Anger. Despair. Loathing. Sorrow.
The wake of the healthcare debacle could almost make a progressive nostalgic for the Bush Administration.
Not in the weirdly fanciful sense of sophomoric equivalence between the Obama and Bush administrations promulgated by some, but rather in the sense of common purpose progressives felt leading up to the elections of 2006 and 2008. We knew what had to be done in those halcyon days. We knew the forces against which we were fighting. And while we had some disagreements in the selection of our ship's captain, there was no doubt about the danger we faced from the privateer cannons directed against us under the banner of the Elephant. It was either sink the privateers, or be sunk--perhaps forever.
The wake of the healthcare debacle has irrevocably altered that mindset. Those heady days now seem far away from the darkness of today, when in our darker moments we talk openly of mutiny, or even of taking common cause with the scurvy-ridden, obscenity-shouting scum floating aimlessly among the wreckage of our enemy's blasted hull.
Glenn Greenwald and Jane Hamsher have come today to embody that sense of disillusionment on our side. They personify a growing number of disappointed progressives who rightly understand that the battles we fought in 2006 and 2008 were either wholly inadequate to our stated goals, or even wholly irrelevant to them. The Democratic Party, we are told, has been irrevocably subdued, bought out and sold to the highest bidder--a kinder, gentler band of pirates flying a smiling skull-and-crossbones against a cheerful drapeau of bright blue, engaged in perpetual mock combat against our red-flagged opponents in a battle designed to enthrall the onlooking spectators as the true masters pick their unwitting pockets. We are told that in order to defeat our overlords, we must free our minds from the reality we take for granted, and engage instead in a new fight against corporatism, welcoming whatever aid we may find along the way, no matter how distasteful.
Jeffrey Feldman neatly and eloquently exposes the fallacy of this appeal to false consciousness: it is clear that the Left and the Right hold two vastly different views of the fundamental privileges held by the private and the public. As Feldman makes clear, the Right envisions a society in which no government can encompass a corporation, while the Left desires a society in which no Corporation can encompass or purchase a government. Moreover, as the Right has become increasingly extreme in its views, the purer manifestations of this Objectivist lunacy increasingly have the loudest, tea-addled voices. Clearly these twain cannot and will not meet. There is a Left. There is a Right. There is a battle royale, and it is not illusory. But what, then, explains our inability to chart a true course through the choppy seas of the healthcare debate? Is it Captain Obama? Is it our big blue ship itself? Feldman's most important paragraph is deeply illustrative on this point:
The difficulty is that neither the current political organization nor the current economic concepts in the debate are anywhere close to developed enough to offer a viable alternative. Even with the existence of the elegantly effective "single payer" idea, there is no equivalently effective model of political organization to achieve it. And so we are stuck with messy. [Emphasis added]
Feldman ends with an appeal to strive for a more actionable definition of "corporatism" as a way out of a dungeon inelegantly mapped out by Greenwald and Hamsher. Yet his antipenultimate paragraph above already shows us the path we must walk, even as he tacitly despairs of even attempting to do so. It is the same path I advocated earlier in No One Is Going To Save You Fools:
If you want to win, you will ORGANIZE. You will organize in the same way the Right has done for the last 40 years, and you will spend money on persuasion, where it really matters. You will, in short, make the politicians as afraid of you as they are of them. The Right has built vast networks of think tanks, newspapers, periodicals, cable news channels, and political advocacy organizations to spread their finely tuned, well-honed messages. Their politicians may fail them, and their actual policies may be deeply unpopular, but their message machine nearly always works its magic to get them what they want, even when Democrats are in power...
If you want to win, ORGANIZE. Develop parallel organizations willing to persuade with the power and intensity of a corporation. As long as people like me are out there, and most of them are willing to work for the highest bidder, you'll need to stop looking for saviors, and instead learn to fight fire with fire.
At the time I wrote those words, many derided them as vague, fanciful and even magical thinking. It is easy to call for greater organization: the devil, of course, is in the details. This is true. Money, time, and credibility are all necessary components of this strategy, and there is no immediately obvious pathway to any of these. But it is easier and more reality-based to attempt to resolve our organizational deficit vis-a-vis the Right, than to entertain notions of impossibly flawed alliances or resolution of our troubles by coming to a more precise theoretical view of the problem.
The truth is that progressives have the time, talent and ability to work incredible organizational magic far more quickly and more nimbly than the Right has done over the last three decades. As Markos Moulitsas made clear in Crashing the Gate, the Right developed an incredibly expensive infrastructure designed for a 20th century media environment. And as effective as they have been, they haven't been nearly as effective as they could be. The Left can create a far more influential and deeply effective message machine speedily and at vastly reduced cost.
There are a number of reasons for this:
- The Internet has become a revolutionary leveler of the playing field. No longer need a talented individual or group of individuals purchase access to an expensive media platform, when the Internet increasingly provides communications platforms for opinion writing, video, and audio. And this revolution, hard as it is to believe, is only beginning. We don't need to invest money in buying newspapers or cable TV stations or AM radio bandwidth wholesale: all of those dying or increasingly irrelevant in an increasingly accessible and hyperlocalized media environment.
- The vast majority of America's creative capital and talent is liberal. One need only look to Comedy Central or Avatar to see the full force of this. The truth is that the Left has been winning the majority of the culture wars directly due to the influence of film, television and music. If the James Camerons of the world were to put 1/10 of that level of creative intensity toward winning the economic wars, we could move the needle in a major way.
- Though they have been exponentially superior to Democrats in this way, Republican political messaging has nonetheless remained stuck in a nearly century-old method of political communication. Examine the most effective corporate product ads, and you will find that the majority of the memorable messaging tells a story, rather than directly extols the virtues of a product. Only very recently has the Left started embracing this idea for political purposes, as shown by some of the ads produced by the excellent Courage Campaign in California, including this one, co-written and co-produced by my brother hekebolos and myself.
- Contrary to popular belief, the Left does have money available. We just don't direct it to the most effective places. Wealthy donors tend to give to Democratic politicians today. The fundraising for the Obama presidential campaign alone in 2008 was came to nearly $700 million. Put a minor fraction of that one year's money toward organization and media unencumbered by a careful need to maintain respectability or to court favor, and think of the damage we could do.
And that is merely the beginning. There are other good reasons why powerful organizational capacities can easily be within our grasp, but they are a subject for future exploration. It is time to begin mobilizing organizational ideas now.
The sooner we begin, the sooner we can right this ship, cease the pointless bickering, and chart our course out of this Hell and toward the progressive promised land.