Monday, August 31, 2009

A Deeply Sedimented Cultural Narrative

And this is just the lead in to the week's series on messaging - Krugman kicks down/fouls up.

Somerby goes after Krugman in an amazing post today. There is no doubt that the Incomparable One holds the Shrill One in high regard, so it matters greatly when Somerby uses Krugman as an example of what is wrong with liberal political discourse. Krugman, unlike the Blogger Boyz, has zero interest in being a pool boy at Versailles. He has a day job, after all. The errors he makes are interesting and illuminating because of what they say about the blind spots and ill-advised impulses on the left.

Somerby starts with Ted Kennedy, using Kennedy's death as a dash of ice water on the longing for Camelot:

Our guy was the most effective ever! And health care reform was his lifetime passion! Only we liberals would fail to see the oddness of these conjoined statements, in a month when we’re getting our clocks cleaned again in the matter of health care reform! This isn’t a criticism of Senator Kennedy, of course, This is a criticism of us.

But then, that’s the shape of modern politics. The other side gets the big wins. Our side gets the pleasing stories, in which we’re allowed to define ourselves as being both moral and smart. That’s one of the ways the world’s ruling classes buy off numb-nuts like us.

If we're so "smart", how come we keep getting our asses handed to us? Why can't we get our agendas enacted even when we hold legislative majorities? Somerby then goes into a long and detailed criticism of Krugman's latest article, picking up on themes he has been discussing with regards to Rick Perlstein last week. He's using these two thinkers in great part because these are two of the most perceptive analysts of Movement Conservatism around, people who have clearly demonstrated (Krugman with Conscience of a Liberal and Perlstein with Before the Storm and Nixonland) they get what that movement is and how it came to power.

What Bob zeros in on is the use of the term "crazies" (edited down - be sure to read it all. Some emphasis mine, some Somerby's):

According to Krugman, the right-wing fringe—Rick Perlstein’s “crazy” people, he is careful to say—have taken over the GOP. But does that story, told that way, really make much sense? Does it really make sense on the merits? Does it make any sense as a matter of politics?

Just think about what Krugman says there:

In Perlstein’s piece (click here), he explained who his “crazy” people were—the people around whom he chose to build his name-calling piece. ... Does it make sense to be told that people like these have somehow “taken over one of our two major parties?” Actually, no, it pretty much doesn’t—but that’s where Krugman starts!

Grassley and all those other players are vastly more culpable than the “crazies.” But in the past forty years, liberals have always loved to kick down at little people—at the people who simply aren’t smart enough to win the Bates Medal, the Nobel Prize. In our view, Krugman’s story—as told there—is quite weak-minded. But ever since the days of Nixon, “liberals” have loved to tell that story, thus harming progressive interests.

I read this and had to agree. Mockery of the have-littles has been a standard operating procedure of the Stevensonian mode of liberalism since, well, Stevenson.* What benefit can come to liberalism by being constantly on an intellectual and cultural offensive against working class Americans? Somewhere between nothing and less than zero. Somerby continues by describing the corporate embrace of conservative political measures to defeat the liberal gains of the New Deal. Their success, as both Krugman and Perlstein have documented, lay in the ability of the Movement Conservatives to leverage the arrogance and elitism endemic in the rising technocratic elite - the revolutionary saints. Somerby winds up and delivers a kock-out punch:

COOLICAN (5/15/08): Though it had been tried before, Perlstein writes, Nixon was the first to successfully exploit a devastating new narrative: the Democratic Party as enemy of the working man.

Perlstein says Nixon understood the anger and frustration of working-class people, the humiliation of being looked down upon by elitist, liberal betters. Why did Nixon understand this “deeply sedimented cultural narrative,” as Perlstein calls it? Because he’d faced it all his life.

In California, Ronald Reagan was also “successfully exploiting” that “devastating new narrative.” (For examples, read Perlstein’s Nixonland.) Endlessly, we thought of that devastating narrative in the past five days as we watched a string of spectacularly un-savvy liberals describe certain aspects of the past forty-seven years. (More on that next week.)

We “liberals!”We love to call the other side dumb! But has anyone ever been dumber than we are? Tomorrow, we’ll start a series about the crucial questions Perlstein was asked in the wake of his piece in the Post. Why are Democrats so bad at “messaging?” So bad at “pushing back?” Why is that Democrats and liberals keep getting defeated by “blatant and ridiculous falsehoods?”

Put it a slightly different way: If we had the most effective legislator, why can’t we get the cause of his lifetime passed? Part of the answer: We’re too busy assuring ourselves that those who defeat us are dumb.

Sound familiar? It is the alpha and omega of the Obama 2008 campaign, sneering at the socio-economic inferiors who they didn't need anymore to win the elections. Or, to quote Chris Bowers:
Out with Bubbas, up with Creatives: There should be a major cultural shift in the party, where the southern Dems and Liebercrat elite will be largely replaced by rising creative class types. Obama has all the markers of a creative class background, from his community organizing, to his Unitarianism, to being an academic, to living in Hyde Park to shopping at Whole Foods and drinking PBR. These will be the type of people running the Democratic Party now, and it will be a big cultural shift from the white working class focus of earlier decades. Given the demographics of the blogosphere, in all likelihood, this is a socioeconomic and cultural demographic into which you fit. Culturally, the Democratic Party will feel pretty normal to netroots types. It will consistently send out cultural signals designed to appeal primarily to the creative class instead of rich donors and the white working class.
Yup. Hope you creative types don't need health insurance.


*During one of Stevenson's presidential campaigns, allegedly, a supporter told him that he was sure to "get the vote of every thinking man" in the U.S., to which Stevenson is said to have replied, "Thank you, but I need a majority to win."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

New Government in Japan

The LDP is out, according to the BBC.

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) appears to have won a crushing victory. Their leader, Yukio Hatoyama, a political animal of the highest degree and the grandson of a former Prime Minister, has vowed to turn domestic policy more towards support of individual citizens and to be less corporatist and states that they will no longer ally so closely with the US.

It will be interesting to see if Mr. Hatoyama does bring change to the government or if it is only "change".

This development bears watching.


Station Fire

I had to post this image. It is on the home page of the LA Times right now, but will get changed out. Taken by Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times.

There wasn't a caption on the photo, but this is probably the Station fire bearing down on Acton. Two Los Angeles County firefighters were killed in a truck accident earlier today. The fire is climbing up Mount Wilson where most of the TV broadcast towers for the greater LA area are located, as well as an observatory.

Update - Here is an image of the fire on Mout Wilson. You can see the transmission towers:
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times / August 30, 2009)


Welcome to SoCal

Fun, sun and wildfires.

This is the view from Marina del Rey on the coast looking back at the Station Fire. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times / August 29, 2009) This photo is from the LA Times' web site photo gallery.

LA Times has the best general coverage since they are right in the middle of it and have a lot of practice covering this kind of disaster.

For those who like to track such things, here is a map of the fires, their anticipated paths, and the evacuation zones. The fires are burning in the foothills along the northern edge of the San Fernando Valley, almost due north of LA itself. It is a heavily populated area that backs onto wilderness areas. The terrain is a series of sharp, steep canyons that run for miles back into the hills and are packed with brush that hasn't burned in decades. This picture should give you an idea of the terrain and vegetation:

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times / August 30, 2009)
Firefighters defend a home on Canalda Drive in La CaƱada Flintridge.

The canyons act like funnels, bringing the fires straight down into the developed areas sitting at the mouths of the canyons.

The temperatures have been in triple digits with humidity almost zero. There's a little cooling today and tomorrow, but then temperatures are due to go back up again. The only saving grace at the moment is that we don't have Santa Ana wind conditions, which whips up the fires and makes them spread faster and more widely.

So far, San Diego county has not had any major fires break out, though there was a 1,000 acre blaze on Camp Pendleton at the north edge of the county. The company I work for provides IT infrastructure for the city and county (communications, portable data centers, mobile computing, command and control operations, etc.) when disasters hit, so we're all on alert until the rains come in November. We're keeping fingers crossed we don't have anything like the fires in 2007. A nice, quiet, low fire year would be just dandy, thankyouverymuch.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Why We Lose

The Incomparable One is writing a series on Why We Lose. The series starts with the August 25th post, and uses the health care debate as its focus. It is classic Somerby, with repetition and arch rhetoric, but there simply is no one else out there who does as thorough and meticulous a job of documenting the atrocities. He doesn't just claim; he quotes, he links, he builds the case and he will not give our side an inch when it comes to exposing Teh Dumb on parade.

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.”

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.
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!

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.

Backed Up

Hey kids,

I'm glad people are enjoying the recent posts, but keep expectations in line.

You'll be seeing some occasional posts here, probably in bursts as something in the news catches my attention, but I'm not returning to the almost daily blogging I was doing last year. My life is pretty full right now and I'm doing my best to keep any one thing from dominating. And, given the pathetic performance of the current administration, it's going to be a long four years. I gotta pace myself.

On the non-political front, we're finally getting the trim painted on Casa Anglachel week after next, so I should have some photos to share, and we're entering Apocalypse Season here in Southern California. Recently I saw a fire map for the City of San Diego, marking areas within the city limits that are considered high risk zones for wild fires. Yup, we're in one of those zones.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

RIP Teddy

Whatever my opinion of Ted Kennedy's political history, I am saddened by this news. I have had a family member die of the same kind of cancer and know how terrible it must have been for him and his family. My heart goes out to them.

I think the best memorial we can offer to this man, respecting his political service and offering amends for any political follies, is to enact, in its own right and without any other riders, exceptions, additions and/or emendations, his Medicare for All Act.



Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Justice Before Charity

Rob Martin of Pol Culture sent me a link this morning to an article on Salon by Michael Lind, "Liberalism without labor unions?" that I'm assigning as homework to all my readers. I fully admit I am jealous of how effortlessly Lind pulls togther so many themes and concerns I have struggled to present on this blog, as well as being profoundly grateful that he has done so.

It is succinct and almost unquotable because every bit of it counts. So please, take the time to read the whole thing. Here is the meat of the argument, all emphasis mine:

Looking back, we can see that the history of American liberalism since the Depression falls into two periods: the New Deal up until the 1970s, when industrial labor provided the muscle of the reform coalition, and the neoliberal period, when unions have been eclipsed in the alliance by the black civil rights movement and other social movements: consumerism, environmentalism, feminism and gay rights. Necessary and important as they are, there are two problems with these liberal social movements as the base of a progressive party.

First, unlike unions, they are not membership organizations funded by dues from their members. They are mostly AstroTurf movements that depend on their funding and strategic direction on a handful of progressive foundations, and their leaders are appointed by donors and board members, not elected by followers. The work they do is valuable, but they cannot be substitutes for genuinely popular organizations.

Second, the members of most of these nonprofit movements are drawn disproportionately from the white college-educated professional class; their self-assignment to one or another single-issue movement does not disguise the fact that they tend to belong to the same social elite. Like the progressivism of the 1900s, but unlike the labor movement and agrarian populism, the progressivism of the 2000s is a movement of haves motivated by pity for the have-littles and have-nots, rather than a movement of have-littles and have-nots motivated by self interest. And because they are, or believe themselves to be, motivated by philanthropy, the progressive haves are less interested in the economic struggles of the have-littles of the broad working class than in rescuing a far smaller number of have-nots from dire poverty. And even those elite progressives who are concerned about the working class are motivated by noblesse oblige: "We're from Washington, and we're here to help!"

Astroturf and charity. I am less convinced by the first part of the argument because I know plenty of membership organizations where people pay money but end up being quite passive and disinterested. The real difference is that union membership is public - it is known who is a card carrying member of the organization. This contributes to solidarity, yes, but it also makes you a target. You really do need to hang together or risk it happening separately. Additionally, there are unions where the leadership and the membership disagree on the direction of the union, and where the leadership is not very responsive to the express wishes of the membership. All in all, I mostly agree, but don't find it as definitive as Lind does.

On his second point, however, I offer a full-throated "Hell yes!" and wish that I had come up with this formulation myself. The element he highlights, which I tried to address with my characterization of Democratic political modes as Truman or Stevensonian, is perfectly captured when he talks about charity as the motivating impulse.

Charity is enactment of a power relationship, an exercise of largesse from a have to a have-not that never need have happened and is fundamentally performed for the psychological satisfaction of the empowered party. It is capricious and, in that caprice, reifies the power of the giver and the powerlessness of the recipient.

Lind's key observation, which is simply brilliant, is the precarious position of the have-littles when charity is substituted for political interest. They aren't quite destitute or damaged enough to "deserve" the pity and charity of the social elites, but neither do they have the necessary tools or access to power to defend their very material interests. These are the people that Obama et. al. spoke of with such contempt throughout the election, Bubbas and Bunkers. The very real condition of the eroding living standards of the working class combined with contempt for them from both left and right for not having the good sense to transform themselves into something else (as though it is personal failings alone that account for the worker's limited conditions), serves to cut this class off from receiving social goods. The emphasis on identity politics, where much of the benefit goes to those already well off and who know how to work the system to claim disadvantage, further isolates the have-littles from the haves and the have-nots.

Lind asks:

Is the future of American liberalism a politics of charity rather than a politics of solidarity? ...[O]rganized labor, after a brief, unforeseen period of influence from the 1930s to the 1960s, is crushed a second time by neoliberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alike, leaving an America in which the only significant conflicts are those within the economic elite. In such a political order, the only left that counts will be the left based on money rather than votes or members. Progressivism becomes a movement of the privileged and charitable who are interested in doing good to other Americans rather than with other Americans.
Bingo. I would add that this is not necessarily a mark of failure, at least from the perspective of the haves. To be the one who is doing to rather than the one done to means you have power, privilege and protection - and you can keep the others out. Having to act in concert with others not of your tribe opens up the possibility of losing membership in your own group and the privilege that goes with it. Fear of loss and the resentment that clings to the knowledge that others enjoy what you no longer have are the two most powerful tools of the Right. Lind points out:
If the game of politics is a game that effectively is limited to the rich and the professional class, then the rest will find tribunes – usually affluent and well-educated themselves – who will propose to turn over the gaming tables and open the doors to the casino. Would the absurd distortions of the current healthcare-reform backlash resonate so strongly if the white working-class felt more invested in the modern version of liberalism?
My guess is no. But, then again, the modern version of liberalism is not exactly offering up shares of stock, especially after the performance of Dean, Brazile & Co. when it came to throwing every possible Democratic constituency under the bus. The track marks are still pretty deep on my back, and I am thoroughly a member of that social class. Imagine how someone who wouldn't ever stand inside the magic circle (no way to buy your way back in, no way to "pass" as a member of the tribe) would regard the high-handed derision.

If what you need is health care and you are sneered at for "wee-weeing" yourself over the only option that doesn't leave you screwed nine ways from Sunday, well, what's left? Relying on the kindness of strangers is not a sustainable substitute for good old fashioned interest politics.

Citizens want justice, not charity.


Update - To get a permalink for this or any post, click on the date/time stamp at the foot of the post. This will display the post individually. Copy/paste URL from address bar.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Un-Reagan

I'm a bit sorry that Paul Krugman went with the Zombie meme in his most recent NYT column, All the President’s Zombies, because it distracts from the point of the piece.

The pattern of failure is clear in the Obama Administration. It started well before his inauguration, or even his election. Indeed it goes back to the early days of the 2008 campaign. Simply put, it is a lack of a political purpose for wanting to be president. He doesn't have any specific use for power so he doesn't value it. As I wrote from very early on, there was no cause, no clarion call, no political objective that drove Obama. The closest he's come (and I really, really wish this would become a full-on cause) is with his promotion of energy independence and green technology, which is a large enough endeavor to have a profound impact on other areas of government and social policy. Sadly, even if he wanted to, he has lost the momentum that could have made it a powerful platform.

Krugman captures the heart of the matter near the end of his article when he says:
But some of the blame also must rest with President Obama, who famously praised Reagan during the Democratic primary, and hasn’t used the bully pulpit to confront government-is-bad fundamentalism. That’s ironic, in a way, since a large part of what made Reagan so effective, for better or for worse, was the fact that he sought to change America’s thinking as well as its tax code.
It's even bigger than that. Reagan turned an equivocal election into a "mandate" by moving decisively to declare absolute victory and demanding that politics be conducted on his terms. Reagan was not merely a "great communicator" (i.e., knew how to deliver his lines well and look good on camera); he was a determined and consummate politician, understanding how to use power to gain more, and with an agenda the length of his arm. He generated results by recognizing and aggressively capitalizing on political opportunities.

That's what an effective politician does.

Obama is aimless upon the political seas, deeply distrustful of any overt display of power that might distance, anger, or irritate someone, somewhere. While the lunatics of left and right salivate over their snuff-film fantasies of guns near the President, the greater truth is the public is swiftly becoming indifferent to our hapless leader, resigned to more of the same-old, same-old from the monied interests. They don't bother to distinguish between the bank bailout and the stimulus plan because they feel the same - money for the well off, reduced living standards for the average Jane and Joe.

His approach is like a weak version of the most unkind caricature of Big Dog, too afraid of offending the Serious People, too much wanting love and approval to be decisive, to make hard choices,to draw lines in the sand, etc. It is as though he thinks we are in 1990, with Bush the Elder at the height of his Gulf War I popularity and before the recession hit, with Democrats entering the nadir of their Congressional power, and with a closely divided electorate, not in one of the most politically advantageous moments for Democrats since FDR. The current economic conditions are the direct results of decades of Republican malfeasance and voodoo economics, the foreign policy debacle is squarely in Cheney's lap, and the electorate has handed the Democrats yet another round of great election victories.

He has failed to present a clear vision of what Democrats are for, thereby defining an alternative vision to Movement Conservatism and letting the party know to move this way, not that. More damaging, he has not made clear, in unequivocal terms, the utter failure of the Republicans to make life better for ordinary Americans on any count. Bill Clinton even laid out the form of the argument in his convention speech:

But on the two great questions of this election, how to rebuild the American dream and how to restore America's leadership in the world, [McCain] still embraces the extreme philosophy which has defined his party for more than 25 years, a philosophy we never had a real chance to see in action until 2001, when the Republicans finally gained control of both the White House and Congress. Then we saw what would happen to America if the policies they had talked about for decades were implemented.
This is the kind of argument you have to make to change the way people think. It isn't "failures in the past" but Republican failures. It is being willing to be hated by a fanatical rump group in order to be taken seriously by the majority.

The MSM wants to pamper and coo over its darling, which does nothing to counteract the unrelenting psychotic conservative assault on Obama personally and liberal political objectives in general. The coddling of the MSM may keep The Precious from suffering the personal violations the Clintons and Al Gore endure to this day, but it does nothing to quiet the right-wing noise machine.

The upshot? A lack of direction and a distaste for power (as opposed to adultation and celebrity) has resulted in a loss of the most precious commodity in politics - opportunity to redefine the terms of enagagement. Krugman ends his column with "[I]t’s hard to avoid the sense that a crucial opportunity is being missed, that we’re at what should be a turning point but are failing to make the turn." Peter Daou, is more blunt (taken from Corrente as I will not link to HuffPo):

Vital Lessons from the Health Reform Wars
  1. The big banker bailout has been far more damaging than the White House can imagine. ...
  2. The anti-Bush moment has passed, and with it a huge political opportunity. ...
  3. Rumors of the GOP's death have been greatly exaggerated. ...
  4. Obama's campaign machine is not fungible. ...
  5. The old media machine is alive and well. ...
  6. The national debate is still conducted on the right's terms. ...
  7. We are a soundbite democracy and the right has better soundbites.
The terms of the debate have not and will not change until we have someone who can use a political opportunity to make change happen. Change isn't a campaign; it is a mode of political life. It happens because you want to change for a reason, and you fight tooth and nail to achieve your goal.

Obama explicitly sold himself as the next Reagan, but never understood what it was that made Reagan effective. Like the Whole Foods shoppers who confuse a marketing schtick for a political position, The Precious wanted to be like Ronald Reagan: The Movie! - the media image of an avuncular, slightly absent minded fellow who was loved by all - and not Ronald Reagan, the man who made the Movement Conservative wet dream of national power come true. In the process, Obama has made himself into the un-Reagan.

The other president Obama wants to be compared to is JFK. I'll have more about that in another post.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

What do you want?

I got a hell of a giggle out of the predicament of Whole Foods Nation shoppers who were suddenly presented with the reality of corporate America, but this leads to a serious political question:

What do you want?

As far as I can tell from the article, there is nothing political at stake. It is all about feeling outraged that power dropped its marketing mask and spoke bluntly about interests, making crystal clear what it believes to be the economic and political interests of the corporation. While I don't like those interests because they are in opposition to my own, I can appreciate the material calculation that backs it up. It is real and I can take action.

The problem here is that the people who have become personally, emotionally invested in a brand have nothing actionable. The outrage is over the damage to the shoppers' self-perception as morally upright because they shop at the right place. He damaged the brand! Oddly enough, that damage can be fixed with the right kind of kiss ass marketing campaign done with feel good imagery and some well timed back-to-school sales. It is individualized and solipsistic to a breathtaking degree. The CEO is talking about power and they are talking about appearances.

Cynical iconoclast that I am, I wonder at the outrage. Did you honestly think this grocery store chain was anything except a cold-blooded expansion into a specific marketing demographic? Why does anyone attibute to a corporate, profit-making entity any motive except the bottom line?

What do you want? The CEO has presented claims about the material interest of a corporation. Do you want an apology or a retraction? How would that change the calculus of power? Do you want the company as a whole to reject this CEO? Why would they do that if he is the reason they are succeeding? The labor union in the story asked for Mackey's ouster, which is a clear action. What is the next step if that does not happen? Perhaps more importantly, is there any action to take with regards to the corporation? It strikes me that the only action available is to refuse to participate in your own self-deception, and that's not really Whole Food's problem, is it?

The Incomparable One, Bob Somerby, continually reminds us that the Right has no monopoly on Teh Dumb. The difference is that when they act in ways we think of as dumb - such as a CEO writing an op-ed in complete opposition to his company's public image - they do so to gain political power. When the Left suffers from Teh Dumb, it does so in ways that fritters away political power, focusing on the most shallow end of identity politics.

John Mackey has made a move to defend his interests and advance right-wing political power. The protesters at Whole Foods want someone to "take it back" and stop making them feel their brand has been cheapened. What do you think will have the larger or more long lasting impact on the lives of American citizens?

The deep problem with Whole Foods Nation is their determined substitution of political power with social appearance.


Whole Foods Nation Betrayed

Oh, the poor, poor babies. Self-deluded people buying overpriced, marginal quality goods from a major coporate chain that marketed the illusion of being "community based" and "wholesome".

The BBC writer has a very good time with this article, Customers call for Whole Foods Boycott:

It's the shop where wealthy American liberals buy their groceries.

But the American supermarket chain Whole Foods Market has found itself at the centre of a storm of controversy after its chief executive, John Mackey, wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal presenting a free market alternative to President Obama's proposed healthcare reforms.

Mr Mackey began his article with a quote from Margaret Thatcher and went on to add that Americans do not have an intrinsic right to healthcare - an idea strongly at odds with the views of a large proportion of Whole Foods' customer base.

The company, which has 270 stores in North America and the UK, sells organic vegetables, biodegradable washing powder and sustainable seafood to a well-heeled clientele and champions its liberal credentials.

I hate to break the news to you, kids, but its "liberal credentials" are as deep as its advertisements in the newspaper. It is a brand intended to appeal to liberal upper middle class snobbery and elitism, and to rake in all of your excess income.

There are several Whole Foods in the greater San Diego area, including one about three miles from where I live. I admit I was caught up in the glamor of it when it first opened up, but quickly grew disenchanted by the incredible price premium and, frankly, the crappy quality. The deli food tastes like the "organic" shit served up in college cafeterias everywhere (bland, under-seasoned, fibrous, incorrectly cooked, allowed to sit around for too long) but at about six times the price. The bulk foods are twice the cost of comparable products at the nearest area competitor, Henry's Market (which is locally owned, serves up local produce, and has great prices, just in case you're wondering), and the product selection is limited to high priced goods. Their bakery items are, in a word, inedible.

In short, it's a grand marketing scheme which has worked on people more concerned about appearing to do the right thing than actually doing it. A few people are smart enough to identify the ploy, but not quite willing to admit they were snookered:

Outside the store [in Washington DC], customers Emily Goulding and Ileana Abreu said the controversy had made them think twice about shopping there.

"It is hypocritical and disingenuous and it really cheapens the brand," said Ms Goulding.

"Whole Foods is expensive but people shop here because they identify with the social conscience of the company - now it turns out that ethos was just a marketing exercise," added Ms Abreu.

Um, so have you stopped shopping there? If the CEO "apologizes," will you happily go back to handing over your money for the illusion of an ethos? Are you taking your well-heeled asses to local produce stands, mom-and-pop owned corner markets, and some of the run-down independent grocers in the area who keep the money in the community? No? Why not? Because they don't sell perfectly shaped, organically grown, blemish-free red bell peppers imported from Holland for $4 each? Just the kind of dinged-up weird looking ones from Mexico at two for $1? Because they don't have nice looking stores with artfully arranged end caps and bright, colorful posters? Because they are a bit grimy around the edges and have people using food stamps at the checkout line? Becuse poor people with bad eating habits shop there and you don't like having to mix with the non-beautiful people?

Uh-huh. Riiiiight, you're there for the healthy, organic, natural food. Which is packaged at the same factories and comes from the same industrial farms and ranches as the other stuff, but has that pretty "365" label on it.

No, you're there to shop in an upscale grocery store where dirty poor people aren't able to join you, but marketed in such a way that you can pretend you're doing this for socially responsible reasons. I had to laugh at these two people interviewed for the article:

Massachusetts-based playwright Mark Rosenthal's "Boycott Whole Foods" Facebook page has so far attracted 24,738 fans, including supporters in the UK and Canada.

Rosenthal said, "I read the article and it stunned me, the hubris of this man who has made his millions selling his products to progressives in America based on an image of caring for the community."

Teacher Carol Kramer had driven from Virginia to take part in the protest. She said, "There are a lot of people out there who really invested in the Whole Foods brand, emotionally and financially. We are feeling really betrayed."

Why are you all so shocked?

This is exactly how The Precious was marketed to Whole Foods Nation, a facsimile of liberal values tied up in a "clean" package. The "progressives" are a social class, not a political movement, and they are all about image. It is a class still held captive by a fantasy of the JFK White House, wanting to see it as moon landings and cultural events and chic fashion, and not as Bay of Pigs and Vietnam and invasive policing by the FBI and CIA. Its a class that waxes rhapsodic over Woodstock, but is silent over tear-gas in the streets of Berkley.

I look at this situation and see a perfect microcosm of all the delusions about the nature of power and all the unacknowledged class prejudices held by Whole Foods Nation.