Friday, February 3, 2012

Ruminating about Republican Primaries

In the final months of the last year the Occupy Movement was prominent in the news. Almost every day there was more news about different occupations and the reactions of local governments who cared more about the cleanliness of parks then about justice or democracy.
But then the primary season began and pushed all other news to the second page or the second section of the newspaper. One might have expected that the Occupy Movement and its indictment of our current economic inequalities would become a topic in the primary debates. But no such luck. Occupy Wall Street's fervent talk about the 1% disappeared from the news as if it had never happened.
One can explain this by saying that the occupiers obviously failed completely to make an impression on the majority of Americans. More plausible is this interpretation: in the primary debates the candidates choose the issues and how they will talk about them. Obviously they are not going to raise questions that embarrass their donors or the super rich who finance the PAC's supporting each candidate. So inequality and the disproportionate power of the 1% are not available as issues to be argued about in the primaries. The primary candidatesnot only the Republican onesprotect their donors and keep issues of injustice out of the public discussion.
The competing candidates are trying to sell themselves to the public with the same techniques used by Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola to sell their products. Radio hosts interview political consultants whose job it is to produce the better advertising campaign for their candidate. But advertising is inherently deceptive. Even if your advertisement merely announces that the General Store has received a new barrel of pickles, you will not advertise that the pickles have a funny aftertaste. The customer has to discover that for herself. The sellers of soda wax eloquent about their soda's taste, but not about the damage it does to your health. Political advertisements promise that the candidate will solve to unemployment problem but neglect to mention that he will first rewrite tax laws to favor some rich corporate sponsors of his. Advertisement mention some good qualities of a product and ignore what is not so good. Advertisements are intentionally one-sided and misleading.
Is that the way to select a candidate for the Presidency? The United States faces a number of serious issues. We have, for a long time, conducted our foreign policy on the principle that other nations must either be persuaded to follow our policies or be forced into submission. Following these principles we have lost four wars. It is time to reconsider this style of hostile and coercive foreign policy.
The presidential campaign should be an opportunity for the nation to reflect about this issue.
Our economic system has been going from crisis to crisis. But the general trend is down hill. Every year more people fall below the official poverty line. Every year American education suffers as does health care. The current economic crisis clearly is due to gross mismanagement on the parts of banks, and large mortgage companies. What is the government's role in that context? The current campaign should spark a discussion about the economy.
In our nation, hate fueled campaigns are on the increaseagainst the poor, against immigrants, especially those without papers, against people of color. More and more people are devoted to paranoid causes. More and more people are worried, discontented. Many, many are just very angry. And as more and more people sink into depression, they try to build a life raft out of an unthinking nationalist chauvinism that proclaims the United States the greatest nation on earth.
It is time for us to think about life in the United States today and to recognize the discrepancy between everyday reality and what we tell ourselves as consolation in our misery.
But none of that comes out in the political campaigns.
Winning the presidency has become comparable to selling soft drinkswho sells more, Coke or Pepsi? From self-government of the free and equal, democracy has been transformed into an entertainment for a largely passive electorate. The presidential campaign has become one more Super Bowl.
Our political candidates are betraying what is most precious in the American traditions.