Maybe it’s all the yard signs that have sprouted up in Bloomington these past few weeks. Perhaps it’s the news media’s incessant handicapping of potential candidates for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Or it could be the tsunami of unsolicited mail Democratic Party operatives have unleashed lately. In any case, it’s clear that campaign season has sprung up like so many dandelions after a thundershower.
In the past week alone, I’ve received bulk e-mail from political strategist and Clinton acolyte James Carville, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org.
"Globally, the end of American empire is at hand."Writing on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), Carville and Gillibrand are in fundraising hyperdrive, soliciting contributions for something called the “Rapid Response Project.” Seems the Democrats are putting the squeeze on the rank and file early and often. Predictably, fear of a Republican takeover of the Senate in 2012 is fueling this campaign.
The subject line of Mr. Ruben’s email is: “What do you think?” Glad he asked. I was stuck for something to write about this week, and Rubin’s question opened up the proverbial can of worms. Here, then, are MoveOn.org’s questions to the Democratic base -- followed by the most civil and straightforward answers I can print in a “family publication.”
Q. What do you take away from the news recently?
"What I take away from the news these days is how thoroughly our so-called leaders are in a state of denial."
A. What I take away from the news these days is how thoroughly our so-called leaders are in a state of denial. That goes double for the U.S. press corps. Between the “instant consensus” on the Libyan intervention and a renewed commitment to nuclear power -- in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe no less -- we might just as well be whistling past the graveyard.
There was a time when journalism was interested in “just the facts.” No more. The American press corps is obsessed with political theater, from the manufactured controversy over Obama’s birth certificate to the pomp and circumstance of the Royal Wedding. Amid all of these distractions far more pressing issues like the jobless rate, the foreclosure crisis, the assault on immigrants, labor unions and women’s reproductive health, to mention but a few, are rarely subject to the tough questions journalism is supposed to ask.
Q. What are you excited about?
A. Political leadership from the grassroots. No, I’m not talking about astroturf groups like the tea party. Nor am I referring to Brand Obama -- whose presidency owes an enormous, and as yet unpaid debt to young people, union workers, and progressive Democrats. I’m talking about the real deal: genuine, “small-d” democratic leadership from the streets of Cairo to the streets of Madison, Wis.
U.S. corporate media don’t tell the whole story when it comes to the democratic uprisings across the Middle East, much less the workers’ revolt in the American Midwest. It challenges their worldview -- not to mention their bottom line.
"Here at home we may be witnessing the Big Pushback against plutocracy and corporate rule that has so thoroughly wrecked our economy, spoiled our environment and corrupted our politics."
But as Bob Dylan noted during an earlier moment of social transformation, “the order is rapidly changing.” Globally, the end of American empire is at hand. It remains to be seen if the eclipse of U.S. hegemony will come with a bang or a whimper. The cost of empire’s end -- in “blood and treasure” as so-called statesmen like to put it -- is plain to see. Plain for anyone who cares to look, that is.
Meanwhile, here at home we may be witnessing the Big Pushback against plutocracy and corporate rule that has so thoroughly wrecked our economy, spoiled our environment and corrupted our politics. Instead of hurling insults at one another, the tea party faithful and disillusioned Democrats ought to recognize their common cause: defending everyday people from the rapacious economic interests that have perverted the American Dream and bankrupted our future.
But change is in the air. And this time, the change isn’t so much empty rhetoric. As Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive, noted recently, “There are times when history seems dead. And then there are times when history leaps to life. This is such a time, a time when people, rather than being passive victims of history, have become agents of history, agents of their own liberation.”
Despite all the bad news these days, from the storm-ravaged South to the war-torn Arab world, there’s reason to be optimistic. This could be a new progressive moment.
Q. What do you want from MoveOn?
A. That’s easy. I want MoveOn to stop carrying water for corporate Democrats.
Let’s be frank. Much as MoveOn would like to, we can’t blame all of our troubles on the Republican Party. Clinton’s “New Democrats” have an awful lot to answer for as well. And when the Democrats are out of power, they have been the rear guard for a rightwing assault on middle class and working families.
"Stop kidding yourselves and the Democratic base -- or what’s left of it -- that Obama and corporate Democrats are the answer to all our problems."
To be blunt, centrist Democrats are no friends of hardworking Americans. Clinton enthusiastically supported NAFTA, despite the catastrophic effects this so-called free trade agreement would have on the working class and organized labor.
And where has President Obama been while state legislatures in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and here in Indiana have passed all manner of anti-union, anti-immigrant legislation? Candidate Obama proclaimed he would defend the right to collective bargaining. President Obama plans to “win the future” with the likes of Wall Street lobbyists and corporate CEOs.
What do I want from MoveOn? Stop kidding yourselves and the Democratic base -- or what’s left of it -- that Obama and corporate Democrats are the answer to all our problems. If MoveOn wants to be relevant, it’s high time to follow the real leaders: public sector employees and health care workers, immigrant right groups and environmental activists who are fighting back against the corporate takeover of America.
Kevin Howley is associate professor of media studies at DePauw University. He is editor of Understanding Community Media (Sage, 2010). He writes regularly on media, culture and politics at e-chreia.