Saturday, September 10, 2005


Michael Brown is a symptom, not the disease. Addressing symptoms alone allows the underlying disease to flourish. Sure, symptoms need to be identified for it is in the identification of particular group of symptoms occurring together that the disease itself is recognized. Let's say our movement succeeds in driving Brown out of office. Bush would inevitably replace him with a like-minded minion. What have we really accomplished? I am not at all sure that incompetence played a big role here, so much as the Administration's studied approach to demonstrating that we should no longer expect "big government" to take the lead in disasters. It is no secret that Bush favors turning over government functions to the private sector and faith-based organizations. It is the free-market philosophy applied to disaster relief with the predictable chaos that ensues. He stepped FEMA down from its former Cabinet level status. He made it subordinate to the head of the Department of Homeland Security, increasing bureaucracy and all the extra SNAFU that entails. The Katrina disaster was a deliberate withholding of leadership from Washington. A test case that failed and forced Bush to belatedly jump in, all the while denying and minimizing the government's culpability. Perhaps Bush and Co. even cynically hoped or believed that the American public shared their dismissive attitude toward the desperately poor victims, primarily black and marginal, and would not express the outrage that has, indeed, been immediately and powerfully forthcoming.

Progressives cannot succeed in moving the US forward using the fire-brigade approach, one conflagration at a time. Progressives must consistently put forward a political analysis which takes each symptom or issue--Brown, the Iraq war, Haliburton, GITMO and Abu Graib, homelessness, 48 million without health insurance, 7 million more people living below the poverty line since 2000, the highest rate of incarceration in the world, the obscene concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, to name only some examples--and draws the links to all the other issues and uses each to support and "prove" the analysis. We must identify the "disease" and offer treatments. The "single-issue" approach has never had more than limited value. Reforms have been achieved that way but in the absence of structural change those reforms are subject to changing political winds. Gains made through the New Deal, the civil rights movement, the women's movement, gay rights, etc. have either been eroded or are under serious attack. Democracy itself has been seriously compromised by the Bush-neocon cabal in Washington.

I find it rather amazing that despite the fact that there is no light of difference shining through the purported space between the Republican and Democratic parties, the American people are incredibly polarized along party lines. They seem to buy into a mythology that significant party differences exist and feel so strongly that they resort to trashing each other on radio call-in shows and on-line discussion groups and fora. This superficial bashing serves to distract people from the real issues and from their real enemy--capitalism and the corporate elite. The media tends to support and encourage this meaningless squabble, which, deliberate or not, keeps the public from having its eyes opened to the truth. It could not be more obvious that the Democrats have offered no substantial pole of opposition to the Bush presidency. It is incumbent on Progressives to help discouraged people to understand that swapping a Democrat for a Republican in the White House is not the answer to their problems. Sure, their are small differences. Social needs may get more attention. But the enduring issues that impact quality of life: a living wage, decent housing, quality, affordable healthcare, will not improve without structural change.

For too long Progressives have shied away from making public, principled criticism of capitalism. We need to get over it and get on with the work. Commit to the long haul. Open the discussion. Develop an analysis. Design an alternative system that suits this society and organize, organize, organize.

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