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Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 18,883

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Who "Created the Monster?"

This post about the Koch brothers' dismay over the unintended consequences of their diligent attempts to hijack the democratic process prompted another DUer to weigh in with the assessment that "the turn to the dark side" actually dated back to the Nixon era.

I won't argue against the premise that Nixon opened some nasty cans of corrupt and conniving worms and poured them into the American political stew. But while virtually all politicians (and particularly, since Nixon's own Southern Strategy, GOPpie politicians) have at some point faced the electoral necessity to pander to reactionary populism, I saw Nixon as more your back-room boyo.

He certainly exploited racist fault lines in the electorate, and did a modest amount of pandering to the reactionary anti-hippie sentiment. But Nixon and his owners, like most political machines of the Cold War era, understood that the nature of the Cold War itself required them to refrain from upsetting the propaganda applecart. Proxy wars aside, the Cold War required a facade depicting the universal social and economic beneficence of Capitalism to contrast with their carefully-depicted authoritarian collectivist "nightmare of Communism."

The "Western World" led by the USA regularly capped Soviet "5-year plan" reports of boot production per capita with our own version of boot production reports-- except that ours were white vinyl go-go boots on working class dolly birds advertising Pepsi.

Their ham-handed management of opposition to Civil Rights revealed their priorities: A form of "what would the neighbors think?" that focused on painting it as a "States Rights" issue of Democracy in Action, and downplaying, wherever possible, the ugly underbelly of racist and reactionary populism in the South. The nature of mass media helped to subvert that, just as it aided the anti-war movement: Structural constraints embedded by the last vestiges of Rooseveltian progressivism were still in place to inhibit Oligarchic control. Occasionally some unpleasant and motivational realities were plastered into the consciousness of the electorate.

One of the Cold War's only real benefits was its (temporary) inhibition on exploiting toxic, reactionary forms of populism to oppose both the remaining vestiges of socialist/labor populism and the burgeoning progressive anti-war and pro-equity versions of the 1960s and 70s.

It may seem bizarre to those who didn't live through the Taft machine's dominance of the GOP, but back then, their strategy was strongly invested in anti-populism. They worked hard to portray the GOP as the Party of Moderation, the "cool heads" with the broad view and the long-term perspective who could be trusted to counter the passion of emotional fervor with the cold water of facts, science, technology, and Realpolitik.

"The Monster" of toxic reactionary populism-- the varieties based in nativist, racist, fundamentalist, and other fear-based, exclusionary resistance to change-- has been embedded in our species all along. It's been part of our body politic from the very beginning. It never really sleeps, and the best we can do is starve it of oxygen, repudiate it as publicly as possible, and keep it grumbling and holding tinfoil hat fashion shows in its own version of the "No <pejorative epithet of your choice> aloud" tree house. But its power never dies and is abundantly fed by the fertile soil of economic hardship and fast-moving social and technological change.

Democrats are no stranger to tapping that power-- ask anyone who grew up in "the Solid South." But always fairly sub-rosa, with a veneer of respectable moderation figleafing the ugliness that fed the Party machine's power.

No, Nixon didn't create the Monster. Politicians are like Satan in some versions of Christian theology-- they cannot create, they can only destroy, distort, and exploit the damage. Even Reagan didn't "create" the current version of the reactionary populism now dismaying our elite Oligarchs.

I would, however, argue that Reagan and his owners can be fairly and squarely fingered for letting it out of the tree house this go-round, and making the devil's bargain that put the reactionary power behind their re-engineered political machine. By the time Reagan was elected, they could see the end of the Cold War coming, and decades of foundational work by the Birchers combined with their growing sophistication in absorbing and controlling the power of the mass media. Why else select an actor of Reagan's experience with presenting "amiable, reasonable and engaging"? He provided the perfect cover.

The first long, low howls began with the anti-abortion movement whipping the fundamentalist populists into a misogynist fervor in reaction to Roe v. Wade and the ERA. One by one, they've emptied the nativist treehouse, the anti-science, anti-change treehouse, the "you're not the boss of me" libertarian treehouse, the homophobic treehouse, and, with the election of a melanin-advantaged president, the racist super-treehouse. They've invited them all to the Party: Frothing, pounding, spittle-flecked cylinders of passion to be welded to the GOP electoral engine.

Now they're discovering that cylinders that refuse to be synchronized and tuned and adjusted to work effectively together under the "higher control" of the cool-headed, greed driven Oligarchs in the driver's seat might not just leave the GOPpie bus smoking with its hood up by the side of the electoral road-- they might take it over the cliff altogether.

History doesn't so much repeat itself as rhyme, but politicians have tin ears for poetry.


I am a Hillary supporter. I am a Bernie supporter.

There are things I very definitely prefer, about Bernie.

There are things I very definitely prefer, about Hillary.

There are things I dislike about Hillary.

There are things I dislike about Bernie.

However, both Bernie and Hillary are so infinitely superior to anyone the GOPpies might nominate, that I sleep soundly.

The only thing that bothers me, really, is the incredibly emotional, sometimes cynical, occasionally vicious, often strident attacks on one another by those who seem to support one so strongly that they believe it's worthwhile to vituperate, trash, character-assassinate the other and their supporters.

Who will I vote for, during the primary? I'll know for sure on that day. Whichever it is, the other will have my heartfelt gratitude and support as well. It is possible to appreciate the worthy public service and common ground held with someone even while deploring other things about them. In the case of our Democratic Presidential candidates, that's a lot of common ground, actually. Especially when it comes to the mess we'll be having to clean up in Congress, a Supreme Court that will have key openings in the next 4 years, and ongoing tension between many types of change forces worldwide.

Those who believe the only good Hillary supporter is one driven over by the Bernie bus which then backs up, drives over again, repeats that 3-4 times, then everyone piles out and jumps on the flattened remains may begin that process, now.

Those who believe the only good Bernie supporter is one stabbed repeatedly, bludgeoned with sacks of quarters, stoned with large rocks, and then held underwater until the bubbles stop coming up may begin that process now, as well.


Dear Vice-President Biden,

And I do mean, "dear."

I appreciate your wisdom, your humanity, your leadership and your dedication to public service, more than I can say.

While I do regret that America has not had, and now will not have, the chance to experience your leadership as President (I think you'd have been pretty damn' stellar, actually,) I do not regret your decision. I am grateful for it.

Here's what I think: What Jimmy Carter has been to the "ex-Presidency," Joe Biden will be as a "former Vice President." Your grace and humor, the courage of your convictions, and the experience of living publicly among the slings and arrows will be a foundation for moral leadership of great strength. I do not underestimate that power, and I know you do not, either.

I don't think public service is done with you, Joe.

I think there's more out there.

For now, though, your decision to put your not-inconsiderable weight behind the Democratic Party in the general election is appreciated. I don't know how that will play out, I *do* know that if you choose to make an explicit endorsement of one candidate at the primary level, it'll carry a lot of weight.

I suspect you may delay that decision, for the very good reason that in the long road ahead, there's a need to engage as many people who share the Democratic Party's expressed ideals as we possibly can. We need the energy, we need the conviction and the passion, and most of all, we need to hold the Party's leadership accountable for those very ideals, rather than for the corrupting calculations of triangulation and electability. That can come later.

Either way, you're a factor, and an important one. And I know that you'll use that wisely and well, based on your experience of the levers and buttons as well as your deep understanding of the human realities of government.

When this election has played out, I hope you are given some time to take a break from the public eye. You and your family have experienced much pain in the past few years. May you finally get some time to share the same love and support that has sustained you through the hard times, in more pleasant places and ways.

You did not undertake public service for personal reward, not for you, not for your family. May the future bring you the true rewards you have built for yourself: the knowledge of work well done, a life well lived, and communities and people the better for your work.


"Party Loyalty" and the Purpose of Parties (warning: Long read)

Political factions are as old as humanity. But the political "Party," as an organized entity with a structure, role, legal obligations and powers, is actually a pretty recent development, traceable to the conflict between those who wanted a government modeled on strong executive authority versus strong representative legislative powers, in late 17th Century England.

As the two groups coalesced around various leaders and attempted to steer the course of Britain's nascent Parliamentary democracy, inter-party conflict quickly became an issue. This was (inevitably!) complicated by intra-party conflict that rendered both of the major parties objects of scorn and ridicule.

So despised were English political parties by the time of the American Revolution that several key American leaders were utterly opposed to permitting the sanction or participation of parties in the US version of representative democracy. Alexander Hamilton regarded parties as "a vice" to be guarded against. Jefferson went further, stating "If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all."

Yet even with that distaste, Hamilton and Jefferson themselves became the nuclei of factions that inevitably became Parties.

Perhaps the words of Ben Franklin best illustrate why parties are such a durable feature in representative democratic governments: "We must hang together, or we will assuredly all hang separately."

Although those words were not spoken in the context of political parties, they encapsulate the fundamental reality that only by acting in solidarity can those without wealth and/or power effectively counterbalance and oppose those with the inherent power of wealth and position.

Political parties, like labor unions, are a tool for the non-wealthy and non-powerful to advance agendas of change and to act collectively on our own behalf.

But political parties are vulnerable to co-optation and dilution by those opposed to their agendas from without, and to dissension and chaos from competing priorities and agendas within the party itself.

It's tremendously difficult to pull a party together and maintain its effectiveness because as soon as collective action begins to have an effect (as with the victories of labor unions in the early part of the 20th Century, or the civil rights victories mid-century,) two things happen:

The first is backlash, which is very predictable. The strength and power of the backlash, the resources devoted to rolling back those victories and opposing further progress, tend to be in direct proportion to the effects and magnitude of change achieved.

Backlash would not be quite so damaging if it weren't for the other effect: Collective action fatigue. Collective action is HARD WORK. It demands commitments of time, it demands sacrifices, greater and lesser ones, of personal priorities to the collective priorities. And with the achievement of victories, the easing of conditions, the opening up of new benefits, those who've been willing to attend meetings, participate in actions, put personal priorities on hold for collective priorities, tend to shift efforts elsewhere.

It's natural. Many of the laborers who were fired up enough in the 1930s to stand bravely before company goons, get arrested, beaten, sit for days in cold factories while their families ate soup at the union hall, etc., could barely be bothered to attend elections at the local twenty-five years later.

Many of the Republicans who worked incredibly hard to elect Republican Congresses that would move the nation toward abolition in the mid-19th century had pretty much abandoned any electoral participation at all by the end of the century, leaving their Party to internecine, plutocrats versus Progressives strife.

Many who were attracted to the Democratic Party by its support of labor and its movement toward civil rights in the middle of the 20th century stopped attending caucuses, stopped going to conventions, stopped putting in the time and effort demanded to wrest the soul of the Party from the entrenched interests of the military-industrial complex. I attribute that pretty much equally to the distraction of Watergate and successful efforts to convince Democrats that an occasional primary vote could be just as effective as actually participating in the party itself, and so MUCH easier, less stressful and less time-consuming.

The harsh reality of representative democracies is this: Parties are the only viable force that can effectively empower structurally disempowered groups. And the larger the party, the more effective that effort CAN be, but only if the parties themselves are willing to act in solidarity.

I would ask this of my fellow DUers:

First, do not condemn the concept of "Party loyalty" as something evil, stupid, weak, collusive, lazy, etcetera, nor make the assumption that those who value party loyalty are somehow "tainted" by their understanding of its potential and power. Just because they see the potential power of putting aside critical personal priorities for less personally-cherished collective agendas that might produce smaller, incremental motion in a good direction doesn't mean they are a malign or stupid enemy.

But also, do not condemn those who correctly and urgently point out the messes and structural ineffectiveness of relying on a party that has long since been co-opted and corrupted by both the interests of the powerful and our own willingness to make the easy choices and leave the hard work to others. They are CORRECT. Loyalty to such a party can be futile or even counter-effective.

We all have individual choices to make. We all have to balance present needs and realities with future threats and possibilities. We all have to determine what we're willing to throw into the pot in the way of effort, action, money, and commitment, and why. We cannot make those decisions for one another, and condemning and belittling one another for those decisions keeps us from uniting around the common grounds we CAN agree on. It dilutes the power of this community to attract and grow support for the agendas we do share, even if we don't all order them in the same priority.

And the name of this website is "Democratic Underground." "Democratic" as in "Democratic Party." Yes, we welcome those who may not be members of the party, or even consistent past Democratic voters. We welcome everyone who shares a good chunk of the large common ground that represents what Democratic Party platforms have aspired to: Economic justice, the preservation of our planet, the redressing of oppression, the promotion of social and Constitutional equity, the building of sustainable communities, peaceful resolution to the world's problems, and the strength of an America empowered by a shared vision for those things.

We don't demand that everyone agree on every square centimeter of that ground. Or even every square inch. We don't require anyone who joins this website to certify Democratic Party membership, or to pass "loyalty tests," but we remain Democratic (as in Party) Underground all the same.

To me, anyway, that has a meaning and a hope embedded in it: That we, as Democrats and those who see the possibilities of collective action by the MORE THAN HALF of American voters who share some or all of the priorities and values we share, have an opportunity to bring our passion to the Party, and to move the Party itself toward effectiveness in promoting those priorities and values.

And it's a hard, messy, stressful, sometimes discouraging, even disgusting process. Ever been to a Party meeting that's gone on for hours into the night, arguing the differences between two entrenched and bitterly disagreeing Party officials? Personally, I'd rather be waterboarded. But I go to those meetings, all the same.

Because Parties, like everything else, are eventually controlled by those who SHOW UP. And who KEEP showing up, week after month after year, dealing with the messes and the follies of human nature and putting on the pressure towards a better, more equitable future, one hard-fought millimeter at a time. We could do this, you know.

I know Party politics on the local level. In most districts, the number of people willing to show up and participate is pitiful. The number willing to show up and wait out the skepticism, suspicion, and active undermining of entrenched current leadership is even smaller.

The Democratic Party in America is actually RUN by less than twenty thousand individuals who are willing to show up for local Party meetings, participate in local Party elections, do the work, and move up in rank through the years.

Local matters. Local is the crack where the thin end of the wedge can be inserted. It's not fast, it's not easy, it's certainly not much fun. But look at where it's gotten the GOP, focusing on school board elections, city councils, county commissions, local judicial and public office elections, and then moving up to state legislatures, redistricting, gerrymandering themselves into a disproportionate hold on Congress.

They did it with a buttload of Oligarch money and a surprisingly small number of passionately committed individuals.

I believe we can reclaim the soul of our Party with way less in the way of money, as long as we're willing to put in the passion and the effort.


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