Thursday, September 06, 2007

Revelations of the Obvious

You'll be pleased to know that while my Internet service was out the venerable French newspaper Le Monde discovered that its country's president loves wealthy businessmen and likes to stay in their palatial homes. This paper's distinguished staff need to spend more time reading Paris-Match. Some of them might find they would prefer a career airbrushing presidential love handles.

Or they should just read some crime fiction, where everybody already knows that men in power make policies for their powerful friends and not for the general public. Why don't reporters ever know this?

Which reminds me of this dismal, silly piece by the reporter E.J. Dionne, on the liberal comeback. Dionne wrote a book on the subject ten years ago - "They Only Look Dead" - referring to progressive leaders. He was wrong then, but hope springs eternal.

Dionne's article is entirely oriented towards Republican thought and its errors, even as he warns against doing this. His descriptions of revived liberalism are painfully timid, and take place entirely on Republican terrain - he invokes 'social market capitalism" and more social justice without catering to minorities. This whole "revival" is DOA if it can't be cross-racial - there is, was, and never will be "progressive" politics in the United States without major participation and leadership from people of color. (Same goes for France, by the way.) Nobody is going to follow Dionne, Alan Wolfe, and Todd Gitlin.

And no, it's not because they're tiresome older white guys, though that is also the case. It's because they have taken a loyalty oath to the unbreakable media principle of non-confrontation with the men in charge. By that I mean Dionne et al they don't really challenge the basic economic and political groundwork on which the Reagan counterrevolution was built. A "social market" for them is a business-run market with some social services - i.e., exactly what we have now. "More equality" - that will be, what exactly? There isn't a single detail here, or criticism of a corporate tax policy, or of the belief that markets are efficient and hedge fund kings are too, or of welfare reform, or real estate speculation, or the hundreds of thousands of wealthy Democrats who happily pay taxes at half the rate of the public school teachers they won't send their kids to. For Dionne, more equality means something like "we're all in this together," i.e. the spirit of universalism. But in fact we're not all in this together. There's an obvious war on the economic majority that Dionne seems to think is a) a mistake and they didn't mean it or b) George Bush's doing or c) something that can be reversed with a political attitude. Well this combination - an egalitarian political sensibility in the electorate that has nothing to say against radically plutocratic economic policies - is what we have now.

This stuff reiterates the history of fragmentation among American progressives: liberals will not point out the self-dealing, amazingly selfish, economically inefficient class politics of elites, or their history of economically squeezing and then scapegoating poor communities of color. Dionne doesn't even really want to talk about the organized and systematic right-wing attack on the financial and political infrastructure of public life. The new liberal time he sees he will protect against anything that seems too oppositional or critical. The liberal-left gap will therefore persist - quite deliberately. That is bad news for progressive politics, but it is even worse for liberals who seek to lead.

Which reminds me of my Internet service. The French post office, French small business people, French mass transit - all great. French banks, French commercial television, French cable service - pretty bad. What holds France back is corporate France - its authoritarian patrons, its inequalities, its rigidity that blocks the flexible collaboration it says it wants. That's not the whole story, but it's a lot of it. And that's the real "reform" - of business leadership - that Sarkozy will never undertake. Or the liberal Dionne either.

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