Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Power And Precedence

Unlike the Debate Club in high school, political debates are not won on facts. You can cite numbers until you're blue in the face, but those numbers will become inundated by irrelevant refutations and emotional complaints.
Political debates are won on emotion. Specifically, political debates are won on fear or soothing fears.
Right now, progressives are only waking up to this fact, but we're still bringing knives to shootouts.
Understand, facts have their place: to rebut or bulwark an emotional argument. Bill Clinton was the master of this. He could feel your pain and then validate that pain by citing this study or that statistic. When confronted by an antagonist, he very deftly turned a factual rebuttal into an emotional argument by citing anecdotes or raising a moral question.
And here's the best thing about political debates and emotions: by definition, progressives win them, nearly all the time.
Emotional arguments come down to people, and people are what progressives look out for. We should be battling a moral argument almost to exclusion of anything else, but for some reason, we've become wonks.
Again, there is nothing wrong with wonking: when someone challenges a moral argument, it's extremely effective to put a number to a feeling. It's hard to win policy arguments...and believe me, I've tried...because something "just feels right to me."
But if you can point to how the Social Security turned the poorest group of citizen, the working class elderly, into one of the most comfortably off by showing rising income levels, longer life spans, and better health, you've turned a moral argument into an indisputable fact.
Moral arguments terrify the establishment because, once they become a part of the national dialogue, it is next to impossible to refute them. Again, we'll turn to Social Security, a program that is hands down one of the most effective liberal policies in history.
It's taken nearly 70 years for the conservatives, Republicans mostly, to come up with a coherent argument to revamp and deconstruct this program.
That argument relies on some specious math and fuzzy projections. Unfortunately, so does the argument for the program, especially given that the richest sector of society is quickly moving into withdrawing Social Security payments. Indeed, the strongest argument against Social Security reform is an emotional one: fairness. It's not fair to ask people who've worked all their lives to expect less than they were promised.
Curiously, that argument never held much power in the private sector when pensions were being raided in the 80s to fund private buyouts relying heavily on debt.
This, I think, is why the abject terror of conservatives across the country manifests so readily against Occupy Wall Street and its related movements. That movement makes a moral and emotional argument about inequality and unfairness that is impossible to refute, particularly since the facts back up the argument (thirty years of diverging income is easy to chart.)
It's no coincidence that the times in history when progressives have made the most progress are the times when movements and emotions color the national dialogue. The Great Depression was a living breathing document to the moral bankruptcy of the corporatocracy, as is the current depression. The Fifties and Sixties twin movements towards peace and justice as exemplified by segregation and bigotry were moral and emotional arguments.
And the establishment hates moral and emotional arguments. They fear them, because in them lies the kernel of truth about political power in this country.
Political power is attracted to the mediocre.
There are several prima facie points to make on that statement:
1) Progressives will never be satisfied with a candidate who espouses anything close to even a moderate left viewpoint for not "going far enough" (e.g Barack Obama.)  
2) We cannot elect a true progressive to high political office because the money raising involved will automatically force that candidate to genuflect to moderate positions in order to fund raise and to become more establishment the closer to electability he or she becomes. The far left simply doesn't have the resources.
3) The far right can nominate and sometimes even get lucky with a far right candidate because of the one percent. However, that candidate cannot administrate his or her entire far right agenda, because there will be a moderate backlash that even Koch brother money cannot repel (e.g. Privatizing social security.)
So putting those points together, we see that political power will always, always, rest with in mediocrity.
However, if you go back and examine the periods of progressive change, you'll understand better the power that progressives do have, and it's a far stronger and more effective than money.
Greatness is achieved in a country like America only when it is united in a belief. There's where the moral argument comes in and when deployed properly, can overcome any obstacle and opposition.
This is, I think, what the Occupy movement is showing us, despite the respite due to the weather and the holidays and college exams.
The underlying argument of inequality is unaddressable by the mediocre, because the establishment has not been convinced that things have to change. Oh, they recognize it as some level, else why would they work so hard to try to discredit the movement?
The only thing that will change minds at that level is a true gathering of the 99%, a unification that discards differences in favor of similarities and ignores and mocks the quislings like the "53%ers."
You'll notice how quickly that trope petered out.
It strikes me there is an inevitable momentum to true progressive change in the country now. People are afraid. People are going broke. And people see the inequality all around them. Hell, it's been shoved down our throats on the TeeVee nightly, what with real housewives and Donald Trump and the new iPad and all those car commercials showing people giving Lexuses for Christmas while mom and dad sit for hours each week trying to save a buck here, a penny there.
You'd have to be an obtuse idiot not to feel left out of the American dream when the Kardashians get their own weekly "reality" show!
The very same mechanism that triggers the America salivary gland is triggering the reptilian brain...these two urges are probably in the same sector anyway...and it's resurrecting the inner pirate in all of us.
And piracy is just a hostile takeover without all the messy paperwork.