About “realistic” politics

Published online 25 April 2012.

It has been brought to my attention, recently, that a group called the “realistrati” has been formed, and that one of their members has posted a diary in that name as well.  (I’m sure that any resemblance to the “frustrati” group as begun by that icky Cassiodorus guy is without doubt coincidental.)  The primary purposes of this group are laid out in the diary:

1.  Re-elect President Obama
2. Take back the House
3. Strengthen the Senate majority
4. Increase Democratic representation at all levels of government

I presume, moreover, that the purpose of naming this group the “Realistrati” is to give the impression that this is a “realistic” approach to politics.

That is the reason behind our name.  We are grounded in reality.

And, just to clarify here, let’s take a look at a dictionary definition of “realistic”:

interested in, concerned with, or based on what is real or practical: a realistic estimate of costs; a realistic planner.

and then you have this term borrowed from German: “realpolitik“:

politics based on practical and material factors rather than on theoretical or ethical objectives

OK, this is probably too much information already.  And I do not dispute the “realistic” qualities of the “realistrati” in the immediate political realities to which they respond.  But let me make ten points about “realistic” politics as such, which I think will broaden the discussion far beyond what the “realistrati” have in mind.  For each paragraph, I have boldfaced the main idea, to make my points easier to skim.  To wit:1) The idea of “realistic” politics does not say anything about a possible choice between different political objectives.  Being realistic means “interested in, concerned with, or based on what is real or practical” — it specifies no single political objective that one need be “realistic” about achieving.  So I can be realistic, and at the same time stand for anything I want.

2) The “realistrati” want to do two things: re-elect Obama and elect more Democrats.  The applicable slogan here is “more Democrats,” not “more and better Democrats.”  Thus we have a specific political objective conducive to what David Mizner calls “Rubinism,” or what I’ve been calling “corporate conservatism,” the ideology of the Obama administration.  As Mizner himself suggests in that diary, the Obama administration’s Rubinite notions of governance are themselves not entirely realistic.  It isn’t really all that realistic to protect corporate profits in an era of declining global growth, for instance.

3) A lot of the sort of politicking that is discussed as “realistic” is work that depends upon money.  To be sure, personalities are important in electoral campaigns, and political experience counts for a lot.  But the big enabler is money.  Big pools of money make a campaign “realistic” because at this time there’s no social movement afoot that can make a candidate “realistic” through solidarity — so (under such conditions) if the people were in favor of a particular candidate, everyone would donate resources of some sort in lieu of money because nobody who supported that candidate could afford to donate money.  So Obama and Romney appear as “realistic” Presidential candidates this year because they are taking in large amounts of money, as befits an economic system that requires it.  Their agendas, then, are going to be the agendas of people with money.  Rubinism, for instance, is an ideology based on a “consensus” between the owners of capital, who have the real power and make the real decisions, and the people as a whole, who need to be sufficiently placated to feel that they have some sort of stake in the existing system.  This, after all, is the rhetorical intent of the sites linked on the “Realistrati” webpage — the top 50 accomplishments, for instance, or the Obama Achievements Center page. They give the impression of making the government appear as a munificent charity even as it carries out its corporate mission.

4) As I’ve pointed out in this diary, and in this diary and this diary, corporate conservatism (or Rubinism) of the Obama variety implies a whole host of specific positions on issues.  In response to these positions, one can adopt the standard “I criticize Obama but I support him” pose, but only the last half of that pose counts as “realistic.”  Realism, then, contributes to a number of conservative policy outcomes.

5) In the present era, the Federal government today is contested by two conservative hegemonic interests: a) the “antipublic conservatives,” who want to do away with public consciousness of “being a public” in favor of religious and/or individualist conceptions of ideological conformism, and b) the “corporate conservatives,” who favor throwing a few bones to the working class to preserve the steady trajectory of corporate domination over the economy and the political infrastructure.  These are not the only possible hegemonic interests, nor are they going to remain in power indefinitely. One could, then, imagine a “third interest” emerging at some point in response to unmet needs for social change.  I’m not going to say when, but all great awakenings must have a time of preparation.

6) Thus one can be completely contrary to some of the Obama administration’s positions while at the same time being realistic.  Moreover, in doing so, one would not necessarily have to support the hegemonic influence of Republicans over government, although one could be a “realistic Republican” as well.  One could organize a “third interest” (perhaps progressive or radical) that isn’t captured by either (conservative) positions.

7) The fact that such a “third interest” is not (as of yet) organized politically in America presents a rather daunting practical problem, but one which it isn’t unrealistic to overcome.  There are plenty of issues in which the public will is ignored by both versions of conservatism (as Noam Chomsky has observed), and what’s required is that there be what Gramsci called a “historic bloc” to represent the public will in that dimension.  Obviously one of the main stumbling points to the realization of that vision is the problem of disconnecting “realistic” politics from the dependence upon money.  The top 1% already have two conservative interests in their favor — they won’t need a third one.

8) In organizing for a “third interest,” one need not expect victory in the next election or elections.  Since, as I’ve suggested above, elections in America are dependent upon money, it might be at times harmful to the “third interest” to stake everything on a Presidential campaign, as one might observe in the unsuccessful Presidential candidacies of Ralph Nader.  All I feel I can say at this point is that conservatism is fatally flawed in its relation to the future, as the trajectory of capitalist development (now in its “accumulation of catastrophe” stage) will continually thwart conservative desires to retain the (corporate) prosperity of the present moment or to regress to imagined idyllic states of past existence.  I therefore expect that conservatism’s inadequacies will eventually make it irrelevant.  In light of this, realistic planning, persistence in the face of challenges, and conviction in the face of doubt, would be requirements of organizing for a “third interest.”

9) I have thus outlined a realistic path to power that does not conform to that path outlined by the “realistrati.”  The question at hand is one of “realistic” politics.  Is it realistic politics to have a strategy for dealing with global warming that is a sop to natural gas interests, or a strategy for “education reform” that cheapens education for corporate interests, or a strategy for economic stability that  continually props up an unstable economic system?  Maybe it looks good in the short term to support people whose policies are backed by money but which lack a long-term vision.  Is that what counts as “realism” today?

10) I am not the person to organize the path to power suggested above.  I’m (as I believe I’ve shown over 250+ diaries here) a meaningful reporter and analyst.  Other people are going to have to pick up the numerous roles which will be necessary to form a historic bloc.  Certainly the Occupy movement has gone some distance in preparing the ground for such a historic bloc — but the Occupy movement needs to continue on more solid ground than it has continued so far.  At any rate, if any of you feels the least bit of interest in taking the frame of “realistic” politics away from the conservatives who possess it today, or if you merely wish to complain that conservatism will last forever and that I’m wrong on everything, feel free to drop by and comment on this diary.

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