“Moderate” memes

Published online 17 June 2009.

This diary is prompted by Muskegon Critic’s “Yes, I Defend Obama” diary of Tuesday, and to a certain extent Budhydharma’s diary of that day and today’s diary about “the honeymoon.”  Here I am interested in how “moderate” memes work, as many of them seem unrelated to the concrete situations in which they are deployed.  My diary will quote a number of “moderate” memes as they have been used in commentary on DailyKos.com, and comment upon these quotes with the hopes of arriving at some productive criticism of our political discourse.


The context of the present is largely determined by history.  History, in turn, is largely determined by a force which I, following Kees van der Pijl, call “capitalist discipline.”  Capitalist discipline is best thought of as a concept of control — it binds the individual to the economic system which is capitalism.

Capitalism, meanwhile, must expand.  The need for capitalist expansion is programmed into the system — if everyone is to do better in the future, if there is to be “progress,” if everyone is to be able to pay off the interest on their loans, then there must be an expanding capitalist system.  What happens, however, when the expanding capitalist system runs up against a finite plane Earth, is not predictable.  We are approaching that point now.

Capitalism is also implicated in our systems of government.  Our government would not last a day without a smoothly-functioning economic system — thus the government’s function in this era is largely tied up in protecting that system.  And protecting that system usually means protecting the privileges of its owning-class elites — given that, absent an organized working class,  they have the most power, individually and as a class, to monkeywrench the system.  This is especially so in the current phase of operation, in which the system is sadly incapable of satisfying the gnawing hunger for profits at its corporate core.

Meanwhile you’ve got a screwed-up health delivery system, a military-industrial complex that won’t stop sucking the life out of the economy, an out-of-control abrupt climate change situation, and so on.  Paul Street opines about this situation that it is a “teachable moment for the Left.”  (Hat tip to Edger over on Docudharma for pointing this article out.)

Telling in Street’s summary of the existing political situation is his paragraph on the existing situation of Obama and the Left:

As John Judis argued in the centrist journal The New Republic last February, “here is not a popular left movement that is agitating for him (Obama) to go well beyond where he would even ideally like to go. Sure,” Judis wrote, “there are leftwing intellectuals like Paul Krugman beating the drums for nationalizing the banks and for a $1 trillion-plus stimulus. But I am not referring to intellectuals, but to movements that stir up trouble among voters and get people really angry. Instead, what exists of a popular left is either incapable of action or in Obama’s pocket.” By Judis’ analysis, the U.S. labor movement and groups like “Moveon.Org” repeat the same “mistake that political groups often make: subordinating their concern about issues to their support for the party and its leading politician.” [28]

OK, that’s Paul Street, who thinks about socialism that:

A period of sharp “free market” (actually state-capitalist) failure and re-legitimized government intervention in which 20 percent of the adult population (including a third of the adults under 30) now choose “socialism” over capitalism ought to be a ripe educational instance for any Left worth its salt.  Now is a very useful and opportune moment for U.S. radicals to clarify the differences between (a) socialism defined (weakly and stupidly) as state intervention and conducted as the top-down preservation of corporate-managerial prerogative and (b) socialism defined as democratic planning and workers’ and citizens’ control to be struggled for from below. Obama’s “socialist” state interventions to sustain and indeed further the concentration of wealth and power ought to be a teachable moment on what “socialism” really is and why it should be fought for by ordinary working people.

So what about these “centrists”?  What are they saying about this supposedly-existing “Left” which supposedly complains so much about Obama?



Now here’s where I get really mean.

The following are a number of quotes from recent DKos diaries which exhibit what I would call “moderate” memes.  The people who wrote these quotes may or may not be “moderates” — nevertheless what they’ve said deserves a response.  I have omitted names to protect the guilty.

Rage over a single issue is neither conducive or productive. There are numerous issues on the table all at once. Everything can’t be solved in a day.

The proliferation of “issues” is doubtless connected to the rather severe degree to which the “Washington Consensus” has made government into its handmaiden.  Once again, see Paul Street’s critique of Obama’s actions.

The left needs to grow up, let’s give Obama at least 2 years to fix some shit, please!

On the other hand, impatience is a great motivator.  If I though I could just “give Obama at least 2 years to fix some shit,” I wouldn’t be as motivated as I am now.  The question at hand for the impatient is not one of whether or not to be impatient.  It is one of whether or not there is anything effective to do with one’s impatience.

So, when I see people threatening to leave and take their ball/bat and go home, in a way I say ‘let ’em’.  If budhy wants to start his own party and attempt to elect a candidate that serves his needs, then I think that’s fantastic and completely what America is all about.  But that, too, will take time (years!) to bring about – time that budhy doesn’t seem to think he has (morally speaking) – so what option is he left with but to castigate, be active and issue threats to leave.

Here’s a critique of Budhydharma’s rhetorical style, with which I do not always agree.  But I will say this.  Often the defense of corporate plutocracy goes along these lines: “If you don’t like their way of doing business, start one of your own!”  As if we all had the resources for such a thing.  Sometimes, however, realism demands that we actually do start something of our own — not necessarily as a way of challenging the Big Boys, but because we will need some kind of organization-in-reserve for the time when our day will come, because everyone will be able to see and hear and feel that the predicted trainwreck has actually come.

Perhaps the best organizations for this period of history are the ones with no bureaucracy.  Bureaucrats typically don’t do anything productive: mostly what they do is to tell everyone that nothing will be done without their permission.  In this regard, may I recommend joining one’s local Food Not Bombs chapter?  Feeding the hungry is pretty basic stuff.

All the “I give up on Obama” purity trollery needs to stop.

Loyalty to Obama means little.  Obama is a politician — he does what politicians do.  Nor, for that matter, is “giving up on” Obama.  Obama’s crowning virtue is not that he’s politically efficacious at anything — but, rather, that he understands that he’s a politician, whereas Bush II thought he stood for something (“God told me…”) while still being a tool.

The cause is not progressive politcs.  Its reform through electoral victory of Dems.

Reform will do little if the system is inappropriate to the challenges before it.  It is not enough to question whether a particular line of policy is “ours” — we must also ask whether or not a particular line of policy is appropriate to our time.

You will get some things you want over time and about other things you will remain disappointed. With a Democratic President, you’ll have more to be happy about than with a Republican – for example, we got the stimulus we needed and wouldn’t have had under President McCain. We are getting a President who is pushing for a public healthcare option – which we obviously wouldn’t have got under President McCain.

If ‘the left’ decides to walk and vote for some 3rd party candidate next time, I’d just caution to remember 2000 and what happened when purists refused to vote for Al Gore.

Not all priorities are equal, of course.  The problem with neoliberal Presidents (Carter in his last year, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama) is that they don’t renounce neoliberalism, which is the primary reason why world-society faces such a nasty end with economic and ecological outcomes today.  Many of us voted for 3rd party Presidential candidates out of hopes that perhaps someone could be sent to DC with the courage to oppose neoliberalism.



If we were to take some rather drastic actions now, it might be good for our chances of survival tomorrow — on abrupt climate change, on economic issues, on health care issues, and so on.  Unfortunately, nothing of the sort is likely to issue from Washington DC, nor from a public stuck with a number of ingrained (yet obsolete) assumptions about the “American Dream” and the good life.

A lot of this has to do with the ongoing process (three hundred years and counting) of the consolidation of political elites within the capitalist system.  We may have to stand against all of them for some time before we can get some of the most important political changes.

There is only so much we can do about this situation through productive political conversation on a forum such as DailyKos.com.  I believe that most of that productivity is going to come through movement-building — thus my last diary.  But, generally, I think it’s best to drop the meme of “unity,” and to be tolerant of the whines of our more whiny colleagues.    If they complain too loudly, think of it as a symptom of something else — or go a-lookin’ for solutions to the problems they so loudly describe.


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