Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Essence of the Argument: Can You Be a True Progressive without Being a Revolutionary?

When was your last stress EKG?

"Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding."
--Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address

Democrats are actually having a substantive debate right now. Bernie has said Hillary is a progressive on some days and Hillary points to the times she has accomplished progressive goals, like passing the Child Health act and says, "Well, I was progressive that day." 

Her point is, of course, it's nice to rant and rail but if you want to get elected and if you want to govern and pass legislation, you have to compromise.

Bernie says, that would be a good formula for another era, but when you are faced with Mitch McConnell and his right wing mob and a reactionary Supreme Court, you cannot simply elect a single President and expect anything to change.

A good woman, but that ship has sailed

Tracing the history of the four years prior to his Second Inaugural, Lincoln, in his humble way, remarked about how wrong he and all his countrymen had been, as they drifted into the Second American Revolution which was the Civil War. Lincoln himself thought the slaves could be freed without disrupting the essence of Southern life, and Republicans of his time thought with time, they could persuade Southerners they did not need slaves to continue their cherished way of life, which is to say, their dominance over Negroes, the cotton economy and their highly stratified society which resembled our present 1% owning most of the wealth. Most Southerners were poor or middle class and did not own slaves, but they liked the idea that someday they might, might have a plantation and get rich. 

So Lincoln thought, well, the large majority of whites in the South will eventually realize slavery wasn't worth going to war and change would happen as reasonable men made reasonable choices.  But, as he described in his wonderful address, he was wrong; everyone was wrong; the only choices turned out to be drastic choices and so war came; a revolution came. 

This is the insight Bernie grasped early last year: The system we need to change, although it protects only the top 1% is so thoroughly infiltrated into our national fabric, so tenaciously protected by coordinated power, money, judicial perversity, there is no gentle, gradual, gradual way to change it. 

When you look at a malignancy, you see tendrils penetrating deeply into surrounding healthy tissue and you realize that excising just a piece of it, nibbling at its edges or probing its center will not excise it.  When you decide to renovate the house and you uncover the walls, you find you have to do so much more than you expected, as the foundation is cracked and the wiring has to be replaced.

Mr. Sanders keeps pointing to the big problems:  with the Supreme Court having handed Citizens United to the Koch brothers, big money now can control who sits in Congress and, sometimes, the White House.  You can't just paint over the walls by placing a new Congressman in office if he is still stuck pursuing big money donors. Nothing changes but the color of the paint and the name on the door. If you do not wash Congress clean of the Tea Party Republicans, elected to destroy government, sent to Washington to sit on their hands and do nothing or to shrink government, then electing a progressive President changes nothing.

Hillary says she can get things done by working the game from inside the White House.  President Obama tried that.  He met nothing but intractable resistance from Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and the whole array of Republicans who want to shrink government so small they can drown it in their bathtubs. 

Is it enough to elect Hillary, to claim the White House and to keep it out of the hands of the Republicans? Or do we need to gamble on the idea of trying for genuine change which might rip control of the economy and the government from the hands of the 1/10 of 1%?

As James Baldwin observed, slavery hurt not just the slaves, but their masters.
If we really did redistribute wealth, so the bottom 80% now made $80,000 a year rather than $40,000, this huge population would create huge new markets and they would spend, buy homes, cars, go on vacations, invest in stocks and the people at the top would actually become more secure because the economy and the nation would be more secure.

Right now many of that small group of 300,000 people (roughly 15,000 families) are fabulously wealthy, but they are nervous. Walk around their estates with them and you sense their unease, their sense they might lose everything tomorrow. Where that anxiety comes from is anyone's guess. Guilt? (I don't deserve this and my Marie Antoinette moment is coming.) Insight--all this is built on a phony economy.  Who knows?  But if the nation shared a sense that what we have, where we've arrived is fair, then everyone would be more secure and wealthier and happier.
Memo to Bernie: Put her on the ticket

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