This is issue 5 of my weekly feature here at TBOR - The Tendown - where I count down the very best things that happened over the past week. In Last Week's Issue, I talked about my mathematically precise dislike for Tim Tebow, Marc Maron's brother's wife-swap, and the grilled chicken wings at Pollo Tropical.
How did this past week measure up? Let's go to the Tendown - what was the very best thing that happened this week...
First...A Vote is a Terrible Thing to Waste.
Glenn Greenwald's reaction to Obama's Nobel acceptance speech:
Obama puts a pretty, intellectual, liberal face on some ugly and decidedly illiberal polices. Just as George Bush's Christian-based moralizing let conservatives feel good about America regardless of what it does, Obama's complex and elegiac rhetoric lets many liberals do the same. To red state Republicans, war and its accompanying instruments (secrecy, executive power, indefinite detention) felt so good and right when justified by swaggering, unapologetic toughness and divinely-mandated purpose; to blue state Democrats, all of that feels just as good when justified by academic meditations on "just war" doctrine and when accompanied by poetic expressions of sorrow and reluctance. When you combine the two rhetorical approaches, what you get is what you saw yesterday: a bipartisan embrace of the same policies and ideologies among people with supposedly irreconcilable views of the world.
A friend from grad school and I are in a long running good natured debate over which of us is the more soft. That's not a reference to my expanding midsection as I near the 40th year of my life; instead it's an historical critique of the radical left. Karl Marx predicted the inevitably of western revolution; instead, what happened is the working class got bought off. The rest of the west got health care and paid vacations; in the US, we got three hundred forty seven different flavors of potato chips (I lean toward kettle cooked BBQ).
The intellectual leaders of the left were (complicit would be the pejorative term) in the early 20th century; repeatedly backing away from the type of violence which would be required to challenge the legitimacy of western governments in order to earn seats at bargaining tables. I don't have a rote answer on how favorably this should be viewed; it's easy from the safety of one's notebook to argue living wages and workplace health and safety regulations were small victories when ensuring perpetual enslavement to the corporate state, but if (for example) you're a 65 year old in the United States 80 years ago when senior citizens were the most impoverished group in the country, you'll correctly welcome the creation of the welfare state when it means a Social Security check each month.
People with full bellies don't so much take up arms against their oppressors.
My role in the great struggle is inconsequential. I'm just an average man, with an average life. I work from 9 to 5, hell how I pay the price. I'm a leftist; I see both church and state as hegemonic tools; and while I've spent the plurality of my waking hours in my almost 40 years plunged into sports and popular culture, I see all of that too as just the drug I find palatable. I don't devote my life to invisible guys in the sky - but I do have a 30,000 word piece of wrestling fan fiction. I don't tear up at displays of nationalism - there isn't a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner or an unfurling of Old Glory that will cause even the slightest lump to form in my throat - but you show me that tape of Joe Montana coming out to play that second half on that Monday night against the Lions in his last game as a Niner and I will sob like nobody's bidness.
It's all bread and circuses, but bread is tasty and I have a giant TV.
Where I had held out was in Presidential politics. It's no more than an eggshell, but I had drawn the line at supporting political candidates whose views I found to be corporately controlled. Over the two plus decades that I've been voting, occasionally a Democrat was closely enough aligned to my views that he received my support - but that had never been true for a winning candidate for the Presidency.
(Note the word "winning" - that's true for both primaries and the general election - I did unenthusiastically vote for Dukakis in the general election in '88, and I was even more uneasy about my vote for Kerry in '04).
Last year, I voted for Obama. My grad school friend did not. My argument was that it was necessary; that the divide between Republicans and Democrats had grown real (not as real as the public believes, but real) as the American right had pulled to an unrecognizable place that literally threatened the planet's existence.
My eyes were open about Obama, he's a businessman's President, but I did argue the possibility of growth within the office - that like FDR or LBJ, the enormity of his ability to enable some measure of economic justice would manifest in the types of policies that make softs like me feel we're accomplishing something with our lives.
But a year in, instead what we have is a President who gave a Nobel acceptance speech saying that America's mission is to fight evil using its military. A speech embraced by Rove, Gingrich, and Sarah Barracuda. And we have a President who has presided over an enormous money grab by Wall St - one which has the feel of one last round of profit taking before our company..er...country..goes belly up, but one which, in the second best piece I read this week, Matt Taibbi writes is the same type of institutionalizing of right wing policy domestically as was articulated in the Nobel speech:
The extensive series of loophole-rich financial "reforms" that the Democrats are currently pushing may ultimately do more harm than good. In fact, some parts of the new reforms border on insanity, threatening to vastly amplify Wall Street's political power by institutionalizing the taxpayer's role as a welfare provider for the financial-services industry. At one point in the debate, Obama's top economic advisers demanded the power to award future bailouts without even going to Congress for approval — and without providing taxpayers a single dime in equity on the deals.
And that's what got me this week. When right wing policies come from right wing mouths, you can retain the argument that there's a possibility of change. When right wing policies come from perceived left wing mouths, then they become normalized, embedded - they marginalize opposition, move it outside of what we allow as debate in our country. Our national debate isn't going to change for the next three years - it's going to be "is Obama too liberal" - so the degree to which his right wing foreign and domestic policies become attached in the public mind to the Democrats, the further and further and further away from my preferred version of the United States we become. Maybe the only way not to waste my vote is to vote for a candidate who can't win.
On that discouraging note. After the jump - the Ten Next Best Things that happened this week!