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.


Randall Kohn said...

This one's easy. Democrats lose because they're corporate gatekeepers. Losing is their job, it's what they're paid for.

harpie said...

A series of disjointed thoughts:

I read Somerby’s linked Falllows piece drop jawed. No amount of cynicism is enough. Your paragraph about “the political battle for the support of the have-littles” reminded me of Katrina and the aftermath for some reason. I have been thinking about your grad school post almost on a daily basis for the past several months. Your note about the blogger boyz and the body politic is as masterful a metaphor as I have ever read. There is a book in there, and it’s not the one Eric Alterman wrote:

“Bloggers on the Bus: A Conversation with Eric Boehlert-Part 1”

which you also wrote about on May 10, 2009.

I hope you and your home stay safe.

Marsha said...

Do you think that the “two” parties are actually in collusion? Afterall, it's all about the cash.

Fundamentally, there are no differences today between Democrats and Republicans so the idea that there are “two sides” is purely a figment of the media’s imagination. Again, the media is only happy when it can find two opinions and create a war between them. But in truth, there is no war…both the Dems and Repubs are the SSDD.

I think Pacific John at Alegre’s Corner says it very well:

“The optics are clear once you see them

Everything the administration is doing is to deprive the GOP of its campaign funding stream, and steer the money hose to Obama 2012.

Here's Bill Moyers courtesy of Glenn Greenwald:

MOYERS: [T]he Democratic Party [...] has told its progressives -- who are the most outspoken champions of health care reform -- to sit down and shut up. That's what Rahm Emanuel, the Chief of Staff at the White House, in effect told progressives who stood up as a unit in Congress[...]

And I think the reason for that is -- in the time since I was there, 40 years ago, the Democratic Party has become like the Republican Party, deeply influenced by corporate money.

I think Rahm Emanuel, who is a clever politician, understands that the money for Obama's re-election will come from the health care industry, from the drug industry, from Wall Street. And so he's a corporate Democrat who is determined that there won't be something in this legislation that that will turn off these interests. . . .

It's crystal clear to any progressive with even high school savvy.

Shame? Yes. But why, why did they cave on their principles? It's still all about cash. Dem campaign institutions still think they have no choice but to pamper, feed and care for the Obama campaign fundraising machine. This sensibility ranges from the outright lust of Pelosi to the reluctant bribery and extortion of genuine progressives whose base was co-opted to fund the Party of One.”

The Blogger Boyz are the worst of the Dem Campaign Institution because they have such a following of sheeples...they think that whomever has the most money wins.

Depends upon what you’re trying to win, don’t you think?

Teresa said...

Yes, it's naive to think that the Democrats aren't **trying** to "lose" when it comes to healthcare reform.

The sad thing though, is that no matter how thoroughly the Democrats sell their collective souls, the corporations they are pandering to are likely to drop them for the next big thing. If Obama is tanking, they'll RUN to the GOP.

One would think the smart thing -- STILL -- would be to enact good policy so they're popular with the voters....but, that is where Democrats are actually as dumb as Somerby thinks they are.

Palomino said...

"There is an unsettling voyeurism 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."

Another classic observation from Anglachel. You've been missed.

nycweboy said...

Hi, I haven't been visiting as regularly as I used to, but I just wanted to thank you for these recent posts - it really helped focus my thinking around what's not happening in the healthcare debate, and I used it as part of my piece today. Now the question I have is... what do we do about it?