Monday, January 5, 2009

Playing the Wedge Card


Undeterred in its ongoing effort to confuse the American public, the clarion of the corporate media struggles to hide the real agenda behind deregulation, the bankster bailout, the Iraq/Afhgan War, the national security police state, and devastating environmental policies.

Writing in the NYT/IHT laureate Paul Krugman asserts that "Forty years ago the Republican Party decided, in effect, to make itself the party of racial backlash" and that Bush administration policy and electoral failures can be traced to this original fault.

Nonsense. Assuming for the sake of argument that the Administration has in fact failed at what it set out to do (it hasn't), neither its policies nor its supposed failures are the result of racism. Once again, America's intelligentsia wallows in the narcosis of false consciousness, ignoring class conflict and seeking bugaboos in moralities and panaceas in personal validation issues.

Krugman begins his "analysis" by noting that Republican post-election "whining takes the form of claims that the Bush administration was simply a matter of bad luck... or the bad luck of" choosing Bush as the party's standard bearer."

Is Krugman seeking an explanation for electoral defeat or for the environmental, economic and geo/political disaster we are living? He apparently thinks it's an all-together sort of thingy. "Everything that has happened in recent years, from the choice of Bush as the party's champion, to the Bush administration's pervasive incompetence, to the party's shrinking base, is a consequence of that [racist] decision."

It is somewhat appalling to hear the Administration's devastating policies being soft-pedaled as a form of incompetence; but be that as it may, the "incompetence" has nothing to do with racism. On the contrary, Republican racist pandering has been very competent.

It is also hardly news. Forty years ago, not even the New York Times failed to note the Nixon - Agnew resort to code-words for "nigger". (Not that the Time's own "inner city youth" wasn't a code of its own.) Everyone knew what Nixon's Southern strategy was all about, even the blathering bimbos on the evening news. Lyndon Johnson had stated that the Civil Rights Act, which he pushed through a reluctant Congress, would be the death-knell for FDR's Democratic Coalition and it was. The Dixiecrats were up for grabs and the Republicans nabbed' em.

What Krugman astonishingly overlooks is that racism was not the only wedge the Republicans resorted to. There was that small issue of Archie Bunker and them Hippy College Kids. How Krugman manages to overlook this fault-line when Hollywood made Nielson ratings on it for years is truly amazing.

Krugman overlooks Archie Bunker because he is doing his level best to racialize the issue and get his readers to loose sight of the real problem: the neoliberal war being waged on the "Homeland" by corporate and financial interests. Archie Bunker would tip Krugman's hand because he is iconic for a cluster of disparate wedge issues the very clustering of which makes you look for what they have in common; and what they had in common was that everyone else was getting ahead except Archie. How Archie complained was great entertainment but beneath the squeals was the fact that Archie was getting screwed.

Take for starters Archie's contempt for anyone with some learning. As de Toqueville pointed out, America has always been notoriously anti-intellectual. He attributed this to a pervasive spirit of egalitarianism that disrespected all hierarchies, including those based on scientific or academic merit. But what de Tocqueville called a spirit of egalitarianism was a polite and aristocratic way of referring to class inequality and hatred.

The fact is that American college kids were never very intellectual in the first place. They were simply privileged brats on legacy scholarships destined for legacy jobs. What "those dumb college kids..." really meant was "you think you're better than me; but I'm just as good as you." No one could seriously interpret this as contempt of intellectualism, because them college kids were dumb. But they also were social betters with better shoes, better cars, better houses, and bank accounts. The howl bespoke the wound. The resentment reserved for them, was the resentment of dispossessed or struggling lower classes.

The hidden secret of the United States is that class disparity and envy has existed since even before we all gloriously and fraternally united to throw those damn Brits out. The present Constitution was basically a coup d'etat by the moneyed interests who were terrified of the Jacobin sentiments unleashed by the successful toppling of royal law and order. Ever since then, the ruling elites have done their best to pump pixie dust into the air. The existence of slavery, of Injuns to tame, of immigrants to hate have all served to deflect and confuse the country's underlying class conflicts and resentments.

The Great Depression, almost woke up the working (and not-working) classes and after the World War there was a big push at fashioning a truly more egalitarian society (at least for Whites). Working through (and for the well-being of) the private sector, Government undertook to provide jobs and false embourgeoisiement for the industrial base coupled with academically routed upward mobility. For a while it worked. Spreading swaths of tract homes was about as equal-in-everything as one could get, and President Clinton was an example of how trailer trash could rise to the top.

Alas, the country's feeble attempt at corporate sponsored social equality began to crack apart in the Sixties.

The Vietnam War drove the first big wedge between blue and white collar -- between the new bourgeoisie and the worker. As the buildup for Vietnam began, McNamara made a cynical decision. To preserve the country's technological and administrative work-force (what the Nazis called "workers of the head") he promoted student deferments while "workers of the hand" were left to man the wrenches and the rifles. This cleavage, which had always existed ad hoc was now institutionalized and rationalized on the ground that a stint in the Army gave "disadvantaged" kids a chance to get their GED and learn a trade. Unfortunately, it gave them other chances as well.

The second wedging blow was Affirmative Action which made the least financially secure segment of the population foot the bill for the reparation of historic wrongs. Contrary to propaganda, the civil rights movement was not a simply mass uprising of Blacks. It was an agitation of a portion of the negro population in which jewish lawyers, stragglers from the "old left" and white east coast college kids collaborated. The resentment was foreseeable and intense. To be sure, it focused on the threat from below -- the Black who got the job, the promotion, or academic placement. But it also focused on the betrayal from above, against college kids and the "east coast elites" who neither fought the war nor paid for the "advancement of the negro" they so ardently championed at no cost to themselves.

What had started out as a push toward social egalitarianism, ended up being a collection of disparities. All this was the doing of the Democrats and the Republicans seized the initiative. Yes there was "code" for "enroaching negro" but Agnew's "nattering nabobs of negativism" was also code for "privileged brat" and those "limousine liberals" who nibbled canap├ęs with convict-authors on Park Avenue (Leonard Bernstein) or reverse hob-nobbed with Vietcong soldierettes (Jane Fonda).

However, neither Blacks nor limousine liberals nor hippies nor feminists were the real problem. No doubt Democrat social policies were highly discriminatory. They pushed military deferments for middle class college boys and job integration for Blacks both at the cost of the "blue collar" worker class. It was an odd way to promote egalitarianism. But beyond that, the United States was in economic trouble, in part due to the cost of the Vietnam War and in part due to the oil-embargo. Just as the Baby Boomers entered the job market, the country went into recession and what had been the powerful engine of American productivity was now known as the "Rust Belt" -- a polluted, decayed industrial Appalachia.

Had the world suddenly lost use for steel? Were goods no longer being shipped from dock to dock? Of course not. The process of dismantling and tightening had begun. Particularly hard hit was the industrial worker, the Archie Bunker class, Deer Hunter's economic and military casualties.

The fact was, America's experiment with corporate social democracy was failing; and it was failing not because different folks were brought to the table but because there wasn't enough pie for all the guests.

Carter's uninspiring solution was for "everyone" to get used to eating less. The Republican "solution" was to push the clock back, past the New Deal, to some mythical Begin State of classical capitalism. Blaming the goal of an egalitatian society for being an ineffective means, they called for free markets, free trade, and the abolition of unions and welfare. The platform was mythical because there never has been a truly free market. It was not a solution to any socio-economic problem because, at bottom, it was simply a call to: Let the games begin and survival to the fittest!

The ideology of Republican neoliberalism is simply egotism dressed up as social policy. It was a program that could only benefit the few and the conundrum facing the true and hidden Republican base was how to get the many to vote for it.

The first trick was to confuse terminology. What the Republicans actually sought was a return to "pure liberalism" -- the economic philosophy that gave us child labor, sweat shops and all the wonders of the Industrial Revolution. For that reason, all the rest of the world calls it neo-liberalism. But in the United States, Republicans called themselves "conservatives" because that word kicked up the pixie dust of a "return to traditional values." People who were economically hurting could be misled into voting for the very party that was going to hurt them even more in the belief that it would bring back the good ol' days -- when everyone knew their place and loved their country.

The second, third, fourth and fifth tricks consisted of wedge issues that would divide the actual working class (and this includes anyone who derives his primary income from work and not capital) from itself. It is for this reason that the media-politics of the past forty years has been taken up with MIAs, Blacks, Womyn, Gays, "Illegals," Lawn Order, Abortion, Quotas, Snail Darters, in fact anything except anything that mattered.

In the end, these wedge tactics preyed on the the concept of society itself in order to promote the pillage and plundering interests of the true capitalist upper class. By 1980, Nixon's rough prototype code had been refined into an improved more encompassing model . Reagan's "L" word distilled and pandered to all of Archie Bunker's mis-placed hates while screwing Archie royally. It was a stunning con-job.

Krugman is completely correct when he writes:
"So the reign of George W. Bush, the first true Southern Republican president since Reconstruction, was the culmination of a long process. And despite the claims of some on the right that Bush betrayed conservatism, the truth is that he faithfully carried out both his party's divisive tactics ... and its governing philosophy."
But Krugman is utterly wrong to confuse the "tactic" with the "philosophy". The Party's philosophy was not racism or any other -ism except neo-liberalism; and what we have witnessed under Bush-Cheney has been the near destruction of any institution that stands for the public good.

Republicans in fact make no secret of this aim because any government that has the "common welfare" in mind will put limits on plunder, will regulate economic activity and will take steps to in sure the survival of the weakest, as Jesus and Jeremiah both commanded.

Does Krugman seriously believe that the Republican attempt to dismantle all regulatory functions of government is the product of "racism"? Unless he is as clueless as Archie Bunker, he can't possibly. Yet curiously enough he manages to insinuate that very misconception while avoiding any mention of the true bette noire.

Krugman is also disengenous to ignore the role of the Democrat Party in this denouement. Ideologically speaking, Reagan completed the destruction of the Democrats. What was left, throughout the Eighties, was a pathetic foil that vociferated the other side of the irrelevant wedge issues, as it stood on the political stage like some clown having eggs cracked over his head or seltzer water sprayed in his face, while Republicans sneered Libroool!

Under Clinton, the Democrat Party finally tired of masochism. But instead of promoting a true alternative political-economy they became Republican Lite. The Party continued to "champion" select wedge issues, rhetorically and largely ineffectually, while cribbing copiously from the neoliberal agenda. Clinton completed the destruction of welfare, deregulated financial markets and managed the unique feat of pushing through NAFTA while standing on the border and blaming them Mexicans for "coming here and taking away American jobs."

While Clintonomics was not as savage as Reganomics it was not, by any stretch, a revindication of America's tepid experiment with corporate-sponsored social-democracy. By any measure the social safety net shrank as corporate "freedom" grew paving the way for the present economic disaster.

Neither was Clinton any less aggressive in foreign policy, unless one considers the economic blockade of Iraq, the ongoing aerial bombing of Desert Fox, and the destruction of Serbia to be examples of the Peace Corps in action. Nor was Clinton any less slavishly servient to Israeli interests. It is by now public news that at Camp David II, Clinton did no more than play the role of Israeli enforcer, dooming for decades any chance of a compromised solution.

Last but not least, if anyone thinks that Clinton philosophy heeded constitutional restraints on the unfettered exercise of brutal police power on Americans, he need only remember Waco (the full story).

In short, it is true that the Bush regime was the culmination of a "long process" -- but that long process includes the collaboration and connivance of an equally neoliberal Democrtatic Party. That process is not racist but economic.

Similalry, to say that the New York Times promotes a somewhat lighter version of neo-liberalism does not mean that it does not fundamentally ascribe to the same philosophy that drives the Republicans. It does and its editorial board is stocked with major neo-liberal polemicists.

In fact, the Times continues to play the role of "Librool" foil, pandering to the other side of so-called "progressive" wedge issues while the Republicans palaver about patriotism and "conservative" values. It's truly a marvel how neo-liberals have honed the art of playing both sides of the wedge.

Of all this, Krugman writes not a word. Instead, he drags out the ol' tar baby and fetishes over race in order to blame the Republicans for exploiting racist phobias. Why? Because if the issue is really racist policies (as Krugman intones) then we might be razzle dazzled again into thinking that the election of a black Obama has ended those policies and that the New Beginning is arrived.

That is not the case. There will be no new beginning until neo-liberalism is anathematized for what it is and Americans develop a true egalitarianism founded in social consciousness.

©WCG, 2009

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