Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Tuesday Is Recycling Day
I've been really happy to shy away from politics lately, mostly because the intensely polarizing mindlessness that political debate in general has devolved into in this country just wears me out. It's the kind of thing that's barely possible to even be funny about anymore because things are just so fucking insane out there. I certainly don't want to bury my head in the sand and simply hope for the best, but dwelling on it makes me long to find a doctor willing to dole out Vicodin like a human Pez dispenser.
That said, what's happening today in Massachusetts is something all of us have no choice but to pay at least a little attention to, mostly because it has the potential to be a game-changer in Washington. For those who've chosen to remain blissfully ignorant, a special election is being held today that will determine who fills Ted Kennedy's former seat in the Senate -- and it looks as if it's entirely possible that a one-time Republican nobody named Scott Brown could thwart the entirely lackluster campaign of Democrat Martha Coakley. Scott's an empty suit and an empty head of the highest order; Coakley's a smug dumb-ass whose own sense of entitlement has put her in the position she's now in, basically neck and neck with a guy who never should've been a threat but whom she always should've considered one. What makes this election a big deal is that if Scott wins, the balance of power tips slightly in the Senate, at least enough for the GOP to successfully filibuster any Democratic initiative, like, say, the massive health care reform package that lawmakers have been debating, according to my calculations, since 1833.
Like everything involving partisan politics these days, this race is an amalgam of toxic components that seem all too familiar by now: There's been the Tea Bagger crowd at Scott rallies shouting that Coakley needs somebody to "shove a curling iron up her butt"; obnoxious and pompous posturing from both sides; a lot of invoking and revoking of the memory of Kennedy; the Schadenfreude of far left progressives, who seem to now delight in the prospect of President Obama failing outright as some sort of object lesson to those who "sell out" the supposed base; you get the picture. If you've been reading this site regularly over the past year or so, you know that it's this last curiosity -- the confounding narrative that has some on the left suicidally reveling in their erstwhile candidate's political setbacks -- that's entertained and infuriated me in equal parts. The all-or-nothing mindset that pervades left-wing politics is so laughably self-defeating that I've actually reached the point where I'd almost like to see Obama's agenda go down in flames, not as a rebuke of his occasional willingness to compromise but as a rebuke of the hardliners' vow never to. Call it "meta-failure."
I obviously don't want to see anyone sacrifice his or her ideals or throw campaign promises on the fires of absolute appeasement, particularly not to an opposition party made up of howler monkeys that have made it perfectly clear they'll never be appeased. But the tendency of liberals to instantly and impetuously turn on anybody who doesn't conform to whatever pie-in-the-sky image they've created in their own grad school-educated brains -- that's earned them a serious whack on the nose with a rolled up newspaper. And if the Republicans were to retake Congress and eventually the White House, it might finally wake them the fuck up to the reality that the Naderization of progressive politics may look wonderfully Utopian on paper, but sorry, it ain't gonna win elections.
Of course it's a nation's responsibility to hold its elected officials' feet to the fire when it comes to promises they've made and positions they've espoused. But pitching a hissy-fit and pushing for the failure of a president and a party just because they're not giving you everything you want usually leads to a president and party taking over who will give you nothing you want.
"With Friends Like These..." (Originally Published, 8.21.09)
"So progressives are now in revolt. Mr. Obama took their trust for granted, and in the process lost it. And now he needs to win it back."
-- Paul Krugman in an editorial in today's New York Times
I'm not one of those people who listens to right-wing radio, even occasionally, looking for something to piss him off. If I wanted to make myself angry for no good reason, I'd call my estranged wife -- or maybe put on a Phish record.
That said, I was flipping through Sirius XM radio a couple of days ago when I stumbled across the America Right or "Patriot Radio" channel. The show that happened to be on at the time was something called The Wilkow Majority (I'll give you a minute to shake your head at the right's ongoing and obligatory need to cast itself in the most muscular terms possible) hosted by a guy named Andrew Wilkow. What separates Wilkow from the rest of the crazy-come-latlies out there in conservative radioland is his belief that he's, well, a punk.
I'm not kidding.
Both Wilkow and his producer, an at one time faux-hawk-sporting kid named Nick Rizzuto, have gotten it through their heads that they're the personification of the right's new school -- and that the new school they represent also happens to be the logical next step in the evolution of punk. They've even started a website called "Conservative Punk." If this sounds fucking laughable, believe me -- it is. Do yourself a favor and don't think too hard about trying to fit the square peg of punk rock culture into the round hole of unabashed capitalism and conservatism; I tried for awhile and it only made my head hurt. Jello Biafra and Henry Rollins are turning over in their graves at this ridiculous conceit and they're not even dead yet. You almost have to give credit to the right's lack of shame when it comes to attempting to co-opt some of the better trends of the left while forcibly trading off its own misdeeds, clumsily trying to shove them under the banner of its enemy and hoping that no one notices how full of shit the whole notion is (Hitler was a leftist, racism is a liberal ideal, etc.).
Needless to say, neither Andrew Wilkow nor his remora, Nick Rizzuto, is a punk. To twist a somewhat legendary phrase: Boys, I grew up with punks. I was good friends with punks. I was a punk (and according to some, still am). You're no fucking punks.
The reality is that, after taking a quick glance at his website, Wilkow looks like he could be just about any other right-wing talking head. This is especially amusing when you consider the fact that he is actually quite a bit younger than the usual suspects and yet still looks like your basic perpetually middle-aged white guy who hasn't been blown since college. I guess that's what being Sean Hannity's hand-picked protege does to you. (Now's a good time to once again remind you that a guy who counts his introduction to Hannity among the greatest moments in his life also considers himself an up-the-establishment standard bearer of punk rock's new blood. You've gotta be fucking kidding me.)
All very easy shots at Wilkow and his show aside, though, I have to admit that while listening to him for a few minutes the other day, he made a surprisingly good point -- one that I sort of made here earlier in the week. I guess we're both on the same "Punk Rock Manifesto Weekly" mailing list.
The Wilkow rant in question had to do with the tendency of liberals to seemingly revel in martyrdom and self-sabotage -- their propensity to almost embrace their roles as losers and to be able to snatch defeat from the jaws of even the most assured victory. The crux of his argument was this: The Democrats have near-complete control of the government right now -- from the White House to the Hill. Legislation-wise, they can accomplish practically anything they set out to, and yet they're somehow content to bitch, moan and blame Republicans for standing in the way of progress when in reality no one's completely blocking their path. Worse than all of that, and this is something Wilkow didn't broach but I will: Liberals can't help fighting amongst themselves. It's as if it's ingrained in their DNA to never completely agree on anything. And we've all seen how well that strategy works when it comes to pushing through an agenda or, you know, winning elections.
A couple of days ago I published a piece decrying the Democrats for not being willing to take off the gloves and get their hands a little dirty when it comes to battling the Republican noise machine trying to thwart them at every turn. My point was that there won't be much solace in being able to say, "Well, at least we stuck to the ideals that make us better than the GOP automatons," four years from now if nothing got done and a Republican president is back in office. I'm not saying that there can't and won't be disagreement and dissent; I'm saying that in order to get the job done and give Barack Obama the clout he needs to move his agenda forward by leaps and bounds, there has to be, to a large extent, a united front to face the consistently united front staring you down from the other side of the aisle. To paraphrase The Godfather, as far as outsiders are concerned, you never take sides against the family.
Sure this is slightly robotic and seems to stand against everything left-wing America stands for, but guess what? It fucking wins.
Sometimes you've gotta look at the big picture -- and if there's anyone who can't seem to do that because they're too busy picking every little thing apart just to prove how intellectual, analytical and multi-faceted they are, it's liberals.
Case in point: today's New York Times editorial by Paul Krugman.
First of all, let me state unequivocally that Krugman's a genius; he's one of the smartest people around, and his views are always worth listening to. Let me also make it clear that I'm not suggesting that any side of the political spectrum let its leaders get away with anything and everything. The good of the nation should, for all intents and purposes, trump the good of the party. My argument is that the battle lines are so clearly drawn these days, the alternative for either party is so far removed from its own desired reality for the country, that each side has to be willing to accept that a big picture victory, even a partial one, is infinitely better than a complete loss. The Republicans realize this; the Democrats seem not to. Krugman's editorial, which takes President Obama to task for supposedly betraying the progressive base that helped put him in office, is a perfect example of the self-defeating splinter cell tendency of left-wing politics. Yes, Barack Obama seems to have slipped comfortably into a more middle-of-the-road stance than much of the left-leaning electorate would've liked, but make no mistake: a New York Times editorial from one of the leading liberal voices in America declaring that Obama has lost the support of progressives and now has to earn it back accomplishes nothing aside from doing the job of Republican strategists for them.
An editorial like Krugman's is every conservative's wet dream -- because those on the right know that any well-publicized dissension within the Democratic ranks makes Obama look weak and proves their point to those on the fence: that even when the Democrats have what they need to run the government their way, they can't make it happen. They can't seal the deal, despite having everything on their side.
As Wilkow said, they're born losers.
Right about now, the Democrats need to take a hint from a recent song by Green Day: Know Your Enemy. At the very least, know who he is.
Of course, Green Day actually have something in common with Andrew Wilkow: They're not real punks either.