The Impossibility of Truly Changing the Paradigm (or the Revolution Will Not Be):
There's a great moment in the new play In the Wake by Lisa Kron. It's the aftermath of the 2004 election, and the main character, Ellen, an NPR-loving, Bush-hating, East Village-living liberal, is shocked when she hears that her close friend, Judy, a 50-something exile from small-town Kentucky who works in aid camps in places like Guinea, didn't vote.
Judy's reasoning is just a kick in the nuts: "I don’t want to participate in a system I don’t believe in. Voting is a false exercise. You know this. You’re the one who talks about how the system is skewed so that the votes in rich, white Republican districts are counted at much higher levels." Judy points out that the Constitution was established as a way to affirm the power of propertied white males: "The apparatus is working as it’s meant to work, to facilitate the self interests of wealthy men in power...The people at the top are the same people who’ve always been at the top. And the people who are at the bottom are the same people who’ve always been at the bottom." Ellen protests, insisting that evolution and change is possible. Judy's not having any of it: "Because you’re a middle-class person and you are served well by the system, so you have to believe that change is possible. It’s what American liberals do. Because what could you do otherwise? You’d have to give up your middle-class life or your ideals." And are you willing to do either?
See, the ultimate result of last week's election is that, despite the brief burp of hope in 2008, the system functioned as it was meant to function. And the left played its expected role. The gist of Dave Weigel's depressing recent piece in Slate on amnesia about George W. Bush in the midterms is that Americans are hamsters crawling through tubes too tight to allow us to turn around. Weigel writes about Bush, "He's just not thought of, period. The defining events of his presidency—the war on terror and the economic crisis—don't really belong to him, because Obama has presided over them, and the public doesn't register much of a change in how they're being handled." As much as Obama has accomplished, his signature achievements have been spun into failures, with even members of Congress who voted for them not defending them. And, on issue after issue, "Obama's presidency has had the trappings of conflict and the reality of continuation." One or two symbolic moments could have changed this perception, like closing Gitmo or halting Don't Ask Don't Tell, but those didn't happen.
Yet there seems to be this prescribed range of acceptable dissent on the left. To become impolite (or, you know, rude) about tactics and demands is to open oneself to attack. We saw this when Markos Moulitsas's book American Taliban came out. What Markos was writing about violent action and rhetoric on the right wasn't up for question. But, oh, our stars and garters, the title. So mean.
We see it again with the silence and/or condemnation of cartoonist and writer Ted Rall. In his new book, The Anti-American Manifesto, Rall calls for the left to wake up to the idea that the current system in America, as it has been perverted by the wealthy and powerful, needs to be changed. That actual revolution needs to occur and that, if necessary (an important distinction), the left needs to be ready if shit gets violent. If Rall had been writing this in the 1960s, he'd have seemed like a typical left-winger (when some of your favorite writers - Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, and more - were calling for armed revolt). Indeed, Rall's goals are what the left is supposed to want: prosecution of the Wall Street criminals, an end to the wars, an expansion of funding to education and health care. Rall just takes it to another level of commitment. When he appeared on MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan Show on Monday, he was given a fair hearing by Ratigan and affirmed his love of America. Of course, it all just pissed people off.
The outrage on the right over Rall and Moulitsas is to be expected. But from the left, the idea that such rhetoric "is not helpful" or some such shit is milquetoast cowering. Not helpful for what? For begging for scraps from the right-leaning table of moderation? Or it's just dismissed as paranoia that refuses to recognize what President Obama and the Democratic Congress got passed.
(For the record, the Rude Pundit has hung out with Ted Rall a couple of times. And, sorry, but he's not a douchebag. He's just a guy who passionately gives a damn about the country and is not afraid to go into the trenches to make his point.)
Right now, vaguely liberal views are being equated with Tea Party nutsiness. It's time to move the fuckin' goalposts to the left a bit. How that occurs is going to require more than just electing people who we hope and pray will be able to cobble together enough votes to achieve a watered down version of what we all know needs to be done. It's going to require a new way of thinking about how we approach politics and governance.
Lawrence Lessig has said that we need to call a constitutional convention to look at renegotiating the American contract (or scaring the shit out of our elected officials). That's pretty fucking extreme. Like Lessig, Rall is simply saying that something needs to occur in the wake of this unceasing flow down our dark river of decline and fall.
Note: The Rude Pundit will be talking to Rall next week. Audio will be posted here.