Democrats and progressives are crying doom over the party's defeat in Massachusetts. The loss, we're told, is a blow to Barack Obama's political agenda, and so it is. They say it's a shame that yet another rightwing zealot who advocates torture is now in the Senate, and so it is. But it is precisely that agenda that led to the loss, and the shame. It is that agenda which has resurrected a rightwing party that was dead in the water, and empowered its most extreme elements.
And what is Barack Obama's agenda? What is his political program? It breaks down into three main elements: unwinnable wars, unconscionable bailouts, and unworkable, unwanted health care "reform" that forces people to further enrich some of the most despised conglomerates in the land. It is, in every way, a recipe for moral, economic and political disaster. It is a gigantic anchor tied around the neck of the Democratic Party, and it will drag the whole lumbering wreck back to the bottom in short order.
It also provides a fertile breeding ground for the willful, belligerent ignorance of the Right to thrive. With such an egregiously stupid and destructive agenda at work in the White House, opponents need only say that they are against it, and they are guaranteed a wide following. Who would not be against unwinnable war, unconscionable bailouts and unworkable boondoggles serving rapacious elites? The actual positions held by these opponents – the actual policies they will pursue once in power – are given little scrutiny in such circumstances. The opponent represents change from a hated status quo – and that's enough. Later, when their odious positions come to light, it is too late.
Where have we seen this dynamic at work before? Oh yes, it was way back in November 2008. Barack Obama represented change from the hated status quo, from the agenda of the ruling Republican party. And what was that agenda? Why, unwinnable wars, unconscionable bailouts and the assiduous service of rapacious elites. The actual positions held by Obama – the actual policies that he would pursue once in power – were given little scrutiny. Except by a precious few – such as Arthur Silber, who long ago warned that Obama's election would be ruinous for genuine progressive change, that he would merely put a new gloss on the old corruption while disarming dissent from 'progressives,' who would feel bound to support the president against his rightwing enemies – even if it meant "holding their noses" and supporting bad policies like the health care reform bill or the Afghan surge.
Now it is obvious to all that Obama's core agenda is the same as Bush's: maintaining the elitist, militarist, corporatist system in all its essential elements. The "War on Terror" goes on, expanding into new lands. Torture and murder are still countenanced and concealed, in concentration camps and secret sites that are still in operation. All of Bush's most egregious assertions of authoritarian power are embraced and defended in court. Wall Street is rewarded, not regulated for its vast crimes. The legislative architect and champion of one of the most regressive, punitive, draconian acts of class war in our time – the Bankruptcy Bill, that atom bomb dropped on working people, the sick, the old and the young – has been plucked from deserved obscurity and made Vice President of the United States. A grotesquely expensive, unjust and dysfunctional health care system is not only left intact by "reform," it is given millions of new, captive customers, and more public money to guarantee its profits.
Once again, the question arises: Is this a winning agenda?
It is not just Obama's agenda, of course. It is the agenda of the Democratic Party: war, empire, and corporate profit über alles. Is this really worth defending, even with a held nose? Yet progressives and liberals will continue to insist that, bad as it is, we've got to keep supporting the Democratic Party – because there is no alternative, because otherwise, Tea Party torture mavens like Scott Brown or Sarah Palin will get elected.
But as we've already noted above, it is the Democratic agenda itself that is opening the door for extremist opponents, who then exploit the genuine dissatisfaction and genuine suffering caused by that agenda. The fact that these opponents also support the same core agenda means that the nation will keep ping-ponging back and forth, with an electorate hungry for change desperately chasing anyone who promises it – only to rush back in the other direction when the 'change agent' proves to be just another stooge of the status quo.
This destructive, corrosive dynamic – this ever-worsening death spiral – is what progressives are actually supporting and enabling when they "hold their noses" to support Democrats. The Republicans and Democrats are now simply two factions of the same party – the party of war and greed. To support one faction, no matter what, with held noses or open arms, in such a locked system only perpetuates and exacerbates its worst elements.
Oh, but there's no choice, we are told, with earnest handwringing, by our leading progressives. Third parties are not viable in our system, we are informed by our savvy progressive realists; there can be no effective political movement outside the two main parties. Indeed, no less than Digby herself has declared that the only alternative to working with this closed system (which means, in practice, supporting the Democratic Party) is violent revolution: "Pick up your muskets, kids, or STFU."
And so this is what we've come to. This is the "progressive" answer to any genuine, non-violent rejection of the Democratic faction's agenda of war and greed: "Shut the fuck up." My, wouldn't Martin Luther King Jr. be delighted with that? Wouldn't Thomas Jefferson revel in such delicious eloquence, such deep thought?
Look, I know it's not easy. I was born and raised a Yellow Dawg Democrat myself, and remained one for most of my life. I know what it's like to be hardwired for supporting Democrats, come hell or high water, giving them every benefit of the doubt, turning a blind eye here, making a furious rationalization there. These tribal loyalties are very difficult to lay down; it really can feel like turning your back on your family. And of course the belligerent, bellicose, willfully ignorant Republicans are loathsome and dangerous.
But there comes a time when you must face the truth – or be lost to truth forever. There comes a time to recognize that the Democratic Party and Republican Party are part of the same corrupted entity. There comes a time to recognize that the Democratic Party's agenda is not only ruinous in itself, unworthy of the support of anyone who cares about justice, peace, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – it is also empowering those very same loathsome and dangerous Republicans. There comes a time for even the most partisan tribalist (and I have been one) to accept the hard judgment of reality: that the Democratic Party is part of the problem, not the solution.
To say that there is no alternative to supporting this locked-in, closed-off, two-faction system of war and greed is an act of craven surrender to that system. To dismiss all hope for forging genuine alternatives to this system -- whether these be other political parties or more general movements aiming not for political power but for broader changes in social consciousness -- is a counsel of despair. It condemns us, and the world, to yet another generation of violence, chaos and corruption, another long, long journey away from the light. It is, as noted above, a recipe for disaster in every way.
But if you want more Scott Browns in power, then by all means, keep pushing that Democratic agenda. You'll soon have Scott Browns and Sarah Palins running out of your ears.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on January 20, 2010.