Taking Options Off the Table
by Matt Stoller, Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 07:32:35 AM EDT
I've had a bit of bloggers block recently, which is very unusual. I haven't slept much and the anxiety that usually adds to my mixture of outrage and urgency has gone into overdrive. It got so bad that I was incredibly cynical that I didn't even care that there was a debate last night, until about fifteen minutes before when I thought 'Hey, this democracy thing is pretty cool. THAT's why I'm doing this.' It was a reminder of why I started working on the internet and in politics, five years ago. That's five years, which is more than a sixth of my life. Wow. And a lot of us have been through the same experiences with this entirely different information stream, interpreting events outside of the Beltway narrative.
I think it's fair to say that at this point there's a movement which I'm going to tentative call the 'Open Left', a movement that was not represented on that stage last night except in shards from various candidates. What's strange is that the cultural disconnect between us and the elite has not really closed. Yeah, there's an internet guy as a senior strategist in these campaigns, but the reality is that John Edwards is the only candidate making moves towards populism, and that's because he's using a traditional labor model which happens to synchronize well with the netroots.
Let me give you an example of this disconnect. The line of 'take no options off the table' is code for war with Iran. Presidents don't preface trade talks with 'we're taking no options off the table', they only preface delicate international situations in which war or even nuclear war is something they're considering. That line is also indelibly wrapped up with the 'war on terror' frame, which is part of a long series of stupid wars on concepts. It's also wrapped up in the notion that debates like this have winners and losers, that it's all about sporting statistics instead of ideas and public debate.
Last night, after being bothered by Kucinich and Gravel, Obama finally said "I'm not going to nuke anyone". As weird as it sounds, that is a change in position. He took that option off the table. And good for him for doing that. Nuclear war is insane. But prior to this statement, it was on the table. I don't know if any of the others have repudiated this notion, which suggests just how broken our national dialogue really is. The war on terror frame is a false metaphor, as George Soros points out. Obama, like all the candidates, know that they will not use nuclear weapons against another country, but they are also using language suggesting that it is a possibility. I imagine Clinton is in this boat as well, though of course she was firm and polite or something which is what's important in a debate (wuuhh?).
I'm with Scarecrow at Firedoglake. The people on that stage were not leaders, and except for Gravel (who isn't a credible candidate) they had very little understanding of the deep betrayal felt by the public in the last seven years. And that means, as usual, that it's up to us to organize around this ignorance on the part of our elites.
Part of our job is to create and broaden the political involvement of the non-activist world. Two blogs - Grist and Boingboing - have struck me as particularly ripe for this kind of work. Grist has chimed in on my post on cap and trade versus a carbon tax with a 'you're late but welcome to the party post', and Boingboing is trading off its large expert credibility to go after an RIAA shill.
These non-political blogs are political, these non-political networks are political. And they should start learning about politics and approaching it with respect. I am never going to be as knowledgeable about sustainable agriculture as Grist, but I know something about polling and politics and I am about to join a CSA. I dislike the current extremist copyright law, but I am no expert in the legislation necessary to move it. It's time that these non-political groups start using the tools developed to help them engage - Actblue, for one - and engage deeply in the political process.
There is no reason Grist or Boingboing couldn't create a set of talking points, or a plank for the Democratic National Committee, or a platform for candidates to use, or do polling on their issues so that politicians learn to understand the issue. There is no reason they couldn't put up a candidate slate, and channel money against candidates who screw them over. But they aren't doing it yet, and moving them and everyone in the country with political needs to that point where they are engaging is part of what we have to figure out how to move to.
The other problem is that respectable and intelligent pundits are willing to trust our candidates based on their sense of judgment without attacking the larger intellectual rationale for Bush's existence. I know that none of these candidates will do anything nearly as crazy as Bush, but unless we firmly destroy the intellectual foundations of the national security state, there will be another Bush. That's why Nixon/Ford was succeeded by Carter, who was then succeeded by Reagan. This has happened before and it will happen again if we are not firmly opposed to the metaphors and frames that our candidates breathe like air.
Because right now, when Obama says he's not going to nuke anyone, he's changing his policy stance. And good for him on that, but we're still living in crazy town.
PS. I didn't catch who raised their hand and who didn't when the moderator asked the question about who believes we are in a war on terror. Did Edwards?Update [2007-4-27 12:21:4 by Matt Stoller]:: An Edwards staffer told me that Edwards did not raise his hand at the war on terror question. That strikes me as a rather large and substantive difference between the candidates.