Thursday, January 19, 2012
So You Want a Revolution...
The lawyer has more in common with the prosecutor than he does with his clients and Republican and Democratic politicians have more in common with each other than they do with the people who come out to support them and vote for them. The hopes of ordinary people for the future, their ability to earn a living and their fears are only a job to the politician.
This doesn't mean that politicians are villains, only that like the police officer and the ER nurse, other people's urgent calls are just another day at work for them. Mediating them and dealing with them day in and day out gives them a different perspective that is detached from the present and rooted in the realities of their profession. The police officer and the nurse know that everything is an emergency, that everyone has problems all the time and that it's never really the end of the world. Cynicism comes with the job. So does seeing they people they encounter as foolish folk who have trouble taking care of themselves and have to come to them for help. That detachment leaves them with more in common with those who walk on the night side of human events than it does with the people who come to them for help.
Professional politics breeds cynicism more thoroughly than spending your nights answering domestic abuse calls or patching together the victims of drunken brawls. Like them politics is a profession founded on idealism, but the idealism in much harder to sustain because it rarely survives the first practice of professional politics. It's possible to work in the ER or patrol the late nights streets of an urban city without losing the belief that medicine and law enforcement are noble professions, but continuing to believe that politics is a noble profession after a year in congress is all but impossible.
Politics is a profession with a practice that runs completely counter to its ideals. The best politicians believe nothing they say. Whatever commitments they make to the voters are left behind once they enter the white halls of government. Like police officers who are forced to become criminals in order to do their job right, they discover that the practice of their profession requires the comprehensive corruption of their ideals. Only by discarding their principles and commitments can they actually get the things they want to do done.
The successful politician does not believe in absolutes except when he is delivering a speech intended for the ears of the voters, what he knows to be true is that everyone has a price at which a bargain can be made. For all that the image of legislators and executives is of men and women standing against marble backgrounds and taking a stand, the real life version is of a bazaar where everyone is trying to make a deal while doing their best to be outraged by the other side's offer.
"Forty billion dollars for clean energy subsidies? Ridiculous. My family will starve and my children will have to beg in the streets! Forty-two billion? Now that's more reasonable. Make it forty-three and I'll give you that cowboy poetry festival and steel tariff you wanted."
Think of Washington D.C. and every state capital and every local bunch of elected officials as a Middle Eastern bazaar and you come close to the truth. And while this system works well enough when stocks are limited, when the merchants can dispose of unlimited assets that they don't own and drive their constituents deep into debt to pay for their latest deals, then the real nightmare arrives.
The right has spent a lot of time trying to win elections and sent a lot of horse traders to Washington, and for the most part missed the point of what the left had done. The left does not win elections all that often and even its prize politicians are generally not as left as they pretend to be. What the left did was take over institutions and set the base exchange price in the bazaar that politicians from both sides had to meet. That base price became the "moderate" consensus that everyone has to abide by.
Shifting the exchange price allows the left to control what deals get made. It takes certain products entirely off the table. Mainstream positions from ten years ago become too extreme even for the GOP and completely unacceptable positions that no mainstream Democrat would have run on ten years ago become the consensus. This doesn't happen because anyone takes a vote. Most votes just push through whatever the consensus is.
Politics is based around a consensus. The left does not operate on a consensus, it is a revolutionary movement and it works by subverting the consensus and presenting its revolutionary position as the new consensus. All that is left for the politicians then is to affirm the new consensus. This has happened over and over again in the lifetimes of even the youngest person reading this article and the process has been accelerating lately because it s a revolutionary process.
There are two types of conservative politicians. Gatekeepers and revolutionaries. The gatekeepers are consensus builders, they talk a great deal about traditional values, and are elected to keep change out. This defensive strategy is a dead end because the real changes are happening outside the direct purview of the gatekeepers, who usually lack the imagination and courage to do anything about them. When the left pushes hard enough, the gatekeepers fold and add the new order of things into their panoply of American values.
The gatekeepers will put up a vigorous show of fighting gay marriage and then ten years later they will proclaim gay marriage as the embodiment of our family values. They will make a great show of fighting Global Warming legislation, and then five years later they will say that our courage to confront climate change is the deepest sign of our values of responsibility for the world around us.
Gatekeepers often don't believe anything they say. They believe some of it, but not very vehemently, and they lack the imagination to think of anything else. Expecting them to intelligently counter the left's cultural warfare is absolutely hopeless. At their best they put on a superior smirk and dismiss it as ridiculous, only to concede it when the debate has flanked them and the voters are no longer firmly in their traditional corner.
The Republican Party is full of gatekeepers. There are a great many of them who have been defending traditional values and will go on defending traditional values, even though they cannot begin to explain what traditional values are and why they defend them except in circular self-defining terms. Traditional values and American exceptionalism are their goal and as the goal posts keep moving, so do they.
Revolutionaries are rarer. They are dangerous and explosive. Sometimes they are erratic. They are full of ideas, determined and unwilling to compromise. They rarely make good politicians, but sometimes they make very explosive ones. Find the political leader whom the rest of the party hates and can't wait to get rid of for his obstructionism and sabotage of the gatekeeper agenda, and you may have found a revolutionary.
The revolutionaries cannot transform this mess or turn back the clock solely through their elected office, but they can dismantle the power bases of the other side and they can support and help create counterbalancing institutions. But their most valuable contribution is a refusal to accept the consensus, they refuse to do business at the exchange price set for them by the left.
There are few things more powerful and liberating than spitting in the face of authority, tearing down the sacred symbols and violation the taboos of those in power. In a democracy political power is based on a consensus. Defying that consensus, trivializing that consensus and walking all over it gets you called an extremist, but if you do it right then you have weakened the psychological power of the establishments over the minds of men.
Defiance is the fundamental virtue of the revolutionary. The left defied the accepted norms and values of America, and that defiance paved the way for a cultural revolution. The power of the left will never be broken until the right defies their values and norms the same way. Until it publicly destroys, mocks and violates everything that they consider sacred in the spirit of revolution.
Revolutions begin as culture wars against the established order and they connect cultural defiance to political change. The fundamental message of every revolution is a defiance of authority and if the revolution succeeds then those in power are forced to give way and accede to change. It can be done. That populist spirit is out there, it is abroad in the Tea Party, it is there in blogs and social media, and even occasionally on talk radio. But all that goes to waste empowering a political establishment of gatekeepers who sometimes talk like revolutionaries, but don't act like revolutionaries.
In a New York Times book review, Sheri Berman wondered, "Why, in an era of extreme unemployment, rising inequality and social dislocation, is it the right rather than the left that generated a movement like the Tea Party? Why are mass protests railing against tax increases rather than demanding more progressive and activist government?"
The answer is transparently obvious. Because it is the left that is in power. Why bother demanding an activist and progressive government when we already have one of those? At most the left can demand a "more" activist and progressive government, but how enthusiastic can protesters be about calling for more authority and more power for the existing system? That is why OWS was basically incoherent, it was little more than a loincloth for the naked emperor already sitting on his throne and looking for the plebes to cry out for more chains.
The revolution of the left is the stratified revolution of Barack Obamas and Elizabeth Warrens, greedy political activists feeding at the watering hole of government and crying out for more. More power. More laws. More chains. Parse the rhetoric and all you get is the powerful demanding that we give them more power. This revolution of the greedy and corrupt would already be dead if it had not used the momentum of its ideological fervor to embed itself into every institution and seize control of the educational system and the cultural dialogue to program succeeding generations to give it even more power.
The time is ripe for a true cultural and political revolution of the right, but that revolution has been hijacked over and over again by the gatekeepers who warn us that it's time to play nice, that we must think of the long game, that some issues have already been lost and we need to fight only for the core issues that matter to them lest we alienate people. The long march never ends in a last stand, only another tactical withdrawal on issue after issue.
The establishment, which does not care about anything but its very narrow agenda of limited deregulation while protecting some forms of spending that benefit them, will win or lose again, without making too much of a difference. Even if it loses then there will be enough votes in congress to get some of what it wants done and the money will be there to try again with an even more content free candidate who will preach a form of American exceptionalism and traditional values absolutely indistinguishable from the political positions of President Clinton, or by then maybe even Obama.
Every time we bow our heads to the consensus, self-censor ourselves to stay within our prison bars and execute another tactical withdrawal to fight for some last vestige of our program that really matters, the power of the left continues to grow.
The power of the left is not political. Its political power is the least of what it is. It leverages its cultural dominance to enforce a political consensus. It uses its grip on power through government and non-governmental institutions to impose regulations and laws that politicians from both parties end up signing on to. It is an establishment, an incarnation of the power and privilege of a fossilized ideology built to destroy the country, but leveraged to give its leading members and some of its base a taste of the really good life while the whole edifice of civilization slides down the cliff.
It is important to elect conservative politicians, even feeble ones, not because they are good for anything, but because at the least they can serve as sandbags against the tide. The sandbags will not stop the tide, but they might slow it down. It is vitally important to elect revolutionary conservatives who don't just deliver platitudes, but show that they have the fire in their bellies to confront the left. And it is even more important to undermine the values and institutions of the left. It can be difficult to undermine institutions, but anyone can undermine the values of the left by saying the politically incorrect thing.
Revolutions begin with an open contempt for and anger at the existing order. The left knows that. It is why it fears talk radio and populism more than it fears the latest set of dapper gatekeepers we send to the Senate. The contempt and anger are here, the more they go public, the more the power of the left is shaken. And the next step is to expand the cultural war to a specific disrespect and hostility for the values and sacred cows of the left. Then to challenge their institutions and regulations. And then real political change can begin with candidates who are revolutionaries because they believe it, or because they are operating under a new paradigm that is outside the left's manufactured consensus.
Most of the elements are already in place. The consensus establishment is making its last stand, but it is fading. It is now a race between shaping public anger into a vehicle for political change and the speed at which the left is transforming and fragmenting the country to prevent a political revolution of the right from ever coming about. May we be swift for if the left wins the race then it is the end of America.