With varying degrees of confidence or even complacency, many people have assumed that the jig is almost up for the horrendous political era that began when George W. Bush became president. Always dubious, the assumption is now on very shaky ground.
The Bush-Cheney regime may be on its last legs, but a new incarnation of right-wing populism is shadowing the near horizon.
Much as modern capitalism is always driven to promote new products in the marketplace, the corporate-fundamentalist partnership must reinvent and remarket itself. We’re now seeing the rollout of a hybrid product under the McCain-Palin brand.
Last night, after watching Sarah Palin’s acceptance speech and the laudatory responses from many TV journalists, I remembered wandering around the floor of the Democratic National Convention a week ago. At the base, the two major parties are even more different than the speeches are apt to indicate.
Under the roof of the Democratic Party, notwithstanding its shades of corporatism and militarism and numerous other grave faults, there’s a lot of longstanding and ongoing involvement from key progressive constituencies — including labor unions, African Americans, gay rights activists, human rights defenders, environmentalists, fair-trade advocates, healthcare-for-all organizers, feminists, and on and on.
In contrast, the Republican Party is a political institution that views all such constituencies and activists (including last night’s new target of derision, "community organizers") as enemies to be smothered and crushed. The party’s latest "populist" packaging is another wrinkle in a timeworn pattern; the most avid political servants of corporate elites are eager to keep generating the anti-elites rhetoric and imagery of down-home regular folks.
At the Democratic convention last week, some of the speeches ran counter to basic progressive tenets of peace and social justice. But none came close to the zeal for social Darwinism, jingoism and militarism routinely spewing from the Republican convention’s podium.
In ways too numerous to count and in realms too profound to truly evoke, this decade has grimly underscored that — notwithstanding theoretical claims to the contrary — it matters greatly who is president. From the Supreme Court to thousands of subcabinet positions to executive orders to a vast array of foreign-policy decisions including the potential use of nuclear weapons, the president is able to wield state power with consequences huge enough to be unfathomable.
A popular strand of analysis on the left has downplayed the importance of the president. The story goes that corporate forces rule, and the person in the Oval Office is little more than a figurehead for those rulers. There’s some validity to that assessment, but in the face of experience it has tended to calcify into a form of denial.
With right-wing Republicans running the White House for 20 of the last 28 years, maybe the downplaying of the importance of the presidency has become a kind of coping mechanism for some progressives. Accustomed to a status quo that grows increasingly dire, we’ve settled into an uncomfortable "comfort zone" as familiar as it is macabre. At the same time, the cascading effects of right-wing control over most of the federal government have been cumulative and devastating.
Of course progressives should always keep organizing, educating, protesting and agitating. But the potential for achieving progressive changes in government policies is severely limited while the right wing is entrenched in the White House. The changes we need can only be propelled from the grassroots, but the possibilities are badly circumscribed when the far right maintains a grip on state power.
The election will happen in 60 days. After that, it’ll be President McCain or President Obama.
We’ll never pass this way again.