With the deeply-flawed but still revolutionary Health Care Reform bill on my mind, I thought I’d point folks to this terrific piece by Rebecca Solnit (for whom I have total essay-talent-envy, if only I could do what she can do). Anyhow, it ran in the Nation a while back, and it’s an eloquent rebuttal of defeatism:
Six years ago I wrote a book about hope. A few years later I went to look at the worst things that happen to people and found some more hope in the resilience, the inventiveness, the bravery and occasionally the long-term subversion with which people respond. It culminated in another fairly hopeful book, based on the surprising evidence of what actually happens in disaster. Civil society happens, and sometimes joy in that society; institutional failure often also transpires. Sometimes a power struggle to re-establish the status quo follows, and sometimes the status quo wins, sometimes it doesn’t. Which is to say, sometimes we win, though that’s far from inevitable. This is grounds to be hopeful. Now, being hopeful seems to me like it’s preferable to being hopeless, but for six years I’ve been talking about these books in public. This means I’ve also been running into people at readings, talks and interviews who are furiously attached to hopelessness, to narratives of despair and decline, to belief in an omniscient them who always wins and a feeble us who always loses. To keep hold of this complex, they have to skew the evidence, and they do. They cherry-pick. They turn complex facts into simple stories. They constitute a significant sector of the left.
I found this a couple of days ago, and in light of the forthcoming State of the Union, toward which I wish I was feeling less jaded, it’s an interesting take on what’s been frustrating some of us on the progressive side of the political spectrum. Enough with the task forces, and the pronouncements, and all of that. Just DO Something. Like ram health care through. I was thinking last night while driving down valley that we need an LBJ right now, someone not afraid to bust heads, and it occurred to me that perhaps that person was Hillary Clinton? Just a passing thought, and actually, I think she’s a fabulous Secretary of State … but I had a moment. Did I back the wrong candidate?
This preference for symbols over substance, and this unwillingness to stick to a morally clear if unpopular course, is where Obama decisively parts ways with the transformative political movements from which he has borrowed so much (the pop-art posters from Che, his cadence from King, his “Yes We Can!” slogan from the migrant farmworkers – si se puede). These movements made unequivocal demands of existing power structures: for land distribution, higher wages, ambitious social programmes. Because of those high-cost demands, these movements had not only committed followers but serious enemies. Obama, in sharp contrast not just to social movements but to transformative presidents such as FDR, follows the logic of marketing: create an appealing canvas on which all are invited to project their deepest desires but stay vague enough not to lose anyone but the committed wing nuts (which, granted, constitute a not inconsequential demographic in the United States). Advertising Age had it right when it gushed that the Obama brand is “big enough to be anything to anyone yet had an intimate enough feel to inspire advocacy”. And then their highest compliment: “Mr Obama somehow managed to be both Coke and Honest Tea, both the megabrand with the global awareness and distribution network and the dark-horse, upstart niche player.”
I haven’t written about politics in a while, but this health reform debate is making me froth at the mouth. I’ve called Baucus’s office so many times that I think I’m on the “crazy lady” list.
First off, the idea that we’re going to have a public mandate with no public option is insane. Why on earth should we give huge subsidies of public money to the insurance companies who have done nothing but openly rip us all off for decades? A public mandate with no public option to keep them in check is simple collusion. Thanks Max. I guess we know now why they gave you all that money.
Second, this is Montana. I don’t know anyone (including myself at this point) who has insurance through a job. Wait, my friend Jennifer is a public schoolteacher. She gets insurance. Other than that everyone else I know is self-employed: writers, artists, carpenters, fishing guides, small business owners, ranchers. None of us can get anything other than the crappiest, high-deductible, won’t-cover-you-if-you-do-get-sick insurance. One writer friend of mine bankrupted himself last year paying for his girlfriend’s care as she died of cancer. She had insurance, but that 80/20 deductible, well there wasn’t any cap on the 20%. I’ve got power of attorney for my mother, who has nothing, who lives on social security, and who is still getting hounded by a hospital for a 10 year old surgical emergency (that coincided with her boss dropping insurance for the employees of his small company). Baucus clearly doesn’t give a rats ass about his actual constituents, but why should he when all of his campaign money comes from insurance companies and big Pharma?
I’ve never been one of those people who dismiss politicians by saying “they’re all bought and paid for …” but I have to say, Baucus’s behavior on this matter has nearly pushed me to that edge. I’ve called and called and called and all I ever get is a mealy-mouthed form letter. He was in the state for almost six weeks this summer and refused to meet with his constituents. He’s totally sold us out.
I hate to say it, but if the Republicans run anyone even remotely reasonable against Max next time, I might have to cast my first Republican vote ever.
Life, Literature, and the Subversive Power of Living Small