politics is to want something

tirsdag, april 25, 2006


Fox Host to Be Named White House Spokesman - Yahoo! News: "He will replace Scott McClellan, who is stepping down in a White House personnel shuffle intended to re-energize Bush's presidency, bring in new faces and lift the president's record-low approval ratings. McClellan had served as Bush's chief spokesman — the most prominent public figure in the White House after Bush — for nearly three years."

If Joe Lieberman is a Liberal...(My 800 Words)

For a good portion of my life, political labels were uncomplicated things. I used them interchangeably, contradictorily, sometimes meaninglessly. I collected political labels. They were chosen as much for the intensity the reactions they evoked as for the quality of those reactions.
That approach made a certain sense when one is stuck in an adolescent punk-radical bubble. Leaving that bubble, however, makes things a bit more complicated. Labels communicate real ideas to real people, and if your intent is to influence those real people, you have to think carefully about what you call yourself or your ideas. At the same time, labels allow us to be clear about our ideas, to find others who agree with us, and to make claims about the large-scale implications of policy ideas. Contrary to popular rhetoric, there is no such thing as pure, non-ideological politics. Things really are “conservative”, “liberal” and “socialist”, even if there is also consensus, overlap and room for debate. Labels, and political vocabulary in general are simultaneously crucially important and blindingly dynamic.
Consider the word “progressive.” Just a few years ago, this word was unambiguous in its political meaning. A progressive was someone who thought of herself as to the left of liberalism, but distanced herself, for ideological or pragmatic reasons, from the socialist tradition. Progressives could be populist or academic/theoretical in orientation, but they were generally actively engaged in day-to-day politics while trying to expand some political space to the left of even the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.
But that liberal wing is no longer dominant in American politics, or even in the Democratic Party. In fact, anyone in 2006 who calls themselves a Liberal is a kind of Weberian hero. Using the “L” word involves considerable political risk, and, frankly, doesn’t describe many of the positions taken by a great number of prominent Democrats. And so the lines between “progressive” and “liberal” have blurred, and the two words have become somewhat interchangeable. At your average meeting of Democracy for America or in the discussions on MoveOn.org or DailyKos, these words are used to describe the same general political positions, even when some of the analysis is decidedly not “Liberal” in any political theory sort of sense.
Stranger still, I have heard people defend the use of the word “progressive” by saying that it is less offensive or “extreme” sounding than the despised “L” word. That was an assertion which would have been impossible in 1995, before the Clinton Revolution both mitigated and completed the Reagan Revolution. For some, “progressive” is in a sense to the right of “liberal.” That’s strange.
All of this is to say that political vocabulary changes over time in relation to shifts in political power. What is more confusing, however, is that this relationship works in the opposite direction, as well- shifts in vocabulary have an influence on political power itself. The fact that politicians can call themselves “conservatives”, and with that statement convey a coherent world view is incredibly powerful. The media may still stage vapid debates between “liberals” and “conservatives” on TV, but when a real debate happens, say between two Presidential candidates, only one guy can clearly articulate what he is, what he stands for, what he believes in. The other guy is left defending arcane policy preferences or has to spend time explaining what he isn’t.
The results of losing our vocabulary are far-reaching. The vilification of liberalism has brought with it the vilification of government, feminism, multiculturalism and multilateralism. Sets of effective policy options have been simply wiped off the table. This process has had dire consequences for the world, and constricted the possibilities of positive social change for generations.
Nonetheless, the evasion of vilified political vocabulary is understandable in a country in which a majority of the electorate defines themselves as “moderate.” In the long run, the Left is exoticized and alienated from mainstream political discourse, but it is extremely difficult, in the course of a Presidential campaign, or even a run for school board, to try and redefine labels as you are trying to get to 51%. It’s not just for office seekers, however, that this is a problem. You will find labor, community, feminist, anti-racist and social justice activists all evading the vocabulary demonized by the Right.
And that’s my dilemma. I want to describe the world in which I want to live, and I don’t want to have to do that in excruciating detail every time I open my mouth. However, I also don’t have the time to explain what I mean by “social democrat” to people raised in an environment in which these words are either meaningless or vaguely sinister. For now, unsatisfactorily, I describe myself as a person of the Left, as a “progressive” rather than “centrist” Democrat, and as a feminist. I know allies when I see them, no matter which set of words they use to describe themselves. That’s the best I can do with the hand dealt to me. Let me know when it’s time to draw again.

And here are the other posts from this call to action, so far:
Matt May
Goeff Kurtz

Lucas Shapiro

torsdag, april 13, 2006

Experiment: 800 Words From Social Democratic Bloggers

So, here's an experiment. There are a few blogs linked to hoverbike, by readership and or by the author's shared political experiences somewhere in the sphere of social democracy. It would be great if our interaction went deeper than just posts or responses. I propose that, every once in a while, we all write essays on the same topic, and post them on our blogs with links to one another. I know this is common out there in the blogosphere, but not in our little democratic left corner...

What do you say? 800 words. Take no longer than a week or so. Post it. Link the others.

Here are the people I would like to hear from:
Geoff Kurtz
Matt May (and his other Gunslingers)
Peter Gustafsson
Fredrik Jansson
Lucas Shapiro
Maria Svart
Erik Love (our token liberal)

Am I missing folks? Is the social democratic blogosphere really this white and male? Are you holding your sides laughing at such a naive question?

And here is the question:
In our post-post-modern era, in which we are told by pundits and social scientists that ideology is dead, what is the importance of political labels? How do you label yourself? Is there a unique discussion around labels in your own national or regional political culture?

Get writing.

onsdag, april 12, 2006

the uses of patriotism

There has been a rhetorical change in the second wave of marches across America in response to the “immigration reform” measures being debated in Washington. News reports are finding Mexican flags and Chicano Power imagery being replaced by the Stars and Stripes and appeals to the immigrant nature of the United States. The change was too dramatic not to have been organized- fliers for rallies here in Santa Barbara county advised people to bring American flags. It was a good move, even if the various stripes of anti-immigration voices are calling it cynical.
It is a sad, and frankly racist double standard that the right employs in vilifying expressions of Mexican or Chicano pride. It is part of the great forgetfulness of this country that people set aside the fact that Italian, Irish, Polish, Jewish and other nationalisms all coexist with American patriotism- and that they have all been seen as threatening or subversive by nativist forces in the past. America is strong enough an organizing concept that it can mingle with, even embody, diverse national-cultural expression.
In order to make this case, however, you have to wave the flag. Otherwise, it will continue to belong to those who believe, deep down, that to be American, is to be white, Christian, homophobic and anti-Government. In fact, they are the minority in America. Let’s make sure that everybody knows that.

the exportation of Chavismo

The nail-biter election in Peru presents three unpleasant but difficult options: a neoliberal woman, a corrupt social democrat and a clone of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Exportation of the Chavez model is dangerous, but not for the reasons that the U.S. State Department think it is.
I have no problem with Chavez radical plan to use Venezuelan oil to fund social programs and the dislodging of the country’s oligopoly. Whether they will be replaced by a new one remains to be seen. No, the problem lies in unique situation in which Venezuela finds itself. While nearly all developing countries have natural resources that could be more equitably (and ecologically) exploited, there is no natural resource quite like crude oil. As we know, this is both a blessing and a curse in nations in which the public sphere is repressed and democratic institutions nearly nonexistent. It’s good to be a Norwegian after that country tapped into the bounty of North Sea oil. It’s not so good to be a democratic activist in Saudi Arabia or Iran.
Nonetheless, if the Bolivarian Revolution invests in institution-building as much as it does in posturing, a lot of good may come of it. But countries which are not blessed/cursed with plentiful oil reserves will have to find a different path. For Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia and the rest of Latin America, the trick is to become a producer and an exporter without abandoning environmental protection, human and labor rights or being buried in debt and dependence. This is a tough line to walk- even tougher without truckloads of hard currency from oil revenues.
And this is the crux of my skepticism about Chavismo: it’s not exportable. If you don’t have the oil money, you can’t play the games that Chavez is playing. You can’t muscle the United States by yourself, you can’t thumb your nose at the risk of massive capital flight and you don’t have a reservoir of public wealth to redistribute. Bolivia’s Evo Morales will try, using coca instead of oil, and will find that he’s following (forgive me) a pipe-dream.
There’s a First World example, as well, which will no doubt unleash the wrath of my friends in Norway and Sweden. The traditional Nordic Social Democratic left has been skeptical to hostile toward European integration. It is seen, with validity, as a threat to the welfare state and to the principles of social solidarity which the labor movements of Scandinavia have worked hard to establish as hegemonic. However, of the nations of the Scandinavian peninsula, only Norway remains outside of the European Union. At the same time, only Finland has embraced it whole-heartedly. It is not an accident that, thanks to oil wealth, Norway is the richest and most fiscally independent from the rest of the region, while Finland is the poorest and most vulnerable to market pressures. I support those who argue that Norway should stay out of the EU, but I also know that this is not so easy an option for other countries. I’m also not convinced that the Union is the doomsday machine that is feared by many of my friends in Sweden.
And so, it would make no sense to me to hold up Norway’s refusal of the European Union as that country’s major contribution to the world. Instead, I look to Norway (and to Venezuela) as examples of what countries can do with their natural resources. They stand as counter examples to Kuwait, the U.S., and to Great Britain which squandered it’s North Sea oil wealth in Thatcherite privatization madness. Everybody can’t be Norway, and every Latin American leader can’t (and shouldn’t) be Hugo Chavez.

In other words, we make history, but not in the conditions of our own making…

søndag, april 02, 2006

from the front lines of “la reconquista”

The anxieties which surround Latino immigration have been on brilliant display over the past few weeks. As many as two million immigrant workers and their families and allies have taken to the streets to protest a version of “immigration reform” currently up for debate in Washington. Under some proposed measures, illegal entry into the United States would be felony, and aiding immigrants by providing food, water or medical supplies to those crossing the desert frontier between the United States and Mexico would be a criminal act. More ominously, local police and law enforcement officials would be made responsible for enforcing immigration laws, making policing of immigrant communities even more difficult. Who will report crimes of domestic violence theft or even murder if officers are required to report and deport anyone they come in contact with?
The debate in Washington is somewhat surreal, constrained as it is by the realities of the contemporary American economy and the increasing electoral clout of working-class Latinos. Overwhelming majorities of Anglo and black Americans favor harsh regulation of the borders and a crackdown on undocumented workers and their employers. The Republican back bench, as well as many local conservative activists and opinion-makers are biting at the bit to capitalize on the insecurity and xenophobia conjured up by discussion of immigration. Populist Democrats and some in the labor movement see restricting immigration as a way to boost wages and employment. They are likely to be frustrated. American capital needs immigrant labor just as much as it needs cheap oil- and so demands to move the Berlin Wall to the Texas border is not very realistic.
On the state and local level, however, it is likely that more of the “punish the poor” strategies which take rights, benefits or small comforts away from undocumented workers will continue to proliferate. Just as conservatives seem to think that denying condoms to young people keeps them chaste, people seem to think that denying drivers’ licenses, health care or education to undocumented workers and their families will stop people from crossing our border in search of jobs.
This leaves a “strange bedfellows” coalition of immigrant-rights advocates, unions who represent heavily Latino and Asian-immigrant industries, and corporate-oriented conservatives to hammer out a compromise. I expect that the upshot will be a bill which allows employers to hire “guest workers” at very low wages, but that also offers some windy and treacherous path to permanent status or citizenship. In order to get such a bill past conservatives, however, some of the more draconian measures of border enforcement and criminalization will also be part of the mix.
One of the things that keeps us as a country from being able to discuss immigration in a rational, let alone compassionate way is the perennial wave of nativism which greets any wave of immigration. The same theories are trotted out each time: the new group of immigrants refuse to assimilate, their religion is anathema, they won’t learn our language or our culture, they are disloyal, subversive. In the United States, this pattern is made all the more ridiculous by our own policultural history- and so each new claim must be distinguished from the xenophobia of the past generation. And so Samuel Huntington and Pat Buchanan must explain why these new immigrants are qualitatively worse than the Polish, Irish, German, Jewish, Norwegian or Chinese families who were accused of destroying America a century ago.
Layered onto this anxiousness is the rumor/talking point among both Anglo and black public opinion that there is a deliberate, calculated plan on the part of the Mexican government and infiltrators in the United States to “re-conquer” the American Southwest. As “Proof” of these fantasies, immigration opponents point to expressions of Mexican and Chicano nationalism at Marches and rallies and on streets and businesses in Lationo neighborhoods. Michelle Malkin, a syndicated columnist and major exponent of the “reconquista” myth has waxed hysterical in recent columns and on her website about the “brown power” and “this land was stolen” banners held at last week’s marches. She goes so far as to complain that “brown is beautiful” is a racist slogan, and that any white person with such a banner would be attacked.
I don’t know what feelings of harassment would lead a person to march under the banner of “white is beautiful” given that Hollywood, Madison Avenue and the U.S. Senate all seem to agree with such sentiments. Furthermore, if waving Mexican flags is such a dangerous sin, why was President Bush praised for doing just such a thing at a parade in Texas in today’s L.A. Times? The incident was used to illustrate the fact that the President is “at ease” with Mexican-Americans. However, when it’s waved in the context of one million immigrants marching in the streets of Los Angeles and demanding more rights, immigration opponents go ape. Sometimes I wonder if these people hide in their houses in fear during Saint Patricks Day parades, when another immigrant group plots the destruction of America. "Why should I kiss you just because you are Irish, you racist!"
The point here is that Malkin and others are working hard to prove to us that we are in a unique historical moment. Just as their predecessors, and their compatriots in Europe, they are conjuring up an image of dangerous, subversive immigrant population. They are joined by those who argue that population growth itself mandates stopping migration across the border (though these people usually seem less concerned about the density of Mexico City or Guatemala City). Then there is the pseudo-feminist argument that Latino immigrants, unlike regular Americans, are sexist and have lots of babies under the enslavement of the Catholic Church. All of this is nonsense. America is strong enough to handle cultural diversity. And, while radical nationalist slogans stoke irrational fear of a “reconquista”, Anglos in the West do need to wake up and realize that the cultural landscape of our entire region has always been heavily Latino. Talking about the “Latinoization” of America is like talking about the “Americanization” of Canada- it’s really hard to figure out what is invasion and what is co-evolution. Spanish has always been spoken here. Or do people think that “Los Angeles” is a Dutch name?
It's an American tradition: get here, then complain about whoever comes next. Just ask Michelle Malkin, who, like 99% of America, is descended from either an immigrant or a slave.
Taken altogether, this immigration anxiety could become one of the defining issues of the next decade. If so, we can expect to see the breakdown of some important political alliances. Like Civil Rights, it will present the Democrats with a tough choice to make, between new and old loyalties, between votes in the suburbs and the cities. Republicans, too, will have to chose between corporate money and the xenophobia of their base. That’s why a lot of the political elite on both sides of the aisle want the whole thing to just go away.
It won't, of course. Immigration (and fear of immigration) are as American as a taco salad.