Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Ideology of No Ideology

From CounterPunch:

On Friday, columnist David Brooks informed readers that Barack Obama’s picks “are not ideological.” The incoming president’s key economic advisers “are moderate and thoughtful Democrats,” while Hillary Clinton’s foreign-policy views “are hardheaded and pragmatic.”

On Saturday, the New York Times front page reported that the president-elect’s choices for secretaries of State and Treasury “suggest that Mr. Obama is planning to govern from the center-right of his party, surrounding himself with pragmatists rather than ideologues.”

On Monday, hours before Obama’s formal announcement of his economic team, USA Today explained that he is forming a Cabinet with “records that display more pragmatism than ideology.”

The ideology of no ideology is nifty. No matter how tilted in favor of powerful interests, it can be a deft way to keep touting policy agendas as common-sense pragmatism -- virtuous enough to draw opposition only from ideologues.

Meanwhile, the end of ideology among policymakers is about as imminent as the end of history.

But -- in sync with the ideology of no ideology -- deference to corporate power isn’t ideological. And belief in the U.S. government’s prerogative to use military force anywhere in the world is a matter of credibility, not ideology.

More here.

From Merriam-Webster Online:

partisan 1: a firm adherent to a party, faction, cause, or person ; especially : one exhibiting blind, prejudiced, and unreasoning allegiance

ideology 2 a: a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture b: a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture c: the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program
Clearly, when they say "non-ideological," what all these talking heads and pundits mean is "non-partisan." That is, they're saying they like Obama's picks for White House duty because they're palatable to both Republicans and Democrats, and can work toward common goals with both parties--political pundits love it when everyone in Washington can get along; they hate all that "ideological" bickering. Talking heads just want our leaders to get on with doing the nation's work.

But I think it's no mistake that all these guys in suits, who think they understand politics better than average ordinary citizens, chose the wrong word to describe all these new Cabinet appointments. "Ideology" is a dirty word in American politics. I'm not entirely sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with some of the more extremist ideological movements of the 20th century, communism and fascism--think of how so many liberals have been undone over the decades by charges of "Communist!" or how conservatives scream like babies when they're compared to Nazis. In the US, ideology is something to which anti-American freaks adhere; good normal Americans are "non-ideological."

But just because virtually all of the political establishment, which includes the corporate news media, ignores ideology in no way means it does not exist. Indeed, we are a deeply ideological nation whether we admit it or not. For instance, one ideological point of view shared by most people here is the concept of "American exceptionalism." That is, most Americans think that, for whatever reasons, we're somehow more enlightened than the rest of the world, that our democratic institutions, for what they're worth, represent the apogee of human relations. A close corollary of this point of view is that of social progress: yeah sure, we've done evil things, like exterminating almost all of America's native peoples, or enslaving Africans, but we've stopped doing that; we're always getting better.

As if avoiding slavery and genocide was the highest standard for judging a civilization.

Of course, Americans are not exceptional. We're all human beings just like Germans and Russians. We're all prone to being misled. We're all prone to pride, which, as they say, comes before a fall. And to be quite honest, our democratic institutions just ain't what they used to be. If they were ever worth much in the first place.

Anyway, it's pretty safe to say that, even though Obama's new team is non-partisan, they are deeply ideological. They are strong supporters of the US corporate/plutocratic establishment and want to repair the damage done to it by eight years of incompetent leadership. The "change" these appointments represent is only within an ideology stating that the wealthy should run this country and the entire world for their own benefit. Their radical departure from the Bush administration's views is that they believe such rule should be efficient and self-sustaining--that is, Bush has fucked everything up for the powerful; they want things back to normal, and "normal" means squeezing American citizens, and the whole planet, for all they can get, without fear of an entire system collapse.

That's ideological. But don't say it. Don't even think it. Or the talking heads will call you a Communist. Or a Nazi.

And really, from their point of view, that's the point: people can't criticize what they don't think about.