It turns out that I have become, of all things, a print journalist again, for the first time since I was turfed out of the Moscow Times (and let go by the Bergen Record) many yonks ago. By the kind offices of editor Jeffrey St. Clair, I am now a regular columnist for the new Counterpunch monthly magazine, alongside such stalwarts as Mike Whitney, Kristen Kolb, Christopher Ketcham and St. Clair his own self. I’ve been associated, off and on, with Counterpunch for more than 10 years, so I’m well chuffed, as the Brits say, to be asked to take part in the new venture.
The latest issue — featuring a most apt, droned-up, Obamaized take on Blind Faith’s iconic album cover — is out now. (See here for details.) My first column, from earlier in the year, is below.
The Whole Damn Camel
“I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken” – Bob Dylan
Surely the re-election of Barack Obama has, at long last, put the kibosh on the hoary notion that the “Professional Left” poses any kind of threat or counterbalance to the malignant spread of empire, within and without. Slice the timeline any way you like –10 years, 20 years, 30 years – and you’ll still come up with the same sad salami: a political world shifted so far to the right, so deep in the pockets of Daddy Warbucks, General Ripper and Elmer Gantry that even Boss Tweed might blush for shame. This is what the Prof-Left has to show for its decades of working diligently within the system.
Of course, America’s hard-right turn (or reversion) to militarism abroad and Hobbesianism at home is not solely the result of the Left’s egregious failures; far from it. It’s a brew made up of many poisons. And yes, failure can be honorable at times. But there is nothing honorable about what happened to “progressives” in Campaign 2012. After years of consciousness-raising – unmasking atrocities, tracking corruption, decoding propaganda, speaking truth to power, etc. – where did the Prof-Left end up in November? Supporting a lawless, cynical, corporate-coddling warmonger who has taken the tropes of imperial sway to their logical conclusion, their final solution: the arbitrary, unchecked power of life and death, not only over the grubby barbaroi but even over his own subjects. As the scripture saith, our professional progs strained at a gnat – but swallowed the whole damn camel.
Nowhere was this betrayal of principle more naked than in the very arena which, we were told, had “transformed” politics forever, shattering the old paradigms and giving unprecedented voice and power to reform and resistance: the progressive blogosphere. Yet here the cognitive dissonance was so jarring that it hurt just to look at it. (God knows what it must felt like inside those conflicted craniums.) Here you found stern denunciations of White House death squads, drone wars, whistleblower persecutions, corporate whoredom and other outrages standing cheek-to-cheek with gushing paeans to presidential cool, testy rebuttals of Tea Party attacks, minute nit-pickings over polls and soundbites, and sage tactical advice to ensure victory for … the same man they were simultaneously slating for murder and repression. For all their “savvy” caveats and subtle nuance, their Chomskyean parsing of narrow moral choices in a brutal power system (Democrats, said one prominent progblogger, are “2% less evil,” so one must support them), in the end, the netrooters were as avid as David Axelrod in their partisan plumping for more drones, deaths, deportations, drilling, drug warring and all the other draconia wielded happily by Obama in his first four years.
This is a “movement” that has finally collapsed beneath the weight of its own incoherence. You cannot denounce state crime while supporting its perpetrators. Or rather, you can – but you will look like a fool. You will look like someone who has nothing to offer beyond a pallid, unprincipled tribal loyalty to a clapped-out party of bloodstained bagmen. And all the “ordinary people” out there whose consciousnesses you are trying to raise will sense this hollow core, this estrangement from reality. They will know you have no answers for the suffering they endure in a heartless system, that you can provide no understanding of what the system is doing to them – because you are part of the system, you speak its language, you play its games, you support its crimes, you cheerlead for its criminals. Why should they listen to you? And so the people you seek to help and enlighten turn away – to those whose certainties, however false, seem more coherent; or to ever-more frantic, frenetic diversions; or to a grim, ground-down, burnt-out , grudging acceptance of a system that seems inescapable, more like a natural order than a hell of our own making.
I certainly don’t exempt myself from this critique. (Except maybe for that 2012 criminal-supporting thing.) For 35 years now, in print and on line, I’ve been doing the same kind of consciousness-raising and outrage-recording described above. (And I must confess that for too much of that time, I also hewed to the “2 percent” line that induces moral blindness when the criminals ride donkeys, not elephants. The hardest consciousness to raise is always one’s own.) But the 2012 election seems to me to represent a milestone of sorts, or a turning point or – hell, why not? – a new paradigm. Decades of dissent – not just pallid progblogging or Beltway-liberal lobbying, but the real deal, down in the trenches, courageous, unsung, dedicated – has not slowed the imperial juggernaut, whose depredations are more brazen, more entrenched and more accepted, even celebrated, than ever. Something ain’t working. The tongues are all broken. The message is not getting through.
So what now? At this point, all I know is that I don’t know – which is, so they say, the beginning of wisdom. And that’s what I want to do in this column: begin again, re-think, see more, learn more, get away from the camel-swallowers and my own calcifications, and meet our new reality head-on.