Thursday, November 9, 2006

Postmortem

The last couple weeks have been filled with deadlines, illnesses (my own and kids), and just general burnout the well for writing has been a bit dry as of late. That said, I have been following the last couple weeks of the election cycle, as well as its immediate aftermath.

It seems pretty much old news now to note that the Dems captured the House (with close to 30 seats - well over the 15 needed for a majority) and have (assuming Holy Joe Lieberman actually caucuses with them, for all that good that's usually worth) a majority in the Senate. As an independent lefty who's generally felt disillusioned with the Dems and who has absolutely no use whatsoever for the GOP, the prospect of a divided government these next two years is a good one. It's safe to say that the myths about the ballyhooed "genius" of the Rove fear and smear machine were more the stuff of folklore than reality. It is equally safe to say that the election served as a repudiation of the Iraq war debacle and the general culture of corruption that had festered on Capitol Hill & the White House these last several years. As Lenin's Tomb might put it - the GOP got the good hiding they deserved. On a more ideological level, we've now had ample experience with how the modern conservative movement "governs", and the election - in spite of the standard mass media spin - can be seen as a repudiation of that movement as well.

So, what SHOULD the Democrats do, now that they have majorities in the House and Senate? Steven D. has these suggestions that I considered part of my short list as well:

Ban Torture. No President, ever, gets to decide what conduct does and does not satisfy the terms of the Geneva Conventions. Period. End of story.

Restore the Writ of Habeas Corpus. The Constitution allows for the temporary suspension of habeas corpus only in times of invasion or insurrection. I think that gets it right, don't you? No one holding the office of the President should be entitled to eliminate that right under any other circumstances. Period. End of story.

Provide a fair trial and independent counsel to everyone "detained" by the Government, for whatever reason. We had a revolution once to ensure these rights for everyone. And to make certain no government would ever hold someone for an indefinite time without providing them a fair trial, these rights were specifically added to the Constitution by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. If the people who wrote and ratified our Constitution thought such rights were a necessary limitation on government power, it should be good enough for us today. Period. End of Story.

Stop Government Spying on Americans Without a Warrant. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution (part of the original Bill of Rights) states that:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

I thinks that's pretty straightforward, don't you? You want to listen in to my telephone conversations, or raffle through my email messages, or just follow me around to see what sites on the internet I go to, get a warrant from a COURT OF LAW. And no avoiding this responsibility by hiring some private company to invade my privacy and then sell you the data they collected. Period. End of Story.

So far, so good. Those particular legislative actions would certainly fit with the general American zeitgeist of personal freedom and responsibility. Whether or not the Dems are actually willing to do so is another matter, and I for one tend to be skeptical. The Dems won this election by default. What is missing is that vision thing - the one facet of movement conservativism that one can rely on is that it is based on a vision (a return to some idealized version of the 1950s). To take a few lines from Lenin's Tomb:
Recent growth has been slower than expected. The hardest hit by the recent economic woes have been manufacturing workers: 3 million jobs have been lost in that sector since 2000. Even though the US economy is still adding jobs at the moment, it is losing manufacturing jobs at an alarming rate. Last month alone, 39,000 were lost. This is not all because of Bush, by the way: the locust years of late were prepared by the Clinton administration whose policies would perhaps have led to an earlier and harder fall more generally had it not been for Bush's military Keynesianism. Nevertheless, Bush's policies have exacerbated the crisis in manufacturing in a number of ways. State investment in military hardware boosts demand for high technology manufacturing goods, but not necessarily for mass consumer goods, which is where the fall in demand has been greatest. The radical transformation in the tax structure transferred huge amounts of funds to the rich, and the suppression of labour (such as during the New York transit strike), alongside the recession, allowed companies to keep pay raises well below the rate of inflation - thereby in fact cutting the pay rate.

[snip]

The Democrats wouldn't dream of trying to reverse any of this, although they might consider slowing up the rate of exploitation a tiny bit. It is people like Ralph Nader and the Green Party and so on who have been properly raising these issues, and it would have taken a serious and focused campaign by these groups to redirect the public discourse from piddling 'moral' controversies. Unfortunately, they don't stand much of a chance, and show no signs of even trying. There really needs to be a new radical coalition formed, based on the interests of the American working class, but specifically including attempts to embrace Arab Americans who are especially vulnerable to racist discrimination and who have experienced a massive loss of pay in recent years. It would have to be radical without being characterised by the language of schisms, including marxists but not marxist, including Greens but not Green, including unions but not an outgrowth of union bureaucracy - a broad, radical, left-wing movement representing the unrepresented working class on every front, articulating their interests on the war, Katrina, wages, employment conditions, the economy and so on.
To which I say, hear hear! To reprise something I wrote a year ago:
What to do? In Malcom's last year on this planet he offered up some simple advice that I think we can all use: be organized, and don't affiliate with either the Dems or the GOP. That's the general idea behind American Solidarity: organize physically, financially, intellectually. Many of us come from varying backgrounds and have varying pet causes, but let's face it - those of us who are living paycheck to paycheck, those of us who value liberty, who value equality, who value justice, who value privacy have a hell of a lot in common. Technological advances in the last decade or so make it easier for us to coordinate and to exchange ideas and information than ever before. It's way past time to start using those tools to our advantage. Blogs are one of our tools, playing the same role that zines played in the 1980s and pamphlets such as Paine's played during the Revolution some 230 years ago. Blogging is only part of that picture. Cernig fills in some of the details elsewhere. Clearly, unions, thinktanks, civil liberties organizations are going to be salient as well.

Being unaffiliated with the major political parties is also crucial for an American Solidarity movement. The GOP can be written off as a lost cause. The Dems, I'm also skeptical of, but will note this much: if they think we're registered as Dems, they can assume that we'll continue to accept the status quo. Malcom was onto something back in 1964 and 1965 when he advocated refusing to back any candidate until it was clear that they were willing to walk their talk. If they turn out to be kosher, then by all means support them, but only to the extent that they are representing us. If they stop representing us, we should be willing to walk away from them. If they know that their constituents mean business, they'll be more careful to represent us in whatever legislative body they hold office. There's strength in numbers, especially when those numbers are independent.

Underlying all of this is the assumption that you're registered and that you vote. If you are making less than 35k a year, and/or if you're an ethnic minority, and/or you're a relatively young voter (say 18-25 years of age) you are under-represented when it comes to actual voters come election day. You need to register (ideally independent) and you need to educate yourself on the candidates and issues, and you need to vote - and not only those major elections, but also on the local elections. The percentage of eligible voters who actually do vote is pathetic when compared to other relatively democratic industrialized nations. Understandably, a lot of that is due to the pathetic array of choices we get offered by the major parties; we as citizens too bear some responsibility with regard to voter turnout and need to take that responsibility personally. Becoming an informed voter is going to require some effort, but hardly an insurmountable effort. Newspapers across the globe are available over the internet (I'm a big fan of The Guardian and The Independent - both from the UK, but there are certainly others worth visiting). There are a number of well-informed bloggers that you should make an effort to check out on a regular basis. Keep up with the local newspapers and bloggers. If you don't have a computer at home, go to your nearest library to access these resources. If you have access to these resources, take some responsibility for educating your friends and neighbors.

Making meaningful social change happen in America will not happen overnight, and will be truly a community effort in which each of us must play an active role. In other words, it's time to stand up.
And for the time being, I'm with Justin Raimondo: it's time to put the new majority's feet to the fire.

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