Saturday, October 25, 2014

Wanted--Political Alternatives to Conventional Wisdom

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Bill Clinton famously waxed on about the meaning of “is”, encouraging the fascination of journalists with parsing each and every phrase that emerges from a politicians’ mouth for nuances real or imagined; significances intended or otherwise.

The current subject of this kind of scrutiny is Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of the more unabashedly progressive members of Congress.  Apparently, in one of her many denials that she has any intentions to run to be President in 2016, Warren used some slightly different language than before.  This set the pens of the commentariat all aflutter, and is leading to renewed speculation that Warren might interject her formidable presence into a race that many in the Democratic establishment believe should feature only a single candidate—the neoconservative, neoliberal Hillary Clinton.

The country desperately needs a sharp departure from the devastating conventional wisdom—about the economy and finance, the public sphere, international relations, American terrorism and the security state, climate change, and organized labour—that has dominated our nation for the past decades.

For that reason, Elizabeth Warren—a modest social democrat—would be a welcome and indeed essential presence in any contest for the leadership of an ostensibly progressive party.  Indeed, her oft-expressed commitment to defending U.S. citizens against the unconscionable power-grab by corporate interests means that she has an obligation of sorts.

My own hope would be that both Warren and Bernie Sanders, the socialist Senator from Vermont, contest the election.  The Democratic Party and the country as a whole deserve a more diverse spectrum of opinion. 

The Republican Party believes that corporations are people, that money is free speech, and that the public sphere should be eviscerated.  The Democratic Party is also a corporate-friendly party that is steadily backing away from supporting organized labour—ordinary citizens’ primary tool for defending themselves against assaults by the super-wealthy –towards an embrace of the financial sector.  Both parties have been fulsome in their support of American terrorism (international affairs is one area where both Sanders and Warren need to think hard about what it means to be a socialist or a progressive), and while one rejects outright the importance of the public sector and the social welfare, the other has been singularly ineffective in defending them.

Usually during Democratic primaries, a bevy of right-wing candidates take the stage, trumpeting the conventional wisdom about how our economy should work, giving short shrift to the rights of workers or the inequality that defines our nation.  The odd dissenting voice is kept at the fringe, and made to look like a lunatic.

Imagine instead if that stage was dominated by powerful progressive voices, capable of articulating an alternative vision for how we should organize ourselves, relate to each other, and fashion a humane, compassionate society in which people are not left behind because of circumstances beyond their control.  What if it was the likes of Hillary Clinton—the corporate candidate who decried critics of inequality, supported the Iraq war, and escalated the war of terror—who was the marginalized candidate, representative of decades of dangerous failed ideologies and leadership?

I hope that Warren decides to run for higher office, and I hope that Sanders joins her.  Our country needs exposure to a wider set of ideas than are normally on offer.  We’ve heard an awful lot about what the right has to offer, and we’ve been living under a reactionary economic regime for a long time now.  The results aren’t pretty.  In fact, they are unfair, unjust, and violent in the way that they destroy people’s lives.  It’s time to try something else, and there are candidates out there who could try to point the way.


But their campaigns must be supported by or driven by citizen activism and protest, a renewed push by unions for rights and benefits for the workplace writ large, efforts to address our democratic deficit and our social crisis.  We can’t wait for political candidates to save us, but we should demonstrate through our actions and our words that we are happy for them to lend us the institutional support that would help in fashioning an equal and just society.  

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