2010 elections continue 1960s battles

I just returned from two weeks of travel around the U.S. At one stop on my journey someone asked me where this election fits into the scheme of things.

Here is what I said.

With a narrow-angled lens it is the latest round of a political clash triggered by the election of the first African American president and the economic meltdown in 2008.

One of these momentous events might have been enough to set into motion a clash of contending forces. But when both occurred nearly simultaneously the ferocity of this clash became tsunami-like.

It hasn't ebbed, and, in fact, with the midterm election around the corner, the rage of the right is surging to a new level.

And if you are hoping that the politics of rage, obfuscation and obstruction will ease in the election's aftermath, think again. These politics are deep in the political DNA of right-wing extremism - it won't give up something that works, at least so far!

In any event, one side will gain momentum on Nov. 2, while the other side will have to regroup to one degree or another.

But with a wider-angled lens, this election and the rage connected to it (racist and anti-immigrant especially) are traceable to two periods.

One is the so-called "culture wars" of the 1960s - which were in reality a period of unprecedented social upheaval and struggles, not since matched - over poverty, racial equality, student, women's and farmworker rights, the Vietnam war, and other issues. These powerful and overlapping movements arose to challenge the status quo of that time.

The other is the sharp turn to the right a decade later. If the "culture wars" of the '60s were the opening round of a new era of struggle, the 1980 ascendance of Ronald Reagan to the White House (and the decision of then Federal Reserve Bank chairman Paul Volker to spike interest rates to nearly 20 percent and thus induce a deep recession) signified a reconfiguration, intensification and extension of this struggle to a broader swathe of the population, especially the working class and labor movement.

With the transfer of the main levers of political power to Reagan and his hit-men, the barbarians of the right initiated an all-out class war from above. It was ideological and cultural as well as political and economic. The gloves came off. There was no place for compromise.

Right-wing extremists and the most reactionary sections of monopoly and financial capital ganged up against the working class, racially oppressed, women, youth, seniors, and other social groups.

And guess what? This turn to supercharged class warfare, steeped in racist appeals to white people, largely succeeded.

The wealth of the top income tiers ballooned, while income for the lower tiers either stagnated or plummeted.

Neoliberalism, deregulation and financialization became the new economic orthodoxy.

The use of force became the option of first choice in matters domestic and foreign, and the organizations of the working class and people beat a retreat.

But a retreat isn't a rout. Though weakened, the working class and people lived to fight another day, and another day, and another day ...

Much time has passed since the "culture wars" of the '60s and the turn to the right a decade later, but the distant voices of George Wallace, Bull Connor, Richard Nixon, Phyllis Schlafly, Ronald Reagan and Reverend Jerry Falwell can still be heard. The past, as someone said, is never past. The intensification of class and democratic struggle that occurred then continues today, combining the old issues, protagonists and rhetoric with the new issues, protagonists and rhetoric.

Most strikingly new is the election of President Obama, and the massive and spontaneous surge of democratic-minded people and movements that backed him. This loose coalition of diverse forces, broader than anything before it, is the main vehicle that will drive the nation to a more just and decent future.

It won't be easy. The 2008 election tipped the balance of forces in the direction of democracy and progress, and pushed the right onto its heels. But the blow wasn't a knockout.

The right regrouped, faster than most anticipated, and turned obstruction, division and demagogy into a vicious and powerful weapon.

Next Tuesday, Election Day, the right hopes to continue its journey back to political dominance.

But if it does make gains, let's remember that gaining a momentary advantage is miles from reclaiming the main levers of political power and even more miles from bringing a final resolution to this longstanding conflict - a conflict that in my view can only be settled when one side vanquishes the other.

The differences are irreconcilable. Each side has a diametrically different vision of what America should look like.

One vision - the vision of labor, minorities, women, youth and other social groups and movements - believes in an America that raises living standards and guarantees jobs at livable wages, expands opportunities and rights to the disenfranchised, alienated and marginalized, embeds human equality and diversity into the social fabric, and seeks peace through mutual understanding and cooperation, establishes robust regulation of the economy and democratic public and cooperative ownership when necessary, aggressively addresses global warming and environmental degradation, respects all forms of life on our planet, and embraces the cultures and peoples of other lands.

The other vision - that of right-wing extremism, the tea party, sections of corporate capital, groupings of medium and small businesses, and their grassroots constituency - is exclusionary, fears outsiders, worships a dog-eat-dog unregulated capitalism, insists on global dominance, subordinates people of color and women, turns same-sex relationships into a sin and psychological disorder, blames the poor for poverty, possesses a strong anti-Semitic strain, poisons the environment, and cynically manipulates our nation's most noble freedom moments and traditions.

Which vision will come out on top and when that will happen is not clear.

Nevertheless, and regardless of what happens on Election Day, the possibilities for progressive advance are real and palpable. With unity, outreach and persistence, the movement that crystallized two years ago and rallied in Washington in early October can expand on the legacy of earlier periods of struggle and meet the new challenges of the 21st century.

But right now, every democratic-minded American should go to the polls on Nov. 2 and mobilize others to do the same.



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  • As usual comrade Sam's answers to a query are well thought out while not written over the head of the average reader. Reading what he writes is easy to understand and digest. Thank you

    Posted by L Pablo Trujillo, 10/28/2010 11:04pm (5 years ago)

  • Mark Twain said history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme some time.

    "Tea Party" ? Isn't that just a new name for right-wing Republicans?

    What about the historical "rhyme" here with 1994 ? Clinton tries
    healthcare then. The "healthcare" capitalists foment a crazy backlash which
    results in really off the wall bs with Gingrich and the gang
    taking Congress. Somehow they dog Clinton to the right with bs
    investigations into Whitewater and s__; with that
    bs judge Ken Starr "tailing" and intimidating the supposed "most powerful
    office in the world" the rest of the term. Hillary was correct; there was a vast rightwing conspiracy. There was a shadow government like there is a shadow banking system now.

    This time , 2009, with Obama, once again,
    Healthcare, the healthcare capitalists lead the backlash ,up pops the
    total crock, lying Tea party movement; I mean they are completely fraudulent (see below) the Monopoly media ignores that they are really just Republicans in "disguise"; and here we go again,
    rightwing Congress dogging Obama from the right. Unless we get a Truman beats Dewey.

    Ah but what is to be done ? March on Wall Street ?

    The Tea Party is a charade.

    In '08 Republicans were declared persona
    non grata. But the rightwing needed to counterattack Obama. So, they
    came up with this fake move of the Tea Party as not the Republican
    Party. But they are Republicans, all ! Just like the Boston Tea Partiers were disguised as Indians,
    the Tea Partiers are Republicans disguised as self-righteous rebels.
    But nowhere are any TP people running as anything but Republicans ,
    now ! Who are they trying to fool ? Only people who allow themselves
    to be fooled so they can act as if the TPers are against the powers
    that be. But the Republicans are more the powersthatbe than the Dems,
    and the TP = the RP. The TP is a charade ! The joke is on us.

    Make it emphatic; vote Democratic.

    Posted by , 10/27/2010 10:04am (5 years ago)

  • It is hard to argue with the main elements of Sam Webb's analysys, but it is important to recognize that the capitalist class offensives did not begin with the "culture wars" of the sixties. The first offensive of the modern era was during Reconstruction as a reaction to the destruction of the slave system, other Democratic gains of the CivilWar, and the emergence of the modern labor movement. To emphasise how deep this blow was, note that the "Tea Partyites" are even now talking about repealing the 14th amendment.

    This is not only used demagogicaly to challenge the citizenship rights of certain peoples of color who are born on United States soil, but also to raise again the spectre of state's rights, specifically as it refers to the ability of the federal govenment to guarantee the civil rights of all Americans (see Rand Paul's statements about the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act).

    When, during the Progressive era reponse to the major crashes of the 1890's and the emergence of US imperialist foreign policy, the working class, and especially women, once again began to turn the tide in the direction of the expansion of Democracy, they struck back again at labor and progressives during the teens and twenties with mass deportations of radicals and labor activists, using the army and the armed forces of the states to break strikes, to turn public schools into traing grounds for factory owners, and most horrifically,launching a campaign of lynching and the emergece of the KKK throughout the US.

    This cleared the decks to create the biggest financial bubble based on coruption yet seen.

    Then came the Great Depression, followed by the greatest structural challenge to ruling class power. Driven by the unemployed, the organizing of the CIO, mass struggles against racism and segregation, and the development of an American left rooted in the mass movements, the reforms of the New Deal put serious constraints on the banksand industrialists ability to do whatever they wanted to in thename of higher profits.

    When the John Birch Society was formed it was to roll back the New Deal. When Barry Goldwater ran for president, that was his program. When Buckly and Greenspan and the idealogues of the right in the fifties and the sixties (who would come to dominate the
    Reagan and Bush administrations) where developing their chops the number one goal was to eliminate the legacy of FDR and the New Deal.

    But, it was not unti the late nineties that they succeeded in finally dismantling the structual regulatory apparatus put into place then.

    The main threat to their power in 2006 and 2008 was the re-emergence of a progressive majority...fed up with war...fighting back against a decade of intensified exploitation and falling living standards...that brought together Unions, Black, Latino, Women, Gays and other progressive forces that elected a Congreess they expected to reverse the nation's course and an inspiring African American president they think has the potential to be another FDR.

    That is the reason the right. and even those sections of the ruling class who thought they could control an Obama administration, went on theoffensive from day one. Even in the face of that assault, the last Congress and the President took steps that opened the way to fundament challenges to finance capitals's control of the economy and the government. That is why it is so important to stand up to this atttempt to turn the clock back.

    There is much that can be debated about the last two years, even more to debate about the next two years. But, first things first. All out on NOv 2.

    Posted by Mike Bayer, 10/26/2010 7:03pm (5 years ago)

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