An Individual Response to Rebecca Solnit—from a card-carrying member of the rancid sector of the grousing far left.
I was chagrined to discover after writing my rebuttal that the currently widely distributed essay, Leftists Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit, is four years old!
I must assume that since she has allowed it to be re-published as a TomDispatch Summer Special, that she still stands by all her points. The very fact that she has not modified any of her reasons for favoring, or disfavoring Obama in that long a period is appalling and now frames a major objection to her argument. That fact alone is almost enough to dismiss her altogether. I have no desire to condemn Ms Solnit and others who after four-years of the ice-cold shower of reality still believe Obama is out to save America even though I fail to see any rational basis for that belief. All I ask of you is that the reader give my argument as much consideration as I have given hers. After all it’s the American way—and there will be a quiz later. Here then is my response to her essay, “Leftists Explain Things to Me.”
Having become something of a local pariah in these parts because of my position on boycotting the upcoming Presidential election, I have had a number of people thrust under my nose this essay from TomDispatch by Rebecca Solnit entitled, “Leftists Explain Things to Me.”
Absent their own considered argument, I suppose my friends mean this as some sort of rebuttal of my position. I get so tired of this War of the Snippets or Dueling Political Pundits these days. I sometimes feel like the only amateur (read, unpaid) hereabouts attempting to frame his own take on current events or even trying to form and express independently arrived at coherent opinion.
Let me begin by stating how much I respect and admire Ms. Solnit’s clarity, intelligence and wit evident in all she writes. Until now, I have found her articulation of the radical, Progressive perspective largely in concert with my own beliefs and opinions. She is not the only personal hero on the Left to have come out with a resounding endorsement of Obama’s candidacy. Her reluctant admission of his “crimes” (my word, not hers) and shortcomings is a little more refreshing and reality-based than, for example Michael Moore’s and Tom Hayden’s. As with former Representative, Dennis Kucinich, the Democrats have always been able to rely on these loyal opponents to run back, tales wagging, within the safe confines of the Party when political crunch time arrives.
I resent her very first sentence, characterizing the existential concerns of the radical left, human rights advocates, legal scholars, whistle-blowers, most of the Leftist foreign press, etc as annoying, buzzing flies causing her to take her “eyes off the prize” of working against the evil Republicans while espousing traditional Democrat values. Right away she is employing a terrible rhetorical style, insulting the very (“rancid”) people she hopes to convert. In reality I suspect she has no intention of converting any serious critic of Obama on the Left—only marginalizing us further and discrediting any real discussion of issues neither candidate wants addressed.
Just the existence of her essay is evidence she and the Democrats are deeply concerned that so many serious voters these days have given up on electoral politics altogether. Hers is an attempt to staunch this massive defection of people who have declared, with full justification and ample evidence, a plague on both camps.
She also dismisses serious leftist critiques of Obama as nothing more that the same-old-same-old leftist line of habitually rejecting the good in preference for the perfect. This does a profound disservice the seriousness of the unique political situation we face today. I cannot believe as astute a political observer as Rebecca Solnit pretends not to see that. I suspect duplicity here.
After the “lesser of two evils” argument is mantraed out, the Democrats quickly move on to blaming the Republicans for Obama’s spineless compromises—even those committed when he had a majority Congress. I have said many times before: the fault with every aspect of our world and our society lies, less with the evil Right and far, far more with the failure of the spineless, corrupted Liberal Left.
She seems to think that, in the debate over all the bad that Obama has done v. all the good he has done, there must be some kind of parity where bad things can be balanced against the good. Her argument reminds me a little of the mother of a convicted murderer who pleaded with the judge for clemency because the condemned always sent his farther a present on his birthday. Ms. Solnit seems to say that, because Obama was the first black president (good), passed the only comprehensive health care bill in history (good), freed women and the gays (good good)—but killed one god-damned Pakistani kid (bad) the four goods outweigh the one bad. Let’s see that’s four goods and only one bad: lets vote for Obama! Any non-Democrat ethicist will tell you that his heinous disregard for innocent life is sufficient to negate all the good he has done. Quick! Someone, remind me of something good he has done. I tend to forget.
The following seemingly endless, monotonous recitation of Obama’s gravest crimes and misdemeanors must sound like the recitation of the Seder Haggadah. Any one of the following would be sufficient to negate a thousand good deeds and be evidence enough to impeach the man and send him straight to prison or the gallows:
* It would have alone been sufficient to indict Obama as a criminal—had he only killed hundreds of innocent people with his terrible drones.
* It would have alone been sufficient—had he only assumed complicity in all the crimes of the previous administration’s criminal enterprises by refusing to prosecute, or even investigate them.
* Sufficient—had he only illegally executed American citizens with extreme prejudice and without any legal process or judgment being established.
* Sufficient—had he only greatly expanded the modest, but still illegal, domestic spying network of his predecessor.
* Sufficient—had he only tortured Private Bradley Manning and countless others at undisclosed locations while lying, (like his predecessor) ”We do not torture.”
* Sufficient—had he only classified Julian Assange an enemy of the state, making him eligible for capture, extradition, indefinite imprisonment and execution.
* Sufficient—had he only reneged on his promise to close the Guantanamo illegally operated Penal Colony and indefinitely detain all the innocent men and children housed there.
* Sufficient—had he only developed the most opaque and imperial administration in history that persecuted, prosecuted and otherwise bankrupted and destroyed the lives of any whistle-blower brave or foolish enough to dare report on the massive levels of executive crime, cover-ups, corruption and other misdeeds.
* Sufficient—had he refused to halt the criminal prosecution and sentencing of activist Tim DeChristopher for saving public lands from the Bush Administration’s illegal auction block. I will admit that this monumentally deliberate act of omission, while not perhaps constituting an actual crime, is ample evidence of the President’s total moral and spiritual bankruptcy.
* Sufficient—had he only shepherded in all the Wall Street cronies to proceed over one of the most outlandish transfers of wealth from one class to another since the Gilded Age.
* Sufficient—had he only infiltrated mosques on the east coast under the pretense of ferreting out terrorists while actually alienating moderate Muslims across the nation. (Not one piece of actionable intelligence was produced BTW)
* Sufficient—had he only assassinated an unarmed man (bin Laden) while violating the sovereignty of another country. (Bringing him to trial in international judicial proceedings would have brought to light facts about our imperial, geopolitical machinations that would have been just too embarrassing.)
* And it would have been sufficient—had he only (Are you tired of reading? Again I remind you that even ONE of these crimes would have been sufficient to bring down nearly any other democratic government on the planet and send the miscreants into prison or exile.)
Dayenu! (It would have been sufficient for us!)
I have only listed above the things that should give Obama three-hots-and-a-cot or worse for high crimes and misdemeanors. I know that Obama and the Democrats have no interest in addressing all those crimes and his opponent will certainly not mention them. (Romney cannot wait to begin the litany of his own crimes.) We seem to have a tradition started now of each executive monumentally exceeding the criminality of his predecessor, Bush worse than Clinton, Obama worse than Bush, Romney worse than Obama—where will it stop? It certainly must be said that, if his bad behavior is rewarded by reelection, Obama II will be worse than Obama I.
The issues the President prefers to discuss, and most adroitly lie about, form a separate list of equally morally bankrupt assertions and behaviors. While not meeting the same criminal criteria of the above listed items, they certainly are reasons for condemnation by anyone with ethical, environmental, humanitarian or rights concerns. These secondary “bads” must condemn him as vehemently as the crimes and misdemeanors he admits to and celebrates.
This litany of decisions that run contrary to every democratic (small “d”) instinct and impulse is far longer than that partial list above. It involves his:
* Preaching environmentalist rhetoric while practicing policies that benefit the nuclear power industry, big coal, fracking and the X-L pipeline;
* Continuing the lie about Iran’s unproven nuclear weapons program (while continuing to threaten to nuke them himself or though our proxy—Israel) and the necessity of continuing sanctions that are serving to destabilize the region further, reinforce Iranian patriotism, strengthen the power of Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs and fueling more anti-American hatred;
* Outrageously presuming to having supported and encouraged the Arab Spring while actually trying to quash and oppose it in every way he could get away with it. If any one individual is responsible for the Arab Spring, it is Julian Assange whose revelations documented the extent of our historic contribution to the endemic brutality and corruption of the governments we supported in the region;
* Continuing to financially, militarily and politically support the criminals who rule Israel while ignoring the plight of the Palestinians;
* Refusing to support trade unionism in Madison and Chicago. He said he would march with them—remember?
* Refusing to even allow proponents of single-payer health plans at the table with Big Pharma and the demons of the health care insurance industry. In spite of the loudly shouted so-called accomplishments, the real shortcomings of the program I’m afraid will not become apparent until they attempt to implement them in 2014. I find it hard to believe in any health care program that leaves for-profit entities wholly in charge of managing the people’s health;
* I could go on about agriculture, immigration, education, national security, his wars (the Iraq war is not over BTW), Justice Department, foreign policy, etc. but you get the idea by now.
Now, what about Romney? Oooh the very word makes me want to soil my undies!
So it seems we now have a choice. We have a choice between an incumbent who should be conducting his re-election campaign not from his seat in the Oval Office but from a seat in the Hague vs. a would-be dictator who aspires to nothing so much as exceeding the record of infamy of his predecessor.
Now I’m sorry if this insults Ms. Solnit and so many others who seem to think our warts-n-all electoral process is worth saving, but I feel we have just about as much freedom and choice in electing a candidate to the highest office in this land as the Egyptians did under our puppet Mubarak. While there are still places where the election of decent people to public office is possible, the process has failed completely in giving us the choices we require when it comes to electing a President. The process has been irredeemably corrupt since before the League of Women voters bailed out of sponsoring the debates back in ’88. They accused both the Democrats and the Republicans of adding the League’s sponsored debates “…to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions.” The statement concluded, “The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”
The corruption, dishonesty and tyranny of our two-faced One-Party system has accrued more and more power over us, stifling democracy and our free choices, until we find ourselves at the present state literally unable to elect a candidate with the slightest shred of decency or statesmanship. This situation has never been more evident than it is right now.
I feel sad that those already marginalized on the Progressive Left are the only ones whom are willing to admit the terminal fraudulence of the whole system. I feel that everyone who votes for President in the upcoming election is only encouraging and validating the corruption and the tyranny that is the Amerika we “rancid” lefties and the people of the world have come to fear and hate. People of all political stripes know this, but few will openly talk about it. It doesn’t sell newspapers or soap.
This pursuit of unreality is so ubiquitous that even our environmental prophets of doom have to tread a little lightly. Outside of fans of Derrick Jensen, people don’t like to buy books or join movements that tell them that it may be too late to save the earth. People like to go on recycling their soft drink cans, buying mercury-laden energy-saving bulbs and driving those cute electric cars run on coal fired and nuclear power plants. Bill McKibben and James Hanson, with some deceit I suspect, don’t have to wait for the completion of Obama’s X-L Pipeline (decision delayed until after the election—ha ha) to know it has been game over for at least ten years now. We’ve been over the runaway greenhouse effect shut-off timeline of 350ppm since the late 80s!
Similarly, people don’t want to be told their votes will make no difference in the way the 1% will run the country for the next four years. And they will defend to the death their right to their delusion. The lime-lit, ghastly mask of Mitt Romney threatening to eat alive Granny, Mom and the kids is only there as a diversion and to scare the rubes. He will be even less able to divert Wall Street from its plans for Amerika than would be a black savior walking on water, promising a Change You Can Believe In. Several months ago Guardian commentator, Tariq Ali said that he believed the political system in America will not change until her citizens are willing to die for that change in the way the Egyptians are willing to do. You almost never hear such talk this side of the Atlantic. It doesn’t sell books, is not sought even on PBS or NPR and it drives corporate support away better than spilled ammonia.
I believe, at this stage of our imperial demise, nothing short of a popular insurrection, not the irredeemably corrupt traditional political process, will have any chance of changing the present system or save this country. And of course getting the hoi polloi off their sofas this or any year has all the chance of a sneeze in a hurricane. That is why I even take issue with my friends who support the presidency of Rocky Anderson or Jill Stein. Do even traditional Democrats believe Obama would stand a ghost of a chance against either of these two if allowed to go head to head in an un-rigged election? That is why the system is internally programmed to filter out any message that substantially challenges those who own and rule.
We are prisoners of these madmen who will not have enough junk flowing through their veins until the earth is consumed and is as barren as the Moon. That’s why they call it consumerism, stupid. They just can’t help themselves. We just can’t help ourselves. And the electoral process can’t help ourselves either. As a result we are much closer to a far, far more catastrophic global fiscal and sociopolitical collapse now than we were 79 years ago when Roosevelt is said to have saved capitalism by way of his New Deal programs.
I recently quoted Thomas Frank in his Harper’s article. He said of Obama,
“As I watched this upside-down unrest emerge, I used to wonder how long it would take Obama to switch on his inner FDR and start grappling with the nation’s problems and the way they obviously needed to be grappled with. The years passed and I finally realized that this was never going to happen. Then a different possibility started to dawn on me: maybe a second New Deal is precisely what Obama was here to prevent. Maybe that was the hope all along.” -Thomas Frank Harper’s September 2012 p10
So I thank Ms. Solnit for her loving, outdated palliatives. But with equal love I say, sorry I’m not buying it. We are all heading for one kind of prison or another. Our only choice this time is who our jailer will be. Boycott the Presidential election. Remember, Vote and the choice is theirs; don’t vote and the choice is yours!
Here is an optimistic postscript
In his rebuttal film to the critics of his brutal police riot of the ’68 Chicago Democratic National Convention, the late Mayor Richard J. Daley titled it “What Trees Do They Plant?” The PR front men of power always come up with such cute rhetorical questions cleverly designed to reverse the onus and put their detractors on the defensive. I have been asked questions like this by demagogues for a half a century now. I really hated to hear such rhetoric from someone I respect as much as Rebecca Solnit.
I have always been distrustful of any purveyor of hope. Hope is regarded by many as a virtue, whereas I have found examples where it has been used by ecclesial grifters and other villains only trying to harvest the markup from the sale of another piece of sky-pie. We are looking at a political system rife with hopelessness, despair, impotence and hate. I do believe our situation is ultimately hopeless. The psychopaths are too entrenched and will probably kill us all if the earth doesn’t shake us loose like God’s biggest mistake that we are. I grew up tutored by the likes of Samuel Beckett, Albert Camus and the Existentialists, so it is not hard to accept hopelessness as one of the primal conditions of mankind. For me, the death of hope is the beginning of action, creation and love.
Just because I believe with a pretty high degree of certainty that humanity is at best three or four generations away from extinction, that the earth in less than two hundred years will be devoid of all life (hey, who said anything would last forever?), that is no reason not to work hard locally to make our last years as rational, ecological and sustainable as possible. I will be voting in local elections and even in a Congressional election now and then until the national government collapses along with most world institutions and corporations. I will try to be kind to those around me, especially to those suffering from the delusional vestiges of our imperial greatness. I do mourn the planet and the end of what so far seems like the only unique example of living evolution in the universe. I had hoped for a little longer run, perhaps ending in something beyond our control like crashing into the sun or a collision with a wayward comet. Even our manmade self-destruction I accept now like my own, hopefully natural, death.
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|William A. Cook|