Quote of the day

John Kerry, a crude opportunist by trade and need, recently dismissed Edward Snowden’s manhood — his virtù, to use the sense of the word given to it by Niccolò Machiavelli. David Lindorff rightly took issue with Kerry’s denunciation of Snowden. He concluded thusly:

Kerry has no right to question anyone’s “manhood.”

Having John Kerry tell someone like Snowden to “man up” is the moral equivalent of Richard Nixon telling someone to follow his conscience or Bernie Madoff telling a homeless beggar to get an honest job.

Snowden would have to be crazy or a masochist to come back to the US and submit his fate to the “American justice system” touted by Secretary Kerry.

Without a doubt, Edward Snowden in his person and actions more concisely expresses the sense Machiavelli gave to this term than Kerry ever had, even if we include the Kerry who opposed the Vietnam War. Machiavelli would have praised Snowden’s ferocity and bravery, his tactical and strategic senses and even his patriotism. He would have appreciated Snowden’s audacious project, one which originated in his stated hope to help put an end to America’s emerging tyranny. He would have considered Snowden a fellow republican. On the other hand, Machiavelli would have judged Kerry to be a faithless mercenary, and a source of corruption.

Quote of the day

This one comes from the word processor of the late Peter Mair:

The age of party democracy has passed. Although the parties themselves remain, they have become so disconnected from the wider society, and pursue a form of competition that is so lacking in meaning, that they no longer seem capable of sustaining democracy in its present form.

The quoted passage can be found in the opening paragraph of Mair’s Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy. Although his book addresses this phenomenon as it can be found in the Western European democracies, I believe that one can successfully argue that the epitome of democratic elections without significance lies in the United States. The last election which posed candidates that were clear alternatives to each other: The 1972 contest between Richard Nixon and George McGovern. And Nixon wins any comparison made with Barack Obama! Democratic accountability, and therefore political legitimacy, always eludes America’s national politicians, especially presidential candidates and winners. Because of this lack of accountability, it would be accurate to claim that America’s political elite represent the federal state to civil society and to America’s citizens in general. The happy relationship has these politicians representing civil society and the citizenry at large in the state. The founders did not care much for the common folk; they thus refused to constitutionally secure the direction and telos of this relationship such that it promoted representative government.

George McGovern died today (1992-2012)

He was 90 at the time of his death.

It cannot be said that McGovern’s star-crossed 1972 Presidential campaign signaled the death of American liberalism (America’s version of social democracy). That death would finally come when Ronald Reagan demolished the politically conservative Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization in 1981. What his 1972 campaign managed to accomplish was the creation of a potent and enduring symbol, one which encapsulated the political impossibility of liberal reform in the United States. It did not matter a jot that McGovern was not a radical in any way at all. His reform program was quite modest. Yet his defeat at Richard Nixon’s dirty hands was so decisive that it suggested Americans in general would not support the political implementation of a just social order, a project which informed national politics in the prior decade. In this sense it can be said that McGovern’s defeat in 1972 ushered in the Age of Reaction in American politics. It was the watershed moment when the silent majority put down the young upstarts who wanted to run the country. Even the Watergate Scandal — which one might have expected to affirm completely and strongly the leftwing of the Democratic Party and which destroyed the corrupt Nixon Administration as well as the Party-man Gerald Ford — failed to deter the hard right turn made by the American elite after the 1960s. Militarism, predatory economics and social reaction would dominate American politics thereafter.

The 1972 Election remains an active and significant component of America’s political memory. Echoes of Nixon’s victory could be heard in Scott Walker’s decisive victory over Tom Barrett in the Wisconsin Governor’s Recall Election of 2012 and, for that matter, in the public and private despair felt by the Democratic Party left over Barack Obama’s reactionary administration. Both situations reflect the irrelevance of a center-left politics in the United States, a weakness revealed by the 1972 Presidential Election. A Heideggerian might consider this despair to be Uncle Sam anticipating his very death.

George McGovern was considered a decent man. I never met him and cannot confirm this observation from personal experience. But, if McGovern had been a decent man during his long life, we who remain alive might affirm his memory by appreciating the fact that his name will always remain associated with the effort to turn the country away from its self-selected destruction. This will be his posterity.

Quote of the day

The latest one originated from the late Alexander Cockburn‘s typewriter back in the late 1980s:

I came to the United States in, June of 1972, the month Nixon’s burglars broke into the Watergate, and I am writing these lines fifteen years later while Colonel North lectures Congress about the role of executive power in the Iran-Contra scandal. Looking at North’s cocksure, edgy ingratiating profile I am reminded of his avatar: the ‘can do’ guy in Nixon’s White House, Gordon Liddy. The contrast is a good measure of the political and social distance the country has traveled between the two scandals.

Liddy, endlessly testing his ‘will’ and firing himself up with Nietzschean vitamins, had the beleaguered paranoia of a sworn foe of the sixties counter-culture. Bad fellow though Liddy was, there was always an element of Inspector Clouseau about him. He held his hand over a candle to prove his fortitude against pain, and when the time came, he stood by the can do’ guys code of omerta and served his time in Danbury federal penitentiary without a whimper.

Back in the Watergate hearings you could look at the burglars, at their sponsors in the White House, at Nixon himself and see that despite noises of defiance and protestations of innocence they knew they had been caught on the wrong side of the law and, though they would do their utmost to keep clear of the slammer, it would not come as a shock to them if the slammer was where they finally ended up.

North is as true a memento of the Reagan era as Liddy was of that earlier time. North has Reagan’s own capacity for the vibrant lie, uttered with such conviction that it is evident how formidable psychic mechanisms of self-validation, in the very instant of the lie’s utterance, convince the liar — Reagan, North — that what he is saying is true. But if Liddy embodied the spirit of fascism at the level of grand guignol, North has the aroma of the real thing, eighties all-American style: absolute moral assurance that his lawlessness was lawful; that though he was there to ‘get things done’, he was following orders; that all impediments in his path, legal or moral, were, obstructions erected by a hostile conspiracy.

From Liddy to North to whom? This obvious question lacks an obvious answer. One might consider George W. Bush to be the provider of that image. We need only recall his searching for WMD around his office and under his speaking lectern while the Washington press corps and other beltway insiders snickered, humorless and thoughtless shtick which amused these well-connected Washingtonians. Rahm Emanuel provides another worthy candidate. Surely his “fucking retarded” outburst when characterizing a few liberal groups that wanted to attack those Blue Dog Democrats who were unwilling to support Obama’s corporate-friendly health care bill stands out for what passes as noblesse oblige in contemporary Washington. Yet I believe that the compelling symbol today is not a member of the political elite justifying his or her actions to Congress or a court or the public. Rather today these men and women mostly need not justify their crimes for these crimes are largely ignored by the much of the press, the public in general and most politicians. In the United States today, the rule of law applies to the many whereas a few enjoy the rule by law. The image of lawlessness has thus shifted from key members of an amoral elite confronting their crimes in public to the well-known and not-so-well-known victims of those crimes — to the Mannings and Padillias, the Assanges and Stewarts, as well as every black site prisoner who exists as homo sacer, civilly dead beings wholly lacking political rights; to the individuals sprayed, cuffed and beaten by police forces which have come to use barely restrained power on America’s rights bearing citizens; to those made bankrupt by a predatory banking system, by job loss, by massive and unavoidable debt and by a government committed to austerity and war. This is America today:

Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever (Orwell, 1984).

Quote of the day

Bob Urie takes a union to task:

Last week SEIU (Service Employees International Union) echoed the language of the Occupy Wall Street movement to give an early endorsement to Barack Obama in his re-election bid for the presidency in 2012. Service Employees International UnionFor both tactical and strategic reasons this endorsement works against the interests of organized labor. And using the language of OWS to endorse the singular symbol of American political dysfunction undermines the efforts of the thousands of OWS protesters who have put themselves at significant risk of physical harm to bring about substantive political and social change.

We might have to travel back to the early 1970s to find a labor bureaucrat making a blunder of this magnitude. I’m referring, of course, to decrepit and foolish George Meany‘s dance macabre with Richard Nixon and George McGovern. Meany hated McGovern for, among other things, McGovern’s opposition to the Vietnam War. Yet McGovern was the most pro-labor candidate for President of the two legacy parties in the nation’s history! The upshot: Not only was the 1972 Presidential election “big labor’s” nadir within the Democratic Party, the election also stands alone as the signal event marking the political realignment brought about by the ascendency of the New Right.

Mary Kay Henry — a fool belonging to a tradition made by fools.

Steve Fraser discusses Occupy Wall Street, its historical precedents and its current significance

Writing for TomDispatch, Steve Fraser, a historian of labor and Wall Street as well as a publisher of important books, recently provided his readers with a capsule history of America’s resistance to American finance capital. His article is worth reading.

Fraser begins by asserting that:

Occupy Wall Street…may be a game-changer. If so, it couldn’t be more appropriate or more in the American grain that, when the game changed, Wall Street was directly in the sights of the protesters.

The fact is that the end of the world as we’ve known it has been taking place all around us for some time. Until recently, however, thickets of political verbiage about cutting this and taxing that, about the glories of “job creators” and the need to preserve “the American dream,” have obscured what was hiding in plain sight — that street of streets, known to generations of our ancestors as “the street of torments.”

After an absence of well over half a century, Wall Street is back, center stage, as the preferred American icon of revulsion, a status it held for a fair share of our history. And we can thank a small bunch of campers in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park for hooking us up to a venerable tradition of resistance and rebellion.

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Quote of the day

Alex Gourevitch weighs in on the recently ‘concluded’ Debt Debate as well as the political party he believes bears the greatest share of the responsibility for the debacle:

Readers know the details: $1 trillion cuts, $1.5 more through a supercommittee with a trigger if they can’t agree, and the further possibility, by the end of 2012, that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy sunset. Major spending cuts just as GDP growth was revised down for the past three years, and a double dip recession becomes an increasing possibility. In fact, stimulus money is just about dried up and, as we noted in a previous post, was considerably counterbalanced by contraction at the state-level. This plan looks less like a resolution to economic problems and more like a continuation of the trend of redistributing resources upwards: cuts in social spending (yes yes, some are protected, but not all, and it’s always revisable…) and preservation of tax cuts. There is a lot to say here, and we will try to do it succinctly, but to put the conclusion up front: this is not just a problem of a weak, neoliberal President and wacky-tacky right-wing, it’s also the product of decades of Democratic Party tactics and ideology. And more broadly, signals a deep, and not just American, problem facing left-wing thinking — this is an international, not just national story.

Richard Nixon declared his commitment to Keynesianism and met with Mao; Ronald Reagan signed tax increases and concluded a deal with Gorbachev; Bill Clinton called himself an Eisenhower Republican and all but destroyed America’s anemic welfare state a few years later. All three affirmed the core and dominant political sensibility of their moment even though they may have believed they were rebels of a sort. Barack Obama has merely mimicked their example.

Can anyone, Obama included, be a true centrist if the left lacks a project, a party and a set of movements able to promote both?