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June 05, 2011


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You meant "hard to overstate" I assume.

One thing I'll say about the impending debt ceiling disaster: The GOP will own this one. They've been loudly proclaiming for weeks now that they won't raise it (without absurd concessions), consequences be damned. They haven't been their usual mealy-mouthed selves about this one, and I'm pretty sure it's burned an impression into all but the dullest citizens of this great nation* of ours. When everything goes to hell in a handbasket, they won't be pulling a Houdini to evade the blame.


low-tech cyclist

But, of course, in many ways the public has earned this betrayal through its own ignorance and apathy -- its own greed and misguided sense of the world.

While I very strongly believe in personal responsibility at the personal, individual level, I don't think you can expect people in large numbers to be anything but what they are.

I think the public can do a good job of making the right choice about matters they at least somewhat understand when they are given a clear choice. Otherwise, the best you can do is figure out how to rally your own troops in numbers greater than theirs.

Unfortunately, the Dems managed to fail on both counts in the last cycle. And this time, even making token efforts at playing the GOP's deficit reduction game would have sufficed to muddy the waters - and instead, they're fully invested in that game.

As you say, they really need to completely change course, to say the deficit can wait until people are back to work, and propose measures that would do that. WPA, infrastructure, whatever - but they need to go big, and propose plans to put literally millions of people to work.

I'd love to be pleasantly surprised and see the Dems take this course and slug it out, toe to toe, with the GOP in every possible forum. But it would be one hell of a surprise.

Which is why it all comes back to: how do we change the Democratic Party into something that genuinely gives a shit about working people? Or in these depressing times, a party that gives a shit about people who'd very much like to work, but there are no jobs for them?

Sir Charles

l-t c,

Thanks. It's fixed now -- the dangers of writing in the middle of the night.

Sarcasm is well deserved here -- but of course our always excellent madia have clearly laid out to the public the absurdity of the GOP's position.


You are right to some degree. Still, at some point the citizenry have to own what they themselves allow. A little more engagement by the public in these matters -- even given the woeful state of the media -- would have been helpful. Instead we got a Republican landslide fueled by apathetic youngsters and misinformed oldsters.

kathy a.

i think you make a good point about the media. most people do not have the time to become independently informed about the range of issues, to explore a variety of different sources of information and then analyze them.

look at the way news is commonly framed. you've got headlines saying obama's going to take a hit because of the jobless numbers, headlines calling just about everything "a critical test for obama." then you've got the "fair and balanced" analysis, giving equal or greater time to the nonsense spit out by pundits and GOP wannabes. this is the spin people are hearing, as they rush through their real lives.

so yes, i think the administration and the democrats need to be making more noise about the importance of these issues, about the betrayal of citizen interests.

kathy a.

here's an interesting discussion of medicare, in response to huntsman's defense of ryan's plan.

big bad wolf

morello was made to be a guitarist for bruce---he's much more eloquent with his hands and bruce's words than he ever is with his own words.

i think this version of tom joad is an excellent metaphor for obama's problem. the song came out on an acoustic album, which i thought was largely unsuccessful because, while the songs had many good-to-excellent lyrics, they had no life. springsteen sang in what i guess he imagined was some guthrie homage or neo-realistic voice, but, to me, the album simply seemed tuneless and draining. he went out on a solo tour in support of the album. on tour, he repeatedly shushed his audiences so they could hear his important tales and thoughts as he droned them.

in 1999, bruce got back together with his band and playing the songs with people instead of at people enlivened the songs. the people became more real than the careful drawing and slow declamation of the album ever allowed them to be. tom joad and youngstown in particular transformed into songs of people beaten way down but not finished; people who persisted; people who existed, not just to be murmured about by upscale liberal audiences during the breaks when bruce the teacher allowed them to speak.

and so, i think, with obama. he's smart and eloquent, but he tells us, he rarely shows us, and he even more rarely makes us feel as if he gets us as suffering people, as opposed to stock, if well-drawn, figures in speech or a policy. there is life in explaining policy projects that might create jobs; there is life in explaining why some should pay more; there is life in being aspirational, of dreaming, of trying, or allowing people to dream and strive. it need not be dry and lecturing. obama in 2008 knew this, but he seems to have forgotten it, as bruce, who was more aware of the power of energetic dreaming and tale-telling, forgot it. he needs to remember it. he needs to get his band back. if only that were as simple politically as musically

Joe S

Sir C, I think you're ignoring a number of important and interrelated factors in this post. Most importantly: (1) experience; (2) identity;(3) social organization; and (4)intellectual climate. It's important to note that the type of active statist response isn't going on in Europe or much of the global South right now, and it has always been an effort to maintain a statist response in Japan. Moreover, even in China (the most statist economy in the world) you aren't seeing the government becoming more statist.

One of the main reasons for this is the perceived failures of the state intervention in industrialized economies in the 1960's, 1970's, and 1980's. Whether true or not, people who grew up in this period don't see activist intervention in an economy as a positive. The phenomena they witnessed in their lifetimes led them to be suspicious of state intervention.

Related is the intellectual framework in which these decisions are being made. Economists and public policy specialists the world over are not endorsing stimulus the way you think they would. Krugman, DeLong, et allis seem to be in a minority and are not in positions of power. Even people like Summers who agree with Krugman don't say so when they are in power.

Third is the political economy. Everything in this society (and to a greater or lesser extent, other industrialized societies) favors conservative interpretations of the world. Left leaning centers of intellectual ferment have been largely cordoned from the centers of real power (no sociologists or anthropologists are on the chat shows, but economists are). Moreover, organizations like unions have been largely eviscerated, and the forces of movement conservatism are in process of finishing off the remainder of organized labor in this country. In a place like China, organized labor has been completely subsumed into a state apparatus dedicated to expanding capitalist production. Progressive social movements are still in their infancy.

Which brings me to my final point- one of identity. You have tended to discount identity as important and even considered identity politics as a dangerous and foolish diversion. However, to establish any type of left-solidarity (which is a necessary component to challenging the existing political economy) needs to wrestle with the problems of identity. Regardless of what you or I may wish, solidarity requires people to see each other as relative equals. There's no solidarity without empathy or sympathy. To obtain solidarity, you need egality-- more than formal equality-- people seeing each other as people and not others.

Without solidarity, there's no effective way to challenge the existing political economy from a left direction. It's too easy for the powers-that-be to divide and buy off disgruntled groups. Which is why I think there's hope in the next generation in this country at least. There's the possibility of solidarity among racial and ethnic groups and between the genders-- because a big chunk of younger people have started seeing one another as others.

Most importantly, solidarity can lead us to building the right social organizations which can lead us to filter information and see the world in a better way for everyone. With the right organizations we can affect the intellectual climate and change the conventional wisdom of the populace to give us room for better public policy outcomes. Lacking the possibility of solidarity, we're left with posts like this one-- cursing the blind for being blind.

First and foremost, everyone after the mid-1

kathy a.

lot to chew on there, joe. not ready for a full response, but i think i paragraph 6, you mean there is a possibility of solidarity among young people because they have started seeing one another as "people," not "others." and i agree with that.

Joe S

Yep, you're right. Should read: ". . .have started seeing one another as people and not others."

big bad wolf

joe s., i think you make some interesting points, but i am not convinced of your identity point, though i share your optimism for the future precisely because, as you say, the young seem to see each other as people. i am not sure, however, that that relative harmony and potential solidarity is because of identity politics or despite it. that is, i wonder if unions as a force for solidarity, which started declining 35 years ago, could have been more immediately supplemented or replaced by an economic solidarity if the left, including academics, had not spent so much time defining groups as groups and highlighting and embracing difference or oppression narratives. i am in no way denying the very real problems we have, but teaching a generation of college kids to problemitize and to polish their oppression-detecting skills was perhaps not as useful as teaching them to organize workers or run campaigns.

for all that the late 60s and early 70s get a rap as wild and destablizing, i think there was a real sense in people that things could and had changed---the civil rights movement, the voting rights bill, the ending of a war, the cleaning up the air and water, and the sending off of a corrupt president---and the young congress of 74 could have been poised to do good things with a democractic president, even in tough times. and the intellectual left went instead for identity politics. i'm not saying that killed the dems or liberalism, but it sure didn't help in my opinion. i suppose one can rationalize spending 30 years on identity politics, by pointing to the young, but i am not at all sure that the young wouldn't be at this point anyway, that the same cultural results couldn't have been attained by working through on the fly in an economic solidarity mode, rather than working out the theory and implications and then saying that the working out was a prerequisite to the potential we see now. i think this in large part from experience---most all of the northerners of my age (50) that i know (admittedly a wildly skewed sample) are there with the young, at the very least intellectually in seeing everyone as equal. the kids are a little looser and friendlier, i don't dispute, but my cohort got there from the new deal heritage and the 60s and living day to day in our world and i suspect that the young people today got there from living in their world, not from the academy. one can say that their world including identity politics, but i don't think one can say that identity politics necessarily improved their world. it may be that the intellectual left is excusing itself by giving itself credit it doesn't deserve for the potential we now discern.

kathy a.

i'm not quite sure what you both mean by identity politics or identity. BBW, i think you are both talking that whatever-it-is up and down, so that's a little confusing, too.

if identity politics means opposing the idea that the only identity that counts is WASP heterosexual advantaged male -- still the default setting for who counts -- we're 30-40 years into that struggle, and that is still the default normal.

i do not think that younger people would tend to see "others" as human without a whole lot of work by people who didn't used to count much at all -- anyone of color, women, people of different or no religious persuasion, people of different ethnic backgrounds. nor do i think this would have happened without serious progress on civil rights in various arenas.

economic equity has not followed the same trajectory as the move toward social equity; economic inequality has grown during these last decades. we need ways to explain that more clearly.

Sir Charles


I totally agree with you on your critique of the album "The Ghost of Tom Joad." I think Springsteen envisioned it as another Nebraska -- or maybe that was me -- but for some reason it fell flat -- the songwriting wasn't as sharp, the format felt a bit rote, and it just wasn't as audacious as Nebraska felt sitting there in 1982. What brought me back to this song was hearing Rage Against the Machine do it and I quite loved what they did with it. And then I heard this version, which seems to me to work perfectly. Springsteen seems totally energized by working with Morello and even striving to match him a bit on the leads.

I also agree that Morello's hands are more eloquent that his voice or his own writing. Interestingly, in the Bob Dylan's 70th birthday issue of Rolling Stone, Morello has the cajones to agree with the idea of Dylan having sold out in the mid-60s by leaving protest music behind. It seemed an audacious, albeit totally wrong-headed critique. But I suspect that is why he may be a limited talent. But the guitar can sometimes say that which cannot otherwise be said.


I think bbw covered pretty much what I would say in response to your critique. I actually think identity politics was pretty damanging to the left of the 1970s --along with a host of other things -- and was a detriment to solidarity.

Having said that though, I want to be clear that I do not think, as some folks on the more traditional social democratic left felt, that things like gay rights or abortion rights should take a back seat to economic inequality. Although I think you and I have had some slight disagreements about tactics and the role of the academy in the left, I am totally with you in the belief that inequality based on gender, sexual preference, race, cannot be tolerated and that issues pertaining to these fundamtnal issues of equality cannot be treated as subsidiary issues.

I believe I've posted many times on the idea of abortion rights as an absolute core belief for the left.

Sir Charles


I think what bbw and I are referring to as identity politics would be associated with academic tendencies that arose in the 1970s and emphasized the primacy of certain characteristics of race, gender, and sexual preference in politics. There were good reasons for doing so and this led to things like women's studies, African-American studies, and somewhat later, what may be fairly described I think as queer studies.

The problem with this as I see it is that it tended to emphasize difference in a way that eroded or precluded solidarity across certain lines and, in particular, tended to paint white men generally as privileged to the degree that no common cause could be made with them. In at least some versions of this world, white men, no matter how modest their positions, or how good their intentions, were essentially unreliable.

I think that this tendency has been very unhealthy for social democratic politics and organized labor. It has also been a factor -- but only a factor -- in helping to foster a white male non-unionized working-class, who have become in many respects the bedrock constituency of the Republican Party.

These things may have been inevitable given where the culture was in 1972. But I don't think it had to be that way.

At any rate, it may well be that in a round about way we've gotten to the point where solidarity may again be possible because these cultural divideshave faded a bit and because our opponents are absolutely destroying the working class, despite it being often a pretty Republican constituency.

kathy a.

hmm. i don't think i agree. not that i'm an expert or anything.

yes, there have been some exclusionary voices in all of those movements -- those who thought or think no common ground can be found.

but i think those few, more radical voices were exploited by those who hate the idea of "others" participating in society -- that there was and continues to be a concerted effort to make people afraid of these others. that is not the fault of those seeking equality, equity, fairness, but of the fearmongers who oppose them.

again, i'm no expert, but in my experience people learn to see the "other" as "human," and then find common ground, when they come to know those others and talk about their common issues. that happens with school and college students; it happens with co-workers; it happens with neighbors, or people at the church, or in the supermarket.

yes, i think there is an opportunity for solidarity right now. working class folks, young people, old people, family members of any of the above, pretty much everyone below the level of the really powerful and privileged -- there is a lot of common ground on how things are not serving our collective interests.

Sir Charles


I think it was a very complex dynamic and I am by no means suggesting that the identity politics group was the most powerful voice in that dynamic. I would suggest, however, that as someone who came of age in the late 1970s and early 1980s, that the union-oriented, social democratic critique of society was viewed as somewhat quaint in many of these quarters and was viewed as hopelessly reactionary in others.

My union-oriented politics were rather lonely at a very liberal, liberal arts university circa 1980. The other forms of leftist thought were deemed much more au courant and relevant at that point.

Even back then I tended to feel the primacy of economics in politics. Now I think there are other legitimate approaches to these issues, ones based on other concerns regarding equality and dignity and I don't mean to minimize those -- I just believe that solidarity is the best route to economic justice and dignity and that transcending identity politics is a better approach to creating that kind of solidarity.

kathy a.

whooo, boy, oddjob. the ad's a little off point for me -- i don't despise ayn rand because she hated religion, but because her idea of "morality" is anything but that. but still, it is sweet to hear her words in her voice, and hear her acolytes lining up with praise.

kathy a.

is this an open thread? oh, well, this is loosely related. sarah palin defending her take on paul revere's ride, which is all kinds of awesomely bizarre, strange, and incorrect. you know she's not a serious candidate when the fox host is laughing at her.

h/t JMG.

MR Bill

If you read nothing else on 'Weingergate' read this..

The Angry Black Lady nail it: the media frenzy has the net effect of stopping coverage of Cong. Weiner's attempt to get Clarence Thomas to recuse himself on HCA and other items Ginny Thomas has lobbied on...
Sorry I've been busy: Greg B. is doing chemo, and suffering, Timmy has had several major seizures, and I have work, although the heat is killing..

big bad wolf

oddjob, that ad it great!

Joe S

Okay, last night my long comment got eaten after I spent a long time writing it in between carrying my eight week old. After I sobbed at the keyboard last night, I went to sleep. So I'm going to cut this into a couple of pieces. It will be pruplike in length, but whatever.

First, the key to any understanding of social progress from the left has to start with the idea that people live in a social and historical fabric which they're raised. The values, perceptions, how people emphasize what's important in the world is socially imposed and defined and, most importantly, changes through history.

That change can come from a number of factors-- from technological and environmental change to new ideas coming on to the scene.

Joe S

From a left perspective, the struggle has always been to combat subordination and the hierarchies which exist to enforce that subordination. That subordination and the hierarchies which enforce the subordination and oppression changes based upon the social and historical circumstances of the time (which makes the Left's tactics and challenges different with each generation.

However, what remains relatively constant is the "master-slave dialectic." Oppressed people in every generation and society recognize the social underpinnings of their subordination and their consciousness and understanding of the world changes as a result of that insight. That change in consciousness drives social change as people politically become active in an effort to change their surroundings and the social fabric which enforces the injustice of their subordination.

Joe S

The thing is (and here is my fundamental disagreement with bbw and Sir C), is that elites, even well meaning left elites, can't exercise overriding control over the course of the master-slave dialectic. We can, at most, throw out ideas which may or may not resonate with the populace, and possibly, aid in achieving the social transformations which bubble up from the grassroots.

In the present case, that's why I don't think "the Left" generally or the Democratic establishment could have directed the social forces towards economic egality and away from the identity politics and rights based liberalism of the 1970's, 1980's and 1990's.

Joe S

The labor movement and the solutions enacted over the course of the first half of the Twentieth Century here and in Europe was a response to the subordination caused by industrial capitalism. Workers banded together into a social movement in reaction to the fact that a small capitalist minority was taking the value that the working class created by mixing its labor with natural resources.

People of color oppressed in the largely preindustrial South and West (and in the European colonies) and/or people of color which were, for the most part, excluded from the industries of the North, were not going to see subordination in the same way as the working classes of industrial Europe and North America.

Women were not going to be directed to the solutions provided by the labor movement when the sources of women's oppression and subordination did not arise out of the inequities of national industrial capitalism. Women's oppression arose out of legal structures which excluded them from the workplace and inequality in the family structure.

The felt responses of women and people of color to their specific experiences of subordination led to a different set of solutions and a different project of social change than the working classes of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century. To attempt to do so is an attempt to control the vicissitudes of the master-slave dialectic. To try to do that is a hopeless task.

Joe S

Finally, I'd point Sir C and bbw to Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man, specifically the chapters where the protagonist unsuccessfully tried to fit into the Communist Party. The communist party's attempts to assimilate the African American community without working through the subordination arising from the color line failed in the book-- and it would fail in real life.

Sir Charles


Kudos for struggling through that after losing a comment. Trust me I know the feeling of wanting to weep into the keyboard. I've lost a couple of posts over the years -- long posts at that -- and really contemplated just smashing my laptop to bits.

I think that there is certainly validity to what you say but I think it is worth noting that blacks and women did, however imperfectly, find their voices in the union movement and exercise power and autonomy in that realm. The classic example would be A. Phillip Randolph, the long time head of the Sleeping Car Porters Union, who was the orginator of the idea of a march on Washington and threatened FDR with such a march until FDR agreed to issue an executive order barring racial discrimination in war-related industries. (But not the armed forces.)

Randolph was a genuine man of the left and self-described socialist. The sleeping car porters union were extremely important in helping to organize the nascent civil rights movement in the south in the 1950s.

Blacks were a pretty significant presence in the industries of the north, particularly in Chicago and Detroit -- many became members of the United Auto workers and the United Steelworkers.

I've read "The Invisible Man" and certainly appreciated Ellison's critique, but again would note that socialists like Randolf and Bayard Rustin (also a gay man) were driving intellectual forces behind the civil rights movement.


I think Mr. Upstate might have been a family values guy.

Confirmed. Ergo he was a hypocrite whereas Weiner was merely a fool (although Weiner fucking should have known better, given his prominence and the nature of it).




big bad wolf

joe, congratulations on the baby.

i don't believe, and i don't think SC believes, that elites can exercise control over the master-slave dialectic. my points were that i think that the intellectual/academic focus on identity politics was not the best use of the resources that intellectuals and academics have and that i am skeptical of whether that focus had useful effects and particularly of claims that the advances we have made can be attributed to that focus. in fact, i'd argue that the intellectual/academic influence was pernicious, not helpful.

i think this because i dislike the teaching of the use of the "tools" of identity politics---difference, othering, and oppression-finding. i think it was useful to identify and describe identity politics and othering. to do so had descriptive value and some prescriptive value---if one recognizes and understands a thing one may deal with it better and change one's behavior. but the ideas got loose and we spent far too much time and effort teaching bright young people, who may not be the grassroots, but who may be the lawyers, organizers, spokespersons, or bloggers advancing the positions or narrative of the grassroots, to read situations to find oppresssion and othering. the problem i see with that is that the diagnosis of these ills in non-falsifiable. to deny, in whole or in part, the reading is to confirm it in the eyes of the diagnostician. this confirmation bias made the teaching and use of these tools pernicious to solidarity in two ways, i think. first, the individaul, aggressive use of oppression critiques weakened existing bonds by bringing in criticisms that did not allow for refutation (in this way very like the communist party) or the reality of flawed human individuals and groups. it shuts down discussion, rather than opening it up. it really became sort of a parlor game---watch me prove you are oppressive, racist, sexist, etc. yes, it can be done, but is it serving any purpose to show one's superior skill at interpreting social situations to find oppression? second, i think that the individual, aggresive use of nonfalsifiable oppression critiques had a negative effect on the capacity to form new solidarity. if one is constantly finding oppression from those around them, one's capacity for trusting and working together is, i think, lessened. that the intellectuals, academics, students, and bloggers engaging in these were largely fairly well-off people with platforms did little to help the grassroots and may very well have fostered resentments that made it more difficult for grassroots progress to occur.

theory is fine. it is sometimes even useful, and it can work, as you say, to throw some ideas out there that might reesonate or help achieve. in the case of the intellectual/academic involvement with identity politics, however, i think, on the whole, that the intellectuals and academics were less than helpful, largely because they tried to take too large a role in shaping the nature of the working through of subordination of groups that many of them, and the students they trained, did not belong to. to go all the way back to the beginning, i am saying not that elites should have imposed a strategy, but that, in trying to foster an active involvement in implementing identity politics and difference theories, intellectuals and academics may have misdirected energies that many of their students could have spent better elsewhere.

Sir Charles


Thanks. You have explained with far more rigor my concerns with what identity politics wrought.

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