trajectory follows ideologico-internally and politico-externally the logic and the diktats of finance capital and thereby helps to further and ever the more cumulatively undo the remaining vestiges of an always underdeveloped U.S. social-welfare state. The core of this argument is that the Democrats are more efficient at dismantling the social-welfare state (such as it is…) and more efficient at furthering aspects of neo-liberalism and austerity. It is the Obama regime and not the Bush/Cheney regime which is able to definitively put Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc. on the chopping block. And the other side of Ford and Dixon’s argument is that when the Democrats are in power and particularly now that the executive branch is occupied by an African American the Black masses (whom for Dixon and Ford represent the most stalwart defense against the depredations of authoritarian and capitalist power) and the Left are immobilized, acquiesce to that which they would not acquiesce if the executive branch were occupied by a Republican. Here then it is not a question that there is no difference between the parties but rather that the Democrats are actually the more efficacious conduit of the reactionary economic, national security, and war policies of the Republicans. As Glen Ford writes, the Democrats and Obama in this instance are “the more effective evil”.
Yet, I think the calibration of difference Dixon, Ford, and Kimberly posit between the Democrats and Republicans is too narrowly focused. The permutations, repercussions, and actualities of the Democrats in power as opposed to the Republicans cannot be reduced simply to the moment in which the Democrats do serve as a conduit for Republican policies. Because this “conduit” is actually more a function of the cumulative sum quantitatively and temporally of Republican and Democratic consensus. The argument that the Democrats are a better conduit for some right-wing policies leaves out of the equation that many of the policies enacted by the conservative Democratic regimes of Carter, Clinton, and Obama are policies that are generated by the cumulative and automatic advance of the politico-economic system in its totality, policies generated by the duopolistic consensus/symbiosis and its gathering force over time–and as a function of the permanence of certain structural institutions and inertias. That Obama has advanced the National Security State and the National Surveillance State farther than Bush did, that he has advanced the interests of financial Capital and the corporatization of education further than Bush, etc. etc. forgets that these policies and prescriptions would have advanced by the inertial force of the system regardless of which party or individual won. And this inertial force is itself cumulative in other ways. Each time the Democratic Party wins back executive or congressional power there is the assumption on the part of the Left that the obscurantist, authoritarian practices of the Right will be diminished albeit only in small degrees and that there will be a certain “return” to the norms (as opposed to the abrogations) of procedure and power. But each time the re-normalization takes places only in a more diminished and lesser way. And in the Obama administration many of these returns have not taken place even in a diminished way. But nonetheless the absence of a generalized “liberal” political ethos (possessed to a certain degree by Democrats) on the part of Republican Party and the Right, their disaffiliation from and opposition to discursive, procedural, democratic, and egalitarian modernities even in their weakest forms, has an effectivity across the entirety of the socio-economic, socio-political, socio-juridical, and socio-cultural realms. Sotomayer and Kagan were weak, minimalist appointments. Other such weak, minimalist actions and policies can be found in Democratic regimes. But they will not be found in Republican ones. These are banalities. But they are not nothing. And they are not the flood of authoritarian obscurantism. Even the ways in which various politico-demographic groups, i.e. Black, liberal, left-liberal, might fall into apologies for as opposed to oppositions to a Democratic regime is outweighed–as a sum on a scale of comparisons–by the force of authoritarian obscurantism in executive and congressional power. The Republican insurgency and obscurantist authoritarianism seeks absolutist power. No mistake should be made about this. Yet many, particularly among liberals and left-liberals, cannot differentiate between the long-standing left-wing denunciation and cry, “fascism!” in forms that were abstract or misapplied or which had become wooden automatisms of language, cannot distinguish these from very incisive and legitimate critiques of the authoritarian-absolutist aspects of what has been for more than thirty years the actual dream of the Right. This also cannot be under-emphasized. This insurgency on the part of the Right linked as it is to the immense power of portions of corporate-global power is an anthropological and eco-planetary danger of the first order.
Nixon could function as the conduit of certain welfare state and ecological policies just as Clinton and even more Obama could serve as the conduits of certain reactionary and neo-liberal economic and anti-welfare state policies not so much because of some law of “inverse efficacy”, i.e. Republicans as conduits for the Democrats and vice-versa, but because the system of duopolistic/politico-media consensus is an ever-functioning producer over time and thus by accumulation of the conditions and preparations for such policies. These policies’ moment of fruition is certainly related to the actions of specific parties, forces, conjunctures, and individuals, but the moment of neo-liberal fruition–of austerity, social state destruction, etc.–is not the sole endeavor of the Democrats. And even if the Democrats serve as the better conduits, I still think that the sum of injustice and damage meted out by their regimes globally and domestically to vast populations, populations counted–this is important–in relation to each and every existential and human singularity, is not a sum as great as those of the Republicans since the l980s. Certainly Carter’s regime was merely a holding pattern domestically while also incubating ever further the financializations of Capital which had begun in the early 1970s, while on the foreign policy side Carter’s regime was completely acquiescent to all foreign authoritarianisms and repressions in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, etc. etc. if not actually aggressive and disastrous in certain foreign policy areas such as Afghanistan, etc. Carter’s second term would have been no better. Yet, a Carter second term and a subsequent Mondale one–or two–had there been such would in each and every similarity to the Reagan-Bush continuum still not have brought the instantiation of the Right’s authoritarian power and political culture–and insurgency–that the Reagan-Bush continuum did bring. And without this instantiation a generation of Democratic politicians such as Clinton and Obama would not have internalized as much of the received neo-liberal and center-Right ideologies as they in fact did, which internalization led and leads them to precisely that which they do. Doubtless even in this context a Clinton regime (made possible it should be added–and as a corrective to all the delusional adulation of Clinton’s “political genius”–only by the completely contingent and rare circumstance of a Perot candidacy) could have claimed only a slightly less sum of damage than would have been amassed by a second Bush term, propelled as a second term would have been by the ever-increasing accumulation of momentum on the part of the Right’s politico-media aggrandizement. The 1994 Democratic loss of congressional majority had far more to do with an historical arrival point than with the Right’s opposition to Clinton and certainly not with what Clinton actually did–although it could have been avoided had Clinton and the Democrats sought to actualize both in discursive and political practice an embodied social democratic as opposed to neo-liberal program. And regardless of which of the parties won in 96, Glass-Steagal was a target whose time had come–to fall, given that is the Democrats entirely neo-liberal ideology and practice. Looking backwards, a Humphrey regime for all that it would have prosecuted the Vietnam War in a very similar fashion to the prosecution of the war by the Nixon-Kissinger regime (including the incursion into Cambodia), for all that it would not have constrained in the slightest the war against Black Liberation movements and the Left carried out by the FBI and other national security institutions, etc. would not have had a Justice Department as lawless as the one of Mitchell, would not in and of itself as a regime have been as lawless, would not have given us the jurisprudential and corporate insurgency of Rehnquist and Powell (not to mention the attempted Carlswell/Haynsworth neo-confederate insurgency, etc). And while–to choose the most proximate temporal example–an intellectually deficient historian and center-Right idolator of Democratic Party power, Mark Lilla, can in a recent New York Times Sunday Book Review sneer and smirk at a McGovern who he evidently thinks represented–this is in keeping with the kind of received, reigning, and prefabricated opinion that forms the totality of Lilla and his milieu’s neuronal and affective capabilities–“extremist” folly, a McGovern regime would have been much the better than a Nixon, Humphrey, or Carter regime. Was McGovern a Henry Wallace–or vice-versa? I cannot say given that they did not, alas, ascend to power. Were either of them an Allende? I don’t know. And it is probable that a McGovern regime–given the way permanent government structures and trajectories function–would have included the CIA’s destruction of the Chilean regime (although perhaps not) and during a McGovern regime the day to day operations of the ruling elites would have been very much the same as transpired under Nixon. Nonetheless McGovern would have reigned while accompanied by still potent and intact mass movements so that the possibilities of enhancing the social state along the lines of social democratic Northern and Western Europe would have been greater than under Humphrey and might possibly have led to universal health insurance as but one example–and if it didn’t then this regime would have had to be deemed a failure no matter what else it did. As for the Vietnam War, well, that is the conundrum of establishment power and inertia–including McGovern. But no matter what McGovern did immediately in the winter/spring of 1973, it would have been superior to what Nixon/Kissinger did. Moreover, it would have opened up the possibility of truly defeating establishment Democratic power–which in reality overcame the McGovern impetus–and establishing the Democratic Party as a social democratic party.
Of course, the McGovern opening and the forces that propelled it were defeated. And even in the epoch before the success of the Reagan and corporate insurgencies, a list of the Democratic/Republican policy similarities was extensive. And such a list has in the intervening period grown the greater extensively and intensively. Bruce Dixon recently published a cogent article showing all the ways that the Obama and Romney regimes would be similar. His list of similarities reached 15. Such a list could be much longer. But at a certain point in certain areas differences emerge and the sum totals of misery and destruction will find the Democratic total less albeit that in some specific areas it would be more. And always it should be added that as much as the issue of the Supreme Court is the blackmail liberals and left-liberals always trot out in bad faith against the Left and against the Left’s critique of Democratic/Republican convergence, nonetheless and as with everything else in the past thirty years–increasingly–the Supreme Court is an issue one because it constitutes an area where damage does take place in such a way that it cannot be willed away as mere blackmail despite the evident bad faith with which this issue is too often used.
Dixon, Ford, and Kimberly’s analyses–incisive, important, and ever needed as they are–do not escape the fallacy of bracketing the actuality of destruction that takes place under Republican power (and about which they know better than most) and do not escape the fallacy of bracketing the question of electoral inertia and sovereignty in a winner-take-all system. On the other hand their advocacy position apart from their analyses suffers the fallacy of investment, in this case investment in electoral refusal. But there is a moment where their refusal and its advocacy could be saved. If it could be demonstrated that refusing the Democrats the vote punished the Democrats in such a way that the Democrats would in this manner be pushed to the left and if it could be demonstrated that Democratic regimes–and especially the Obama regime–truly enfeeble the oppositional capacties and power of the Left and of the Black masses. As for the question of punishing the Democrats, I think this could be done if there were a mass strategy over many election cycles that could be substantively implemented. But this kind of strategy needed to be undertaken thirty years ago and more. Because already commencing in 1980 the Republican party and the Right in general had been able to form their insurgency in a substantive manner and it has grown ever the more powerful and dangerous over the span of the last thirty years. But punishment cannot ever be meted out in one election cycle. Thus now and in each of the past several election cycles since the l990s there is real danger in allowing the Right an easier ascension to power. Still and all, it is incontrovertible that the Democrats are intractable outside anything but their electoral punishment. This could still be undertaken if the disparate forces of the Left could organize such a strategy and organizational force and could agree that it would take a generation to enact, it being understood that a generation of the Right in power today would undoubtedly reek vicious havoc on the global population and on the globe itself, which havoc the Democrats will reek too as everyone understands. But it is senseless to merely invoke the necessity of punishment as the only electoral strategy worth supporting. The thesis is true, but its effectivity is false as mere invocation–and following it out individually is merely a form of false investment. Again, outside the actuality of a force over time that has already been organized and enacted, positing this thesis both as thesis and as tactic does gather within itself a truth, but only within a useless argument about voting or not voting for the Democrats (and limit this to an argument about swing states if you want). The proper thing is to consistently present vehement critiques of the Democrats and never offer any apologies for their actions–even if and while voting for them.
On the other hand I do not think that Ford, Kimberly, and Dixon’s notion that a Democratic Party out of executive power serves as less of a conduit of the Right’s desires. Here again the question of historical accumulation is the more operational variable. In every cycle since 1980 Democratic congressional power has always far too easily given to the Right and this “giving” has increased in the past three decades. On the other hand, I would argue with Dixon and Ford’s contention that the Black masses have stood as the most important bulwark against the advancement of the neo-liberal trajectory of the past three decades, a bulwark that has been disabled by the Obama regime. Certainly this population is the bulwark of the Democratic Presidential electorate and certainly portions of it have too reflexively defended the Obama regime–but this defensive posture obtained in relation to the Clinton regime and previous Democratic regimes even if the Obama regime is a special case. But the strongest bulwark of any non-Right wing opposition to a Democratic regime exists now as ever before within the disparate elements of the Left in general and of which the tide of the Black Liberation movements has been a central and in many ways a special and overdetermining element and force both in the history of the country and indeed globally–and not unilaterally within the Black population per se which in any case contains institutions and forces which operate as bulwarks in non-liberationist ways. But this aside, I do not think that to whatever degree portions of the Left and the liberal and left-wing Black oppositions have been the more disabled by the Obama regime outweighs as a reason to withhold the Democrats a vote the fact that while the Democrats in power never claim triumphalist mandates, the Right increasingly does claim and seeks in every possible way to enact a triumphalist mandate (happily advanced and trumpeted by dominant media forces and structures), which triumphalist mandate the Democrats either do not contest or contest in the weakest possible ways or at times–many times–willingly abet and help along. Democratic regimes do tend to disable and draw into complacency and quiescence portions of the liberal and left-liberal population and these regimes damage in significant fashion the social fabric in its entirety, but the oppositional charge Republican regimes give the Black population and the Left is outweighed by the damage the Right in power (and out of power too!) does and–given the the law of socio-historical accumulation I have been citing in relation to the past three decades–will increasingly do in an epoch that has reached anthro-climatological limit points.
In short, the trajectory of Kimberly, Dixon, and Ford’s admirable and admirably vehement critique of the Democratic regime does not enable them to resolve the problem of elections for the Left. But I think it is less a qualitative problem of their analysis and politics and more a problem of what I call the constant problem of fashioning a truly supple rhetorico-pedagogical discourse-politics (which is something very different from the insipid and politically and pedagogical naive technocratic reductionisms and scientisms of George Lakoff, etc). Everything would be transformed if they were to reconstitute their presentation in this manner: concede immediately that the danger of the Right is real nothwithstanding the dangers posed by Democratic regimes such as those of Carter, Clinton, Gore (if he had stood more steadfast in Florida), and Obama and concede immediately that voting with the sole purpose of preventing the ascension of the Right is an acceptable course albeit one rejected by the authors. These concessions immediately pull the rhetorico-pedagogical rug out from under proponents of a Democratic vote. Having done this, Kimberly, Ford, and Dixon could then easily procede to the critique of the Democrats as the more effective conduit, a critique presented in the strategic context that only continuous and vehement opposition to the Democrats whether in or out of electoral season (and especially during the electoral season) can constitute a real as opposed to stop-gap efficacy.
On the other side those who advocate voting for the Democrats as a way of preventing further encroachments and devestations by a Right that is quite properly perceived as increasingly dangerous not just domestically and globally but also anthropologically and eco-planetarily suffer an even greater fallacy when they have recourse to impugning vehement critics of the Democrats whom they denounce as abettors of the possibility of Republican electoral triumphs–greater fallacy because they do not understand the most elementary of things, namely that ceaseless and vehement criticism of the Democrats is at once essential but does not preclude also recognizing the necessity of voting for them and indeed actually voting for them, at least in swing states….One can walk and chew gum at the same time. It is the position of the present author. Ceaselessly criticize the Democrats while at the national level dispassionately vote for them (but feel free to figuratively and only figuratively[!] spit on the ballot if the present author’s council to exit the trap of electoral investment of any kind proves impossible to follow). Moreover–and this is again the elemental aspect of the matter : the position of those who advocate voting for the Democrats but also criticize those who during the electoral sequence continue to criticize the Democrats misunderstand the nature of the present political situation, namely that without the Left’s ceaseless and fierce criticism of the Democratic Party and its operatives whether Pelosi or Jarrett or Axelrod or Obama or Geithner or the Congressional Black Caucus, etc. etc., this party becomes less and less able of serving as a (very minimal and scarcely effective) dike against the increasing flood, the increasing socio-global viciousness of the Right. I say it again: this debate about whether to vote for the Democrats is useless because it is a chiasm. Yes, those who denounce the Democrats are absolutely correct in their analysis and absolutely correct in the vital importance of continually keeping this analysis front and center, but in advocating a refusal of a Democratic vote they are mistaken in the electoral aspect of their position because they desire something they cannot have, i.e. investment in voting or not voting or voting for a social-democratic or left option. But they also make a political mistake and a politico-analytic mistake because they conflate the strategy of refusing the Democrats their vote with a strategy that can actually in every discrete moment (absent a sustained strategy emphatically and already organized over several election cycles) blunt the harm the Democrats do both as a party in power and as a de-politicizing force in relation to the liberal electorate and in relation to the Left in general. But it is a political mistake that while it should be avoided because its premisses do not hold up in the discrete form of their fashioning, is nevertheless a lesser one compared to the mistake of their liberal and even Left opponents who think that criticizing the Democrats will endanger the electoral chances of the Democrats and who also seem to think that criticizing the Democrats cannot coexist with voting for them. Consequently their efforts to mute the criticisms of others has no positive function at all and indeed has a terribly negative function in terms of their very own electoral goal. But worse than this: their political analysis and critique of the Democrats becomes falsified in their advocacy of an electoral Democratic vote, indeed they end up presenting a picture of the Democratic Party’s practice that lacks a relation to the real: they present a Democratic Party that is more positive than it is in reality. Tom Hayden’s recent piece is a typical example of this. It is simply a falsification for Hayden to argue that Obama backed off of single-payer health universalism only when forced by necessity to do so. Obama never supported this policy in any kind of actuality and his regime did–and will continue to do–everything to disable it. Those on the Left or even the Liberal-Left who advocate voting for the Democrats as prevention politics against the Right damage their case when they either inflate, consciously or unconsciously, through bad faith or bad analysis, the record and the realities of Democratic regimes. Rhetorically one must show how the parties cleave together so as all the more to be able to argue that nonetheless the danger of the Democrats as a potentially better conduit in instances is yet outweighed by the Republicans as simultaneous conduit–and flood. It is not by exaggerating the Democratic difference but actually by showing it in its scarce difference that one can make the better case for leftists voting for the Democrat. Since there is no already organized electoral solution for the Left, the abiding precept should be that the Right should be stopped wherever it is possible to stop the Right–and that one is impaired not at all either politically or psychologically by simply pulling the lever for the Democrat and then being done with it. But criticisms of the Democrats should in fact be increased intensively and extensively and all the more during electoral seasons (which in the U.S. is a permanent season). Otherwise one abdicates not only the politics of the Left but one abdicates the only possible politics of effectivity when it comes to trying to further the program of the Left and stopping the Right–and altering and blunting in whatever way possible the deleterious politics of the Democrats.
However, there are, I should add, instances, at the margin and rare, and almost exclusively at the level of local elections where voting for a Green Party or other left-liberal or left-wing candidate outside an effort already sustained over time can represent a possible partial escape from the overriding electoral dilemma and misery–and electoral/media structural-semiotic delirium. Voting for Ralph Nader in 2000 when it appeared there might be the possibility of the Green Party obtaining 5% of the vote and qualifying for ballot and greater media and perhaps even debate visibility in subsequent elections, etc. was a very valid consideration and act. The subsequent and continuing vilification and attempted erasure from public of Ralph Nader on the part of the Democratic Party and its supporters, the media system, and many liberals, left-liberals, and even leftists, etc. is one of the great ethical and ethico-political failures of our present epoch. I will add, however, that given all the features of the politico-electoral situation in 1992, 1996, 2000, it would have been better if Nader had entered the Democratic primaries rather than running as a third party candidate. He could immediately have begun garnering 25% to 30% of the vote and this would have led to a partial alteration of the state of media discourse, which, thereby, would have helped him increase his percentage beyond 30%, an increase that would have been consequential and all the more given the Democratic Party/media-corporate onslaught and hysteria that this would have brought about. I should also add that if there were a proportional representation voting system in the U.S. (or a run-off system) either in presidential or congressional elections or both voting outcomes would be quite similar to what is found in other countries and in this sense an authentic Left party could easily win (and even without an alteration of the media universe which restricts “facts” and “ideas” to the narrow ideological band between Right and Center-Right) 10% to 15% of the vote as could a Green Party (if the two were independent of one another)–with a total of 20/25/30 % for Left/Green combined–although in such a system the neo-fascist vote, no longer required to vote for the Republicans, could also reach 10%. The distress of liberals and leftists in France in 2002 when the neo-fascist Le Pen won a fifth of the vote and displaced the Socialist Party candidate, Jospin, in a run-off for president against the conservative, Jacques Chirac, did not represent the calamity exclaimed by so many in France when compared to the fact that in the U.S. neo-fascist, neo-confederate, and neo-fundamentalist strands are all folded into the Republican Party so that it is an actuality that a neo-fascist party can and did and does control the executive, the judicial, and the legislative branches of government. One should not forget that if the Republican regime of Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, et. al. failed so profoundly in its attempts to “refashion” Iraq–but succeeded so easily in vastly accelerating the extent of the already existing Security/Surveillance/Authoritarian State–it was not only because a democratic refashioning of Iraq was never the intention, but also because this would never have been possible given the authoritarian consciousness, ethos, ideology, and politics held by Cheney et. al. If for example one were to have switched the roles of Hussein and Cheney, the one now in charge of the U.S., the other of Iraq, they would have done–given their shared authoritarian and brutalist assumptions about what and how a society should be organized and run–exactly what the other actually did. Cheney, now set free from and unconstrained by the (weakening) balances of power and the (weakening) proceduralist mechanisms of representative-plutocratic democracy in the U.S., would have been free to aggrandize personal power and give reign to imperialist/repressive/authoritarian/dictatorial foreign and domestic measures, whereas Hussein, constrained by the aforementioned balances and proceduralisms of power and fiat, would have merely invaded Iraq, secured secret agreements with corporate and energy-corporate power, advanced structures of surveillance, authority, rendition, torture, etc. etc. This immediately evident and obvious homology of authoritarian and anti-democratic consciousness whose differentiation in power would only reflect societies differing in their relative efficacies of constraint and procedure was something the so-called “liberal hawks” never fathomed in their support for the Bush-Cheney regime and enterprise while also never fathoming all of the obvious deleterious results in terms of international and domestic law, procedure, socio-political and geo-political fabric, etc. that would immediately emanate from invasion and conquest.
As for Obama, Clinton, Carter et. al. it should be said that one must not conflate their generalized personal “ethos” (the manner in which they “belong” to a certain liberal aspect of our modernity’s zeitgeist, i.e. in person they would recognize the illegitimacy of racism, sexism, intolerance, inequality, socio-economic disparities, etc.) with their center-right and right-ward particularized political-personal ethos, ratio, calculation, ideology and actions, the latter series in its entirety providing them the basis of their self-congratulatory self-identification and self-esteem as self-imagined “wise and mature political actors” ready to do the things necessary to “really advance [global capital's] progress”. In the case of Obama the center-right form of this self-congratulatory self-identification could clearly be found in the pages of his 2006, The Audacity of Hope, where he presented the Right’s image of the Democratic Party as his own (the Democratic Party as the reflex possessor of outdated notions of welfare statism, unionism, public education, etc.) and then proposed as if it would be a “progressive” alternative a set of “reforms” of the Democratic Party that would imbue the Party ever the more with all the received notions of neo-liberal ideology and center-right “triangulation”. Austerity and slightly less draconian versions of the Right’s notion of “reforming” (i.e. privatizing) Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Education, Postal Service, and all the other supports of socio-commons life and justice, etc. etc. etc. are precisely the animating logic of the politics of Clinton, Obama, etc. Obama’s book and his critique of the Democratic Party showed that overriding his personal “liberal” ethos and connection to the liberal zeitgeist (which “ethos” makes him sincerely believe he is a “progressive”), Obama self-identified in terms of the self-conceived “historical role” he sought for himself as becoming and being the leading figure in definitively bringing about the seizure of all Social State forms by market and market-fiscal imperatives, understanding of course that “market” means but the plutocratic/oligarchic monopolized steering mechanisms of corporate conglomeration (which self-identification also enables an Obama, a Clinton, etc. to sincerely believe in their own “progressivism”!). Parenthetically: the constant speculation on the part of liberals, left-liberals and even some leftists during the past three years as to why Obama has not acted in accordance with his campaign discourse and “positions” could easily have been avoided and the seeming “dilemma” solved if they would simply have read the opening chapters of his book (or simply observed his itinerary as State Senator and then Senator, etc.).
Yet, the existence of this generalized-personal “liberal ethos”, as opposed to a particularized-political-personal “neo-liberal ideology”, although it seeps very little into the political ethos and the political ideology, analytic, and actions of an Obama or Clinton or Carter or Democratic Party officials in general, nonetheless marks an existing aspect not possessed by those belonging to the Right and to the Republican Party milieu and realm, given that this party for more than forty years now (and definitively by l980) has been an obscurantist insurgency (authoritarian, neo-fascist, neo-confederate, neo-fundamentalist, etc.) committed to unilateral practices of domination and power and completely disaffiliated from and hostile to discursive modernity, which is to say hostile to any will-to-truth and to procedural methods and rationalities of law, of science, of logico-factual verification and dialogical and democratic intersubjectivty, etc. and disaffiliated and hostile to other modernities save for its advocacy of the modernity of savage Capital as opposed to barely-regulated and still savage-enough(!) Capital. The notion that “today’s” Republican Party has been radicalized to the right is false or only true in quantity but not at all in quality. Its present ideologies and itineraries were already in place as the party’s and as the Right’s dominant trajectory four and more decades ago albeit that it has been cumulatively increasing and intensifying in its effects (augmented by the Democrats contribution to these effects) over the past three decades. Nor in the case of Obama should one conflate the positive symbolic and symbolic-practical resonance of the election to the presidency of a Black American (and the habitation of the White House by a Black family) with the actualities of Obama the empirical individual or Obama the empirical elected official. The result of any of the aforementioned conflations and confusions is that one will remain continually puzzled by the actions of Obama and the Democrats and one will remain continually in a state of delusional and ill-founded hope that the next time around (or in a “second term”) this or that Democrat (Carter, Clinton, Obama, etc.) will act in relation to a social-democratic program (other than at the margins and feebly) rather than in the actuality of their support for the continuing neo-liberal destruction of all vestiges of a social state which already from the start has been weaker in the United States than in other wealthy countries (in part because the original New Deal social/welfare state constructions where all Jim Crowed constructions), a destruction the trajectory of which is the privatization/confiscation/absorption/accumulation of the socio-commons and society/nature tout court. While the Republicans always seek to shape the electorate and the “public” on the basis of a ceaseless discourse-practice of falsification, the Democrats always seek merely to appeal to the electorate (“appealing to voters” is the standard media and party-political functionaries received-notion of what political practice should consist), an electorate they take to be the one that Right presents as if it were an actuality. The Republicans see the electorate and “the public” as a malleable entities whereas the Democrats see the electorate and the public as already constituted blocs each with static and permanent attributes, attributes they read in the form given to these by the Republicans both in falsified discourse and in the effects brought about by the dominance of this falsified discourse in media discourse. So long as the Democrats constitute the entirety of their practice on the basis of appealing to voting blocs as opposed to trying to reshape publics and the public (and especially the evanescent and protean phantom that “is” “independent voters”), but reshaping not by offering a “message”, they will always be in a precarious position in terms of electoral results and moreover these “blocs” will always remain in perception and partly in reality permanently staic entities. But this reshaping can only be done by consistently presenting forms of knowledge about economic and socio-political processes and effects, forms of knowledge which begin by undoing and unknotting the central mythologies about the way state economies work, about the relations of individual and family livelihood and wealth to taxation, state spending, and the social fabric tout court, and which undoing and unknotting must find rhetorico-pedagogical forms that will boldly seek to legitimize social-democratic and left-wing conceptions of socio-political and socio-economic life. Only the legitimation of social-democratic and left-wing ideas–and not the pablum of “progressivism”–can begin to undo the politico-duopolistic and politico-media conglomeration. That the parties on a daily basis carry out focus group polling to refine “messages” only confirms the positivist mysticism contained in the Democratic conception that they must appeal to a static bloc characterized by a permanent essence. The Democrats simply try and refine in ever and ever more proximate ways a “message” to this permanent “essence” that in actuality is founded upon structures that are evanescent. Put Ralph Nader, Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, Lani Guinier, Robert Wolff, Glen Greenwald, etc. (I merely cite well-known names) or for that matter Glen Ford, Bruce Dixon, and Margaret Kimberly on CNN and on the networks every day as principal commentators and all polling data would change within a month. The “electorate”, the “public”, the so-called “independent voters,” are entities without substance. Given the present forms of politico-media conglomeration, the “electorate” and the “public” are whatever is put into them. The so-called blocs of voters are more than malleable but the Democrats merely give them precisely that which always keeps them the same.
There is of course another strand to this. All Democratic Party practice and all the practices of Democratic Party elected officials are pre-determined by the self-assumed need to avoid criticism from the Right. Obama’s ruthless militarism and support for the Surveillance and Security State apparatus may well reflect his self-congratulation as anti-Left “realist”, but this is not the central element. Politically the Democratic Party’s permanent politico-strategic point of departure is disproving the Right’s critique not by overturning the premisses of the critique but by demonstrating that the critique does not apply to them. They eagerly rush to say: Look! we wield military, security, and surveillance might! Look! we support all the mechanisms of finance capital! Look! we refuse a progressive tax system. Look! we will dismantle the remaining vestiges of the Social (Welfare) State and of all Social State support systems, i.e. unions, etc. etc. Look! we support the dismantling of public education and the corporatization of education. Infinitum. This strategy which partly reflects the really-existing ideological structure of Democratic protagonists is actually a strategy which is counter-productive in terms of the naked power/political self-interest of these Democratic protagonists and precisely because majorities and significant pluralities on most social issues and even on some (though not all) economic issues (where the majority of the electorate and of the population as a whole remains incoherent in the absence of anything but the infantalizing dis-information media factories dominated asymmetrically by the discourse of the Right) skew to the left of the Democratic Party’s center-right fixation. And this skew would be increased if ever the Democrats would abandon the automatic and absolutizing strategy of defensively demonstrating the inapplicability to them of criticisms from their Right. Moreover, the existing situation and the existing “voting blocs” and the existing “public” as deleriously conceived in the delerium of polling is kept in place because once and again and always the Republicans everywhere circulate discourses of manipulation meant to create “publics” and their “opinion” while the Democrats merely try to appeal with “messages” to publics constantly being already formed by the discourse of the Right and by the ways in which this asymmetry is reflected in the asymmetries of media structure, domination, and circulation. Had the Democrats called the bluff of this immense house of cards and stated forthrightly that they would opt for a single-payer national health insurance system and then circulated explanations that the French system and all its benefits (first internationally on many comparative indices of individual and population health, i.e. first on least amount of avoidable deaths, etc. etc.) could easily be instituted here (Medicaid for all within the framework of doctors as private not state practitioners, etc.) there would have been ceaseless howls from the Right, but the sky would not have fallen. Pluralities and even majorities were already pre-disposed to this universal solution (65% in informed-polling data supported a public option) and with the immediate collapse of media censure, given that they would have been forced to “report” on the Democratic Party’s single-payer position, these pluralities and majorities would have increased. Buoyed by this the votes could have come. The same can be said on all social and economic issues. Obama himself said single-payer was the best solution if starting from scratch but he then added that it would be “too disruptive”. No reporter asked him why. But such a solution, deemed politically impossible, would not have been impossible at all had the Democrats abandoned the strategy of appeal and the strategy of the No: No we aren’t for whatever the Republicans say we are for, etc. Rappers and professional football players have begun coming out for Gay Rights. The sky has not fallen. And neither would it fall for the Democrats if they abandoned their morbid and hysterical fear of the Right. But this morbidity and hysteria are but the other side of a fundamental
structure of American socio-political, socio-cultural, and socio-media processes: red-baiting as an institutional and socio-psychological formative structure of all politics and all media function. Indeed, this is a foundational structure of the socio-polity. It shapes politics and media in their entirety both socio-institutionally and socio-pcychologically in terms of individuals. And then the upper-echelon Democrats have fully internalized over the last forty years all of the received sub-ideas and fallacies of neo-liberal ideology. This is of course on aspect of the incoherence of the “personal ethos” of many Democratic Party operatives. Obama is not in bad-faith when he seethes with anger because the Left does not think of him as “progressive”. He self-conceives this way because his generalized personal ethos does reflect one aspect of the center of the contemporary zeitgeist on questions of equality, etc. etc., but he has firmly conflated in his own political ethos all the received neo-liberal prejudices (politically, economically, and socially) that he has fully absorbed. But given that this “red-baiting” fundamental structure shapes all politics, the political strategies of the Democrats undermine their abilities to attain practical power in terms of naked party-political self-interest, indeed leave them in a permanent state of precariousness. The irony is that Rove’s authoritarian program of a permanent Republican majority, which is to say of a permanent and literal “Dictatorship of the Right”, is actually farther from possible actuality than would be a permanent Democratic majority, given that the “ethos” of majoritarian publics is closer to the “ethos” of the Democratic Party, indeed to its left, yet in practical actuality Rove’s desire for permanent majoritarianism will always remain closer to actuality and the Democratic possibility always in a precarious state so long as the present media structure/practice together with the present Democratic Party’s strategies of appeal and “No!” as opposed to political pedagogy continue. Because the “public” for all its “ethos” gained by virtue of the generalization globally and to all publics of the ethos of the successes of 1960s modernity is also a public, especially on economic issues, of permanent confusionism and precariousness itself. The Republican strategy of forming publics maintains this status quo of confusionism as does the present Democratic strategy. The Democrats in every instance give away their advantage from the start.
But only a pedagogical as opposed to an “appeal” discourse could alter these static blocs and the Democrats are incapable of providing such a discourse structurally, ideologically, and in terms of the anti-Left and red-baiting structures that fundamentally shape the contours of the political-media and political-ideological complex in the U.S, which complex produces the asymmetrical relation between Right and Center to the advantage of the Right, which advantage could only be overcome by a process in which left-wing ideas would be legitimized in the U.S. But appeal is all the Democrats know, an “appeal” the contents of which are always nothing more than a denial that they, the Democrats, are what the Republicans say they are: no we don’t tax and spend, no we aren’t against militarism, no we aren’t against spending reductions, no we aren’t against privatization and out-sourcing, etc. etc. in an endless stream of “no we don’t”, “no we aren’t”, no’s which are all shaped in the form of yes’s (in slightly reduced forms–this is what the Democrats try to “refine” with their focus group polling) to the Right’s economic and socio-economic program and in relation to the long-standing Republican/Democratic Imperial-Globalist/Militarist/Security-Surveillance State program etc. And the Democrats maintain this self-imposed debilitating practice despite the fact that the population in standard polling and certainly in informed polling forms majorities or pluralities constituted by a liberal ethos and by inclinations and desires for an enhanced social-public state (more ecological protection/regulation, more public investment in universalizations of health insurance, education, etc., more regulations of financialized and corporate capital, etc. etc.), albeit that this liberal ethos is flimsy and mixed with contradictory impulses and other less liberal notions. In this sense the Democratic Party, given the actuality of majorities and pluralities in favor of a panoply of policies/practices to the left of the Democratic Party’s executive/congressional policy pronouncements/advocacies, always operates against its own interest even in the case where this interest would be fashioned in the narrowest terms of power and aggrandizement. Of course the Democrats stick to this practice of “appeal” and of “no we aren’t” because the bedrock of politico-media culture in the U.S. is and remains the denial of any and all forms of left wing ideas or discourse. No one in the politico-media realm can be allowed or can allow themselves to have even the “appearance” of a left-wing idea, discursive ratio, etc., it being understand that in the U.S. social democracy is seen as left-wing. McCarthyism was defeated in 1954 as an overt external practice/phenomenon, but it became a much larger and more pervasive and powerful internal/socio-psychological structure. And this is the structural disadvantage of the Democrats. Since the Republicans are to their right they must always produce every self-constitution in terms of practice, policy, discourse in relation to that which is to their right and even more in relation to making sure they do not appear in any way at all in relation to that which is to their left. Of course whatever they do they will be labeled by the Right as being more to the left than they are. This is true of all established media practice. On every current affairs show the hosts always criticize the Democrats to their right–never to their left. Every “message” the Democrats proffer, every policy, etc. is calibrated immediately and primarily in terms of a calculation as to how vulnerable it is to an attack from the Right. There is a literal hysteria in the practice of the Democrats, all the more so because it operates against their own naked self-interest. All strategy, all discourse, all tactics, are calibrated on the basis of this hysteria. There is no thought to shaping a public with information about socio-economic processes. The mythologies of a balanced-budget, of tax rates, and of issues of revenue would collapse instantly if ever the media structures of opinion-shaping contained straightforward pedagogical information and argument. But one doesn’t even find this kind of pedagogy in the extreme allowable limit of liberal opinion in the media establishment. Paul Krugman is a case in point. He continually presents “positions” against austerity, against balanced budget policy, etc. but he does so only on the basis of a declarative juxtaposition. Austerity doesn’t lead to growth he says. He thus sets his “position” beside that of his opponents rather than undoing their position in terms of its logical unfolding and then showing the logical progression of a public-oriented economic policy program. Certainly it is true that austerity is a project of social immiseration for the population at large, but merely pronouncing this as Krugman and others do will inform/convince/persuade no-one who doesn’t already understand why this is. It is this “why”, presented in the form of a picture of a process that can be readily internalized-intuited by members of the public and which can then be repeated to others, which must be the content of rhetorico-pedagogical discourse. This kind of public politico-economic pedagogy would have immediate effects on all polling results. The only way for the Democrats to ever defeat their own hysteria and their own self-inflicted precariousness is not to refine the perfect message, but to help in the defeat of that socio-political and socio-media structure (both objective and socio-psychological) whereby anything “left” must be suppressed and denied. Suppressed and denied? Here is Katrina van den Heuvel, editor of the left-liberal The Nation magazine, appearing on the Lehrer News Hour. It is rare for even a left-liberal no less a leftist to appear on such a mainstream show. She is being interviewed along with William Kristol, editor of the right-wing, Weekly Standard. The interviewer introduces their magazines as being on the Right and on the Left. But van den Heuvel immediately corrects the interviewer and says, “No, it isn’t on the Left, it is an independent magazine”. By doing this she confirms the received notion–and much more the sedimented socio-cultural and socio-psychological structure–that there is something wrong with being “on the Left”. Van den Heuvel is a left-liberal fellow traveler of the Democrat Party, but she is not beholden to the hysteria of Democratic Party officials and elected officials and yet she legitimizes it. She and many other left-liberals are absolutely incapable of shaping a left-wing rhetorico-pedagogical discourse that would on those few occasions when they have access to the mainstream (restricted) media venues, present the public with ideas and their validations/explanations which the public could at once intuit/internalize and then proceed to use in their own discourse with others against the reigning received economic and socio-political notions and ideas. But the problem is not limited to liberals like Krugman or left-liberals like Van den Heuvel. Here is a genuine left-wing anti-capitalist radical philosopher, Slavoj Zizek, on Charlie Rose praising the network, PBS, which carries Rose’s show, praising a network that is precisely committed to confining all politico-economic discourse to an argument of Right and Center-Right–and of which Zizek’s appearance is but the exception proving the rule and during which appearance Zizek formulated virtually nothing that would have presented the audience with a direct challenge to the ideologico-structural presuppositions of the present socio-economic totalities. As for the Democrats, only when they can stand up and present social democracy (I’m not even speaking of anti-capitalist positions and discourse) as a legitimate political practice and policy which is theirs will they be able to contribute to ending the hysteria and the infantalizing process of which they are a constituent part. The actuality of this is that simultaneously they won’t, they could, they cannot. There is no unilateral conception of their “possibility” in terms of what they could or could not do. They could have in reality advocated single-payer but they wouldn’t and couldn’t….etc.
But once one ceases to make the aforementioned conflations, a much clearer and more precise analysis of Obama the empirical political figure and of the Democratic Party can emerge as can emerge a clearer picture about elections and about the necessity of refusing all investment. Misery cannot be eliminated but it must be strategically refused: no more being caught up in the misery of thoughts of a “lesser evil” and all that that carries or being caught up in investments–positively or negatively–in figures who are only social democratic in a generalized/insubstantial personal “ethos” as opposed to their particularized center-right and neo-liberal personal-political ethos, ideology, and self-congratulatory contempt for the Left. In short, no more being caught up in the desire to “vote one’s conscience”, etc. Even though a bad rain storm can in instances drown you just as much as a hurricane, still a bad rain storm is–at least as far as the weather goes–a meteorological environment in which it is slightly easier to operate (so long as you take the same precautions that you would in the case of a hurricane). The “slightly easier” is slightly easier. Yes, in some respects they are the same and in some respects they are different and in some respects the Democrats are–the paradox is only apparent–worse in that they the more easily become the conduits for further privatization/destruction of the socio-commons and life and yet not worse because the Republicans are the conduit, etc. Yet just as the aforementioned misery is ineliminable so too is ineliminable the actuality that “slightly easier to operate” is precisely that. For instance: although personal ethos ought not be conflated with political ethos, nonetheless that “personal” ethos and the belonging of the Democrats, if even minimally, to discursive modernity and to multicultural modernity, are differences contributing to a generalized ambiance that does at times register above the inconsequential. And in this sense the “slightly easier to operate” is a circumstance that also registers above the inconsequential. And of course, operate is precisely what the Left and leftists should do. Critiques of representative democracy, of really-existing democracy, of the Democratic Party, of Democratic elected officials, presidential or otherwise, of apologists for the Democrats, of the system in general, of the present system–and proposals for and actions on behalf of alternatives–should consistently be fashioned, presented, pursued. Ameliorative reforms vis-a-vis voting and elections should be continuously proposed and put forth: the electoral college should be abolished; runoff voting systems (instant or otherwise) should be enacted; public funds for elections should be the only funds–all private funds for candidates should be abolished; the campaign season should be limited to weeks; polling should cease in the weeks before the election; automatic registration should be enacted; elections should be held over two days including Sunday; debates should include all those on the ballot, not just the Republican/Democratic candidates; debate questioners (and all network and cable channel commentators) should span the political spectrum from Right to Left and not just from the Right to Center-Right, etc. Amelioration/reform and transformation/structural reconstitution of the electoral system–and transformation/structural reconstitution of representative democracy, of the present economic, social, political, and media orders and systems in their entirety, etc.–are not precluded by or mutually exclusive in relation to voting for the Democrats or having the Democrats in power as opposed to the Republicans, albeit that the Democrats (in and out of power) are certainly an impediment and obstacle to most ameliorations and to all transformations. And substantial, emphatic, and withering analyses and critiques of the Democrats and of all facets of the present system and epoch should be put forth in the most persistent and unrelenting ways. But the trap(!) of investment should be discarded. The Left and leftists should not waste even a breath about voting–save to fight vehemently against the Right’s attempt to at once restrict voting and in fact (it is the impetus and functional itinerary and trajectory of their program) abolish the electoral system in favor of the unilateralisms of their authoritarian diktat and fiat. “Live without dead time” and vote without investment and understand that it is slightly easier to live without dead time (and to bring amelioration to and enact transformation of the present socio-economic and socio-political orders) in a bad rain storm than in a hurricane. But not a breath more. Because there is nothing more. Tiny Grimes while with Charlie Parker’s band wrote and sang: “…romance without a finance is a nuisance/ romance without finance makes no sense”. However elections without finance–and without financial capital!–while they would make allot of sense (although in the present situation they would still not represent[!] a minimal adequacy of authentic democratic procedure and practice) are not in the offing until such time as the aforementioned ameliorations and transformations might become enacted. And increasingly over the past decades it would take transformations to just get ameliorations! But in the meantime elections and voting (and the Democrats in power) are–at best–unavoidable nuisances.
Electoral misery is inescapable. There are almost no reasons at all, literally almost none, to vote for a Democratic presidential candidate, but there are profoundly immediate reasons to stop any ascension to executive power by the Right. Time and time again the Left wants to escape this condition. And the desire to want to escape this condition is the most reasonable and heart-felt of desires. But no matter the accuracy, the incisiveness, the effective and affective humanity of the Left’s critique of the Democratic Party and of its chiefs and minions, not voting or voting for an admirable left-liberal or left-wing candidate or party does not advance a policy of social amelioration or social transformation. We are stuck. Opposing Obama in word and action, opposing the Democratic Party in word and action, are virtuous necessities and vitalities, but not voting for Obama or voting for third-party candidates do not advance these necessities and vitalities. It is another way of stating the misery and its inescapibility. Of course, one should absolutely refrain from supporting Obama and the Democratic Party in any way as do liberal cheerleaders of which the various MSNBC hosts are the more visible and unadmirable examples. Yet, opposing Obama and the Democrats but voting for them are not mutually exclusive and the latter in no way diminishes the former. It is distasteful but not mutually exclusive. Agreed: it is a weak maxim. But until concerted actions brings about the necessary ameliorations and transformations, it is a maxim that while not nearly as effervescent and vivacious as Sartre’s, is one with slightly more effective content, alas.
Nicholas Parker is a social, political, and cultural critic. His essay on health care and the undocumented is featured in the current print issue of CounterPunch.