Thursday, November 4, 2010

Clowns to the Center, Jokers to the Right

After the Republican victories in the mid-term elections on Tuesday, the response from many people, liberals and Democrats mainly, has been to blame this on collective insanity. On the surface this explanation seems somewhat almost reasonable. After all, if you're so angry about Obama's bail-outs for big business why are you voting for the party responsible for Bush's bail-outs for big business? That's insane!

But, do you know what else is insane? Going to an outdoor rally with this sign:

I mean, come on! When you're outside is precisely when you're supposed to use your outside voice.

This sign, and the whole "Use Your Inside Voice" slogan, was, of course, part of Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity" which later merged with Stephen Colbert's ironic "Rally to Keep Fear Alive" and became the "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear".

For many people, this rally was viewed as the left-wing alternative to Glenn Beck's tea party "Rally to Restore Honor". But Jon Stewart went to great lengths to distance himself from anything that could be considered "left". The rally emphasized "compromise", "reaching across the aisle", "bipartisanship" (but what about third parties?), and, of course, the aforementioned "inside voices" (but Stewart at least had the sanity to not use his inside voice during his speech).

This centrism was best represented by a performance by Kid Rock and Shreyl Crow, who sang a nauseating paean to political inactivism.

Incidentally, the chorus to this song, "Screamin' on the left. Yellin' on the right. I'm sitting in the middle trying to live my life." was based on Stealers Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle With You", a song notorious for its popularity among sane people.

But let's get sane here. How could anybody think this sort of thing would be a good idea to convince people of your point of view? The "inside voice" stuff is sufficiently patronizing to turn off anybody who has illusions in the Republicans and the tea party, and the rush to the center is going to turn off anybody on the left. It's the worst of both worlds.

And this message came from Jon Stewart, the guy who was ranked "Most Influential Man of 2010" in the scientific study compiled by Ask Men. Not a good use of your influence, Jon.

So rather than equating sanity with compromise, let's take a sane look at what happened in the election. Do you know who has a sane take on the election? Political radicals! Not only, that, but political radicals on AM radio. Here is an interview with Ramy Khalil, Logan Steele, Keegan McCoy of Socialist Alternative about the elections, that you may find quite sane. They even use their inside voices (because the interview was conducted inside).

It's entirely reasonable for people to be pissed at Obama for the bailouts. In fact, I would go so car as to call this attitude "sane". The bailouts sucked. Why should the corporations responsible for the financial crisis get bailed out while the people they screwed over get nothing?

People wanted the same thing in this election as they did in 2008: change. Unfortunately, under a two-party system, the only way you can use elections for change is to vote for the other party.

The key phrase here is "under a two-party system". As things are now, there are two large parties based in the interest in big business. Their candidates are funded by big business, so they pass laws in the interests of big business. Even some of the third parties, like the Libertarian Party and the Constitution Party, represent the interests of big business, even if they don't get the same level of funding.

For real change in the correct direction you need a party that is independent, not only of the Democrats and Republicans, but big business as a whole. Once again, the voice of sanity comes from the likes of Socialist Alternative, as viewed in the pamphlet "Challenging the Two-Party System: Can a Left Alternative to Corporate Politics Be Built" by Tony Wilsdon.

But if people who want change are voting for the more right wing of the two big business parties, shouldn't we respond by "reaching across the aisle" and engage the Republicans and tea party types in rational debate? Yes and no. Of course you should try to engage in rational debate, but that doesn't mean you need to "reach across the aisle". In fact the "use your inside voice" centrism is less rational than, say, arguing with a teabagger in favor of socialism.

For instance, consider this incredibly sane and rational debate between Socialist Alternative's Ramy Khalil and tea party activist Keli Carender. The odd thing is, unlike Jon Stewart at the "Rally to Restore Sanity", both the Marxist and the teabagger are using their inside voices. Actually, that's not odd at all, because Jon Stewart was outside and Ramy Khalil and Keli Carender were inside.

The full two-hour debate was too big to embed, but you can watch it here.

The central flaw with Jon Stewart's campaign for "sanity" was that it equates sanity with political moderation and inactivity. Which is a shame, because there is some definite insanity in the logic that compels people who are mad at corporate bailouts to vote for corporate tax cuts. But there is nothing insane about being mad at corporate bailouts. It's not the anger that's insane, it's the logic (or lack thereof) that causes people to vote Republican.

Similarly, there's nothing insane about opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or opposition to the attacks on public education. But there is something insane in the logic that leads anti-war activists to vote for John Kerry and teachers to vote for Barack Obama.

Unfortunately, when the only options presented to people in the ballot box and in the media are clowns to the center and jokers to the right, you're going to end up supporting some insane action.

Faced with that sort of insane logic, sometimes the only sane thing to do is to not compromise, get angry and use your outside voice indoors. For instance, you may have heard of this guy named Rick Santelli, a commentator for CNBC. He went on this insane pseudo-populist rant against bailing out people who lost their homes in the housing crisis. He was arguing that we shouldn't waste taxpayers (i.e. big business's) money on "the losers". This was all done in a way that made it sound like the people who lost their homes were an evil elite and wall street was the common man.

People who aren't thinking things through clearly might have listened to his rant, gotten angry about the bailouts for big business, and sided with this nutjob, completely ignorant of the fact that he was supporting tax cuts for big business and opposing bailouts for the people they screwed over.

If you're trying to deal with a guy like that, rational debate is futile. You pretty much have to get angry. And you have no choice but to use your outside voice indoors. And swear. Maybe you can bleep it out if it's on cable television, but you still have to say "Fuck you!" in this sort of situation. And faced with this sort of insane disingenuous pseudo-populism, I would highly recommend against having Kid Rock perform at a benefit. In fact you should make fun of people who have Kid Rock perform at a benefit. And definitely don't "reach across the aisle" and compromise.

In short, the truly sane response to someone like Rick Santelli is the one presented in the below video clip.

Jon Stewart Bashes CNBC and Rick Santelli
Uploaded by terell05. - Up-to-the minute news videos.

Now that video is one of the sanest takes out there on the financial crisis, and yet, by Jon Stewart's definition it's completely insane. Frankly, Jon Stewart shouldn't have held the "Rally to Restore Sanity". That guy up there making fun of CNBC should have held it. Then we'd all be better off.

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