Some of my friends have gotten the impression (from, among other things, my recent posts) that I’ve acknowledged no distinction between Obama and Romney, and between the parties generally. Oddly enough, I can only compare my feeling on election night to the day the President announced Bin Laden’s assassination. There are two major questions that the media can address here. The first, superficial one (which I spared myself by watching the Democracy Now broadcast) is: How do I feel about the fact that a racist, misogynistic venture capitalist was not elected President? I’m just fine with that, as I felt about the fact that Bin Laden is no longer here. The second, more disquieting question is: What is the cost of how we made it happen? What’s the cost of invasion of sovereign soil and denial of the right to a trial? What’s the cost to the global community, and to our own humanity? What precedents does it set?
Obama’s resounding victory and the Greens’ paltry total of about .3% of the vote suggests a very effective propaganda effort, as evidenced by the virtual blackout of the Greens by corporate media (including allegedly progressive voices like Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart). But this fear campaign needed an audience. And it’s not as if the electorate that responded to the Democratic message machine had never heard a word about the “Kill List” or the White House’s cozy relationship with Wall Street. Even people who only hear about Obama’s policies from Obama himself (if they exist) know he brags that his Administration has “added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some”, including “opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We have quadrupled number of operating rigs to a record high.”
So where’s the precedent? Like the rest of the election, it’s mostly symbolic. Obama’s reelection, with the help of much of the so-called left, could be a milestone for the Democratic Party, which as Cornel West puts it “more and more, is not just milquetoast and spineless, as it was before, but thoroughly complicitous with some of the worst things in the American empire.” Voters, labor unions, and the “liberal” media seem to have sent a message, whether they like it or not, that they will consent to war, privatization, and austerity in exchange for (possibly) equal marriage rights and (possibly) less conservative Supreme Court Justices. But there’s no exchange here: what lefty voters have given the Democrats, more so than ever before, is carte blanche. I’d previously considered offering a wager to my friends who predict a less conservative second term for Obama: if Obama and his party, after giving Republicans a shellacking in the election, turn around and offer a fiscal “grand bargain” – to the tune of Bowles-Simpson’s $4 trillion in tax and spending cuts – will you acknowledge that the Democrats’ agenda is not moving us “forward”, but further and further away from democracy? I thought better of it. This election makes it official: the only thing Obama could do to lose his support among progressives is join the Republican Party.
So back to the question: why does it matter who wins? Let’s take the case of marriage equality and reproductive rights, the so-called “social issues”: here, the media and political class presents supporting “tolerant” Democrats against homophobic, misogynistic Republicans as a short-term way to combat the agenda of the Christian right. And it is. But the question remains (usually unasked): why have Republicans moved to the right? Why did they bet the election on bigoted views that the majority of voters no longer hold? Because the Democrats, particularly since losing the 1988 election, have made it more and more difficult for Republicans to carve out space to their right. Clinton’s “triangulation” allegedly captured swing voters in 1992 by co-opting the GOP platform, from welfare “reform” to the Defense of Marriage Act. As Margaret Kimberley noted before the election on Black Agenda Report, “the ever-rightward moving shift of the Democrats has brought us to this juncture, where we are told to fear Republicans who are more radical on social issues precisely because the Democrats have copied them in every other aspect. If Democrats also believe in wars of aggression and bail outs and subservience to finance capital, Republicans are only left with abortion and gay marriage as issues to differentiate themselves.” Nov. 6 marked yet another triumph for the Democrats, precisely at the moment when progressives have the least to lose by abandoning them, making sure this vicious cycle will live to see another election.
This is precisely the conversation that didn’t happen in the corporate media. As a result, it happened all too rarely between ordinary people. What would’ve changed if everyone who watched the Daily Show this year had met the Green Party ticket, or (more importantly) witnessed this stellar debate on Democracy Now between Glen Ford and Michael Eric Dyson? What if everyone who read a New York Times op-ed had read Glenn Greenwald’s blog too? Perhaps very little. But perhaps not. What we know is what we got from the mainstream “left”: a lot of people arguing for taxing the rich, regulating financial services, collective bargaining, public schools, and the role of government in decreasing inequality – as if Obama and the Democrats are on the right side of any of these issues. Economic inequality has actually increased significantly under Obama, with the major shift taking place under a Democratic Congress.
Simply put, it does matter who won the election, because each outcome presents its own set of problems for the cause of social justice in the US and globally. While in the event of a Romney Administration, I’d welcome back the spine of the left (and the anti-war movement), I don’t idealize the Bush years. I have no desire to revisit the ridiculous belief that electing Democrats is a way to change the status quo.
Tuesday night’s biggest winner was corporate power, showing just how effectively the “lesser” evil can crush dissent from the left. But what about our friends and colleagues who insisted we put off that dissent until after the election? It would appear they got what they wanted, too. Do not let them forget their promise or rest on their laurels. Now begins the work of strategizing, theorizing, and building alternative institutions to counter the increasing assault of private capital on public goods. Now is the time, not just for strengthening local ties, but also for international solidarity – that means standing with those who suffer the worst of imperial violence, be it military, economic, or environmental.
It’s common for authoritarian regimes to persecute and neutralize, first and foremost, elements of the left deemed “subversive” or a threat to the current order. One of countless examples is this country’s own purges of communists and leftists during the 20th century. As intellectuals from Chris Hedges to Slavoj Žižek have pointed out, democracy is becoming more and more dispensable to global capitalism, a trend we see not only in Singapore and China, but here as well in the rise of the national security state and the immunity of the corporate class to democratic processes or criminal accountability. So I have a joke with my lefty friends: when you can tell someone won’t sell out the cause of resistance, won’t bend to whatever neo-feudal order emerges from the impending global economic meltdown, you say, “I’ll see you in the camps.”
America, it would be my pleasure.