“For decades, Egypt’s authoritarian president, Hosni Mubarak, played a clever game with his political opponents. He tolerated a tiny and toothless opposition of liberal intellectuals whose vain electoral campaigns created the façade of a democratic process.” — David D. Kirkpatrick and Michael Slackman, “Youths Upend Cairo’s Taming of Opposition,” NYTimes January 27, 2011
“The pragmatist will compromise when he has to, as Obama did with tax cuts, angering liberal Democrats but helping him with the much bigger slice of the electorate who call themselves independents.” — Timothy Egan, “The Six-Year Blueprint,” NYTimes January 26, 2011
What needs to be expanded in an e-mail is expanded in a blog and what needs to be updated in a blog is updated on Facebook and what needs … in a tweet. In the Broadband Age nothing therefore should be left unnamed, unless it might be the politics that opposes the rule everywhere of “market forces.”
Perhaps the fault here lies in the inadequacy of emoticons and tweets to rise to the necessary level of profundity. Doubtlessly, the tweet serves Sarah Palin well whereas a Montaigne-like essay might over tax both her and her audience, who find the tweet a satisfactory “basic conveyance” of political views. So we cannot name the politics that opposes market forces rule because we’ve descended to a discourse level that such an unnamed politics overspills.
Whatever the Unnamable might be, it doesn’t sound bite and tweet the way “Tax and Spend Liberals!” “Trickle Down!” “Free Market Solutions!” “Personal Choice Not Government Mandates!” and “Don’t Retreat, Reload!” do. Against this Conservative Catechism which both rich and poor can recite, Liberals assume a defensive posture. And that posture against market rule suits market rule because it makes us all feel that our hearts do bleed for all causes and all losers, that we recognize “collateral damage” and do what we can; but the war, of competition as it were, must be pursued. The strong don’t retreat for the sake of the weak. Liberals serve like sobbing mothers and wives when men go off to war. Liberals are like a Greek chorus to the actions of the real protagonists, the bold and intrepid entrepreneurs and hedge fund managers.
Similar to a Greek chorus, Liberals won’t let Americans forget that our capitalism is tempered by democratic principles, human rights values, and our compassion for every species, including foreigners, whales, wolves and the poor. At the same time of course, any recitation of poverty and the poor translates as Losers who are best not nurtured by Winners, for the sake of the Losers themselves. Think of a Liberal like a boxer who can cover up but can’t throw a punch. Market rule and free market solutions have been soundly knocking Liberals around the ring since Reagan, with some brief flurries of offense now and then. Liberals indeed create the façade of a democratic process. You need the help of our Unnamable politics to break through that façade and see what the state of our union is.
Liberals may have birthed themselves but for a very long time now, Conservatives have nourished and nurtured Liberalism out of necessity. Straw dogs, scapegoats, comedic straight men, and useful idiots are in big demand when a country which assumes it rests on the lofty aspirations of lofty Founding Fathers, a country that touts itself as “Exceptional” in its freedom from the vile history of Europe, is in actuality a country ruled by a casino-type economics which, as in a game of Monopoly, has put most of the wealth in a few hands. The most useful, of course, are the professional meritocracy which serves the top one percent wealthiest in the same way that the Roman Senate was made to serve under the Roman emperors.
The politics of money is a protective policy, not by nature democratic, but it is designed, like the shark, to destroy what might jeopardize “the bottom line.” It’s the “bottom line” as well as “possessed wealth” which must be protected against the claims of the poor, the unemployed, the foreclosed, the medically uninsured, the downsized, the sick and dying, the old, Mother Nature, African misery, all of the Latin American poor, thieves, youth gangs, unions, terrorists, socialists, anarchists, naïve idealists, an education in critical thinking, history, good memories, and crazed disciples of socialist leanings who would resurrect past legislation that grew the middle class, enabled the mobility of the working class, and thusly prevented oligarchy replacing democracy. This Unnamable Politics introduced a now defunct attitude in which profit would not drive war, education, health care, or any domain in which the common good was affected. Those domains now include pharmaceuticals, energy, air, and water. “Free market solutions” are solutions that grow the wealth of a few and leave the many in a “pay as you go” stasis.
The common thread that joins those who represent an Unnamable Politics in the U.S. is a socialist critique of capitalism. Because any variety of socialism must not be named, rather like the villainous character in the Harry Potter novels, Liberals are left floating in a groundless ether, or, something tossed like unmoored ships in a Perfect Storm. Or, in our boxing ring image, Liberals have devolved from a now Unnamable politics which knew how to throw a punch, knew how to effectively counterpunch, to useful punching bags. Smash mouth commentators like Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin are punching away to the delight of their fans.
Republicans can freely point to their free market/free to choose/personal liberty foundations while Liberals can only make weak protestations on behalf of “small business owners.” It is this group that now represents another “unnamable” – the working class. In President Obama’s second State of the Union address he replaced any mention of a diminished middle class with “small business owners,” a grouping palatable to conservatives whose class demarcations begin and end with “Winners” and “Losers.” Any mention of the “working class” and their unemployment would lead to a litany of “unnamables’: an uncontrolled outsourcing, “shoddy mortgage lending, the excessive packaging and sale of loans to investors and risky bets on securities backed by the loans,” and the deregulating policies which left the fox in charge of the chicken coop.
Small business owners who did not loot the country in 2008, who do not represent a detached transnationalism, and who do not engage in bamboozlement and distraction are not a threat to our democracy. If we were detectives working on the Great Recession of 2008 as a crime committed, we wouldn’t be on the trail of small business owners. A good detective discerns a red herring.
Obama made no mention of the problems we face with a capitalism that has globalized and therefore has disconnected corporations from national concerns, including a high rate of unemployment, environmental degradation, infrastructure collapse, failed educational systems, and an anxious and fearful – and possibly dangerous for all that – populace. Cybertech has enabled capitalism to monitor closely products and workers globally, thus joining an already boundary free movement of capital to form a globalized network of wealth and power. Obama represses all this, preferring to speak of “competition,” “challenge,” “productivity,” “free enterprise,” “education,” and “government reform.” If we consider each from the perspective of our Unnamable politics we may be able to see through the façade that market rule needs, Liberals help maintain, and Obama will not violate because his pragmatic politics must bend to what is possible. We can, however, imagine beyond the confines of what is possible, what works now, and create the conditions of new possibilities. This country begins in this way, by rejecting the realm of possibility imposed by King George. There is a built-in timidity to pragmatism – South Africa, for instance, would still be apartheid. There is a self-imposed weakness to a Liberalism that fears to speak and act on behalf of the common good but instead bows to a ludicrous notion that an oligarchy will drop enough crumbs to serve that common good as defined fitfully but continuously in our own American past.
Are the ignorant and deceived then also useful idiots, as useful to market rule as Liberals presently are? They are certainly useful at the polls. George W. Bush, after all, was re-elected in 2004 instead of being impeached for weaving a façade of deceit which took us into a pre-emptive war that destroyed and continues to destroy the lives of so many. Confessions of ignorance or false intel should serve Bush and company as well as the same served Eichmann and company. The deceived are not however useful in the way that Lenin thought of American Communist sympathizers. They are not useful in discourse or debate. They are not intellectually useful. They do not present weak counters to conservative precepts as the Liberals do.
Just as Liberals prefer not to call themselves Useful Idiots, the dazed, confused, and bamboozled prefer to call themselves Independents. And it is probably true that these Independents outnumber the radical advocates of our Unnamable Politics and that it’s savvy politics for Obama to play to them rather than these Unnamable advocates. However, it’s foolhardy to adopt a child’s understanding if one wishes to achieve adult solutions. American Independents? Think of them historically, or on various historical stages. French Revolution? War Between the States: what’s an Independent then? World War II: what’s an Independent then? Vietnam? Civil Rights? Apartheid? Women’s Vote? I think anyone who found themselves on any of those historical stages and who asserted an independence from the issues at hand is perhaps not paying attention or is a solipsist or can’t work their head around the issues or suffers from ADD or OCD or is having too much or no fun to care, or likes the word “independent,” or hates politics and thinks being an “Independent” is an “unfriending” gesture,” or … .
The point here is that there is no honor in such an appellation at this moment on the U.S. stage and therefore it’s particularly upsetting to see a State of the Union address addressed to the corporate party of Republicans and Independents while the politics of the Unnamable remains unnamed. Obama does not need to cater to Independents out of fear. What he needs to do is make them aware of the politics that clearly contests the power of “free market solutions” to the problems of a democracy. He needs to give them the sort of red meat that the Tea Party throws at them and not the back pedaling, defensive mewling of Liberalism.
When a TV pundit from a conservative or libertarian think tank is asked what the role of government is that pundit doesn’t punt but launches an offense. The Liberal, however, gets no further than suggesting government does indeed have a role to play although the smaller government is the better off we all are. That role then seems small for it were a large role it seems we would need a large government. It’s an assisting role: to make sure government doesn’t place any unnecessary burden on business. So in this Liberal view we need a government to protect us from a government that would place any unnecessary burden on business. We need to ask business what those burdens might be. Government can also assist business in the realms of competition and innovation and education and infrastructure. Because globalized technocapitalism has already settled these matters to its liking, the Liberal government is, to repeat, no more than a useful front and its pundits useful idiots.
Competition is at Wild, Wild West levels. See Great Recession 2008 and afterward. That same capitalism already consumes any tax payer innovation, either from public supported university labs or government research itself. Cybertech has extended the labor force globally so that the only domestic workers needed are in the service sector. Such globalized capitalism has little interest in the successes or failures of American education when their hi-tech labor force can come from elsewhere. And in regard to infrastructure General Electric is as concerned about roads and bridges in Germany as they are about the same in the U.S. Transnational enterprise has no national patriotism. It’s not a bottom line concern.
Perhaps we can keep the world from regressing to an oligarchic rule in which globalized security forces created to “keep us safe from terrorism” now protect the oligarchy from the mounting unrest of the Losers. But we can’t look to transnationalized corporations as our heroic rescuers when their growth, power and influence are what we must counter. Our Unnamable politics points to the savagery resulting from unbridled globalized technocapitalism, a savagery that can’t be regentrified so that it appears as if we have “justice for all” and “equal opportunity.” The cosmetic applications of a Liberal government cannot conceal the ugliness that has resulted from applying “free market solutions” to health care, war, education, energy, welfare, and the regulation of private enterprise.
The state of our union remains unnamed and the politics that might deter our movement to what Gore Vidal termed “The United Corporation of America” remains an Unnamable Politics.
Joseph Natoli is a retired college professor and author of numerous books on culture and politics. Learn more about him at www.josephnatoli.com.