Saturday, December 5, 2009

Being "Radical"

Here is all that is necessary to be considered "radical" in the United States, that is, with regard to politics. All that is needed is to consider politics from a political angle, that is, from an angle that sees politics as being a struggle to get and maintain power by some "elites" at the expense of the many or the "rest of us." One need not delve into Marxist theory or any other kind of theory to be a "radical." Rather, one just has to look around and see that politics is the same today as it was when Plato and Aristotle wrote about it in ancient Greece and as the ancient Greeks practiced it. It is basically about getting power and keeping it. This is its primary characteristic, its motivating force, not governing well or solving problems. This is enough to make one a "radical."

According to the "official" ideology or the conventional wisdom of our times, our politicians, our leaders, are all trying to "solve problems" by coming up with "policies" based on expertise. As a result of this ideology, we have "liberals" and "conservatives" who, while agreeing on what the problems are, disagree about the "solutions" to those "problems." These two camps fight it out and one of them, allegedly, goes away with a "win" and their policies are implemented.

But it is easy to see that this is not really what happens in the United States. A few examples will suffice here to illustrate my argument.

a. Liberals and conservatives more often agree on the "solutions" then might be apparent from their rhetoric. Consider Obama's policy in Afghanistan, which seems best described as a continuation of the policy of G.W. Bush. Consider also the allegedly knock-down, drag out debate over health insurance. Very early on the single payer option was jettisoned and this was agreed to by almost all liberals and conservatives.

b. Note what happens when someone recommends or suggests that the agreed-upon problems are not our real problems. Consider Ron Paul and his argument against the Federal Reserve system, or Ralph Nader and his numerous attempts to redefine the problems we are facing from tort reform to our foreign policy, or Andrew Bacevich and his argument that one of our most important "problems" is something called "the New American Militarism," to use a title of one of his books. These people are "ostracized" in one way or another. For example, the Republicans first laughed at Ron Paul in the debates and then excluded him altogether! The same thing happened to Nader in 2000 as some may remember. But also as Nader has pointed out, our debate is controlled by our "sound bite" media because to dissent from the agreed-upon issues one must speak in paragraphs not in sound bites. For example, if you think it wise to recast the abortion debate, it is insufficient to answer questions about your stance on abortion by saying that you are "pro-life" or "pro-choice." To provide an alternative to these two, supposedly exclusive options, one must explain oneself and, of course, our media does not have time for such explanations. You get 30 seconds to "communicate" which is, of course, impossible. But this is the way our debates are controlled, kept within narrow parameters and limited to those who speak in sound bites.

c. Note too that the "problems" almost never get "solved" or even that the supposedly victorious camp, whether liberal or conservative, gets to enact its proposed policies. For example, after the 2006 election in which the Democrats regained control of the Congress, an election which all took to be a referendum of continuing the war in Iraq, what happened that was new in Iraq? That's correct: NOTHING! And even the "solutions" we do get are neither "liberal" or "conservative" but rather a hybrid. What explains the appeal of these hybrids? They preserve the power and status of those currently in office and those currently in positions of prestige and profit outside of government. Corporations don't have to "buy" politicians because the heads of these corporations and our politicians share a common goal: To preserve their power, prestige, and status. To preserve the status quo. And if you don't think this is correct, just think how easy it would be for any politician to refuse a donation meant to secure his/her vote by going public with what the "buyer" was trying to do. Why doesn't this happen? Because both the "buyer" and the "seller" are colluding to advance their shared goal. The money doesn't really buy anything. It is just a means of demonstrating loyalty to the system.

So think about it and keep your eyes open. As Yogi Berra is alleged to have said once, "You can see a lot just by watching."

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