politics is to want something

onsdag, desember 20, 2006

holiday reading/listening

Given that my thesis advisor occasionally reads hoverbike, I will start out by saying emphatically that the only things I will be reading over the holidays will be scholarly books and articles about grassroots Democratic Party activism. That shouldn’t stop the rest of you, however, from indulging in some somewhat political entertainment while you celebrate the turning of the year, the birth of your savior, the survival of your people or the pride of your African roots. Below are is a list of books and records I strongly recommend. Let me know if you enjoy any of the items below, as I will be busy untangling the mess of political identity formation and movement intentionality.

1. The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
As we all try to figure out Barack, the will-he-won’t-he man of the hour, I am reminded of the moment in Primary Colors where the protagonist struggles to figure out whether the Bill Clinton stand-in is the “real thing” or is willing to give up the store. On the one hand, Obama seems to be trying to find a political space in between two parties which are closer ideologically than they have perhaps ever been. On the other hand, he takes the left to task in some crucial ways: the reactive nature of our foreign policy thinking, the laziness of our cultural prejudices, the acceptance that there is, indeed, such a thing as “red” and “blue” America. In his second book, Obama continues to entice, but also puzzle. My reaction is always to bristle when I hear anyone attack the easy target of “partisanship”, but Obama’s attack is not exactly the same as, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s. For the most part, Obama seems to be calling on progressives to think about the possibility of a broad majority, one that will only be achieved by speaking to people where they are actually at, and not where we would wish them to be. I like that. A lot. Read the book, let me know what you think.

2. A Distrubance of Fate by Mitchell J. Freedman
This book was recommended to me by a commenter on hoverbike. Set in an imaginary America in which Robert Kennedy not only survived his assassination but went on to win the Presidency. In this alternate reality, the coalition between liberalism, civil rights and the new left is held together and expanded, though not without trial and difficulty. I’m surprised that there hasn’t been a new edition put out in the wake of Emilio Estevez’ film Bobby. It’s fun to read imaginary conversations between Richard Daley and Kennedy, and to be caught up in the suspense of all sides trying to avoid a bloodbath in Chicago. The book is dedicated to Michael Harrington, who figures into the book as well. It’s a fitting dedication, as the narrative of the book is essentially the realignment he spent the second half of his life advocating and critiquing.

3. In Defence of Politics by (Sir) Bernard Crick
This is an important little book. It is, perhaps, the single most influential book for me politically, and I’m sure I’m going to do it a disservice in this small blurb. Crick delivers a blistering defense of the realm of the political, taking on all those who would seek to “transcend” the difficult business of achieving social ends through ideology, democracy, nationalism, technology or tradition. This may sound esoteric, and his writing style may be a bit terse for some. However, think about the tendencies on both the right and the left which get in the way of effective and humane political action. Many of them are attacks on “politics”. We should let the market handle the distribution of wealth and power. We should let the Bible dictate our social policy. We can engineer and invent our way out of environmental problems. We should use elections to “get our ideas out there”, regardless of who wins. We should replace parties with independent, “common sense” elected officials or endless Athenian meetings. For anyone who is interested in rooting progressive political goals in a philosophy of political action, this is a must read.

4. Jennifer Government by Max Berry
Anti-corporate Sci-Fi at its best. In a milieu polluted by much self-righteous libertarianism, Max Berry has created a fun, geek-worthy novel in which government is the good guy. Pick it up and read it in one or two sittings. Cast the film in your head: should Angelina Jolie or Salma Hayek play the eponymous government agent, ruthlessly investigating the murders of schoolchildren as part of a plot to boost sales of Nike shoes. Berry has an interesting website, and while I don’t agree with all of his politics, he’s a fun guy who’s had enough of the branded dystopia of late capitalism.

5. The Aggrolites: The Aggrolites
Wow. This is one of those bands that makes me simultaneously wish I was still making music and ashamed that I ever tried to make music. I was lucky enough to see them a few weeks ago playing with the Skatalites. With all their punk swagger and rock poses, you would think that they were the latest garage indie thang…but no. The Los Angeles five-piece puts out amazing, tight, aggressive skinhead reggae with a heavy ribbon of funk and soul. While not a “political band” per se, they drop some consciousness and clearly understand the roots of their sound: an approach I appreciate more and more. If you only buy one post-Jamaican record this year, this has got to be it.

6. The Slackers: Peculiar
If you buy two, pick up the new Slackers album. The most consistently talented Jamaican-influenced American band has scored again. The last time I saw this band was on September 14th, 2001, just a couple of days after the attacks of 9-11. I was living in Oslo, Norway, and feeling especially homesick and terrified. I had just moved to Europe from New York, where many of the band members were drinking buddies of mine. Seeing old friends, hearing the comforting sounds of great ska, soul, jazz and reggae, and the hopeful onstage banter was like a healing salve. “Now why the hell would anybody want to go flying planes into people? That’s some fucked up shit.” I remember those words. Couldn’t have been said better.
At any rate, the new album takes quite a political turn. Several songs hit the Bush Administration from a Bronx-Reggae working-class perspective. Anthemic, simple, danceable, articulate.

7. Fischerspooner: Odyssey
Fischer-Spooner is one of the best of the new crop of synthesizer fetishist bands that all the kids are into nowadays. In fact, I found out about them through my 17 year old cousin, which is a sure sign that I am o.l.d. In any case, the music is complex and catchy, and the song “we need a war” is written with the simplistic punk irony that made bands like the Dead Kennedys so vital to survival in the 1980’s. Here’s a taste:

If they mess with us
If we think they might mess with us
If we say they might mess with us
If we think we need a war, we need war


søndag, desember 10, 2006

...and a third escapes justice

Apparently only Margaret Thatcher is mourning.

fredag, desember 08, 2006

jeane kirkpatrick 1926-2006

Former Reagan advisor and United States Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick died yesterday. She was 80 years old. The obituaries I have found on the internet focus on her major contributions to (neo)conservative foriegn policy thought, including the so-called "Kirkpatrick doctrine" outlining the difference between "authoritarianism" and "totalitarianism". This delightful bit of intellectual gymnastics was used by the Reagan administration to justify support for murderous right wing "traditional" regimes, as well as the illegal destruction of democratically elected governments.

What is less reported is that Kirkpatrick started her political life as a socialist. Her break with the left was steady but gradual, and by no means unique. The link between staunchly anti-communist strains of socialism and the "muscular" neoconservatism which surrounded the Reagan administration is quite fascinating. Given my own strident anti-communism, I find the lives of people like Kirkpatrick to be cautionary tales.

I wish death on no one. I do, however, wish that Kirkpatrick and her coterie were given the justice that they deserved for helping engineer one of the most outrageously criminal foriegn policy adventures in recent American history. Let's not forget: these are the folks who sold arms to Islamist Iran in order to fund terrorists fighting to undermine a democratically elected government in Nicaragua.

While I'm dismayed by the political direction he has taken, Daniel Ortega's re-election last month does provide a sweet irony here. I do hope that Ms. Kirkpatrick heard the news before she passed on.

This has been a bad month for right wing heroes. Milton Friedman has also shuffled off this mortal coil, leaving a body of work which will continue to fuel cynical attacks on the most precarious members of society. William Greider has written a rightfully unsympathetic obituary in the Nation.

Etiketter: ,

I missed this commercial during the election


unserious waste of time

Lest people think that I live by political invective alone, below are some links to wonderful things I have found on the internets.

1. White folks have the record for longest winning streak.

2. A religious tract for one of America's oldest faiths.

3. You, too, can be a heroic leader of the toiling masses.

4. The politics of your favorite superhero.


6. Why I don't trust anthropologists

7. I'm rooting for the Japanese lizard

Etiketter: ,

søndag, desember 03, 2006

are the progressive democrats possible?

Some weeks ago, I spoke on a panel organized by the local chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA). The event was meant as a post-election pep rally and the beginning of discussion of “what’s next”. John Dean of Watergate fame was the keynote speaker, and panelists included local elected officials, campaign staffers and grassroots activists. It was a good event. My thanks to the PDA for putting it on and getting the ball rolling on an important discussion.
My panel, focusing on citizen participation included a guy named Brad Parker, a lead activist with Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles. He is an articulate, if sometimes demagogic advocate for moving the party to the left. However, his comments on this occasion were somewhat disturbing, and pointed to some deep problems with the PDA’s approach to Party politics.
In his opening remarks, Parker explained, quite forcefully, why pundits and politicos are wrong when they insist on characterizing the Democratic victory last month as a triumph of the “center”. He went on, however, to excoriate Blacks and Latinos for “listening to their churches and opposing civil rights for women and gays and lesbians.” Holding the line on choice and gay marriage is commendable, but singling out blacks and latinos, two groups which once again handed the Democratic Party the overwhelming bulk of their support is somewhat strange. Framing the complexities of religious commitment and progressive values as a choice between one’s church and progressive politics is counterproductive to the extreme.
The event was attended by (I counted) three people of color, including myself. While there are many reasons for this fact, the kind of rhetoric employed by Parker is certainly no help. If white progressives insist on a cultural or theological litmus test for participation in their crusade, it is bound to fail. It’s also just inaccurate. While abortion and gay marriage are not popular among latinos, blacks, native Americans and other minorities, those are not the issues on which these communities base their voting decisions. The Republicans have tried desperately to force a realignment along “social” issues, but it has failed. On November 7th, it failed completely. I’m pro-choice, pro-gay marriage and about as progressive as you can get on a whole range of “social” questions, but Parker’s bizarre attack made me feel pretty damned unwelcome in the Democratic Party.
I was busy trying to figure out how to respond, when a question from the audience elicited another bizarre and divisive tirade from Parker. Someone asked why proposition 89, the somewhat sloppily constructed campaign finance proposal went down to defeat so dramatically in the election. I responded that the opposition was highly effective in painting it as a tax on businesses to go to a “slush fund for politicians”, and that the coalition necessary to pass radical campaign reform was simply not put together.
Parker blamed, and I quote, the “union bosses”, citing opposition by the California Teacher’s Association. The union bosses, according the Parker’s worldview, didn’t want to give up their corrupt power over the political process. While I had held my tongue after his vaguely racist outburst earlier, I did respond to this bit of ridiculousness. We can disagree with the decisions that unions make, but to use the rhetoric of the right, or to reify the myth that labor is a corrupting force in the political process is poisonous and counterproductive. It actually got worse from there, as Parker insisted that the problem with the “old” unions is that they don’t recognize that politics should be about free individuals with equal votes. A worse understanding of the circumstances labor finds itself in I have yet to hear.
I don’t quite get what folks like Parker think a progressive majority would look like. Apparently, it doesn’t involve actually existing black folks, latinos or labor, only imaginary, perfect and pristinely “progressive” versions of these vital constituencies. This is a typical and tragic failure by many white, middle-class progressives. They have a revelatory truth around which people should rally.
The PDA is currently working on a statewide push to elect progressive delegates to the next California Democratic Party convention. It’s a wonderful initiative, and I am excited that any organization is taking party work seriously enough to launch such an effort. However, if their plan is to build a progressive party by attacking labor and people of color, you can count me out.