In the ’60 and ’70s, the anti war movement, like Occupy, sought to bring about social change. Like Occupy, we brought attention to injustice. Like Occupy we rejected the prevailing political paradigm. Unlike Occupy, we can look back and say with honesty that we accomplished little or nothing.
Oh, Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Ohio” may reflect the reason Occupy had only “pepper spray cop,” while we had Kent State. In the end though, what we accomplished was expressed in another hugely popular song by Quicksilver Messenger Service, “What About Me?”
The fact is that social and political change comes only through the exercise of realpolitik. That is to say, through the exercise of power.
Another fact is that the scale of the Occupy movement was both so much smaller, and so much shorter lived than the Anti War Movement. Moreover, Occupy failed to learn anything from history. A few hundred thousand college students and recycled geriatrics from the ’60s Anti War Movement do not make a power block capable of effecting change—not at least from outside the “establishment” structures which each movement rejected.
These failures essentially come from the political naïveté due to an education system that does not prepare our youth for participation in the greater society, and their youthful rebelliousness coupled with inexperience as political actors. Consequently, they allowed the dominant paradigm that arose at the advent of the Reagan era, that the Democrats needed to be more centrist, to remain politically viable. Were their actions not the knee-jerk variety, there would have been little consequence.
The consequence of this dynamic among single-issue liberal voters resulted in the pointless loss of the Presidency in 2000, and again in 2010, when Barack Obama disappointed the liberal base of the Democratic party. Democrats, due to Obama’s perceived centrism, lost the support of a significant block of the liberal vote, while a fanatical right-wing Tea Party movement energized an apathetic reactionary base that had allowed control of Congress to slip from their grasp in 2006.
While some Democrats have found hope in recent public opinion surveys that they will repeat the success of 2006 in 2014, there is little that points toward certainty of the outcome. Far more Democrats from “conservative” districts have decided not to run than Republicans, including four of the six Senators needed to keep control of the upper house, and others, like Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.
The problem is, like Obama who remains a centrist, these Senators hold office only by virtue of their apparently conservative political posture. In example, they almost universally vote with Republicans on energy and fiscal policy, and often on social issues as well. They consequently risk alienating the base who views environmental and fiscal issues as primary.
These are in fact the Democrats who “prove” to the cynical left that “they are all alike.” Filled with examples of liberal apostasy, these naive cynics overlook that such politicians nonetheless serve a purpose. Over the past eight years, they have provided the Democrats with a majority that has been able to dictate the agenda in the Senate—and restrain the reactionary right. How they manage to ignore what the Democrats have accomplished since 2008 reflects less on their naïveté than their disconnect with reality.
So, now what? Whether the Gerymandered districts to which the Republicans owe so much of their success can be broken down remains to be seen. The simple fact is that Democrats can’t afford the kind of apathy that besets them in mid term elections.
Every two years during which the Republicans retain the power to affect policy is another two years during which we approach the point of no return on climate change. It would mean another two years during which we would witness a string of environmental debacles, starting with the Keystone XL pipeline. Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, would be dismantled.
To the extent that Democrats have stood in the way of the whole-hearted embrace of austerity, Republican control of Congress would likely mean the economy would go from recovering at a snail’s pace to the threat of full-blown collapse, like much of the European Union.
Again, now what? If liberals have any hope, they need to embrace the same “scoundrel of not, (s)he’s our scoundrel, so we’re voting for her” attitude the Republicans demonstrate. If approached thoughtfully, getting incumbents to stay inside the bounds their constituents set will require ongoing effort, but the theory of representative government allows that it is possible.
What then? To be truly representative, representative government requires more of it’s citizens than just voting every two or four years. Citizens who are actually concerned about their governance, need first to become informed, then to engage themselves with government at every level.
Make no mistake about it. Sheep are not led. They are driven by masters whose dogs nip at their flanks. In realpolitik, within the parameters of representative government, you are either the master using your dogs to herd your politicians in the direction you want them to go, or the sheep whose masters are using the politicians to herd you in the direction they want you to go. So, now what?