A Reality-Based Agenda for the ’08 Campaign

Here it is.  It comes in three parts:

1) a “reality-based” political agenda for the future.

2) a discussion of the pragmatics (relation of discourse to hearers/readers) of political agendas

3) a critique of a successful politician’s agenda.

(crossposted on ecosocialism)

Part one: A Reality-Based Political Agenda:

All candidates are capable of free will.

Perhaps they will use this free will to recognize the real physical condition we’re in.  If this actually happens, expect:

1) a recognition that bourgeois government is entirely inappropriate to a time in history (now) when everyone must pull together to save Earth’s ecosystems from abrupt climate change and several other ecosystemic disasters

2) an attempt to pull together to deal with this situation in a way that climate scientists would recognize as legitimate, which would begin with three measures:

2a) a complete reordering of the global economy for the sake of insuring minimum living standards for all of humanity

2b) a solid, binding international agreement to keep fossil fuels in the ground

2c) a devolution of power to local levels across the globe to relieve the human race of international (and class-based) economic dependencies

2a) would entail:

3) scrapping the current global economic order and replacing it with an economic order based on permacultural principles

2c) would be part of:

4) a phasing-out of capitalist economic relations, i.e. social classes in Marx’s sense of the term, as will be necessary to create the social relations necessary to coordinate people to be part of this program

which would entail

4a) a phasing-in of non-authoritarian relations throughout all human societies, from child-rearing to education to “defense.”

and don’t forget

5) a massive employment problem in the service of planetary reforestation w/ emphasis upon edible fruit trees

toward the end specified in 6):

6) a global, ecologically sustainable society

Now, all of them, even the Republican ones, have the capacity of free will, so that any time they want they can come to their senses and adopt a program that looks something like this.  But, to do so, they’d have to scrap their allegiance to neoliberalism, they’d have to abandon the quid pro quo assumptions that underlie the corrupt world of campaign contributions, they’d have to stop pretending that “alternative energy” is the solution to abrupt climate change, they’d have to abandon their capitalist ideological outlooks, and so on: in short, they’d have to abandon the fakery and pretense that the mass media requires of them in order to grant them more than six minutes of debate time in the first instance.

As a communicative measure, they’d have to abandon the piecemeal debate schematic that divides everything up into “issues” so that candidates can waffle and spin their way through debates, pleasing many masters at once while doing good for no one, and while covering over their cluelessness before the one issue that matters: the future.

Part Two: The Pragmatics of Campaign Agendas

Pragmatics, of course, is a very important thing in political campaigns.  When coming from politicians, words hardly mean anything outside of the context in which political support must be coaxed out of audiences.  Politicians, in short, tell you what you want to hear; it is in their job description to do so.  They must, then, please many masters at once. You hope that one of those masters is you.

Now, describing “what you want to hear” from a politician is no easy task; you can bet, for instance, that the science of demographics is indicated in practically everything that a successful politician says.  And, of course, beyond demographics, there is the reality of what the data say — politicians are, in the most successful cases, responding to (and building upon) public opinion.  

At the same time, however, the political/pragmatic evocation of public opinion has to be tempered with a respect for money, since (after all) money must be raised to run a competitive political advertising campaign.  Moreover, I would hazard the guess that the money factor has ballooned out of all proportion to the persuasiveness of the campaigns themselves, merely because competitive amounts of money (and subsequent advertising campaigns) must be raised in order to give the public impression of “electability.”  What this means for the rhetoric/ discourse of campaign agendas is that words must be said with financial gain in mind.

Lastly, the coercive control of the election process by “media barons” (this wording comes from a translation of Jurgen Habermas’ old (1962) volume Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere must be placed into accounts.  As the Columbia Journalism Review has well documented, national media are owned by corporations with specific financial interests; and these interests are unlikely to report news in a fashion that contradicts them.  One is unlikely, for instance, to say bad things about nuclear weapons on NBC, whose parent company GE makes nuclear weapons.  The relevance of this ownership pattern is not lost on successful candidates, who must “stage-manage” successful campaigns with the help of media barons.

Now, as for the implication that I am merely being “cynical” in suggesting that politicians are mere chameleons who will “forfeit their souls” as such in order to get elected — well, folks who say that sort of thing have underestimated the brutality of the selection process and the importance of the final result to those who possess inordinate amounts of power to affect it.  Political power is a hot commodity for those who imagine themselves “buying” it with campaign donations, as the profit margins to be gained from legislation are incalculably high.

In light of all this, we should recognize that, just as the politicians are trying to become better politicians, we should try to become better voters.  However, our efforts, and the efforts of the politicians, may extend in opposite directions: while the politicians compete to be more “competitive,” we may feel obliged to move in a meta-direction, discussing political issues, communicative strategies, and the political “feasibility” of the reality-based political agenda as if our positions on the issues really mattered.  The politicians, in short, are not “on our side” — WE are “on our side,” and the politicians are “on THEIR side,” and we should busy ourselves with the notion that “our side” must eventually prevail.  This does not mean mere crass “self-interest,” but rather an incorporation of what’s good for humanity into “our side.”  We especially need to be expanding the publicly-acceptable definition of “saving the earth” so that our government may at some future point actually do such a thing.

Part Three: a discussion of a political agenda:

      For purposes of convenience, I shall analyze the Web-published agenda of Hillary Clinton, as she is the front-running candidate in an election widely perceived to “go to the Democratic Party candidate.”  (This is not to imply any animosity toward Senator Clinton, nor is it to imply that anyone else can “do a better job.”  For that matter, it isn’t an endorsement, either.)  For purposes of brevity, the analysis will be superficial, and won’t go beyond the statements of purpose.  In all fairness, however, I ought to look at other statements as well: I do, however, wish to limit the length of this diary.  So, as follows:

1.  To end the war in Iraq.

      2. To achieve universal, affordable health care.

      3. To create new jobs for middle-class Americans with the right investments in modern infrastructure and in new, clean energy-efficient technologies that reduce our dependence on foreign oil and combat global warming.

      4. To provide world-class education, from universal pre-kindergarten to affordable college for all.

      5. To promote 21st century scientific research, including stem cell research.

      6. To return to fiscal responsibility, move back toward a balanced budget,  and safeguard Social Security and Medicare for future generations.

      7. To restore competence and end cronyism in government, with a president who cares about and works for Americans who have been invisible to this administration.

      8. To combat terrorism, strengthen our military, and care for our veterans.

      9. To restore America’s standing in the world and repair our alliances.

     10. To build a more tolerant, united America, working to achieve big goals again, with a president who’s ready for change and ready to lead from day one.

Let’s take a look at each agenda item, from the perspective of a pragmatic analyst and from the perspective of my reality-based agenda.  The resultant product should give us a notion of what rhetoric has to do to catch up with reality.

1.  To end the war in Iraq.  Indeed, this is a valid goal, addressing the concerns of those who have lost loved ones in Iraq.  But how is it to be accomplished?  Wouldn’t it be clearer to have the US wash its hands of the war-making efforts in Iraq, and to broker a peace treaty between the remaining warring factions?  Clinton argues for “withdrawing troops” and “phased redeployment” in other statements, but without specifics.  Sometimes, however, clarity isn’t the preferred option, especially if one wishes to garner the votes of differing factions on an issue.  A reality-based perspective would suggest that the enormous quantity of energy consumption (and concomitant US infrastructure) required to maintain a US infrastructure in Iraq (fourteen bases and all) is a danger to the global energy economy and the orientation to abrupt climate change as well as to the Iraqi ecology and social fabric.

2.  To achieve universal, affordable health care.  Once again, a valid goal, and certainly a concern of Americans who pay high health-insurance premiums.  But the question of how this is to be done can also be said simply.  “Single payer” and “managed competition” are two-word expressions that say quite a bit as to how “universal, affordable health care” is to be achieved.  A reality-based perspective would note the health-services disaster that competitive, capitalist health insurance has become.

 3.  To create new jobs for middle-class Americans with the right investments in modern infrastructure and in new, clean energy-efficient technologies that reduce our dependence on foreign oil and combat global warming.  Investments in infrastructure and energy-efficient technologies will allow individual consumers to do more with less energy.  And everyone who is unemployed is looking for a job.  But neither measure will reduce dependence upon “foreign oil,” nor will they combat global warming.  Reducing dependence upon “foreign oil” would mean actually not consuming foreign oil, and combating global warming would mean increasing the prevalence of “carbon sinks,” i.e plant-life, and (more importantly) leaving fossil-fuel energy in the ground.

4. To provide world-class education, from universal pre-kindergarten to affordable college for all.  Again, a noble goal without specifics.  I have argued previously, from a reality-based perspective, that the decline in education can only be halted if its purpose can be ascertained.  Please also see Horse Philosopher’s diary on this topic.

5. To promote 21st century scientific research, including stem cell research.  Indeed a valid goal, one that will address the interests of corporations doing scientific research.

6. To return to fiscal responsibility, move back toward a balanced budget,  and safeguard Social Security and Medicare for future generations.  Safeguarding Social Security and Medicare are certainly important goals, with potentially universal popularity.  But what is “fiscal responsibility” in the age of dollar hegemony, esp. when the main problem with the economy is the threat that the shrinking of the middle class will create a crisis of overproduction?

7. To restore competence and end cronyism in government, with a president who cares about and works for Americans who have been invisible to this administration.  A valid goal, one that moreover addresses widespread cynicism about government.

8. To combat terrorism, strengthen our military, and care for our veterans.  Caring for veterans is indeed a valid goal.  But how is “combating terrorism” to be accomplished?  Do our candidates view “terrorism” as a crime, or as an act of war?  And why does the military need to be “strong” in an era absent a serious military threat to the United States?  This looks like an appeal to the military’s financial interests, much of which will have to be curtailed in an era dedicated to ecological sustainability.

9. To restore America’s standing in the world and repair our alliances.  This sort of rhetoric appears to be addressed to some international business interests, which benefit from “friendly relations between nations.”  Business interests also benefit from US imperialism, however; so imprecise language may have to serve a function here.

10. To build a more tolerant, united America, working to achieve big goals again, with a president who’s ready for change and ready to lead from day one.  Indeed, tolerance is a worthy goal; it’s better than intolerance.  But the rest of this “bulletin point” appears to be composed of slogans.  Slogans are part of every Presidential candidate’s art.  This bulletin-point is certainly full of them.

To conclude: the typical complaint one reads about how this candidate or that is “unworthy” of one’s vote might be read as implying that the system can select another political candidate whose positions will offer “worthiness.”  This is not at all necessarily so.  The system may simply be programmed to select Presidential candidates who are not capable of dealing with economic and ecological realities.  Our obligation is to be better voters so that our politicians will be better prompted to offer us reality-based rhetoric.

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    • Robyn on November 23, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    …to having the pursuit of civil rights reduced to the level of “slogans.”

  1. Wheres my habeas corpus, nothing about the constitution or bill of rights? Agreed that the system is rigged but there are differences between candidates, slight but there, just as their are differences slight at this point between the neocons and the neoliberals. Primaries are a dog and pony show wherein were offered a choice to keep the voting factions thinking their in the game.

    It seems to me at this point the Democratic base is splintering, much as the Republicans are. I had a dream that they held an election and nobody voted zero no one. I think at this point the electoral process is nothing but PR to keep the illusion of democracy alive.

    Better voters would require that the people actually expected more then just the hallow promises of incremental moves toward progress, and quit believing the political fictions we are offered are real. Most just duck and cover hoping they can live their lives with out getting tazed or hauled off, other prefer to believe that within the system they can ‘take back their country’ only to be neutered by the faceless entities that run the show.

    When faced with access to information the people still go along and say things like this is the best we can get. Stockholm Syndrome seems to have set in, the gangsters divvy up the spoils and we pay the vig, and call it a democracy. The reality based rhetoric you and I want calls for people to face the reality  of what’s going on and then demanding that the system include the ‘the will of the people’ so far I see no will at all, just misplaced fear.

    Sorry to be so pessimistic, perhaps I should just stay away from candidate diaries, but then again thats just another form of denial, its the only available venue for change aside from mass revolt and if the people can’t even confront the realities of politics fat chance of that. It would make us look like extremists and offend the the elite. Great essay, despite my ranting and despair.        

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