Tuesday, April 21, 2009

On the Silence of the Left and the Spectre of Fascism

More than any previous time in my life, I feel like I’m living in a schizophrenic community. Half the people I know are in rapture at what Obama has done in his short time in office. And it’s not just mainstream people who feel that way – some of the fiercest left-wing activists I know fall into that category. They talk about his initiatives in arms control and climate change and softening the embargo on Cuba. Half of the other half are deep in loathing of Obama and everyone around him. Armed with the daily litanies of his failings on KPFA and Democracy Now, they point to his appointments of Clintonites and Bushites to high positions, his failure to do anything to step the tide of corporate looting of everything we have left, his refusal to consider single-payer health care and of course, his stepped-up bombing of civilians in Afghanistan and refusal to condemn even the worst Israeli atrocities.

Then there’s the other quarter, epitomized by my coworker. He sways back and forth like a pendulum, depending on which left-wing talk show he’s listening to at the moment. These are the people whose minds and ideologies tell them one thing, and whose emotions and perceptions point them in another direction. Which is to say, they love Obama, while being ambivalent about his policies. As one friend put it, “I still have a crush on him.”

And then there’s the mainstream news, which is having a love affair both with the man and his beautiful family including now their perfect dog, and even more with the idea of him, and what they believe it says about race in our country.

So while I’m trying to navigate these pretty unfamiliar streets, figuring out where exactly I’m wanting to go, along comes the Tea Party movement and the wave of secessionist bills passed in state legislatures in the last week. Yeah, that’s right. Not just Texas and South Carolina, from whom we expect such things, but 28 states including California, are entertaining bills to declare their “sovereignty.” And it’s being kind of calmly reported in the media, pretty much ignored by KPFA which is busy bringing on Scott Horton and Michael Ratner and others to talk about what we already know about the torture memos, and no one is taking seriously the fact that for better or worse, we have our first Black president and for the first time in 150 years, we have major right-wing protests and secessionist movements across the country.

Now it’s true that none of the tea parties were very big, and it’s true that without Fox News, they would have been barely a blip, but the fact is that we do have Fox News and the mainstream media promoted the tea parties as well. Remember, the first lunch counter sit-in had six people participating.

What am I trying to say here? Just that I fear that while the left is busy convincing ourselves – with plenty of help from Obama and his peeps – that the current administration represents no change from the last, the right is capitalizing on what is widely perceived as a sea change. I remember the coup that brought Schwarzenegger to power in California, and it was a time very much like this. We had a conservative Democratic old-time politician in office, after 16 years of right-wing republican administrations. The left sat on our hands because we rightly hated Davis, who was pro-death penalty and pro-corporate, but we also didn’t believe that the right would actually succeed in removing him from office, and when they did, we didn’t believe it would be as bad as it has been. And now we have a situation where a huge Democratic majority in the legislature can’t pass a budget without giving massive hideous concessions to so-called “moderate” republicans. And I’m really quite worried that the left is going to sit around talking about how Obama is just like Bush while the fascists are mobilizing to prove us very very wrong, and when it’s all over, we’re going to be asking “How did we get here?”