Partisan Apologetics, Bipartisan Bullshit

Someone pointed out to me two articles, one by Paul Street and the other by Thomas Frank. They are about liberal apologetics or rather standard partisan rhetoric.

I often feel wary about liberalism as a label, especially as applied to the Democratic Party. Barack Obama’s liberalism is to Martin Luther King’s liberalism as Jerry Falwell’s Christianity was to MLK’s Christianity. But that is neither here nor there.

The point is that the apologists in question are defending the status quo. I’m not sure if it even matters how such apologists self-identify or what kind of rhetoric they use, just as it doesn’t particularly matter how they identify their opponents and their opponents identify them. Depending on who you ask, Obama is a liberal or a neoliberal, a socialist or a corporate shill, a radical mastermind or a weak moderate, and much else besides. It’s all so much empty talk.

What does matter is what is being defended, beyond all labels and rhetoric. It’s party politics. And I’m sure at least Paul Street understands that the two parties are basically the same, even if one of them is consistently and persistently more despair-inducing than the other.

The point is that Obama isn’t being inconsistent about his beliefs. The more likely explanation is that he is acting according to his principles and values, despite it not being the hope and change some thought he was bringing. His presidency, as such, isn’t a failure, but a grand success. It doesn’t matter what one calls it. Obama serves power and money, just like Bush Jr. It’s the same old game.

It isn’t a failure of the Democratic Party. It isn’t a failure of democracy. It isn’t a failure of liberalism. All of that is irrelevant. It’s a show being put on. It is politics as spectacle. Sure, Obama will play the role of a liberal in giving speeches, but it’s just a role and he is just an actor, although not as great of an actor as someone like Reagan, not that the quality of the acting is all that important.

For that reason, the apologists should be criticized harshly. So should the partisan loyalists who so much wanted to believe the pretty lies, no matter how obvious they were.

After he was elected, I was for giving Obama a chance to prove his intentions, not that I ever bought into the rhetoric. That is why I hoped he would get elected to a second term (instead of Romney), so that no one could ever claim that he wasn’t given the full opportunity to implement what he wanted. As his presidency draws to a close, it is fair to conclude that he has proven beyond any reasonable doubt what he supports. Of course, that should have been obvious long ago to anyone paying attention.

The healthcare reform was a good example of what he supports. As explained in one comment to Frank’s article:

“Obama was able to get the ACA through with no Republican votes, relying fully on Democratic support. Why then, didn’t Obama push a single-payer plan through? The only answer is that either Obama didn’t want single-payer, or the Democratic establishment didn’t want single-payer.

“So instead the Democrats went for the individual-mandate, proposed by the far right-wing Heritage Foundation in the 1990’s, and implemented by Romney in Massachusetts.

“Instead of a truly public health care system, the Democrats mandated that We The People need to subsidize private-sector, for-profit corporations.

“Not to mention, this ‘recovery’ has seen a drastic increase in the stratification of wealth, where the uber-rich have gotten far richer while the middle-class shrinks.

“But under a President McCain or a President Romney, would we have really expected anything to be different?”

Democrats typically argued that Obama’s healthcare reform was a good compromise for pushing progressive change. Meanwhile, Republicans typically argued it was either socialism or a step toward it.

What was mostly ignored by both sides of mainstream politics is that Obamacare first and foremost served the interests of big money, which in this case meant big insurance. The only time big money gets mentioned is when campaign season goes into full gear and even then it’s never about serious concern for getting money out of politics (along with related corporatist issues such as ending revolving door politics, stopping  regulatory capture, etc).

How does this kind of corporatist policy lead to either progressive or socialist results? Why not just call it what it is and leave it at that? Why are so many people willing to play these political games of doublespeak?

People have their minds so twisted up with convoluted rhetoric that I suspect many of them couldn’t think straight, even if they tried. Heck, looking at this ideological mess, I must admit that I also find myself struggling to make heads or tails out of it.

Besides standard political power-mongering, the agenda is hard to figure out. Is it just mindless defense of the status quo? Why don’t those in power see how destructive this is, even to the system itself in the long run?

7 thoughts on “Partisan Apologetics, Bipartisan Bullshit

  1. Have you read society of spectacle? You should. And you are right, it isn’t a failure of democracy, this is what our kind of democracy was always designed to favor anyway.

    • No, I haven’t read Society of Spectacle. But that was what I was referencing. I’ve come across that book being mentioned in various contexts. It is one of those books I’m sure I should read. I’ll bump it up closer to the top on my to-read list.

      I agree with you that it is by design. In many ways, I don’t think our political system has fundamentally changed these past centuries, since the country’s founding. The entire social order was designed to be a class hierarchy from the beginning, where it was envisioned there would be an enlightened aristocracy or such was the rhetoric at the time.

      Economic and political elites are still treated akin to enlightened aristocracy in our society, as far as mainstream media portrays mainstream social reality. We idolize the rich and powerful. Our society is treated as a functioning meritocracy, where everyone basically gets what they supposedly deserve. If that central belief was ever doubted by enough Americans, the social order and the political system would be delegitimized.

      One thing people forget is how only the wealthy had a vote in early America. After the new government was put into place, only a few percentage of Americans had the right to vote or run for public office. The right to vote was eventually extended to other parts of the citizenry, but that missed the point. It was never voting that was the basis of decision-making. Voting was just symbolic of power and wealth. It was that power and wealth that made the decisions. Creating a larger voting citizenry didn’t change this political dynamic.

      The only times when this system has been challenged is when mass revolt threatens. Most of the major reforms that have happened in this country came about because those in power feared what would happen if they didn’t throw a bone to the outraged population. Sometimes this means more significant reform such as the Civil Rights Act, but often it just means fake reform like that of Obamacare.

  2. It is interesting that Thomas Frank finally gets with the program. Paul Street is Marxist-ish so he has said this for a while, but Frank has taken a long time to realize it.

    • I was thinking that as well.

      I’m used to seeing Paul Street write things such as this. I’m familiar with his views, as he lives here in Iowa City and I follow him on facebook.

      He is representative of what one expects from a more leftist perspective from outside the mainstream. He isn’t a crazy far left-wing radical fomenting the collapse of the capitalist state, much less Western Civilization, but neither does he pull his punches. His views seem like moderate socialism, which of course is radical by mainstream standards, and I suppose for that reason it appeals to my variety of left-liberalism (related to my interest in the likes of Chomsky).

      But Thomas Frank is a liberal of the mainstream variety and one that gets plenty of mainstream attention. I’m usually indifferent or critical of that kind of liberal. Still, he is more interesting than what else goes for mainstream liberalism. His piece was rather hard-hitting for the mainstream. It was refreshing. I hope to see more of that kind of thing getting mainstream attention.

  3. The comment about healthcare reform caught my attention because it reminded me of discussions I’ve had with my conservative father. He genuinely believes that giving insurance companies more power and profit was intentionally designed as the first step leading toward socializing medicine and hence a general scheme for a socialist agenda.

    This thought process is just plain bizarre. Yet it is also so typical. The rhetoric on both sides is equally disconnected from the political reality.

    When I talk about how power operates in our society (similar to what I say in this post), my father dismisses it as conspiracy theory. Even most Democrats probably would dismiss this kind of alternative view.

    Like so many people (across the spectrum), he lacks the sociological insight about how social systems maintain themselves. They not only reinforce themselves through overt forms of power, but more importantly through the power of controlling and influencing perception of the system (e.g., why racism doesn’t require racists). He regularly states many things as common sense, which is just to say they are what he feels unable and unwilling to question. He doesn’t recognize the power his own beliefs have over his thinking (he lacks what Chomsky calls intellectual self-defense).

    No conspiracy is necessary. Just typical forms of unawareness and dissociation as they get expressed on a larger social level.

    At the same time, my father is prone to his own conspiracy theorizing.

    He’ll argue that climatology consensus is based on biased funding, rather than being based on research data. He thinks that the only way climatologists get research grants is by portraying it as an ecological catastrophe, but this is such a naive and simplistic view of both science and politics. These scientists work in both private and public institutions with both private and public funding, and they work in countries around the world with different political systems and different funding methods. The scientific consensus used to be against anthropocentric global warming, and it took decades of research and debate to shift that consensus, but it isn’t as if climatologists weren’t getting funded in the past and it isn’t as if scientists of the opposing position aren’t also getting massive funding.

    The only way my father’s argument would make sense is if it involved the largest and most complex conspiracy theory in world history. I don’t deny biases exist, but they rarely if ever operate in such crudely simplistic ways.

    Anyway, it isn’t as if someone like Obama cares any more about climate change than he does about healthcare reform and campaign finance reform. Big energy, like big insurance, is what keeps Obama’s mind focused on the political game. He isn’t going to do anything to endanger these corporate interests. There is a bipartisan agreement to mostly ignore any important issue that challenge the status quo. Democrats have no more incentive than Republicans to promote funding for research that offers evidence of man-made climate change. Most politicians couldn’t care less about science funding and where it goes, other than something to complain about during campaign season. It’s at best treated as a political football, not a real problem to be dealt with.

    As another example, my father dismisses mainstream media as liberal biased. Yet he also dismiss claims that the mainstream media is biased toward the status quo of the system, toward power and money, while refusing to acknowledge the significance of reporters and journalists as employees of increasingly consolidated mega-corporations. But he’ll argue that the free market mostly works, while refusing to acknowledge that the media is a market. Is the MSM giving people what they want or it biased? It can’t be both. And if biased, why are some biases obsessed over and others denied?

    He argued that there can be no suppression of the truth in the MSM. The reason he gave is because he believes that individuals can’t be controlled. He thinks there will always be someone who will speak out. There is some truth to that for sometimes a journalist will speak out, but I would make two points: 1) it is rare for anyone in the MSM to do investigative journalism and detailed analysis of any truly challenging issue, and 2) when someone in the MSM does tackle a hard issue, it rarely leads to widespread debate across the MSM. The only exception to this rule is when there are social forces outside the media driving those in the mainstream to pay attention, such as the recent riots and DOJ report on the Ferguson police.

    It is hard for many Americans, both right and left, to understand how media can be closely linked to a two-party system and national propaganda. My father has told me that when the MSM ignores something it must because it wasn’t important. He isn’t a stupid guy, but he simply lacks the imagination to see the world from outside of the system. It doesn’t seem strange to his mind that the media typically repeats what is said by politicians and corporate spokespersons, if he ever gives it any thought.

    He is far from unusual. This just makes my father an average American.

    The mainstream political left won’t genuinely challenge the political right nor hold their own politicians accountable. The same goes for the political right. Both sides of mainstream politics are invested in the system as it is. This constricts how such people think about every issue.

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