Wrapping Up the Naughts

Well, not only have we come to the end of the year, but we have also come to the end of the decade. All the reviews of the 2000’s that I’ve read have been pretty much the same. There seems to be universal agreement that this decade sucked big time. W.H. Auden once called the 1930’s a “low, dishonest decade.” The 2000’s certainly had more than their share of dishonesty. Just think of the mind-numbing barrage of lies during the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

This is all the more dismaying considering that the decade started out promisingly. The Anti-WTO demonstration in Seattle in November 1999 had reinvigorated the left. People wanted to do things, to get out in the streets and make a statement. During the Democratic National Convention in 2000, 40,000 people marched through the streets of Los Angeles, in the face of intimidation by the police. When George W. Bush stole the 2000 election, that didn’t put any damper on things. To many people, it just confirmed their suspicion that the system is totally corrupt. The police repression at the Genoa demonstration in the summer of 2001 did disturb some people, but still they felt that they could accomplish something.

I remember that summer I was living in Los Angeles, and I was involved in a solidarity campaign with the Immokalee farm workers. They had called for a boycott of Taco Bell, to get them to pressure the growers into raising their wages. Once a week we would have a demonstration in front of a Taco Bell in East Los Angeles. Each week the protest got bigger and louder. People from the neighborhood would join in, as well as students from nearby East Los Angeles College. They wanted to make a difference in the world. Teenagers would go up to cars in the drive-thru and explain to people why they shouldn’t buy from Taco Bell.

Then September 11th happened.

Suddenly people were all driving around with American flags on their cars and bumper stickers saying, “United We Stand.” This was an understandable visceral response to the attacks, but I could see that it would only lead to trouble. The media suddenly stopped treating Bush as a joke and began touting him as a national hero (even though he hid out at two air force bases during the day of the attacks.) In the economic slump that followed the attacks, Bush urged people to go out and shop. The media treated this as serious advice.

The left never really recovered from what happened. I think it fair to say that most of the people who marched through the streets of Seattle probably voted for John Kerry in the 2004 election. This is really sad, especially when you consider that Kerry is an enthusiastic supporter of everything those people were protesting against. (And Kerry was promising to send 40,000 more troops to Iraq.) “Anybody but Bush” became the mantra. Anyone who questioned this immediately found himself a pariah, if not threatened with physical violence. Kerry’s campaign slogan was “Help is on the way.” I guess people didn’t think they needed help, since Kerry lost the election.

Four years later, we had Obama promising us “hope”, which sounded a little catchier. Then there was the financial meltdown, and Obama became a shoo-in. The irony here was that Obama is a firm supporter of the economic policies that led to the meltdown. Sometimes hope is just that.

The year started off with Israel’s savage attack on Gaza. Not a murmur of criticism from Obama or any of the other Democrats. Once in office he impressed everyone with his ability to form complete sentences, such a refreshing change from his predecessor. He put forward an economic stimulus plan (mostly tax cuts) that was too timid to have much effect. The Republicans immediately started screaming “socialism”, and they’ve been like a stuck record ever since. In October it was announced that, for no clear reason, Obama was to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. (It seems that the prize was actually for not being George W. Bush. The legacy of W.’s presidency is that the bar has been lowered on just about everything.) Shortly afterward, Obama announced he was going to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

Now, the Democrats in Congress are on the verge of passing a Health Care “Reform” bill that has nothing progressive about it and is in some ways actually reactionary. One hopes that the way this bill made its way through the Senate will make people question the way our government is set up. The Senate (originally modeled after the British House of Lords) is an inherently undemocratic institution. Every state gets two senators, regardless of its size. Thus, California, which has a population of 36 million, has the same number of senators as Wyoming, which has 544,270 people. (More people live in the city of San Francisco than in the whole state of Wyoming.) This problem is compounded by the filibuster rule. It takes 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. (The idea here seems to be that having a simple majority just isn’t good enough.) So, we had the disgusting spectacle of Senate Democrats groveling at the feet of Joe Lieberman of Connecticut (pop. 3 million) and Ben Nelson of Nebraska (pop. 2 million). The most hilarious moment of the year came when Lieberman announced that he had suddenly changed his mind about the Medicare buy-in (which he had supported for years). He was now opposed to it, just because he had heard a liberal congressman say that he liked the idea. (This is the conservative mentality in its purest form: if the liberals are for it, I’m agin’ it!) So the Medicare buy-in was immediately jettisoned, without a murmur of protest. As for the cynical promises that were made to Nelson to get his one lousy vote, you can expect the Republicans to be making hay out of them in next year’s congressional elections.

Everything is not bleak, however. There have been a few glimmerings of a fightback, such as this summer’s G20 protests and the demonstrations at the Copenhagen climate conference. And there were the Viva Palestina convoys to Gaza. Interestingly, there has been an upsurge in struggle in Iran. It seems I was right in guessing that last summer’s demonstrations were about more that just a stolen election. So, I guess Obama wasn’t completely wrong about there being “hope”. It’s all a matter of what one does with it.

(By the way, the Immokalee workers eventually won concessions from Taco Bell. This was one of the few labor victories of this miserable decade.)

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