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Centrism: Just the Right Amount of Empathy


The moment I saw this tweet I wanted to write about it. It reflects a lot of what I've been thinking about the Democratic Party for a while and ties into many of my blog topics. I'd also been planning to write about a couple of responses to my last post and then I realized how they related. If you know me you know that I am somewhat indeliberate, I sometimes realize where I'm headed and why on the way. Writing this blog exemplifies that. Essentially, I was propelled by running into my high school teachers and meeting a homeless poet and I'm only now starting to realize what's behind the (not huge) drive to write. As part of my response to the proliferation of #metoo I was finally able to voice the following in a conversation with a friend:
My return to blogging stems from convos on racial and economic justice and the desire to embrace positions and explain the reasoning publicly. A couple years ago I realized that I didn't believe in the end of racism because it would require white people ending it. Same with toxic male/rape culture and its manifestations.
I want to engage in these conversations not as an expert standing outside but as a participant who is also struggling to be better and have the courage to invite and demand others do the same. I haven't said it, and if it's not clear, I invite your participation in dialogue whether you agree with me or not. There's little point in trying to convince me of something different without new information on the basis of your opinion but I find value in knowing why people think what they do. I am working to remain respectful when I become frustrated (Full admission: I've become a part time Twitter troll. Mostly I'm there to read interesting things but occasionally I enter a conversation and someone says something I find upsetting, something dishonest, sexist, transphobic, or racist; BUT especially when they accuse me of intellectual dishonesty or digital blackface because I don't talk black enough. Those people I add to a list and from time to time hunt them down to blow up their spots; a little pleasure in a very dark world. I think I've been added to some lists. I keep finding myself blocked by people with whom I've never interacted.)

Whether you feel like me that Fragile Ego is the logical current extension of Republican principles or believe, like some Dem politicians, that he is an existential threat do you believe elected Dems' response is adequate for the situation at hand? If you were to sit down and hypothesize the appropriate level of concerted opposition for an administration animated by the desire to actually do harm to citizens do the Democrats, even to the degree possible by their weakened state, embody what you hope for in your final protector? In a recent back and forth with someone who was fine with the majority of Dems signing the 80 billion increase to defense spending while insisting Fragile Ego's ability to strike North Korea with nuclear weapons should be my primary concern, while trying to determine how that concern would manifest, I asked a question:




This morning he accused me of being a Russian troll because I insisted that his level of satisfaction was inconsistent with his purported concern. The problem for Democrats is that their centrism chooses positions relative to their opponents rather than in relation to a principles based agenda. That principles based agenda would to some degree determine how to oppose DJT instead of the pendulum swing back and forth between "maybe we can find bi-partisan solutions" and "he's a monster" that suggests a lack of any planning in anticipation of an existential threat; it all feels very "wait and see."  That principles based agenda also serves as a constant contrast to the Republican agenda centered on wide-spread harm. It's worse than malpractice that the Dems are so ineffective at mustering the support of the public in shaming the Republicans into not harming us. Republicans should be incredibly afraid for their legislative futures and so ineffective that there's no soft corporate landing awaiting them. What makes it worse is that it starts to feel like the party cares less about winning than the "wing" of the party in power. The neo-veneration of George Bush because the current shit stain has emboldened nazis even though he hasn’t yet killed millions and destabilized a region kinda says it all for me. Right and left, the need to rehabilitate the image of a war criminal because he is probably not a sexual predator suggests that our relativism might be the thing that kills us, "at least it's not an asteroid." (REMEMBER: He was the worst president ever until the current one, and the next Republican president will be that much exponentially worse. Easy message Democrats.) The degree to which we shrink our political aspirations to match the personalities and desires of our politicians is one example of our inability to even recognize our relativism. Five years ago Democrats lambasted Mitt Romney for his cozy relationship with Wall Street in the past election Democrats defended HRC for giving $675,000 speeches on Goldman Sachs. It’s one thing to profit off of your public service when you’re done with office, but incredibly different if you’re planning to go back into office. It should be noteworthy that Obama getting paid for speeches after leaving office was compared to the Bushes and Clinton but not so much to Carter. The problem is that the Dems don't have a cohesive anti-war message because the military industrial complex provides donations, and that applies to so many ways in which they might attack Fragile Ego and the Republicans. His disingenuous attacks on the pharma industry and insurance companies could be more easily parried with 'we don't like the profit incentive let's try single payer' if so many Dems didn't count those industries among their biggest donors. Out of power it's not about pushing ideas that will pass but the best possible ideas for meeting constituent needs to return to power to bring those ideas to fruition. Yet Democrats keep returning to the diminishing returns of the strategy of turning out more of its base than the Republicans. There's an Einstein quote about madness that escapes me, but I do have this:
After my last post I encountered a graphic that I thought represented the ideas I'd presented so I posted it with a link to my post on Facebook. The image:


There was some pushback from a couple college acquaintances on the image. It was along the lines of:
If a few Bernie and Jill voters held their noses and voted for Hillary, things really would be a lot better right now.
and the idea that the Dems didn't move to the center first, which the image doesn't argue either way; and along the lines that it's the far left forcing Dems to the center.  I've already addressed blaming the voters or Bernie for HRC's loss in a previous post.  No one still holding the view that it was Bernie's fault has been able to address how that works if he delivered a higher percentage of his voters than she did in 08, no one blaming voters has been able to explain the Democrats' strategy for addressing attempts at voter disenfranchisement. I had planned to address in detail their arguments seemingly in defense of centrism here but realized it doesn't matter. They were reacting to an image open to some interpretation not my well reasoned blogpost, and they weren't arguing for anything in particular just against their interpretations of the image. More importantly, their arguments didn't address my larger concern: centrism/neoliberalism is a losing electoral perspective at a time of massive economic inequality and growing poverty. I find this reflexive defense of centrism fascinating. In part I find it hard to believe that centrists exist. I know that seems like a strange thing to say. What I mean is that I can't wrap my head around the idea of making political choices relative to current positions in the narrow Overton window rather than based on specific needs  I do what most of us do when confused about the motivations of others, I draw conclusions. Some conclusions I've come to for you if you are a centrist or neoliberal:

  • You were not heavily impacted by the economic collapse of 2008
  • You didn't lose your home due to an underwater mortgage
  • You have savings and are not part of the 75-80% of Americans living check to check
  • You have solid health insurance and don't see a possibility of being bankrupted by medical costs
  • You have not found yourself unemployed or underemployed in recent years
  • You are not languishing under a mountain of debt
  • You are not a member of a public sector union or if you are you have the kind of seniority in your field that you feel secure
  • You are not a public school teacher
  • You are probably white or identified as white
  • Your life feels comfortable
  • You've lived a life that seems like a continuum.
If these do not describe you, say you've lost your home, you're a public school teacher, your health insurance sucks and you're a centrist, I'm curious what the fuck is wrong with you? 

Part of my indeliberate nature has meant living in 4 cities in 3 regions of the US and another in Europe in the last 25 years. There are a few important things I’ve learned from moving as much as I have: there’s no better process for helping you answer decisively, “Do I really need this record I like for one track I last played 6 years ago?” “Starting over” that frequently also helps make clear the evolution of the economic landscape. A guy got snippy with me when I pointed out that Bernie would be considered a liberal, not far left, in Europe. He suggested that they allowed immigration. I responded:

More precisely the US is a place where the boiling is stratified and the temperature for the frogs closest to the flame has been unbearable for some time and the comfortable frogs know this. Centrists are frogs ignoring their contemporaries suffering or saying, 'hold on, your time will come' while missing the temperature rising around themselves. To live comfortably in the US, to live at peace here requires severing yourself from your empathy; to be selectively empathetic, to pretend it could never happen to you. It has always been so, a mental/moral sleight of hand where all men are created equal on land acquired through genocide that gave the world a brutal chattel slavery, the malignant effects of which still scar our collective psyche. I'd say it's arguable that much of the forward progress of the 20th century can be traced to the New Deal placing constraints on the powers of capitalism (and strength in manufacturing post WWII). Someone with a better grasp of Depression era history would need to account for the origins of the ideas behind the New Deal but it's fair to say that Roosevelt had a critique of capitalism.
The forces of ‘organized money’ are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.” He went on: “I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match, [and] I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces have met their master.
If you are still skeptical about the need to put aside centrism and for policy born from a more effective critique of capitalism compare the varying approaches of Obama and FDR to their respective financial crisis; one incremental the other structural. 79 years after the Great Depression the economy crashed again. How long do you anticipate it will be before the next one?

If after that thought exercise you are still a centrist true believer I'd truly like to know why, but after you answer some questions I posed in my last planned post:
 please tell me the morally acceptable centrist position for addressing the unaccountable state killing of unarmed members of the black community or the acceptable number of people going bankrupt or dying every year due to medical costs.

Addendum:




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