Somerby identifies what he thinks is the most important question liberals have to answer, one that the pundits and political leaders on our side can't: How can a democratic society ever control the far right and its empty rhetoric? We see the same arguments being offered by the same hacks with the same level of insanity as was done a decade and more ago, and we still have no answer.
In the post of August 26th, Somerby dropped some of the repetition and got to the point (my emphasis):
In January, Obama suggested reseeding the National Mall—and that was turned into a toxic suggestion, one which had to be stripped from the stimulus package. In the same way, living will consultation—sorry, “death panels”—will now be stripped from health bills. And yet, we liberals still dream of the zipless debate—of the claim so clear and pure that it can’t be routed in some bizarre fashion. As we dream these dreamers’ dreams, we show that we still don’t understand the shape of our current predicament.The zipless debate, like Jong's zipless fuck, is a fantasy of cleanliness, of over-awing the opposition through sheer brain power, of not having to cut deals or appeal to the material (physical, carnal) interests of the ordinary person. It is the fantasy of the boys in grad school to reshape the world into their own image just by being really, really smart. The problem is that they also live inside their fantasy world, imagining the world to be like a really cool, newly opened Whole Foods where people will of course shop and select only the most healthy, morally upright, selections, full of fiber and antioxidents.* We can have our political triumph by braining really hard and not have to exchange vital essenses with the hoi polloi.
Somerby laughs at this fantasy: "Can we talk? In years when no GOP congressman has been discovered sleeping with boys, it’s easy to defeat our proposals! " Why is that? Because unless extreme scandal drowns out the noise machine of the right, there is nothing that dares to compete with its bombast. Somerby then thinks about this situation, showing that you can be one of the really, really smart guys in grad school and not lose your ability to actually see the world in front of you. Agin, my emphasis:
To our ear, Simon and Henneberger were each describing a political system they can’t quite explain. One side gets to yell crazy things—and the other side is required to make intensely detailed presentations! And yet, the side which yells the crazy things is the side which constantly wins! It’s almost like a dream from Kafka—a dream our side can’t quite explain. Then too, we thought of a passage from Wittgenstein: “We feel as if we had to repair a torn spider’s web with our fingers.”Why are we trying to talk concepts when we are dealing with political survival? It's not that our side is so ethical or pure of motive. You only have to look at how quickly deals were cut to reward the merry banksters doing the Hanky Panky with the nation's wealth. We'll do high-minded, clean, behind closed doors, sophisticated financial fuck-them-over operations, no problemo!
Our side tends to have a very hard time explaining that peculiar system—when we try to explain it at all. And yet, one thing is painfully clear: “It looks like the same thing is happening all over again,”as Henneberger said about the current drive for health reform. Indeed, we recently reread James Fallow’s famous and important Atlantic piece, “A Triumph of Misinformation,” about the way the Clinton health plan went down to defeat in 1994 (just click here).For all its fame, his famous piece could have been written today, about the latest such triumph we liberals have helped engineer.
It's the political battle for the support of the have-littles that they don't want to fight or do in such an inept and half-assed manner that you know they don't want to be there. This is tangled up in complicated ways with how the left conceptualizes who does and does not deserve the backing of the state to achieve justice and with a dream of technocratic, legalistic resolutions to the messy business of sorting out competing interests. We associate the visceral with the low, and jettison both policies and politicians that acknowledge how vulnerable we are.
The best and the brightest don't want to be identified with the losers.
I look forward to Somerby's analysis of messaging next week.
*As I do more and more cooking at home, both to economize and to enjoy my new kitchen, I become more aware of the way in which food snobbery and obesssion with body image maps very nicely onto the metaphors used by WFN to discuss politics. There is an unsettling voyuerism on the part of the Blogger Boyz (and not just them) when gazing at the body politic and imagining their relationship to it, how they want to handle it, what it should feel like, how it should move and behave in response to their desires. An intersection of body, gender, class and politics. They are actually considering putting sin taxes on "junk food" in California, punishing those who ingest lower order things. There's a book or two in there, somewhere.