America's 21st century has two distinct political futures. This election is already seeing their emergence.
The first is embodied by Ron Paul. It is a future where government is dramatically scaled back as a presence in our lives, and people are left to fend for themselves. It is a future where inequality is embraced, where those with less are given no aid whatsoever and blamed for their condition. It is a future where America tries to maintain the fiction that it is a white nation, of, by, and for white people. It is a nation racked by crisis, where survival is conditioned on how much money you make.
The second is embodied by us. It is a democratic future, where instead of abolishing government, we both expand and reform it. Where we work to end inequality, address the multiple crises of climate and economy. Where we embrace a pluralist, diverse, international future. It is a nation that has learned to do more with less, and where basic human needs are met, not left to the market.
Which future will it be?
Crossposted to EuroTrib
The old party system is dying. Liberalism too - it was based on using a government-corporate alliance to mitigate the class struggle of the late 19th and early 20th century by raining wages and benefits down onto the masses. This enriched both workers and managers - but only worked as long as there was material plenty, as long as we had cheap resources.
Now, we don't. And with scarcity, with reduced buying power, with massive deficits, the old liberal concordat is no longer viable. Liberals and business cannot come together as they did under FDR or JFK or Clinton because there is nothing left to share. Corporations want it all for themselves. Liberals have to choose - either go along, or fight. In short, they must choose to be Ron Paul or be us.
Liberalism always died, you know. It never survived, because the left and the right were unhappy with its compromises. And the death was always depressingly similar - the left got a little taste, and in response the right slammed the door shut on both liberals and the left. The only reason liberals ever came back was a new period of plenty - the '60s, the '80s.
Now that option is foreclosed. This time is different - the right took over before the left could even raise a voice. And with scarcity, Liberalism will die and not return. Unfortunately, most of our Democratic candidates still think 20th century liberalism is viable - that we can work with corporations to provide a better future that provides for mass needs. This is the genesis of "cap and trade" carbon reduction programs, or the odious individual mandate that relies on corporations who have a habit of denying health care coverage to give us all universal care.
It's not only that liberalism is no longer possible. Changing demographics are ensuring that our future options are either a white supremacist libertarianism, or a pluralist progressivism. As explained by Chris Bowers at Open Left:
While Republicans were able to break the New Deal coalition through these mono-culture appeals, changing American demographics resulted in this strategy containing the seeds of its own eventual defeat. Non-whites and / or non-Christians represent more than 100% of American population growth. Further, while 65% of Americans born before 1965 self-identify as white Christian, only 41% of Americans born between 1965 and 1994 self-identify as white Christian (if you want to know why young voters are so pro-Democrat, that is why). Thus, Bill O’Reilly’s worst nightmare comes to pass. America is currently undergoing a profound, and broadly based, cultural shift that holds the potential not only for a sustainable, long-term Democratic governing majority, but also for a more progressive and pluralistic society. At some point in the next ten years or fifteen years, America will no longer be a majority white Christian nation. A few years later, probably in 2024, and certainly by 2028, the American electorate will no longer be majority white Christian. Given this, if maintained, or even expanded, the Democratic advantage within each of the ethnic and religious minorities listed above will lead to a long-term Democratic governing majority over the next two or three decades.
It is my argument that Ron Paul represents the reaction against this. His is a campaign that seeks to preserve white male supremacy in America and forestall the inevitable maturation of America as an international, multicultural, equal democracy. Doubt me? Look at his racist statements. He has well known ties to racist groups and has refused to repudiate them. He opposes women's rights to control their own bodies, hates immigrants, opposes gay marriage, and thinks the Voting Rights Act sucks. In short, his "libertarianism" only applies to white men with money. And his support, I posit, is based primarily among such people, with some cover from people who don't know any better.
Even without those odious stances, Ron Paul's hatred of government alone is a major threat to women and people of color. Because of persistent discrimination - women continue to get paid less than men for the same work, and African Americans and Latinos persistently lag in household income - government-provided opportunity, from subsidized higher ed to jobs programs to universal health care to family leave and anti-discrimination legislation is essential to their success. It was no accident that it took government to help African Americans achieve political equality in the 1960s, and when the War on Poverty was operating, they began to make economic strides as well. When that effort was abruptly ended in 1969-70, it left many communities stuck in a cycle of unemployment and crime without the resources to adequately react.
Ron Paul wants to return to the 1830s, before the New Deal, before the Progressive Era, before even the Whig American System. He wants people to have NO opportunities to advance in life through government, even though government has been essential for that to happen throughout our history. His opposition to the Iraq War isn't based in a desire for global peace but a Children of Men like desire to close America off from the world around it.
Opposed to Ron Paul will be us, a diverse, pluralist progressivism. 21st century America will be VERY different from what has come before. As the US loses its place as the global power, as its economy declines, America's relationships with other countries will become more important than ever. The fiction that America is a white nation isolated from - and better than - the world will no longer be credible or possible to maintain.
The question then becomes not only how will we work with other people here in the US, but how will we do so with people abroad? Especially at a time when old racial and national identities are changing. Whites are declining as a percentage of the population and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future. As the US enters a long decline, more young people will go overseas for opportunities - either for their college education or for a career. This offers opportunities for new political alliances, but also reminds us of persistent questions.
An ideal progressive leader would be someone who has not just the willingness, but also the ability, to move beyond old divides. Who doesn't see America as a white and/or Christian nation, who isn't bound up in the old identity politics but also understands that racial and gender identities are important, valuable, and can be aids, not impediments, to coalition-building. That leader may themselves be multiracial, have experience abroad - like Australia's new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who speaks fluent Chinese - and is someone who prefers to craft US foreign policy around multinational projects, not around American global dominance. That leader would be someone who can inspire not just hope, but action, and who is committed to building a progressive, inclusive future, where government is used to help people, not to help corporations, and certainly not abolished for the sake of a small group of wealthy people.
It may sound like I just described Barack Obama. To some degree I did, but I do NOT believe he is the one who will champion 21st century progressivism. He clearly represents a new direction, to a degree, in American politics toward pluralism and away from white supremacy. He believes he can build broad coalitions, although the Donnie McClurkin affair should call into question his effectiveness.
The main problem with Obama is that he is not promoting progressive policy principles, the way Ron Paul is promoting libertarian principles. Obama still believes that 20th century liberalism is viable, that government and corporations can work together for the public benefit. You see it in his health care and climate plans, for example. No, without a clear stand FOR progressive policies Obama won't be the champion we need, although he can and probably will help 21st century progressivism emerge and organize, setting up some other leader 8-12 years down the line.
If we could merge Obama's leadership possibilities with Kucinich's stand on the issues, THEN we would have something powerful. It will instead emerge in 2012, 2016, 2020 - but it WILL emerge, and it will be met with the further emergence of a white male supremacist libertarianism in the GOP.
Politics is already starting to move in this direction. Ron Paul is playing the role in the GOP that Barry Goldwater did earlier - championing a new direction for the party that later activists and leaders will consolidate. Already the GOP itself does much of what Ron Paul suggests. In both Congress and the California legislature they demand massive tax cuts and enormous spending cuts, without caring about the consequences. Ron Paul's stance on women's rights, civil rights, and gay rights are all in absolute lockstep with the GOP leadership.
True, under Reagan-Bush-Bush the GOP has been close to corporations, preferring to use government to direct largesse their way. But Ron Paul's views are very favorable to corporations, as he would protect their wealth from seizure and eliminate limits on their behavior. Corporations will, very soon, find that Ron Paul and his ideas work very well for them, and over the next 8-12 years - by the 2012 election at the soonest, the 2020 election at the latest - Ron Paul's ideas will be those of the Republican Party itself.
Meanwhile, we continue to fight to defeat the old guard within the Democratic Party, the sellouts that brought us the Iraq War and a shredded Constitution and inaction on the important issues in our lives. We fight for a progressive future.
Which are you? There are only two answers:
-Do you believe subprime is caused by foolish borrowers who should suffer, or were they victimized by a fucked up system?
-When government is abused, is the solution to end the abuse and restore virtuous government, or abolish government?
-When a hurricane hits, should people fend for themselves or have government help them?
-When your employer interrogates you, you complain and are fired, is it your fault for complaining or the employer's fault for mistreating you?
-Will unions help restore our middle class or are they decrepit relics?
-Should America embrace the rest of the world, teach our children foreign languages, or should we retreat into a Fortress America?
As I suggest above, there are only two answers - a libertarian and a progressive answer. There is no liberal third way possible any longer. We're going to have to choose.
And that's why I don't mind when I see so-called Democrats going over to Ron Paul. He isn't drawing progressives or liberals to his side. He's drawing people who at some point in the last 15 years became libertarians, whether they knew it or not. They were always going to leave us, sooner or later. Better that they leave now and let us build a pluralist progressivism without their interference.
We're returning to an era where the fight between capital and labor, between corporation and citizen, will dominate public life. And it will do so against the backdrop of a crisis - global warming, peak oil, decaying infrastructure, insufficient health care, economic decline - the likes of which few of us have ever seen.
So what future will it be, America? Ron Paul and the white supremacist libertarian nation of the 1830s? Or a pluralist progressive future?