Why do we need a voting strategy? What does it mean to have a voting strategy? Doesn’t a voting strategy imply that we are trying to protect ourselves against something? Is that the right attitude that a citizen should have towards her elected officials? I’ll get back to this question in a minute.
The other day, Governor Christie announced mandatory gas rationing. Brooke asked me what did that mean and how did it work as we were driving to Philadelphia. I explained how the license plate scheme worked and told her about the time in the early 70’s when I was younger than she is now when we did gas rationing on a national basis. I couldn’t remember why we had to do it. Was it a Saudi oil embargo? That was the year Detroit invented locking gas caps to prevent your neighbor from siphoning gas from your tank in the middle of the night. It was the year that we had extended daylight savings time well into the winter and we trudged to school in the dark and watched the sun come up during second period.
Back then, the so-called experts and scientists told us that there would only be enough oil to maintain our modern lifestyle for another 50 years or so. We had about 200 years of coal in the ground but it was dirty fuel. There was a real sense of urgency for a few years to make cars smaller, and resentment from the driving public about having to give up the big American highway boats for tiny Japanese death traps.
Then Ronald Reagan chased the malaise away and suddenly there was an oil glut in the 80s and people forgot. And the CAFE standards got stuck and the cars got big again until the 2000’s when you could write your Hummer off your taxes as a business expense and fuel efficiency was measured in gallons per mile.
But some things make an impression on young minds and gas rationing made an impression on mine, as did Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War. I never trusted Ronald Reagan or George Bush Sr. How could a country forget so quickly? Or maybe it was just one party.
But 2007-2008 dispelled the notion that the forgetfulness was confined to just one party. By that time, I had taken my passion for politics to the next level, writing for DailyKos about various and sundry things, including the differences between American and European infrastructure. I was making trips to Europe on a more frequent basis and noticing how much easier it was to get around without a car. The trains were fast and plentiful, the urban transit systems state of the art, especially in France. And even though I resolved to take public transit in any American city I visited, I found it hard. Americans do not know how hard we have made our own lives.
In Chicago 2007, I got to ask Hillary Clinton a question at her break out session at YearlyKos and my number one question was about public transit and infrastructure. And she had an answer with multiple paragraphs and sub-headings and funding mechanisms. And her emphasis was going to be on better broadband. Last week, I tried to imagine what life would have been like post Sandy if we had had better broadband and how we tend to see our internet connection as a commodity instead of a public utility and a part of our infrastructure.
I’ve tried to reason my way through my voting strategy in the past couple of days and I think I am just burned out from playing this game of strategy. The last week has shown me how badly this country has suffered under the people who we trust with our safety, infrastructure and future. While Europe and other developed countries like South Korea learned from the oil embargo of the 70s to reconfigure the way they lived in such a way as to be less dependent on foreign oil, we ignored all that and trapped ourselves in a mid 20th century infrastructure. It’s no longer modern. It’s decaying- rapidly. We may still see the USA in our Chevrolet but the landscape is starting to look like the rural south in 1965 with broken powerlines, poor telecommunication, bad roads and a clear separation between the rich and the poor. And there doesn’t seem to be a reasonable strategy behind our public utilities investments of the past several years. In 2009, PSEG spent millions and millions of dollars affixing solar panels to the overhead power line poles. How much chaos and disruption last week might have been avoided if the power companies had used that money to bury the power lines and concentrate the solar panels on unused public land, like the acres of unused property in my own township that used to be an old Army depot? Where was the thought and strategy behind the design?
In the last couple of days, I have read the consternation of the left as they see the evangelicals and other right wing followers get behind their Mormon. It’s as if the left has forgotten all of the studies by Bob Altemeyer and lessons learned from John Dean about the nature of the authoritarian follower. But it’s even weirder than that because although the right has made it a badge of honor to decouple cause from effect, ignore evidence and discourage reasoned thinking in its followers so that the world looks to them like a violent, chaotic place, I never thought I would see the same sort of behavior rising in the left. The left indulges in its own form of wishful thinking. It started five years ago. It suspended its disbelief and trusted its most dearly held beliefs to the candidate who stubbornly refused to materialize for it until after the election. They refused to understand his nature even as he ignored them. They don’t seem to get that he is the agent of the people they blame for the destruction of the past four years. They have decoupled evidence from reality. Somehow, it’s all going to work out even when all of the signs say that it will not. They ignore the pleadings from their natural allies to wake up and fight back. How are they different from the people in Kansas they are always holding up as examples of voting against their own best interests?
There’s a peculiar strand of selfishness embedded in American culture. It’s not enough to succeed. The success must come at the expense of other people. We love the rascals who exploit us. And religion is of a harsh Calvinist variety. The work ethic is praised above all else to the point where we don’t feel worthy of decent wages and dignity even if we work until we drop or snap.
The other day, JerseyJeffersonian said something that caught my attention in the comment section of my rant on the gouging of the telecomms in the Sandy impacted area. I had called ourselves consumers and said how unfair it was that consumers were always being exploited, as if we were crops whose disposable income must be harvested instead of human beings. (S)He said:
Ah, you said the magic word…”consumer”. I, for one, knew that the Republic was in dire straits when Our Exalted Leaders found the term, “consumer”, to be an adequate substitute for “citizen”. This was a tell, as they say at the poker table. When in the past you were referred to as a “citizen”, you were somebody who had reason to expect that your interests might be respected and addressed by THEM in their capacity as our representatives. But when they began preferentially to denominate us as “consumers”? Well, we had been identified as mere clients of their true masters.
In its own right, this should be seen as indicative that Our Exalted Leaders have decided that civil society is a archaism – “quaint” They might call it – and that servicing the needs of the Free Market is now the imperative for them. In that light, our appeals to our representatives for help and redress have become the moral equivalent of praying to a saint for intercession with the Almighty. Hmm.
This Weltanschauung is quite appropriate in a world where government, far from answering to the “citizenry”, is there to deliver us all up to the tender mercies of the Corporatocracy through the craven assistance of a captured government. Elected officials, legislative or executive, financed in their electoral campaigns by the rich and powerful; civil servants in regulatory agencies cowed or corrupted through the power of the so-called regulated to call the shots with the active connivance of their agencies’ politically-appointed leaders; judges selected by legislators and executives who are made men of the Corporatocracy, and therefore pre-disposed to pick Federalist Society hacks for positions on the bench to avoid the inconvenience of having their cabal brought up short by people who take their oath to defend the Constitution seriously.
I’ve never liked the term corporatacracy because I think it ignores the proper role of the corporation and how it can benefit stakeholders as well as shareholders but otherwise, JerseyJeffersonian’s point is very good. Americans have been “delivered up” to the forces who exploit. Those forces do it without any strategy of their own and without much thought to the industries or segments of society that they are destroying. They do it because they can. Inevitably, they are sowing the seeds of their own destruction because amassing great fortunes does not equal innovation or creativity. It merely impoverishes the very people who need to buy their stuff and makes it harder for people with life saving technology and good ideas to be funded and their work respected.
But it’s worse than that. I missed the visual impact of the news last week, mostly because I was living part of it, but what I heard on the radio disturbed me greatly. I heard Mike Bloomberg give a couple of “everything is under control” press conferences and then leave the people of Lower Manhattan to their own devices as he planned a marathon and fretted over how to get the bankers back to Wall Street. There was something of a Scrooge-esque “they had better die and decrease the surplus population” attitude about his ability to tolerate so much misery in much of his city. If Jonathan Swift were alive today, he’d feel right at home.
Wasn’t it Mike Bloomberg who sicced the police on Occupy Wall Street? Wasn’t it Bloomberg who rolled his eyes at those protestors and tolerated them as if they were minor irritants? And didn’t he and Barack Obama brutally suppress them?
Is the whole of Manhattan one big private space now? And if that’s true, doesn’t that reduce the “citizen” to a “vassal” who has no rights on private property? Who owns the city now? Does ownership give the wealthy and well connected the right to do what they like to suit themselves and the privilege to ignore the plight of other people?
Anyway, I’m rambling. At the present time, the “very serious people” seem to be bogarting the microphone about denying us the benefits we pre-paid. There may be a crisis on the horizon regarding Medicare but it’s solvable, just like other countries have solved their health care problems. The answer is to force cost cutting measures on the providers. But the providers belong to the class who believe there are no limits to what they should be able to harvest from their consumers and government has abandoned any efforts to see that citizens are protected from injustice and exploitation.
But the government is not some abstract entity. It’s not the faceless bureaucratic borg that tells us “resistance is useless”. The government is *us*, or it should be. It’s trite to go on about the founders and the constitution and all that patriotic crap and I’m not going to indulge in it now. But at the core of that exercise in self-government is the idea of self-government. If you’re going to do it, you have to put away the notions of strategy and protecting yourself from your elected officials’ bad ideas and kowtowing to the rich and well connected.
If you want to govern yourself, you need to stop accepting bad government. It really is that simple. You need to say, “enough”. Enough of the excuses and the pandering and the enormous amounts of money wasted in elections. You need to say, “I believe in certain unalienable rights” and that those rights belong to all citizens. You need to say that it doesn’t benefit any of us for one group of people to be above the law and unaccountable to the rest of us. You need to say that it is unjust to throw people into prison without trial indefinitely and to use that threat to suppress political speech. You need to say that you are not afraid to defy the party structures. You need to be able to take their power away when they refuse to work for you and the common good. You need to say that the abandonment of any citizen to their fate after a catastrophic natural disaster is unacceptable. You need to say that an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere. We can not permit unaccountability.
Well, at least I can’t.
I don’t have a strategy this year. All I have is a vote. And I refuse to give my vote to either party candidate, especially the one that masqueraded as a Democrat four years but who now has been unmasqued as the hand of the 1%. I am not afraid of what will happen if he loses. Indeed, we have more to fear for what might happen if he wins. But I have to put fear aside and vote for my values, not strategy. So, this year, I am voting for Rocky Anderson. In less than a year, the Justice party has formed out of the void. I want justice for all citizens and that is what I am going to work for from now on. I’ll vote for the people who I think can advance that goal. This year, that means down ticket Democrats. But as new emergent parties start fielding downticket candidates in the future, the Democrats won’t be able to count on my vote.
I’m through with chiding the people who got us into this mess of 8 years of bad government on top of the 8 preceding years. I’m not really interested in hearing their condescending lectures on climate change in the wake of Sandy even if I agree with them. It’s a bit like blaming the victims and not terribly helpful when their houses are a wreck and it’s freezing outside. And based on my limited term in public politics I am less likely to pay attention to people who sermonize than those who recognize the problem and have a list of practical, visionary and possible solutions. Besides, it sounds like Democratic operatives are trying to tap into the zeitgeist of a younger generation who is keenly aware of climate change, using the misery of Hurricane Sandy to nudge them to the polls to vote for Obama. It’s political opportunism by exploiting the devastating visual imagery and it’s sick. They offer us no solutions. We knew 40 years ago that this day would come and we failed to prepare. The time for playing Stratego is over.
One more thing: The Democratic party loyalists who are getting on Matt Stoller’s case because he refuses to compromise his values for the party that betrayed him should be ashamed of themselves. They’re sacrificing their principles to a party that can’t or won’t deliver and they’re cowards. There are many areas where Matt and I disagree but I’m glad that we’re finally working for the same goals. I don’t know what the heck the rest of you are working for.