Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Henry Giroux's Wisdom and Warnings About 'Zombie Politics' and the 2014 Midterm Elections

The Republicans will likely win control of the Senate in today's midterm elections.

I would like to tell folks to panic and that the sky is falling. The reality is that the sky had fallen down to Earth on the American body politics some time ago.

Does this mean that reasonable, sensible, and forward thinking Americans should not vote today? Of course not. The Republican Party is a political entity that has fully embraced white supremacy both on its own "merits", as a means of killing "the useless eaters", and advancing the neoliberal corporate Austerity Agenda.

The Tea Party GOP must be stopped at all costs. To borrow from the sage, wise, and genius Redd Foxx as channeled through his character Fred Sanford, I would rather be electrocuted a little bit at a time than all at once. The Republicans are offering the latter option to the working classes, poor, middle classes, and people of color; the Democrats are offering up their jolts of painful and slightly less lethal electricity a whee bit at a time.

Choose your poison. I cannot tell you which one is preferable--such a decision is a personal matter.

I will admit to possessing a certain amount of admiration for the the Tea Party GOP's strategy and tactics.


The Tea Party GOP has been able to advance a political agenda that is inspired by the end of Reconstruction and "Redemption" launched forward 140 or so years, while using a sophisticated modern media propaganda operation to simultaneously create the artificial crises of economic malaise, stagnation, and broken government while blaming Obama and the Democrats for the problems the Republicans intentionally created.

White racial animus and racism have also been central tools for the Republican Party in ginning up white support to win back the Senate by mobilizing the White base, enabling voter suppression laws, shrinking the non-white non-Republican electorate, and "niggerizing" Barack Obama in such a way to counter-intuitively provide "race neutral" cover for a years-long campaign to delegitimize him as President of the United States of America.

White supremacy is central to American politics. When and if the Democrats loose the Senate, a skillful use of white supremacist sentiments, anxieties, and appeals, will be one of the primary ways that such an outcome was achieved.

Alternatively, I offer up the following scenario. The Republican Party is a person who comes over to your home, drops their pants, squats, and then pees and poops on your white carpet. He or she then turns to you, the host, and complains that the floor is dirty--and that you keep a filthy house.

One cannot negotiate with such a deranged person: the only solution is to kick them out of your home--swiftly, with intentional energy and great enthusiasm.

I often discuss American politics using the narrative framework and metaphors offered by professional wrestling. In that framework, the 2014 midterm elections are a combination of the "blow off match" and "doing business on the way out". Obama is still the champion. But he is now working in a full on "heel" territory (as he has been for most of his tenure in office) and will soon be leaving office.

Politics as professional wrestling remains an accurate description for American politics.

However, the great scholar and cultural critic Professor Henry Giroux has an alternative metaphor for the broken, moribund, and dysfunctional American politics of the Age of Austerity, Cruelty, and Neoliberalism that good citizens ought to also consider.

Giroux has sharply observed that America is beset by "zombie politics". His recent interview with Bill Moyers (and also many posts on Truthout) are frighteningly cogent, sharp, and clear exercises in truth-telling about the empirical realities of American politics in the 21st century.

Perhaps, there is a space for "zombie professional wrestling politics" in the theoretical and empirical frameworks used to describe and analyze American politics in the Age of Austerity, Neoliberalism, and Cruelty?

What are your predictions for today's elections? Is all hope lost if the Tea Party GOP has control of both chambers of Congress?


kokanee said...

F#@k Chauncy — You are advocating (not very subtly) a lesser of two evils strategy or the evil of two lessers. ;) The Democratic Party is not our friend. Let it die. Or reform with the Republican Party. ;)

Re: "To borrow from the sage, wise, and genius Redd Foxx as channeled through
his character Fred Sanford, I would rather be electrocuted a little bit
at a time than all at once."

I would rather be shot in the head than death by a thousand cuts.

Only a revolution in the US can avert runaway global warming. Really. Let me ask you this, if we had proportional representation (PR) in the US where if a party got 10% of the votes it gets 10% of the seats regardless if it wins any actual races or not) would you vote for, say, the We Are Respectable Negroes Party or the Black Agenda Party? In our fractured culture, PR is something that all fractured groups could possibly agree on. Constitutional amendment anyone?

It is my opinion that we should vote our conscience.

Justin M. White said...

Fear has been empirically shown to lower a person's ability to think critically. It's why Manicheanism and other aspects of Zoroastrian belief found their way into the largest religions in the world. It makes the propagation of those beliefs much more efficient. But I don't believe this was done on purpose: it's simply a process of natural selection.

In the same way, yeah there are the professional wrestlers, like Frank Luntz (aka Syndrome from the Incredibles), but I think the zombie politics works better for the kind of party machinations we're looking at. The 2010 midterms swung hard Republican because of the Tea Party phenomenon. I don't think that was a political ploy, I think it was an emergent phenomenon, one that, like OWS, fed and perpetuated itself on a lot of genuine anxieties.

In the same way, the seeming inevitability of the Republicans taking the Senate is yet another emergent phenomenon, this one caused by a two party system. Republicans can take the Senate despite a Tea Party movement this time because the party system is just that efficient at playing on the structure of the federal government. But to confuse my own argument: I think the fear-mongering in the media over Ebola, immigration, ISIS, etc., is probably a mixture of both. The timing isn't accidental, but the people pushing fear are acting "naturally", in that I think they're perpetuating their actual anxieties. This has the effect, of course, of making fear-driven voters less critical of the actual policies, which allow them to perpetuate themselves. This might be your elusive "political zombie politics".

Sorry this post has gotten a bit long but I wanted to share something else:

I was in Georgia last week for a job interview, and, having lived in Florida my whole life, it was somewhat shocking to see the vestiges of the Old South. Big Confederate flags on the side of the interstate didn't surprise me that much. That happens in Florida too. But the plantation home Shell stations? I thought they were just old landmarks that had been commercialized. They were not: they are built to design and there are several of them. The anti-abortion billboards were expected, but the plain old "Hey btw Jesus is a thing" billboards every half mile were odd. I did the best I could to avoid political ads, and in the hotels and bars I was in, they were usually muted. But there was no real discussion of policy from what I could gather. "So and so is sending jobs to China." "Whatshisface wants to be the Agricultural Commissioner, and look he has cute kids." All of these things seemed like cultural inertia. Georgia is consolidating its universities, defunding its own official archives (effectively destroying history), and I'm sure has some horrendous poverty rate, among other issues. None of this was discussed, nor would any of your readers here expect it to be. There's a lot of imagery and manipulation, but I expect as money continues to flood into politics and political ads, we can only expect that inertia to continue, stumbling along with its entrails hanging out for everyone to see.

DanF said...

While I agree that both parties are pretty broken, I disagree that we should break the Democratic party. There are plenty of corporatists and foreign policy hawks on Team D, but it also has the largest caucus in congress: The Progressive Caucus. Democrats also appoint and confirm better judges and are not hell bent on Christian Sharia. You do not want to live in a country with a failed federal government - which is the goal of the Tea Party.

Primary with more progressive Democrats where the district supports it and accept what you can get in more conservative districts. You have to remember that you live in the United States. We have a death row. We love our guns and only take two weeks of vacation each year. We are barbarians.

Justin M. White said...

And right on cue, there's reports coming out of voting machines down in North Carolina this morning, 40k missing voter registrations in Georgia (which could decide a Senate race), and faulty voting machines swapping votes from the Dem. to the Rep. candidate in NC.


kokanee said...

What do you call a rich northerner? A Democrat.
The Progressive Movement is a PR Front for Rich Democrats

Time to think big...

The Victor

If you think you are beaten, you are,
If you think you dare not, you don't.
If you like to win, but you think you can't,
It is almost a cinch you won't.

If you think you'll lose, you're lost,
For out in the world we find,
Success begins with a fellow's will.
It's all in the state of mind.

If you think you are outclassed, you are,
You've got to think high to rise,
You've got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.

Life's battles don't always go
To the stronger or faster man.
But soon or late the man who wins,
Is the man who thinks he can.
--C. W. Longenecker

chauncey devega said...

Your last link reminds me of one of the teaser for Star Wars for some reason.


This whole thing is a mess. On one hand I too have been socialized by this society and as a product of the Black Freedom Struggle to speak the vote, vote, vote mantra. But on the other hand I know better. Sigh. What to do?

chauncey devega said...

Shrink the electorate, demobilize voters, intimidate, that is the GOP formula. A white supremacist wrote about how the GOP can win with a shrinking white vote several years ago...the public face of the White Right are now using his strategy without attribution.

chauncey devega said...

Free market fundamentalism, religious fundamentalism, neoliberalism, austerity, and white supremacy. That is the recipe for the Tea Party GOP to win. Few folks are brave enough to call it out. We are living in very troubling times.

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

I think some Senate races will be runoffs, meaning we won't know the final results for months. But, what is most discouraging is how a Democrat like Udall in Colorado could be in a tight race with a Tea Party moron who does not believe in climate change and wants to sell off public lands to corporations. And Grimes in Kentucky not being able to educate voters that Obamacare saves lives in KY and McConnell wants to take away their healthcare. Why is it so fucking hard for Democrats to run on solid programs? It is like they don't have spines. But, you are right--the GOP leaders, Fox News, and Christian broadcasting have used racist tactics to create Obama the Un-American Other--the secret Muslim, the secret terrorist pal, the Marxist, the dictator, leader of the Czar government, the Anti-Christian, the Black Man Who Hates White People, the leader of a government that is going to exterminate Christians and Patriots, right after he seizes their guns. This is what we get after six years of non-stop delegitimizing a President and a Party and the only response from the Dems is to play nice and hope for compromises. We need the Democratic Party to campaign as a strong Social Democratic Party.

Gable1111 said...

In modern times the out of power party has won congress in every off year election, except 1998 when Clinton was President, and 1986 during the time of Reagan. So I don’t see the tea-bagging GOP right wing confederates winning as indication of anything but a reflection of the historical cycles of our system, and certainly not a mandate.

But, given that during the time of Obama, unemployment has been drastically reduced, more people have health care, and taxes have not, contrary to the lies of the right, been increased, people should have more reasons for supporting this President. That they are not, we can give thanks to the GOP, who have become the fool whisperers of an increasingly dumb electorate, many of whom have no clue as to what is going on, even on a rudimentary level. And honorable mention goes to their propaganda arm, the mainstream media.

And the democrats provide little hope on that front. Remember the Harlem Globetrotters? They used to travel with a team called the Washington Generals, whose sole purpose was to not just get beat, but look foolish and pathetic in doing so. The democratic party is increasingly the Washington Generals to the GOP's Globetrotters, when it comes to politics.

I suspect that the GOP will take the senate, and for the next two years Obama will be snowed under by a flurry of crazy bills coming to his desk to veto. I would predict at least 2/3rds of those bills will be some form of ACA repeal, which Obama will veto of course. Not having a veto proof majority, the GOP will settle for blaming the President for not doing his job, because he refuses to sign our crazy bills, and these lies and excuses they will then use as the basis for impeachment. Like with Clinton, there won’t be enough votes to convict, and they know it. But this politics of harassment and racism will suffice for them and their base. And they will not be satisfied unless there is impeachment.

The GOP has shown what a minority can do in the senate in gumming up the works, but don’t expect the senate dems to have the balls to use the same tactics the GOP did. Look for them to abandon Obama and force him to sign some of these bills, but also look for Obama, who I believe still has a hard on for “bipartisanship” and will sign some willingly, any way in that spirit. Then again, there are some pretty nefarious things Obama is for, like the Trans Pacific Partnership, and maintaining the secrecy of the CIA report on torture, that he will be glad there is a GOP to help him get these things.

Aat the end of the day, both dems and republicans all feed at the same trough of money. The only difference is the democrats are at least willing to kick out a few crumbs here and there. Don’t forget Obama’s obsession with the so called “grand bargain” where he has relished a bipartisan agreement with the GOP to be the first democratic president to preside over “fixing” (read: privatization and ultimate destruction) social security. That is all about freeing up public funds to the greedy clutches of Wall Street, where instead of getting taxed to death, it will be subjected to the death of a thousand fees and commissions.

The Democratic Party is corrupted and cahsiered for sure, however I am not of the mind that we can afford to “vote our conscience” and by default give it all to the GOP straightaway. The GOP spends damn near all their waking hours figuring out how to prevent voters from voting. That’s because they know the majority of the public, by far, does not agree with their policies. They cannot win on the merits, so they cheat. They know the power of the vote. What we need is a massive voter education project, one that can get the poor and working folk to realize that things can be different if everyone voted, and voted responsibly. We can’t outspend them, but we can out vote them.

Can it be done? Can people be mobilized around their own common interests to get more people to the polls? I don’t know.

Justin M. White said...

Here's the effect today of those unprocessed voter registrations in Georgia:


chauncey devega said...

That is the rub. The historical--what we know about off year midterms with the fact that a black man is president and all of the variables related to it. I think the Dems loss will be a story of "both and".

It will be interesting to see how the smart people who do math in political science journals will try to reconcile the voting models and predictions once we see how this plays out.

kokanee said...

Who knows? No one wants to be a pawn in someone else's game.

kokanee said...

Re: "Sigh. What to do?"

Who knows? I share your frustration, and anger. For me, there is also a real sense of urgency.

SW said...

Can people be mobilized around their "common" interests? As Giroux points out in the embedded clip, the idea of common interests has been made into something that is considered pathological, making its existence less probable.

Perhaps the only reason I can think of as to why the concept of our common interests has been so deliberately sabotaged is that its opposite, "self-interest", works to isolate us from one another. United we stand, divided we fall. Why do you think free-marketeers are so virulently anti-union? Union's challenge the free marketeers ability to amass economic power on an industrial scale, so unions have been destroyed.

The civic approximation of a union is common interest. Common interests centered around social institutions, the environment, culture, etc are a threat to economic domination, so our common interest must be destroyed. Part of that destruction is the incessant peddling of "self-interest" as a virtue and a key plank of the free-marketeers political party.

Sadly the concept of "self-interest" blends quite smoothly into concepts of racial animosity, and is quite seductive to those who have assumed a defensive posture in the context of austerity.

joe manning said...

We'll be dealing with zombie politics, psychological illiteracy, and expanded scapegoating but it will be painfully obvious that the R's are trying to pass off stonewalling and bullying as governing.

DanF said...

FWIW - I'm all for representative government, but am against democracy. I think elections should be handled by lottery. Congress should be expanded to 1500 reps, terms staggered over four years. Two years junior congressman, two years senior. Senators are vetted by vote of the congressional delegation of the state (to help weed out the assholes). The president can be elected as he/she currently is, but only with government funding. Currently we only have a representative government if you're a millionaire. A government by lottery would be truly representative. You might occasionally end up with a redneck representing a deep blue district for four years, but rest assured that that is balanced by radical green on Wall Street. What's more, I'm willing to bet that your average redneck would feel much more responsible to their community than the elected person even if they were at odds politically.

The Counter Punch link reads like a rant with no documented evidence. It has a framework of accuracy, but cherry picks evidence to bolster it's claim and excludes counter-examples of real reform and progressive action. There were several moments while reading it where I found myself saying, "Umm ... no. That's not how I remember it." One example. MoveOn started during the Clinton administration. They directly solicited their members after Clinton left office as to what issues should drive the organization rather than disband. It wasn't a Soros cabal. The idea that NetRoots Nation is an echo chamber of the wealthy is pure cognitive dissonance. Netroots was initially driven by DailyKos. The bloggers and sites that continue to make up NetRoots have very little to nothing to do with establishment Democrats, Wall Street, banksters, etc. Attend a NetRoots Nation event and you'll see it's very much community driven - ordinary people - and yet the author thinks of it as the echo chamber for the powerful. That's simply nuts. How can you be an echo chamber if the grass roots isn't in agreement with your banker and Wall Street goals (and if your grassroots are in agreement, then isn't that simply where your party is)? Sometimes there is no conspiracy. I'd rather work hard to move my party further to the left, then try and start from scratch. Others can start from scratch if they wish - it may even help make my job easier.

kokanee said...

A lottery for elected officials is genius, pure genius.

As for moving the Democratic Party to the left - it needs pressure from a rival party from the left. Instead, it keeps moving to the right. As long as it accepts corporate donations, it's going to be beholden to big money. They are complicit in the loss of any democratic ideals. And it gets worse every election. At what point do we see enough?

SW said...

Is a lottery system really fair for all Americans, etc? What are the odds that a black person will get to actually vote, given our proportion of the population? Especially given the tendency to create black felons that are often times denied the right to vote.

Gable1111 said...

You are correct about the devaluation of common interest. And that’s a big problem, as people tend to think in those terms. I’ve heard people say things like, I didn’t have a problem getting my mortgage refinanced, and therefore there is no widespread problem. Or, I don’t ever get pulled over by the cops, so how can it be the cops are out of control? People are conditioned to think in self-interest only. It’s so entrenched I don’t know if it can be overcome.

But this was all by design.

I am old enough to remember during the Reagan years, the focus was on the individual. Reagan himself was the rugged individualist cowboy (imagine that), and that bull crap was romanticized. Forget JFK and “ask not…” It was all about what the government is doing with “your tax dollars.” Bush II crystallized it even further with “it’s your money.” This fits in with the right wing/libertarian concept of doing for self and to hell with “we’re all in this together.” Government can’t do anything for anybody because when it does, it’s using “my money” and I don’t want “my money” going towards Except, of course, when it comes time to fight a war, then all those people who a rat’s ass could be given about as “individuals” now are expected to make the ultimate sacrifice “for the nation.”

Of course, individualism has dual meanings, and depending on whom the beneficiary is. A billionaire can crash the economy and be made whole by my tax dollars. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if I am one of these homeowners who got fleeced by that same billionaire, then I am a moocher to expect the government to do for me what it did for that billionaire. I should “pull myself up by my own bootstraps.” Even this very simple expression of the common interest and its common because for most people in this situation and many others (unemployment, student loans, etc) you need look no further than your neighbor to know that it’s not just you. And yet people are conditioned to the extent they say things like they want to repeal the ACA and go back to the way it was before, even though for many of them you won’t be able to have access to health care if you have a preexisting condition.

Things are going to hell in a hand basket for many reasons, but one of them is the majority of the voters don’t give a damn. They’re too distracted by trying to “keep a roof over their heads” and “put some food on their families,” following mindless reality characters “Honey Boo-Boo” and other nonsense and then come election time sit back and complain about how nothing changes. Nothing changes because they won’t change.

In any case I’m azz out on solutions. If the media was behind it things could change. Again, telling my age: I recall how when we were little and my dad used to take us on road trips, the highways and expressways were absolutely filthy, as people would just routinely throw trash out their car windows. Then they had those public service campaigns to stop littering, and although not perfect, the roads were improved. A public service campaign could do the same thing for voting, if done right, however the media works for the powers that not only do not want to see people, but want to keep them as uninformed an ignorant as possible.

Gable1111 said...

Yes, and I left out the race aspect but no doubt, if you were to do a statistical analysis of this, you could probably account for the fact of the President being black and the impact that has.

Look at Mary Landrieu. She told the matter of fact truth about the South and the President's approval rating, and that it is because he is black. And they jumped all over her for that. But its the truth and it has impacted the races.

SW said...

The whole thing does seem too far gone.

One thing that does give me a smidgen of comfort is that power has a tendency to overreach. At some point the predominate power structure (not 100% sure that's been identified), will go too far...again. Sort of like Wall Street's mortgage backed security implosion. Out of that chaos there was an opportunity to change course. Progressives, partially aided by Dems sort of half-swung and completely missed the opportunity. But there will be others. When that next, inevitable, overreach occurs perhaps there will be an opportunity to organize and actually change course toward something more just.

Of course we don't have to wait for an overreach...

Gable1111 said...

Well keep in mind the "tea party" is not a grass roots movement. Those loons were mobilized by the benefit of millions of dollars they could have never have pulled together on their own. That money came from wealthy interests like the Kochs and others who saw the value of having them as proxies for their own real agendas.

The nexus of this is the democrats. They are the logical answer as to who would call the truth of this out. And, given the electorate, you would think they'd benefit from that.

But the reason they won't is the same people that pay for the tea baggers buses and tri corner hats, are the same people, in many respects, that are funding the democrats, and if they are not getting money from them now, they don't want to do anything that might jeopardize their chances of getting it, like telling those truths.

Gable1111 said...

I hear you on voting, but I can't think of any other option than to say to hell with it all. But when you do that, they've won.

They got us in a real trick bag.

Gable1111 said...

I've heard of the lottery idea. The problem is the money in politics. We need to have strict public financing of campaigns, and lobbying involving the exchange of anything of value should be called what it is, a bribe, and subject to criminal prosecution.

kokanee said...

Re: "Is a lottery system really fair for all Americans, etc?"

Maybe, maybe not. We could have nominations for each party done by lottery and then the people vote. We could increase the number of representatives in the House 10 fold to get a better statistical sample. The possibilities are endless.

Buddy H said...

I voted earlier in the day. Nothing out of the ordinary in the experience. I signed my name and was given a ballot. Everything went smoothly; nothing weird.

Later in the day, I walked back to the polling place with my wife. I waited in an outer room while she voted. When she came out, I asked her if everything went smoothly. She said while she signed her name, a woman sitting next to the election volunteer asked the volunteer "Is she on the list?" The volunteer said "no" and my wife was given her ballot.

I wish I'd walked in with her. I would have asked "exactly what list are you talking about?" When we got home, I asked her again what she thought the list might be. She had already forgotten the incident. I'm still running it over and over in my mind. What list?

My wife told me that's why some people suffer from ptsd and others don't. People who constantly replay events over and over, versus people who let it go and move on. My wife tends to move on, I obsess over every slight.

Next election day, I will be standing right next to her when she signs in. I want to know if someone asks if she's on a list.

Miles_Ellison said...

Until voters make money an issue in these campaigns, American politicians will continue to be given the tools to build the handbasket in which this nation is being transported to Hell. The corruption of politics by money will not be stopped by legislative fiat or limited by the courts. It has to be blunted by informed voters who refuse to support any politician who takes money from corporations, billionaires, or millionaires. Don't see that happening.

The Sanity Inspector said...

There was some history made last night, that should be noted. Mia Love from Utah became the first black Republican woman elected to Congress, Tim Scott of South Carolina became the first black senator from a Southern state since the Hayes administration. Elise Stefanik of New York became the youngest ever woman elected to Congress. And Scott Brown is the first candidate for Congress to be defeated by two different women in two different states in two different elections.

Buddy H said...

Elise Stefanik, a protege of Karl Rove (I was blessed with many of his american crossroads commercials for her). Elise was deliberately mysterious about her plans for social security/medicare, simply assuring us they'd be "fixed" but she worked during the Bush administration trying to privatize them.

But I'm supposed to say "yay, she's a girl! And the youngest ever!"?

In one of her commercials, she said her goal is to repeal obamacare. I hope my son can stay on our plan once she's done with us. He's 22.

chauncey devega said...

Sick times. A black man is elected to the Senate under the banner of a white supremacist political party. A black woman whose politics are toxic a swell is elected to Congress. Someone is playing an existential joke on the American people.

The Sanity Inspector said...

Yes, there's no reason to think that these politicians will be any more or less principled than any other congresscritters. But, if they were Democrats, they'd probably be on the cover of the next issue of TIME, with articles about how they are America's dawning minority-majority future.

Justin M. White said...

Here's more zombie politics, with a bit of "useless eaters" rhetoric thrown in:


"While Fort Lauderdale has been quick to paint the
new laws as intended to protect the homeless by directing them to stabler services, other proponents of the law were more blunt. Prominent backer Cal Deal told the New Times Broward-Palm Beach that he thought keeping the homeless hungry would force them to pull up their bootstraps and work harder.

"The people feeding them are enablers, and they
enable the homeless by making their lives easier," Deal said. "Hunger is a big motivator. Are people more likely to seek help when they're hungry or when they're fed and happy?""

Courtney H. said...

These laws are disgusting! Here is a moving, thoughtful story about a homeless who recently died in an accident:


Buddy H said...

But, if they were Democrats, they'd probably be on the cover of the next issue of TIME, with articles about how they are America's dawning minority-majority future.

What makes you think they won't be? Right now (Ayn) Rand Paul is on the cover of TIME, described as the most interesting man in politics.

fred ceely said...

As times get worse we might see more of that "I'm not with those people!" stuff.