The only remaining moment of pageantry that comes close to redeeming our rotten simulacrum of “democracy” happens in an election year, which briefly forces the two parties to somehow differentiate themselves from one another, at least temporarily. Now that all the really important decisions have long since been made, that Republicans and Democrats still bother to find and exploit petty differences (that never involve money), is a quaint nod to “we, the people” that I’m frankly surprised they haven’t dropped already, so I cherish it.
The good news is that when the differences are brought forth, Democrats win. The bad news is, they don’t try this more often. Every time they concede something, which has been happening on a daily basis since, oh, 1976, their new, further right position becomes the “liberal” view, making way for something once unthinkably fascist to become “center-right.” Thus, Overton’s window has operated for three-plus decades as a ratchet, always tightening, but perhaps occasionally at a slower rate when Democrats are in power. Meanwhile. their former base of power, the middle class, erodes before their eyes.
Not that Democrats are solely to blame; monopolization and decline in the media has led to an ever smaller, ever wealthier, and ever more compromised media, whose interests have widely diverged from those of ordinary Americans, and it is in this arena liberals must compete. It’s undoubtedly difficult to go on TV and convince an overpaid, pancaked fop with a mortgage’s worth of cosmetic dentistry and two on-duty hairdressers that, say, Chicago teachers need a union. Isn’t that what agents are for?
That sort of media environment, along with the diminished power of unions and the coincidental rise of Wall Street and the 1%, has led Democrats to cave to the Republican right on nearly everything that actually matters: not just teachers’ unions, but the whole idea of public schools in general. Not just “Free Trade,” but the very notion of a living wage, globally or nationally. Not just a crippling military budget, but a showy war to coincide with sweeps week each year. Not just maintaining obscenely low taxes on the parasitic wealthy, but kissing their asses (with tongue) in Macy’s window at every opportunity.
If that’s the result of Village-approved bipartisanship, then bipartisanship can go…. do something “anatomically improbable” to itself. (h/t New York Times and Dick Cheney, not necessarily in that order….)
I happen to like it when the two stunningly corrupt parties, albeit languidly, try to come up with some reason, any reason, for people to vote for them over the other. In this election season, the admittedly aesthetic differences are nonetheless pretty revealing, although depressing in the extreme. We have one party who (often reluctantly) supports the currently constitutional right of women to have some control over their reproductive lives. We have another that tells them to keep their legs together. We have one party that engages in completely unaccountable drone warfare across the globe, indefinite detention without trial, deports immigrants with careless abandon, and maintains a network of Soviet-style gulags; we have another that thinks even all that is dangerously namby-pamby.
As a proud and dedicated Firebagger, I’m somewhat hesitant to admit that this election, just like that supposedly inconsequential one in 2000, matters. The stakes may be disappointingly small, but there they are. We may be a declining empire saddled with self-defeating austerity, a cuckoo cabal of over-reaching theocrats, and an increasingly bloated and arrogant overclass ruling our lives, but at least we don’t have to be gleeful, and bigoted, about it.