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