Posted by: Doug Henwood | September 6, 2009

Delusions on the left

So it’s looking like the buzz around the Internet left is that Van Jones’s ouster is all about race. No doubt that’s part of the story—but does anyone really think the reaction from the right would have been much different had Obama appointed a white ex-Maoist to the job? For God’s sake, the right thinks cap and trade, the most conservative approach to the carbon crisis you could imagine, is a socialist plot to expropriate property, just like Obama’s scheme to subsidize the health insurance industry (aka “reform”) is socialized medicine.

Obama will keep ceding ground to them, because he wants to run a capital-friendly regime, but it will never be enough. At what point will people stop blaming things like the failure of white green organizations to fight a racist attack and start admitting to Obama’s loyalty to the deep structure of American capitalism?

The right is often nutty, delusionally so, but they also have a set of principles that they really believe in and they fight tirelessly for them. Yes, their hatred of Obama is partly fueled by race, but it’s also of a piece with the history of the American right. Hofstadter, in The Paranoid Style, quotes a woman as lamenting on Eisenhower’s re-election, “Four more years of socialism.” The teabaggers and town hallers are the same thing, 53 years later.

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Responses

  1. Obama has been deeply wedded to the ruling class for a very long time. Real radicals are not allowed to move up through the Democratic Party, and do not get early and enthusiastic endorsements from Zbigniew Brzezinski.

  2. Is there even a left in the US?

  3. And, for that matter.

    Considering that Bush the Lesser’s advisors were drawn from a camp of ex-Trotskyites, I’m not sure that one can rightly say that the Maoism alone did Jones in.

    If there’s a rational principle there, where right-wing former Marxists are okay if they’re in a Republican White House, but center-right-wing former Maoists aren’t, the only one I can decipher is “win no matter the hypocrisy,” whatever “win” means. They’re fighting for delusions–and the teabaggers are the poor man’s regiment recruited for this rich man’s fight, and have been since who knows.

  4. If Eisenhower’s a socialist than I have no idea what the hell I am.

    The proper response to the rights attack on Jones as a socialist should have been “hell yes I am a socialist, socialism rocks”. When they start running away from what the right tries to label them the Dems always get into trouble. However, I have no illusions nor am I rootin’ for the Dems as Jones, and all the rest, sold out the left long ago.

    Also, are we to read into the mass return of red baiting as some sort of sign that the ruling classes hegemony might actually be cracking? You have to maintain some sense of hope, don’t you?

  5. The right gives teabagging a bad name.

  6. In the interest of calling things what they are, I must point out that the Right doesn’t engage in “tea-bagging”; they do “tea parties”.

    Lefties call “tea party” people “tea-baggers” and go off the tangent making jokes that have nothing to do with what’s happening in front of their faces, all the while thinking they are adressing the actual phenomena. Talk about cognitive dissonance!

    A word of advice, when you start making “tea party” jokes, you start getting closer to understanding what’s really going on.

  7. Wow, “At what point will people stop blaming things like the failure of white green organizations to fight a racist attack and start admitting to Obama’s loyalty to the deep structure of American capitalism?” is a direct disagreement at me. I feel honored, and will respond in kind.

    I think many whites across the ideological spectrum truly have cognitive dissonance when it comes to racism, causing racismblindness. Whitelibs and whiteprogs seem to disagree with whitecons and whiteneocons only that whitelibs & whiteprogs think it’s sometimes somewhat about racism, but not this time and not that much, whereas whitecons and whiteneocons say they don’t even see race, never mind racism. Where do you fall?

    1st, No one but white naysayers are saying it’s “all about race,” so save that straw man for your backyard.

    2nd, many people of color are saying it’s about racism, not about race. You are experienced enough to understand that difference, so either you muddied that purposefully, or you need a few sessions with Tim Wise.

    3rd-Let me clarify generally–it’s obvious the right uses racism to drive wedges into what could be liberal and even progressive alliances. It does that by relying on whites and the orgs and pundits that represent them (ahem) willingness to allow things to happen to POC that they would at least protest if not prevent from happening to whites.

    4rth-now specifically -if “had Obama appointed a white ex-Maoist to the job” this white green, unless they are totally unstrategic (and my piece leaves out that possibility as well) they likely would have responded quicker, because those attacks would have been on the content of that white green’s proposals. By attacking Van through appealing to whites’ racism the right avoids even mentioning the content of his proposals. and since anything but the most explicit forms of physically violent racism falls outside the purview of even white anti-capitalists like you they win.

    Many progressive people of color have no interest in discussing changing the ‘deep structure of American capitalism’, and worldwide capitalism for that matter, with white progressives because we’ve experienced y’all’s racismblindness, which like many diseases, seems to leave you susceptible to what appears to be a highly contagious loss of cognitive and strategic abilities. This time it’s not only paralyzed the entire white green establishment, but left you building straw men and conflating race with racism.

  8. Considering that Bush the Lesser’s advisors were drawn from a camp of ex-Trotskyite

    This really isn’t true. I am aware that there is a tendency to interpret neoconservatism as a mutation of Trotskyism, but not one of Bush jr’s advisers had a background in that tradition. Some have a background in liberal or social democratic politics, but they are as likely to have been lifelong conservatives. David Frum was an NDP member at a young age, but hardly a Trot. Perle was, and apparently remains, a Henry Jackson Democrat. Paul Wolfowitz was trained by Strauss, and – contrary to some rumours – was never a Trotskyist. Doug Feith was educated by Richard Pipes in right-wing anticommunism. Libby was a Dukakis Democrat before switching. Abrams was a liberal anticommunist, writing for The New Leader before becoming involved with Moynihan and Jackson. Robert Kagan has always been a Republican, and his father was a Democrat before converting. Some of those who are occasionally described as neoconservatives are in fact old-fashioned right-wing nationalists (Bolton, Rumsfeld, Cheney) who never had any origin on the left.

    While there was a generation of neoconservatives which included ex-Trotskyists, most of those had already been through decades of Cold War liberalism before formulating neoconservative ideas, and none of the remaining figures from that generation were ever, to my knowledge, Bush’s advisers.

  9. If you want to take white environmentalists (of myriad stripes) to task for their racism, a more fruitful line of attack is challenging them on their Malthusian presumptions about Global South “overbreeding,” rather than their failure to defend a corporate liberal/green capitalist social climber like Van Jones.

    And “teabagging” guffaws are puerile…

  10. ID,
    i’ve done that was well. it’s not an either/or. there’s a long history of critiquing white greens–see the 1st and 2nd national people of color environmental leadership summits, various letters from EJ leaders to the big 8 and big 0 white green groups, and the response to the inane ‘death of environmentalism,’ including my own critique of it.

    by the way, social climbers sounds kind of like uppity. you may not think so, but just thought i’d let you know how i felt.

  11. “Social climber” may be poor word choice on my part, and worse, crosses the line into personal slander rather than honing in on political critique.

    The point is, perhaps it was matter of principled “pragmatism,” but quite some time ago Van Jones consciously entered the world of liberal philanthropic patron and alliance-builder with green capitalists. And while the EJ movement’s tirade against the Big Ten orgs was on point, they haven’t been innocent of such collaborations themselves. (Of course the EJ movement is heterogeneous not monolithic…)

  12. As I understand it, the main charges against Jones was that he had campaigned for alleged copkiller Mumia, which means he was once pretty hardcore and that he “signed a petition in 2004 questioning whether the Bush administration had allowed the terrorist attacks of September 2001 to provide a pretext for war in the Middle East.”

    That’s not that long ago. And the Reichstag fire trope is pretty hardcore too. For the right, these signify he – and Hussein Obama by extension – are “anti-American.” Plus he’s black.

    Obama got started as a community organizer like Jones and for me it signifies that Obama will work with people like him, whatever they’re background, if they get results. And that’s a good thing even if they dumped him to prevent giving the rightwing any fodder.

    So you had a guy in the White House who flirted with conspiracy theories about Sept. 11th and now the rightwing believes Obama is trying to indoctrinate schoolchildren into socialism. Where as Laura Bush said, he’s just trying to inspire kids to stay in school and work hard. And maybe it’s corny and patronizing but he probably did inspire some black kid somewhere.

    I’m just looking forward to Free Market Day, September 15th, and all the soulsearching it will (or won’t) inspire. The right’s looking at a Palin/Cheney ticket so Obama will probably get 8 years and so I’ll wait until we’re through that to apologize to Doug for the Obamabots’ naivete.

  13. I am still flabergasted by the commentary coming from the liberal center-left about all of this. There was a post on Commondreams.org this morning that tried to say that the whole issue of health care reform was a racist plot aganst Obama. This is the same delusional thinking that led many to believe that if we only put a black man in the white house all of our problems, from a revamped foreign policy to the rule by corporations and banks, would go away. They haven’t and yet they still try to blame racism for all of the problems, which have as much to do with class in the US right now. The health care resistance is the result of and a clear sign of the class power that many still refuse to see. As if the Clinton’s weren’t red-baited when they tried to push for single-payer.

    The liberal center-left in the US continues to hold tight to the utopian dream/ideology of a capitalist system that can be clensed of the bad elements. When this utopian dream/ideology comes under pressure from reality they still turn to race and the left falls over itself trying to agree with them.

  14. Brad — “As if the Clinton’s weren’t red-baited when they tried to push for single-payer.” — The Clintons never pushed for single payer. They pushed AGAINST single payer, disallowing any mention of it, just as Obama has done.

  15. Emma, the Clintons were for single payer before they were against it.


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