Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Wages of Civic Nihilism

The resurgence of conservative and libertarian-fueled Republicanism is not an excuse to embrace Manichean thinking. Its continuance as a dominant political philosophy is a collective sin; one which draws its energy and roots from parties that remain as our brothers and sisters. The wrongs that feed its presence don't merely begin with those who stalwartly propagate and apologize for evil. Their genesis is in the segment of the politically conscious electorate that took insufficient liberalism as an excuse for protest voting and civic disengagement. Irresponsible journalists and hyperbole fueled hysteria have subtly and directly augured a new equivalence that's equally as duplicitous and mistaken as the assertion that the Democrats and Republicans are equally right and wrong in different ways. The equivalence that confuses superficial similarities for evidence of no difference.

This strain is not new, but the practice of its current form needs to be looked at for what it is: a lever through which Republicanism gains traction. That strain does not call for or support evil, but it's complicit in its existence. No amount of slogans or protestations of "independence" and "standing for your principles" can change that. Portions of the left cannot unrelentingly call Obama a "continuation of the Bush presidency", "a bought and paid for stooge of Wall Street and the Koch brothers", "a DINO" or a "secret conservative" and think that they're doing anything but saying that the empowerment of Republicans will lead to the same results as the empowerment of Democrats. This is not just wrong. It's disastrously wrong. And it's a wrong that's acted as an extension of the magical thinking that's surrounded Obama's candidacy since his election.

Liberalism has become spoiled. It's forgotten that before a government can work better, it must first work period. The failure of Obama to descend from the sun and act as anything but a maintainer of the status quo isn't the fault of Obama or even the process. It's the fault of a liberalism that assumed that advocacy and the expectation of results should begin and end with the election of one person. It's the fault of a liberalism that assumed that "pressure" was the same as adopting the argumentatively specious exaggerations of conservatism with a progressive framing. And what's more, it's the fault of a liberalism that marginalized itself by declaring itself an enemy of the system instead of informed advocates for its improvement.

There's a malignant strain of liberalism informed by a malignant strain of liberal journalism that's mistaken what they want for what they can have. The political impotence resulting from their hubris stems not from systemic bias, but from a liberalism that sought to declare that the system denied them the fruits of victory before they ever even tried to fight. Again and again we saw assertions floated about what "should" happen with absolutely no feasible discussion of how it could happen. And when they discovered that assertions of righteousness weren't enough to uproot interests that have been entrenched for decades, they figured that the span of two years was too long to wait. This didn't merely coax their argumentative collapse. It birthed a temper tantrum disguised in a simplistic axiom: "because both sides are denying our opinions, both sides are denying them for the same reason and thus, are equal!"

This logic is fundamental to the case of the newly appointed Purity Police, but delusion has blinded them from concluding that the apathy their logic inspires isn't a seed for revolution. It's the soil that gives Republicanism room for growth. Republicans don't just appear with gubernatorial and congressional authority. They need supporters. More importantly, they need people who fail to oppose them. And the Purity Police act as vanguards for the civic withdrawal that passively allows their presence under the pretense of being "independent" and saying "neither party supports me". What they've forgotten is that whether their perspective is true is immaterial to the question of whether it's responsible. It's not. And because they've made "standing for your principles" more important than the people "standing for your principles" hurt, we live in a reality where one party can declare that a fetus has more rights than a woman while saying that freedom of assembly doesn't exist, and they can cry "they're both the same!".


When we're beset by radicals and regressive sociopaths, your choice to sit out an election or make your vote functionally useless is a choice that empowers the people that think that Americans don't get a seat at the same table as our employers. A vote for nothing is a vote for the default, and if the default goes to the Republicans, their presence is something you have to live with, because you did nothing materially helpful to stop it.
Republicanism is the consequence of a perspective that makes elections "principled stands" that "send a message to the parties that don't support you" by either not voting, or not voting for someone with a reasonable chance of victory. Republicanism is the consequence of a segment of the population that confuses elections for intellectual and political gimmicks. It's the consequence of people who disrespect the electoral process and take the basic functioning of the system for granted. And who do it at the expense of everyone - including themselves.

The belief that be-all-end-all elections are mechanisms for political activism instead of reflections of successful political activism is one of the most corrosive byproducts of America's civic laziness. Instead of making an argument, persuasively articulating it to the masses, organizing, getting people to agree with it and rally around it as an issue, we've internalized the entitled mindset which presumes that the only thing we have to do to politically express our perspectives is vote. We've made the simple act of drawing a line on a ballot the primary expression of political thought.

It's been collectively forgotten that no one is obligated to hold your perspective. Just as it's been collectively forgotten that it takes more than fussing at screens and calling non-anarchists corporatists to create political movement. The understanding that it's up to us to argue for ourselves instead of having Big Time Political Figures argue for us has been lost. And in our search for a leader, we've abandoned the conclusion that we should be leading. In a democracy, the actions that give power are not the most important. The actions that create power are. Elections are not changed by rejecting their relevance just because we don't love the people we're voting for. They're changed by evolving the discussion between elections. In the absence of the will to do that, you vote for the party that preserves the system over the party that dismantles it, and you do it until you can make a better party that serves the same function.

Historical turn-out being higher in Presidential elections is absolutely no excuse to sit-out midterms. The Republicans are here not just because their dying electorate turned out in greater numbers. Republicans are here because there are Democrats who stayed at home and independents who thought that "dissatisfaction" was an excuse to say "well, I guess it's the Republican's turn". When we vote, we don't need to think in terms of what we "could" or "should" have. Not when a vote can prevent the party that advocates the collapse of our most basic and least controversial rights. "Less bad" is not just a responsible choice in this context, it's the only one. Our suffering is the result of those who found elections to be podiums to ignore that, and those who offered the philosophical basis for that negligence.

Edit: I shouldn't have to make this caveat, because anyone familiar with this blog or my writing should know that I think this:

It is absolutely not wrong to hold Democrats accountable and try to push/advocate your view. I do it constantly. That's not just a good service, it needs to be done with as much frequency as circumstance warrants. What I reject is the argumentative dishonesty and irresponsibility that fails to put that criticism in perspective. To simplify: "Democrats suck" is a logically valid and perfectly acceptable position to take. "Democrats suck as much as Republicans and are just like them" is not. It's not factually supportable, it's not sensible, and anyone proclaiming that it's the only view that reasonable, non-partisan, n
on-Obot, Real Independents can hold is lying to you or engaging in contemptibly sloppy argumentation.

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