Without sounding too dramatic, I believe that the survival of the Democratic Party depends largely on whether or not the base agrees or disagrees with the following statement:
Whether you call it "a government takeover of the private sector" or a "private sector takeover of government," it's the same thing: a merger of government power and corporate interests which benefits both of the merged entities (the party in power and the corporations) at everyone else's expense. Growing anger over that is rooted far more in an insider/outsider dichotomy over who controls Washington than it is in the standard conservative/liberal ideological splits from the 1990s.
This quote is from a recent post by Glen Greenwald, and it makes the case, in so many words, that concern for "corporatism" has fundamentally changed the political landscape in this country--forever.
Unless we decide if this argument is true or false, the Democratic Party will go down. Evidence of this unfolding is already clear here on DailyKos.
Left vs. Right is Obsolete?
What Greenwald is responding to, here, is Ed Kilgore's argument that the right's long-standing opposition to "corporatism" (extending all the way back to The New Deal) and the left's relatively new opposition to "corporatism" (extending mostly back to Clintonism) are irreconcilable positions joined by a common term:
To put it more bluntly, on a widening range of issues, Obama's critics to the right say he's engineering a government takeover of the private sector, while his critics to the left accuse him of promoting a corporate takeover of the public sector. They can't both be right, of course, and these critics would take the country in completely different directions if given a chance. But the tactical convergence is there if they choose to pursue it.
In other words, Kilgore is saying that the left and the right have joined forces because of a common term ("corporatism"), but are in fact not joined in their ideology or their goals because they hold two opposite definitions of that term.
Greenwald then responds as follows:
This supposedly irreconcilable difference Kilgore identifies is more semantics than substance. It's certainly true that health care opponents on the left want more a expansive plan while opponents on the right want the opposite. But the objections over the mandate are largely identical -- it's a coerced gift to the private health insurance industry that underwrites the Democratic Party. The same was true over opposition to the bailout, objections to lobbying influence over Washington, and most of all, the growing anger that Washington serves the interests of financial elites at the expense of the working class.
Note the claim at the heart of Greenwald's argument: "...the objections over the mandate are largely identical--it's a coerced gift to the private health insurance industry that underwrites the Democratic Party."
From this we begin to see Greenwald pushing to a new definition of the political landscape. Greenwald is making a "lift-the-veil-before-your-eyes" kind of argument, here, in which he makes the case that the political landscape we think we see before us is just an illusion--a production, as it were, put in place by the two forces that benefit from this image of political reality, at the expense of those who do not benefit from it (coroporations/ruling party vs. the people).
There is no left vs. right. There is only inside vs. outside.
Alliance Based on a Moment of Consciousness
Now, buried within Greenwald's argument are a series of other claims that are difficult to present for the simple reason that they offer judgment about key aspects of the Democratic Party, including the netroots.
So before I present them, I just want to make clear that unless these claims are understood and evaluated, it is impossible to avoid the total collapse of the Democratic Party--that may seem dramatic, but I believe it's true. Therefore: Try not to feel judged by these claims--instead focus on evaluating whether they are true or false.
Most Supporters of the Democratic Party are living in a state of false consciousness
Because most supporters of the Democratic Party see the political landscape in terms of left vs. right, which is the model produced by and for the benefit of corporations and the ruling party, ergo, most supporters ofthe Democratic Party are currently living in a state of false consciousness. This means that most supporters are arguing, campaigning, donating, and otherwise working for a party that directly runs counter to their personal and collective interests.
The Only People With Consciousness are those who See the Battle Against "Corporatism" as the True Political Landscape
According to Greenwald's logic, those who no longer see the political landscape in terms of left vs. right, but not see it in terms of insider vs. outsider--they are the only people who are truly awake or conscious, meaning: they see reality for what it is, not for what the corporations and the ruling party want them to see. Right now, these people include so-called "right-wing" (obsolete term) Tea Bag Party adherents who fought against the bailouts and are now fighting against the current health care bill, and so-called "left-wing" (obsolete term) bloggers and activists who fought against the bailouts and lobbyists and are now fighting against the Senate health care bill. These groups are conscious, whereas other groups are not, because they reject the left vs. right political fighting as a distraction, and focus instead on the inside vs. outside fight.
Those Fighting Against "Corporatists" are Fighting against Fundamental Negative Change, Those Fighting To Uphold the Parties are Fighting to Put in Place Fundamental Negative Change
This is a difficult claim to summarize neatly, but the logic is this: given the split between those who are awake and those who are not, it follows that those who are not awake are advancing--with their advocacy, blogging, donations, volunteering, etc.--the "corporatist" agenda. In other words, the "corporatist" agenda is being advanced by those who are doing it consciously (larger corporations, ruling party elites) and by those who are doing it unwittingly through their support for what they believe to be the correct side in the left vs. right split. Those who unwittingly support "corporatism" will continue to do so until they wake up or gain consciousness about the true nature of the political landscape.
Political Activism No Longer About Support for Party, Is Now About Raising Consciousness RE: "Corporatism:
This last claim follows on from the first three, is also implicit, and is the most sweeping of all. In essence, if we follow Greenwald's argument to it's logical conclusion, our political orientation extends beyond critique of the Senate health care bill--beyond critique of the TARP bailout or the Fannie Mae funds or the Afghanistan Policy--to a unifying critique of "corporatism." By seeing the truth in the corporatist argument we are pushing towards a broad recalibration of political understanding of the world--a geological shift away from seeing the surface of things, towards seeing what is really real underneath the surface. In that new fight, the battle over party candidates, media pundits, cabinet positions--all of that is trivial, compared to the truth that lies beneath it all: that if corporatism is allowed to entrench itself, the fundamental nature of American society will change, citizenship as we understand it will be a farce, and democracy will be little more than a fiction produced by the ruling party marketing arm and private corporations.
How To Evaluate this Argument
I have a great deal of respect for Greenwald's argument, in part because the political problem Greenwald is trying to think his way out of is complicated that it requires many false steps before we really get to solution. Kilgore's simple binary logic seems correct at first, and so it was incumbent upon someone to point out the weakness in it.
But to evaluate Greenwald's definition of "corporatism" and the subsequent claims he implies, we should begin with a very basic question:
What is the alternative to "corporatism"?
If, in other words, we are arguing against one system, what is the system we are arguing for.
Now, there are several well-known examples of this kind of consciousness shift logic having been argued in history. Marx and Engels, as most of us know, argued that the surface of political relations were illusory as compared to the truth in the conflict between labor and capital. Either you were conscious of this truth, or you were unwittingly supporting the capitalist exploitation of labor. The alternative, in Marx and Engel's vision was a system in which all capital was held in common by labor--an inversion of the system along the lines of already existing socialist ideology.
Another kind of consciousness shift logic argued in history can be found in religion. Both Christ and the Buddha (just to pick two famous examples), argued that the world of appearances was false--what we see is not what is real. The real world is the inner world, through which we discover either God or peace or true being. Their alternative to the struggle of the world of appearances was a retreat into the inner self, a world based on selflessness.
I offer these two suggestions not to say that either are relevant, here, but simply to say that there is a very wide range of possibilities when one makes a consciousness shift kind of argument, as Greenwald has done. When thinkers in the past have asked the public to see what is really real beneath what they think is real, they have also directed that public to some kind of vision of what the world would be like if the vast majority of people woke up (e.g., a socialist state based on equality, a peaceful Buddhist retreat, etc.).
Greenwald offers no alternative vision--which puts us in a difficult position. Fair enough, not all the heavy lifting can be done by the same individuals. But how do we know what mass consciousness will bring unless we know what the alternative is? Without an alternative, mass consciousness will bring mass outrage, but not the creation of a new system.
Separation of Private Businesses and State
Having giving this missing alternative some though, I believe one alternative--without simply dredging up the left vs. right split--is something like this:
a capitalism system with a constitutional separation of private corporations and the state
In other words: what we should for as an alternative is a system where states and private corporations are forbidden, by law, from converging. Moreover, and this is a key term, the separation of corporations and the state as an alternative would be to guarantee that corporations would never encompass the state--where state power would never be a subset of a non-democratically governed private company.
Now, with this basic alternative to our current system in mind, I want to turn back to Greenwald's assertion that, "Whether you call it "a government takeover of the private sector" or a "private sector takeover of government," it's the same thing."
In the current debate, the Tea Party movement claims that government, by taking over the health care sector, is imposing too much government control. They see as the loss of that control a loss of freedom, meaning: individuals are not free to do whatever they want because government is limiting their expression and their ability to succeed, by taking control of private corporations.
What we find in this Tea Party argument is a very different vision from the one articulated above. The alternative to "corporatism" that the Tea Party calls--and one which draws in new members on the belief that they have achieved consciousness--is a world where no government can ever encompass a private corporation.
And, in fact, we find the lament about "government limiting freedom" under the Obama administration (and the Clinton administration, and FDR, etc.) to be a common theme of the Tea Party movement.
A different alternative.
Corporations Must Never Encompass Government
If we conclude that government can never encompass private corporations, then we would also need to conclude that a great bulk of our state and federal law was unconstitutional--given that a large part of what our legal system does is govern business. We are, in other words, a nation with a deep history and belief in the idea that it is not only legal, but it is good for government to be more powerful than private business--of which the large corporation is the main example at the moment.
In our politics, very loud participants in the debate do not agree with this basic idea. There are currents of conservative thought extending all the way back to the founding of the republic that argue against the power of government over private land holders, and slaveholders, and monopoly holders--and shareholders. These currents have found their expression in a politics of the right in this country that has and still does call for the dismantling of our government in order to advance a specific alternative: an America in which the constitution forbids government to encompass private business.
Conclusion: Focusing Our Understanding of "Corporatism"
In the end, I have to reject Greenwald's argument about left and right critiques being identical because the left and right are divided by two very different visions of society.
In the left pushes for a system where private business entities are kept separate from the state, whereas the right pushes for a system where private business interests are left unfettered by government.
What does this mean vis-a-vis the health care bill? It means that a health care bill that cedes too much ground to private business such that it can be said that private business encompasses the state and the expense of citizens--that is a problem. The Senate bill is a problem.
The idea that only a select, small few are conscious enough to see the reality of the world as it really is--this too is a problem.
The reality of the world we live in is extremely messy. That means that we must chart a path that banks short-term gains and long term gains.
Millions gaining access to community care via the Sanders amendment--is a short term gain. It will directly improve millions of lives right away.
Millions being able to cut health care costs due to access to health insurance---however bad those policies may be objectively--is better than millions not being able to cut those costs in half without any health insurance. That will improve lives right away.
Millions being forced to purchase health insurance from the very companies that have terrorized them for decades with a sinister system of coverage denial bureaucracies--that is a terrible step to take that will effectively force middle class people down the economic ladder like people trapped in an elevator that suddenly drops ten floors. The cruelty of telling people who are already being abused by the system that they are now required by law to be abused by the system--is unethical.
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.
The question is: can we keep dealing with more and more of the mess until we have something that is workable for the greatest number of people--and at the same time keep pushing to separate private business and the state--or will we be subsumed by claims that the only true way forward is through consciousness raising on a mass scale?
I have argued, here, that we are better served by actually understanding what we mean by "corporatism" than by leaping at the first definition we find--however well intentioned that might be.
Any initial, mass call to consciousness will create some short term chaos. Where we go from here is up to us.