Friday, September 07, 2012

Withdrawal in Disgust is Not the Same as Apathy

Last night I watched President Obama speak at the Democratic National Convention. For about 5 minutes. It was the only time I spent with either of the political puppet shows.

While the President remains an amazing orator, I couldn't help but see the veracity of my friend Ken's analogy between presidential politics and professional wrestling.

In an exuberant charade, both sides boast about their righteous vision, emphasizing their differences on social issues while in truth drinking from same trough.

Because all politicians get their campaign money from the corporatocracy, no one--including, most notably, President Obama--has done much to curb Wall Street fraud, push for substantive regulation as it pertains to the financial sector and political influence, equitably tax the uber-wealthy and corporations, nor reallocate any military spending. In short, I haven't seen any change I can believe in, save for a little more lip service in the name of social justice.

Not to mention that the economy, for most of us, remains completely devastated while both candidates do a dance any time the unemployment rate goes up or down a tenth of a point.

Thus, while I will not vote for Mitt Romney, I also don't feel that Barack Obama has earned my vote.

Now, I know that many people I respect will recoil at that statement, but let me ask you this: If John McCain had been in the White House for the last 4 years and things stood exactly as they do now, would you be insisting that he be re-elected?

So perhaps on November 6, I'll exercise my right to abstain.

I certainly don't say this lightly, as I firmly believe, at least in principle, that all Americans have a responsibility to actively participate in our democracy.

As flawed as our republic may be, and as skewed as our electoral, representational and governmental systems may seem, the freedoms that allow people of all colors and creeds to vote--and otherwise express their opinions--without fear or recrimination (theoretically), shouldn’t be underestimated.

I will have turned 44 by the time Election Day rolls around on November 6, meaning that I have now been eligible to vote since 1986.

I don’t recall if I cast a ballot in the congressional elections of that year, but I have never failed to vote in a presidential election. In addition to voting in most congressional and local elections as well as many primaries, over the past decade I have worked on a handful of political campaigns and for awhile was substantively involved in a grass roots political organization.

The votes that I have cast and the candidates & causes I have worked for have almost exclusively been Democratic. My ideals and values align much more closely with the tenets that have typically distinguished the Democrats from the Republicans: concern for the common good, abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, the environment, social justice, tax equity and the open embrace of all goodhearted people, regardless of skin color, wealth, religion or any other differentiators.

Especially in this age of hyper-polarization and lock-step dogma, I have found that the principles in which I believe have put me solidly on the left and largely at odds with the “right.” Still, over the years, I have resisted—largely just in my mind—any knee-jerk identification with the Democrats. I have good friends who are Republicans, have encountered many a Democrat that turns my stomach and generally believe that the answer—to almost anything—lies somewhere between two extremes.

If we’re unavoidably stuck with a 2-party system, discourse and debate between those with differing perspectives and opinions but similar goals and open minds should be the epitome of legislative government, not the vitriolic rigidity that now seems to define party politics.

And somebody in power—if not everybody—should first and foremost fight for the interests, welfare and dignity of all American citizens. Not for Wall Street. Not for corporations. Not for the ultra wealthy. Not for the military industrial complex. Not for their own financial gain. Not to ensure the likelihood of re-election. But for you and me.

Having seen what’s happened in recent years to the U.S. and world economy, how it’s affected my career, home value and many in my community, and having ingested many books, articles, documentaries and opinions about the causes, culprits and casualties—and lack of corrective action—at this point I am rather exhaustively disillusioned and disenchanted by the Democratic Party and President Obama.

This doesn’t mean I want Mitt Romney to become president or will vote for him or support the GOP in any way. He certainly doesn’t seem to represent my interests, and from tax codes to Supreme Court nominees, I suspect a Romney-Ryan White House could make things substantially worse.

But while I once staunchly supported and championed Barack Obama, and celebrated with him (not personally) in Grant Park on Election Night 2008, and truly anticipated that he would bring surpassing vision, verve and vigor to the presidency, I now feel that he has failed in his promise to bring about “change we can believe in.”

Even worse, I perceive his failure as not simply a matter of results—which apologists will ascribe to the obstinance of the Republican-controlled House, ignoring that the GOP plurality came about as a rebuke of Obama’s first 2 years—but as one of principles.

This isn’t to say that he’s a terrible person or hasn’t had some nice accomplishments as President. Yes, he bailed out General Motors, oversaw the extinction of Bin Laden, brought troops home from Iraq and got legislation passed—albeit rather flawed—in the name of providing universal health care and curbing Wall Street corruption. And while I certainly wasn’t thrilled with the number of jobless weeks I experienced during his first term, I am grateful that the President and other Democrats repeatedly saw that the provision of unemployment benefits was extended.

I understand that the President's job is inordinately challenging and complicated and that he undoubtedly is responsible for much that the public never notices but would likely appreciate. I also realize that the system in which he and other politicians exist is terribly corrupted. Without even delving into labyrinthian plots, it’s easy to see how those who serve—even with the best intent—get caught in a stranglehold by the corporatocracy.
If you want to run for office, at any level, you need money, lots of it. Those who have lots of money to give you are rich people and even richer corporations. If you don’t take their money, they give it to your opponent and you lose the race. If you take their money, you’ll either feel obliged to pander to them, or even if you have the gumption to try to raise their taxes or curb their excesses, you won’t get much done in a freshman term—among more seasoned pols who have happily sold out—and everything under the sun will be done by the Koch brothers and other arch-conservative billionaires to ensure you don’t get re-elected.
If this sounds cynical, take a look at, which lists the top contributors to every member of Congress. Even a guy like Sen. Dick Durbin, who is a solidly liberal Democratic senator from Illinois, has gotten most of his campaign money from lawyers, the financial sector, real estate interests and lobbyists.

And in 2008, three of President Obama’s top donors were Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup.

Now, while it may be tempting to believe that Obama inherited a bad hand from Bush or that his hands were tied due to the way the system is structured, not only has he done virtually nothing to improve the economy, bolster housing prices, stem foreclosures or reduce unemployment, he has—as Michael Moore points out (in the latest issue of Rolling Stone)—frittered away a “10 million vote mandate” to substantially curb malfeasance of the financial sector.

And if you think that griping about Wall Street corruption simply equates to whining about the wealthy, you’re missing the point. Beyond the obvious—rampant unemployment, diminished home values—virtually everything in your life—from the quality of your children’s schools to gas prices to your grocery bill—is substantially and detrimentally affected by how the financial services sector operates, and its enormous fraud and failures.

I certainly am no expert on this stuff and take nothing, in itself, as gospel, but I have tried to educate myself about the subprime mortgage crisis, 2008 Wall Street collapse, government bailout and TARP programs, derivatives trading, etc., and pretty much all the sources I’ve referenced—from Matt Taibbi to Paul Krugman to Charles Ferguson to Michael Moore, and more (full list at bottom)—have suggested that President Obama has been impotent, or worse, in trying to reverse the damage and curb the corruption that continues to be wreaked by “Wall Street.” Despite the reformer, activist rhetoric that helped him get elected, as this recent Atlantic article details, President Obama has failed to do what he said he would in promising to "challenge the system."

It might sound unfair to disparage the President—given his vast realm of responsibility, and also his restrictions—for not being a better SEC watchdog. But between the billions (trillions?) the government has not collected from banks, corporations and tycoons who pay a relative pittance in taxes to the way the corporatocracy has tightened its grip on the political process due to the Citizens United case that enabled companies to contribute far more to candidates, I don’t know of anything that can benefit the masses in more ways than holding the fatcats’ feet to the fire. 

From the flaccidness of the Dodd-Frank bill that supposedly added some financial regulations but really did little to change Wall Street’s ways, to the fact that Obama’s economic braintrust—Larry Summers, Robert Rubin, Timothy Geithner—came from leadership roles on Wall Street and were heavily involved in pushing for deregulation that has been debilitating, his actions seem to convey that the President has been acutely disinterested in doing anything substantive that may distress the top 10% of the top 1%, but significantly benefit 99.9% of the country.

Also, without being na├»ve that when it comes to foreign policy and homeland security, being ethical and being effective don’t always co-exist, I also find myself somewhat distressed over the President's choices in these areas. From his “Kill Lists” through which proactive murder has become policy to his not shuttering Guantanamo Bay despite campaign promises to do so to the fact that we are still at war in Afghanistan, I have serious qualms with his record. And despite this study that indicated 75% of Americans would elect to reduce the 2013 Defense Budget, "including two-thirds of Republicans and 9 in 10 Democrats," neither the Presidents nor any Democrats I'm aware of seem to express that downsizing the military is something we should explore. 

His environmental initiatives have also been tepid at best, doing nothing to curb fracking and seemingly nothing of substance to confront global warming. And while it was bold that he came out in support of gay marriage a few months ago, it seemed way too tardy, opportunist and devoid of any actual advocacy to change law.

Anyway, by now you should get my point, though I don't mean this with disrespect to the President nor anyone who supports him.

Believe me, I want to believe. And I understand the alternative is worse. But sometimes, the emperor really isn't wearing any clothes.

I have found the following sources beneficial to my understanding of what has taken place in America and why I've been disillusioned by democracy inaction:

Matt Taibbi - Articles in Rolling Stone and the book Griftopia
Paul Krugman - New York Times and Stop This Depression Now
Michael Lewis - The Big Short and Boomerang
Charles Ferguson - The documentary Inside Job and the book Predator Nation
Michael Moore - The documentary Capitalism: A Love Story and his website
Andrew Bacevich - Washington Rules
Alex Gibney - The documentary Captain Jack and the United States of Money
Joseph Stiglitz - The Price of Inequality
Andrew Ross Sorkin - Too Big to Fail (Note: I haven't read this one but have heard good things; there's also an HBO Movie based on it)
Russ Feingold - The Progressives United organization
Christopher Hayes - Twitter
Chris Hedges - TruthDig
Charles Pierce - Esquire
Tom Morello - Twitter
Glenn Greenwald - The Guardian
Rachel Maddow
Jon Stewart
Bruce Springsteen

Note: The headline of this post refers to a lyric from R.E.M.'s "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?" that actually goes, "Richard said, "Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy."" Richard is a reference to filmmaker Richard Linklater, who included the line--though actually with "Withdrawing" being the first word--as text on a card seen in the film Slacker.


Suzi said...

Excellent post. I feel the same way, though I will vote for Obama in the fall because things will get worse under Rommey/Ryan--not because they are Republicans but because they are incapable of handling it. Plus, as a woman, I don't think I can ever take the GOP seriously again. They do nothing but insult my gender.

ej2akind said...

people used to vote for who they liked the most. then it changed to people voting against who they disliked the most. then it changed to people voting for who they disliked the least. looks like you've moved on to step four: fuck it.

good post. i'm with you though voting in local elections can sometimes still actually do something.