Liberalism Died in 1980 and was buried in 1988 so Let’s Move On

This is just a ramble — some reflections on the arguments going on within the progressive movement. I think we need to move on and think things out carefully rather than moving from news item to news item. What we see is a whole, a system. This system is very robust and we shouldn’t pretend it is not.

The Liberal age was from 1933 to 1980. The Reagan Era signaled a radical shift in U.S. politics. Reagan and his operatives were able to leverage the latent chauvinism, racism anti-intellectualism and class-hatred of the white working-class into a new (old) vision of America and American Exceptionalism. To be called a “liberal” was nearly as bad as being called a homosexual. Liberals were seen as people who deliberately set out to destroy families and all traditional values and thus were existential threats. This was hard for most liberals to understand since they, in the best American tradition, just wanted to make sure we lived in a decent society were people were treated fairly and civilized behavior was encouraged. Interestingly liberals also favored traditional Christian virtues like charity, gentleness towards the sick, poor, disabled, as well as people in classes that were traditionally excluded from mainstream America like African-americans, Native peoples, women and so on. Liberals tended not to get this visceral hatred and what was behind it and what was the ultimate goal of the neo-Conservative movement (it was not a Conservative movement at all but a radical neo-fascist movement).  

Even before 1980 things were changing. The militarist faction of the power-elite managed to extend their influence through the “Team B” report which focused on the “window of vulnerability” to Soviet attack that presumabely existed at that time. This was authored, essentially by George Bush I’s CIA and the Rumsfeld/Cheney White House. This report had considerable momentum and became one part of the pattern of techniques to break the power of the liberal movement towards social democracy. In fact, without getting into particulars, the scholarship was largely bogus but the story became a big item in the news and was debated as if it had merit. This also indicated an opportunity for the neo-conservatives — they knew that no matter how outrageous the argument or claim that the news media would cover it and it’s contrary position as roughly equal. Thus, if you make a hundred ridiculously wrong arguments and your opponents are forced to scramble for the truth the media will cover your crazy argument as being equally valid to an argument that is demonstrably true. It wasn’t just that the media was gullible but that the media was actively lobbied by interest groups that stood to profit from the change and would meet with concerted efforts, mass phone-ins if they did not cover the neo-conservative arguments.

The right in America was always ready to test boundaries where the liberal left actually was much more conservative in political tactics. The new breed of operatives that came in with Nixon and even more so with Reagan were willing to do anything legal or illegal to win. Most of them had some vague ideological leanings but mainly they were in love with a varient of Ayn Rand’s “philosophy” i.e., the strong deserve whatever they can get. They were and are sportsmen and competitors and are less interested in the political issues they seem to champion. Their pleasures came form making fools of liberals who still believed you should play by “fair” rules.

By 1980 things began to change rapidly in Washington and New York. The media, realizing that Reagan was a master at public relations and that the majority supported the very brand of American Exceptionalism always preferred by the press (it was the press that really created the meme in the first place during the rise of the yellow press) and, at the same time, knowing that Reagan’s team was filled with heavies who were willing to do “anything” like delay the hostage release etc., began to focus on their class interests and kiss the ring. This is well-documented in the book On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency. This tendency was particularly shown by the sudden drop of coverage by all the major media at the same time of the terror war in El-Salvador which had been featured in the news. One correspondent from one of the big three news weekly (a friend of mine in those days) was told to suddenly leave El-Salvador because there was “no story” there. This was the experience of nearly every major reporter in that region. It was bad enough that the individual resigned his position.

The neo-conservatives had taken over the press in the 1980’s and that was way before Fox News. All it took then and now were some phone calls and a few sticks and carrots to the NYT or WaPost and viola, government propaganda became “the news”. That is why I say that everything in the news (in America) is a lie even if it’s true. What followed was a revamping of income tax and social security to lower taxes on the rich and increase them on the poor and lower middle classes. After 1980 the labor movement was, essentially crushed not just by the air traffic control strike but by the neo-conservative domination of the content and slant of the news which created a negative view of unions and labor. Soon there would be virtually no reporters reporting on labor issues and endless numbers reporting on “business” and Wall Street. Again, the ability to rev up nativism and racism played a big role in this as well.

During this period the CIA and other intel/security services went back to their old practices (they were somewhat constrained by the Church Committee hearings in the ’70’s) and then some and began playing a bigger role in foreign policy (Iran/Contra/BCCI etc., etc.). Cold War assertions were amplified and the Soviet threat was used for a massive build up of the MIC much to the delight of Congress and it’s most corrupt members. Suddenly Nicaragua was a direct existential threat to the United States and terrorist strikes financed and largely run by U.S. operatives eventually overthrew the Sandanista government. A later investigation (the Iran Contra Scandal) by both the MSM and Congress was largely a show in which nothing significant was uncovered and had little effect on the strength of the neo-conservatives — in fact in solidified the careers of “Democrats” like Lee Hamilton who now is brought in whenever a creative cover-up is needed.

The most illustrative event of this era may well have been the Bush/Dukakis campaign wherein the right was able to portray, with the help of the media, Dukakis as a hopeless wimp and, essentially, a non-American. The worst was the question by some the hack Bernard Shaw about what he would demand the death penalty for the murderer is his wife was raped and killed. Dukakis answered that he opposed the death penalty and he would not make an exception for his wife. This answer, many believe, cost him the election which solidified the propaganda image of Dukakis deliberately promoted by the MSM. This was a deliberate attempt, much like the famous highly edited Dean “scream” that is typical of MSM attacks on those it deems outside the pale.

In the 1990’s despite a lot of “hope” there were no move towards the left. The transformation of Government from one that was governed by Civil Service regulations to an increasing reliance on contractors which both decreased the effectiveness of government and dramatically increase corruption. I saw some of this up-close having been a government contractor and I won’t go into all the details here. Clinton, even if he wanted to move left, could not because he knew where the power was. The clandestine services, the MIC, FIRE Sector, HC industry and so on all increased their power during his Presidency. But not fast enough for the neo-conservatives.

Despite the handwringing by liberals things have continued to get worse. There has been little change in the basic structures except changes to make the powerful even more powerful and the extraordinary growth of systematic corruption.

And where are we exactly? We have a permanent war without end — how perfect is that for the MIC? We have departed for good from both Constitutional rule and rule of law in general though we go through the motions with great vigor. But the fact is if you have money you have better justice. The fact is that the government can, without any legal restriction, hold you, seize your assets, torture you and kill you all without due process as guaranteed by the Constitution. As a practical matter, the government or the contractors it hires, don’t need to mess with us because as citizens we don’t have any way to break through the power structure. Should we seriously attempt any change well, you figure it out.

Economically we have been lowering our real standard of living (when you take away the baubles and cheap toys) since 1980. It takes a far larger percentage of income to keep things together for the average American family today than in the 1970’s. We also work longer hours with less vacations. When the average worker increases the productivity of the company they are with that productivity growth goes to the company not the worker. The company puts it in financial instruments out of which we not only have a casino economy but loads of cash to lend out to people who stung by the growth in productivity and the push of society to define oneself by the products one uses, seek to make up for their “loss” through borrowing money at high interest rates from  credit card issuers. I know what it takes for young people today and it is a far more brutal world than it was when I was coming up.

The election of Obama confirmed the reality that liberals do not exist politically. It is deeply shocking, not that the left supported him, but that they continue to support him because he is now the chief reason we are getting and will get no change in political arrangements in Washington. The HCR bills that are being negotiated are ridiculous. I always refer to it as the square wheel Health Reform. Wheels need to be round to function best. So why not use a wheel? The vehicle itself can differ but there’s no reason to change the shape of the wheel. HC systems function very well throughout the world why couldn’t we adapt other systems to our system. We chose otherwise.

The Obama appointments, his treatment of the GWOT, HCR, financial reforms, and so on prove that there is no way and no mechanism in our society to actually creatively deal with national problems — the government can only preserve and protect it’s clients and those clients are the ones who throw money around K Street and the international PR firms.

We need to accept reality, understand that the period of history when liberalism could flourish and when there was a social consensus that we ought to have a convivial society. The American people have, on the whole, become collectively insane. Our job is to be a mirror and inform others that the Narrative that the media provides them (which is deliberately constructed in order to make people insane). We ought to do it with grace and precision to the extent we can. Above all, we have to stop using blogs to express our anger at our powerlessness both collectively and personally which is what seems to happen on the internet. Instead we need to listen and think more carefully. This is serious business here — not that it should be without comedy or fun, but that we are coming into dangerous waters and we need to pay attention.

If the left is to rise it must cast away the old liberal hopes which depended on common values of decency and realize that we don’t live in a world where most people approve of what liberals call decency. We must use pragmatic means and argue pragmatically about issues that mean something like HCR. An adaptation of a European model of HC should not be argued as a left-wing or liberal “ideal” but as a very pragmatic answer to the very real domination of HC in this country by people I consider criminal gangs. And this is true of most industries today as we are definitely in a world of “Rogue Economics”.  

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    • banger on December 31, 2009 at 10:35 pm
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    Happy New Year — let’s live fully!

  1. without agreeing with an ounce of what you say — or it is perhaps more accurate to say that I follow you a certain way and then depart down another fork in the road.  But it’s well argued.  Very well argued.

    But I would posit that what we have here is a moral war and what happened with the Republican Party is that after a certain point, they forgot morals and values — and in some cases even what they wanted in the first place, utterly — and went on to bare faced pragmatism where the ends justified the means and the means was to smash and grab.  Smash and grab the media, smash and grab American culture.

    American liberalism isn’t dead, or if it is then we’re all doomed as a country and as a people.  It has been hijacked, yes, and turned to means rather than goals by the faux-pragmatists.

    The neoliberals are locusts or wasps who infected the heart of true classical liberalism with their eggs and are trying to eat it out from the inside.  But this is, ultimately, a self defeating strategy.

    Values based liberalism is on the rise again, though with fits and starts and coughs and no little naivete.  Its most profound expression was in the hope for change that got Obama mistakenly elected (even though Obama himself is no value based liberal and we were all effectively hoodwinked — even though some were saying at the time, among them, me, that we were being hoodwinked).

    The scope of history is vast.

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