Sunday, February 20, 2011

what's before us

These are heady times and emotions are very raw. It's tough. What's being debated-- in Wisconsin and in the larger deficit push-- is not discrete questions of short-term and conditional budget shortfalls and entitlement adjustments. What's being debated is the fundamental question of how resources are distributed in this country, and what recourse working class people have to improve the material conditions of their lives. Look at this chart, and you'll understand what is being fought for on the streets of Wisconsin.

The question of the day is whether there is no limit at all to the downward pressures we are willing as a society to enact on workers. Make no mistake: that is what is being fought for on the streets of Wisconsin. Workers have been attacked for thirty years. The deficit warriors will tell you that they are fighting for even worse conditions for American workers because of this moment and its conditions. What they will fail to tell you is that every moment since the dawn of the Thatcherite/Reaganite age has had the same prescription: make things worse for workers. When things were good, we attacked the workers at the behest of the rich. When things are bad, we attack the workers at the behest of the rich. California's Republican governor devastates the state budget with flagrant fiscal irresponsibility; soon enough, California's public sector employees will be asked to pay for it, and the gatekeepers of fiscal responsibility will deem this mature leadership.This is the condition of our times. Whatever the time is to push the scales back in the workers' favor, that time is never now.

For this reason, because the stakes are so high, it's right that we should fight and it's right that we should fight passionately and angrily. It saddens me that it's difficult to maintain personal relationships when the issues are so big, but if that's the way it has to be then so be it. I hate that fights seem so personal but the consequences of our winner-take-all economic platform are profoundly personal for those on the bottom. When I ran that post about the blogosphere and the left, I got some emails that were generally supportive but said, "why did you have to name names? Why not keep it general?" If you don't name names nothing can change. It surprises me, the number of perceptive, thoughtful people who fail to see how easily this whole enterprise can slide into a morass of friendship and patronage, where principle is always secondary to relationships.

My beef with the progressives has always been about this: that politics is about orientation towards power, towards winners or losers, and they have refused to choose and to fight. I have heard the phrase "non-zero sum" enough that I hope to never hear it again. It's a pleasant fiction, but a fiction it is, and the harsh realities of all or nothing America reveal it every day. Perhaps the thing for me to do is to stop expecting people who don't feel as I do to take the stands I want them to. It's high time I realize that, for example, Matt Yglesias simply sees the world differently than I do. It's unfair to him to keep expecting that to change. On this issue, he chooses not to fight. That's his stance, and he's entitled to it. And just like on his belief that the work of liberalism is complete, that difference is irreconcilable. I wish him well, and it's time I looked elsewhere.

In any event, I know some people hoped that 2011 would put the angry battles of 2010 in the past, but the fight is just beginning. I am sorry for whatever personal rifts are to come, but the order of the day has made this nation into nothing more than a machine to siphon more and more resources to those at the top, and it can't endure. I am a pessimist by nature, but it is necessary to define the conflict: the people will reverse the tide and stop the flow of wealth from the many to the few, or they won't. What bloggers and journalists and pundits must come to realize is that one way or the other, they are choosing sides. To choose, and to know that you are choosing, grants you the ability to write clearly and, at times, approach poetry in taking your stance. To try to not choose is to sacrifice that gift.To attempt not to choose is to choose by default. I know where I stand. I don't know what's going to happen.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Has grad school radicalized you?

Freddie said...

No, childhood experience and radical parents radicalized me. I have attempted detente, and I still believe in it in principle, but these issues are so stark and the imbalance in power is so great that I don't know what else to do than to just get out there and say it.

And there are so many centrists online.... I speak up for these issues because I feel that no one else will if I don't.

Anonymous said...

If public sector union reform is an issue of the rich against the working man then why are private sector unions supporting Mayor Cuomo in New York against the public sector unions?

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/10/nyregion/10unions.html

Elia Isquire said...

Really gotta explain to me what the article you linked to has to do with what's going on in Wisconsin.

Freddie said...

Fixed a link that shows Schwarzenegger's rampant fiscal irresponsibility. Elias, I don't know what article you're referring to.

Elia Isquire said...

F,

My comment was in response to Anonymous above me.

Anonymous said...

Elia,

If reforming the public sector at the cost of public sector unionized workers is an assault on the working man by the rich, then so too is what Cuomo is doing.

Freddie said...

Embedded in that article is the perfect encapsulation of these issues: New York could pass a tax on the sale of stock transfers to fill its budget gap, but the politicians refuse to do so out. The New York financial sector is more responsible for our current financial and fiscal difficulties than any other entity in the country. Yet the idea that they should pay is just completely off the table. Meanwhile, the union is made to pay.

Elia Isquire said...

That's a rather specious analogy. It ignores the specifics of Gov. Walker's proposal, conflates all reform efforts (be they the kind the WI public unions have said they're willing to undergo; or the kind that Walker refuses to budge on, i.e., the death of collective bargaining power); and adheres to a vision of politics completely defined by partisanship. I don't know whether you misunderstand the situation or are just trying to score "gotcha!" points, but either way I would imagine that you're capable of a more informed/honest style of argumentation.

Joe said...

This blog has been such a breath of fresh air these days. Keep up the good work Freddie. Know solidarity.

Anonymous said...

Elia,

The article shows that the interests of public sector union workers and private sector union workers can be in opposition, so considering one of them representative of the "working class" is clearly a problematic oversimplification. When the public sector unions lose benefits some working class people lose, and others clearly win. So painting a fight for public sector union benefits as a fight for the "working class" is incorrect.

Elia Isquire said...

I think you're eliding the essence of Freddie's argument, which he's reiterated and specified in this thread and in the post following this one.

When the real enemy is pushed to the sidelines then, yes, we see splintering among groups that should be united (and, moreover, would be united if given the opportunity).

Petey said...

"It's high time I realize that, for example, Matt Yglesias simply sees the world differently than I do."

It is about time.

His day job is simply to defeat folks like you and me.

Danny said...

great, great post. i don't see anything radical about siding with working men and women and their families against the lies, distortions, vilifications, and threats of the wealthy and the powerful. in solidarity from canada.

Anonymous said...

Right On.

Seriously - right on.

E.D. Kain said...

Freddie - I honestly think you're dead on the money. I've had a total transformation of thought in the past few weeks, and the events in Wisconsin have been like a fire for me, blazing down so many old ideas at once. You were right about many things, and I was wrong. There are so many misleading narratives being spun, and so many of them are taken at face value, never questioned. And all the while workers and the middle class are slowly eviscerated.

Barry said...

Ella:

"...and adheres to a vision of politics completely defined by partisanship..."

Have you actually not noticed the past 30 years?
Did you actually read the original post?

James W. Boyd said...

I've followed this blog on and off for a long time, and I enjoy your style of writing. It seems to me like the conclusion of this post is a decision to willfully over-simplify the debate. "downward pressure" on workers to you is macroeconomic forces to the rich man. I have no doubt that there are billionaires who would give up every last cent they owned if it would be fairly and equitably distributed; as you yourself must acknowledge, the problem is the result of systemic imbalances or human nature (and as a Marxian you will probably do better to see it as the former, not the latter), not individual malfeasance.

But if that is the case, then demonizing the rich only serves a didactic or rhetorical purpose; you probably rationalize this as the only way to affect the change you want. ('you must choose a side', as you say). But what you lose is the need, and mutas mutandis the ability to discern the truth in such matters, and as a consequence will only be listened to by people who share your ends, evidence be damned.

Keep blogging though, your intelligence and wit is needed in this debate.

paul h. said...

"It surprises me, the number of perceptive, thoughtful people who fail to see how easily this whole enterprise can slide into a morass of friendship and patronage, where principle is always secondary to relationships."

Whenever I read Sanchez/Klein/McArdle/Douthat/Yglesias/Suderman/etc etc etc I always just imagine a chummy group of friends at a house party or bar in Adams Morgan who don't really want to say anything truly confrontational to each other ...

Myles SG said...

I would say that lots of people (like me), who do support the right to collective bargaining (I was a member of the Teamsters one summer when I worked at the local supermarket, stocking produce of all things, and they were great, paying a premium wage), it's very hard to seriously get behind people whose entire modus operandi is negotiating with people they helped elect in the first place, i.e. Democrats, and then sticking to their guns when their side aren't in government to negotiate with them.

I mean, yes Scott Walker is an extraordinarily bad bastard, but let's not kid ourselves as to whether this is actually a Manichean struggle.

Petey said...

"It surprises me, the number of perceptive, thoughtful people who fail to see how easily this whole enterprise can slide into a morass of friendship and patronage, where principle is always secondary to relationships."

I continue to think that reading Roberto Bolaño is the best guide for lefties who are befuddled at understanding what the hell happened to the Democratic wave of the oughts.

Elia Isquire said...

If Barry wants to ask me a question that's not rhetorical or contingent upon me reading his mind, I'd be happy to answer.

But he'll have to wait until I've finished grimacing at:

"I have no doubt that there are billionaires who would give up every last cent they owned if it would be fairly and equitably distributed"

Your point -- let's not create a simple narrative in which the vicious plutocrats conspire to doom us all -- is valid; but my goodness, talk about overplaying your hand!

Elia Isquire said...

And to Myles point: it's the Governor who refuses to negotiate. We can all share anecdotes, I'm sure, of unions or union members doing this that or the other which displeased us. But that's really neither here nor there, for one; for another, it's not like the same can't be said for Governors, Republicans, libertarians, conservatives or people of extraordinary means.

TGGP said...

I'd be interested in hearing more about your childhood. Do you have a post where you discuss that?

Freddie said...

I don't. It's difficult for me to talk about and I often struggle to reconcile how to be informed by it without making it too public.