What Does Sarah Palin Mean for the Left?

There’s confusion among liberals as to McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin for VP. Actually, the choice was brilliant. I don’t know if Karl Rove was consulted on the pick or not, but regardless it’s a genius pick. The right wing loves Palin.

So how should the left approach her? It depends on which segment of the left we’re talking about. The liberal, coordinator-class, Democratic left doesn’t know what to do, and even if they were told what they should do (which I’m about to do), they still wouldn’t do it.

For the radical left, her nomination is largely irrelevant. Regular readers of radical left media already know why, but if you don’t, I’m going to tell you that in a moment also.

Liberals think “experience” means something. It doesn’t. No one outside of coordinator-class circles gives a damn. The fact that McCain talked about Obama’s “experience” is irrelevant. McCain had to talk about something, and no one cared then either, and McCain’s people knew it.

Since economic issues mean nothing (since they’re not allowed to), elections come down to likeability. Palin is easily the most likeable of the four candidates (i.e., Obama, Biden, McCain, and her). The fact that she’s a total MILF-hottie doesn’t hurt. And contrary to what many liberals think, she’s actually quite intelligent.

So for liberals, what’s the solution? The same thing that radicals have been saying for forever: Move to the left. Even with his whole affair thing, John Edwards would still have been a better choice than Obama – and yes, Edwards is no lefty. But Edwards at least talked to working people, and gave them some reason to vote for him. Obama gives working-class people no reason to vote for him (he actually gives liberal coordinators no reason to vote for him either, outside of the fact that he’s a Democrat and that he’s half-black).

If Obama were pushing a Canadian-style single-payer health-care system, it wouldn’t matter whom McCain had picked. Of course, if Obama were talking about that, he wouldn’t be the nominee, because he wouldn’t have been able to raise the cash necessary to compete and the media would have treated him like a loser from day one (See: Kucinich, Dennis).

But moving to the left is more than just issues (though it certainly is that also). Look at the Republicans: James Dobson, the guy who does Focus on the Family and whom fundamentalist Christians absolutely swoon over, was giving tepid support at best to McCain prior to his pick of Palin. On the other hand, the group Progressives for Obama was inventing reasons to support Obama when Obama didn’t even want them.

It’s the difference between pushing a string and pulling on it in order to move something the string is attached to. The right wing makes their candidates earn their support. They don’t beg and plead. On the other hand, it seems like the only thing liberals know how to do is piss, whine, cry, moan, complain – and especially beg and plead.12

If you have to do a “Progressives for ,” instead of doing it after the candidate has wrapped up the nomination, a better strategy – if you really want to win – would be to pick a candidate like Kucinich (whom I personally am not enamored with for reasons that go beyond the scope of this essay; however, there is no doubt he was the farthest left of the Democratic candidates, and massive left support for him would not have been, I don’t think, a bad tactical move) and get behind him strongly at least two years before the election, if not sooner.

Let’s put this another way: Suppose McCain wins, which I think is likely. If you must support somebody, then begin in December 2008 planning for the election in November 2012. Find out if Kucinich is planning on running again. If he is, start your Progressives for Kucinich website then, bust your ass for four years, and see what happens.

So why didn’t the liberals behind Progressives for Obama do that? Because for them, it’s not about winning change – it’s about electing Democrats. It’s about the home team. It’s about the gang colors. As Obama was making his expected (by radicals) moves to the right, the phenomenal left-wing writer Paul Street asked Obama supporters how far was too far?3 Their answer was, in effect, that it made no difference.

I’m pretty sure that if Obama said he wanted to build an extermination camp outside of Kansas City, Progressives for Obama would still support him. You think that’s a little harsh? Well, the U.S. already has very fine extermination camps up and running in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama doesn’t seem too concerned about it, and his supporters don’t seem too concerned that he’s not that concerned about it. Unless you think there’s some sort of qualitative difference between people in the Midwest and people in the Middle East, it seems a little hard to deny there’s at least a smidgeon of Hitlerian bloodlust here.

But, of course, even if the liberal left geared up four years early and tried to build massive support for someone like Kucinich, that’s still not what the right wing does. The right wing may have its favorites, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who the nominee is: That person still has to come kiss the ring of the godfather in order to win the don’s affection. If that person refuses to acquiesce, there are repercussions. Clearly, if liberals wanted to win change – which we’ve already established that they don’t – they’d stop behaving like an abused, co-dependent spouse, and they’d start behaving like an emotionally healthy person who either gets respect or quits the relationship.

So finally, what should radicals do about the nomination of Palin? The same thing we should have been doing all along: addressing the institutional structure of society, pointing out that better people on top of barbarous institutions won’t make barbarous institutions that much less barbarous. Yes, as Noam Chomsky says, small differences between major players in the U.S. can result in large differences in outcomes outside the U.S. because of the overwhelming power of the U.S. in world affairs.4 Those differences do matter.

But it’s the system that’s rotten, and it’s the system that must be changed. Democrats are war criminals too. Perhaps in the short term, a less-vile war criminal is preferable to a more-vile war criminal. But they’re all war criminals because the system demands that whoever sits atop it be a war criminal. If you had cancer and the doctor gave you morphine, that would be okay. However, if you had cancer and the doctor kept giving you morphine, without ever treating the underlying cancer … well, you don’t need to have an IQ larger than your shoe size to draw the appropriate conclusion.

What’s the solution? A full treatment is obviously beyond the scope of this essay. But I would be remiss if I did not point out one necessary component of any solution: participatory economics, or parecon for short.5 A huge part of the problem is capitalism. Soviet-style coordinatorism is not the answer. I claim parecon is. I further claim that without parecon the U.S. will, among other things, continue to be run by war criminals.

  1. Open Letter to Senator Barack Obama from Sociologists and Scholars Regarding Philadelphia Speech on Racism,” ZNet, March 26, 2008. []
  2. Change We Can Believe In: An Open Letter to Barack Obama,” Common Dreams, July 30, 2008. []
  3. Paul Street, “Progressive Obamanists: Where Do You Draw the Line?”, ZNet, July 3, 2008. []
  4. See, for instance, Phil Gasper, “Bush v. Bush-lite: Chomsky’s Lesser-Evilism,” CounterPunch, March 20/21, 2004. []
  5. For more on parecon, I recommend Michael Albert’s Parecon: Life After Capitalism, Verso Press, 2003. Also good is here. []

Eric Patton lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. He can be reached via e-mail at: ebpatton@yahoo.com. Read other articles by Eric, or visit Eric's website.

16 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Rich Griffin said on September 1st, 2008 at 10:52am #

    Some of us are doing these things every day. What we need to do is completely abandon the Democratic party, even the “good” ones, who are enablers. Sarah Palin was a brilliant pick and will help us get a President McCain next January.

    Let’s start working on getting more and more progressives (independents, greens, progressive party, etc.) elected; STOP voting for all Democrats; and build build build – and of course, stop worrying about outcomes.

  2. bozhidar balkas said on September 1st, 2008 at 11:13am #

    rich,
    your right! let’s not expect too much. let us make tiny steps, thanx

  3. Carl Davidson said on September 1st, 2008 at 11:19am #

    Eric, release yourself from your ‘anti-coordinator-class’ distorting lens for a moment, and think this through again.

    Now there’s all sorts of people in ‘Progressives for Obama’, but a lot are like me. I supported Kucinich as my top choice for years, gave him money, went to his events, joked with him about how a vote for him was like voting for myself, etc.

    True, I also helped Obama on his very first race for the statehouse and his Senate campaign, but he got on my bad side when he started waffling on the war after his first trip to Iraq. So I went with Dennis and when he dropped out, then with Richardson, who also had a harder line against the war than Obama.

    But when Richardson dropped out, I had to reexamine Obama and the alternative, McCain. At that point Obama was tacking left on the war, and McCain was, well, McCain.

    Here is where you and I seem to part company.

    I think my ideas and actions have consequences that I ‘m accountable for, even if the choices before me are less than perfect–and they’re always less than perfect. I understand Jean-Paul Sartre’s play ‘Dirty Hands,’ and that living in history, even if you sit on your hands and do nothing, your hands get dirty. And as the Catholic boy that I once was, I’m also familiar with St Thomas’ moral teaching on when faced with two evils, choose the lesser, in lieu of viable options. I’ve heard all sorts of rhetorical quips against this moral principle, but I’ve yet to heard a sound moral argument refuting it. Which is why it’s still around after several centuries.

    So to get our hands dirty, we launched ‘Progressives for Obama’ to build an independent left pole in a left-center coalition with a candidate speaking to the center and drifting right. Yes, we want Obama to defeat McCain. That’s a key point of the project, but far from the only point. Your caricature just shows you haven’t bothered to read or examine what we’re actually doing.

    Parecon is not on the agenda of this election. And as someone who agrees with David Schweickart on socialism and markets, I doubt it will ever be. Nor is capitalism as a whole, although many of it abuses are.

    The choice in November is between two factions of capital: McCain’s neoliberalism vs Obama’s high road industrial policy capitalism. That’s a difference that makes a difference to me, and it should to you as well.

    But if you want to see the problems with a Parecon electoral platform and campaign, you might want to look at the history of DeLeonism and the SLP in America. DeLeon’s anti-market fundamentalism is a precursor of your own, as was his socialist industrial union model for organizing society, and didn’t do to well, however rational the package seemed to its devotees.

    Economic democracy and many varieties of the solidarity economy, however, can be put on the ballot, starting at the base and working upward and outward. At least it can if if we begin working now, to build our own electoral base organizations, even if our national ticket in 2008 is Obama-Biden.

  4. sk said on September 1st, 2008 at 11:20am #

    …as Noam Chomsky says, small differences between major players in the U.S. can result in large differences in outcomes outside the U.S. because of the overwhelming power of the U.S. in world affairs.

    A graphic example of differences that are magnified overseas was seen in November 1980, a few days after Ronald Reagan’s election. “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the dictator of Haiti who had chafed under Jimmy Carter’s nominally “Human Rights” based foreign policy, read into Reagan’s elections an augury that he could go back to thuggish ways of yore and let loose the dreaded Tonton Macoute on opponents of his regime. More than 50 prominent opposition figures, including the popular broadcaster Jean Dominique, were thrown out of the country. This is how Dominique, who was later assassinated, described the situation in Jonathan Demme’s documentary of his life:

    Jean Dominique: But in 1980, Carter was losing ground. Mr. Ronald…
    [smiles]
    Jean Dominique: you know him?… was winning ground. And they…
    [makes a couple long sniffing sounds]
    Jean Dominique: … smelled it. They said: “The time has come, human rights no more. The Cowboy are back in the white house.” And you know the Macoute were fascinated by the cowboy. It was the end of the “Haitian Spring”.

  5. Eric Patton said on September 1st, 2008 at 11:27am #

    Paul Street has already shown far better than I ever could the pointlessness of trying to discuss anything with Carl Davidson.

  6. Danny Ray said on September 1st, 2008 at 11:41am #

    Eric,

    What a brilliantly written essay. As a member of the far right, all I can say is thank the Gods that no one in the Democrat party will listen.

    I must give kudos to you for both your insight and the arrangement of your thoughts.

    Danny

  7. duane marcus said on September 1st, 2008 at 11:42am #

    I agree with Rich. We must build a viable and electable 3rd party. We have to collectively develop the courage to stop trying to choose between the lessor of 2 evils and get people in power who are not in the pockets of monied interests and will fight for the needs of the the people. A food system that nourishes us rather than makes us sick, an economy that nurtures the planet rather than destroys it, respect for human dignity would all be good places to start.

  8. Jayson said on September 1st, 2008 at 1:14pm #

    Its power that corrupts, money is simply the hallmark of power. This hallmark can be replaced with many different things. Could it be that you and your friends are interested in power? Know that the ring of power turns all who touch it into war criminals. Just what are you willing to do to implement or defend this ideal that you have put so much thought into?
    Meet the new boss same as the old boss… except I have to grow carrots :(

  9. Angry in Georgia said on September 1st, 2008 at 5:40pm #

    I am so angry at John McCain, and not for the reasons I have heard till now. This is a woman who has just given birth to an infant 4 months ago with special needs. This infant and the other 3 young children will now be missing their mother for the next 8 weeks while campaigning.

    If she is elected as the Vice President, this infant will be brought up by a nanny, or father, or sisters, but not by her mother. This is a woman who claims to be Conservative and concerned about children’s well being, but when it comes to her own newborn that will require extra attention, she jumps at the chance. Most women with children will choose their children first. And if she does not plan to take time away from her infant then she will have to take time away from her duties as Vice President and possibly President.

    These are not part time jobs. These are not 9 to 5 jobs. The nation needs leader’s full time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A mother of a 4 month old child with special needs cannot possibly give that to both at the same time. This means either the country loses or the infant loses; neither of which is acceptable. In light of new developments in finding that Sarah Pailin’s unwed teenage daughter is pregnant, perhaps she really needs to spend more time with her children instead of chasing political ambitions.

    John McCain had many other fine choices. If he wanted a woman he could have chosen Kay Baily Hutchinson. He had many other Republican woman choices that would have done very well. Instead, he chose a woman he had met twice without giving any consideration to her infant child. This is not a compliment to women, but an insult not only to mothers and the responsibility they have for their children, but to all Conservatives.

    He obviously does not understand the importance of a mother being in an infant’s life full time. Obviously he doesn’t care. He did not care when he abandoned his wife and children many years ago. So why should he consider her children’s needs. His only care is for himself and winning the election.

    Shame on you again John McCain.

  10. Rich Griffin said on September 1st, 2008 at 11:11pm #

    Why is it always the mother who must be in children’s lives? How about the FATHER stepping up to the plate?

  11. cg said on September 2nd, 2008 at 10:22am #

    I second Danny Ray’s emotion.
    Not many young-uns think as well as Eric.

  12. Dave Silver said on September 2nd, 2008 at 11:55am #

    Using the term “Democratic-Left is an oxymoron–like compassionate capitalim. Pointing to “participatory economis.” is likewise a true
    oxymoron. Only organizing an independent political movement/Party
    that particpates in class, anti-imperialist and ant-racist struggles canwe have some success against the transnational enemy,

  13. Deadbeat said on September 2nd, 2008 at 12:29pm #

    Dave Silver writes…

    Only organizing an independent political movement/Party

    Bingo and that is what is missing on the Left. The meaning of the Sarah Palin selection is to galvanize the Christian Conservative base. No one can argue that Christian Conservatives are not independently organized. They are well organized and very supportive of Zionism as well as extremely reactionary.

    The Left can only envy their organizational capacity and for 2008 there is no way the Left can organizationally even mount a challenge. As noted the Greens crippled Nader in 2004 thus both the Greens and Nader do not possess the organizational effectiveness for 2008.

    The Left squandered their their best most recent opportunity leaving a void now filled by Obama. So while the Left takes snipes at Obama, they have left the electorate with a terrible option: don’t vote for Obama and perhaps allow for a McCain/Palin victory who reactionaryism will extremely retrograde their lives.

    Obama, on the other hand, has tapped into the discontent that the Left abandoned four years ago. There is clearly a shift among the working class but unfortunately the Left cannot seem to come to terms that the Democratic Party by default is the ONLY place for them to turn since there is NO sufficient organizing on the Left for this discontent to coalesce.

    I agree with Mr. Silver that the Left needs to get organized but IMO the Left needs to demonstrate that they can take on TOUGH issues that will demonstrate their adherence to principles which will increase trust levels that will yield greater solidarity.

  14. Eric Patton said on September 2nd, 2008 at 2:33pm #

    Dave Silver writes:
    “Pointing to “participatory economis.” [sic] is likewise a true
    oxymoron.”

    Actually, participatory economics is a technical term referring to a well-defined model.

  15. Rich Griffin said on September 2nd, 2008 at 3:25pm #

    I disagree: most states are clearly going to give their electoral college votes to either McCain or Obama. It is a GOLDEN opportunity (if you get away from the narrow thinking that “winning” is the only thing that is important) for progressives to aggressively vote for McKinney and Nader (they are both great candidates) and get at least 10% of the vote this time around, which is 1 OUT OF 10 voters!! (: This is worth achieving and will help us in the long term; what will NOT help us is the psychology of winning, thereby wasting votes in safe states for Obama. There are only a few battleground states (I STILL would vote for either McKinney or Nader, but that’s just me); I can understand the voters in those very few states (I believe it’s all going to come down to Ohio and Pennsylvania) perhaps voting for Obama for tactical reasons (although I disagree with their thinking). This would be a beginning towards slowly building a progressive majority in america.

  16. B. said on September 20th, 2008 at 12:14am #

    Well, I DEFINITELY agree with Carl Davidson. I think that thousands of people have been killed over the last eight years who might not have been killed if Gore or later Kerry had been elected. There are people who have been tortured who probably would not have been tortured.

    If you want other candidates to win besides Democrats or Republicans, why not work for election reform? I think publicly funded elections will make a big difference on who (people from different economic classes) gets to participate, and different forms of voting will make a difference on “third” party candidates getting elected.

    I ran an election at my church once and it was fascinating to realize that with the same votes, different forms of voting would give us three different results. (We went with the form that we said we would go with before the election, of course.)

    I’m not sure which form of voting I would choose. There is a lot of info about voting on the web, including this article from wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voting_system

    It’s very clear to me that our current voting system favors candidates who are extreme (although apparently not extreme enough for you.) If we had ranked voting and 50% of people voted for the really right wing candidate, and 50% of people voted for the left wing candidate, but most of the people ranked some middle of the road candidate as their second choice, then we would all get a president/congress person that wasn’t our top candidate, but that we could live with. I’d like that. I’d like leadership in our country that isn’t as polarized/ing.