An Awful Election

by Rustbelt Radical

September 11, 2012

Misère, comrades, misère!

We are still two months from the November elections and the campaign has gone on for forty-six months already. The conventions these last weeks offered only occasional amusement at a gaff or outrage, but were utterly “business as usual.”

The Romney/Ryan ticket looks like an American Psycho version of a Dockers ad. I looked on to their Tampa gathering occasionally and can only say that they make me sincerely wish for a civil war, horrors and all. And sooner rather than later. It’s like we live on different planets. Mine has public libraries and the only thing they want public are the executions. The Republicans, at one time the party of Frederick Douglass, are now exclusively (except, perhaps, the delegation from Maine, that last redoubt of the old-school GOP) the party of white reaction. Their play book is the same Republican one of the last forty years: play to the basest fears of an already base white, working class anxiety. A base whose superiors dangle a mirror from their perch down so that they might look up and marvel when they see themselves above.

Obama and the Democrats offer only to finish the job they have been engaged in through the first term, of triangulating every last bit of political space left in the country. Where racist Republicans at convention boo Latinas of their own party, the Democrats showcase an undocumented student and then deport tens of thousands of their country-folk. If the Republicans are the party of white reaction, than the Dems are the party of banal, multi-cultural reaction. The politics of a branding campaign with the morality of an advertising executive.

Obama has done the job he was hired to do; he corralled the opposition to Bush’s policies by continuing them. His base allows everything it bemoaned about the Bush administration and more: Guantanamo and Bagram, ceaseless drone attacks, attacks on civil liberties, the drug war, deportations, bank bailouts, corporate control, etc. “As long as it is a Democrat doing it, it’s not reactionary.” There is a myth that the Democrats once had this golden age when they were for the people. It’s a lie, but it keeps folks thinking they might “win back” the party and excuse every kind of crime so they might do so. If Obama wins a second term, and I am pretty sure he will, it will be because both the ruling class and “progressives,” including union leaders, are just fine with him. He works for the one while working the other. It is what the Democrats do, it’s their raison d’être.

The Democrats are a party of the Empire and always have been, but it doesn’t stop the asshole who parks next to me from plastering a peace sign right next to his Obama 2012 bumper sticker on his Prius. False consciousness, mixed consciousness or willful ignorance? I have a simple rule for political seriousness; if you excuse in one party what you find reprehensible in another, you are a hack and no amount of progressive rhetoric or hand wringing gets you off the hook. You are an abettor.

The system is rotten, there are no genuine politics or ideological divergences involved, only marketing blocks. The whole thing is a third-tier reality TV show. A year ago, the actual issues confronting people were being articulated on homemade signs the breadth of the land. Everywhere, including on the most craven media outlets, the words, though not always the issues, of Occupy were being discussed. Things like questioning who had power in society and what it was like to face a foreclosure or tens of thousands of dollars of student debt without a hope of a job–to be doomed before you begin. At the height of a Presidential election–the most politically engaged period in American life–and the talk is of a dotty old man’s failed performance with an empty chair and of Michelle’s “Wow!” style and toned arms. Both of the institutional parties are as debased as the social order they serve.

And the third parties? It was only a few months ago that I was wondering how Occupy might influence the coming vote. Five years into an economic crisis combined with multiple wars, environmental wreck, and the worst wealth disparity since children were working in coal mines and this is what is on offer at election time? Yes, the Greens are running the entirely respectable Jill Stein with a program that is the same. I’ll probably vote Green this year, but it won’t be with any enthusiasm. Nader has, though I voted for him in the past, thankfully stayed out the race this time. And then there is Rocky Anderson, Rosanne Barr, and the propaganda campaigns of a few others on the ballot here and there. Nope, this election is a total buzz-kill. The only hope for a positive outcome somewhere is if the good people of Colorado or Oregon or Washington make a dent in the drug war by voting to legalize herb.

My inbox is empty of passionate emails from comrades debating how to position ourselves this year. This, the latest “most important choice in a generation,” just doesn’t seem to have captured the imagination of the folks I parley with. And they are hardly people without opinion. It won’t split a single left group, as the discussion bulletins are all quiet. The same debates over Obama (which is the same debate, with a different hue, engaged in about the Democrats every election) among the left will continue. Class independence…when you forsake it, it’s forsaken. I have even seen one or two groups pretzel themselves into a position of supporting both the Assad government in Syria and the re-election of Barack Obama.

By and large the far left is as unengaged in the election as that broad layer of activists that occupied Zucotti, as well as Kalamazoo and Wichita, is. In 2008, those activist progressives may have hit the neighborhood stoops for Obama. This year they may vote for him without hitting the stoops, but it will be with the conviction of a faltered faith. Some are just done with the two-party system of bourgeois democracy, now so thoroughly commodified by the bourgeoisie–-as is their wont wherever they go. On the other hand, the Democrats still trap many of those activists, including union activists, that one would think would be essential to the building of an alternative that could strike mass roots. A lot of young people and folks of age to vote for the first time will stay at home, because there’s just not the excitement or sense of possibility that 2008 had. As usual, many, if not most, working class people, so alienated are they from the “public” institutions, will not even darken the door of their precinct polling place this November sixth. And no one, including way too much of the left, has a single thing to say to them.

I simply can’t believe that what we saw on the public square in city after town after village last fall isn’t still to make itself felt. If not on this election, than on what comes after. We are not in that place of before. That place where the world we live in had to be described in tepid euphemism or not at all. “We are the 99%” was and is the clearest expression of political reality in mass culture since the 1930s. No, there is a genuine crisis of legitimacy in the ruling order now. Enough folks, through their own experiences, are sure that the brakeless roller coaster we are on is a ride far more scary than thrilling and they want off.

Never in my political life have I met such widespread openness to the critique we Marxists have been on about for generations. And no one I know thinks that it is going to get any easier for the great mass of people, expectations have been suitably lowered along with wages. The world is in a state of upset, and while the heady days of early 2011 are long since shot down in the street, all know that we cannot continue as we have. The alternative is going to come, if not from us then from our enemies. That is what makes the lack of an organized political alternative developing in its absence so disheartening. Of all the times I would have expected that alternative to at least initially develop, it would be now. Things never seem to work out like we expect (which doesn’t seem to stop us from expecting).

So here I am with my lowered expectations: The ruling class wins in November and the struggle to field our side in the class war continues.

The Rustbelt Radical blogs from the ravaged middle of the post-industrial American Midwest and yearns for the refounding of the Marxist project.