Sunday, January 14, 2007

Playing the Game

People are failing to appreciate the system that oppresses them and continue to believe—wrongly—that a politician such as Barak Obama is the solution. Obama is being called a "unifier," and people are swallowing this shit up. Obama smiles at us, and talks to us, and makes us feel all good inside, but we know nothing about his policies. And this is very intentional. This helps maintain the wide gap that exists between public opinion and public policy. Along with keeping the public out of the policy-making arena and leaving that business to elected elites, the American political system degenerates any possibility of making meaningful elections possible by engaging the public in a tense battle of voting for personalities and forgetting about the issues. So how do we narrow the gap and make the political system respond to our demands? Do we play the game and risk expending valuable energy and money on politicians or strike out in our own direction of local organization that can lead to powerful direct action? Do we need to take more personal risks in the spirit of civil rights activists from the 60s or turn of the century workers fighting for the right to organize, or do we sit back and wait for Obama, Clinton and Tester to “deliver us from evil”?

Just like Bill Clinton before him, people see this charming personality in Obama and hear his rhetoric of unifying a divided country, but the true divide exists not between conservatives and liberals, but between public policy and public opinion. Policies in this country are generally more conservative than the American public. A prime example is that Americans want universal—even socialized—health care by a wide margin (70%), but we can't get our politicians to even recognize this demand. When we hear politicians talk of “mandates” one is in danger of dying from laughter unless they say they have the mandate of the American people to institute universal health care.

Too many assumptions are being made that a woman (Hilary Clinton), an African-American (Barak Obama), or a Carhartt-wearing farmer (Jon Tester) are going to level the playing field, based deceptively on their roles as minorities or as members of the working class. However, we never hear their proposals, their policies, etc. We only hear about how they are going to unify a divided country, but they can’t put the slightest dent in unifying the rest of their fellow policy makers in D.C. with the majority of opinions held by Americans. Most Americans believe we shouldn’t be fighting a war in Iraq, that we should be respecting the Kyoto Protocol; paying teacher’s more money; protecting the border with Canada (not Mexico); engaging antagonistic countries through diplomacy not war; respecting the international rule of law; punishing crooked politicians the way they punish other criminals; investing in alternative energy in a meaningful way; reforming campaign finance laws; narrowing the gap between CEO and worker pay; etc.

An equivalent to an “activist” doesn’t exist on the Republican side of affairs; they are just called “the base.” That which would be considered the concerns of right-wing activists (were they to exist) are simply taken up by the Republican Party since they are in line with the American political spectrum that is shaped by the wealthy, property owning class. However, non-profit and activist causes from the left exist because of gaps in public policy and a system that fails to provide for its society. Therefore, activists must dig deeply to find politicians (even from the supposed “left”) to take up their causes, and since these causes from the left generally fall outside the accepted political spectrum a champion from within the political elite is hard to find. This reality results in social justice causes dividing their energy and money between their cause and a politician that they hope will risk mentioning it on the floor of congress. On the other hand, a right-winger simply gives their money to their cause through one easy-payment to the Republican Party.

Americans need to look at the system and critically assess their blind faith in the American political structure to bring about meaningful change. Included in this assessment should be the role modern marketing and money plays in shaping elections and political decisions. A deeper and more honest analysis would surely reveal the evidence and reason to demonstrate how social justice and the American economic and political system are irreconcilable. Depending on the coddling of our American founding fathers and “heroic” politicians has only served to perpetuate on-going violence and injustice. Making a sound decision to organize oneself locally in order to give a voice with power to public opinion is just a start. Consistent and creative organization that forgoes institutional dependency and seeks to maximize pressure on the system would serve two purposes: 1) reveal the illusion that American elections equals democracy, 2) that direct action and participatory democracy are the most effective means for meaningful social change.

Granted the question of protecting oneself, society, and the world from vile politicians such as Bush, McCain, et. al. by “playing the game” and helping to elect center-right democrats is a valid one. What do we risk if we fail to participate in elections, their campaigns, etc. while working on our genuine concerns? While working for social revolution how much energy and money do we give to helping elect more moderate conservatives such as Obama and Clinton? Giving/wasting donations on Tester, Obama and Clinton in order to toss out the neo-cons means donating to the system in lieu of donating to organizations that are seeking to change the system. How can we ensure that “playing the game” doesn’t become tantamount to perpetuating it? If you look at the places in the world with meaningful democracies such as Venezuela and Bolivia, one cannot ignore the roles extreme poverty, oppression, and violence have played in prepping that society for social revolution. What do we do with complacent and morally apathetic Americans? What will motivate them? Four more years of reactionary neo-con train wrecks? Or a “democratic” revolution that lulls us further back to sleep?


troutsky said...

These same liberals are comfortable talking about the "middle class" but less so when talking about the working class.They never mention "ruling class" or question the division of labor or property relations.As populists they want to see a little more wealth spread around but they don't question the nature of the system that generates that wealth.You also never hear them speak of themselves as "internationalists".This analysis requires them to stray to far from capitalist doctrine of "self interest" and nationalism.

On the other hand, anti-capitalists cannot isolate themselves from liberal democrats and the parlimentary process altogether but figure out some balance that allows us to organize through those efforts but not spend ALL our energy on them.

Aprilloper said...

“While working for social revolution how much energy and money do we give to helping elect more moderate conservatives such as Obama and Clinton? Giving/wasting donations on Tester, Obama and Clinton in order to toss out the neo-cons means donating to the system in lieu of donating to organizations that are seeking to change the system. How can we ensure that “playing the game” doesn’t become tantamount to perpetuating it?”

I find this comment interesting, I agree that we need to fundamentally change to the American political system. My question is why can't or rather shouldn't one do both, support local organizations that work for local change and also work towards getting more moderate and left-of-center representatives elected?

Don't grassroots election donations elevate to some degree the need for corporate sponsorship of elected officials? I am not saying that this changes the system in the short term, but when we as citizen are active on both fronts, then doesn't it help to move the process of change at a faster rate? Please don't think I am defending Clinton, either one, but it seems to me that when we have so called moderate presidents, then local changes seem more easily achieved. Moderate presidents and congress don't seem to make much difference in foreign policy but they do seem to make activist activities within the US more fruitful. Case in point labor activist have been calling for a raise in minimum wage for years just this week the new congress passed the first minimum wage increase since 1996. I would say that is a step in the right direction.

I sometimes wonder how you envision your call for “revolutionary change” playing out from where we are now to where you seem to want us to be, without use of the current political system to some extent? I would advocate that the one way to make the whole world a more friendly place for democratic and social change is to change the US from within, through the political process. Yes, I think that the very instrument of oppression, can be used to free us, we need to use every means available to us to bring about these changes as soon as possible.

Isn't one way to take back the political process is to physically take back the governing bodies ourselves. I have often wondered why more activist organizations are not also directly involved with local politics? Why don't we have sub-committees that attend local school board, city and county meetings and hearings, so that the only community voice they get to hear regularly is a socialist one. Why is it not to our benefit as activist to recruit candidates from within our organizations to run for the same offices? What would Missoula or Boise look like if the social justice and peace organizations, filled the ballots with candidates from our organizations, and left no seat unchallenged? Not just once but make it part of our approach to achieving the goals we say we are working towards. Then work toward taking over our state and national governing bodies. I really don't think that the political door only swings one way, if enough of us push we might just get it to swing in our favor.

I also wonder why playing the whole moderate game wouldn't work for us to enact the changes we seek, campaign as a moderate, legislate left. I wonder if it would even be noticed? The voting public doesn't seem to notice what is going on when it is the other way around.

Ché Bob said...

Moderates and/or "liberals" in Congress have had very little to do with the minimum wage increase. They are reacting, that is all. The minimum wage increase was put on the ballot by activists that put it there by collecting signatures, not by politicians that wanted it there.

I agree with you that socialist activists need to be running more often for public office, and in fact, more progressive candidates have been running for office in Missoula and for the state legislator. However, it seems to me that "true" change will come about not at the ballot box. Elected officials have never made the deep fundamental changes to our society, grassroots demands have. That means DIRECT ACTION (strikes, protests, civil disobediance, etc.). Does it appear to you that the "Democratic" Revolution from this last fall will end this war? No, because they are unwilling to take risks, recognizing that their "Daddy" is public relations campaigns. Marketing, not issues, get them elected. So once one considers the domain of information and recognizes the ability it has to spin information, a politician is left do to PR battles in order to sell their point to the public, instead of taking action.

Also, a closer reading of my blog doesn't completely dismiss "playing the game," but poses it as polemic to be debated. What is the appropriate balance? How do we deconstruct a system we are reinforcing? I would mostly like to see activists take a more critical approach to the American political system and try to create some critical distance between themselves and the system in order to evaluate the appropriate approach. Getting giddy about Jon Tester? Are we sure?

Renegade Eye said...

Obama = Lieberman politically.

Your post is what I've said for decades.

Ché Bob said...


You asked: "I sometimes wonder how you envision your call for “revolutionary change” playing out from where we are now to where you seem to want us to be, without use of the current political system to some extent?"

To which I say: I envision it happening before we say it's "too late." I see us taking measures into our own hands today, rather than tomorrow. I see us taking actions today that increase the cost for oppressive institutions to continue to oppress. This means direct action, organize, educate, etc. and leave the elections to the marketers. Let the capitalist system consume itself to the point of revolution, but in the meantime we should be organizing and educating for social revolution.

I've posted a blog before about how we can resist corporate capitalism through local organization. I think that especially since this is MLK Jr. week we need to be reminded that we cannot sit back and play moderate games while the world burns.

Martin Luther King Jr. said:

"We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The "tide in the affairs of men" does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out deperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on..." We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.

We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world -- a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter -- but beautiful -- struggle for a new world. This is the callling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history."

troutsky said...

Che Bob hits the nail on the head when he says "let the capitalist system consume itself". The belief that capitalism is not "the end of history" is not built on sentimental faith but on careful analysis of it's internal contradictions and the inevitable antagonisms which spring from these.This does not mean we self assuredley bide our time waiting for the crisis.We must actively engage on a number of levels, including local elections,but not with the naive hope we will elect in socialism but in order to educate and organize around local issues.

Because development is so uneven our situation here is much different than that of the Bolivarian Revolution,where constitutional and electoral change HAS been radical but even there you can see where they are running up against obstacles, such as the terrible necessity for investment.

Electoral politics under capitalism, at any level, requires compromise with capitalists or you are denied entry.Each candidate must water down his views to gain permission to enter.Each successful instance of reform through formal democracy has only brought on a stronger backlash,as when the civil rights era paved the way for Reagonomics.Even in a Missoula school board election any mention of increased public funding would incur the wrath of the anti-gov/ pro-church right.

A politician at any level can run on populist issues,can appeal to the poor and unemployed and advocate a re-distribution of wealth but they cannot talk of replacing the wealth creating system itself.They can talk about unfair trade and destructive wars but they can't talk of imperialism, and actually hope to get elected.Our job is to shatter pre-conceptions and introduce a new vision.A strategy for dividing your energy and resources between reform and revolution is key.

LeftyHenry said...

good post, Obama is nothing really new.

John in Montana said...

Trout said: "A politician at any level can run on populist issues, can appeal to the poor and unemployed and advocate a re-distribution of wealth but they cannot talk of replacing the wealth creating system itself."

Obama's lofty rhetoric certainly leaves one wondering where the substance is, which lends credence to your comment. On the other hand - did you hear Bernie Sanders on Democracy Now talking about corporate media reform? He is giving me a bit of hope. He is talking about fundamentally changing the system.

To change gears, I'm really turned off by campaign finance. What if I really like Che's ideas and he wants to run for U.S. Senator. Great - the only problem is where is he going to get the money to run a campaign. The political process is run by corporations with the mega wealthy as their pawns. Can we take back the electoral system when it has been determined that corporations, a legal fiction, enjoy all the fundamental rights included in the bill of rights such as free speech. I think of a democratic system as one that allows anyone to run for any office - not just the rich. So to that end I think the current system is defunct. How are you going to get a politician to say and follow through on a promise that if elected they will fundamentally change the system to allow for greater citizen participation? Even if one Senator believes the system should be changed, all the others, liberals and conservatives alike, have no reason to change the paradigm. It keeps them in power. And so to me it doesn't matter what label you tag yourself with at the national level, because more than likely you are still just a political pawn for corporations. I suppose there are a handful of exceptions in small states.

Ché Bob said...


The system is defunct and seriously deficient as far as democracy goes. Effective campaign reform that would result in horizontal/participatory democracy seems highly unlikely. Those in charge that would have be in charge of changing the system are benefitting too greatly and far too entrenched to be charged with the duty of democractic reform. There is a great deal of disdain for democratic practices in Washington since it clashes with most elite business interests.

Bernie Sanders did sound funny, and that is because he is not a typical politician; as you mentioned there are always exceptions.