here’s a missive from the mentor of a mentor of mine, full of thoughts i’m trying desperately to keep down. all of us who’re going to belly up to tonight’s debates, or the ones ahead, with anything resembling earnestness should be forced to deal with this host of things we know are true. here’s some highlights:
- The Democratic candidates who are anointed “serious” are like a car with a faulty front-end alignment: Their default setting pulls to the right.
- The last straw for me was the spectacle of all the “serious candidates” falling over one another to link Castro and Chávez with Ahmadinejad, bin Laden, and Kim, thus endorsing the Bush Administration’s view that any government that does anything that ours doesn’t like—including giving its own people’s needs higher priority than those of our corporations—qualifies it as a supporter of terrorism, a rogue state, part of the Axis of Evil…
- Remember (Clinton’s) argument that he had to sign the hideous 1996 welfare reform bill to be able to come back and “fix” it later? Or NAFTA? Or two repressive and racist crime bills that flooded the prisons? Or the privatizing of Sallie Mae, which set the stage for the student debt crisis? Or ending the federal government’s commitment to direct provision of housing for the poor?
- At the end of the primary campaign, one of the “serious candidates” is going to get the nomination and form a ticket with another version of his or her triangulating self. (I still wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be Clinton-Obama, in an all-Oprah ticket, an exercise in massive short-term self-delusion and empty identity politics that will guarantee the White House to whichever combo the GOP puts up.)
- The anti-war movement isn’t coherent or popularly grounded enough to exert the pressure necessary to improve the electoral options; only the labor movement has the capacity to do so, but it doesn’t have the will. None of the other progressive tendencies has the capacity to do anything more than lobby or exhort.
- Electoral politics is an arena for consolidating majorities that have been created on the plane of social movement organizing. It’s not an alternative or a shortcut to building those movements, and building them takes time and concerted effort. Not only can that process not be compressed to fit the election cycle; it also doesn’t happen through mass actions. It happens through cultivating one-on-one relationships with people who have standing and influence in their neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, families, and organizations. It happens through struggling with people over time for things they’re concerned about and linking those concerns to a broader political vision and program. This is how the populist movement grew in the late nineteenth century, the CIO in the 1930s and 1940s, and the civil rights movement after World War II. It is how we’ve won all our victories. And it is also how the right came to power.