Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Outrage, Misguided

Noam Chomsky's take on the recent elections:

People rightly want answers, and they are not getting them except from voices that tell tales that have some internal coherence—if you suspend disbelief and enter into their world of irrationality and deceit.

Ridiculing Tea Party shenanigans is a serious error, however. It is far more appropriate to understand what lies behind the movement’s popular appeal, and to ask ourselves why justly angry people are being mobilized by the extreme right and not by the kind of constructive activism that rose during the Depression, like the CIO (
Congress of Industrial Organizations).


I am just old enough to remember those chilling and ominous days of Germany’s descent from decency to Nazi barbarism, to borrow the words of Fritz Stern, the distinguished scholar of German history. In a 2005 article, Stern indicates that he has the future of the United States in mind when he reviews “a historic process in which resentment against a disenchanted secular world found deliverance in the ecstatic escape of unreason.”

The world is too complex for history to repeat, but there are nevertheless lessons to keep in mind as we register the consequences of another election cycle. No shortage of tasks waits for those who seek to present an alternative to misguided rage and indignation, helping to organize the countless disaffected and to lead the way to a better future.


Chomsky has been pretty relentless since the rise of the Tea Party a couple of years ago in asking why the hell hasn't the left taken the lead on such populist outrage. It is, after all, traditional leftist territory. I mean, as Chomsky observes, the outrage is legitimate, if misinformed. It is a crime that liberals haven't stolen the right wing's thunder on this. Because, you know, it's the right wing and their philosophies, really, whether coming straightforwardly from Republicans, or dressed up in liberal good vibes from Democrats, that fucking caused all the anger in the first place.

Here's my take, inspired by conservative writer
David Frum who tweeted this a few weeks back: "Repub pols fear the GOP base; Dem pols hate the Dem base." Right wing activism still matters within the Republican Party; left wing activism, on the other hand, is irrelevant within the Democratic Party. That is, conservatives have a massive institutional advantage when it comes to organizing public disaffection and anger. When the Republican base is all freaked out about something, the official Party rolls out the red carpet and welcomes the freaks--when the Democratic base is freaked out, the official Party condemns them loudly, publicly, and continually. Strangely, in spite of the fact that the GOP is far more detached from public concerns than that other corporate party, the Democrats, Republicans appear to be attuned to their rank-and-file members in ways that put their rival to shame. So when there's an uprising, Republicans try to embrace it and see what kind of deals they can cut in order to manage the popular energy and direct it in ways they like. Democrats just kind of stare at the floor and hope their rank-and-file goes away.

It is no wonder, then, that the Tea Party is conservative in nature. Conservative activists have an institutional home, which comes with money, massive speech amplification, and actual votes in Congress. Liberal activists have nothing; they live in the wilderness, which is exactly how the Democratic Party likes it.

In a century, when historians are trying to figure out just what exactly caused the American empire to collapse the way it did back in the early decades of the 21st century, I'd bet fifty bucks that the Democrats get more blame than the Republicans. The Republicans, after all, are blinded by fucked up ideology. The Democrats know what's going on. They just don't care.