Partisanship Makes Americans Stupid

Democrats are really pissing me off right now. I hate partisan politics. Even my support for Sanders is tentative. And I’d rather vote third party. For damn sure, I’m not going to vote for Hillary Clinton, if she gets the nomination.

Do these partisans have any common sense or principles?

On certain issues such as war, prisons and the police state, Hillary is far to the right of someone like Ron Paul or even his son Rand. I bet even both Pauls combined with their pro-capitalist libertarianism never accepted as many big money corporate bribes as has Clinton. She is a strident neoliberal, which in American parlance makes her an economic conservative. Also, the policies she has supported have been consistently bad for minorities. On most major issues, Clinton is to the right of the majority of Americans, often far to the right.

Why would any moral and sane person who took Sanders rhetoric seriously vote for Clinton? Why would any principled liberal consider Clinton to be much of a liberal, in the normal use of that word?

This same thing goes for Republican partisanship.

Those on the political right love to use libertarian rhetoric. Yet many third party candidates on the political left are way more libertarian. Even someone like Ron Paul isn’t all that extreme in his libertarianism. Green Party candidates are regularly more libertarian than Ron Paul and the candidates of the supposed Libertarian Party. Republicans love big government and deficit-spending, just focused on their favorite areas.

So, if one’s libertarianism is principled, why not vote for the most libertarian candidate? Well, the reason is that too many people use the word ‘libertarian’ when they really mean something entirely else: neoliberalism, corporatism, or whatever. But those crony capitalist Republicans will threaten the voters that they better vote for them or else the communists will take over.

This lesser evil crap is plain stupid. Lesser evil than what? Why is partisanship used as a way of excusing everything? Why do people vote against their own interests just to make sure that their team wins?

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Political Compass:

The US Presidential Election 2004
The US Presidential Election 2008
The US Presidential Election 2012
The US Primary Candidates 2016

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?

Rate And Duration of Despair

“One of the most remarkable features of the unemployment figures is that both the rate and the duration of unemployment have increased during every Republican administration and decreased under every Democratic one, without a single exception.”
~James Gilligan, Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others,  Kindle Locations 704-706

This pattern has existed since records first began being kept, unemployment rate since 1900 and unemployment duration rate since 1948.

It’s not even just unemployment. The same partisan disparity is found with rates and, when applicable, durations of diverse issues: poverty and economic inequality, recessions and depressions, GDP and GNP, homicides and suicides, etc. The author further explores the broad range of studies that show various correlations between these factors, most especially how the other factors have through time-series analysis been causally linked to increasing violence.

Then Gilligan connects it all to regional partisan politics and differences of populations. He considers many angles, from crime policies to studies on authoritarianism; revealing “some very interesting inter-correlations between all three of these variables: character, party, and state” (Kindle Location 1816).

Also, he offers a thorough survey of the data on incarceration and crime rates. There is no clear, strong evidence that mass incarceration decreased crime and violence. An argument, instead, can be made that mass incarceration has been contributing to the problem.

Gilligan’s main argument is based on his accidental discovery of how the homicide and suicide rates followed party administrations. No one had noticed because the two parties were averaging each other out. No party was in power continuously for long enough to make the pattern obvious enough for a casual observation. The more the author looked at the data the stronger the correlation became and the wider set of the correlated data.

The primary conclusion is that economics is so bad during Republican administrations that an increasing number of Americans turn to violence, both against others and against themselves. Furthermore, the longer a Republican administration remains in power the worse it gets. The opposite happens with Democratic administrations. This is what the data shows.

It’s freaking mind-blowing.

He does offer a cautionary note. Even under Democrats, violence rates although lower than Republicans are still at what would be considered epidemic levels in other Western countries. Still, the pattern remains interesting.

One has to wonder what the pattern would look like if Democrats or those even further to the left had maintained political power continuously for this past century. Or imagine how our society would be transformed if ever a left-wing party came to power, as seen in other Western countries. Screw both the Republicans and Democrats! We can only take so much backlash of misery and temporary respite.

Even for someone who despises the two party system, this pattern can’t be easily dismissed or ignored. The differences between the parties are real. Politics does matter.

Many independents wish the differences were even greater, but one has to be extremely cynical to argue these differences aren’t significant enough to make a difference. If one is unemployed or at risk of unemployment, if one is poor or homeless, if one feels the shame and desperation of being deemed a loser in a society based on Social Darwinism, it certainly matters.

Nonetheless, what is an independent to do when the back and forth partisan power struggle never leads to permanent solutions that get to the root of problems? As a psychiatrist who worked for 25 years in the prison system, that is what James Gilligan wants to know (Kindle Locations 123-134):

“Given the stability of that correlation between the political parties and the violent death rates, and my inability to disconfirm it, the question that remains is: what does it mean? Why is it occurring, and doing so repeatedly? As a physician, my interest has always been in matters of life and death, not politics, and this foray into politics because of a chance discovery that implicated political actors only happened because of my attempt to learn what was causing these deaths and how we could save lives.”

Ignoring parties, how do we get positive results? How do we make the world a better place? What lesson should we learn?

I wish I knew.

Voting Rights Act: a Last Defense Against Voter Suppression

An important case has attracted attention recently. It is about voting rights.

I will never understand why this is seen as a partisan issue, specifically why Republicans make it a partisan issue. If Democrats (or any other party) sought to suppress Republican voters (or any group of voters), if they sought to disenfranchise Southern whites, conservatives and fundamentalists, I’d be as strong of a critic of this practice as when Republicans have done the same in recent elections.

Why do Republicans, conservatives and libertarians lack principles about democracy? Or refuse to apply their principles in principled fashion? What do they fear about democracy? Why do they do to others as they would never accept others doing unto them? If their principles don’t include democracy and the constitution, what do they represent?

Here is one article making clear the issues at hand.

Millions Of Voters Of Color Will Be Affected By The Supreme Court’s Shelby Decision

As the nation awaits a decision in the Supreme Court case, Shelby County v. Holder, the future of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act hangs in the balance. The greatest legal protection for voters of color, Section 5 requires states with a history of discriminatory voting laws to submit all voting changes for federal preclearance before they can be implemented. Nowhere is its modern-day significance clearer than in the experience of voters of color in the 2012 election, when a tidal wave of voter suppression policies threatened to restrict full participation.

As the repeal has become official, let’s ponder the consequences. The reason the Voting Rights Act was passed in the first place was because certain states were practicing legal oppression of citizens and suppression of their voting rights.

Consider this in terms of the criminal system. With the Voting Rights Act, certain states were in a sense put into prison with the hopes of rehabilitation and one day release into normal life.Replace the crime of unconstitutional and anti-democratic political action. Replace it with some more mundane crime against one’s fellow citizens, let’s say: theft, murder or rape.

The criminal is caught, charged, given a trial, and imprisoned. After many years, the prisoner appeals for release. Would the appeal committee release the prisoner without looking at his record of behavior while in prison? One would hope not. If the thief, murderer or rapist had had stolen, murdered or raped while in prison, should he be released simply because he had been in prison for decades? Of course not.

Now, let’s analyze the original crime that caused these states to have this law enforced upon them. Since the Voting Rights Act was enacted, have these states committed these crimes again? Have they committed these crimes recently? Yes and yes. Have they been rehabilitated? Should they be released because of good behavior? No and no.

So, what is Section 5 all about and how does it specifically relate to recent political issues?

The greatest legal protection for voters of color, Section 5 requires states with a history of discriminatory voting laws to submit all voting changes for federal preclearance before they can be implemented. Nowhere is its modern-day significance clearer than in the experience of voters of color in the 2012 election, when a tidal wave of voter suppression policies threatened to restrict full participation.

A new report, to be released next month by Advancement Project and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, comprehensively analyzes that experience for the first time, and recommends election reforms to ensure the ballot remains free, fair and accessible for all. (See a five-page summary with key data from the report here.) Entitled Lining Up: Equal Access to the Right to Vote, the report highlights the determined efforts of the two civil rights organizations, from the courtroom to the streets, to combat voter ID laws, challenges at the polls, deception and intimidation, proof-of-citizenship registration practices, unacceptably long lines, and the improper use of provisional ballots.

The report also tells the story through testimonials from African-American and Latino citizens who were impacted by – and stood up to – voter suppression laws and policies. Collectively, this illustrates the continued need for federal laws, such as Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, protecting the right to vote. In addition, the report explores the critical role of Section 5 in blocking legislative assaults on voting, and the continued voting problems in states covered by the provision. Findings include:

  • In states covered by Section 5 in the 2012 elections, more than 22.9 million Black, Latino and Asian-American voters were able to cast a ballot.
  • Laws that shortened early voting periods in 2012 contributed to long lines in some locations, which voters of color faced more. Black and Latino voters were reportedly two to three times more likely than whites to wait longer than 30 minutes to vote.
  • In 2013, 11 of the 15 states that are either fully or partially covered by Section 5’s protections – more than 73 percent – have introduced restrictive voting bills.

 

“While African-American, Latino and Asian-American voters came out in historic numbers in 2012, those numbers were possible only after voter protection organizations, community groups and voters themselves, who fought tirelessly to defeat restrictive laws across the country and other attempts to suppress voters of color,” said Katherine Culliton-González, Senior Attorney and Director of Voter Protection for Advancement Project. “Without the intervention of the Justice Department through Section 5, the impact of these assaults on democracy would have been far worse.”

Push to overturn Voting Rights Act tied to GOP voter suppression efforts
Zachary Roth
MSNBC

In 2012, Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted caused an outcry when he ended early voting in the three days before Election Day for everyone except members of the military. The change would have made it harder for hundreds of thousands of Ohioans—disproportionately African-Americans—to vote. As Rachel Maddow and MSNBC.com noted at the time, Husted brought in Consovoy to defend the move in court, after it was challenged by the Obama campaign. Ultimately, the court required that the early voting days be restored.

Also last year, Florida Republicans passed a law that cut back on the state’s early voting days. Among other changes under the new system, polls would have to be closed on the Sunday before the election—a day when many black churches help get their members to the polls right after services. The Justice Department blocked the law. As The Nation‘s Ari Berman recently noted, Wiley Rein was brought in by Florida to argue the case in court. Consovoy claimed that reducing early voting was necessary to combat voter fraud—though there’s almost no evidence of significant fraud occurring. The early voting days were ultimately restored, though long lines nonetheless plagued both early and Election Day voters in the Sunshine State.

To block Florida’s early voting cutbacks, the Justice Department cited Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which allows the federal government to stop any election changes in most southern states if they’re deemed to reduce minority voting power. It’s Section 5 that’s at issue in the Shelby County case that goes before the Supreme Court this week, and voting-rights advocates have held up the Florida case as an example of why the provision is still needed.

Ideologically Confused Partisans

I sometimes feel like I’m living in Bizarro America.

Al Gore is a veteran and a successful businessman. He is of Scots-Irish descent from the Upper South where he spent summers working on the family farm in Tennessee where they grew tobacco and raised cattle. Al Gore is boring, if anything, in his being a generally upstanding citizen. He is smart and accomplished. He has lived the American Dream, if you’re into that kind of thing.

George W. Bush is a draft-dodger and a failed businessman, not to mention an alcoholic. He was born in New England to a political family of old wealth, but he pretended to be a good ol’ boy Southerner and a rancher. Even Bush’s Christianity always seemed like pretense. Everything about Bush seemed like pretense, even simple things like putting on a flight suit and declaring ‘Mission Accomplished!’.

Al Gore was an example of what conservatives idealize as a moral citizen, but they attacked him. Instead, conservatives supported George W. Bush who demonstrates the worst attributes of the ruling elite.

Now, conservatives claim Bush jr never was a real conservative. The last real conservative to be president, they claim, was Ronald Reagan.

However, Reagan was the president who chose to use deficit spending which created the permanent debt that later on both Bush presidents grew even larger. Also, Reagan was a part of the Hollywood elite, a union leader, passed the most liberal pro-choice abortion bill prior to Roe v. Wade, and was the first president to invite an openly gay couple to sleep over at the White House. Reagan’s sunny optimism and idealism was a straightforward expression of his liberal-mindedness. He was a former progressive who simply turned his progressivism toward realpolitik and became a neocon. There was nothing particularly conservative about him.

Before Reagan, Jimmy Carter was a Deep Southern Evangelical. He was an actual compassionate conservative, what Bush jr was always pretending to be. He was an old fashioned conservative of a conservationist bent, a type of conservative that used to be more common. It was Carter who was the first Evangelical president and he took his religion more seriously than any other recent president. His so-called malaise speech was all about America’s moral fiber and everything he said about America has turned out to be true.

Despite many perceived successes, Reagan was responsible for the permanent debt which is one of the greatest failings of any president in all of US history. Despite many perceived failings, Carter’s one great achievement was passing an EPA regulation to decrease lead in gasoline which is directly and positively correlated to the largest decrease in violent crime in US history and hence one of the greatest achievements of any president in all of US history.

I just don’t get what is conservative about Bush jr or Reagan nor what is praiseworthy about such ideology, whatever one wishes to call it. It’s equally confusing trying to figure out what liberalism means in all of this. The most liberal president in recent history may have been Reagan who supposedly hated liberalism. Obama is probably more of a conservative than Reagan. Conservative or liberal, there is plenty of cynical and confused, maybe even deceptive, rhetoric to spread equally around.

Republicans: Party of Despair

“If I believed in what you believe, I’d kill myself.”

I recently said that to someone. The person in question is a Republican, but I don’t say it as a Democrat. I’m not a practitioner of partisan bickering and, in fact, I don’t like the entire sham of a two-party system. I also don’t say it lightly or disingenuously. I meant every word of it.

I’ve attempted suicide before and have often contemplated it many times over the years. When I make a statement like the above, I’m deadly serious. Just thinking about the Republican worldview makes me despair to the point of near hopelessness. If I were to believe that worldview to be true, what would be the point of going on?

I’m reminded of James Gilligan’s recent book, Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others. I first learned of it from a book review which offers a great summary (I’ve posted it before, but it’s so important that I’ll post it again):

James Gilligan’s new book, ‘Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others’ (Polity Press, 2011) could be reduced to a few key statements, the main one being ‘Republicans are very bad for your health’. Gilligan, Professor and MD at New York State University, has combed the statistics on violent deaths (homicide and suicide), from 1900 through to 2007 in order to determine political causation.

His findings confirm what many have hitherto instinctively and experientially known: murders and suicides increase under Republican rule. Why? Because they also create inequality and unemployment, both of which produce an employer’s market that keeps wages down. In fact, unemployment figures – in rate and duration – have increased during every Republican administration, and decreased during every Democratic administration. Ironically, despite Republican policies that favour employers and cause greater levels of inequality and unemployment, their policies then inculcate shame amongst the unemployed – blind – or to coin a much-favoured Republican word, ‘evil’ to the fact that they are its main cause. The Republican ideology – hypocritical and misanthropic – fosters the most rancid shame that goes like this: can’t find a job? It’s your own fault. Lost your job? What did you do, must have done something. Not rich. That’ll be your own fault too – or ‘thats God’s plan for you’. Addicted? Can’t hold your damn liquor. Single mum? Slut. Had an abortion? Murderer and slut. Moaning about low pay? You should thank god you’ve got a job. The list goes on. It is a terrible, cruel, vicious circle in which people become imprisoned. In short, Republicans are architects of despair that leads to suicide, and of rage that leads to murder.

My emotional response to the Republican wasn’t just emotional. The facts speak for themselves.

Since reading that review of Gilligan’s book, I’ve bought and read it. I might consider it to be one of the most important books I’ve read in my life, despite it not being great literature. It is a simple and straightforward presentation of facts that can’t be rationalized away. The facts themselves aren’t the product of an ideological agenda for they are government statistics recorded over a 107 year time frame. No Democrat started recording this data with the evil plan of more than a century later showing that Democrats are better. It’s just the typical bureaucratic data gathering.

It really is mind-blowing. I wouldn’t ever have expected to come across data that so starkly puts the two parties in contrast. After the shock wears off, though, all that I feel is sadness. I don’t care about blaming one party and praising the other, but the data is what it is. It’s not even to say everything Republicans do that is wrong. It’s just that there is a vast discrepancy between their ideals and reality. Republicans need to do some deep soul-searching.

I honestly don’t know what to do with data like this. Republicans won’t pay attention to it and most people in general would assume that it’s mere ideological rhetoric fancied up in scientific guise. It’s the type of data our entire society, including both parties, doesn’t know what to do about. You won’t hear any Democrat bring this up in a campaign debate. You won’t come across Gilligan being invited on as a guest on all the major news providers.

In this way, everyone is complicit, especially Democrats. As the author explains (pp. 187-8):

What has made it so difficult or seemingly impossible for the Democrats to free themselves from Republican campaign rhetoric’s reversal of the truth and take credit for their success in ending epidemics of lethal violence in this country for over a century? They, and they alone, have done this. Could this be the downside of being ruled by a guilt ethic and inhibiting their aggression so much that they, the Democrats, often fail to defend themselves strongly enough to undo both the misinformation and the damage caused by their Republican adversaries?

It so often comes to culture from my perspective. Gilligan alludes to this in speaking of a “guilt ethic”. Republicans have their cultural worldview and Democrats have theirs, and the two have become intertwined like a codependant relationship.

But can they be separated? Instead of going back and forth between a Democratic decrease of misery and a Republican increase, couldn’t we have a dynamic that allows for continuous progress? Imagine what kind of wonderful society we might now live in if we had more than a century of continuous decrease of murders, suicides, unemployment and income inequality. Why does that seem so hard to imagine for so many Americans and even for so many partisan Democrats?

To return to the personal, I can’t state more strongly how much I don’t want to live in the Republican worldview of fear and hatred, outrage and despair, self-righteousness and judgment, blame and scapegoating. Yet like so many Americans I feel helpless against the power Republicans have wielded for so long. Nothing ever seems to change.

It’s not about my becoming a loyal Democrat and fighting on the side of good. I just want the misery to stop. I’d like to live in a world of hope. Life is hard enough as it is without creating further unnecessary suffering.

There was a line of thought I forgot to follow through on.

I mentioned culture. I was making the connection between an ideological vision and a cultural worldview. What do I mean by that?

The reason I brought up culture was partly just because the quote from Gilligan’s book seemed to allude to it. But I was also thinking of the larger context of my previous writings on ideologies and cultures.

I’m in a conciliatory mood. The campaign season is over. Like most people, I’ve had enough mindless partisan cheerleading for a good long while. Judging others is easy. The hard work comes with trying to compassionately undertand. I feel tired, sad and tired.

However, conciliatory mood aside, I’m not quite ready to roll over and die. This data sticks in my craw. What does it mean? How could this data sit there gathering dust for a century without anyone giving it much notice?

The data apparently didn’t fit the framework of American politics. Or maybe it was ignored because of political correctness. I don’t know. For whatever reason, it had been as if invisible in all mainstream political debate and, as Gilligan’s book has drawn little attention, the data remains invisible for all practical purposes.

Cultural worldviews can become reality tunnels. In this way, people become blind to what otherwise would seem obvious and common sense. This explanation is an important perspective for culture gets past the blame game. Despite how it seems sometime, most people aren’t tying to be willfully ignorant… any more than a bird flying into a window is trying to be willfully ignorant of the window. Likewise, Republicans aren’t trying to create a world of suffering and death.

No one is to blame and everyone is to blame. There isn’t any single thing that is wrong or problematic, no particular belief or value or policy that is in and of itself causing this increase of social dysfunction.

I even feel tempted to say that conservatism shouldn’t necessarily be blamed. Like all humans, there are good and bad conservatives. Like most ideologies, there are good and bad ways conservatism can manifest.

Still, conservatism must be held to account. What I was struck by is that this isn’t just a problem of American conservatives in the Republican Party. Along with the first quote above, I shared in the same earlier post some other research that shows the same correlation with the British conservative party. Of course, we Americans largely inherited our political system from the British and in return our political system has had much influence on the British.

It would be interesting to further test this correlation in other societies. Is the cause of the social problems, is it only particular traditions of conservatism, or is it something else enirely? Ultimately, I don’t know if the exact cause matters.

It’s more important to consider why it continues. Why do Americans vote for a party that leads to the death of other Americans along with leading to other undesirable results? What makes it such a compelling and attractive worldview, despite all the negatives? Why is the connection to the negatives so hard to see or understand?

One could just as easily ask these questions about the Evangelical worldview of apocalyptic End Times. There is something apparently compelling about dark visions. It probably isn’t accidental that the type of person drawn to Evangelicalism is also drawn to the Republican Party.

I wish I understood.

Occupy Protests Obama & Democrats

I think I’ve been wasting my time with a troll, but I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt. Some people are unintentionally misinformed. So, I treat people as if they actually care about facts and reality until they prove otherwise. The person in question goes by the name Thomas Harbit and here is what he wrote to me in the comment section of the local Iowa City newspaper:

“I follow what Occupy does, or doesnt do in the case of pretty much going hands off with Obama.  OKAY, lets just use your “logic.” By your logic, these occupiers SHOULD BE confronting Obama at the WH(it’s where he lives and/or operates) and should have the occupy people in Hawaii doing the same.  ALL I EXPECT from a “movement,” that allegedly wants to get rid of corporate and political greed/corruption, is to apply their activities even handedly sir. And your “movement,” has failed miserably at this.”

Another commenter, Skeet Newman, decided to lend support to his fellow troll, partisan hack, ignoramus or whatever properly describes this kind of person:

“We both know that protesters are not actively camping out at the WH or in Hawaii to protest Obama.”

I have such a respect for truth and such a desire for self-education that such people truly boggle my mind. I spent a few minutes of websearching. In that brief perusal, I came across hundreds of news reports and videos disproving these anti-Occupy claims.

The following links, in fact, just came from the first pages of results, quite a few from the very first page of results (based on three different searches combining the terms ‘occupy’ and ‘protest’ with either ‘white house’, ‘obama’ or ‘hawaii’; but some of the results I found were also about protests in Iowa, including against Obama’s campaign offices here); and, on those pages, all of the results I noticed were relevant, although most were just different sources reporting on the same events (sources included both mainstream and alternative, both national and local, both conservative and liberal).

The links below include Occupy protests of Washington DC including the White House, protests in Hawaii including Obama’s residence and the APEC summit, protests of fundraisers and speeches Obama attended, and protests of Obama’s campaign offices around the country. The links, however, are in no particular order other than those about Hawaii being at the end:

http://www.myfoxdc.com/dpp/news/dc/police-arrest-11-occupy-dc-protesters-outside-white-house-122011

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTfcGAIggXs

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupy_Wall_Street#The_White_House

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-250_162-57350023/occupy-protesters-arrested-at-paul-dems-hq/

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/11/06/129455/thousands-surround-white-house.html

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/occupy-protesters-set-up-camp-outside-obama-campaign-hq-in-iowa/

http://www.americanindependent.com/207607/occupy-tampa-protest-obama-national-defense-authorization-act

http://obrag.org/?p=51405

http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Congressman-Asks-Why-Occupy-Protesters-Allowed-to-Camp-at-McPherson-Square-135538653.html

http://www.mediaite.com/tv/president-obama-heckled-by-occupy-protesters-during-new-hampshire-speech/

http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/30/occupy-protesters-mobilize-for-obamas-visit/

http://irregulartimes.com/index.php/archives/2011/12/30/iowa-occupy-protesters-demand-obama-end-links-with-wall-street-and-homeland-insecurity/

http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2011/12/01/occupiers-protest-obama-fundraiser/

http://motherjones.com/mojo/2011/12/occupy-protesters-arrested-iowa-democratic-party-headquarters

http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2011/12/17/occupy-protesters-rally-at-obamas-headquarters-in-iowa/

http://articles.boston.com/2011-12-18/news/30531896_1_obama-campaign-spokesman-activists-campaign-offices

http://www.wmnf.org/news_stories/occupy-tampa-protests-at-obama-campaigns-ybor-office-calling-for-veto-of-defense-spending-bill

http://content.usatoday.com/communities/theoval/post/2011/11/singer-sneaks-occupy-protest-into-obama-summit/1

http://hpulamalama.com/occupy_wall_street.php

http://my.hsj.org/Schools/Newspaper/tabid/100/view/frontpage/articleid/480499/newspaperid/4859/Small_but_worthy_Occupy_movement_gains_momentum_in_Hawaii.aspx

http://www.kitv.com/r-video/29499148/detail.html

http://www.mauinews.com/page/content.detail/id/555093/Police-arrest-Occupy-Honolulu-protesters.html?nav=5031

http://www.deoccupyhonolulu.org/apps/calendar/showEvent?calID=5999930&eventID=162776408

http://nation.foxnews.com/rep-nancy-pelosi/2011/12/30/occupy-hawaii-island-movement-plans-protest-near-pelosis-posh-hawaiian-hotel

http://www.democracynow.org/2011/11/14/occupy_honolulu_hawaiian_musician_makana_performs

http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/16417412/occupy-protesters-pushed-out-of-thomas-square

http://www.hawaii247.com/2011/12/30/occupy-groups-protesting-at-kukio-dec-31/

http://www.radiohc.cu/ing/news/world/3681-occupy-activists-protest-apec-summit-in-hawaii.html

http://www.bet.com/news/national/2011/12/19/occupy-protestors-target-obama-campaign-offices.html

Death of Anti-War Movement is Greatly Exaggerated

I’ve been involved in some nice discussions recently with Skepoet at his blog, Left Turn At the Crossroads of Critical Thinking. It’s a helpful discussion (the particular discussion at issue in this post is from his post On power, ideology, and class, part 1). We share some similar views and yet come from very different directions.

I identify with liberalism for the reason it tends towards moderation and mediation, liberals being the only US demographic to show majority support for compromise. I can’t speak for Skepoet’s predisposition, but I could make some general guesses based on his jumping from one wing to the other (right to left) apparently without spending much if any time in the middle. He is unsurprisingly more critical toward liberalism than I, an attitude I assume he carried over to some extent from the earlier right-wing period of his life.

This brings me to the specific point I wish to discuss. In our discussion, I’ve defended liberalism against some of his criticisms. His initial views of liberalism seem to put it into the context of the policies of the Democratic Party or thereabout. That isn’t entirely wrong, but just too narrowly defined for my own understanding.

As I pointed out to him, almost half of liberals are independents and the other half that is in the Democratic Party only represents a third of the party membership. I’m an independent liberal and so I’m specifically defending the broad sense of liberalism that goes beyond partisan politics with emphasis on the psychological understanding of what motivates the liberal mindset. With their desire for compromise, partisan politics probably bothers liberals more than any other political group, partisan polarization being the complete opposite of bipartisan compromise. In this sense, liberals don’t like dogmatism or at least don’t embrace it in the way and to the extent more often seen on the far right (or even on the far left). This makes perfect sense when one looks at the psychological research where ‘liberalism’ practically equates to ‘openness to experience’, this ‘openness’ both being a strength (e.g., compromise) and a weakness (e.g., capitulation)… or, as some conservatives have stated it, don’t have a mind so open that your brains fall out.

Even though the Democratic Party isn’t specifically a liberal party, it is the party that ends up representing liberalism in the minds of many non-liberals and in the minds as well of many more mainstream liberals. Whether or not Obama is genuinely a liberal, I understand he does play the role of and uses the rhetoric of liberalism (although not in the way that makes independent liberals happy).

In the discussion with Skepoet, I was comparing the Occupy movement to the Bush era anti-war movement. Skepoet responded with the following:

How large was the anti-war movement in the US and how sincere was it? Because it effectively died when Obama went into office, but we are now in three wars instead of two.

I must admit that I was annoyed by this. Sincerity in this context seemed to imply an ideological or moral purity. As a liberal, this left-wing demand for ‘sincerity’ comes off as elitist or else just plain self-righteous. The average person doing their best to get involved is simply not good enough. I realize I might be reading too much into Skepoet’s question, but for some reason it rubbed me the wrong way. Even so, I chose to keep my emotional response out of the discussion and so responded more neutrally:

How large was the anti-war movement in the US?

As I recall from research I’ve done in the past, the US anti-war movement during the Bush administration was the largest protest movement in the US at that time. It was supposedly the largest protest movement in the world. The previous protest movement that I’m aware of that had been the largest in US history and which went global was the nuclear disarmament movement in the 1980s.

How sincere was it?

Sincerity is a relative trait. As the largest protest movement at that time, I’d say it had more sincerity than most political movements. It included libertarians, liberals, anarchists, minarchists, isolationists, pacifists, veterans, social justice Christians, and on and on.

I can’t speak for the whole movement, but I can speak for the part of the movement I was involved in here. There was a protest camp that lasted for months, having started in spring and continuing until the weather turned cold. Besides that camp, anti-war activists regularly protested for years and continues to this day. I constantly hear about anti-war protests in the US, although they get less attention in the MSM. It is far from dead. In my entire life, I’ve never experienced such a long-lasting protest movement.

Yes, the wars have continued and increased even. But you can’t blame that on the protesters. The protests continued. Also, the outrage that fueled those protests is the same outrage that fueled the Tea Party movement and now the Occupy movement. The Ron Paul libertarians were major supporters of the anti-war movement and many of them supported the Tea Party and now many of them support OWS. This is true for other political groups as well. You tend to find the same activists supporting each new manifestation of protest. They are all connected. An Occupy protest camp was formed a while back and it is the first protest camp we’ve had in Iowa City since the peace camp. Many of these people voted for Obama, but it hasn’t stopped them from voicing their outrage.

Skepoet then gave an answer that could be taken as final proof of the failure of the protester’s and of liberals in general:

Really? There is fairly good scholarly evidence to the contrary: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mheaney/Partisan_Dynamics_of_Contention.pdf

I’ve been meaning to respond to this for a while, but I wanted to be very clear in my refutation of this supposed proof.

Let me point out some of the limits of generalizing too much on the basis of this “scholarly evidence”. But first let me consider the complaint itself: Democrats stopped protesting after Obama was elected. Is that true? What were the conclusions of the research?

Did Obama’s Election Kill the Antiwar Movement?
By Ann Arbor

After Obama’s election as president, Democratic participation in antiwar activities plunged, falling from 37 percent in January 2009 to a low of 19 percent in November 2009, Heaney and Rojas say.

So, the complaint was that only 1/5 of Democrats (instead of slightly above 1/3 of Democrats) were willing to protest against the wars once Obama was elected? Accepting that as true, Democrats still represented one of the highest if not the highest portions of the anti-war movement during both Republican and Democratic administrations. That is supposed to be damning evidence? That is the great failure of all liberals and Democrats? This is proof of the superiority of more radical activists?

Anyway, it’s not as if the protests against the wars stopped. And certaintly it’s not as if liberals and Democrats stopped protesting for what they believed in simply because a Democrat was president.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protests_against_the_Iraq_War
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protests_against_the_invasion_of_Afghanistan
http://www.thenation.com/blog/163762/occupy-wall-street-why-so-many-demands-demands

Just because the media isn’t covering it, that isn’t to say it isn’t happening.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_coverage_of_the_Iraq_War

To continue, what are the specifics that the researchers focused on?

Antiwar No More?
Scott McLemee

From surveys conducted during national antiwar actions, the researchers found that people who self-identified as Democrats represented “a major constituency in the antiwar movement during 2007 and 2008,” accounting for 37 to 54 percent of participants. Those who identified as members of third parties represented 7 to 13 percent. (The rest indicated that they were independents, Republicans, or members of more than one party.)

As I was arguing, the movement included a diversity of supporters. Democrats were at most 1/2 of the participants and possibly only ever represented a 1/3 of the movement. The anti-war movement was never just about liberals, especially not just liberal Democrats (I’m a liberal who isn’t a Democrat; I participated in the anti-war protest movement and didn’t vote for Obama). What about all of the other groups involved? Why did the Ron Paul libertarians abandon the anti-war movement in order to campaign for Ron Paul and then later to join the Tea Party?

There are many explanations. But it should be pointed out this research was done years after the point when protest movement had some of its early strong support. The anti-war protests started in 2002 and gained their strongest momentum in 2003. Why would anyone reasonably expect the movement to sustain that same energy for the next 9 years following those first protests?

The anti-war protests began as an attempt to stop the invasion in Iraq from happening at all. It failed in that, but certainly the protesters can’t be blamed for what has followed since the invasion. Being against the invasion and being for pulling out are two separate issues. I was against the invasion and yet I believe we should fix what we break. The challenge, however, has been that if we don’t try to fix it the problem could get worse and if we try to fix it the problem might get worse. There are no clear answers at this point. The only clear answer that ever was a possibility was to never invade in the first place. Once the Iraq War was started, there was little hope that protesters could hold onto. Protest increasingly became symbolic rather than pragmatically effective toward some positive end. Worse just leads to worse.

The other purpose of the anti-war movement was to sway public opinion. It is a fact that public opinion has turned away from supporting the wars, and so on that account the anti-war movement has been an unqualified success. The public has become demoralized with the wars just as the anti-war protesters have become demoralized. Everyone has become demoralized by everything that is going on: endless and pointless wars, crony capitalism, a co-opted democracy, and on and on. Even as public support turns away from the wars, there is no sense of having won anything in the process. The public support has turned away from lots of things (the drug war, the culture war, etc) and yet it feels like nothing changes. The media and the government go on as if everything is the same.

What more is expected of the anti-war movement? Protesters can’t force the government to do anything and protesters can’t solve the problems caused by the very war they’ve been against. Many people have continued to protest against war, but people have had their lives and energies focused on the other issues (such as the economy) for reasons beyond their control. With many people hurting (growing poverty and shrinking middle class, unemployment or underemployment, house foreclosures, debt, lost life savings, struggling small businesses, etc), and so people have joined other causes and movements (fighting the Patriot Act, ending Gitmo, and freeing Bradley Manning; election reform, healthcare reform, tax reform, and regulatory reform; Tea Party, Coffee Party, and Occupy movement; etc) which has diffused the energy of the anti-war movement.

Anyway, I understand the criticisms. I’m critical of almost everything in the world these days. I just don’t see why the liberals should be blamed for everything and why all liberals (nearly half of whom, according to Pew’s Beyond Red vs Blue, are Independents) should be accused of being mindless Obama drones. Were there Obama supporters who withdrew from the anti-war movement? No shit, Sherlock. Was the anti-war movement nothing more than mindless Democratic loyalists? Don’t be silly.

The above commentary I posted in the comments section of an article by Paul Street (Were the Anti Iraq War Demonstrations of 2003 Too Good to Be True?). I received a thorough response to which I added further thoughts. Here is some of what I said:

I must admit that I don’t get the point of the criticism you are making. The support for Bush’s wars was bipartisan. Bush and his policies gained public support after 9/11 and the American public wanted revenge. When the anti-war protests began, most Democrats weren’t involved in it. Certainly, Democratic politicians weren’t involved in those early anti-war protests. I doubt that a majority of Democratic voters have ever been involved at the same time in the anti-war protest movement. It’s too simplistic to speak about Democrats hating Bush. Most Democrats, like most other Americans, were more bothered by the Patriot Act than by the wars. As I pointed out above, most Democrats aren’t liberals.

I wouldn’t be so quick to judge anti-war activists. I looked at the research by Heaney and Rojas. I’m not sure it supports your conclusion. First, the Independents (which would include the liberal independents) have maintained strong involvement in the anti-war protests. Second, Democrats decreased involvement by half, but that still leaves 20% involved which is still a fairly large proportion and which is more than the approximately 0% of Republicans involved. Third, as Democrats involvement decreased, third party voters increased by the exact same percentage which could imply that many of the anti-war Democrats didn’t actually stop being involved but simply became third party voters (maybe as they became dissatisfied with Obama). So, the overall participation percentages somewhat balance out over the two year period, the only clear change being the label by which the anti-war activists identified themselves.

(To which I would add: If some Democrats can be criticized for having left the anti-war movement, it would only be fair to praise the high number of Democrats who remained in the movment. Furthermore, it would only be fair to criticize almost all Republicans for never having joined the movement and it would only be fair to criticize Independents in not increasing their involvement until after Obama was elected.)

It’s not as if the anti-war protest movement has died. I still see people in downtown Iowa City with signs protesting the war. Also, I was just talking to a friend the other day. He went on a road trip and stopped by an anti-war protest where some people were arrested for stepping onto a military base. I think it might be this protest:

http://www.nukeresister.org/2011/10/04/2092/

Just because the national mainstream media doesn’t report on all of these protests around the country, it doesn’t mean they aren’t happening all the time. Just because a few Democrats you knew left the anti-war movement while campaigning for Obama, doesn’t mean that all or most people left the anti-war movement and it doesn’t even mean those Democrats didn’t later return to the anti-war movement.

http://original.antiwar.com/eisenberg/2011/05/11/stop-knocking-the-peace-movement/

“Oddly, the polls are sometimes cited to prove the ineptitude of the peace movement. With so many Americans against the war in Afghanistan, why isn’t the peace movement stronger? A fair question, yet one that omits the possibility that the efforts of local peace groups have contributed to that public skepticism.

“If the continued existence of the peace movement is unrecognized, how can this be explained? One is the complete freeze-out by the mainstream media. Since 2003, there have been no fewer than four national demonstrations attended by more than 100,000 people, yet the only one to receive coverage was the huge New York City gathering in the run-up to the Iraq War. The others were so many trees falling in the forest, which nobody could hear or see unless they were personally marching.

“But while the silence in the mainstream media is perhaps predictable, more surprising and less excusable has been the failure of progressive news outlets to provide positive attention to peace organizations. Since 2001, these alternative outlets have done an extraordinary job of reporting American actions abroad and providing sophisticated analysis of international events that are elsewhere ignored. Barely mentioned have been the mass antiwar mobilizations of the past eight years, the ongoing campaigns to move the Congress, or the steady, creative work of antiwar activists in towns and cities across the United States. The demoralizing result is a constant imbalance between the depressing news about U.S. foreign policy and the apparent lack of resistance here. Individuals who are not already part of the existing peace networks often conclude there is nothing useful to be done and focus elsewhere.

“In recent weeks, the silence has been broken by a handful of articles lamenting the absence of a peace movement and attributing its collapse to a misplaced enthusiasm for President Obama and the Democratic Party. In this narrative, the antiwar movement is characterized as nothing more than a partisan club to beat George W. Bush over the head with. Therefore, the story goes, once this particular “evildoer” had retired to Texas, the peace activists simply folded up their tents and abandoned the field. But this description takes no account of the thousands of people across the country who have organized protests for the past decade out of the conviction that the wars are wrong.”

Now I’ll respond to some of your other points.

“you ask where are all the Ron Paul anti-war activists? While there may have been some of those voices involved the bulk were clearly people who identified with the Dems & MoveOn who made it their mission to hate Bush.”

I always had the sense that a fair number of libertarians were involved in the anti-war protest movement, but I’ve never seen specific data. Is there a source of data you are basing your opinion on? Why would you assume many libertarians weren’t involved? Libertarians have tended to be anti-war for a long time. The oldest and most prominent anti-war website (antiwar.com) was started by a libertarian in 1995. The most well known libertarian (Ron Paul) is vocal about being anti-war. Certainly, libertarians hated Bush (with his policies such as the Patriot Act) about as much than liberals. It is true, though, that libertarians haven’t been known for their supporting the activism that liberals are involved in. As one article stated it:

http://www.salon.com/2011/08/30/lind_libertariansim/

“For that matter, where was the libertarian right during the great struggles for individual liberty in America in the last half-century? The libertarian movement has been conspicuously absent from the campaigns for civil rights for nonwhites, women, gays and lesbians. Most, if not all, libertarians support sexual and reproductive freedom (though Rand Paul has expressed doubts about federal civil rights legislation). But civil libertarian activists are found overwhelmingly on the left. Their right-wing brethren have been concerned with issues more important than civil rights, voting rights, abuses by police and the military, and the subordination of politics to religion — issues like the campaign to expand human freedom by turning highways over to toll-extracting private corporations and the crusade to funnel money from Social Security to Wall Street brokerage firms.”

Even so, I’m not the only person on the left who recognizes the role libertarians have played in the anti-war movement. Thaddeus Russell said:

http://themoderatevoice.com/119372/whither-the-anti-war-movement/

“I’m a man of the Left. I was raised by socialists in Berkeley. I’ve always been on the Left. But I stumbled upon antiwar.com about three years ago and was blown away. I said ‘This is what the Left should be doing! This is what the Left should be saying!’ Libertarians and sort of paleocons–but especially libertarians like antiwar.com . . . like Ron Paul–have been the leading voices of the anti-war movement. They’ve been the most principled–the most consistent–no matter who’s president. They’ve been saying again and again and again, ‘These wars are disasters. The Empire must end.’”

On the other hand, there are libertarians who mistrust and denounce the anti-war protests as being merely ‘liberal’. In response to such a libertarian, here is what one self-identified “anti-war liberal” (username Southern Guardian) said in a forum discussion:

http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread752060/pg1

“I never saw the anti-war protests as a political movement, and it’s very interesting that you label the anti-war protests as purely those of liberals. Are you admitting that you and other Ron Paul supporters/libertarians never participated? The protests in 2003-2005 were anti-war, that’s it. I never saw myself apart of any political movement, infact I never even saw myself as anti-war as I personally believe it is necessary at times. My stances along with others were rather a protest against the governments campaign against Iraq specifically and lies contained within. Myself and many others supported Afghanistan efforts until the recent capture of Osama Bin Ladin. ”

He expresses my own view. I’ve never been a partisan. In fact, I can’t stand party politics. When I was involved in the anti-war movement, I never thought of it as being a movement of only or mostly Democrats. There definitely wasn’t any Democratic Party material lying around or anything. It always seemed a diverse group to me. At the Iowa City peace camp, there were students, non-students (like me), hippies, veterans, and even some homeless kids. I never asked anyone who they voted for and it didn’t seem to matter since no one asked me either. I knew Republicans were against the peace camp since at one point they temporarily set up a counter-protest camp, but at no point did I ever get the idea that libertarians weren’t welcome in the peace camp. The anti-war protest movement was a part of the protests against Bush policies in general, and it was out of that defense of civil libertarianism that the Ron Paul libertarian movement gained momentum.

“The third point is a classic liberal response that “we have to fix” the mess we made. The Iraqis have been saying for years that they want us to leave, so they should have the primary say in this matter. More importantly, the US has never had any intention of “fixing” Iraq. US policy put Saddam Hussein in power, funded his war with Iran, provided him with the WMDs, invaded and bombed Iraq in 1991, imposed the most brutal sanction regime on any country in history for 12 years, then invaded/occupied again in 2003. During this current occupation the US has set up permanent military bases, privatized much of the economy, including oil as a means to have greater longer term influence on Iraq’s economy……see Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine.””

I’m familiar with all of that. You seem to have misunderstood me. My point was that, if the US destroys the infrastructure of a country in a pointless and unjustified war, then it would be fair and just for the US to at least rebuild that infrastructure to some extent (make roads passable, make water and electric plants operable, etc). I wasn’t talking about nation-building.

I added one even more important point that critics seem oblivious of:

As for Obama, he promised that he would withdraw troops and that is what he is doing. I realize he didn’t do it as quickly as his critics would have preferred, but this seems to prove valid the anti-war protesters who decided to support Obama. If McCain had been elected, maybe there would have been no troop withdrawal at all. I’m not a fan of Obama, but I try to be fair in my assessment of his presidency.

Skepoet would have a point if Obama hadn’t fulfilled his basic promise, however imperfectly. We can argue over various factors, but the broad point remains the same.

The anti-war protesters, Democrats included, managed to accomplish two of their main goals:

  1. They helped swayed public opinion away from supporting the war effort.
  2. They helped bring the Iraq War ever closer to being ended.

Considering their powerful opponents, that is a massive success… even if qualified by the larger context of the War on Terror that continues in that region. It is hardly inspiring to criticize protesters even when they have victories, no matter how minor you may think those victories are. Yes, it would have been better if the wars had ended earlier, but it seems to be clear at this point that they are coming to an end. Yes, military bases and contractors will remain in Iraq for the time being; still, you should accept the victories you can get.

Looking at other criticisms, I came across the following which mentions in some detail the anti-war movement in Iowa City, the location of the peace camp I was involved with in 2003. This critic brings up some good points about what went wrong:

Were the Anti Iraq War Demonstrations of 2003 Too Good to Be True?
By Jeff Smith

There is no longer an antiwar group of any relevance in Iowa City. The UIAC is dead, thanks to the departure of the best activists, the nefarious activities of an FBI informant, internal squabbles over personalities and Israel, and – last but not least – the significant demobilizing impact of a Democratic president who deceptively ran as an antiwar candidate.

What caught my attention was the reference to the FBI. I had forgotten about that. The FBI has a long history of disrupting and even destroying grassroots movements. With the Patriot Act, the FBI had been newly empowered to go even further than they would have prior to 9/11.

The following is a better overall analysis:

Where have all the war protesters gone?
The largest demonstrations ever have largely dissipated, even as we’ve launched new wars. Why a movement sputtered

 By Todd Gitlin

The outrage that greeted the run-up to the Bush-Blair Iraq war debacle generated what must have been the largest antiwar rallies and demonstrations in the history of the world. Sometimes in subzero temperatures, millions of marchers in New York, London and elsewhere took to the streets to interrupt the roar of self-righteous crypto-imperial bravado, to barge through George Bush’s strutters’ ball and its fevers of fantastical, deceptive and self-deceptive claims about Saddam Hussein’s danger to the United States and Washington’s promise to parachute democracy into Saddam’s stricken land. In the well-chosen words of one London sign, the marchers were “Shocked, Not Awed.”

Then the marches stopped.

The author then goes on to give many reasons, all of which I agree with. Grassroots is never easy even under perfect conditions, and the situation the anti-war movement faced was challenging to say the least. In response to that analysis, here is a good argument for why the death of the peace movement is greatly exaggerated:

Don’t Exaggerate the Death of the Antiwar Movement
by Medea Benjamin

In an article in Salon.com, Todd Gitlin writes a convincing obituary for an antiwar movement killed by a thousand blows: crushed by Bush’s pigheadedness, dumped in the media’s black hole, rendered invisible by a volunteer army and drones, overshadowed by more urgent financial crises, chastened by the “unpleasantness” of adversaries from Taliban to al-Qaida to Gadhafi. He leaves out some other daggers to the heart of the movement: grass-roots election campaigns that lured away millions of activists; betrayals by the president and groups like MoveOn who used and abused the antiwar sentiment; craven congressional reps who violate the will of their constituents by continuing to fund war; powerful lobbyists for the war industry who wield enormous power in Washington; and the utter exhaustion that sets in after 10 years of standing up to the largest military complex the world has ever seen.

Despite all these challenges, however, the reports of the death of the antiwar movement are greatly exaggerated. Sure, there are no longer millions marching in the streets — but there aren’t millions marching in American streets for any cause these days. Lacking the staying power of Tahrir Square, our weekend rallies failed to effect policy and left people disillusioned — and bored. That’s why creative and media-savvy activism 2.0 tactics — like flash mobs, Twitter culture jams and YouTube videos — have emerged that engage with the younger generation.

And that’s why the movement has transformed as well. Rather than marching in circles and chanting slogans to ourselves, we’re reaching deep into our communities to make connections between the economic crises our neighborhoods face and the wars that rob us of scarce resources.

The author then goes on to give the examples of the continued activism. Then the author concludes with the following:

Finally, we have been busy trying to insert the anti-war message in the broader movements for social and economic justice. While our message is sometimes rebuffed or marginalized in activities closely linked to the Democratic Party, at every major rally for jobs, civil rights or corporate responsibility, you’ll find anti-war activists.

As Todd Gitlin knows well, movements ebb and flow. We are certainly not at our zenith, but we are still breathing. The Arab Spring has given us new inspiration, and as the 10th anniversary of the senseless war in Afghanistan approaches in October, you can expect to see the antiwar movement not just breathing, but kicking into high gear with an open-ended mobilization in D.C. starting on Oct. 7 and artistic actions throughout the country under the banner of 10 Years and Counting. We invite Todd and others who have been writing about our demise to come join us.

Also, take for example these comments to the above article:

Posted by orbit7er
Jul 21 2011 – 8:56am

My own local Peace Group has been having a Peace Vigil every Friday since
September 11, 2001. We are still there…
At first when Bush started the Iraq War we got middle finger salutes..
But within some months those turned to peace signs and honks of support.
And every week still we get peace signs and honks of support…
The vast majority of Americans want to END these Wars!

Posted by suhail_shafi
Jul 21 2011 – 8:25pm

I do not think that the anti war movement is dead at all. Much of US and Western public opinion is opposed or at least skeptical of the US invasion of Iraq and the NATO attack on Libya.

If the mission of the anti war movement was to end all wars, it has indeed failed miserably. But if the mission of the movement was to galvanize public opinion against the wars, it has been an unqualified success.

————————————————————————

US: Republic & Democracy (pt 3)

I’ve been having further ‘debate’ with the “Not a Democracy” Gnomes. And I happened to come across some new material that brings light to the issue. So, I’ve returned to the subject with this third post in the series (see the first and second posts to understand the fuller context of my thoughts).

 — — —

In this post, I will show that the terms ‘republic’ and ‘Republican’ once had very different connotations in early America. This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has given much thought to the matter. 

I brought up the issue of the word origins in my earlier posts, but let me bring it up again.

The word ‘republic‘ comes from ‘res publica‘ which means ‘commonwealth‘, ‘public good‘, or ‘public affair‘. To put it simply, a republic is a government that isn’t a monarchy, i.e., not based on inherited position, power and wealth. The word ‘democracy‘ comes from ‘demokratia‘ which means ‘rule of the people‘ and was coined from ‘demos‘ (people) and ‘kratos‘ (power): people power.

A democracy is a government of the people. According to the founding documents, the US government is supposedly democratic in this sense. The Declaration of Independence refers to the ‘people‘ 10 times, even in many instances capitalizing it as “the People“. The US constitution refers to “We the People” and “by the People“.

The founding fathers were being very clear that the People trump any Monarchy or other despotic ruler (some of the founding fathers even thought banks and corporations were potentially a despotic threat to the liberty of the People), that the government rules by the mandate of the People. The historical precedence of the American Revolution made clear that the People have the right and obligation to withdraw, whether by peaceful change or violent revolution, this mandate if the government no longer represents them. The rights of the People don’t come from the government, although it is the duty of the government to defend those rights. The power of the government to defend those rights comes from the People (democracy: people power) in order to serve the People (republic: public good).

 — — —

Let me now offer a history lesson about the development of the party system. 

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison founded the Democratic-Republican Party to counter the Federalist Party of Alexander Hamilton. A couple of things should be noted about this.

First, among the founding fathers, Jefferson was one of the closest allies of Thomas Paine. Both wanted to abolish slavery and both wanted a government that put power into the hands of common people rather than into the hands of plutocrats. Jefferson was considered radical by people such as Hamilton, but compared to Paine he was a moderate. Paine would later on inspire much more radical movements. 

Second, the fact that a party founded in the early 1790s could combine ‘Democratic‘ and ‘Republican‘ proves that those terms were seen by many people in the founding generation, including key leaders, as being closely related rather than in opposition. Back then, a person could be both a Democrat and a Republican, but such a person couldn’t be both while being a Federalist.

To put this in context, it must be remembered that Hamilton was for an elective monarchy:

An attempt to create an elective monarchy in the United States failed. Alexander Hamilton argued in a long speech before the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that the President of the United States should be an elective monarch, ruling for “good behavior” (i.e., for life, unless impeached) and with extensive powers. Hamilton believed that elective monarchs has sufficient power domestically to resist foreign corruption, yet there was enough domestic control over their behavior to prevent tyranny at home. [2] His proposal was resoundingly voted down in favor of a four-year term with the possibility of reelection. In his later defense of the Constitution in the Federalist Papers, he often hints that a lifetime executive might be better, even as he praises the system with the four-year term.

It goes without saying that the Democratic-Republicans were against elective monarchy. This was symbolic of the fight among the founding generation. There were two radically different notions: a government of the aristocracy, by the aristocracy, for the aristocracy; or a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

In this fight, it’s hard to say either side entirly won for the early political system was a compromise between the two, although the compromise did favor one side. Even as concentrated power was constrained, the common people were even more constrained as many of the ruling elites desired. The constraint on the people was much more harsh in that the majority of Americans (women, slaves, and non-landowners) weren’t allowed to vote or hold public office. Americans fought against taxation without representation and yet the new American government reinstated taxation without representation. A new American aristocracy formed to replace the former British aristocracy.

Even so, it was the Democratic-Republican Party that became the most influential. The Democratic-Republican Party split off into what became the Democratic Party and into what became the Whig Party. Both parties became split over the issue of whether slavery should be expanded to the territories. The anti-slave factions left both parties in order to form the Free Soil Party. As an abolitionist, Lincoln was one of those who left the Whig Party. The Free Soil Party and other radical social reformers were eventually absorbed into the new Republican Party.

Most Americans today don’t know the origins of the Republican Party. It was founded as the party of progressivism and social reform. Those who started the party were the radical liberals of their day: agrarian reformists, abolitionists, and socialists. Many of these people, like Lincoln, read writers such as Thomas Paine and Karl Marx. The modern person must understand that Paine was about as popular among the ruling elites in the early 19th century as Marx is today. Paine was considered by many to have caused more harm than good. Those who were inspired by Paine’s vision were criticized by conservatives as “Red Republicanism” (it’s funny that the color red, the color used to represent communism, is now used to represent the Republican Party). It also must be understood that, in relation to Marx’s influence on early American politics, the issue of slavery was often directly connected to the issue of labor rights. Even Lincoln, the first Republican president, made this connection in his speeches. Lincoln went so far as to use Marxist language in describing the relationship between labor and capital.

Think about all of the above while considering what Lincoln meant in his famous Gettysburg Address:

We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Also, consider the opposing view of Stephen Douglass in one of the speeches given in his debates with Lincoln:

In my opinion this government of ours is founded on the white basis. It was made by the white man, for the benefit of the white man, to be administered by white men, in such a manner as they should determine.

The conflict between Lincoln and Douglass was a continuation of the conflict between Jefferson and Hamilton. Either the US government represented all people fairly and equally or else it served the interests of the privileged few. This was a conflict between democracy and aristocracy, between populism and classism, between egalitarianism and racism, between labor and capital. It’s a conflict that continues, but it seems that few Americans today understand this conflict. It was a conflict Lincoln understood well, and it was why Lincoln fought so hard to maintain the union, i.e. the unified vision of a democratic republic.

 — — —

The central point I’m making is that Republicans today are clueless about American history. Socialists today are more akin to the early supporters of Republican Party than are the neo-con and Tea Party Republicans now dominating the GOP. Obviously, the term ‘republican’ (capitalized or not) often meant something very different in the early decades following American Independence. Small ‘r’ republicanism isn’t in conflict with small ‘d’ democracy.

Consider the basic meaning of democracy:

Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible people have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal (and more or less direct) participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law. It can also encompass social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination. The term comes from the Greek: δημοκρατία – (dēmokratía) “rule of the people”,[1] which was coined from δῆμος (dêmos) “people” and κράτος (Kratos) “power”, in the middle of the 5th-4th century BC to denote the political systems then existing in some Greek city-states, notably Athens following a popular uprising in 508 BC.[2]

According to some theories of democracy, popular sovereignty is the founding principle of such a system.[3] However, the democratic principle has also been expressed as “the freedom to call something into being which did not exist before, which was not given… and which therefore, strictly speaking, could not be known.”[4] This type of freedom, which is connected to human “natality,” or the capacity to begin anew, sees democracy as “not only a political system… [but] an ideal, an aspiration, really, intimately connected to and dependent upon a picture of what it is to be human—of what it is a human should be to be fully human.”[5]

While there is no specific, universally accepted definition of ‘democracy’,[6] equality and freedom have both been identified as important characteristics of democracy since ancient times.[7] These principles are reflected in all citizens being equal before the law and having equal access to legislative processes. For example, in a representative democracy, every vote has equal weight, no unreasonable restrictions can apply to anyone seeking to become a representative, and the freedom of its citizens is secured by legitimized rights and liberties which are generally protected by a constitution.[8][9]

I understand why authoritarian neocons and fundy theocrats would be against democracy. Such people are the modern day Hamiltons. However, most conservatives aren’t radical right-wingers. It makes no sense that any genuinely principled libertarian or minarchist would have a problem with democratic principles. I doubt even most average social conservatives would take issue with the above democratic ideas and ideals. The problem is that most conservatives don’t even know what democracy means. They are blindly against the word ‘democracy’ because they’ve been told it’s evil or dangerous or un-American. Ironically, when these same people seek to defend their own notion of a ‘republic’, they will usually mention attributes of a democracy.

There is another related term that brings up a lot of confusion: social democracy.

Similar to the Republican Party, social democracy arose out of the milieu of 19th century socialism and social reform. Originally, many socialists sought social democracy as a way of transitioning from capitalism toward socialism. This has changed a bit. Social democracy today no longer requires socialism as the end goal. It has become a goal unto itself. Social democracy, generally speaking, simply means the social aspects of democracy: free speech, universal suffrage, economic equality, etc; basically anything that empowers average people and lessens the conflicts that disempowers people through divisiveness.

The typical liberal is a social democrat in this more broad sense. In contradiction to the paranoid conspiracy theories of right-wingers, the typical American liberal doesn’t seek socialism to replace capitalism. This is the reason many socialists criticize liberals. If socialism is the goal, liberal compromise can be seen as the enemy. In the US, this point is clarified by how liberals tend to play a centrist role in politics. Chris Hedges explains the traditional role of the liberal class as bridging the gap between the upper classes and the lower classes. The liberal class serves its purpose by keeping class conflict to a minimum. The socialist in the Marxist tradition, on the other hand, wants to emphasize class conflict because they believe that compromise merely covers up the conflict rather than resolving it.

Political democracy has been undermined and corrupted by special interests, especially the special interests of big business. Democracy, in terms of elections, doesn’t lead to politicians who actually represent the people. Instead, politicians are beholden to the money that funds their campaigns and also tempted by the corporations who bribe them with money given to their favorite organizations and with jobs offered to them once they leave office. A revolving door exists between government and big business. As such, our political system has become a banana republic that is somewhere between corproatocracy and inverted totalitarianism.

It’s galling to a small ‘d’ democrat to hear democracy be blamed for our anti-democratic ‘republic’. These “Not a Democracy” Gnomes will criticize our anti-democratic ‘republic’ while at the same time praising anti-democratic republics as the ultimate form of government. They can’t have it both ways. Maoist China was an anti-democratic republic. Nazi Germany was an anti-democratic republic. Fascist Italy was an anti-democratic republic. Why do these conservatives think that entirely removing democracy from our republic would help save the democratic rights that even they praise? If they are ‘conservatives’, what exactly are they trying to conserve besides a society ruled by upper class white people?

I brought up social democracy because it’s fundamentally more important than political democracy. Political democracy can be almost entirely destroyed, but democracy will remain alive as a possibility as long as social democracy survives. Social democracy is about culture, about what people value, about the collective narratives of where society is heading. The success of social democracy can be seen in the fact that even conservatives have come to defend rights and values of social democracy such as free speech, even if their defense in principle is imperfect in practice.

 — — —

In reality, democracy is very simple. It’s as American as applie pie. Related to this, socialism is also a very American tradition. The socialists in early America were fighting for the same rights that many in the American Revolution were fighting for. It was no accident that many early socialists were inspired by Paine. It was Paine who inspired not only the American Revolution but revolutions in many other countries as well.

As Benjamin Franklin said:

You, Thomas Paine, are more responsible than any other living person on this continent for the creation of what are called the United States of America.

And as John Adams said:

Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.

It was Thomas Paine who first wrote about the ideal of the states unified through a single government and through universal suffrage. Later on, it was Paine-inspired President Abraham Lincoln who defended what Paine had helped to create and who had tried to further what Paine had hoped it would become.

It was Thomas Paine who first addressed social security by proposing land taxes that would prevent the concentration of wealth and hence power and that would promote economic equality and hence social justice. Later on, it was Paine-inspired President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who would use Paine’s Agrarian Justice as a model for developing our present social security.

A 19th century social reformer had no reason to see a conflict between Thomas Paine and Karl Marx. So conservatives, although incorrect in conflating socialism and democracy, aren’t wrong in seeing an alliance between socialists and small ‘d’ democrats in that both are unified against a common enemy: social injustice promoted by theocratic and plutocratic oligarchy.

 — — —

I hope that clarifies the falsely perceived conflict between small ‘r’ republicanism and small ‘d’ democracy. For further edification, the following is some of the historical analysis that inspired me to write this post (for emphasis, the boldface and underlining of text was added by me).

‘The “S” Word’
by John Nichols

pp. 58-59:

Working Men’s Party would dissolve quickly, but its influence extended across the next several decades, as Evans turned his attention to forging a land-reform movement that would address the laws, ordinances and regulations that “deprived nine-tenths of the members of the body politic, who are not wealthy, of the equal means to enjoy ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ which the rich enjoy exclusively …”

Evans and his allies borrowed boldly from the concepts and ideals of Paine’s later writings, becoming known as “Agrarians.” They forged a movement that employed Paineite language to promote “Man’s Right to the Soil” and that attracted and inspired a generation of young radicals, including Horace Greeley, who would in his one term as a congressman introduce legislation proposing to give land free of charge to the poor; and Abraham Lincoln, who as president signed into law a milder version of Evans’s proposal—the Homestead Act of 1862. The Agrarian free soil movements were decried as “Red Republicanism” by northern conservatives and bitterly opposed by southern plantation owners, who feared that freeing up the land of the western states for production of food and agricultural products would undermine the claim that slavery was an economic necessity. As early as 1846, Evans anticipated that the United States would eventually see the development of two opposing parties that would do battle over all the economic and social issues of the nation: “the great Republican Party of Progress and the little Tory Party of Holdbacks.”

[ . . . ] In consultation with Greeley and Evans, he planned a radical new party comprised of members of various older parties and movements. As congressional debates about whether to allow the expansion of slavery into western states heated up, early in 1854, Bovay saw his opening. He called a public meeting at the Congregational church in Ripon, where the crowd adopted a resolution declaring that if the Whigs and Democrats in Congress did not block the most controversial legislation, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, from becoming law, then it would be time to “throw old party organizations to the winds and organize a new party on the sole issue of slavery.” When Congress passed the act, Bovay and sixteen of the most committed radicals gathered in a local school and agreed to create a new party that would be called “Republican,” in reflection of George Evans’s advocacy of almost a decade earlier and with hopes that a name linked to Paine and Jefferson would identify the new party as uniquely American.

Hailed by Greeley as the launch of a new movement that would change not just the politics of the nation but the nation itself, by uniting the struggle to free southern slaves from bondage and northern workers from “wage slavery,” the early Republican Party invariably linked the themes. Reflecting on Bovay’s outsized contribution to the shaping of the Grand Old Party—he is credited even today in the US Senate Republican Conference’s history of the GOP: “Bovay named the party Republican because it was synonymous with equality.” Historian John R. Commons would write in his classic essay on “the working-class origins of the Republican Party” that: “Whether (Bovay) was the only father of the party or not, it is significant that it was these early views on the natural right to land, derived from Evans and the workingmen, that appeared in the Republican party wherever that party sprang into being.” And it did indeed spring up across the northern US, winning within months of its founding key statewide and congressional elections that were fought with the slogan: “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Speech, Free Men.” [ . . . ] “In philosophy, no other writer of the eighteenth century, with the exception of Jefferson, parallels more closely the temper and gist of Lincoln’s later thought.” Even as the New York Times was dismissing the author of Common Sense as the tribune of a dangerous “Red Republicanism,” Lincoln would declare: “I never tire of reading Paine.”

  — — —

pp. 61-66:

“capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert, to fleece the people …”
Abraham Lincoln, from his first speech as an Illinois state legislator, 1837

Everyone now is more or less a Socialist.
—Charles Dana, managing editor of New York Tribune, and Lincoln’s Assistant Secretary of War, 1848

The workingmen of Europe feel sure that, as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy for the middle class, so the American Antislavery War will do for the working classes. They consider it an earnest of the epoch to come that it fell to the lot of Abraham Lincoln, the single-minded son of the working class, to lead his country through the matchless struggle for the rescue of an enchained race and the reconstruction of a social world.
Karl Marx and the First International Workingmen’s Association to Lincoln, 1864

On December 3, 1861, a former one-term congressman, who had spent most of the past dozen years studying dissident economic theories, mounting challenges to the existing political order and proposing ever more radical responses to the American crisis, delivered his first State of the Union address as the sixteenth president of the United States.

[ . . . ] This was a wartime State of the Union address delivered not so much by a president as a commander-in-chief. Its purpose was to rally what remained of the House and Senate—after the exodus of the southern Solons who had joined a mutiny against the elected government—and to portray the struggle as not merely one for the preservation of a system of governance but for democracy itself. “It continues to develop that the insurrection is largely, if not exclusively, a war upon the first principle of popular government—the rights of the people,” declared the solemn speaker. “Conclusive evidence of this is found in the most grave maturely considered public documents, as well as in the general tone of the insurgents. In those documents we find the abridgment of the existing right of suffrage and the denial to the people of all right to participate in the selection of public officers except the legislative boldly advocated, with labored arguments to prove that large control of the people in government is the source of all political evil. Monarchy itself is sometimes hinted at as a possible refuge from the power of the people.” [ . . . ] “In my present position, I could scarcely be justified were I to omit raising a warning voice against this approach of returning despotism.” [ . . . ] “the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government.”

Amid all the turbulence of a burgeoning Civil War, Abraham Lincoln wanted it to be known that he was unsettled by the rising assumption “that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.” [ . . . ] “Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.

To be sure, Lincoln related this observation to the wrenching questions posed by the Civil War. A few men own capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few to labor for them. A large majority belong to neither class—neither work for others nor have others working for them. In most of the Southern States a majority of the whole people of all colors are neither slaves nor masters, while in the Northern a large majority are neither hirers nor hired.”

Lincoln was speaking now of a broader concern: his fear that the few who were possessed of capital might, in a time of turbulence, seek to bend the rule of law—diminishing the historic respect for the rights of man outlined by Lincoln’s hero Tom Paine in order to favor their interests above those of the great many Americans who toiled for wages, or the fees paid farmers. “No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty; none less inclined to take or touch aught which they have not honestly earned,” the president warned. “Let them beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which if surrendered will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they, and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them till all of liberty shall be lost.”

Lincoln’s insistence that labor guard against the surrender of political power to capital—a point he began to outline before his presidency and would repeat throughout his tenure—is rarely afforded the attention paid to his rhetoric regarding the state of “a house divided against itself,” “the proposition that all men are created equal” or the faint hope that: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”

Yet, how can we neglect the words that this most instructive of presidents chose to insert in so critical a commentary as his first State of the Union address?

How can we fail to recognize the echoes of a language which scholars of economic, social and political rhetoric might associate less with the sixteenth president than with one of his contemporaries: a Prussian-born son of the Enlightenment, who was causing a stir on both sides of the Atlantic at precisely the moment when Lincoln was casting about for a language to describe the economic forces that were carrying America from its agrarian roots to its industrial future?

Didn’t Karl Marx take an interest in the relation of labor and capital? Was it not the co-author of Das Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei who observed that: “the essential condition of capital is wage-labor”? And that: “Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth—the soil and the laborer”?

Well, there can surely be no connection, no tangible link between Abraham Lincoln, the log cabin–born, rail-splitting, archetypal nineteenth-century American and founding Republican, and Karl Marx, the bearded, brooding, archetypal “European” and proud socialist plotter.

Unless, of course, we bother to examine the tattered copies of the American outlet for Marx’s revolutionary preachments during the period when Lincoln was preparing to leave the political wilderness and make his march to the presidency. That journal, the New York Tribune, was the most consistently influential of nineteenth-century American newspapers. Indeed, this was the newspaper that engineered the unexpected and in many ways counter-intuitive delivery of the Republican nomination for president, in that most critical year of 1860, to an Illinoisan who just two years earlier had lost the competition for a home-state US Senate seat. The Tribune is remembered, correctly, as the great Republican paper of the day. It argued against slavery in the south. But it argued as well, with words parallel to Lincoln’s in that first address to the Congress, that: “Our idea is that Labor needs not to combat but to command Capital.”

Seven years before he and Lincoln served together in the Congress (during each man’s sole term in the US House) Horace Greeley—or “Friend Greeley,” as Lincoln referred to the editor in their correspondence—began the Tribune with a stated purpose: “to serve the republic with an honest and fearless criticism.” He succeeded, more wholly than any American editor before or after his transit of the mid-nineteenth century, in creating a newspaper that was not merely a newspaper. Greeley’s nationally-circulated Tribune was, as Clarence Darrow aptly remembered it, “the political and social Bible” of every reforming, radical and Republican household. The Tribune was surely that for Lincoln, whose engagement with the paper would last the better part of a quarter-century and eventually extend to wrangling with Greeley about the proper moment at which to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln’s involvement was not just with Greeley but with his sub-editors and writers, so much so that the first Republican president appointed one of Greeley’s most radical lieutenants—the Fourier- and Proudhon-Vinspired socialist and longtime editor of Marx’s European correspondence, Charles Dana—as his Assistant Secretary of War.

Greeley’s newspaper was the Tribune of the agitation that spawned the Republican Party and its successful presidential campaign of 1860. Lincoln would say of the editor: “every one of his words seems to weigh about a ton.”

 — — —

pp. 70-81:

One of his few allies was the young first-term Whig congressman from Illinois, who Greeley recalled as a comrade with whom he “agreed on the slavery issue as one which must be answered permanently in the course of a few years.” The two men spoke on a daily basis during their joint tenure in the nation’s capital and formed a bond that would last until Lincoln’s assassination seventeen years later.

It was not mere personal acquaintance that linked Greeley and Lincoln, however. By 1848, Greeley’s Tribune was already a journalistic and political phenomenon. “Acknowledged the most influential Whig editor in 1844, [Greeley] had by 1850 become the most influential antislavery editor—the spokesman not of Whigs merely but of a great class of Northerners who were thoroughly antagonistic to slavery,” recalls Frank W. Scott in his study of nineteenth-century American newspapers. As the slavery issue came to a head, the Tribune’s influence grew so that it became not just a popular newspaper in New York City but a widely-circulated national journal of opinion, distinguished by what Scott characterizes as “some of the most vigorous and trenchant editorial writing America has ever known.” In the early 1850s, the circulation of the Tribune’s weekly national edition nearly tripled to more than 110,000 copies as it became what another historian, James Ford Rhodes, described as “pre-eminently the journal of the rural districts, [where] one copy did service for many readers. To the people in the Adirondack wilderness it was a political bible, and the well-known scarcity of Democrats there was attributed to it. Yet it was as freely read by the intelligent people living on the Western Reserve of Ohio”—not to mention in Abraham Lincoln’s Illinois.

By the late 1850s, the weekly Tribune’s Illinois circulation was close to 20,000, making the New York-based journal one of the midwestern state’s most widely circulated newspapers. There is no debate that Lincoln was among the most avid of the Tribune’s Illinois readers. His correspondence with Greeley confirms this passionate relationship with the paper, as does his more extensive correspondence with his third and last law partner, William Herndon, in which Lincoln would sometimes complain that Greeley’s newspaper was not being supportive enough of his political ambitions. It was in one of these fretful notes that Lincoln first expressed the view that “every one of [Greeley’s] words seems to weigh about a ton.” Lincoln did not merely consume Greeley’s words, however. He devoured the whole of his weekly

[ .  .  . ] In his period of deepest inquiry, the five years after his 1848 departure from Congress as a disappointed Whig and before his return to the political hustings as a champion of what would become the Republican Party, [ . . . ] Keenly aware of the rising tide of liberal, radical and socialist reform movements in Europe, a tide that would peak—at least for a time—in the “revolutionary wave” of 1848 and its aftermath, the young congressman joined other American Whigs in following the development of that year’s “Springtime of the Peoples,” which saw uprisings against monarchy and entrenched economic, social and political power in Germany, France, Hungary, Denmark and other European nations. For Lincoln, however, this was not a new interest.

Long before 1848, German radicals had begun to arrive in Illinois, where they quickly entered into the legal and political circles in which Lincoln traveled. One of them, Gustav Korner, was a student revolutionary at the University of Munich who had been imprisoned by German authorities in the early 1830s for organizing illegal demonstrations. After his release, Korner returned to his hometown of Frankfurt am Main where, according to historian Raymond Lohne, “he was one of about fifty conspirators involved in an attack upon the two main city guardhouses and the arsenal at the police facility and jail. This admixture of students and soldiers had planned to seize cannon, muskets, and ammunition; free political prisoners accused of breaking press-censorship laws, and begin ringing the great Sturmglocke (storm bell) of the Dom, the signal for the people to come in from the countryside. At that point, the democratic revolution would be announced … Unfortunately, they were walking into a trap … Betrayed by both a spy in their midst, and the reluctance of the common people to rise, nine students were killed, twenty-four were seriously wounded, and by August 3, 1833, Gustav Körner found himself riding into downtown Belleville, Illinois.”

Within a decade, Korner would pass the Illinois bar, win election to the legislature and be appointed to the state Supreme Court. Korner and Lincoln formed an alliance that would become so close that the student revolutionary from Frankfurt would eventually be one of seven personal delegates-at-large named by Lincoln to serve at the critical Republican State Convention in May 1860, which propelled the Springfield lawyer into that year’s presidential race. Through Korner, Lincoln met and befriended many of the German radicals who, after the failure of the 1848 revolution, fled to Illinois and neighboring Wisconsin. Along with Korner on Lincoln’s list of personal delegates-at-large to the 1860 convention was Friedrich Karl Franz Hecker, a lawyer from Mannheim who had served as a liberal legislator in the lower chamber of the Baden State Assembly before leading an April 1848 uprising in the region—an uprising cheered on by the newspaper Marx briefly edited during that turbulent period, Neue Rheinische Zeitung—Organ der Demokratie.

Thwarted by military forces loyal to the old order, Hecker fled first to Switzerland and then to Illinois, where he would join Lincoln in forging the new Republican Party and become a key speaker on his American ally’s behalf in the 1858 Senate race that is remembered for the Lincoln– Douglas debates. With a commission from Lincoln, Hecker served as a brigade commander in the Union Army during the Civil War, as did a number of other ‘48ers.

The failure of the 1848 revolts, and the brutal crackdowns that followed, led many leading European radicals to take refuge in the United States, and Lincoln’s circle of supporters would eventually include some of Karl Marx’s closest associates and intellectual sparring partners, including Joseph Weydemeyer and August Willich. Weydemeyer, who maintained a regular correspondence with Marx and Engels, soon formed a national network of Kommunisten Klubs to promote what the New York Times decried as Red Republicanism.” Weydemeyer then allied with the new Republican Party and the presidential campaign of Abraham Lincoln, who would at the start of the Civil War appoint the former Prussian military officer as a technical aide on the staff of General John C. Fremont—the 1856 Republican presidential nominee who became the commander of the Army’s Department of the West. Later, Lincoln issued Weydemeyer a commission as a colonel of the Forty-first Infantry Missouri Volunteers, charging the German Marxist with the defense of St. Louis. Willich, known as “the Reddest of the Reds,” was a leader of the left faction of the German Communist League, which decried Marx’s relative caution when it came to revolutionary agitation. As a key commander of the radical Free Corps in the Baden-Palatinate uprising of 1849, Willich chose as his aide-de-camp a young Friedrich Engels. Forced to flee to the United States after the defeat of the uprising, Willich decamped to Cincinnati, where he became editor of the socialist Republikaner newspaper and backed the candidacies of Fremont in 1856 and Lincoln in 1860. At the outset of the Civil War, Willich recruited a regiment of German immigrants and became its first lieutenant, quickly rising to the rank of brigadier general and making a name for himself by having military bands play revolutionary songs such as the “Arbiter [Workers’] Marseillaise”—“A reveille for the new revolution! The new revolution!”

Lincoln did not merely invite the ‘48ers to join his campaigns, he became highly engaged with their causes. As Lohne notes, “Lincoln was paying attention to these revolutionaries.” In his hometown of Springfield, the former congressman rallied support for revolutionary movements in Europe, particularly the Hungarian revolt of Lajos Kossuth. Lincoln’s name led the list of signatories on calls for public meetings to discuss the Hungarian revolt that appeared in the Illinois State Register and the Illinois Journal in January 1852. A week later, Lincoln helped to pen a resolution declaring that: “we, the American people, cannot remain silent” about “the right of any people, sufficiently numerous for national independence, to throw off, to revolutionize, their existing form of government, and to establish such other in its stead as they may choose.”

Lincoln’s resolution argued:

That the sympathies of this country, and the benefits of its position, should be exerted in favor of the people of every nation struggling to be free; and whilst we meet to do honor to Kossuth and Hungary, we should not fail to pour out the tribute of our praise and approbation to the patriotic efforts of the Irish, the Germans and the French, who have unsuccessfully fought to establish in their several governments the supremacy of the people.

The proclamation even took a shot at the British Empire, resolving:

That there is nothing in the past history of the British government, or in its present expressed policy, to encourage the belief that she will aid, in any manner, in the delivery of continental Europe from the yoke of despotism; and that her treatment of Ireland, of O’Brien, Mitchell, and other worthy patriots, forces the conclusion that she will join her efforts to the despots of Europe in suppressing every effort of the people to establish free governments, based upon the principles of true religious and civil liberty.

What set Lincoln and his compatriots off?

There’s no mystery.

The Illinois agitators had merely to open their weekly editions of Greeley’s Tribune, which was declaring at the time that: “of the many popular leaders who were upheaved by the great convulsions of 1848 … the world has already definitely assigned the first rank to Louis Kossuth, advocate, deputy, finance minister, and finally governor of Hungary.” The great historian of the Tribune’s ideological and political battles, Adam Tuchinsky, notes: “Louis Kossuth and the Central European national liberation movements remained familiar subjects in the pages of the paper”—so much so that conservative critics of the gazette objected to its “Kossuthism, Socialism, Abolitionism and forty other isms.

Greeley believed that 1848’s European revolts and their aftermath revealed “boundless vistas” along with the outlines of the “uprising which must come.” Predictably, his paper covered the revolutionary ferment of Europe with an intensity that made it virtually a local story for radicals in places like Springfield, Illinois. They pored over their copies of the Tribune for the latest from the front in what the paper’s editor portrayed as a global struggle for “the larger liberty” of “The Rights and Interests of Labor, the Reorganization of Industry, the Elevation of the Working-Men, the Reconstruction of the Social Fabric.”

The Tribune did not urge a “to-the-barricades” moment for the United States. Greeley and most of his editors still believed in the prospect of reform, although their frustration with the spread of the evil they referred to as “the slave power” would at times cause the paper’s proprietor to ponder whether “revolution is the only resource left.” Ultimately, however, what most excited Greeley and his readers about the stirrings of 1848 were the new and radical ideas that had emerged, and the mingling of those ideas with action that might lead to their implementation.

The Tribune’s European correspondent [ . . . ] Bornstein, notes Tuchinsky, was “the paper’s link to Karl Marx and a more class-conscious radicalism that would emerge in Europe during the 1848 revolutions and in their aftermath.”

But Bornstein’s “big picture” reporting style—which he would eventually bring to the United States as an astute observer of the Civil War— was only the start of the Tribune’s emergence as the primary source of detailed reporting on international events and ideas that would reshape the way American radicals and reformers thought about their own struggles, against slavery in particular and economic and social injustice in general. No longer satisfied with the pastoral reforms of Fourier and the romantic French communalists, the Tribune now considered more radical responses.

“Ultimately, 1848 would unearth an immense variety of French and European radical discourse; as a result, The Tribune diversified its coverage of socialist ideas,” explains Tuchinsky. “But more than that, socialism itself became not simply a mode of reform but also, significantly, of explanation, a way to interpret events. Fourierism was a sectarian movement, and it failed, but along with the revolution it cleared the way for a new language and a new political mentality through which American progressive intellectuals perceived and critiqued their social and political world.”

To understand and interpret that new language, Greeley dispatched a recent hire, Charles Dana, to Paris. [ . . . ] “Socialism is thus not conquered nor obscured in France by [the turmoil] but strengthened. It is no longer Fourierism, nor Communism, nor this nor that particular system which occupies the public mind of France, but it is the general idea of Social Rights and Social Reorganization. Everyone now is more or less a Socialist.”

[ . . . ] In particular, Dana was inspired to turn the Tribune, which had traditionally been friendly toward trade unionism, into an even more explicit advocate for organized labor, arguing editorially that: “we see no other mode in which Labor can protect itself against the overwhelming power of Capital than by this very method of Combination.” Lincoln, the voracious Tribune reader, would frequently express such sympathies, not merely in debates and State of the Union addresses but in direct communications to labor groups. To the New York Workingmen’s Association, the sitting president would in 1864 observe: “The strongest bond of human sympathy, outside of the family relation, should be one uniting all working people, of all nations, and tongues, and kindreds.”

[ . . . ] In this search for “alternative strains of socialist thought,” Dana made his way to the city of Cologne, where a friend of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the poet Ferdinand Freiligrath, was working with a radical paper that intrigued the American visitor. The editor of the paper had recently co-authored a much-circulated German-language pamphlet, Das Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei, which argued: “The essential condition for the existence and rule of the bourgeois class is the accumulation of wealth in private hands, the formation and increase of capital; the essential condition of capital is wage-labor. Wage-labor rests entirely on the competition among the workers.” To upset that condition, the writers had declared in February of 1848 for a “Communistic revolution” with the words: “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workers of the world, unite!”

The pamphlet would be translated two years later into English as The Communist Manifesto. The editor in question was, of course, Karl Marx, with whom Dana spent a midsummer day in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung—Organ der Demokratie office. [ . . . ] Somehow, Dana and Marx connected. Indeed, they hit it off so famously that Dana would, according to Marx’s biographer Francis Wheen, provide the philosopher with “the closest thing he ever had to a steady job.”

That job was as one of the most frequently-published correspondents for the New York Tribune, with which Dana served a dozen years as managing editor. After Dana returned to New York to take up his new duties, he contacted Marx in London, where he had been forced to flee after German authorities shuttered the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, with an invitation to begin writing for the Tribune. And write Marx did. As Wheen notes, “The Tribune was by far the largest publisher of Marx’s (and to a lesser extent, Engels’s) work …The Tribune articles take up nearly seven volumes of the fifty-volume collected works of Marx and Engels—more than Capital, more than any work published by Marx, alive or posthumously, in book form.” The “singular collaboration” between Greeley’s paper and Marx continued from the early 1850s until the time of Dana’s departure to join Lincoln’s White House staff. “During this period,” according to historian William Harlan Hale’s masterly examination of the relationship, “Europe’s extremest radical, proscribed by the Prussian police and watched over by its agents abroad as a potential assassin of kings, sent in well over 500 separate contributions to the great New York family newspaper dedicated to the support of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, temperance, dietary reform, Going West, and, ultimately, Abraham Lincoln.” The official count of articles published by the Tribune under Marx’s byline was 350, while Engels wrote 125 and the duo produced 12 together. But, as the philosopher himself noted, many more articles ended up running as the official line of the Tribune. “Of late, The Tribune has again been appropriating all my articles as leaders [unsigned editorials],” Marx complained in 1854.

— — —

pp. 82-86:

It happened that Marx’s article appeared at a time of “beginning again from the beginning” for a great many American radicals. The Whig Party, with which Greeley, Lincoln and compatriots of like mind had aligned themselves, was collapsing under the weight of its internal divisions between those who believed in aggressively confronting the spread of the “slave power” and more cautious reformers. Lincoln, who with Greeley had left the Congress in 1849, was practicing law in Springfield and on “the circuit” of county courthouses in Illinois. But he had not left politics behind. [ . . . ]

Slavery was an omnipresent issue, but surely not the only issue for Lincoln, whose circle of close compatriots now included a number of the radical ‘48ers who had turned Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri into new hubs of agitation. Lincoln watched international developments with frustration following the setbacks of the late 1840s and early 1850s, bemoaning in a letter to Herndon his sense that: “The world is dead to hope, deaf to its own death struggle made known by a universal cry. What is to be done? Is anything to be done? Who can do anything and how can it be done? Did you ever think on these things?”

[ . . . ] Eulogizing his political hero Henry Clay in 1852, Lincoln would make frequent reference to Clay’s international interests and involvements, declaring: “Mr. Clay’s efforts in behalf of the South Americans, and afterwards, in behalf of the Greeks, in the times of their respective struggles for civil liberty are among the finest on record, upon the noblest of all themes; and bear ample corroboration of what I have said was his ruling passion—a love of liberty and right, unselfishly, and for their own sakes.” Lincoln invoked the struggles of the European revolutionaries and denounced “oppression of any of its forms … crowned-kings, money-kings, and land-kings.” He dismissed the rhetoric of his arch-rival, Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas, finding it “as bombastic and hollow as Napoleon’s bulletins sent back from his campaign in Russia.” And when Douglas compromised on the issue of allowing the spread of slavery to new territories, he declared: “Equality in society alike beats inequality, whether the latter be of the British aristocratic sort or of the domestic slavery sort.”

Lincoln was arguably at his most radical when he penned those words in 1854. [ . . . ] In the immediate aftermath of Douglas’s betrayal, however, Lincoln’s language bore the distinct accent of Greeley’s Tribune and its most radical writers.

When Lincoln emerged in 1854 from his self-imposed political exile, it was with the intention of doing electoral battle not just with slavery but with those who stood in the way of the free soil and free labor movements the Tribune had popularized. “Free labor has the inspiration of hope; pure slavery has no hope,” declared the future president in one of his frequent linkages of ideological mantras. [ . . . ] Lincoln recognized that the most radical promise of America’s founding—that “all men are created equal”—was being destroyed in a manner that would thwart progress not merely for black slaves, but for white workers and farmers who sought their own freedoms. In his remarkable letter of August 15, 1855, to former Kentucky Congressman George Robertson, a compatriot of Henry Clay and champion of the old-school Whig hope that slavery would gradually be abandoned, the forty-six-year-old Illinoisan would bemoan the dying of the Founders’ faith. Recalling an address delivered decades earlier by Robertson, Lincoln wrote:

You are not a friend of slavery in the abstract. In that speech you spoke of “the peaceful extinction of slavery” and used other expressions indicating your belief that the thing was, at some time, to have an end[.] Since then we have had thirty-six years of experience; and this experience has demonstrated, I think, that there is no peaceful extinction of slavery in prospect for us. The signal failure of Henry Clay, and other good and great men, in 1849, to effect any thing in favor of gradual emancipation in Kentucky, together with a thousand other signs, extinguishes that hope utterly. On the question of liberty, as a principle, we are not what we have been. When we were the political slaves of King George, and wanted to be free, we called the maxim that “all men are created equal” a self-evident truth; but now when we have grown fat, and have lost all dread of being slaves ourselves, we have become so greedy to be masters that we call the same maxim “a self-evident lie.” The fourth of July has not quite dwindled away; it is still a great day—for burning fire-crackers!!!

That spirit which desired the peaceful extinction of slavery, has itself become extinct, with the occasion, and the men of the Revolution. Under the impulse of that occasion, nearly half the states adopted systems of emancipation at once; and it is a significant fact, that not a single state has done the like since. So far as peaceful, voluntary emancipation is concerned, the condition of the negro slave in America, scarcely less terrible to the contemplation of a free mind, is now as fixed, and hopeless of change for the better, as that of the lost souls of the finally impenitent. The Autocrat of all the Russias will resign his crown, and proclaim his subjects free republicans sooner than will our American masters voluntarily give up their slaves.

The letter to Robertson was composed during a period in which Lincoln was arguing to his law partner, William Herndon, that: “The day of compromise has passed. These two great ideas (slavery and freedom) have been kept apart only by artful means. They are like two wild beasts in sight of each other, but chained and apart. Some day these deadly antagonists will one of the other break their bonds, and then the question will be settled.”

What did Lincoln mean when he spoke of freedom as a great idea that stood in conflict with slavery? Was he merely addressing the condition of those physically enslaved by the southern plantation owners—and the political and legal structures that supported them? Or was he speaking of a broader freedom? The answer is found in the records of Lincoln’s public addresses from the time.

 — — —

pp. 87-96:

It was in Jefferson’s promise of a great equality that the debater of 1854 and the president of 1863 would find his moral grounding.

In particular, Lincoln spoke of how:

Little by little, but steadily as man’s march to the grave, we have been giving up the OLD for the NEW faith. Near eighty years ago we began by declaring that all men are created equal; but now from that beginning we have run down to the other declaration, that for SOME men to enslave OTHERS is a “sacred right of self-government.” These principles cannot stand together. They are as opposite as God and Mammon; and whoever holds to the one, must despise the other. When Pettit, in connection with his support of the Nebraska bill, called the Declaration of Independence “a self-evident lie” he only did what consistency and candor require all other Nebraska men to do. Of the forty-odd Nebraska Senators who sat present and heard him, no one rebuked him. Nor am I apprized that any Nebraska newspaper, or any Nebraska orator, in the whole nation, has ever yet rebuked him. If this had been said among Marion’s men, Southerners though they were, what would have become of the man who said it? If this had been said to the men who captured Andre, the man who said it, would probably have been hung sooner than Andre was. If it had been said in old Independence Hall, seventy-eight years ago, the very doorkeeper would have throttled the man, and thrust him into the street.

Let no one be deceived. The spirit of seventy-six and the spirit of Nebraska, are utter antagonisms; and the former is being rapidly displaced by the latter.

Fellow countrymen—Americans south, as well as north, shall we make no effort to arrest this? Already the liberal party throughout the world, express the apprehension “that the one retrograde institution in America, is undermining the principles of progress, and fatally violating the noblest political system the world ever saw.” This is not the taunt of enemies, but the warning of friends. Is it quite safe to disregard it—to despise it? Is there no danger to liberty itself, in discarding the earliest practice, and first precept of our ancient faith? In our greedy chase to make profit of the negro, let us beware, lest we “cancel and tear to pieces” even the white man’s charter of freedom.

Our republican robe is soiled, and trailed in the dust. Let us re-purify it. Let us turn and wash it white, in the spirit, if not the blood, of the Revolution. Let us turn slavery from its claims of “moral right,” back upon its existing legal rights, and its arguments of “necessity.” Let us return it to the position our fathers gave it; and there let it rest in peace. Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it. Let north and south—let all Americans—let all lovers of liberty everywhere—join in the great and good work. If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union; but we shall have so saved it, as to make, and to keep it, forever worthy of the saving. We shall have so saved it, that the succeeding millions of free happy people, the world over, shall rise up, and call us blessed, to the latest generations.

[ . . . ] What he was coming to understand, intellectually and emotionally, was that slavery was an oppression of a kind with other oppressions. And he was not on the side of the oppressors. He was on the side of freedom—not merely as a moral or social construct, but as an economic one.

This was a concept that was hard-wired into the Republican Party from the moment of its founding—by followers of Fourier’s utopian socialist vision, by German ‘48ers and especially by the muscular veteran campaigner for radical land reform Alvan Bovay. It was an idea that emphasized as he campaigned in 1856 for “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men and Fremont.” Slavery was an issue that year, and Frederick Douglass was surely right when he argued that voting Republican was the best way to strike “the severest, deadliest blow upon Slavery that can be given at this particular time.” But slavery was not the only issue, as a southern Illinois newspaper, the Belleville Weekly Advocate, noted after Lincoln stumped across the region on behalf of the ticket of General John C. Fremont and former New Jersey Senator William Dayton (who had defeated Lincoln for the new party’s vice-presidential nomination in a 253 to 110 vote at the first Republican National Convention that summer in Philadelphia). “He vindicated the cause of free labor, ‘that national capital,’ in the language of Col. FREMONT, ‘which constitutes the real wealth of this great country, and creates that intelligent power in the masses alone to be relied on as the bulwark of free institutions.’ He showed the tendency and aim of the Sham Democracy to degrade labor to subvert the true ends of Government and build up Aristocracy, Despotism and Slavery.”

Two years later, on October 15, 1858, in the last of the Lincoln– Douglas debates, the Republican candidate would frame the issues in the boldest possible terms, linking physical and economic slavery—“It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself”—as he addressed a crowd of 5,000 that had gathered in front of the Alton, Illinois, city hall. “That is the real issue. That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles—right and wrong— throughout the world,” Lincoln thundered. “They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, ‘You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.’ No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.”

As he prepared for the 1860 presidential race, Lincoln would align with those who “hold that labor is the superior—greatly the superior—of capital.” That line, from one of Lincoln’s most striking speeches of the period, his September 30, 1859, address to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, was reprised with minor variations throughout the difficult campaign for the Republican nomination. [ . . . ] “The Republicans therefore attacked the rule of the slaveholders at their root,” argued Marx in one of his many articles celebrating the rise of the new radical party in the United States—just as he decried “the connivance of the Northern Democrats” (or, as he referred to them, “Slavocrats”) with “the Southern Slavocracy.” The columnist, often displaying enthusiasms as idealistic as the Republican campaigners of Vermont or Wisconsin, argued that the party’s rapid rise offered “many palpable proofs that the North had accumulated sufficient energies to rectify the aberrations which United States history, under the slaveholders’ pressure, had undergone for half a century, and to make it return to the true principles of its development.” Lincoln’s victory was in Marx’s view a signal that the workers of the north would not “submit any longer to an oligarchy of 300,000 slaveholders…” That would not sit well with the south, and Greeley’s European correspondent explained to readers of the Tribune what they well knew to be the next stage in the history of the United States: “The Republican election victory was accordingly bound to lead to open struggle between North and South.”

[ . . . ] there were triumphs in the economic debates that Lincoln had outlined. Chief among these was the enactment of the Homestead Act of 1862, a soft version of the land reforms proposed by Paine-influenced agrarian socialists and social democrats of varying stripes—led by George Henry Evans, who suggested the movement be dubbed “Republican” as early as the mid-1840s, and Evans’s aide, Bovay, who would apply the name a decade later when he called the party into being at Ripon, Wisconsin. The act, which promised “land for the landless,” allowed any adult citizen (or anyone who had applied for citizenship) to claim a 160-acre parcel of land in the public domain. Greeley hailed it as “one of the most vital reforms ever attempted” and predicted it would usher in a post-war era of economic equity characterized by “Peace, Prosperity and Progress.”

Even as they agreed on homesteading, Greeley and Lincoln wrangled over the timing and scope of an emancipation proclamation. The editor joined Frederick Douglass in demanding that the president take steps to make the Civil War not merely a struggle to preserve the Union, but “an Abolition war.” Even as Greeley and Lincoln exchanged sometimes pointed letters, the Tribune’s longtime managing editor Charles Dana was now working for Lincoln. Officially assigned to the War Department—where he would eventually serve as assistant secretary—Dana’s real role was as an aide and adviser to the president on questions of what the former newspaperman described as the “judicious, humane, and wise uses of executive authority.” That Lincoln spent much of his presidency reading dispatches from and welcoming the counsel of Marx’s longtime editor—like the fact that he awarded military commissions to the numerous comrades of the author of The Communist Manifesto who had come to the United States as political refugees following the failed European revolutions of 1848—is a shard of history rarely seen in the hagiographic accounts that produce a sanitized version of the sixteenth president’s story. In the years following Lincoln’s death, his law partner and political comrade, William Herndon, complained that Lincoln’s official biographers were already attempting “to make the story with the classes as against the masses,” an approach that he suggested “will result in delineating the real Lincoln about as well as does a wax figure in the museum.”

The real Lincoln was more of a Jeffersonian, and especially a Paineite, than an orthodox Marxist. [ . . . ] To the extent that sides were to be taken, Lincoln was on the side of labor. He urged working men to “combine” and organize labor unions— “uniting all working people, of all nations, and tongues, and kindreds.” He wanted “free labor” to be able to make demands on capital, without apology or compromise. He proposed this, not as a young man in a “radical phase,” but as the president of the United States. And he said as much when leaders of the New York Workingmen’s Democratic-Republican Association arrived at the White House in March of 1864, to inform the president that they had elected him as an honorary member of their organization. Lincoln “gratefully accepted” the membership, read the attending paperwork and then responded appreciatively to his visitors: “You comprehend, as your address shows, that the existing rebellion means more, and tends to more, than the perpetuation of African Slavery—that it is, in fact, a war upon the rights of all working people. Partly to show that this view has not escaped my attention, and partly that I cannot better express myself, I read a passage from the Message to Congress in December 1861…”

Having recalled his declarations about the superiority of labor, Lincoln spent a good deal more time with the Workingmen, despite a busy schedule that placed on his shoulders all the weight of decisions regarding the war and an impending re-election campaign. The campaign would see Lincoln’s supporters distribute handbills in working-class wards of New York and other cities, arguing that the war was a fight not just to free slaves in the south but to free workers in the north from “Slave Wages.” The most ardent abolitionists, such as Frederick Douglass, had always reasoned that: “Liberty to the slave is peace, honor, and prosperity to the country.” But now this message was becoming central to the appeal of Lincoln’s campaign to voters in the swing states that would decide whether the president could see the war through to “an Abolition peace” characterized by “liberty for all, chains for none.” Emancipation, argued Lincoln’s supporters, would allow African Americans in the south to “demand wages that would allow them to live in a decent manner, and therefore would help the poor white man to put up the price of labor instead of putting it down as [slavery does] now.”

“Let the workingman think of this and go to the polls and vote for Abraham Lincoln, who is the true democratic candidate, and not the representative of the English Aristocracy, or their form of government, to be rid of which so many have left their native shores, and which form the leaders of the Rebellion are in favor of, in evidence of which we have the fact that in many of the Southern States no people can hold office but a property holder…” went one leaflet’s class-based appeal, which was critical to building the majority that would allow Lincoln to carry New York and retain the presidency with a decisive national landslide.

[ . . . ] Marx and Engels had been busy in the fall of 1864 with the work of organizing the International Workingmen’s Association—the “First International” of the communist movement and its allies on the left. At the meeting on November 19 of the International’s general council in London, Marx presented a letter of congratulation to Lincoln, which the council endorsed. It read:

Sir: We congratulate the American people upon your re-election by a large majority. If resistance to the Slave Power was the reserved watchword of your first election, the triumphant war cry of your re-election is Death to Slavery.

From the commencement of the titanic American strife the workingmen of Europe felt instinctively that the star-spangled banner carried the destiny of their class. The contest for the territories which opened the dire epopee, was it not to decide whether the virgin soil of immense tracts should be wedded to the labor of the emigrant or prostituted by the tramp of the slave driver?

When an oligarchy of 300,000 slaveholders dared to inscribe, for the first time in the annals of the world, “slavery” on the banner of Armed Revolt, when on the very spots where hardly a century ago the idea of one great Democratic Republic had first sprung up, whence the first Declaration of the Rights of Man was issued, and the first impulse given to the European revolution of the eighteenth century; when on those very spots counterrevolution, with systematic thoroughness, gloried in rescinding “the ideas entertained at the time of the formation of the old constitution”, and maintained slavery to be “a beneficent institution”, indeed, the old solution of the great problem of “the relation of capital to labor”, and cynically proclaimed property in man “the cornerstone of the new edifice” — then the working classes of Europe understood at once, even before the fanatic partisanship of the upper classes for the Confederate gentry had given its dismal warning, that the slaveholders’ rebellion was to sound the tocsin for a general holy crusade of property against labor, and that for the men of labor, with their hopes for the future, even their past conquests were at stake in that tremendous conflict on the other side of the Atlantic. Everywhere they bore therefore patiently the hardships imposed upon them by the cotton crisis, opposed enthusiastically the proslavery intervention of their betters — and, from most parts of Europe, contributed their quota of blood to the good cause.

While the workingmen, the true political powers of the North, allowed slavery to defile their own republic, while before the Negro, mastered and sold without his concurrence, they boasted it the highest prerogative of the white-skinned laborer to sell himself and choose his own master, they were unable to attain the true freedom of labor, or to support their European brethren in their struggle for emancipation; but this barrier to progress has been swept off by the red sea of civil war.

The workingmen of Europe feel sure that, as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy for the middle class, so the American Antislavery War will do for the working classes. They consider it an earnest of the epoch to come that it fell to the lot of Abraham Lincoln, the single-minded son of the working class, to lead his country through the matchless struggle for the rescue of an enchained race and the reconstruction of a social world.

The letter was duly delivered to Charles Francis Adams, Sr., the grandson of John and son of John Quincy, who had since the beginning of the war served in the delicate capacity of Lincoln’s ambassador to the Court of St. James. Adams was well acquainted with Marx. A Greeley man, who would campaign for the vice presidency in 1872 on a “Liberal Republican” ticket led by the editor, he had been the subject of glowing accounts by Marx in the Tribune since his arrival in London in 1861. His own son and private secretary, Henry, after attending “a democratic and socialistic meeting” organized by Marx and Engels, had reported approvingly to Washington that the speakers emphasized “that their interests and those of the American Union were one, that the success of free institutions in America was a political question of deep consequence in England and that they would not tolerate any interference unfavorable to the north.” [ . . . ] The senior Adams dispatched the letter from Marx and the leaders of the First International in a packet of diplomatic correspondence that was delivered to the State Department in Washington. Secretary of State William Seward [ . . . ] communicated Lincoln’s response, which Adams in turn delivered to Marx and his comrades:

“I am directed to inform you that the address of the Central Council of your Association, which was duly transmitted through this Legation to the President of the United [States], has been received by him,” began Adams. He went on:

So far as the sentiments expressed by it are personal, they are accepted by him with a sincere and anxious desire that he may be able to prove himself not unworthy of the confidence which has been recently extended to him by his fellow citizens and by so many of the friends of humanity and progress throughout the world.

The Government of the United States has a clear consciousness that its policy neither is nor could be reactionary, but at the same time it adheres to the course which it adopted at the beginning, of abstaining everywhere from propagandism and unlawful intervention. It strives to do equal and exact justice to all states and to all men and it relies upon the beneficial results of that effort for support at home and for respect and good will throughout the world.

Nations do not exist for themselves alone, but to promote the welfare and happiness of mankind by benevolent intercourse and example. It is in this relation that the United States regard their cause in the present conflict with slavery, maintaining insurgence as the cause of human nature, and they derive new encouragements to persevere from the testimony of the workingmen of Europe that the national attitude is favored with their enlightened approval and earnest sympathies.

Marx was thrilled by “the fact that Lincoln answered us so courteously,” as he was with the rejection of “reactionary” policies and the expression of solidarity with “the friends of humanity and progress throughout the world.” [ . . . ] As such, the organizer in him delighted in the broad reporting of the exchange between the International and the Lincoln White House, which was featured news in the Times of London, along with other British and American papers. “The difference between Lincoln’s answer to us and to the bourgeoisie [anti-slavery groups that had also written the president] has created such a sensation here that the West End ‘clubs’ are shaking their heads at it,” Marx informed Engels.

Then they came for the trade unionists…

Here is something that has been quoted many times before, but it deserves being quoted many times more.

First They came… – Pastor Martin Niemöller

Timbre Allemagne 1992 Martin Niemoller obl.jpgFirst they came for the communists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for me.

– – –

If only people understood those words, we wouldn’t have all these problems that continue to plague us.

People look around the world and think other people’s problems aren’t their problems. Who cares about the poor who are exploited and oppressed in other countries? Who cares about the working class and the unions? Most people see those who are different as the enemy. To business owners, the workers are the enemy. To non-union workers, union workers are the enemy. To well off whites, poor minorities are the enemy. To poor Americans, immigrants are the enemy. To fundamentalists, social gospel Christians are the enemy. Et Cetera. And history just keeps on repeating.

I was reminded of what Niemhöller wrote because of the recent attacks on unions by Republicans and corporations. Unions have been greatly disempowered since the Taft-Hartley Act and since the Reagan administration, but still even in weakened form they are the only defense the working and middle classes have left in fighting against the ever growing corporatism in America. Of the top 10 campaign contributors, all are corporate PACs besides 3 which are unions. With the unjust elimination of ACORN, the poor and working class need the unions more than ever. Organizations like unions and the former ACORN help inform the public about important issues and help to encourage the poor get to the voting booths.

There is one very important thing to note from the Niemöller quote. The Nazis didn’t go after Jews right from the start. No, they first went after the Communists and unions. The Nazis had to first eliminate the groups that represent average people, the groups that are the pillars of grassroots democracy. Once they are eliminated, any other group can be freely attacked without the possibility of organized resistance. Just look at Wisconsin right now. Besides unions, there is no other group that could organize average Americans to such an extent. Unions are the very last defense. Unions don’t just defend their own workers. Unions, in defending the working class, defend the rights of all.

I was recently reminded of a fact most people don’t know. Check out these maps:

Party Affiliation (2009)From ’08 to ’10

State of States Political Party Affiliation, 2008

State of the States Political Party Advantage Map, 2010

Many states (such as in the South) that people think of as solidly Republican in reality aren’t that solid at all. In conservative states, a divide exists that doesn’t isn’t found in liberal states. Poor people in conservative states tend to vote Democratic whereas the rich tend to vote Republican (however, both the poor and the rich in liberal states tend to vote Democratic). So, how do Republicans maintain control of states that have populations mixed between the two parties? It’s rather simple. The rich Republicans control the politics, control the media, control the corporate contributions. The organizations that represent the poor are few and getting fewer.

Here is an article about 2006 voting data and a map of unionization:

Want to know why Democrats won the election? Because union members and their families voted for them.

Here’s the breakdown – non union members split evenly according to the CNN exit polls 49% to each party. Union members went 64% Democratic, and 34% Republican.

This actually underestimates the case, because unions are more than half of the Democratic ground game. It’s not just that union members vote Democratic – it’s that union members work for Democratic candidates and against Republican ones. They knock on doors, they organize, they phone pool. Any decent union has a hardened corps of organizers from their day to day work, and around election time those guys fan out. They are tough, experienced, don’t fear rejection and are mostly solidly working class.

If you look at a map of the US by union membership, like the one above, what you’ll see is that it looks awfully familiar – where unions are strong, Dems win. Where they aren’t, they lose or struggle.

The South, in particular, has a long history of disenfranchising the poor and the minorities (both of whom vote Democratic, of course). Most Americans don’t vote because most Americans feel disenfranchised from the entire political process. This perception is partly true and partly false, but the corporate media wants people to believe it because the continued dominance of the rich is dependent on this perception. If this perception of disenfranchisement falters even for a moment, protests and revolutions (or, at least, political upsets) can happen.

I’ve often heard conservatives (including democratically elected politicians) criticize democracy calling it mobocracy (two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner). Let me break down this criticism. So, who is this ‘mob’? It’s the masses, the general public, the average American, the majority of adults who feel so disenfranchised that they don’t vote. Conservatives are afraid of the majority because they know the majority doesn’t support their views and policies (see: ). Conservatives are afraid of grassroots democracy like unions because they know grassroots democracy won’t benefit corporations.

One argument conservatives give is that unions have already served their purpose. Conservatives will initially try to deny what unions have accomplished, but when that fails they’ll argue that there is nothing left for unions to accomplish. However, from my liberal perspective, unions are the only thing stopping our society from returning to 19th century capitalism. So, what exactly was 19th century capitalism like? There are some positive examples like the Shakers (which is a socialist model of capitalism that conservatives don’t like) and there are many negative examples like the following (from my post ):

Each mining camp was a feudal dominion, with the company acting as lord and master. Every camp had a marshal, a law enforcement officer paid by the company. The ‘laws’ were the company’s rules. Curfews were imposed, ‘suspicious’ strangers were not allowed to visit the homes, the company store had a monopoly on goods sold in the camp.
The doctor was a company doctor, the schoolteachers hired by the company . . . Political power in Colorado rested in the hands of those who held economic power. This meant that the authority of Colorado Fuel & Iron and other mine operators was virtually supreme . . . Company officials were appointed as election judges. Company-dominated coroners and judges prevented injured employees from collecting damages.
[The Colorado Coal Strike, 1913-14, pp. 9-11]

I personally don’t want to return to a society where such capitalist systems existed. I’m fairly sure most Americans wouldn’t want to return to this either. And it’s good to keep in mind that this kind of capitalism (or similar variations) still exists in other parts of the world where unions don’t exist or don’t have as much political influence. So, I think it would be unwise to dismiss the role unions play in our society. Our grandparents and great grandparents fought and died for the rights we take for granted.

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Ignoring history (which is never a wise thing to do), what can we say about unions in our present society? For example, does allowing teachers unions to have collective bargaining lead to negative impact on the public education system?

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Anyway, how much power do unions actually have? A picture is worth a thousand words. Totals by Sector from OpenSecrets.org:

lobbying expenditures vs. campaign contributions

If money talks, politicians are listening to louder voices than unions.

Even so, unions are more likely to get heard by Democrats.

Top Democratic and Republican Donors in 2010

Top Overall Donors to Republicans:

Elliott Management (a Hedge fund company)
Koch Industries (note: the billioaire who is the main financier of the Teabaggers)
Every Republican is Crucial PAC
Associated Builders & Contractors
(so-called) “Freedom” Project (a Republican PAC)

NOTES: Top Republican supporters are billionaires, contractors, and hedge funds…and keep in mind this applies to the Teabagger movement as well. They are supported by the same billionaires, contractors, and hedge funds.

Top Overall Donors to Democrats:

ActBlue (composite of many, many small, grassroots donations)
Intl Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
Laborers Union
Machinists/Aerospace Workers Union
EMILY’s List (composite of many, many small grassroots donations)
Plumbers/Pipefitters Union
National Assn of Letter Carriers
Ironworkers Union
United Auto Workers
United Transportation Union
American Postal Workers Union
UNITE HERE
AmeriPAC: The Fund for a Greater America

NOTES: Top Democratic supporters are unions and grassroots donors.

Seems to me the contrast is really quite sharp: Billionaires vs. working and middle class.

Where unions are strong, do they make a society better or worse? Here is from a post I wrote comparing the US and Germany:

In this video, there was one particular point about Germany that stood out. Germany is 1/5 the size of the US and yet has the second highest trade surplus in the world (after China). They’ve accomplished this while having higher rate of unionization and higher pay. Interestingly, the US economy was also doing better when unionization and pay was higher in the US.

Unions in the US are considered socialists even though they represent the working class. In Germany, it’s required for worker representation to be half of board members of companies. In Germany, the industrial and financial sectors are highly regulated keeping jobs from being outsourced and ensuring main street benefits rather than just wall street. According to conservative ideology, this kind of socialist practices and union power should destroy the economy and destroy innovation and yet the complete opposite is the result.

This seems to support Noam Chomsky’s arguments. Chomsky thinks the world would be a better place if workers had more power to influence the companies they work for and influence the economy they are a part of. As a socialist liberal, Chomsky genuinely believes it’s good to empower the average person. It would appear Germany has done exactly this and has become immensely successful by doing so.

A major factor I discussed in that US and Germany post was about income inequality. Here is a graph showing both the data of union coverage and inequality:

Union coverage decreases inequality chart

For what it’s worth, here is a study about unions in three comparable countries:

In particular, unions tend to systematically reduce wage inequality among men, but have little impact on wage inequality for women. We conclude that unionization helps explain a sizable share of cross-country differences in male wage inequality among the three countries. We also conclude that de-unionization explains a substantial part of the growth in male wage inequality in the U.K. and the U.S. since the early 1980s.

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I just responded to some comments from one of my previous blog posts () which touch upon a central issue in American politics. Here are my two responses:

I agree with you about the misleading notions of American “conservatives”. It would make life easier if they used a different term to label themselves. Looking at the history of Western conservatism, American conservatives don’t seem all that conservative. In Britain, the conservatives are the Tories. In early America, Tories defended Britain against the radical revolutionaries. I find it odd that American conservatives worship the founders who were radicals. Thomas Paine inspired the entire revolution and his writings were as liberal as they get.

I was reading Henry Fairlie’s view on Toryism. I realized that traditional conservatism more closely describes Democrats than Republicans. Democrats are the ones interested in conserving our present system. On the other hand, Republicans attack our present system. And, as you note, their fantasies about the past are actually radical visions that would entirely remake American society. They don’t want to conserve anything. If American conservatives actually wanted to conserve the past, they’d first have to read something other than revisionist history.

My suspicion is that the idiosyncrasy of American conservatism makes a bit more sense when taking into consideration the psychological research done on ideologies. Brain scans show that conservatives tend to have a larger part of the brain that deals with fear. Other research shows that conservatives have a stronger disgust response toward anything unusual or improper (such as rotting fruit).

America is unusual in that the status quo of our society isn’t the power of a particular church or of a royal lineage or of a specific ethnicity. The only status quo we have in this country is that of change. Ever since the first Europeans came here, it has been endless change. At a fundamental level, conservatives hate change and so American conservatives hate the status quo of the society they were raised in. They would like to create a status quo that never changes which, oddly, would require radically changing the present status quo. Conservatives seem like hypocrites because they are conflicted by their own psychological predispositions. In the US, they can’t win for losing. The country was founded on a radical liberal vision and has continued to radically change ever since. To be an American conservative is to hate the founding status quo of America.

(note: I admit ‘hate’ is a strong word. Let us just say conservatives are strongly conflicted by the founding status quo of America.)

I’ve just started a book titled Thomas Paine and the Promise of America by Harvey J. Kaye. It’s very fascinating. It’s odd that I don’t recall having learned much about Paine in my public education or even in various documentaries I’ve watched about early America.

There seems to be a love/hate relationship with Paine. His writings were what inspired the American Revolution and probably what kept it from failing, but his vision was so radically democratic that he fell out of favor with many of the others in the founding generation who just wanted to create a new ruling elite (which essentially is what they did).

It’s very interesting that this radical vision is at the heart of what defines America. Paine wanted to end slavery, wanted Native Americans to keep their land, wanted women, blacks, and the poor to have as much power as rich white men. He wanted America to become an example of genuine freedom that would inspire revolution all over the world. Paine was a bad ass. His vision is radical even by today’s standards.

America would not exist without Paine’s far left democratic vision. He inspired the revolution, inspired people to keep fighting, inspired people to support the fight for independence in all ways. The American people, especially the lower classes, were fighting for Paine’s vision of America. Paine dedicated his whole life to the cause of liberty. He never made any profit from any of his writings. He risked his life many times and even fought hand-to-hand combat. He was a hardcore revolutionary. He didn’t grow up with privilege. Unlike the most of the Founding Fathers, he was born working class and was an immigrant. Paine believed in the American Dream before there was a country called America.

Paine is the reason conservatives are endlessly outraged in America. Like many in the founding generation, conservatives are scared shitless about the vision that Paine proposed and that vision still exists as a seed waiting to sprout. Paine failed because the rich white males of the time were too afraid to embrace a truly free society. The Populists in the late 19th century attempted again to achieve that vision, but once again the ruling elite coopted the revolutionary energy for the purposes of the corporate elite. Now, we once again face the potential of Paine’s vision. People once again begin to remember what inspired the founding of this country in the first place. Those in power and those on the right will do everything they can to squash democracy. Everyone understands that democracy is the most dangerous vision that any human has ever conceived.

Maybe you’re right about liberals tending to focus on freedom from. When considering radical freedom, we can only know the past from which we are trying to free ourselves from. We can’t know where radical freedom will lead. It’s an experiment. Paine explicitly thought of America as an experiment. If you want safety and security, then you can’t have freedom. That is the hypocrisy of what America has become. Paine realized that even the ruling elite could only have as much freedom as everyone was allowed. Paine knew that the only way to have democracy was to have an educated public and the ruling elite knew the only way to control the masses was to keep them ignorant. But control can never lead to freedom.

Even the data proves this. In societies with high economic inequality, there are more social problems (see: ). The rich may be relatively better off than the poor in such a society, but the rich in such a society are relatively worse off than the rich in a society that has more equality. The rich people in an unequal society have, for example, more health problems (probably from the stress of living surrounded by poverty, crime, and social conflict).

Paine understood this centuries ago. The ruling elite at the time dismissed his radical vision. And the ruling elite today continue to dismiss his radical vision. Yet his radical vision remains. The potential of America continues to be wasted because of those who have power don’t have vision and those who have vision don’t have power. Paine began the revolution and the revolution is still happening. The reason America has never stopped changing is because a large segment of American society has always refused to give up on the vision Paine first described.

Many might consider Paine to have been naive for actually believing in freedom. But dammit I wish there were more idealists. The only thing that makes ideals unrealistic is the cynical ruling elite that always stands in the way. Why is democracy considered naive? Why is freedom seen as a threat?

To this day, the conservatives still fear the masses of the poor and minorities. If you look at the demographics of the Southern states, they actually aren’t solidly Republican by a long stretch. If all the poor and minorities voted, Democrats would win by a landslide in the South and all across the coutnry. Conservatives know this and that is why they do what they can to destroy organizations like Acorn and unions that represent the poor and disenfranchised. Most Americans don’t vote because the entire history of America has been about the ruling elite disenfranchising the masses. Even when they do vote, their votes might simply not be counted as happened in Florida. It’s fucked up.

If Paine was here, he’d start a new revolution. Paine was a Marxist revolutionary before there was a Marx. He realized that the fundamental issue is always class war. It was so when immigrants first came to America, many of whom were political dissidents, oppressed poor people, and indentured servants. And it’s still true.

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Let me finish by pointing out a couple of things related to those comments.

First, here is a passage from the book I mentioned above (Thomas Paine and the Promise of America by Harvey J. Kaye, Kindle location 1129):

“in all countries where the freedom of the poor has been taken away, in whole or in part, that the freedom of the rich lost its defence,” he insisted that “freedom must have all or none, and she must have them equally.” Paine was not naïve. He knew freedom could be dangerous, but he pointed out that “if dangerous in the hands of the poor from ignorance, it is at least equally dangerous in the hands of the rich from influence.” Dismissing neither possibility, he suggested ways of addressing them. To prevent ignorance he recommended education. And to prevent political corruption he again demanded democracy: “numerous electors, composed as they naturally will be, of men of all conditions, from rich to poor.”

When people fear mobocracy, what exactly do they fear? Is it fear of the possibility of radical freedom that democracy envisions? Or is it fear that one’s vested interests would be undermined if everyone had equal education and equal opportunity? It’s true that ignorant masses are easier control, but a society can’t simultaneously serve both the realpolitik of control and the ideal of freedom. More importantly, Paine understood that to try to control others meant endangering one’s own freedom. A person can only have what they are willing to offer to others.

Second, the comments above (right before the quote from Kaye’s book) are from a blog post of mine () that touches upon this same issue of fear and mistrust of democracy. My point in that post is that this conservative response is based on an attitude of not having faith in the average American and not having faith in the strength of democracy. As such, conservatives don’t have faith in the fundamental vision of the American experiment. Here is how I ended that post (and with it I’ll also end this post):

The unions did manage to win in certain ways, but the liberal vision of the working class was integrated into the Federal government. Eventually, the Democrats became the party for unions and for the poor. This altered the dynamic causing the class wars to be less clear, especially as class has been mixed up with race and culture. The Democratic party has done some good things for the working class and so that is why the poor working class is loyal to the Democrats to this very day. The vision of Democrats is that the average person can actually be served by his representatives in Washington. The vision of liberalism is that democracy is strong and not easily destroyed.

Conservatives are less confident. They see democracy as constantly threatened and that is why they are much more partisan in their support of big government. It’s also why conservatives support big military despite claiming to be against big government. Conservatives live in fear of democracy being destroyed. Enemies are everywhere. The enemy threatens both from outside (Russia, Islamic terrorists) and from within (Communist witchhunts, social programs, gun rights). Conservatives don’t trust any governments. They only trust our own state government to the extent it might protect us from foreign state governments, but idealy they’d love to live in a world where state governments didn’t exist at all or else had very little power which means they wish they lived in early America.

My above commentary was inspired by this comment:

http://blog.beliefnet.com/crunchycon/2009/09/i-was-wrong-about-5000-year-le_comments.html

John-in-Exile wrote:

It is fascinating to me to have “The Naked Communist” resurface, even as a second work of fiction by a newly rediscovered author. When I was in high school (1960 to 1963) I listened to a series of radio lectures by (apparently) W. Cleon Skousen which culminated in a pitch for his book, The Naked Communist, which was going to expose the evil plans of the terrifying international communist conspiracy. I bought the book and read it and found myself nagged by one question that stayed with me for years. The core presumption of Soviet communism was that people would work hard for the well-being of the state, even with no personal payoff. That always seemed unlikely to me–in fact so unlikely that I always believed that Soviet communism was destined to fall of its own weight. The communist conspiracies were inconsequential because the system was certain to fail. I was then struck by the odd perception that the people most paranoid about the rise of this doomed ideology were the conservatives who should have been the most confident of the ultimate success of the American economic experiment. They were instead the least confident and the most fearful of being overwhelmed by the Soviet system.

When communism fell at last I was not surprised because it seemed to me always destined to fall. Why was my liberal mind more confident of our system than the conservatives that constantly pronounced us doomed to fall to the evil Soviets?

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Conservatives don’t seem to have much faith in the American people or the American experiment. I understand having doubts and I even understand being pessimistic. But, faith or not, do conservatives care more about their ideology or about real people? I know many conservatives do actually care. So, why do they keep voting for Republican politicians who again and again implement policies that hurt average Americans? What is to be gained by attacking unions that protect the working class, social services that help the needy, and public schools that educate the next generation?

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