Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The revolution and the war I want...

... because I do want them.

I want the Revolution of 1800, and I want to hear something on the order of President Thomas Jefferson's first inaugural address.

Jefferson, of course, didn't have to kill anybody--even though his vice president was just possibly conspiring to overthrow the government. But he did have the guts to have Aaron Burr tried for treason.

The Black Panthers wanted a revolution: it had a Ten Point Program and when the FBI got really, really interested, set up COINTELPRO, and lots of people died.

There were parts of the Reagan Revolution that I liked; other parts that I didn't. Nobody got shot, but ketchup became a vegetable and the pay of enlisted folks in the US military actually drifted above the official poverty line.

i want to replace the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, the War on Illiteracy, and the War on Terror with a War against State control of my private life [including who I make love to or what I choose to ingest as long I don't hurt anybody else], with a War against the surveillance state, with a War against involuntary Nanny State regulations for adults, with a War against cable TV monopolies. Or something like that.

It's really kind of interesting that in the American political system the war metaphor is almost exclusively retained for use by the State, to be dragged out as the quasi-explanation for another expansion of its powers into a new arena. As you may have noted in the paragraph above, non-State actors using the war metaphor sound ... pretty lame.

People on the outside of power tend to appropriate revolution as their term, but sometimes they use synonyms and circumlocutions that convey the same message: regime change, or change we can believe in, or we surround them.

Revolutions--or the prospect that they might be frustrated--always carry the implied threat of violence. Or at least they create the impression of the threat of violence in some people's minds, even if the revolutionaries are peaceful:

The Telegraph [24 October 2008]:

Law enforcement officials say the intense public interest and historic nature of the vote could lead to violent outbreaks if people are unhappy with the results, encounter problems casting their ballots or suspect voting irregularities.

Police departments say they cannot rule out disorder and are mobilising extra forces and putting SWAT teams on standby....

There have also been internet rumours about plans for protests or civil disobedience by supporters of Democratic candidate Barack Obama if he is beaten by Republican rival John McCain on November 4....

James Carville, a strategist for former President Bill Clinton and advisor to his wife Hillary's 2008 presidential campaign, hinted Democrat supporters could be angry if Mr Obama lost, given his lead in the polls.

"If Obama goes in and he has a consistent five-point lead and loses the election, it would be very, very, very dramatic out there," he told CNN.


We live in a country where not only has our political understanding of war devolved from the Framers' position of war as the failure of policy into the conservative European position of war as the instrument of policy, and from war as a time-limited event (World War One, World War Two) with a beginning-middle-end to war as a permanent condition (Cold War, War on Terror).

Likewise, our understanding of politics and the political process has become infected over the past five decades with military metaphors and images: from the infamous anti-Goldwater "daisy girl" advertisement in 1964 to the use of Adolf Hitler in political ads by both sides in 2004.

We've had politicians (including Barack Obama) discuss demilitarizing space....

Maybe it's time to think about demilitarizing American politics.

Let's be brutally honest: the Right and the Left are both using the idea of political violence to rally the troops. The Far Right wants us to associate Obama with Mussolini, Hitler, or Stalin and the image of a fascist if not totalitarian State in order to destroy the credibility of the current administration and resist long-term currents of social change. The Left wants desperately to pin the violence of extremists on the leadership--formal or informal--of the GOP in order to hasten its disintegration, guarantee continuing electoral success, and build a mandate for its agenda.

Neither side is above using real tragedies as the fodder for faux outrage to score political points.

What separates James Carville from Rush Limbaugh? Certainly not the rhetoric. Primarily the difference is that Rush has hundreds of radio stations and Carville manages real top-level political campaigns.

Both of them make a living off politics as war.

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