Prorogation, Disengagement and Cutting the Democratic Deficit in Canada

by matttbastard

With thousands of Canadians reportedly hitting the streets this past weekend to express their disapproval of Stephen Harper’s latest arrogant bird-flip to Parliamentary democracy, it seems apparrent that our political elites are out of touch with the people whose interests they profess to represent. A new report, to be released today, offers empirical evidence in support of the painfully obvious:

“…Canadians are jaundiced about the state of democracy here.”

Tonda MacCharles:

The report, to be released Wednesday by the Institute of Wellbeing, says Canada is experiencing “a huge democratic deficit, with trust in Canadian government and public institutions on a steep decline.”

“The disconnect between Canadians and those who govern on their behalf is deep, wide, and growing,” said the institute’s Lynne Slotek.

“At a time when people are demanding greater accountability and transparency, they see their government institutions becoming more remote and opaque.”

Yet despite this cavernous divide separating institutional political activity and ordinary citizens, Canadians haven’t given up on democratic engagement — they just have to participate via alternative avenues:

Slotek said in an interview the public’s obvious dissatisfaction with that decision “is an affirmation of what our report says – that people are interested in politics, they want to find ways to participate, and if they can’t, they’ll look at other activities such as signing petitions, Facebook or the Internet.”

The report says while voter turnout has declined from a high of 69.6 per cent in the 1993 federal election to the historic low of about 59 per cent in 2008, it does not mean Canadians are uninterested in politics. Hard data on “voter interest” in the 2008 election isn’t yet available, but the group looked at other indicators over 10 years, she said.

It says the volunteer rate for “formal political activities, such as participating in law, advocacy and political groups” has been low – around 2 per cent – over the years, but the volunteer rate for “informal ones, such as, protesting, signing petitions and boycotting, has been relatively high.” The report cites a 2002 study that found 54.6 per cent of Canadians said they participated in one political activity, either “traditional or non-traditional.”

Part of the intent behind Harper’s cynical prorogation scheme was to take advantage of a disorganized, feckless opposition and lay the groundwork for a post-Olympic spring election victory, perhaps even a majority government (or, at the very least, a Conservative Senate). But with poll numbers tanking and protests mounting, it would appear that Harper and his too-clever-by-half cronies in the PMO neglected to consider a very important constituency: the people of Canada, who, regardless of partisan affiliation, are finally fed up with having once again been taken for granted by an out-of-touch government that has reasserted its entitled sense of invincibility and naked contempt for accountability one too many times.

As one protester put it this past Saturday, Stephen Harper is “abusing the power that the people of Canada have bestowed upon him.”

It’s beyond time for the people to take that power back.

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War is Over (OK, Not *Over*, But…)

by matttbastard

Was going to pick up on what BooMan, Jed Lewison & Jeff Fecke had to say re: Jane Hamsher’s unholy alliance with Grover fucking Norquist and the  more-progressive-than-thou campaign to unseat that notorious corporate shill, Bernie Sanders (and there was great rejoicing among the assembled Trots  in the spartan Vermont offices of the Socialist Equality Party).

But fuck it — it’s Christmas Eve. We can declare a temporary armistice and put down the hunks of pie until at least, er, Saturday. Y’know, peace on earth, goodwill towards bitter personality cultists, all that rot — right, kids?

Right?

Here, have some Ramones. I mean, if Joey and Johnny could put aside their utter loathing for each other for all those years in the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll and, um, filthy lucre…?

Wishing you and yours a very happy holidays on this Historic Occasion.

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More on Jane Hamsher’s Nixon-Goes-To-China Epiphany (Now With Less CAPSLOCK)

by matttbastard

My esteemed friend Sarah Jaffe takes issue with several of the points I raised in yesterday morning’s post on Jane Hamsher:

This combines SEVERAL things I hate into one paragraph. “Ugly Red State mugs” well gee, you know what? Those are real fucking people too. I’m so tired of the red state/blue state snobbery I could spit. You know what? I lived in red states. I busted my ass on multiple political campaigns in red states and saw one of them turn blue (Colorado). I’ve talked to pissed-off overworked people who are just looking for someone, ANYONE to give them a narrative of how they got so fucked–and we haven’t been doing it.

Also, since when does anyone who calls themselves a lefty get to snarl and sneer at populist street protest? Sure, I laugh at “look at this fucking teabagger” too, but you know what else I do? I wonder why the fuck we’re not out there, because at least those people are putting some effort into it. And to some degree they ARE protesting the right people, even if the narrative they have (ZOMG SOCIALIST!) is just factually wrong.

[…]

So while I disagree with partnering with Grover Norquist, who is no kind of populist and every kind of rich plutocratic asshole, I absolutely don’t have a problem with acknowledging that the teabaggers A. have some legitimate grievances and B. are using tactics that get attention. I also don’t have a problem with someone staking out a hard and fast progressive position and vowing not to swerve from it.

First of all, considering I spent my formative years going to cattle auctions, milking goats, and generally living like, as Levi Johnston infamously put it, “a fucking redneck,” I think I’ve earned the right to indulge in the occasional good natured rhetorical aplomb with regards to rural culture. Perhaps I should indeed have used ‘Real Americans’, since that terminology is apparently less provocative (if ironic in this instance, considering how the accusation re: my supposed dehumanization of red-staters was phrased).

No matter. Next time I’ll make sure to include photos of me contentedly playing on a pile of dry manure (yes, they do exist) before I offer any pithy asides that may (or may not) implicitly question the humanity of those who think the POTUS is the anti-Christ and people of colour are jackbooted thugs coming to steal guns and impose Marxism on the American populace.

Now, I don’t want to waste too much time addressing nits when there are more substantive concerns to address. So I’ll only briefly deal with the contention that, because I am a Canadian, I have little right to comment–even in passing–on the health care debate in the US.  Amusing, since, in today’s dynamic, neoliberal North American economy, my options to live/work/go to school south of the border are severely restricted by prohibitive costs and outrageous restrictions on so-called preexisting conditions, thus giving me and other Canadians who might one day wish to grab hold of the American dream a stake in whether the current system is indeed reformed (though certainly not as immediate as those who currently reside in the US).

Additionally, Canada’s universal health care system has been unceremoniously yanked into the debate by both pro-and-anti reform factions during the course of the debate, which threatens to reopen health care as a wedge issue here in the Great White North (and, trust me, if the current neocon government in Ottawa gets a majority —  which seems all-too-likely — it will almost certainly utilize the tactics employed by the US insurance lobby, very much eager to further tap into Canada’s lucrative health care market, to bully through ideologically-motivated reforms of a decidedly regressive, pro-market nature).

Regardless, am certain the next time a transformative national event like, oh, say, Iran’s Green Revolution sweeps over Twitter like a digital tsunami, Sarah will refrain from offering opinionated commentary (or actively agitating) because she already has constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of expression, assembly and association and, thus, far less of a vested interest in any outcomes. Also, by this metric, I suppose we can all stop paying attention to the 85% of USians who already have health insurance — which would probably mute most of those advocating for both killing and passing the Senate health reform bill.

Hey, at least we’d get a much-needed respite from the migraine-inducing bloviating of Ed Schultz and Chris Matthews.

Anyway, enough with the gristle — on to the meat.

Sarah seems to have (mis)interpreted my objections to Hamsher’s position (and my contempt for teabaggers) as evidence that I’m against street protest (unless one considers the heavily manufactured fauxtrage of the tea party movement to be populist and not fauxpulist — Hamsher certainly had her doubts about its legitimacy last spring). Which is funny, because a lot of my snark is predicated on the notion that Hamsher ISN’T hitting the streets, but rather using her digital platform as a half-assed means of protest without sacrifice, something that the largely upper-middle-class netroots (and, unfortunately, yours truly) has been guilty of perpetuating. Maybe I missed the portion of Hamsher’s post where she advocated actually getting progressive boots on the ground, instead of continuing to solely rely on FDL petitions and electronic advocacy campaigns to pressure Washington.

If so, my bad.

The biggest point of contention I have with Hamsher’s post (and perhaps I didn’t originally articulate this clearly enough) was her declaration that the only thing separating progressive populist anger from screeching teabagger rage was ‘the message’. But, in fact, it’s not simply the message that differentiates the populist left from the populist right. It’s the motivation behind the message.

Many progressives are angry and motivated to act on said anger because they want to build something that will better the lives of real people, not simply line the pockets of corporations (hence the principled objections to the health care legislation, which many, including Hamsher, view as a ginormous corporate giveaway).

In stark contrast, it seems all too apparent to me that the organized teabagger movement desperately wants Obama’s agenda to fail miserably because they are threatened and offended by the success of an uppity fucking nigger who needs to be put in his place (up to and including 6 feet under) — point fucking blank. Killing what is admittedly a horribly, horribly flawed health insurance bill is part and parcel of this mindset.

(YMMV, of course, but, speaking as a person of colour, the dogwhistles contained within pretty much all missives eminating from the angry USian right silently screams ‘lynching party’).

So, on the one hand we have a broad, socially dynamic movement trying to create something that will benefit a broad range of people; on the other, a racially and culturally homogeneous reactionary backlash attempting to destroy the Other and anything the Other supports, out of fear and hatred.

Teabaggers definitely aren’t afraid to threaten and potentially utilize violence to achieve their destructive, regressive goals. Anyone who has read David Neiwert over the years (especially what he’s written following the 2008 presidential election) knows that playing footsie with pseudo-fascists is a dangerous game when so-called ‘mainstream’ movement conservatives do so. The same also holds true for progressives (and many libertarians, who, ever since Obama ascended to the White House, appear to have rekindled their mid-’90s love affair with black helicopter paranoia).

One can — and must — analyze the ongoing deficiencies of the progressive movement re: tapping legitimate populist anger (as I’ve attempted to do so in the past) without giving any quarter to the far-right. But by stating that the only thing separating tree-of-liberty-watering wingnuts from progs is ‘the message’, it appears Hamsher has done one of two things: Either she has has imbued legitimacy to a racist, conspiratorial backlash; or she has de-legitimized progressive activism by associating it with myopic, potentially deadly obstructionism.

Look, I’m sure one could argue that the KKK represented some legitimate grievances white Southerners held during Reconstruction; its tactics have certainly garnered lots of attention over the years. Shit, the Klan even opposed the Iraq war — but it did so because it believed the US was acting as a proxy for the ‘Zionist Occupied Government’ (ZOMG!) I would have been horrified to see members of the anti-war movement citing them as parallel to the peace lobby, separated only by ‘message.’

Envious progressives eager to (belatedly) tap popular dissatisfaction with the status quo shouldn’t be trying to emulate the right with tea party-lite appropriation simply because the Tea Party brand is now familiar to the public at large. People will always opt for the real thing when presented with a watered down option (just ask the Democratic Party during the DLC years, when the Dems responded to GOP ascendency by diluting its own liberal message with conservative messaging — not that things have changed all that much). Of course openly carrying firearms and threatening violent revolution gets attention — if it bleeds, it leads — but are we really willing to go to similar lengths to get the powers-that-be at Fox News to grant an extra programming block or two to the left. (What was that about “staking out a hard and fast progressive position and vowing not to swerve from it”? Hmm.)

I believe progressives need to continue carving our own niche and not allow the right to continually draw the parametres of public discourse. Hit the streets, smash the corporate state, raise fucking hell and don’t let anyone push us from that path. But for God’s sake don’t fucking give batshit racist misogynists with guns who are acting in direct opposition to our goals the rub in the process.

Steve M., directly addressing Hamsher and her recent decision to offer an olive branch to the anti-establishment right via Fox News, nails it:

Fox books liberals for two reasons: to be punching bags or to help reinforce messages Murdoch wants to deliver. I watched your clip and you weren’t treated like a punching bag — so that leaves only one choice: you were there to play “Even the liberal…” — that is, you were there to deliver the message “This bill is so awful even some liberals loathe it.”

No one on the right is “uniting” with you on principles. The Fox audience doesn’t want to join you to help make a good bill. The Fox audience wants to kill this bill, brutally and mercilessly, and then get every single Democrat out of office. (And if Big Medicine really didn’t like the idea of seeing this bill killed, it would tell Fox and the GOP to call off their dogs, and they’d dutifully comply. Big Medicine loves this bill compared to what it could have been, but no bill at all is still the fat cats’ preference. Watch this report in its 2 1/2-minute entirety if you doubt that.)

I agree that the bill is rather awful, and I’ve been vacillating on the question of whether it’s worth voting for, so I respect your intentions. But if you think left and right are meeting right now, your vision field is almost as warped as that of the we-love-Hillary-and-Sarah PUMAs.

Even the liberal Jane Hamsher.

Even the liberal Jane Hamsher.

Even the liberal Jane Hamsher.

Again, it’s not the message, which, in this instance, is in direct concert (kill the bill!), it’s the motivation — and, based on their apparent willingness to make peace with the far-right fringe to achieve their aims, one can’t help but question that of Jane Hamsher and others suddenly pining for a ‘tea party on the left’ (to say nothing of their judgment).

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

Jane Hamsher’s Recycled Capslock Radicalism

by matttbastard

You want to know why the (dis)organized left has been a relatively ineffectual force in USian politics over most of the last 40 years? Check out so-called kill-biller netroots activist [sic] Jane Hamsher, who, in the course of her vain crusade to crush the Senate’s (admittedly flawed but better than, y’know, nothing, ie, the status quo) health insurance reform legislation, has decided that if you can’t beat the Teabaggers

 you might as well break out your own nutsack and…

well, you know the rest:

But in the very next breath, they will then promote statistics that say the tea parties are more popular than either the Democratic or the Republican party, and wonder if it’s an opportune time for a third party candidate. (From the “right,” of course, because who would take the “left” seriously.) At no time do the synapses firing in their brains make the connection that both the “lazy progressive bloggers” and the tea party activists are saying almost the exact same thing about the Senate bill.

[…]

There is an enormous, rising tide of populism that crosses party lines in objection to the Senate bill. We opposed the bank bailouts, the AIG bonuses, the lack of transparency about the Federal Reserve, “bailout” Ben Bernanke, and the way the Democrats have used their power to sell the country’s resources to secure their own personal advantage, just as the libertarians have. In fact, we’ve worked together with them to oppose these things. What we agree on: both parties are working against the interests of the public, the only difference is in the messaging.

Ok, so: We have an astroturfed right-wing social movement of sorts (almost singlehandedly keeping the polyester lobby and Lee Greenwood from starving) that, following a TOTALLY SPONTANEOUS RANT on CNBC from Rick Santelli, decided to utilize the angry-shouty bits of Saul Alinsky to get their ugly red state mugs on Hardball every fucking night for several months straight. And this is the (bipartisan) model that Hamsher apparently wants to emulate (nearly 8 weeks after the mission accomplished moment that was NY-23) because “the only difference [between wingnuts and progressives] is the messaging”?

John Cole caustically questions the logic at work here:

Really? Progressive bloggers are saying the same thing as the tea party activists? I really fucking missed out on all of the posts at Eschaton that Obama is a socialist. I haven’t seen Markos in his tree of liberty t-shirt yet. There is no telling what David Sirota might do or say, so I’ll give you that one.

Hey, at least this way Hamsher doesn’t have to actually read Rules for Radicals and fully invest in the long, hard goddamn work that is required to achieve meaningful, popular change in the current capitalist system; she can just watch old YouTubes of this past summer’s townhall chaos and crib the important (ie, angry-shouty) parts. Yes, this is how Hamsher defines ‘populism’: Hold your breath and stamp your feets until Tweety gives you facetime on MSNBC.

Look, I’m on record as stating that the nose-holder/kill-biller battle is, in the long run, a good thing for the left. No matter which side of the divide one falls on, the debate is being driven by progressives; the right’s obstruction-uber-alles strategy has so marginalized it over the past 12 months that the corporate gatekeepers of the 24 hr news cycle seem to have finally lost all interest (yeah, yeah, so the GOP is against [insert Democratic initiative] — tell us something we don’t already know). And, yes, the fact that we see so many progressives on talking head programs articulating the particulars behind the biggest progressive legislative initiative in 40 years (and, in the process, grabbing control of the Beltway narrative) is something to celebrate — even if the dialogue is at times heated.

But seriously. If Hamsher thinks the answer to filling the social movement vacuum on the left (and staking a firm leadership position in the process) is to set your capslock on STUN and start hammering out “YOU WORK FOR US!!1” until your keyboard breaks, well, she’ll find that there’s lots of room out in the wilderness with the rest of the reflexive, wild-eyed Obama bashers who have fizzled out with more heat than light. Let’s just hope she brought a sturdy pup tent and lots of pemmican for the duration — they don’t do wealth redistribution in Outer Wingnuttia, natch.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

Sarah Palin, Fauxpulism, and Right-Wing Identity Politics

by matttbastard

(Image: Tacoma Urbanist, Flickr)

Sarah Palin is back — and, seemingly, everywhere, as she launches a book tour (and, perhaps, a run at the White House in 2012).

Max Blumenthal:

In a Republican Party hoping to rebound in 2010 on the strength of a newly energized and ideologically aroused conservative grassroots, Palin’s influence is now unparalleled. Through her Facebook page, she was the one who pushed the rumor of “death panels” into the national healthcare debate, prompting the White House to issue a series of defensive responses. Unfazed by its absurdity, she repeated the charge in her recent speech in Wisconsin. In a special congressional election in New York’s 23rd congressional district, Palin’s endorsement of Doug Hoffman, an unknown far-right third-party candidate, helped force a popular moderate Republican politician, Dede Scozzafava, from the race. In the end, Palin’s ideological purge in upstate New York led to an improbable Democratic victory, the first in that GOP-heavy district in more than 100 years.

Though the ideological purge may have backfired, Palin’s participation in it magnified her influence in the party. In a telling sign of this, Congressman Mark Kirk, a pro-choice Republican from the posh suburban North Shore of Chicago, running for the Senate in Illinois, issued an anxious call for Palin’s support while she campaigned for Hoffman. According to a Kirk campaign memo, the candidate was terrified that Palin would be asked about his candidacy during her scheduled appearance on the Chicago-based Oprah Winfrey Show later this month — the kick-off for her book tour — and would not react enthusiastically. With $2.3 million in campaign cash and no viable primary challengers, Kirk was still desperate to avoid Palin-backed attacks from his right flank, however hypothetical they might be.

“She’s gangbusters!” a leading conservative radio host exclaimed to me. “There is nobody in the Republican Party who can raise money like her or top her name recognition.”

In contemporary politics, money + brand recognition = power –period. For a Republican party scrambling to maintain its ever-shrinking base, that makes Sarah Palin its most influential personality. And with the Democratic Party and the White House being seen, rightly or wrongly, as the party of Goldman Sachs, an avowed fauxpulist like Palin (she’s ‘one of us!’) driving the tone and tenor of conservative politics in an age of economic instability is not something to airily discount.

Tim Egan:

Right now, a time when only 20 percent of Americans call themselves Republicans and Democrats are shrinking as well, the independents are disgusted with both parties. In large part, it’s because neither one seems to be on their side.

The early warning shots came on Nov. 3, against an ineffective former Wall Street executive, ousted New Jersey governor Jon Corzine, and the billionaire mayor who barely bought himself a third term, Michael Bloomberg of New York. Both felt the back hand of an electorate that feels as if the system is rigged against them.

A year ago, most people were open-minded about the ground-shaking changes that came with the economic collapse. Polls found a slim majority in favor of Wall street bailouts to save the economy. They would listen, watch, wait.

By this fall, the majority were not only against the bailouts, but in favor of curbing pay on Wall Street, and tightening government regulation of same.

The continuous drip of perceived unfairness continues. One day it’s news that Goldman Sachs seems to have stepped ahead of the line of those waiting to receive H1N1 vaccines, prompting questions about why investment bankers were getting doses rather than children or pregnant women. This week, Gallup found one in five parents saying they were unable to get swine flu vaccine for their children.

Another day brings a report that the top banks are raising credit card interest rates – some as high as 29 percent, which would shame a Mob extortionist — even against people who have always paid on time. This is the thanks we get?

If Congress steers through the Great Recession without responding to the thousand points of pain among average Americans, people will see them for what they are in bottom-line terms: an insulated club. Proof, just recently, came from a Center for Responsive Politics report that 237 members of Congress — 44 percent — are millionaires, compared to just 1 percent for the country as whole.

It’s difficult to take the clumsy rhetorical and symbolic excesses of the so-called Tea Party protest movement seriously. The ham-fisted polyester populism employed by some of the more exuberant adherants seems designed to drive a stake through the barely-beating heart of parody. But the (partly manufactured) rage that is driving teabaggers to target moderate Republicans like Dede Scozzafava or burn Speaker Pelosi in effigy isn’t simply fodder for mockery by progressive bloggers and #p2 snarkmeisters; it’s a bellwhether for a burgeoning class divide that threatens to leave the Congressional millionaire elite behind — and give a boost to any political movement that figures out how to tap that rage, regardless of where that movement lies on the ideological spectrum.

The fall of social democracy in Europe may provide clues as to how this could play out if progressives fail to heed the mood of the electorate. In a piece for Red Pepper published in June of 2008, Magnus Marsdal tried to explain how and why the populist right has been ascendant in Europe over the past decade, using the Norwegian Freedom Party (FrP) as an example:

Talking to people who voted for the Norwegian populist right offers useful insights for anyone trying to fight radical right-wing populism elsewhere in Europe, particularly when it comes to what I call ‘identity politics’.

How does the FrP make the worker-voter identify with a party that is positioned so far to the right? Hostility towards foreigners and mobilisation of ‘white’ or ‘Norwegian’ identity plays a big part. So does the male- orientated FrP’s anti- feminism, which mobilises identity among male voters.

The right-wing populists also play with a particular type of consumer identity that sets the population as consumer individuals against the state, the tax system and the elite. These are the obvious side of the FrP’s identity politics.

There are two other elements that are less apparent but even more important to consider, both in Norway and in other countries where right-wing populism is on the rise.

Worker identity
First, the FrP’s rhetoric offers its own worker-identity. This is not the worker as opposed to bosses and owners. It is the worker contrasted to the lazy and dole abusers ‘below’ and ‘posh’, cultured people ‘above’.

It is quite normal for people to imagine society as if it were split into three different sections, with themselves in the middle. Moral values determine who is worthy, and who is unworthy, both ‘up there’, ‘down below’ and among ‘proper working people’. The unworthy ‘up there’ include all those who represent the state, the Labour Party, the government and everybody else who ‘lies and steals money from common workers’, as Hans Erling Willersrud, the car worker who is the main character in The FrP Code, puts it.

Among people ‘down there’, the worthy are those who, through no fault of their own, have become ill, disabled or been made redundant. Everyone else is unworthy, including those who don’t do their jobs properly. For many workers worthiness equals skills – you are worth something because you have skills and you do something. This way of measuring worth and dignity is an alternative to measuring by income or education. On this essentially moral scale, the ‘honest worker’ comes out on the same level as, or above, the rich person or the leading politician.

The unworthy also include the dishonest: those who turn with the wind, pay lip service to all, who are not ‘solid wood’, as Norwegians say. The worst are probably those who suck up to ‘posh’ people and intellectuals one moment, only to denounce them among workers the next. Not being perceived as ‘solid wood’ has created quite a few problems for politicians, especially for the Labour Party, which needs to present itself favourably to different groups at the same time.

From my interviews with working-class FrP voters, I made a simple model to show how those ‘up there’ and ‘down there’ stand in relation to the ‘proper working people’. The elite ‘up there’ are divided into three different types:

  • the ‘know-it-alls’ linked to the education system and the state;
  • the greedy, found at the top of the economy; and
  • the politically powerful (often connected to the ‘know-it- alls’ and the greedy).

[…]

A second element to the FrP’s identity politics is that of aggrieved identity. ‘I’m just an ordinary worker, I have no fucking say,’ says Hans Erling Willersrud. He knows what it means to be at the boss’s beck and call and he’s had enough of the condescending attitude of Labour politicians who ‘can’t be bothered to listen to what [he’s] got to say’.He had some contact with the social security office when he was sick, and ‘has had it up to here with the system’. ‘They wouldn’t even believe he was in pain,’ says his mother Eli.

Hans Erling thinks politicians and bureaucrats are driving his country into the ground. He believes the social democratic elite has arranged things so the rich, the shrewd and the sleazy can take advantage of the system at the expense of the common man. He’s at the bottom of the pile at work. He’s at the bottom of the pile at the dole office. He’s at the bottom of the pile in the trade union (as an FrP voter) and in politics in general. He sees himself as a ‘political underdog’.

This doesn’t mean he is weak. On the contrary: being an underdog is not about lacking personal strengths, but finding that they don’t count for anything. More powerful people, regardless of their competence, are lording it over theunderdog, without recognising his skills or paying attention to what he actually knows, thinks or wants. It’s humiliating. He feels aggrieved.

And how does a political party like the FrP exploit the popular mood? It uses political language and images to touch a nerve with people who feel ignored, trampled on and overruled.

Carl Hagen’s most important ploy is to place himself in the role of the underdog. When he rages against the other parties wanting to keep a strong FrP out of government, he says, ‘Our voters will not be treated as second-rate.’ This simple sentence is perfect for connecting with people who on a daily basis, whether at work, at school or in the media, feel that they are treated like second-class citizens. Widening the focus, Hagen implies that what ordinary workers are in the workplace, the FrP is in the party political system. The voters can identify only too readily with what he is saying.

At the same time, Hagen – in the role of the affronted man who refuses to back down – offers the promise of vindication. For more than 30 years he has paid for the conceited sins of others, he tells them. But he turns the other cheek. Unlike the powerful and the arrogant, he is not driven by haughtiness or personal ambition. He is only fighting for what’s fair.

This underdog pose is brilliant because it can be applied to so many different voter groups. Above/below is a relationship that most people can recognise. Because he understands the underdog mentality, Hagen can connect with social-democratic workers as readily as with Christian fundamentalists who feel that their Christian cultural heritage is under threat.

Other subjects that mobilise the affronted population’s sense of themselves as the underdog include the FrP’s attacks on ‘politicians and bureaucrats’, its protest against schemes such as ‘the new opera being paid for by taxpayers’ and accusations that overpaid journalists are ‘persecuting the FrP’.

So where does Sarah Palin and her overwhelming ubiquity fit in all this? Like Barack Obama in 2008, Palin could prove to be a blank canvas on which citizens could project their desires en masse. Only instead of hope and change driving a national popular movement, hate and fear would be the engine of political change in 2012.

Of course, recent polls make the likelihood of a Palin run for the Presidency seem dim for the moment, as Joan Walsh notes.

But that doesn’t mean progressives should exhale:

The main reason not to fear a President Palin can be seen in recent polling among independents and moderates. In a the most current ABC News/Washington Post poll, Greg Sargent drilled down to find that: only 37 percent of independents and 30 percent of self-described moderates think she’s qualified for the presidency, and 58 percent of moderates view her unfavorably. Even more intriguing (but not surprising): Palin’s approval rating with men is higher than with women, 48 percent to 39 percent, and just a third of women believe she’d be qualified to be our first female president. (So much for Palin’s appeal to Hillary Clinton fans!)

So I think the Sarah Palin rehab tour is more about Sarah Palin Inc. than Sarah Palin 2012. She’ll rack up the speaking fees, raise some money for red-state, red-meat Republicans, further polarize the party and live the high life she thinks she deserves. Still, even as I dismiss Palin as a serious GOP threat, increasingly I believe that the faux-populism of the right is something to worry about. It may be fun to mock Sarah Palin, but Democrats shouldn’t laugh at many of the people who admire her – who see a folksy, new kind of self-made mom trying to fight the bad old Eastern elites.

Digby nails it:

I’m not saying that we should panic. These people are politically weak in their own right. But when I see the liberal gasbags on TV blithely dismissing this as if it”s impossible that Americans could ever fall for such lunacy, I feel a little frisson of alarm. I’ve read too many accounts of people who, 80 or so years ago, complacently made the same assumption. And the whole world found out that under the right circumstances even the most civilized nations can throw in with the crazies.

Bottom line: If the ugly momentum of right-wing identity politics carries into 2012, we could see the nastiest, most polarizing Presidential campaign since 1972, regardless of who gets the GOP nomination.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

Newsflash: Public Anger Gets Results.

by matttbastard

Earlier this week, Der Spiegel published a sobering article about how the global economic crisis is battering the Friedmanite petri dish that is post-Soviet Eastern Europe:

After joining the EU, the Baltic countries in particular made enormous progress in catching up with their Western neighbors, sometimes growing at double-digit rates. Romania, a latecomer to the EU, recorded the largest number of new registrations of Porsche Cayennes worldwide in 2008. In downtown Warsaw, the Stalin-era Palace of Culture and Science, once the city’s only skyscraper, disappeared behind new steel-and-glass office towers within the space of a few years. The Czech Republic still enjoyed almost full employment in 2008.

Now the once-booming Eastern European economy has ground to an abrupt halt. The worldwide economic crisis, which began with the bursting of the real estate bubble in the United States, is now making itself felt in the former communist countries. And it is hitting them with more force and more quickly than the newcomers to capitalism, spoiled by success, had expected.

The Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, who for years could enjoy growth rates of between 7 and 10 percent, must resign themselves to the fact that their economies are shrinking. Hungary has already tapped the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the EU for €20 billion ($27 billion), and Romania will need just as much. In the fourth quarter of last year alone, the Poles produced 5 percent less than in the same period in 2007. In the Czech Republic, unemployment has risen to 12 percent.

[…]

The fact that the crisis in the West is now pulling down the East is largely attributable to a single mistake. For years, Eastern Europeans took out loans denominated in euros, Swiss francs and Scandinavian kroner. The loans stimulated domestic consumption and allowed the economies to grow. Many new member states imported more goods than they exported. Now the mountains of debt are high, and the current account deficits of countries like Lithuania and Bulgaria are a massive 15 percent of GDP.

Capital flight and declining demand from the West have pushed down exchange rates. The currencies that are not pegged to the euro have experienced particularly drastic slumps in value. In the last six months, the Romanian leu lost more than 16 percent of its value and the Hungarian forint close to 20 percent. Private citizens and even governments can no longer service their foreign-currency loans.

Massive bankruptcies in the East are now affecting the reckless lenders in the West, which also happen to control about 70 percent of all banks in Eastern Europe. Austrian banks alone have outstanding loans in Eastern Europe worth €293 billion ($396 billion). Thomas Mirow, the president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London, expects that up to €76 billion ($103 billion) in Western loans will come due this year in EU members in Eastern Europe and Ukraine. Concerns about the creditworthiness of Eastern businesses could deter cash-strapped Western banks from issuing loans for investments. According to Mirow, a vicious circle is developing as Eastern European economies run out of steam and the crisis gains momentum.

At any rate, it will not be possible to fulfill the promise of the revolution of 1989 — freedom and prosperity for all Europeans — as quickly as promised. Instead, citizens in the new EU member states can expect to see their wages stagnate at lower levels compared with those in the West, assuming they have not already been cut drastically. In addition to mass layoffs, ailing Eastern European business owners have resorted to wage cuts of up to 30 percent in recent months. And someone who is out of work in the east quickly finds him- or herself in a very tight spot. Governments are out of money, and social services were cut back in many places during the boom years.

Scary shit.  But the following passage, buried in the middle of the doom and gloom, caught my attention:

Now trouble is beginning to brew in these young democracies. In Bulgaria, Latvia and Lithuania, angry citizens have taken to pelting government buildings with eggs, rocks and — weather permitting — snowballs. In the Latvian capital, the government of Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis was even forced to step down. Meanwhile in Hungary, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany announced Saturday he was resigning, saying he was an “obstacle” to the reforms needed to help his country overcome the financial crisis.

Chris Bowers at OpenLeft points out something that should be common fucking sense–“When people aren’t angry, politicians aren’t responsive”:

To me, as a political activist, the lesson is that we should be generating as much anger as possible, all the time, because it is about the only thing that appears to make politicians in D.C. responsible to our concerns.

Democracy doesn’t begin and end at the ballot box. Sometimes we have to remind our leaders of this–make the powerful FEAR the people. Because, quite frankly, there are more of us than them. Strength in numbers. Is why divide and conquer is a key part of their strategy. We see that in the anti-EFCA effort, with the business lobby trying to stir up the resentment of non-unionized workers towards those who are organized.

Reading about how the global economic crisis is hitting Europe is both depressing and, perversely, inspiring. Their anger isn’t impotent, expressed not in water-cooler griping, but rather abductions, rock-throwing, mass labour mobilization. Public outrage–visceral, undiluted rage–gets shit done.  Governments have stepped down after being held accountable by the will of the people; corporations have been forced to renegotiate severance packages for laid-off workers.

Anger. Gets. A. Response.

Somewhere, Emma Goldman is smiling.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

F*ck Me with a Freshly Sharpened Pitchfork.

by matttbastard

Update 03/23: Make sure to check out Sarah’s post on Spitzer, populism, and The Experts.

On today’s episode of Fareed Zakaria GPS, an ‘expert panel’ was convened to discuss ‘populist’ outrage in the wake of AIG and other recent scandals related to the global economic crisis. Via email, I bet Sarah a dinner at IHOP (because we be keepin’ it real like that in this economy) that the ‘expert panel’ would be tilted towards the Washington media elite–y’know, Broder,  Friedman, maybe some latte-sipping ‘even the’ liberal from TNR.  Sarah very astutely declined to take me up on that bet.

Good thing, too–I knew it was going to be bad, but this so-called ‘expert panel’ went beyond even the previously charted borders of EPIC ESTABLISHMENT FAIL .

I mean, was that ‘expert panel’ on ‘populist rage’ a joke?  Let’s see: a glibertarian blogger, a former Goldman Sachs greed peddler, and a tainted ex-Merril Lynch exec.

Seriously?

How about next time try featuring some actual, y’know, populists–labour reps, or writers like Barbara Ehrenreich or Bill Fletcher, Jr–people who aren’t stuck in the bubble of establishment Washington, who don’t purse their lips at such vulgar concepts as ‘populism’,  ‘nationalization’ or even (gasp!) ‘socialism.’   Or, as Sarah suggested, someone like our homie Erik Loomis, a Gilded Age historian whose focus is labor history and has studied in depth populist movements in the US. In other words, REAL experts on the matter of ‘populist rage’, not smug apologists for the very system that has PROVOKED the white-hot ire of the general public.

At the end of the segment, Zakaria guilelessly requested that viewers write in if they felt the panel didn’t contain enough populist outrage “and we’ll see what we can do to correct that”. Dude, there was NO populist outrage–period.  Jesus fucking wept — talk about a glib cocktail party sneer from the woefully-out-of-touch establishment.

Pitchforks. Pikes. Tumbrils.

Take action: Contact Fareed Zakaria GPS and (politely but firmly) let them know that you want to see REAL experts on populism represented in any purportedly ‘expert’ panel.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers