'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, January 10, 2011

Don't Worry, Sarah, I've Got Your Back (Part 1) 

UPDATE 2: From Louis Proyect:

I think what leftists have to understand is that violence and repression today directed against the popular movement is far more based on legality than mob violence or terrorism.

For example, the day before the gun attack, this assault on the rights of Mexican-American students in Tucson took place sanctioned by law:

The class began with a Mayan-inspired chant and a vigorous round of coordinated hand clapping. The classroom walls featured protest signs, including one that said United Together in La Lucha! — the struggle. Although open to any student at Tucson High Magnet School, nearly all of those attending Curtis Acosta’s Latino literature class on a recent morning were Mexican-American.

For all of that and more, Mr. Acosta’s class and others in the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American program have been declared illegal by the State of Arizona — even while similar programs for black, Asian and American Indian students have been left untouched.

So reported an article in the New York Times titled Rift in Arizona as Latino Class Is Found Illegal. This is the real strategy of the Tea Party movement, to elect politicians who pass such racist laws—not to organize mobs to go into the barrio and brutalize activists. If the left cannot figure out what phase of the struggle it is in, we will not be effective, I’m afraid.

While Proyect is, in the broad sense accurate, I do think that he misses the synergy between incendiary rhetoric, violence and legal suppression that the far right relies upon to achieve its ends. They do not preclude one another, although, to be fair, he does appear to indirectly recognize this interrelationship when he says that the repression is far more based upon legality, thereby refusing to exclude the role of threatening language and violence.

Regardless, it does justify some slight elaboration. Consider, for example, how politicians have cited public anger as a justification for more rigorous enforcement of the immigration laws, resulting in skyrocketing numbers of deportations, a record 800,000 people in the last two years. As with fwoan's post, one should read Proyect's post in its entirety as well, as he presents a number of other well researched insights, especially in relation to how the far right has historically attained its objectives in Arizona. Left for further investigation is the question as to the extent to which Democratic party neoliberals have exploited rightist populism to pursue its capital friendly program.

UPDATE 1: From fwoan, a different way of looking at it:

The power structure is using this to limit what is an acceptable idea to convey, because they themselves were unable to keep their ugly, crazy mouths shut.

Of course, the post should be read in its entirety.

INITIAL POST: Yet again, I find myself in the odd position of defending Sarah Palin against liberal criticism. In October 2008, I finally reached my tolerance of e-mails from liberal friends about Palin's ignorance and lack of qualifications for the position of Vice President, a position held in the past by such luminaries as Spiro Agnew and Dan Quayle, and pointed out that her opponent, Joe Biden, arguably a contemporary manifestation of Agnew, is a buffoon known for frequently putting his foot in his mouth, as he most recently did when he called Julian Assange a high-tech terrorist. Strangely, I haven't heard any liberals criticizing that statement in the last couple of days after the killings in Tucson, especially given the fact that a number of prominent Americans, such as Washington Times columnist Jeffrey Kuhner and former Democratic Party campaign consultant Robert Beckel, have called for Assange's assassination.

No, we are instead being subjecting to an endless barrage of articles, blog entries and comments that purportedly establish that Palin bears some sort of amorphous responsibility for the actions of the man who shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others, Jared Loughner. And how is she responsible? Last spring, she posted a map of the United States with crosshairs identifying 20 Democratic congressional representatives that she wanted to see defeated in the November election. Of course, she didn't say that people should shoot them, nor did she personally issue threats against them. She obviously wanted people to vote against them, not kill them. Furthermore, I don't recall anyone commenting on the map at the time, although fwoan remembers otherwise, so I defer to him as I probably, rightly or wrongly, just tuned it out as typical partisan argument. In any event while one can certainly criticize the map on the grounds of tastelessness, it is evident that few, if any, people took it literally. Now, in the wake of the Tucson shootings, there is a new liberal revisionism, one that possesses as much intellectual credibility as those who contend that the Harry Potter series promotes witchcraft. Even Alexander Cockburn has gotten in on the act.

Certainly, there is no doubt that Sarah Palin has said some intemperate things. Nor is there any doubt that people like Giffords and another Democratic congressman nearby, Raul Grijalva, have been subjected to death threats and the vandalism of their offices. Jane Harman of firedoglake maintains that Palin, by posting the campaign map on her website on March 23rd of last year, after the health care debate and vote that resulted in acts of vandalism against the offices of some congressional Democrats around the country, poured gasoline on the fire. Her chronology looks persuasive, until you realize that Palin posted the map nine months ago, and that the election that it references ended two months ago, with the Republicans taking control of the House after several of the Democrats identified on it had been defeated. To date, there is no indication that Loughner paid any attention to anything that Sarah Palin has said or done.

Instead, there have been reports that Loughner is a mentally disordered individual who troubled those who came into contact with him, known for unusual statements with an elusive political content. Upon persuing articles published by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Guardian, the only possible explicit connection between Loughner and a far right political figures that I encountered was a mention of the possibility that he may have shared the views of David Wynn Miller, a far right figure who apparently believes, like Loughner, that the government seeks to manipulate us by controlling grammar. It is not uncommon for people who suffer from serious mental disorders, such as those with a paranoid schizophrenic or bi-polar diagnosis, to develop highly refined, baroque conspiratorial beliefs which sometimes result in a fixation on a particular person, as happened here, but they are, by their very nature, highly individualistic, and contrary to the sort of linear, rational causation suggested by those who seek to blame Palin. It will be interesting to see if law enforcement, which now has a wealth of digital information in its possession, discovers anything that indicates a more direct political connection to Loughner.

So far, we are encountering a form of analysis that privileges political beliefs over others as the basis for human agency, as we did recently in regard to Julian Assange. Assange has publicized confidential records that embarass the US, so, ergo, the Swedish attempt to extradite him to Sweden on possible sex crime charges must be a pretext for delivering him into the custody of the US. The possibility that Assange may be a publicly heroic figure and a privately despiccable one capable of sexually abusing women is dismissed. In this instance, we see the process taken a step further: the insistence upon imprinting a political explanation for Loughner's violent actions in the absence of any evidence in support of it. The more compelling explanation, that Loughner is a confused, mentally disordered person who didn't receive the care that he needed, is subordinated to this quest.

Of course, there is an underlying ideological motivation for this kind of analysis, as described by Jack Crow earlier today:

1. If you (a) hold elected office or (b) a position of power and influence in a media conglomerate, and (c) plan, execute, fund or euphemize sky robot murder, starvation austerity, war powers expansion, occupations and escalations, coups d'etat, wetwork, black ops and the militarization of public space - you bear no responsibility for the decisions of those following your direct orders, or who act under the cover and normalization you promote. If you apologize for those who, under orders, commit the acts which directly contribute to your wealth and comfort, and to the maintenance of a continent spanning system of degradation, imprisonment and oppression, you bear absolutely no responsibility for the consequences of the systemic destruction of human life which you support and promote. You are a public servant. A leader. An exemplar of civilization.

2. If you use campaign rhetoric which does not sanitize political conflict, or read books which do not pass official muster, or if you do sit not in current favor with those who have the wealth and influence to arrogate to themselves the arbitration of taste, worth, sanction, viability and validity, you bear complete responsibility for acts of violence committed by persons you have never met.

Just as Sam Spade and Kasper Gutman needed a fall guy at the conclusion of The Maltese Falcon to escape responsibility for their crimes, so, too, do the global purveyors of violence in the Pentagon, the CIA, the Congress and the White House. Upon the eruption of violence within the US, it becomes urgently necessary to identify someone and some political group as responsible, in this instance, Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, so as to conceal the fact that those who govern the US do so by perpetual recourse to it. Examples are too numerous to mention, but one need only look to Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, to get a general sense of the problem. In regard to the drone strikes in Pakistan, a Brookings Institute analyst conceded the likelihood that ten civilians are killed for each militant, with another account estimating the ratio at fifteen to one.

By treating the subject of the motivation of Loughner's violence as domestic in character, the proponents of such an approach preempt any inquiry into the pervasiveness of US violence around the world. If one is going to open the door into the the uses and motivations of American violence, it should be opened fully, instead of slightly cracked. Beyond this, there is the prospect that, if an explicit political motivation for Loughner's action is found, it may well have both domestic and international components, as was the case with Timothy McVeigh, who, as a Gulf War veteran, condemned the brutality of the US invasion of Kuwait while also expressing far right, white supremacist beliefs, including, quite reasonably in my view, anger over US government actions at Ruby Ridge and Waco. My impression is that many Americans are aware of McVeigh's far right political motivation for bombing the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, but few know how his military service contributed to it as well. Expect a similar kind of suppression if Loughner is found to have discomforting political motivations to the extent that we may see the government and the media embrace the currently out of vogue psychological explanation for the killings.

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