Friday, June 24, 2005

Sometimes, Democracy Just Doesn't Work

Are The People Ever To Blame?

To say the Bush Administration is going through a rough patch is an understatement. Unfortunately, all the bad news doesn't matter one bit. Because while the Republican Party is a total catastrophe when it comes to governing, it's the definition of true genius when it comes to winning elections.

The Democratic Party on the other hand is the GOP's mirror image. Great in office, lousy at winning it. And if you're a Democrat, that means you've got a problem, and ironically it's what you're named after - Democracy.

No wonder Bush sings its praises like it's going out of style. Right now, it's the worst thing to happen to the Democratic party in years.

Being glib about democracy isn't something that happens much these days, but it's worth examining its flaws. So let's start with a little history.

One of the supreme ironies of the success of Bolshevism in 1917 was that for all its talk of empowering the proletariat, it didn't want to take the chance of actually letting the proletariat vote for their own empowerment.

But maybe Lenin was onto something. Because Democracy is unpredictable. Illogical. And sometimes, downright insane. After all Hitler was duly elected Chancellor of Germany in 1933.

Russia in 1917 and Germany in 1933 are two sides of the same coin. Sometimes, and it's hard to say, the people do the strangest things, especially when the search for absolute power is the order of the day.

For the best and most succinct piece of advice on how to achieve absolute power via democracy, who better to turn to than the master propagandist himself.
"Arguments must be crude, clear and forcible, and appeal to emotions and instincts, not the intellect. Truth is unimportant and entirely subordinate to tactics and psychology".
Sounds very much like it's been ripped from the secret mantra of the Karl Rove playbook, and maybe it is, but the words were written by the father of modern propaganda, Josef Goebbels.

You see, in the hands of a modern scientist of mass deceit, like Rove or Goebbels, democracy can easily become a tool of demagoguery.

This might sound like kneejerk rhetoric, but it's not. Because as shockingly different as they may seem in intent and outcome, Democracy and Demagoguery are two words that are really close family.

The word Democracy comes from the Greek "rule of the people", and its close cousin Demagogue is Greek for "ruler of the people." One R is all it takes to change the world. Or is that a W.

The former word has exclusively been seen as a good thing, while the latter term has been viewed as a dangerous pejorative since about the same time, about two thousand years ago. But there's a point where they meet, that's palpable and very, very dangerous.

Of course, nobody for one moment would pretend that George Bush is or could be a demagogue. He wouldn't last five minutes in the job, before his handlers had second thoughts. On his narrow shoulders the artful edifice of power would not sit for long.

But the court of President Bush is filled with clever propagandists, led by Rove, who collectively fill the role of demagogue very nicely, in the name of conservatism. Of course, in order to do their demagogic worst, they need a willing ally - which is where the 'demos' part of the equation comes in.

In short, the people, or in this case a plurality of them are as responsible for this disastrous moment in American history, as the deceivers themselves.

There, I said it. I did what every good Democrat, and Progressive secretly did in his heart in the late evening of November 2, 2004.

I blamed the people.

Not all of them, just enough of them to make the difference between light and dark.

"How could these people be so gullible?", we lamented. "Couldn't they see they're being manipulated?"

The answer, of course, is clearly no. They clearly could not see that their interests did not lie with the Republicans. They could not see that their futures were at stake, that they were destroying the country they loved and getting no booty in return.

These people are the modern version of the mob, the rag-tag sans-culottes in their pick-up trucks and SUVs who are complicit in the last desperate Republican search for hegemony.

It's almost as if the GOP knows that with the world changing as it is, the writing is on the wall for its rabid and unholy concoction of political control and economic laissez faire. As if they're saying amongst themselves,"now is the time to grab and hold power, or it will be gone forever".

But how could such a small (if noisy) mob become the lynchpin of the GOP power-grab? The answer is simple. The voters of the far-right are the metaphorical storm-troopers of the new absolutism. The pervasive symbols of right wing power and potency.

By whipping the new mob into a frenzy with cultural arguments that "appeal to emotions and instincts, not the intellect", the new propagandists have tapped into the dark underside of American life, doused but never extinguished, and enabled it to grow, and infect and transform the zeitgeist.

The moral exhaustion that allowed that to happen in Germany in the late twenties and early thirties is similar to the apathy we're living with today. Except instead of the Weimar Republic's depressive malaise, and smouldering humiliated nationalism, and volkische anti-semitism, our inertia is sourced in the muzak of consumerism, combined with fear, and a profound spiritual aimlessness.

The Nazis did not have the benefit of the internet and instant media to drive their message home. They needed Nuremberg Rallies to show their power. But there are also problems for today's propagandists. They have to contend with another irksome problem, a populace that, unlike that of Weimar Germany accepts its democratic institutions as a profound birthright.

But whether we're talking about Germany in the late twenties, or the United States today, there is one common truth that propagandists understand. What matters in the pursuit of absolute power is what's remembered. And what's remembered is the "crude, clear and forcible".

Force becomes the benchmark to which all is compared. Clarity develops its own legitimacy. The visibility and apparent strength of crudity become the almost magical source of its ability to convince.

And the victim in both Germany and America is reason.

Reason can never trump the visceral. Intellect will always be drowned out. But oh, how hard it tries; to make the inchoate see their folly, to educate them, to understand them. How endless is its capacity to absorb the taunts of the mob. And how little it sees and understands that every time it's spurned, the forces it's trying to nurture back to their senses grow in power and confidence, as well as the profound conviction that they and only they are right.

In the thirties in Europe it was called appeasement.

Today, in America, it's called The Democratic Party.

The Nazis drew their strength from their disregard for reason. They delighted in humiliating those who wanted to 'save' them.

So instead of seeing Karl Rove's recent statements about liberals wanting to offer therapy to terrorists as an A-list political blunder, see them as carefully positioned red meat to the far right's metaphorical storm troopers, another tap on the accelerator of intolerance.

It goes without saying that no liberal would ever suggest for one moment offering therapy to terrorists. It's not reasonable to even consider the statement. But that's the point. 'Reason is for the weak', Rove is saying to his mob. 'And you are not weak. You are strong. We are allowing you, the lowly sans-culottes, to rise up and be counted among the strong'.

The key word in Rove's statement isn't 'terrorists', it's 'therapy'. By bringing the two together in such an apparently ridiculous way, he is inviting the absurd to be met with reason.

And that's exactly what the Democrats have done. Instead of ignoring the comment, the party has blundered into a reasonable response that does nothing but make Rove's statement seem feasible, and make the Democrats, merely defending their honor reasonably, seem like weak bleeding hearts.

The Rove statement is a subtle exposition of the quite brilliant trap that he has set for the feckless Democratic Party. And it kind of goes like this.

By using right wing noise to redefine the zeitgeist, and push the boundaries of the non-existent culture wars, the Democrats are forced to choose. Do they tilt to the prevailing but empty cultural wind, or do call its bluff. In short, will they appease it, or confront it.

Let's examine a historical parallel. In 1936 Hitler's army marched in to reclaim the Rhineland. If the French had sent a single division to confront them, the wooden rifles that many of the German soldiers carried would have been no match for even the most incompetent of French troops.
And that would have been the end of the Hitler confidence trick.

Instead, we thought there was another way, a better way than war. In short, we tried reason. We have never been more wrong.

Seventy years later, here in America, we're doing it all over again again. We're reasoning with the sans culottes. Just listen to Hillary Clinton, as she shifts to the right ahead of her presidential bid in 2008. And as she does, you can feel the bile and contempt rising among the expanding mob, fed by her very attempts to appease them. And in her wake, Hillary will leave her core constituency to wither and dissipate, to seek third party alternatives, to give up entirely on the process, to campaign with less vigor, to be more open to mistakes, to attempt to square the circle, and dilute their message.

The same will be true of Biden, Barak, or just about anyone else.

And all because of a few ridiculous people speaking in tongues outside Terri Schiavo's nursing home.

The alternative is very simple.

Confront the enemy. Face them down. And accept the fact that we, the Progressives, the liberals, the forces of reason, will have to engage in the unreasonable to win in the name of reason.

In short, we have to go to war with the right.

And for the sake of the future of the glorious human experiment that is the United States of America, let us do everything we can to win.


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