The convergence of historic events
History is converging events for us very quickly: the first – the anniversary of the election of Barack Obama as President; the second – the rise of a reactionary and racist mass movement in this country; third – the passage by the House of what some call an “historic” health care reform package and the beginning of discussion on the Senate version; and fourth, we’re on the eve of the continuation and even expansion of the war in Afghanistan – as Obama contemplates just how many thousands of Americans he will be sending soon to the “graveyard of empires”.
They are all related, of course, – the reform of health care is directly linked to Obama’s selection by the American electorate on November 4th, a year ago. Congress in its various houses wouldn’t be having such a debate – no matter what the final version of the bill looks like – if Obama hadn’t been elected.
Meanwhile, outside the Halls of Congress – literally – several thousand Tea Party anti-reform activists demonstrated last November 5th, protesting the passage of the health care bill. “Kill the bill! Kill the bill!” the crowds chanted – just days ago, as John Boehner, the Republican leader of the House, stood before them and declared that the health care bill is “the greatest threat to freedom that I have seen.”
“The greatest threat to freedom” that he has ever seen. The GOP leader of the House of Representatives. A health care reform bill.
To top it all off, it appears that President Obama is about to order an increase in US troops for Afghanistan – not the 40,000 that the top soldier – General Stanley McChrystal – wanted – but perhaps over 30,000.
The Moment of the Crystallized Dilemma
With eerie similarities between JFK wrestling with Vietnam while propping up the corrupt and unpopular Ngo Dinh Diem regime – and Obama wrestling with Afghanistan while propping up the corrupt and unpopular Hamid Karzai regime, progressives and liberals are watching history cruelly forcing a lesson upon us – one we as a nation should have learned long ago.
For progressives, then, this moment perfectly crystallizes our historic quandary : the dilemma of the disenchanted progressive.
In Part 1, I presented what I see as this dilemma for disenchanted progressives: as people on the political left we are disenchanted about the tempo and types of changes that President Obama has ushered in to date. The House just passed the health care reform bill – barely – and the more conservative Senate now takes it on. Yet, even if it passes, we have mighty criticisms of it, the gutting of any federal funds for choice, and too many compromises made to get blue dog Democratic support – … but then it would not have passed without their support. It WAS a close vote in the House.
One year after the election of the guy we voted for, many progressives and liberal-minded people are bemoaning the lack of progress on the very issues we believed were important – the very promises that Barack Obama made on the campaign trail – now appear unfulfilled.
At the same time, we are upset at the politicization by the right of every little issue that comes along. I wrote Part 1 in the context of the controversy the extremists of the right-wing made over Obama’s school speech that he delivered back on September 8th.
The polarization outlined in my first part has continued unabated. The right was able to successfully rip ACORN. The extremists now have a couple of mass demonstrations in Washington under their belts – including the rather large DC protest (see here) on September 12th. With all of this, we can say that these right-wing activists and their leaders represent a new definitive force on the current American political landscape, a force that is one of a budding mass movement. A reactionary and racist movement that feels happy to include very derogatory and racist signs of the President.
It is a racist, even anti-Semitic movement and force. It is definitely anti-Constitutional and anti-democratic – as a good part of it does not accept Obama’s election. It does not accept the 2008 election. It does not accept history. Indeed, it is a truly home-grown reactionary movement. And Barack Obama is in their sights, figuratively and literally.
We as progressives are deeply worried about what this budding reactionary movement – the Tea Party people and their friends – means for the country. Funded by the very rich, by large oil company owners, by insurance companies, fueled on racism and anything to do with Obama, “socialism”, or government-run health care, and fanned by a corporate media – this reactionary movement has a dark side that must be identified and called for what it is: it is a mass movement and home-grown variant of an American brand of fascism.
There I said it. Fascism – this is not the same term flung around by the righties, as they equate marxism, communism, socialism, all the “isms” with all the others.
It is a term I do not use lightly and will explain.
This is what’s new on our nation’s political landscape. This is why the moment is so tantalizing and excruciating frustrating – it is the moment that certainly crystallizes this dilemma for us.
This is a personal issue
The dilemma of the disenchanted progressive is a very personal question and issue. It has been for me. It took me several false starts before I was able to sit down and complete this second part. So much was occurring and has occurred since I started writing this that I couldn’t keep up with the onslaught and the accompanying editing.
The guy that I voted for – that many of us voted for – last November, Barack Obama, is under attack by the ugly underside of America. The guy – who, as a candidate at first didn’t seem like he had a chance during the campaign because he was African-American – but who bested all his Democratic opponents, Clinton, Edwards, in the seemingly endless primaries, and then who moved on to defeat McCain…. McCain – remember? He wanted to win in Iraq even if it took 100 years.
Obama’s election overturned history. And now this guy, likable, popular, charismatic, with a golden tongue, is under attack himself – for being Black, for being “socialist” (I know, I know – he’s not), for raising liberal issues, for talking about health care reform, for exercising government intervention into the economy, for including left-wing and progressive ideas and activists in his administration.
But for the extremists, it’s as if the Presidential campaign never ended. Those who can’t accept Barack Obama as President are not moving on.
Jimmie Carter has called them racists. We agree. The Birthers, the screamers at the town hall meetings, the guys with guns, people who hold up signs of the white face “Joker”, or “Deport Obama”, the person who placed the poll of whether Obama should be assassinated on Facebook – until it was taken down – remember all of this?
Yet at this very same moment, the guy who we voted for, the guy who won, hasn’t done enough to reverse the worst of the Bush’s extremes and abuses, has drones attacking hamlets in Pakistan, and he is about to send even more troops to Afghanistan. How can we stand to support him?!
This is indeed painful.
The moment calls for a deep political maturity. A maturity that tries to grasp the lessons of history at the same time being hopeful that the American experience will end up with a genuine democracy and not an empire. A maturity that was honed by the Vietnam conflict, Kent State, the Watergate crisis, the Reagan reaction …
Why it all matters
Context. What with McCain’s defeat at the polls, the Republican Party has fallen apart, and there is a virtual civil war going on right now within it. And it looks like the Sarah Palins and Glenn Becks are taking it over. Last week’s demonstration of what seemed like a gathering of thousands of wing-nuts was heartily endorsed by mainstream GOP leaders. This is what is new. Mainstream Republican leaders are jumping over themselves in trying to play to these extremists.
This could lead to a temporary benefit for the Democrats – see what happened in the New York 23rd District recently – where the extremists forced the moderate Republican out of the race – only to be defeated by a Democrat in a Congressional district that has not been Democratic since the Civil War.
Yet the dangers are great – if the extremists take over the GOP – they gain incredible resources and credibility.
All the while, however, voters are distancing themselves from the Republican label. Only 20% in recent polls describe themselves as Republicans.
But the Dick Armeys and the organizations like FreedomWatch continue to mobilize. The disruptions at last summer’s town hall meetings, the gun-toters, the so-called outrage against “czars”, the signs depicting Obama as Hitler will not be going away.
What kind of extremist movement is it?
This movement of extremists is a racist one. The open, publicly-displayed white-faced Jokerist Obama photos, other racist signs, slogans and images demonstrate that racism is acceptable in America once again. An openly racist movement, despite the denials, is now on our landscape – and is condoned by the corporate media that fuels their anger. The Birthers, the people who won’t accept a Black man as president, who want to deport him – are the soldiers of this openly racist movement.
Four days after the right mobilized in DC back in September, former President Jimmie Carter called the extremist gathering a racist movement. Here is part of what the 85 year old former executive from Georgia said in an interview with NBC’s Brian Williams:
“I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African American. I live in the South, and I’ve seen the South come a long way, and I’ve seen the rest of the country that shared the South’s attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African Americans.
“And that racism inclination still exists. And I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It’s an abominable circumstance, and it grieves me and concerns me very deeply.”
It’s once again a rebirth of the “angry white man” but now with angry white women. They hearken back to an America that was dominated by white supremacy. The old days when Negroes and women knew their place.
And it is a mass movement. Even though fueled and funded by corporate higher-ups – those who bought the buses that brought thousands to Washington – there were still thousands in DC. They’re here in San Diego County – they go to Congressman Darrel Issa’s town hall meetings and listen to reactionary local radiohead Rick Roberts.
By its nature, this reactionary mass movement is authoritarian. The authoritarians, wanting to unconstitutionally reverse the 2008 election, use aggressive tactics – shouting down Congressional reps, disrupting town hall meetings so no one can say anything, bullying people into silence. There’s the underlying threat of violence and aggression with the acceptance of the gun toters, the carrying of rifles near Obama and to some of those town hall meetings, the acceptance of some activists as “domestic terrorists”, the poll on facebook whether the President should be assassinated, the huge increase in threats against Obama that the Secret Service has to deal with.
It is also a movement of ignorance. Demonstrators with signs that equate Obama as a “socialist” and “fascist”, with “czars” and “marxist” etc. Not being able to distinguish these “isms” is quiet laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous. The huge stink about “czars” – where earlier presidents had many more of them than Obama – is incredulous but real. The insensible fear of a “government take-over of health care” while ignoring the nature of Medicare and veterans’ health care. Those who actually believe Obama was not born in Hawaii or that he is a Muslim.
It is a movement of manipulation and misrepresentation. Its leaders knowingly spouted lies about “death panels” and “killing grandma” – all a lethal form of manipulating the masses. Republican Congressional leaders calling the health care reform bill “the greatest threat to freedom” is comically ridiculous if it wasn’t coming from the mouths of opposition leaders.
Importantly, the corporate sponsorship of this mass extremist movement shows how a sector of capitalism is actively involved in stirring up this reactionary muddle and attempting to manipulate our political reality. The financial links between the rank and file extremists and the very wealthy have been completely documented.
Couple this with FOX News and the Murdock-controlled huge corporate media empire that incites this mass reactionary movement – giving them more air time than their numbers represent – you can see how this spells out how deep the problems are. Murdock has agreed with Glenn Beck who called Obama a “racist.” Just recently, in the face of actual evidence that it happened, Murdock denied that one of his people compared Obama with Stalin.
All of this on top of the sour economy – worst since the Depression – and we have a very dangerous context.
Put it all together – the racism, the authoritarianism, the aggressiveness and threats of violence, the bullying, the ignorance, the manipulation, the outright deception, the corporate links and funding and media support – and we have something that is – by definition – a movement of American fascism.
A fascist movement. I’m sorry if the term upsets you or causes you to immediately reject this analysis. It is true that the right-wing extremists batter the term about, although they combine it with “socialism” and “marxism”, and it is even true the left has used it every time something disagreeable arises.
But it is here. We have a fascist movement in this country right now. Elements of it are fighting for the soul of the Republican Party. But they are all aiming at Obama and what he stands for and what he has stood for. They are attacking Obama for many of our own issues. How ironic is that? Here we are thinking about distancing ourselves from him, at the same moment the right is mobilizing against him because they think he is one of us.
Where is all of this going?
Where will all this polarization go? If the GOP is taken over by extremists, it will forever change this country. It will become a very dangerous place to be.
If the convergence of these forces occurs we’re in very deep trouble: one, a major political party and its apparatus; two, a mass grass-roots movement energized by racism; and three, a deeply funded corporate connection to the most retrograde sector of American business. If these converge – and they are quickly moving in that direction – we will be staring fascism straight in the face. And if allowed, it will destroy America.
That is why progressives need to defend Obama from these attacks by the extremists. We cannot and will not allow the reactionaries and fascists to reverse a presidential election. At this point, it is we, the progressives, who now stand for Constitutional government; it is we who must stand for the election of 2008, and need to guard this “victory”.
Despite his faults, his weaknesses, Obama needs to be defended and shown that we – the progressives – are his allies. It is crucial when facing fascism that those who oppose it collude and coalesce with others who stand to lose under this reaction, to build coalitions and networks. If the extreme right can defeat Obama, guess who’s next? Obama stands between us and the Glenn Becks, the Randall Terrys, the authoritarians, the guys with guns.
One year after his election, it is not for us to abandon the first African-American President. It will not be us – the progressives of this country – to kick Obama under the bus, just as the far-right reaches a new zenith in their abilities to mobilize against him. His reforms are not fast and furious enough, but then he’s facing the worst financial crisis in 80 years, he’s having to deal with two and half wars (Pakistan), and revolts in his own party.
His historic election is way too close to be forgotten by us. The hope he has given us is way too fresh to be denied. It is not time for progressives to hide from the very real threat that a fascist American movement makes. Now is the time to ensure that Obama survives and sees our numbers surrounding him. When he sees our strength holding off the reaction, he will be all the more ready to listen to us.
How we do that and criticize his policies – around Afghanistan – for instance – is our challenge. How we defend Obama from the right while showing him that he is wrong on certain issues is what we have to do. How we can save America and its democracy while losing the empire is part of this challenge as well. And from the depths of our maturity we will figure this out.
My third part will be why this is all important for Ocean Beach.