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The basis for joint action

(For previous posts about the oligarchy, see here.)

There is much in common between what the tea partiers and progressives seek, as can be seen in this informative joint interview on Fox News with Ralph Nader, a lifelong progressive, and Ron Paul, a tea party favorite.

Look at the list of things they agree on: Opposing corporate control of government, bloated military budgets, undeclared wars, corporate bailouts, invasion of civil liberties and civil rights, opposition to the USA PATRIOT Act, trade deals like NAFTA and WTO, stronger whistleblower protections, support for WikiLeaks, opposition to runaway deficits, and bringing transparency to the actions of the Federal Reserve and putting it under democratic control.

When it comes to health care, they both support the repeal of the legislation passed last year because it adds to corporate control of the system but each would like to replace it with different things. Nader wants a single payer system while Paul wants what he calls a free market system. I think Nader’s comment right at the end addresses a misunderstanding that people like Paul have in that a single-payer system (like in France) does not mean that government ‘takes over’ and delivers health care. Doctors and hospitals will still be private but what would be eliminated is the multiplicity of for-profit health insurance firms that do not add anything of value but simply introduce a vast and expensive bureaucratic layer between doctor and patient.

To form alliances with elements of the Tea Party and other groups that progressives have opposed will require a much better understanding of coalition politics than currently exists in the US. Coalition political strategy is nothing like the ‘bipartisanship’ that is so much beloved by the Villagers. Coalition politics means two things: identifying those items that we can agree upon and can garner mass support; and being willing to work with others on the basis of whether they agree with you on those specific issues, irrespective of whether we like those groups in general. The label affixed to people or their views on other issues should be immaterial. In coalition politics, there are always shifting alliances, and the people who work with you on one issue may oppose you on the next. But that is part of the deal.

The reason that political movements splinter and cease to be effective is because we get so angry with people and groups because they disagree with us on things we care strongly about that we refuse to work with them on other things that we also care strongly about, and so nothing gets done. But this does not make sense. After all, when we work on (say) getting single payer health care, some of the people who join us may well have views on other issues that we would find uncongenial or even hateful but we don’t know it because the topic may never come up. So why does knowing about it make any difference?

Is it distasteful to work on (say) opposing government suppression of First Amendment rights alongside people who may be racists and homophobes? Of course it is. But politics is not about feeling good or pure. It is about getting the results we think are important. We should be willing to work with the devil if the devil agrees with us on what to do about a specific agenda item. For example, readers of this blog know that I think that we would much better off without religion. But when it comes to fighting oppressive governments in Central and South America, some religious groups are doing wonderful work and I support them.

To make this happen we have to realize that the focus has to be on the things that we agree on. Note that the list of things that Paul and Nader agree on are all related to important economic and civil liberties issues. It should not matter that progressives and tea partiers and paleo-conservatives and libertarians differ on many social issues. Coming together on the above common agenda alone will bring about a vastly different and better country.

We also have to realize that the tea partiers are themselves victims of the oligarchy. Their politics and analyses of the situation are what they are because the oligarchic alliance of business, government, and media have misled them about the causes of their discontent. The Palin-Beck-Limbaugh axis of misinformation is, whether consciously or not, a tool of the oligarchy because they are the means by which popular anger is being deliberately directed towards those issues that oligarchy does not care two cents about (guns, abortion, gays, race, Muslims, immigration, terrorism, welfare, etc.) but which serve to divide us and prevent us from joining forces to fight the oligarchy on the things that do affect them.

I have referred in this series to the transglobal oligarchy as if it were a monolith. And they are when it comes to protecting oligarchic interests, even though they may well differ strongly on issues relating to national interests. The point is that they can put aside those differences and unite on the things that benefit the oligarchy and this is what gives them their strength. Those who oppose the oligarchy have to learn to do the same.

Our best hope is to engage with those disaffected elements in the tea party and try and shift their focus from their current obsessions so that they see who their true enemies are. If we make a concerted effort do so, there is a possibility that at some point these people will see the root causes of their problem. In order to achieve that, progressives, rather than issuing blanket condemnations of the movement and spending a lot of effort decrying the undoubtedly xenophobic, racist, homophobic, and outright nutty elements in their ranks, will have to instead appeal to those in the tea party movement for whom economic and civil liberties issues are their main concern and are willing to overlook differences on social issues. Rather than falling into the trap of dwelling on these divisive issues, progressives and tea partiers should agree to disagree on them and pool their energies on the things they agree upon. The efforts of Ron Paul, Ralph Nader, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to build a coalition platform for joint action is a good start.

Building this coalition will not be easy because there is a steady and concerted effort by the oligarchy and its media allies to focus attention on those things that divide this coalition because the last thing they want to see is people getting together to take aim squarely at oligarchic interests.

Comments

  1. Vincenzo says

    I wonder if the game is worth the candle. It may just be the case that the Tea Party has reached the peak of its influence and it is about to lose most of it. Granted, the Tea Party will be with us for years, and its main figures (Palin, Beck, and so on) will be in the public eye for a long time to come. But, it may just be that their influence in American politics has just started to wane. If this were the case, then it may be unproductive or useless to form a coalition platform.

    I do not really know whether the Tea Party is on a downward slope, but here are a few telltale signs.
    First (and by far foremost), the economy is improving. Although huge inequality, limping health care, and systemic risks in the financial systems are here to stay, the economy is improving, at least in the medium term. In fact, the economy feels like a rising tide, lifting everybody up, to some extent. Improved living conditions will take steam off the more extremist movements, and it is the primary reason to predict that the Tea Party will wane.
    Second, the Tea Party victory was inconclusive. The Tea Party has gained a strong representation in the House and in the Senate, but so far it has only been able to accomplish symbolic acts, such as a formal repeal of the Health Care bill. At some point, it may become clear that a vote for the Tea Party fails to materially affect policy.
    Finally, the Arizona shooting may have caused voters to associate some Tea Party pundits to extremist ideas. Regardless of whether the association is warranted or not (I am willing to say it is not, but regardless), voters may end up distancing themselves from the most radical ideas expressed by these commentators.

    I should expand on all of the above, but I suppose as a comment, it’d do.

  2. Steve LaBonne says

    I’m sorry, Prof. Singham, but your strange Ron Paul worship has made you delusional. First of all, for every thing he’s right about there’s something else about which he’s completely and dangerously insane (i.e. monetary policy, not to mention abortion). Second, his supposed anti-corporatism is a mirage, and anyway most teabaggers don’t even pretend to share it. (They don’t hate Obamacare because it’s corporate, they hate it somewhat because of the mandate but mostly just because it was proposed by Obama; they’d be against apple pie if he came out in favor of it.) Ditto his supposed willingness to cut the military budget; he may well be sincere about it, but he has precious little company among teabaggers either in Congress or on the street, most of whom are old-fashioned jingoes and as thoroughly beholden to the military-industrial complex as their “mainstream” Republican peers.

    Your diagnosis of our problems is acute, but I’m afraid your proposed cure is snake oil.

  3. says

    Wow. Who’d ‘a thunk it? A positive, intelligent, albeit abbreviated, discussion on Fox News! Could it be that this network actually has some redeeming social value after all? How does this fit in with the conventional progressive narrative that Fox is an agent of corporatism? Or was this just their equivalent – literally from our perspective – of Keith Olbermann’s “Sanity Break”?

    Before I get carried away with a new-found glimmer of optimism, I have to point out that Ron Paul is an unusual figure. Are there many more like him on the right with whom a meaningful force could be mustered? I fear not. He appears to have been a lone voice of right-wing reason on many issues, including Wikileaks and the Terror Wars. The corporate hardcore of the Republican party will keep him marginalized on subcommittee assignments and it will be business as usual.

    Note that both Nader and Paul are getting on in years. Where are the clear young heads of the future? Is modern culture structurally indisposed to produce them?

  4. somite says

    I have to admit this makes sense. There would have to be a way to formalize the common goals so that a party doesn’t push the more fringe elements if the coalition is successful. Count me in!

  5. Peter says

    I was as shocked as some of the other commenters on the straighforward, intelligent, and insightful interview aired on Fox. Not having a TV, I’m really only exposed to Fox when blogs or The Daily Show link to clips, which will obviously give me a skewed view.

    But the prospect of level-headed tea partiers and progressives putting aside their differences and coming together in opposition to corporatism can only go so far. After all, the legislative process is specifically designed to allow irrelevant motions to be tacked onto important legislation. For example, if you want to see sensible tax reform, for instance, someone will simply add on a gun-rights restriction (or whatever)and the NO votes come out in force.

    And I really don’t think that’s going to change in my lifetime – just look at what happened with the Filibuster Reform yesterday.

  6. says

    Steve,

    I actually have few illusions about Ron Paul. I disagree with him (and many other libertarians) on many things: his view that the free market solves almost all problems, that government is generally bad, that we have to go back to the gold standard, to name a few.

    But he is right on many things and I have no problems allying with him on those. We have to take our allies as we find them, not as we wish them to be.

  7. says

    Vincenzo,

    You may well be right that the tea party is an ephemeral phenomenon soon to vanish. It is hard to tell with such groups and the odds are stacked against them. The Republican party is already trying to get rid of them by co-opting their leaders.

    But we have to work with what we have. If we form alliances with those people in the movement who are willing to overlook our differences on some issues and work with us on others, then if and when the tea party collapses, they may be willing to work even more closely with us. we do not have the luxury of waiting for something permanent. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, we have to work with the allies we have, not the allies we wish we had.

  8. says

    Richard,

    It is true that Paul and Nader and Sanders are old but the media focuses on well-known names and ignores the younger crop. If you read other media sites such as antiwar.com, you will plenty of younger libertarian and conservative voices who share many of the concerns of progressives.

  9. Anonymous says

    @Steve

    You’re really wrong on most of your points.

    To take just one, nearly every member of the Tea Party is very anti-‘Military Industrial Complex’ are are very vocal about companies like Halliburton, Boeing, Blackwater, etc. For example, the NYTimes reported that:

    “Dick Armey, a former Republican House majority leader and now a leader of the Tea Party movement, said in an interview that Tea Party-backed members of Congress would rigorously look for places to prune the Pentagon budget. “A lot of people say if you cut defense, you’re demonstrating less than a full commitment to our nation’s security, and that’s baloney,” he said.”

    And:

    “But Representative Chris Gibson, a Tea Party-endorsed freshman Republican and a retired Army colonel from New York’s Hudson River Valley, made it clear that no part of the Pentagon’s $550 billion budget — some $700 billion including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — was immune.”

    With regards to financial policy, One of the big problems with the Fed is that it allows a country to *borrow* money for silly little things like invading Iraq. Without the Fed Congress would have to use direct taxation to fund war. This is only one of many problems with our current monetary policy.

    In short, if Mr. Paul was President today in my opinion we would at least be on the right path. Currently, we can’t even see the path.

  10. Steve LaBonne says

    Talk is cheap, on. Watch what they actually do in the upcoming budget battles. And very few of the teabagger-endorsed members of Congress even make much attempt to feign libertarian positions (positions with which I am in any case in fundamental disagreement and which are intellectually incoherent).

    Armey is a classic corporate-shill Republican, one of the architects of the K Street Project. He is the very essence of the Astroturf reality behind this “movement”.

    I’m sorry, I don’t take racist, misogynistic, homophobic, poor-people-hating proto-fascists as my allies. Period. The idea that the left has potential allies among such people is daft, IMHO.

  11. says

    Is it possible that Fox is juxtaposing Paul and Nader in order to foster a negative connotation about Paul — to the end that “on the fence” right-wing voters will be dissuaded from supporting Paul because he holds views similar to Nader’s?

  12. says

    Jessica,

    That is possible but it is also true that Judge Napolitano, the host of that show, has libertarian tendencies, so it may have a benign explanation. I just don’t know.

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