By Manifesto Joe
Professor Chomsky, you're always an engaging writer, and I found a short essay of yours, "The US Elections: Outrage, Misguided," enlightening as usual. But, I disagree on a couple of points, and I'm going to explain why.
Here's a link to the article I'm referring to.
More than half the “mainstream Americans” in a Rasmussen poll last month said they view the Tea Party movement favorably –- a reflection of the spirit of disenchantment.
The grievances are legitimate. For more than 30 years, real incomes for the majority of the population have stagnated or declined while work hours and insecurity have increased, along with debt. Wealth has accumulated, but in very few pockets, leading to unprecedented inequality. ...
People rightly want answers, and they are not getting them except from voices that tell tales that have some internal coherence –- if you suspend disbelief and enter into their world of irrationality and deceit.
Professor Chomsky, the hard core of people involved in the Tea Party movement are part of about 30% of Americans (from what polls indicate) who are staunch "conservatives." These are people who would vote Republican if Lucifer were the nominee. It doesn't matter how much their income has declined, their work hours have increased or how much debt they are accumulating, while the wealthy prosper more than ever. We're confronted here with Rush-and-Fox brainwashed people who won't be persuaded by any amount of reasoned argument. They don't have to suspend any "disbelief," because among these people, there was never any to begin with. You have to think for yourself before you can entertain doubts.
It's the people in between, the confused and often ignorant ones who are either "swing voters" or who don't vote at all, who comprise the group that progressives must win over if they are to ever to really win power in this country.
You continue: Ridiculing Tea Party shenanigans is a serious error, however. It is far more appropriate to understand what lies behind the movement’s popular appeal, and to ask ourselves why justly angry people are being mobilized by the extreme right and not by the kind of constructive activism that rose during the Depression, like the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations).
With all due respect for your obvious moral courage, sir, you are living in the past. The labor movement in America is all but dead, and it is because "the people" here had gotten so lazy and comfortable by the 1970s and '80s that they lacked either the intelligence, the guts, or both, to stand up to powerful institutions and defend their rights.
Big corporate money lined up with the psychos of the far right in an alliance sort of like Frankenstein, only in this scenario, the monster has been kept under control and compelled to do the creator's bidding. Most people, the ones in between, decided that it was easier just to get along and go along. While they were making nice, jobs went overseas, incomes declined, personal debt ballooned, and the rich got much richer.
If you'll pardon another analogy, our in-betweeners were like the frog who sits in a pan of water that gets hotter, degree by degree. They just sat there for decades as the water got hotter. Now it's getting close to the boiling point, and an appetite for frog legs is obvious among our moneyed elite.
For many years, there have been those among us who have been trying, in vain, to tell people this. We have been doomed to failure for a number of reasons. For one thing, we don't have the money to get the message out, and our foes most certainly do. For another, there aren't many of us. "Conservatives" far outnumber committed progressives in this country, and they always have. Some of this is a foolishness that I have to conclude simply rests with Americans, with the particular culture, values and attitudes with which we are usually indoctrinated.
Where I grew up, for example, there were absolutely no Trotskyites. I never knew of Trotsky until I got into reading history as a teenager, and my view of him was predictably negative until I was 20 or so. I've known very few anarchists in my 54 years of living, and they've all been the right-wing variety. Even where I live now, in a large urban area in the American heartland, what little political debate one hears is between centrists and right-wingers, Democrats and Republicans. Maybe Libertarians (another kind of right-winger) chime in now and then. That's about it. There are few voices that could be accurately described as left of center.
You, sir, grew up, and still live, in a part of the country that I would describe as -- well, unique. Out here, the right rules, and usually has. The center upsets them from time to time, preventing a total monopoly. An authentic left almost doesn't exist, and it's almost always been that way.
Out here, it's a way of life for folks to blame the wrong people for their misfortunes. I've tried reasoning with such people, and it usually can't be done. They're too brainwashed.
You have said that the U.S. doesn't really have two political parties -- it has the left wing of the Business Party (Democrats) and the right wing of the Business Party (Republicans). In a perfect world, I wouldn't be forced to make such a choice. But the world in which we live is not merely far from perfect. These days, it seems to just outright suck.
So, when forced to make a choice, I'll take the left wing of the Business Party, thank you. Because of them, I was able to go to college (albeit not one in the Ivy League). Because of them, my mother and grandmother were able to get Medicaid and stay in nursing homes after they ran out of money. And thanks to them, I would be able to get, at least temporarily, a meager weekly sum from the government to eat on if I were laid off from my job tomorrow.
As the political compass of America has swung further and further to the right, it's come down to a national battle between real conservatives -- the ones who want to at least preserve the meager welfare state introduced in this country during the 20th century -- and the radical, reactionary right, which wants to plunge the country back into 19th-century social Darwinism.
I'd love to see some kind of authentic left emerge in this country, but I don't think it wise to hold my breath. I would have admired a president who would have gone down fighting for single-payer health care, but I'll settle for one who did what seemed necessary to at least get something done.
You continue: Amid the joblessness and foreclosures, the Democrats can’t complain about the policies that led to the disaster. President Ronald Reagan and his Republican successors may have been the worst culprits, but the policies began with President Jimmy Carter and accelerated under President Bill Clinton.
True, but ... Carter did want a national health insurance program, and could not likely have forecast what the deregulation that began on his watch would lead to. Clinton helped usher in NAFTA, signed "welfare reform" and also signed destructive financial deregulation. But he also forced wealthy individuals to pay somewhat higher marginal tax rates, and because of that, he left office with a record surplus. Clinton may have been a Republicrat, but I'd say he was the best "Republican" president the U.S. has had since Eisenhower.
By the time Bush was well into his second term, I wished we had Clinton back. "Not-that-good" is better than "much worse." What we ended up with was Barack Obama, who hasn't been what I'd hoped, but at least he's been something of an improvement. I was never a Carter fan, but I'd even take him over Bush 43.
To repeat a line from you: Ridiculing Tea Party shenanigans is a serious error.
For one thing, it's hard to witness mass stupidity ("Impeach the Muslim Marxist" one Tea Partier's sign read) and not call it by its rightful name. For another, making nice with such people has never done a bit of good. Ask Barack Obama.
It's hard to witness mass stupidity and not call it by its rightful name.
Again, it's the in-betweeners, the "persuadables" who comprise the battleground. Even stupid people don't like to think that they are stupid. Showing exactly how stupid the "shenanigans" of the Tea Party movement are is one way to reach the "reachables." Even a person of ordinary intelligence, when presented with enough facts, can comprehend how idiotic it is to refer to Obama as a "Muslim Marxist." Ridicule is one weapon we have that doesn't cost anything, and I fully intend to use it against these morons.
Professor Chomsky, I highly respect the fact that you risked jail while opposing the Vietnam War, and that you have often gone to the very front lines of social conflict as a courageous dissident.
But out here, where I live, being a public dissident means even worse things than jail. It can mean job loss, homelessness, hunger. It can mean losing everything you have.
And, in the battle we have going on now -- perhaps the most important one of this century in the U.S. -- what will be decided is whether people like me will be able to find decent jobs, to draw Social Security and Medicare, to get Medicaid if we become decrepit and broke. The fight is over very basic things. And, some of our opponents are foolish enough to say things at town hall meetings like, "Keep your government hands off my Medicare!"
With all due respect, sir, you are a professor emeritus from MIT, pushing 82. You will never have to face the kind of destitution that middle Americans, whether they realize it or not, are facing right now. That makes it a little easier for you to position yourself slightly above the trenches.
The job of progressives is to persuade the "persuadables" that they are indeed facing destitution, a loss of basics. I intend to do that by any means necessary, including ridiculing Tea Party "shenanigans," and even voting Democratic. It beats the alternative, and if Americans don't see this soon, much will be lost.
Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.