Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Documenting the Atrocities

Jeebus, the Hysteria.

The stark raving madness surrounding the now-admitted-by-everyone to be a pretty much ideal Republican Health Care Insurance Reform measure so infected the public square and the blogosphere that I just stayed away. The Crazy is catching, and I simply did not want to play.

When you have an amiable drunk like Dick Armey stirring up the masses to Rise and Revolt, and he's the only one doing it, then you know the situation is well out of hand -- and well out of your hands. When Men of Principle like the perpetually peevish Dennis Kucinich can be -- ahem -- persuaded to go along with what is arguably The Best Republican Health Insurance Reform measure evah, then you know the fix is not only in, it has been in for months if not years.

And the hysteria over it just won't quit.

This is politics in America today, and when things get this wild, even though all the Stakeholders are pretty well satisfied, then you know it's all for Show, a Show that is meant to keep the People entertained while their betters abscond with more of their loot.

That nearly the entire blogosphere fell into it and two sites that I frequent -- or used to -- FDL and dKos -- went balls-to-the-wall with rivalry and hysteria, mutual anathema and fury, simply confirmed to me that "Health Care" was being used as a business leader by both of them, with the primary desire and function to increase revenues for their proprietors.

Much as Dick Armey has very successfully done with his "Freedom Works" TeaBagger outfit.

TeaBagging is now the model. First they made it OK to bring up the R-Word, "Revolution". Now they make it OK to be bat-shit insane, and mostly to value myth and falsity over fact to make their point.

The shape and outline of the "Health Care" was set very early on last year, by April or May, and was all but complete by June and July. After that, everything was theatrics piled upon theatrics, and jockeying for attention by all and sundry. It really troubled me that it was being done this way. I still don't know whose bright idea it was to let things devolve into such a continuous goon show, but there you are. "Day of the Locusts" -- and it wouldn't end. It just kept going and going and going...

Couple of things happened, though, that made it almost seem smart (well, that remains to be seen...): 1) the factions pretty much exhausted themselves in virtual combat with one another and with The Powers That Be; 2) the bill that has been (is still in fact being) cobbled together comes across as "Moderate" compared to the foam-flecked fury it has unleashed among the commentariat and the proles. Moderate and wise, considered and responsible, a celebration of the Public Interest, the "Health Care" seems (almost) Just Right. Or something like that.

There is very little energy left to fight the Power, or to fight this fait accompli... or to do much of anything.

Jane posted her Manifesto over the Betrayal, yadda yadda, and something jumped out at me from it: She writes about how exciting and rewarding it was to cover what was going on. As a Journalist. New Media and all that. And then she refers to how difficult it was and frustrating it was to take what she learned as a Journalist and turn it into political action -- ie: to be a Player.

And how the next step has to be this or that to turn political knowledge gained as a Journalist into successful political action as a Player Without Portfolio. Basically to be as influential as any high priced lobbyist on K Street. Or as influential as any other noisy media outfit.

What is the point of Documenting the Atrocities if you can't use them for... good? Well, for what you want.

And this is the core difficulty among political bloggers. They want -- in some cases desperately -- to be Players on the political field, and they want to Win. (cf: Markos, Arianna, Aravosis) They believe that being Journalists is the way to Glory and Winning on the Field. Documenting the Atrocities (in the form of constant Media Criticism) is one of the core functions of the Blogosphere in general, and it is a sure way to -- eventually -- gain Notice. And Notice, somehow, is supposed to translate into Power.

Only it doesn't, not really, when it comes to Blogging. So called Progressives got nothing out of the "Health Care," not even a wink and a nod. At best they got a kick in the nads and a slap in the face, and a demand for their lunch money to boot. And like always, they pay up. It's their role and their function. Surprisingly, Jane has not yet gone into Kali-mode demanding the Heads of all who thwarted her again. Especially the Head of Obama Himself. But one shouldn't be surprised to see her turn when the situation is ripe.

Interestingly, some Republicans are complaining that they got "Nothing." Interesting especially because the measure is for all intents and purposes a Republican measure, barely recognizable as anything but a pay-off to vested interests at the crippling expense of the Public -- the way it is supposed to be in Republican Land.

It's arguably better in that regard than the Republicans on their own could possibly have made it. So what are they crabbing about?

Oh, I see.

They couldn't and didn't do it.

Someone else had to be brought in, Young Mister Obama.

That's the deal.

That's what they're crabbing about. And they will never forgive him for it.


Note: somebody at the Signing just said, "Thank you. 36 years trying to do this..."

Well, there you are.


  1. Well. You're back in fine form, and I'm glad to have you back.

    I can accept that any number of people have made taking shots at Jane Hamsher into a near cottage industry. Personally, I think it's what they did to keep themselves from addressing the very thing you note here, the fix was in last spring/early summer.

    Jane is welcome to her theatrics. Some folks can do that; I'd simply look silly. But, there is one thing I will give Jane credit for. By making a "Robust Public Option" a thing - a thing that was identified, a thing that could be quantified, a thing that could be pressed for, a thing that was recognizable, a thing that could be "promised," a thing that could be defended... and, ultimately, a thing that could be bargained away - she made the fix visible and known.

    I don't know how anyone can look at what has transpired over the past year, with any degree of awareness and honesty, and not have to admit in their heart of hearts that the deal was done long before the the Town Brawls had really gotten underway. I give Hamsher credit for making that plain. And, I don't think she was surprised by the outcome. I'm guessing she knew all along how this would play out. And, if that's true, then the energy she expended trying to staple the sole liberal attribute in that whole mess to the floor is commendable, imo. She spared not one inch of leverage she could get her hands on.

    Somewhere in the discipline of physics or astrophysics is the notion of being able to chart travel when all the objects around you are moving. How do you know where you began, and how far you've traveled if there is no fixed reference point against which to measure? Jane made the public option such a reference point for me. And, I'm grateful to her for having done so.

    I'm imagining that I'm not the only one who got an education in fixes from Hamsher. On balance, I'd say she did some good. Because, if we will ever make any headway against the forces arrayed against us all - and, I'm far from convinced we can - then there needs to be a whole lot of people who can learn to spot these fixes before they are done deals. I take my teachers where I find them.

    Glad you had a productive (would that be the right word?) to NM. Sounds like you had your hands full. You made me glad I live in CO as opposed to AZ. Glad to see you back in the saddle here.

    ~ bystander

  2. Hey there,

    I have been neglectful of some things lately to concentrate on others... Most of my attention since returning to CA has been focused on preparing for the move to NM, which means emptying the house here; a major chore given our more than twenty years at this address, and our highly acquisitive natures.

    As for Jane... clearly she does get herself noticed!

    "She made the fix visible and known."

    I'm intrigued with your point of view on her contributions to the debate. She's been called numerous times for her failure to support the correct policy prescription -- ie: Medicare for All, "single payer" -- until after her policy prescription ("public option") failed utterly. Yet she claimed she "always" supported single payer.

    No, she was pushing where she thought she had leverage. Single payer had been eliminated from consideration before the election, so... the alternative was the abortive Public Option, which was never clear to the public (any more than "single payer" was, which to this day is meaningless inside the beltway blather to most people.) But there was never a realistic chance -- at least not after last spring/summer -- that any such thing would become law.

    It sure was a carrot on a stick, tho. A real good one for a lot of purposes and for a lot of people.

    But what intrigues me is the idea that Jane clarified the "fix" for you early on. If she did that, then hurray. It always seemed to me that she was avoiding the centrality of the "fix" -- the decisions already made and set in concrete -- in order to hammer her Public Option gong.

    But maybe my view is too jaundiced!

    A friend and I were talking yesterday about the Health Care bill, and he pointed to the real anger among black folks he knew at what a piece of crap this was and how badly it was going to serve the People -- and at what a tremendous cost.

    True enough. And I said, "Well, Obama got pretty much what he set out to get. If people thought he was going to go after something else, I have to ask if they were paying attention. He laid the groundwork for what amounts to a Republican bill, and he got it passed, and it is going to help some people who really need it. It's like Medicare Part D. Which is going to be fixed. People crabbed the whole day long about that, but now they think it's fine. With the donut hole fixed, everybody will be Happy! It's gonna be pretty much the same way with this. You watch."

    We'll see. My hope is still that a Medicare for All system will be instituted to end this plethora of insurance company options.

    We'll see!

  3. You can teach by telling "what is." You can also teach by setting up an experiment and letting the student follow the outcome as it unfolds.

    You're correct; single payer should have been the policy goal. But, it was never on the table. The next most liberal framework was a public option. That was what the Democrats indicated had a good chance. Obama went on and on about it in his OFA teleconference. I took copious notes. I wanted to know if the public option he spoke of was the same one Hamsher spoke of, and the Democrats she got to go on the record supporting it, spoke of.

    From the point at which Jane staked out a robust public option, the entire health care debate was framed for me in those terms. Keeping my eyes on the ball (the public option), and the players (politicians), I was able to keep track of the game. The public option served as a navigational referent. Rather than tell me how the game would end, Hamsher allowed me to own the experiment. It was my experiment, and the results of that experiment are mine as well. Lesson learned! Lesson over-learned.

    Hamsher could probably have spelled out the results of that experiment in advance. Said something like, Ignore a public option, we won't get it anyway, lets hammer for this thing that we're even less likely to get, and go there. At the end, students - such as myself - might have wondered if we couldn't have had the public option after all, if we'd pushed for that instead. By pushing for the thing that was just ever so slightly to the left of the forgone result, watching it get traded away on we don't have the votes, only to have the Stupak PAC cave so that the votes would have been there in the end, was a powerfully instructive lesson.

    I don't consider myself to be particularly politically savvy. I'm not sure I want a PhD in political machinations. My native talents run elsewhere. But, I needed a handle after 2000. In this single experiment Hamsher led, I learned volumes. And, I suspect there are a lot of others Hamsher educated as well. The Three-card Monte game was laid bare.

    ~ bystander

  4. Thanks, bystander.

    I really appreciate your point of view on this. And you've instructed me in a very different approach to what was going down.

    When I said "maybe I'm too jaundiced" it was from my perspective of having already seen too much of how these things go. I need reminders that not everybody sees it that way, nor can they -- nor should they -- and you've given me a real insight into how someone who tries to be a realist about what is learns sometimes hard and bitter truths about our political environment and the creatures infesting it.

    I've never really seen Jane being the Teacher, I suppose, but you have convinced me that she truly is, and that she does it well. So that's an eye-opener for me.

    We all do our part, and I think I'll have a greater appreciation for her part in the effort from now on.

    Again, thanks.

  5. Thanks. As long as we both recognize that I am one person, offering one person's perspective. This is what I find unacceptable, and offensive.

    I think there are criticisms of Hamsher - and her community - that are valid. What are the appropriate tactics for what the lady wanted to demonstrate? Damned if I know, but the two statements up for comparison are easily differentiated by me. And, I assume that they would be fairly easily differentiated for any of Jane's "students."

    I find the comments instructive. Many of these folks are a near lifetime away from understanding the political world as you describe it. Only with the intermediate step - provided by Hamsher - can I tip my hat in your direction and say, You told me so.

    ~ bystander

  6. Ché,

    Hope all is well since your return.

    Reading a good book by Michael Walzer, The Company of Critics. Currently on a section about Gramsci. Your comment about Dick Armey and the tea party crowd got me thinking about how they've almost applied an old left-wing template of sorts, but from the right.

    The working class's thinking does not follow practical activity. Consciousness does not follow existence . . . so the break

    "signifies that the social group in question may indeed have its own conception of the world, even if it's only embryonic; a conception that manifests itself in action, but occasionally and in flashes . . . But this same group has, for reasons of submission and intellectual subordination, adopted a conception which is not its own but is borrowed from another group, and it confirms this conception verbally and believes itself to be following it."

    -- Gramsci

    The right has successfully done what Marxists thought was essential for the left to do. They have managed to naturalize their own vision, make their own worlview the accepted worldview of a good chunk of the working class. Of course, because it is the view from the right, it's the view of the hegemon which Gramsci and those of us on the left want to replace. The right successfully beat us to the punch. In a sense, the working class believes they have attained their own worldview when it's really the ruling class's. Gramsci would credit them with retaining common sense above and beyond that indoctrination, but on key issues and when it comes to policy, the right has won, the left has lost its ideal "base".

    How else can one explain the idea that a largely Republican health care bill, as you mention, is seen as a Maoist takeover?

    This depresses me profoundly, along with the onslaught of fascist violence in its wake. What can we do when a center-right government is thought of us far-left by so many? I don't think we've ever seen a period of time when people were so divided about the nature of facts.

  7. Cu-hool,

    Yep. I've noticed for some time that Our Friends on the Right appear to be mirroring what they think Teh Left has been doing for lo these many years.

    They excuse their behavior -- sometimes quite openly -- as merely doing what Teh Left has been doing. And if it's dirty, Teh Left has been dirty. If it breaks the Rules, Teh Left has broken the rules. On and on. I heard some blatherer on the Hate Radio the other day claim straight out that the Republicans intend to "take the gloves off" and use the same tactics on Dems in Congress that Dems have been using on them, breaking the same rules -- only doing it "better" than the Dems ever could.

    I don't doubt that their strategists are fully immersed in practical political action theories from the last two hundred years. They aren't original thinkers, but they will take whatever they can find and use as the their model.

    I have a certain sour admiration for the fact that they are doing it. They are pulling no punches and taking direct action, including threats and acts of violence, revolt and revolution, unapologetically, and unafraid. They are using every avenue at their disposal to thwart their opposition. And they are united.

    What's happened because of it? The Dems become more and more like the Rs used to be.

    Whether the Rs actually think about it this way, I don't know, but what's been happening is a very straightforward demonstration of what has to be done to move a status quo political party like the Dems in the direction a faction, the Rs, want them to go -- further and further right. It works. It works great.

    For some reason, Teh Left (such as it is) has rejected that basic political insight. The Progressive Caucus is a joke. Direct Action is still considered anathema among the "Progressive" intellectual class. They fear the Giant Puppets and all.

    Dick Armey may be an amiable drunk, but he seems to understand the emotional foundations of politics, and how important it is to make an emotional connection with the People in order to move the bar. It is so basic and fundamental.

    The Dems seem incapable of even imagining it.

    And so we get a Republican HCR measure -- that is then condemned as Maoist by the TeaBaggers!

    It can work the other way, too.

    Well, it used to...

  8. That emotional connection is key. In rereading some of the old lefty intellectuals, and discovering some new (to me), I'm reminded of how filled they were with hubris, and whether intentionally or not, an often insufferable form of paternalism. The left will never be successful in winning hearts and minds as long as it retains any of that. The right has been successful largely because it doesn't talk down to its "base", even though we know that behind closed doors they often despise them. But they did not leave behind hundreds of books describing how Marxists would have to teach the poor dumb masses, or that the critique should largely be about the wrongness of views within the working class itself. You don't win friends and influence people by addressing your strongest condemnations to the victims, rather than the perpetrators.

    The right has successfully invented scapegoats -- liberals, communists, gays, feminists, secular humanists, blacks, and now Muslims -- and directs the anger outside the base it pursues.

    The left is terrible at this, perhaps feeling guilty about inventing anything. Thing is, there are real villains within easy reach -- the fat cats on Wall Street, for instance -- that require no invention or distortion when it comes to valid critique, and the left, at least outside the universities, has been all too silent in that regard.

    It looks to me that both parties have been largely coopted by the right, and there is no apparatus anymore for the left to use as teaching tool or activist base. Persuasion and political action, right now, are largely in the right wing's camp. We on the left see this unfold in obvious ways, and it's pretty much destroyed our drive. That's what happens when we lose. When the right loses, they just get more pissed off and energized . . . even when they really haven't lost, but just think they have . . .

    Take care --