A new film and books about organizer and strategist Bayard Rustin bring attention to the crucial, hidden tradition of practical radicalism.
This election season is full of laments about how polarized American politics has become. Extreme right-wing Republicans claim they can’t see eye to eye with extreme left-wing Democrats. Politicians are out of step with the people. An elite media establishment serves only its own interests and has given up on reporting the truth.
Sadly, the lamenters are right.
If only the three big forces of American politics would faithfully serve their constituents, the 2012 election could be about real choice. Instead, all three forces — the Republican party, and Democratic party, and the elite media — have come to serve only themselves, and by extension the corporations and rich individuals who pay their bills.
To start with the Republicans, the Republican party is nowhere near as extreme as most committed Republicans. Rank-and-file Republicans’ top issues are, in order, to end women’s right to an abortion, to fire all government employees, to keep all sex offenders in jail forever, and to invade any country suspected of “hating America.” The Republican attitude toward climate change is “bring it on.” Republican leaders are far too tame for most active Republicans. That’s why Mitt Romney had such a hard time in the primaries.
Democrats, on the other hand, really do hold extreme left-wing views. The vast majority of active Democrats want universal government-provided health insurance — now. Grassroots Democrats want an end to high pay for bankers and executives. Democratic unionists want the closed shop. Nearly all Democrats believe in people’s rights over their own bodies and our shared human responsibility to preserve the natural world. Many committed Democrats even believe that white America should pay financial reparations for slavery.
A real election in 2012 would see these two visions of the future pitted against each other, a Republican vision of a heavily-armed Dodge City America of gun-toting vigilante lunatics battling it out for supremacy over the Earth versus a Democratic vision of tree-hugging bleeding hearts who want everyone to live together in fairness and harmony.
[pullquote]A real election in 2012 would see these two visions of the future pitted against each other, a Republican vision of a heavily-armed Dodge City America of gun-toting vigilante lunatics battling it out for supremacy over the Earth versus a Democratic vision of tree-hugging bleeding hearts who want everyone to live together in fairness and harmony.[/pullquote]
Instead we have Mitt Romney versus Barack Obama.
The elite media is complicit in our lack of choice. Voters decide elections but the media decides what views will be taken seriously and what views will be derided or ignored. The candidates fall in line with the media. Given that the elite media are wholly owned either by large corporations or rich individuals, it is not surprising that the views of large corporations and rich individuals define what is considered reasonable by the elite media.
As Karl Marx wrote in 1846, “the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas.” In practical terms this means that a Constitutional amendment to ban abortion — a staple of grassroots Republican politics since the late 1970s — has never been put forward by Republican politicians, even when they controlled all three branches of government. Similarly, no Democratic president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has raised taxes on the rich. On the contrary: in December 2010 President Obama extended the Bush tax cuts.
What America deserves is a straight-out choice between the extreme right and the extreme left. I sincerely believe that given the choice, few Americans would choose the right. A lot more Americans want to plant trees than cut them down. Unfortunately, the Republican party, Democratic party, and elite media won’t give us that choice. The only choice they’ll give is between pro-wealthy Barack Obama and actually wealthy Mitt Romney. It’s the only “respectable” choice.
Give me a Democratic politician who’s willing to speak for Democratic voters to run against a Republican politician who’s willing to speak for Republican voters. At least the Republicans have their Michelle Bachmanns, Rick Santorums, and Sarah Palins. Who speaks for grass-roots Democrats? If people would they might find themselves wildly popular — if the elite media would let them be heard.