Last week on Bill Maher's show, Ralph Nader, a welcome tonic following the Obama/McCain war dance, railed against the corporate looting of the country, yelling to the audience that a taxpayers' revolt was quickly approaching. Now, I admire Nader immensely, and do not regret one fiber of my active support for his 2000 campaign. But I must admit that Ralph's attempt to whip up populist anger in an LA TV studio looked kind of pathetic. Then again, I doubt that Eugene Debs would've had better luck, especially sitting next to Tim Daly, co-president of the Creative Coalition, a Hollywood Dem support network. Listening to Daly prattle on would likely drive Debs back into prison, for solitude if nothing else.
I honestly wish that what Nader promised comes true, though I'm not sure what a present-day taxpayers' revolt would even look like. I doubt it'll be angry mobs in the streets, looking to burn down symbols of corporate dominance. First, our police state wouldn't allow it. Second and most importantly, the great mass of Americans have no desire to bring down the system or change it in ways that would require radical actions. The majority want to be left alone with their toys and what money they have stashed away. They want to consume and be entertained as always, pretending that they're not connected to the wider world, or that their choices have real consequences. The proposed $700 billion bailout was simply too much, and this was reflected in Congress' rejection of Bush's plan. Once in a great while, Congress actually stumbles on behalf of the population. But let's not get crazy about what that rejection ultimately represents.
For those who have a stake in flattering the powerless, recent events handed them a pulpit from which to preach about "democracy" reborn, the masses awakening, the elites trembling, and so on. The standard pied piper tune. It's a measure of how depoliticized we are that a speed bump like the Congressional rejection is viewed as the beginning of some kind of revolution. If liberals like William Greider and Al Giordano really believe that a game-changing populist shift is looming, they're either hallucinating or cynically yanking their readers. Because if a serious groundswell is about to erupt, where can it go? What will be its ultimate destination? There's no real alternative support network for such a thing. No opposition party which this energy and anger can animate and empower. There is only one route, and that is right back to the Democrats. And if you are at all conscious, you know exactly what that means.
Too harsh? Think back to a real populist period, say the late-19th century, when massive strikes shut down industry, when millions of working people were politically active, published their own newspapers, and created their own grassroots power centers. The work required to organize and educate workers in those days was especially hard, given the lack of instantaneous technological outreach. Yet it happened, all across the country. The elites of that time did tremble, until they unleashed federal troops on strikers and marchers, mowing them down with gunfire and clubs, throwing organizers in jail, suppressing newspapers. This continued right through the Woodrow Wilson years, a Democrat whom I credit in "Savage Mules" with creating the first modern American police state model, a gift that subsequent elites modified and streamlined to this day. And all along the way, people's political power has been crushed, bought off, or simply steered into the corporate parties.
Call me an asshole, but I don't see anything remotely approaching the collective activism of those earlier years. And yet, according to some liberal scribes, the earth is about to quake with democratic vigor. Frankly, Americans haven't lost enough for a united tear-it-down response. For a great number, there's still a ways to drop. And even then, when they have nothing left to lose, a significant portion will refrain from direct action and place their concerns with demagogues who thrive in moments of despair. Many people don't want to confront it, but our consumer paradise covers all manner of ugly, bigoted, violent sentiments. The reaction to the 9/11 attacks should remind you of that.
I see it all around me, every day. That millions will vote for McCain/Palin tells us that countless Americans are fucked in the head. That millions more look to the warmongering Obama/Biden ticket for salvation confirms that we're simply fucked. I'm all for smashing this fixed arrangement, but fellow inmates, we must first learn to free ourselves. Voting for CHANGE ain't gonna cut it.
SPEAKING OF ANGER: Here's the trailer for "Der Baader Meinhof Komplex," Uli Edel's take on West Germany's Red Army Faction. I don't advocate this type of violent activity, especially when there's no popular support for such action. Still, you gotta admit, the RAF made the Weather Underground look Amish. But then, they were the first generation after Hitler. That's bound to make you a little nuts.