Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Second Bill of Rights

Every now and then I mention that the "left's" approach to the situation we face is out of whack when the primary objective seems to be preserving what can be preserved of the status quo in the face of the Rightist Republican onslaught.

Rather than even think of New and Improved policies of their own, the tendency on the "left"* is to argue the demerits of the Rightist proposals, and then lose the argument in Congress and the media, then repeat the process over and over again, and then complain that the debate is always being moved rightward, and it's just not fair.

Well, no. No it isn't. Fair, that is. But I would suggest that the reason why the debate keeps moving rightward is because so many times the "left" never even tries to move it in the other direction. They always fall into an Argument Trap which requires a dutiful reflection and consideration on the Rightist's proposals which always uses the Rightist's premises as the starting point. There may be a routine denunciation or two thrown in, but nine times out of ten, the Argument Trap the "left" finds itself in is inescapable: the Rightists have proposed something which the "left" is then obliged to argue. The "left" rarely proposes anything but is constantly arguing against the Rightist's proposal and in favor of the status quo.

There is no possibility of progress under the circumstances. Reversion is inevitable.

The Rightists seem to know that -- which is one reason they tend to chortle as much as they do at the antics of the "left."

Democratic leaders and online "leftists" never seem to get it, or if they do, they do so on Rightist terms. Which means going along with the Rightists.

It reminds me a little bit of the Civil Liberties struggles that crop up from time to time. The course of events is moving many primary civil liberties backwards at a furious pace. The Bill of Rights is essentially a dead letter, for example. The Constitution itself is under fierce legislative, executive and judicial assault. No matter; the Civil Liberties crowd sees incremental improvements here and there, particularly in gay rights these days, and that's enough to demonstrate "progress." The overall picture of course shows plenty of progress, just in the wrong direction. While valiantly hanging on to what they can of the tattered shreds and remnants of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the Civil Liberties crowd is losing the overall and long-term battle for rights and liberties for the masses -- which are being canceled wholesale at home and abroad in the name of "Security" -- aka "Freedom and Democracy." One should be stunned...

That's why The Second Bill of Rights is a necessary way of looking at things; otherwise we will constantly be moving backwards on important economic and political matters without even recognizing there is another way to go.

There are two versions of FDR's Second Bill of Rights speech posted here -- the first is his Fireside Chat from January 11, 1944, in which he details the economic issues the world and the nation will face as the Second World War is brought to a conclusion; in the second film version of the speech, he is focused more on the elements of social/economic justice than the larger picture. It's also pretty plain on film that Roosevelt is showing signs of extraordinary strain and stress.

In his radio speech, FDR mentions the "rightist reaction." Indeed, it is always trying to drive us backwards, and he says that going back to the way things were in the 1920's is a sure recipe for the triumph of Fascism.

Sure enough, here we are.

But unless you are prepared and able to think outside the Reactionary Rightist parameters you are doomed to going backwards -- where they want to take you.

It's not so much the elements of FDR's Second Bill of Rights that I'm focusing on (though they are important basics); it is the way of thinking and looking at problems and issues that's important in these times.

Social and economic justice are not side issues to be dealt with on the margins. They are the primary issues for most people. It's fundamental for opinion leaders in media -- new media included -- and in the ruling class to get that.

But nearly all of them have forgotten -- if they ever knew anything about such icky things in the first place.


Note: Republicans and Libertarians tend to go into fits of incoherent rage whenever the topic of The Second Bill of Rights is raised, or for that matter whenever economic and social justice threaten to rise from the dead and become paramount concerns once again.

One might want to contemplate why Republicans and Libertarians are so threatened by economic and social justice issues, and who they actually represent.


  1. Good post, Ché,

    In agreement with you.

    Basically, the Dems aren't doing anything they don't really want to do in the first place. They give into the Republicans as a part of the show, as you know. It's Kabuki Theater meets the Overton Window.

    I think there are some genuine folks among the Dems who really do want to stop the rightward plunge and go in another direction. But leadership does not, nor do the folks funding the Dems, who are more and more the same people funding the GOP. Which is also the reason why the defunding of the unions isn't a real worry for the Dems at the top. They're competing with the GOP for the same corporate money, and that corporate money wants to kill union power.

    . . .

    On the civil liberties front: Seriously, in the long run, what difference does it make that someone accused of terrorism is tried in a military or a civilian court? It may be a small improvement in the civil courts, but it's not as if the defendant is going to get a fair shake in either venue. It's not as if a lone Muslim, totally outside the American mainstream, much less its power structure, is going to find "justice" in our civilian courts, either. Just as any poor person in America won't get a fair shake in our civilian courts.

    How do otherwise intelligent people not see that disconnect? If it is true that a poor native born American will generally receive far less "justice" in our civilian courts -- and I think that is beyond debate -- why on earth would anyone assume it is some kind of victory to move a Muslim prisoner's venue from military to civilian courts?

    You're right. Incremental victories that really won't address the true class disparities in America and around the world. That's the bottom line. And civil libertarians typically don't deal with class issues. They're generally not in the working class in the first place, and most often seek greater economic freedom for business owners, which means the top 1% anyway.

  2. Let me rephrase that last part. I was far too general. Obviously, not all "civil libertarians" are pushing for expanded freedom for business interests.

    Obviously. Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, you, me, we're all in favor of Constitutional protections of our civil liberties. But we also are concerned about "civil rights" -- which can conflict with "civil liberties". As in, Rand and Ron Paul's ugly and destructive contention that business owners in the south should have had the right to deny service to blacks.

    So, yeah, we're in favor of civil liberties and against government crushing them. But they need to work with civil rights as well, and we need to stop privileging wealth and business in any case. That privilege seems to be the driving factor for all too many civil libertarians in recent years, which is why I think it may be helpful to divide them into left and right camps as well.

    It's kinda lazy, of course. Labels like that. And it can be inaccurate all too often. But it's also lazy for folks to assume that the supporters of "civil liberties" are necessarily virtuous or hold the high ground.

    Hope all is well . . .

  3. (Note: I myself just had a followup comment to your comments filtered by Blogger. Oh what fun. As Atrios was wont to say, "Blogger is Bloggered again." I'll say.)

    As for what I call "the civil liberties crowd," I think we should pay close attention to who and what they advocate and support, and judge accordingly. When they support the most predatory and destructive elements of society then it is more than fair to question their principles as well as their judgement.

    I've spent some time with local ACLU exec types, and the question of civil liberties issues vs social/economic justice issues has come up. ACLU has strict guidelines and they stick to them. They do not deal with social/economic issues directly.

    But that doesn't mean that those who are involved with civil liberties issues are unaware of social/economic issues and that they are not involved in social/economic justice. On the other hand, one can be a strenuous civil liberties advocate and care nothing at all about social/economic justice.

    It must depend on how you were raised. Father Coughlin, as reactionary as he was on so many issues, was a principle advocate of Social Justice and he was attacked as much for his economic populism as for his antisemitism.

    So. It's a mixed bag. Labels are useful, but they are not definitive.

    I bring up FDR's Second Bill of Rights in an effort to spur a kind of paradigm shift in the habitual way of thinking on the internet left -- that is reacting toward the latest outrage by the Rightists (or prematurely celebrating the demise of, say, Glenn Beck) rather than coming up with a vision of a Better Future.

    That's why I really liked your Utopian vision. It is exactly the way we need to conceive the future. No, it doesn't have to be practical. The vision itself is far more important. I'm not entirely sure what happened, but the Left in this country has largely lost its ability to envision anything other than holding on -- desperately -- to shreds of the Status Quo.

    It is, as we've seen, a losing strategy.

    We need Vision!

    Thanks for stopping by. Hope all is going well with you, too.



  4. I'll be writing a bit more on Egalitaria in the next few days.

    It is important to put forward a vision of what we want the world to be. Definitely agree with you that playing defense is a losing game in the world as it is, and that's all the left does these days. It's become a habit, on a macro and micro level.

    Unfortunately, it feeds on itself. It's demoralizing to lose ground, year after year, and that seems to provoke even more capitulation. I have no idea when or if that is going to end.

    Good points about ACLU etc. Social/Economic/Environmental Justice matters more to me than just about anything. Again, I think the difference between a terrorist suspect (I should have appended that above) being tried by a military court or a civilian court simply doesn't rate the same concern for me as two billion people living on two dollars a day, while the Forbes 400 now owns as much wealth as the bottom 60% of America combined. I don't even know what the stats are in comparison with the rest of the world . . .

    If we're forced to pick just one thing, I think it comes down to economic justice, which means economic democracy. Logically, social and environmental justice will follow from that. Not that they won't need constant vigilance as well . . . but they will naturally follow once we get closer to a real democracy, which has to include the economy.

    Take care . . .