Archive for the ‘Liberals’ Category

After Charlie Hebdo

January 11, 2015


The men who carried out the attack on Charlie Hebdo are dead. The discussion we need to have at this point is how do we keep the political right from capitalizing on this tragic event. (This would be a more useful discussion than arguing about whether or not the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo were racist.) Already the right is on the march. The media mogul, Rupert Murdoch has tweeted:

    Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.

So, 1.5 billion Muslims should be held responsible for the actions of three (maybe four) people. This is grandstanding, of course, but it shouldn’t be regarded as harmless or inconsequential. The idea of collective punishment has a strong emotional appeal for some people. And there are people who would really like to see the US invade another country, preferably a Muslim one.

And then there is the “liberal” “comedian”, Bill Maher, who recently announced that “tens of millions” of Muslims supported the Charlie Hebdo attack. As with many of his ideas, Maher pulled this out of his ass. Whether or not he realizes it, Maher is helping to recreate the atmosphere of fear and hysteria that preceded the invasion of Iraq. (The fact that Maher says that liberals have turned the US into a “pussy nation” perhaps indicates what his real intentions are.)

We must confront and condemn advocates of prejudice and drum-beaters for war.

Trigger Warnings

May 21, 2014


Trigger warning: this article is about trigger warnings, which may be upsetting to some people if they have ever had a traumatic experience related to trigger warnings. If this is true of you, you had better stop reading this RIGHT NOW.

Okay, now we can proceed. The student senate at the University of California in Santa Barbara recently passed a resolution urging the school to “begin the process of instituting mandatory ‘trigger warnings’ on class syllabi”. These trigger warnings are meant to alert people who have had traumatic experiences that a text may contain something they will find upsetting. Similar demands have been made at other schools. One of the texts often cited as potentially upsetting is The Great Gatsby. (No, I’m not making this up.) According to a student at Rutgers University, a trigger warning for this novel might be: “suicide,” “domestic abuse” and “graphic violence”. According to an opinion piece in the Rutgers student newspaper, Gatsby “…possesses a variety of scenes that reference gory, abusive and misogynistic violence.” It’s been a while since I’ve read Fitzgerald’s novel, but all I recall with regards to violent content is that a woman is struck and killed by a car, and later her father shoots and kills a man who he mistakenly believes was the one who killed her. If that’s enough to trigger somebody, that person’s head would probably explode if he were to read Treasure Island, or, for that matter, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Oberlin College has taken this idea further. In a recent teachers guide, they advised professors that “anything could be a trigger”, and they should “remove triggering material when it does not contribute directly to the course learning goals.” Triggering materials may relate to “racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression.” So, to be safe, one should try to avoid almost the whole of world literature. In response to widespread criticism, Oberlin has tabled this policy.

This push for trigger warnings is really a form of feel good liberalism. Students who demand such policies can feel that they are “protecting” people who have been traumatized in some way. The real effect in the long run will to stymie free speech and academic inquiry. We live in a world full of disturbing ideas and events. It is not the job of the university to shield students from these things. It is, rather, to broaden their sense of the world, in all its good and bad aspects.

The Democratic Party and the U.S. Left

September 9, 2013


Salon has an interesting article by David Sirota about the current state of the anti-war movement in the U.S. In it, he writes:

    So what happened to that movement? The shorter answer is: It was a victim of partisanship.

    That’s the conclusion that emerges from a recent study by professors at the University of Michigan and Indiana University. Evaluating surveys of more than 5,300 anti-war protestors from 2007 to 2009, the researchers discovered that the many protestors who self-identified as Democrats “withdrew from anti-war protests when the Democratic Party achieved electoral success” in the 2008 presidential election.

This confirms something I have long suspected. I remember talking to people at anti-war demonstrations during the 2000’s. Many of them seemed to me to be motivated by a visceral hatred for Bush and Cheney rather than by an actual opposition to war and imperialism. During the run-up to the 2004 election, they would tell of their intention to vote for one of the two anti-war Democrats, Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich. When Dean and Kucinich lost in the primaries, these people simply transferred their allegiance to John Kerry, a staunch supporter of the war. It was no surprise to me, then, that these people dropped out of the movement when a Democrat was finally elected to the White House.

Many Americans seem to have an emotional commitment to the two-party system that defies logic and common sense. For them, being a Republican or a Democrat is more than merely a matter of which party one votes for, it is an existential question, something that determines their very sense of identity.

I was at the Oregon Country Fair a couple of years ago, and I saw a man wearing a t-shirt that had pictures of George W. Bush and Hitler on it. It said: DIFFERENT NAMES, SAME SHIT. I was tempted to say to him, “Since Obama has continued many of Bush’s policies, does that mean he is also just like Hitler?” I didn’t ask this, but I suspect that if I had, the question would have made no sense to him. For a certain type of person, the mere fact that Obama is a Democrat means that he cannot be anything at all like Bush.

Our two main political parties originated in the nineteenth century, and both have radically evolved away from their original platforms. Many people simply can’t conceive of a world without them. Karl Marx once said, “The dead weight of the past weighs like a nightmare upon the brains of the living.” The older I get, the more convinced I become of the profound truth of that observation.

Obama Agonistes

July 4, 2013

Barack Obama and a liberal.

Liberals who talk about what a brilliant political strategist President Obama is are on a par with conservatives who talk about what a great war leader George W. Bush was. Consider the recent incident in which the plane carrying Bolivian president Evo Morales was diverted and forced to land, supposedly because somebody thought Edward Snowden might be on it. What did Obama hope to gain by doing this? (And it’s pretty clear that Obama must have been behind this.) Did he wish to show the whole world that he is willing to trample on international law just to punish a whistleblower? He just made himself look petty and ridiculous.

Or consider Obama’s recent decision to delay until 2015 implementing the requirement of the Affordable Care Act that companies with 50 or more employees supply them with health insurance. One website has hailed this as a brilliant tactical move that will rob the Republicans of a talking point during the 2014 congressional elections. In fact, the decision makes Obama appear weak. Also, it suggests that he lacks confidence in his own much ballyhooed health care bill. And then there’s the obvious fact that this decision is a betrayal of all those people who thought they were going to get employee health insurance in 2014. (I guess they will just have to cross their fingers and hope that they don’t get sick for another year.)

The sequester that Obama foolishly agreed to will likely kill off the weak economic recovery. The president and his party will be blamed for this, and the result will be Republican victories in congressional and local elections. That means more Republican officeholders with their reactionary social views and their anti-labor legislation.

Ah, but nothing can shake the admiration that some liberals have for Obama. Decades from now, liberal historians will be talking about the strategic brilliance of a president who accomplished virtually nothing.

Letter from a Young Radical

May 24, 2013

Bhaskar Sunkara

Bhaskar Sunkara, the young editor of Jacobin magazine, has an article in The Nation entitled Letter to ‘The Nation’ From a Young Radical. He begins by making a critique of liberalism that is both non-dogmatic and non-sectarian. He writes:

    Liberalism’s original sin lies in its lack of a dynamic theory of power. Much of its discourse is still fixated on an eighteenth-century Enlightenment fantasy of the “Republic of Letters,” which paints politics as a salon discussion between polite people with competing ideas. The best program, when well argued by the wise and well-intentioned, is assumed to prevail in the end. Political action is disconnected, in this worldview, from the bloody entanglement of interests and passions that mark our lived existence.

Liberals see politics as a conflict of ideas, when it is actually a conflict of class interests. This misapprehension leads liberals to view the Democratic Party as their party, when it is actually a party representing corporate interests. Most of them have lined up behind President Obama, who is not a liberal, not even on social issues. (Consider the frantic efforts of Obama’s justice department to prevent the Morning After Pill from being sold over the counter.) In effect, liberals are in an impossible position politically.

Sunkara is more optimistic about the situation of radicals, despite the defeat of the Occupy movement, citing the emergence of new radical thinkers and journals, but he believes that radicals need to reach out beyond their narrow circles. He writes:

    Which is to say that the left needs a plan—a plan that must incorporate more moderate allies. American radicalism has had a complex and at times contradictory association with liberalism. At the peak of the socialist movement, leftists fed off liberal victories. Radicals, in turn, have added coherence and punch to every key liberal struggle and advance of the past century. Such a mutually beneficial alliance could be in the works again. The first step is to smash the existing liberal coalition and rebuild it on a radically different basis.

Sunkara cites the recent struggles against school closures in Chicago and in Philadelphia as an example of an issue on which radicals and liberals can work together.

I think that Sunkara’s arguments are worth consideration and discussion. It certainly doesn’t appear that anyone else on the Left has any better ideas at the moment. The “red-brown” strategy favored by websites such as Counterpunch and Dissident Voice is obviously a dead end. Kasama Project is trying to revive Maoism – as if a peasant rebellion were a real possibility in this country. And the ISO’s particular brand of Trotskyism appears to have only limited appeal. We need to find a way for the Left to move forward.

Barack Obama Wants to Compromise with You Whether You Like It or Not

October 14, 2012

Obama thinks to himself, “Why doesn’t he like me? I try so hard to be nice to him. Doesn’t he like my bipartisanship?”

Many liberals expressed disappointment – and in some cases even shock – at Obama’s weak performance in the first debate. Over at Gawker, Mobutu Sese Seko (not his real name, in case you’re wondering) has pointed out that Obama’s performance was precisely what we should have expected:

    After spending five years watching a diffident political compromiser campaign for and occupy the White House, Democrats were still shocked that Wednesday’s debate didn’t reveal Barack Obama: Political Nut-Cutter.

Liberals still haven’t realized that the secret behind Obama’s extraordinarily rapid political rise is that he is a non-threatening black man. (True, Tea Partiers find him threatening, but these same people would be terrified at the sight of Trayvon Martin coming towards them with a bag of Skittles.) Remember Jesse Jackson? He wasn’t’ really all that radical. (He liked capitalism.) Yet white Americans reacted towards him almost as if he were a Mau Mau threatening to send them to the gas chambers. For all his reasonableness and articulateness, Jackson was too much of a rough diamond for whites to feel comfortable with him. They applauded when Bill Clinton criticized Jackson for merely being on a panel with Sister Souljah (whose views weren’t any more radical than Jeremiah Wright’s.)

Obama, on the other hand, was polished to an unblemished smoothness by the time he spent at places such as Harvard Law School. He is bland, but without being boring (no easy feat, you must admit). The worst thing I can recall him saying about anyone is his “she’s likable enough” comment about Hillary Clinton. (An extremely mild comment, especially considering that he was talking about Hillary Clinton.)

A corollary of Obama’s smoothness is his eagerness to please people who will do absolutely nothing for him. When Obama was at Harvard Law School, a group of liberal and left-wing students, some of them black, expended considerable effort to get him appointed as the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review. Obama then returned the favor by appointing right-wingers to the editorial board, to the bafflement and even anger of his supporters.

This is the man that liberals expect to be the scourge of the Right.