Joyce L. Arnold: Liberal, lesbian, Independent, equality activist, writer.
“Everybody knows” fictions and fantasies
What “everybody knows” about our political system could fill libraries. Or it could be reduced to a sound bite: What “everybody knows” is often the fictions and fantasies we’re told we should “know.” My take on who ultimately does the telling: the Oligarchy behind the Two Parties. Maintaining the structures and systems which serve the tiny group of people on top is the primary concern of Democratic and Republican Elites. Fundamentally, the two parties are more or less interchangeable, though necessarily adversarial, as they provide the illusion of significant choice. “Throwing the bums out” every two or four years can make the grassrootsie types feel empowered and keep us distracted from the control behind the Duopoly. What we’re told we should “know” is often fictions and fantasies, with a mythic spin.
I’ll admit that’s a rather bleak assessment, and acknowledge that there are people who are genuinely seeking to make “the government” work for “the people.” That includes many working very hard, from within and without the system, as activists, voters, and even as Electeds. These are the people who give me some hope. But I am convinced that unless the Two Party Front for the Oligarchy is recognized and challenged, unless new / third parties work their way to power, there’s no reason to think the tiny group at the top has anything to be concerned about, much less to fear. Flipping the White House and/or Congress every few elections is getting us somewhere … further and further into Corporate Nation status.
Campaigns, elections, and acts of all three branches of government are framed within the Duopoly. There are definitely areas of Right / Left disagreement, and both legacy parties fight for top dog status. But it’s largely within the system that things are discussed, decided and defined, including terms like conservative, moderate / centrist, progressive / liberal. The “everybody knows” insistence that no other options exist, and anyone who dares stray from that framing is either naive or evil, or maybe both, is one of the staples of Two Party politics.
So, “everybody knows” that “redneck” states are nothing but a bunch of uneducated, religious whacko, racist throw-backs. “Everybody knows” that “latte sipping” states are nothing but a bunch of overeducated, un-Christian, politically correct elitists. And “everybody knows” that if you don’t fall in one or the other accepted classification, you’re just wishy-washy, lazy and a fence sitter. Or maybe an anarchist.
One recent example of what I take to be an effort growing out of sincere concern, but which stays completely within the existing system and so, in my opinion, loses any real possibility of holding Obama accountable: Cornel West and Ralph Nader, along with “endorsees” (including Norman Birnbaum, Chris Hedges, and Rabbi Michael Lerner), introduced a proposal to “challenge Obama in the primaries.” In the proposal they write:
Imagine: A slate of six candidates announces its decision to run in the Democratic primaries.
Each of the candidates is recognizable, articulate, and a person of acknowledged achievement.
Each candidate represents one “field”: “labor, poverty, military and foreign policy, health insurance and care, the environment, financial regulation, civil and political rights/empowerment, and consumer protection.” But unlike actual primary “challengers,” these “candidates” would indicate their intention is “rigorous debate,” but “not to defeat the president.” Credit for creativity, but removing the principal form of holding Electeds accountable – our votes – leaves the system in control.
Another recent thought from David Atkins No Consequence for Extremism, where he writes
… the GOP has figured out that there is no consequence for extremism in American politics. America has a de facto two-party system…
… that it is much more intelligent in American politics to consolidate an unassailable ideological voter and donor base, win what elections they can essentially by default, and push the Overton Window as far as humanly possible toward conservatism while in office. And when Democrats hold office, as they inevitably will? Then prevent them from governing as Democrats …. (who) are left constantly chasing a fickle moderate voter they cannot hope to keep in their column.
It’s an interesting read, though it seems to ignore the possibility that governing decisions by Dems aren’t necessarily, or even usually, about ineptitude or cowardice. They’re about a plan, one which fits within the “de factor two party system,” and that system’s consistent Rightward movement has seen little from the Left to slow it down. It also includes the “fickle moderate” framing – surely everyone who hasn’t made one of the only two system approved choices must be fickle, wishy-washy, lazy …
Now certainly the Dems still want to be “in charge”; and they’ll still make election year noises that sound “progressive,” sometimes even act on such. But in general, look at what they do, the policies they enact and support, and see the Left side version of the plan of the “de facto,” Two Party Front for the Oligarchy.
There are those who do fight and challenge the Duopoly. At least in part because it’s a story that doesn’t fit within the Two Party’s interest, you’ve probably read very little about the “Occupy Wall Street” actions, which continue, as hundreds of people camp out in lower Manhattan. And you probably won’t read much about GetEqual’s still developing plans for a National Equality March. Robin McGehee, following the North Carolina legislature’s vote to put a “marriage definition” amendment up for vote next year, writes:
Here is my suggestion – a National Equality March, where we all March from Raleigh to Charlotte, NC (the 5 day March would not be walked by all, but some would carry the TORCH OF EQUALITY into the city of Charlotte) -arriving in time for the Democratic National Convention. … to send a clear message to the DNC: We expect our fierce advocate and the party that was built to DEFEND US to create legislation that will stop the stripping away of our rights and dignities as Americans … .
We can’t avoid the pervasive Two Party System Is Your Only Option framing. But we can challenge it, from within and without. My liberal independent thinking is that we must challenge what it tells us we should “know” – that’s the only way we’ll have more, and potentially better, choices.
For a list of and links to all posts in this series, go here.
( Photo via ThinkProgress )