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Posted by gustav at 05:01AM, Sunday, November 01st, 2009

Weekend Festivities, or Jon Stewart and the Illusion of a Two-Party System

I feel that the enthusiasm and attendance we saw amongst self-described progressives at the Rally to Restore Sanity and Keep Fear Alive this weekend are some of the most troubling displays ever of corporate monopolization of political discourse in the United States. I see this as evidence that cults of personality and media spectacle have come to replace intelligent discussion and objective evaluation of policy in the modern left, though I hope I'm wrong.

This weekend, hundreds of thousands gathered to march on the Washington Mall. They weren't motivated by their fury at Democrats' continuation of unjust American wars in the Middle East, which harm our national security. They weren't protesting continued bigotry and violence against the LGBT community. They weren't there to advance any policy goal at all. They gathered to worship at the altar of a cult of personality built around Jon Stewart, a television personality -- just as their so-called political opponents had gathered weeks before at the behest of Glenn Beck, another media personality. The difference was that -- whereas Beck insanely accused the current presidential administration, one of the most reactionary and rights-eroding in American history, one that hasn't met a pro-gay court ruling it hasn't challenged, of socialist tendencies -- the Stewart rally's chief message seemed to be about the importance getting along and being bipartisan and respectful and "moderate" when talking to Republicans. It's important, for instance, to not use excessively partisan rhetoric when discussing The Family, which orchestrated the attempted Ugandan gay genocide. It's important that Democrats and Republicans alike can agree that Marxism is more of a threat to the constitution than violation of Habeus Corpus by two successive presidential administrations. And yet, all the while, the attendees mocked the intelligence and myopia of their political opponents, while ironically ignoring the substantially right-wing policies coming from the leader of their own party. This rally was fundamentally incoherent and self-contradictory.

I hear friends, former left-wing and civil rights activists, spouting statements like "I have no tolerance for people who say 'he hasn't done enough in two years,'" regarding criticism of the president. This is a straw-man as it pertains to me: it's not that I don't think the president has done enough, it's that I think almost every policy decision he's made since become the nominee has been wrong. We've had the administration aggressively defend and expand executive privilege, including its assertions of the clearly-unconstitutional "right" to extra-judicial assassination.

We've had the administration resurrect DADT after it unsuccessfully defended it in Federal court, and the law was struck down; Obama is now solely responsible for the existence of this policy, and his spokespeople lie about an invented "duty" to defend the stricken law.

We've seen the administration defend DoMA with the most vile and bigoted language, and then appeal a Federal court decision in Massachusetts striking down Bill Clinton's bigoted policy. Obama's solely responsible now for my marriage not being recognized by the Federal government.

We've seen Obama whip for retroactive FISA immunity. We've seen Obama cut back-room deals with Big Pharma and Big Hospitals, strategically lie about a public option he never intended to let live, and aggressively denounce popular and proven-to-save-costs single-payer health reform, while his party oppressed its advocates.

We've seen Obama's
failure or disinclination to close guantanamo, his sustained opposition to the fundamental constitutional right of Habeas Corpus, his administration's constant rebukes from the courts, and his continued prosecution of child soldiers.

We've seen him not only break his promise to get out of Iraq, and keep his promise to escalate in Afghanistan; we've seen him send drones into Pakistan and Yemen, bringing wonderful new scenes of video game death to fresh new Middle-Eastern countries.

We've seen him whip for massive wealth-transfer to banks, which absolved them of their responsibilities, after they participated in reckless and, apparently, frequently illegal lending practices. Shortly before the attorneys general of the 50 states started investigating systemic fraud in the mortgage industry, we saw his administration deny the existence of any such thing. This came after his HAMP plan turns out to have made it easier for lenders to sell borrowers' homes without notification. Meanwhile, finance industry and government officials alike conspire to lie and propagandize to distort the magnitude of the wealth-transfer.

We've seen Obama deal a stacked deck to dismantle social security, a massively popular program the Democrats supposedly fought to protect during the previous administration.

For fuck's sake, we've even seen him wage war on the motherfucking whales.

Given all of this, I wonder what exactly friends and acquaintances -- smart people all -- think is worth defending in this administration. And, what's more, I wonder why they're telling me that the problem with Washington for the last two years has been the party which holds a minority in both houses of Congress, and has been responsible for none of the policy I've just cited. I've heard many of these same people forcefully denounce these exact same policies when it was the Bush Administration carrying them out. Now, even when they serve no pragmatic purpose and demoralize the base, these pseudo-leftists defend them. All I can infer is that they're swayed more by Obama's cult of personality than they are interested in effective policy -- and that makes them just as much authoritarian-worshipping tribalistic hypocrites as the Bush-supporters were two years ago.

I wonder how far this administration would have to go in order to earn their disgust. In addition to unconstitutional civil liberties violations, in addition to comparing my marriage to incestuous pederasty in Federal Court, in addition to lying about the Department of Justice's "duty" to defend clearly-unconstitutional laws, in addition to catering to the richest of the rich while denouncing teacher's unions and autoworkers and making it easier for big banks to put people out of their homes, in addition to funding abstinence-only education while referring to the gay "lifestyle", would Obama administration officials have to be seen buggering baby seals on cable in order to earn scorn from progressives? Why have labels and statements become more important than actions to people I thought were so smart?

Meanwhile, I hear, as a constant refrain from smug leftists, how mystifying it is that Tea Partiers and Red Staters should vote for politicians who oppose Federal programs that would benefit their constituents, and then support programs that transfer those constituents' wealth to large corporations and industries. And yes, that's sad, and bitterly ironic. But then the Democrats do the same, and we see Rahm Emanuel refer to critics of the administration from the left as drug-addicts, and Obama saying much the same. When the hypocrisy refrain is coming out of the mouths of Obama defenders, well, speck in the eye and all that. Y'all are a bunch of kettles calling out the pots.

I hear pundits and real humans alike saying "Oh, but we can't let the Republicans win, or they'll pass a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, and outlaw abortion." I feel like saying "How is that different from the Democrats? We helped them win, and they've appealed successful challenges to DoMA in Federal courts, and passed the Stupak Amendment." (And then I'm denounced by usually-straight "progressives" for not being "pragmatic," which I take to mean that I don't put The Party's interests above my civil rights. Try paying the Gay Marriage Tax for a few years and tell me how you feel then, bigoted fuckwad. Until then, I don't want to hear it.) What I see is the same theatrics, working equally for politicians on both sides of the aisle. Republican and Democratic politicians both do the same thing -- whip up support by fear-mongering, whether the fear is of forced/banned gay marriage, or forced/banned abortion. The same issues work equally well on both sides, and, at the national level, they somehow never seem to get decided. Jon Stewart and Barack Obama alike tout the virtues of bipartisanship as a cure to all our ills. Meanwhile, both sides of the aisle somehow always seem to agree on the virtue of endless war, the evils of teh gay, and on supporting large corporations at the expense of programs that aid the poor, minorities, the old, and the ill. Yet the theatrics do a remarkable job of distracting Tea Partiers and Concerned Liberals alike from the reality of their elected officials' deep and abiding bipartisan agreement on such issues.

To be clear, my gripe here is with the state of national politics and parties. Here in Massachusetts, we have truly progressive Democrats -- as well as some deeply bigoted and corrupt ones. I am now at last terrified of both of the national parties, and coming round to the view, which I mocked in 2000, that each is largely like the other. There are still some (though fewer and fewer) real policy differences which affect the lives of real people in America and abroad, though I'm starting to wonder whether those are so much the result of ideology as cynical strategy. At this point, it's become clear that our national parties are both deeply corrupt, bigoted, and bloodthirsty, and equally manipulative -- and effective, regardless of how the objects of their manipulations view their own self-awareness -- in their co-opting of media and spectacle to obscure their actual, and horrific, policy sameness.

In the end, we're left with a Democratic party which is not only insignificantly distinguishable from the Republican party in terms of the actual policies it enacts, whether regarding dismantling financial deregulation, dismantling the social safety net constructed during the New Deal, eroding constitutional protections, defending torture, warmongering, opposing civil rights (ACORN de-funding, DoMA), or opposing reproductive freedom; but which has also become literally a caricature of its opposition, when it comes to its members' participation worshipping leaders rather than paying attention to policy. It's clear that, ideologically, the two parties and their adherents are far more similar than either side would like to admit -- and that neither is going to do a damn thing to protect or advance civil rights, the tenuous economic state of the working class, or gay rights.

As the old saying goes, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem; and it's clear now that, certainly when it comes to gay rights, the Democratic Party, its congresspeople, presidents, apologists, media mouthpieces like Jon Stewart, and all of their supporters are all part of the problem.
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