Daniel N. White
Two recent events in Austin, Texas are worth noting. The first was Senator Bernie Sanders’ recent appearance at a Democratic Socialists of America sponsored event held at the local IBEW hall. There was extensive promotion of the event by the local AFL-CIO and the turnout was good—close to 600 showed up. Audience was mostly blue-collar Democrats with a median age of 50; not enough people in their 20’s were present—maybe 5% of the audience, and the percentage of blacks and Hispanics was too low. Still, I was glad to see so many people from the working classes, especially since you never see them at any of the usual visiting famous people Democratic Party events here in Austin. Those audiences are always white, affluent, and geriatric, sort of like the official Democratic Party in general.
Bernie Sanders gave a speech whose two main points were the need to do something about the concentration of wealth in the upper 1% of this country’s population, and the need for jobs for more people, particularly jobs rebuilding US infrastructure. Speech was received well by the audience. America’s wars got one mention, wherein Bernie kicked the Republicans for causing them. But there was no call for ending them immediately, or for a massive reduction in US military expenditures to free up funds for jobs and infrastructure rebuilding. That and prevent future wars. We have to take the car keys away from the war party in Congress and the White House to where they can’t do any more senile power-drunk driving us into more wars, but Bernie didn’t make this point. Not in this speech. Or in any other I recollect, either.
Bernie got a brief mention and a picture in the allegedly with-it-and-hip alt-weekly and no mention in the ambulatory corpse Cox-chain daily monopoly. The gringo TV stations didn’t show up but the local Univision station sent a crew. The alt-weekly did have sense enough to mention young newbie city councilman Greg Casar, the only local elected official to show up and greet Bernie. Greg showed guts to speak on the same stage with him. No other elected official in this putatively liberal and progressive town did. The Legislature was in town and in session, and nobody showed up from there either.
Your average politician might fear the taint and contamination of Bernie’s socialism, but Sanders’ economic policies just ain’t socialist. There’s nothing in them about nationalization of the means of production to ensure the public good etc. Bernie’s proposals are nothing that any decent politically liberal person wouldn’t have advocated any time from the 1920’s onwards. His advocating them nowadays makes him a radioactive bomb-throwing radical in today’s political pastures. The failure of the main socio-economic ideology nowadays, neoliberal economics, ought to be obvious to everyone by now whether or not anyone talks about it in officialdom. Nope, nobody official talks about it and we aren’t supposed to either.
People like Bernie get marginalized–and perhaps it serves them right, for lacking the courage of their convictions. That’s one of the lessons of Bernie Sanders to us. Another is just how weak-kneed Austin really is. It’s got the reputation as liberal, enlightened, and progressive, but fact is it’s a town that talks the talk and doesn’t walk the walk.
Even though he’s really just a toothless old-fashioned liberal, Bernie Sanders doesn’t have a dog’s chance in hell of ever getting elected to a national office. If nobody in politics, except for a rookie newbie, in a town as putatively liberal as Austin is willing to show up and be seen with Bernie, then he just ain’t going anywhere on the national stage. His ideas aren’t, either.
There’s also the question if Bernie deserves to go anywhere, including where he is now, the US Senate. If someone who calls themselves a Socialist isn’t willing to denounce the wars and the gross injuries they are doing to the republic and the economy and to those unfortunate places and peoples where we fight them, and call for their immediate ending in a venue as friendly as he had, then what good is he? If someone as far on the left as Bernie Sanders isn’t willing to denounce the wars, who in politics will? If Bernie doesn’t see the wars as the issue of import above all others, and the one we have to solve first, for our own good and for the good of the rest of the world, particularly those unlucky unfortunates afoul the path of the US war machine, then what good is he?
What good is anyone in politics nowadays if they don’t see this?* How will, how can, the wars possibly end if nobody will stand up and denounce them? Why are they so politically off-limits? How can an issue that big be politically off-limits? What is wrong here? What is wrong with us?
The Second Event in Austin: Don’t Question Authority
The second event was the visit by another US Senator, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R), from New Hampshire. Senator Ayotte is on the Senate Intelligence Committee. I’m not sure why she thought a visit to Austin was in order for her. I can tell you that UT Austin’s reason for bringing her here was their large-scale sucking up to the intel empire** of late for purposes of getting their share of the intel empire’s mosh. Sen. Ayotte’s speech was sponsored by the LBJ School’s International Affairs branch, and was open to the general public, who made up perhaps 50% of the audience of around 250.
Senator Ayotte was caught wrong-footed by events for her speech, as the Iran nuclear deal had been announced just two hours earlier. She had obviously planned something denunciatory about the Iran nuclear threat with calls for more aggressive actions to stop it before it is too late. The announcement that an agreement in Geneva was about to be signed had her scrambling to get her political footing back on this issue. She tried to recycle as much of her speech as she could—the denunciations of Iran and its perfidy and lawbreaking were still spoken, but her speech’s new on the fly focus was on how important it was for Congress to be a part of this new agreement, or else.
There were few signs of intelligence in Ms Ayotte’s speech. She repeated the Republican talking points on Iran and national security in general and she obviously didn’t know enough about things historical to realize what rubbish she was speaking. “Iran’s breaking the law with its nuclear program”—come off it, senator, everything Iran has done nuclear-wise is absolutely legal under the 1968 nonproliferation treaty while our nuclear arsenal probably isn’t. Nope, life is a lot easier for her just to echo the talking points. That’s modern Republican Party politics.
I wanted to challenge her vapid talking points, but the LBJ School has me on a freeze out on asking questions (on account of my asking their guests hard ones that they can’t answer from talking points). I talked to my seatmates in the audience before the speech about this, and asked the early 30’s woman next to me to raise her hand and shoot me the opportunity to ask a question, to get around the freeze out. She looked stricken and backed away from me a piece. “I can’t do that—I’m a student at the LBJ School and I’d get in trouble for doing that!” Well, that sort of pusillanimity will help her go far in her school and government careers.
My seatmates on the other side were a reasonably affluent retired couple. I suggested to them that they ask the Senator what the Intel Committee thinks the price of oil will do once the Iran treaty is finalized. I’ve heard guesses of $20/bbl oil, which will ruin the Texas economy right quick with another oil bust like the ‘80’s one. “No, I don’t ever ask questions at these events.” Funny, you’ve got the civic sense to show up; why then no questions, eh? Particularly a question that pertains to your pocketbook—no way any Texas retiree doesn’t have energy investments in their portfolio. No point in belaboring that point with him or his wife.
Naturally enough I didn’t get picked for a question—the LBJ School turds were running the microphone and my catching Senator Ayotte’s eye didn’t matter. Leaving the event, I ran into an acquaintance I’ve known for a while—he’s in his 30’s, politically active on the leftish side, goes to lots of events like this one, active in community activities. Races motorcycles as a hobby, too. I told him about the freeze out and how if I’d seen him earlier he could have been a cutout and gotten me a chance to ask a question. No, he said, I wouldn’t have done that, I can’t see doing that because I’d get in trouble. He was adamant on that. He was also adamant on how asking hard questions of famous people was a bad thing. I guess the famous people would track him down in his sleep some night with some LBJ School goons and get him. Reasonable enough belief for nowadays.
What Have We Learned?
So really there are a lot of answers in these events to explain why America’s wars go on without end. The fact that the daily monopoly and its colleagues the broadcast clowns didn’t show up for Senator Ayotte’s appearance either, has to show that Senators just don’t count for anything in US politics and how things run in this country. Or maybe it is the obverse, that the media just doesn’t matter anymore, because it wasn’t that long ago that it was politically de rigueur as a politician to get every single mention you could in the newspapers and TV, even in an out of district venue. Possibly both are true at the same time and we just don’t realize it yet.
If Congress and the media don’t matter, who does, you ask? The answer is in plain sight: big finance, big corporations, the national security/intelligence state, and the incest that goes on between them. They control the media and buy the politicians while managing to keep the wars humming while at the same time keeping them off most everyone’s consciousness. Not a bad feat, that.
But never mind that harsh truth. A good cross-section of the most politically engaged Austinites showed up for Senator Ayotte’s speech and they were happy to hear the usual talking points repeated that they’ve already heard and were quite happy not to have any hard questions asked by anyone and it wasn’t their job to ask questions anyway. Senator Ayotte showed us that she will hold her job just fine for however long she wants provided she stays on the reservation and does what she’s told. That’s the underlying facts of life for any Republican (and most Democratic) politician on national stage these days. That’s how it is for most Americans who hold a job anywhere and it is no different for her either.
Based on her speech, Senator Ayotte displayed no ability to think for herself and probably never was in the habit anyway and the same is true of her audience, too. It’s not like places like UT Austin do anything to change that habit. UT sucks up to the intel empire, as evil a bunch as there is walking the face of this earth this side of ISIS, and that suck up attitude and culture is what they mostly pass on in the classroom. Successfully, too.
The Bernie Sanders’ audience was working-class America, or the Austin Texas variety of it, and a lot of that was state and county employees, who have a somewhat different gig than most working stiffs. Better job security and benefits, for starters. They know that their own economic situations have been on a decline for two or more decades in hip and trendy Austin, Texas and they are smart enough to realize that the continuation of things as they are is just going to make it worse.
But the movers and shakers in the local Democratic party—the local elected officials and the usual affluent white retiree Democratic Party activists–don’t share this view. Until such time as populist Democrat/left activists do a better job of outreach to younger and Hispanic Austin and get an audience of 60,000 instead of 600 for Bernie’s message (which is going to require someone other than Bernie to preach it), things ain’t gonna change on the real issues of the money power running this country.
Change will come only when more working people believe their involvement in politics matters, and believing that requires a leap of faith that people can reasonably refuse to take. There isn’t much evidence for it, let’s face it. Most working people have been as acculturated against that kind of participatory citizenship as white professional America has been acculturated into their incurious and fundamentally yellow-bellied suck-up attitudes towards authority. Things will change in this country when these attitudes change, and that ain’t happening anytime soon, dammit. We are stuck where we are and we aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Daniel N. White has lived in Austin, Texas, for a lot longer than he originally planned to. He reads a lot more than we are supposed to, particularly about topics that we really aren’t supposed to worry about. He works blue-collar for a living–you can be honest doing that–but is somewhat fed up with it right now. He will gladly respond to all comments that aren’t too insulting or dumb. He can be reached at Louis_14_le_roi_soleil@hotmail.com.
*The Dan White Razor for evaluating politicians worked from 1970 to around 1990. If you were a politician and were against civil rights in the ‘60’s or were for the Vietnam War after 1968 you didn’t deserve to hold public office. You just couldn’t be wrong on issues that big and you didn’t deserve a second chance if you were. There was someone else who deserved a chance because you blew yours is how I always voted.
Nowadays there’s a call for updating it to reflect current times. Nobody who supported our invading Iraq, and who kept voting funds for that war, and who kept voting funds for the Afghanistan war after 2004 or so ought to be in politics. Unfortunately, that excludes almost everyone in US politics nowadays, with the rare exception of Cynthia McKinney. And the happy confluence of the war party and the Israel-first party—the second is a subset of the first anyway–ended her career quick like.
**It requires repeating that the total annual US intel agencies’ expenditures exceed $100 billion, and that this sum exceeds anyone else in the world’s total intel and military expenditures combined, by a factor not less than two, with the exception of China, whose combined defense and intelligence expenditures total $130 billion according to best estimates.