Saturday, December 29, 2007

Power Plays

John McGuinness penned an interesting column for Quiblit Magazine that leaves me in something of a quandary. I share his dislike for Paul Krugman's stance in his recent Slate column, not caring for the assertion that Democrats "have to be ready to forcefully make the case that progressive goals are right and conservatives are wrong," in the same way that I disliked the Republican assertion that conservative goals were always right, and liberals were always (and often intentionally) wrong.

John points out that groups that have used political power to "unfairly" benefit themselves (the forces of "organized money," as FDR termed them) are unlikely to accept policies in which they are the losers, and that they are powerful enough to "sabotage a plan they were shut out of creating." And he could very well be right.

But look at where that leaves us: We seem to then have three primary options -
1) The forces of organized money benefit at the expense of others.
2) The forces of organized money break even, holding on to what they already have.
3) The forces of organized money, refusing to accept any scenario that casts them as losers, sabotage the process.

If we therefore admit that they must always have a seat at the table, we are forced to admit that they have all of the power, and that no-one else really has any. After all, the forces of organized money didn't fear being sabotaged by the people who their preferred policies cast as losers up until this point. And if they effectively have the ability to kill any proposals they don't like, one wonders why they would even settle for simply breaking even.

"I spent a lot of time covering politics before I got into science, and one thing I learned is that anybody who starts pleading for consensus is losing." William Saletan ("Technical Knockout" Slate Magazine, 17 November, 2005)
Anyone who starts out from a position of seeking consensus with organizations that are understood to have gamed the system for their own benefit at the expense of others is, I think, going to be seen as weak, begging for crumbs at the feet of the powerful. A candidate that projects himself as being unable to stand up for their core constituency only appeals to a) a constituency that already sees themselves as defeated or b) the opposition. I don't see how either platform carries much hope for success in today's political climate.

I'd like to think that there is way to implement democracy without always succumbing to the tyranny of the majority. But that requires a level of enlightenment on ALL sides, not just one. But at this point, is anyone really going to believe that a Republican repentance of a policy of using a 51% majority to impose their ideas on the rest of the nation as being anything other than empty political expediency? Especially when the standard conservative position is still one of belligerence and self-righteousness? (John's a great guy - but he's not the sort of conservative that we've become accustomed to.) Everyone can be trusted to see the light when faced with the shoe being on the other foot - in light of that, it's going to be hard to make the case that anyone who takes them at their word on that is anything but a naïf.


JohnMcG said...

Thanks for the response.

I guess I don't believe that the country is currently controlled but nefarious villains. Maybe it's because I'm kind of on their team; maybe I'm naive.

For sure, there have been some times and continue to be times when the current power structure must simply be confronted and defeated rather than negotiated with. The civil rights movement was a good example. Activists didn't invite the Klan to discussions on what place blacks should have in society. It was asserted and demanded.

Neoconservatism may follow that pattern, but I don't think problems like health care and global warming follow the pattern of forces of light/forces of evil. And even if neo conservatism is kicked to the curb, that doesn't solve the issue of how to get out of Iraq.

So I don't think that starting to solve these problems by announcing that certain parties are to blame and are thus excluded from the process is the most prudent way to begin.

Maybe it's wishful thinking -- I'd like to believe someone like Obama can start a new way of solving problems, and we don't just jerk back and forth every few years.

Aaron said...

To be sure, I don't see the neocons as nefarious or villainous either. But I bet that if I publicly took that stance, I couldn't be elected dogcatcher on a Democratic ticket.

Consensus-building may be good for the nation, but the rank-and-file are going to have to be on board. I don't know that this is going to be a situation where leadership from the top will be accepted.

Catnapping said...

Consensus is fine, but while we're making kissy-face at the table with the war criminals, let's start getting Rovian on their asses.

I'd like to see folks forcing the schools to indoctrinate our children/grandchildren into understanding that neoconservatism is immoral. We do not have the right to take over the world.

As a non-christianist, native american who abhors capitalism (and the competiveness, individualistic crap that goes with that), it makes me sick that we are teaching children (via TV, schoolbooks, and video games,etc...) that it's MORAL to own two homes while children are sleeping inside of dumpsters...that the true measure of success is massive accumulation of stuff. It seems to me success should be measured healthy is my community?

If you want people to actually believe in consensus-building, you're going to have to raise a generation of children who actually believe that all people are created equal...that capitalism is immoral; that individualism is immoral; and that collaboration, cooperation, and communal economies and societies are what produce a good human being. We are a social animal, after all.

Aaron said...

"It seems to me success should be measured healthy is my community?"

But if I limit my definition of "community" to certain people that I decide are worth being in it, I can sincerely do just that without moving us any closer to your goal.

For me, the problem begins when people separate themselves into distinct communities on an exclusionary basis, set goals that are mutually exclusive with those of one or more other communities, and then seek to use the electoral process to force those goals on those other (usually smaller or less politically active) communities.

What tends to bother me about the conservative viewpoint is its explicit denial of the worth of a single human community - although, given that most conservative thought is premised on an impending Malthusian Catastrophe, it makes logical sense.

In the absence of a Culture of Scarcity, even the most individualistic forms of Capitalism can be made to work, as there is no longer an imperative to rob others in the name of one's own security.