Image Politics vs Action
by argghh, Wed Mar 08, 2006 at 09:54:58 PM EST
It is with growing amount distress that I've observed a certain kind of rigidity settling over sections of the progressive blogosphere, as well as an arrogance that seems entirely insular. The other day, on Daily Kos, in the midst of a rant about NARAL and other women's organizations, Kos referred to his long-held disdain for organizing protests and marches. And then recently here, Chris Bowers went on an extended rant about people who dare to criticize Hillary Clinton in terms that reflect the Republican's slant against her. Suddenly, something crystalized in my head that has been simmering in the background since the 2004 election. There is a kind of circular obsessiveness and close-mindedness bordering on cowardice enveloping the blogsphere, and it is one of the more dangerous developments in progressive politics.
Whether it was the Howard Dean campaign, the MoveOn push to get Kerry elected, or various house and senate races, the netroots have yet to produce a truly satisfying victory. Despite all the certainty and high-level dialogue about changing the national conversation, in actual races on the ground, we've lost again and again. The Rodriguez/Cuellar primary is just the latest example. How is it possible, we think, with all of our enthusiasm and intellect and money that this could happen? Why did Dean crash and burn, why Hackett? Why Kerry? Why are we still having so little impact on actual policy?
It's ironic that Kos's disdain for protest marches centered around their need for publicity and press, when in fact that's all the netroots is, a way to change the tide of media noise. Chris (rather presumptiously, I thought) asserts that we have to be very careful what we say, because the press and important people are always watching. Sounds a lot like the bad kind of protest march meetings I've been to. No matter what the forum is, elections, netroots, marches, speeches--it's not the form but the content that brings real change. All the obsession with taking back the political language is just the same bandage that protest organizers also use to cover their essential lack of vision for the future. We're so obsessed with how things do or don't appear, that we don't address our fundamental beliefs. The Republicans beat us year after year not because they're better at the manipulation of essentially blank people, but because at heart they are mostly true-believers. They believe the markets will solve everything. They are real pro-lifers. They are hawkish, without equivication. Whether or not there are a cabal of greedy cynics using all that belief to their ends is beside the point. As any war will show you, it's always the believers that win. The U.S. had the weaponry, the training, the resources, the sheer population, to defeat North Vietnam, and yet we lost. It's happening again in Iraq.
I bring all this up, because I think we need to be very careful before we start criticizing any methods of expression in favor of some overall strategy. Say what you will about protest marches, the million-plus women who showed up for the rally Kos disdained are real believers. Only the left would quibble about whether it was the right strategy and about wasted resources. The right would embrace them as the core of their movement, and they have. Can you really say that abortion clinic protesters are more reflective of America than those women? And yet they form the core of a Republican party that owns all the institutions of power.
And the fact is, that for all the fire and excitement about the netroots, actual on-the-street activists and civil disobeyers have a couple decades of actual achieved results to point to. You can talk all you want about "outmoded", but perhaps you better get the new-fangled hydrogen car out of the garage before you abandon the Chevy.
If we're not supposed to actually hit the streets, but spend our time in this fantasy world, we'd better at the very least have our intellectual freedom. Cause that's all we have here. Nothing is actually happening, except talk. Very good talk, and valuable, but nothing else.
This tendency towards ignoring "old" ways of politicking and yet shutting down alternative voices in the new feels very much like the various reasons people have fled the left for many decades. That's why what's happening is dangerous. The history of the left is littered with fired-up college students predicting a revolution on their own terms, only to step on the actual streets and find that they were talking to themselves the whole time. The only difference is this time, very few of us are actually getting as far as the street.
We will never win as long as we are afraid of our true power. As long as we obsess about image and voice and strategy, and don't listen to and express without fear or embarassment the anger and sloppiness of true belief. The Republicans seem so ridiculous to us that we can't imagine how they constantly get elected. And yet that's exactly why they're in power. They aren't afraid. We are.