Climate change. Mass species extinction. Systemic poverty and discrimination. Inequality of wealth. Atrocious health care costs. Wall Street run amok. Congress paralyzed.
“These are industrial-strength atrocities,” Ted Rall argues in the award-winning satirist’s newest book. “They cannot be eliminated or significantly mitigated by pressing those in charge for small-bore reforms.”
Unfortunately, the powerful engine for social change, the progressive Left, has been conked out for a human lifetime.
“There hasn’t been a Left in the United States since the late 1960s,” Rall argues. “We have liberals. But when elections roll around, liberals invariably roll over and vote for Democrats. When elected, Democrats have always sold out their nominal values.”
A functioning Left, Rall maintains, represents the interests and desires of the common person, the ordinary working person whose labor is exploited for the benefit of capitalists and the ruling classes.
“The Left fights for all that is good and right on the world,” the nationally syndicated cartoonist and author writes. “The Left represents the fundamental idea that everyone is equal and thus entitled to a share to the earth’s bounty. The Left pushes for better working conditions, higher wages, a better justice system, a government that serves the people rather than the other way around. The Left fights racists, misogynists, homophobes, and bigots of all stripes. The Left,” Rall says, “defends the natural environment.”
But the Left has been gone for 50 years. The enerrgy of social change has faded. In the vacuum, “the rich got richer, the poor got poorer, the planet got hotter and dirtier, the media got more useless, and there was nothing we could do about it,” he says.
For a brief moment in 2007, the Left thought perhaps they’d found their “Hope and Change” agent in Barack Obama,. It’s an illusion Rall’s book takes pains to explore. The real Hope and Change resides within ourselves, he argues. The challenge is reigniting that sense of collective outrage that can literally change the world.
“The rise of the Tea Party and Occupy movement, the general disenchantment of the country with the mainstream political system, the polarization of left and right, abandonment of the vital center—is something that has resulted from Obama. He was the best that the system had to offer, and he still wasn’t good enough. Because of that, he exposed the fact that the system itself is the problem. Not the man.
“Under George W. Bush,” Rall notes, “it was possible to consider that if you had elected a smarter, better intentioned president with better advisors that you would end up with better results. But, really, if anything—at least in the area of war policy and civil liberties—Obama is worse than Bush. So you have to ask yourself—this man is intelligent, he’s about as liberal as the system is going to give you. And he is not liberal enough.
Cascadia Weekly: Your new books follows a thread introduced in your previous book, which called for a new American revolution. That book came out shortly after Obama was elected. Now you’re back with this book, just before Obama is seeking reelection, again calling for revolt. Someone might think you’ve got something personal against Obama.
Ted Rall: No, I think the system is the problem. And if that’s the case, you have to get rid of the system.
We thought in 2008 that we had a choice between a Democrat and a Republican. But what we really had was a choice between taking politics into the streets, where it belongs, or just sitting home on our asses and watching TV. Oh, and vote.
We outsource our politics like we outsource our jobs. We vote, and then we think, “Well, we did our part. We’re done. Let’s watch sports.”
Voting, as an isolated exercise, just doesn’t matter. What matters is starting to think about real politics, which—whether through the Occupy movement or Tea Party or something else—takes to the streets and demands accountability.
CW: Someone who cursorily read your book might think it is an attack against Obama, the man. But, it strikes me as more of a critique against the Office of the President.
TR: Make no mistake, I think Obama is a shitty president. But the point is, he is the best shitty president we’re going to get.
More of a concern to me, there has been a constant shift to the Right regardless of who is in office. I don’t think that is representative of any real shift in the attitudes of Americans, but a shift in the systems that elevate people to the Office of President.
The systems that we use to elect our president are no longer responsive to us, the individual voter.
In 2007, every step of the way, Obama told us about himself and what he was going to do in office. And we chose to ignore that.
In my lifetime, I confess I’ve not seen a presidential candidate who has lied less than this one. Obama lied, though. He said he would revisit NAFTA, that he would include a public option in health care, that he’d close Guantanamo, that he’d rein in Wall Street.
But he has lied less than many. He said he was going to expand the war in Afghanistan. He did. He said he was going to continue the war in Iraq. He did. He said he was going to continue many of the policies that began under Bush. And he has.
We chose to ignore him.
I think we do need to demystify Obama. There’s an effort in the book to do that. I think people do need to see Obama for who he is, to understand that he is not awesome, but that he is the man in charge. He is a right-wing Democrat.
But the answer is not to vote for Romney, or some other deeply flawed character. The answer is to understand at a deep level that the system sucks. And this is what it produces.
CW: For all the grievances the Right gins up about Obama, they ignore the complaints against him expressed by the Left. The civil liberties abuses, the increasing military/surveillance state—these are things it seems a united voice might roll back.
TR: There are a lot of things you simply are not allowed to talk about in a two party system; and the parties largely agree on matters like torture and surveillance.
Look at the trouble Obama has had even mentioning problems in the private equity markets. You cannot criticize that, you cannot even try to distinguish it from what we might call classic, functional capitalism. As president, you cannot say you are anti-war. You can’t say you are anti-home invasion.
The parties have agreed upon these issues. Both are expansionist, militaristic, pro-violence. Both have agreed to expand domestic spying. Both have agreed to do nothing regarding the aggregation of wealth in fewer and fewer hands.
Forget about solutions’ the system doesn’t even offer options.
CW: I imagine at least one party will circle their wagons around this president and denounce the views expressed in your book.
TR: The writings I’ve done against Obama have gotten me cancelled from countless liberal publications. The truth is, organized Democrats are just as blind in their obedience to their power structures as Republicans were blind to their own under Bush.
Back in the day, we used to ask ourselves, “What would Bush have to do for Republicans to admit he was less than awesome?” If he was caught having sex with dogs, would that do it? I don’t think it would have.
What would Obama have to do before Democrats would throw him under a bus?
CW: Does the President’s “evolving position” on same-sex marriage suggest to you that he is able to be persuaded, that sufficient numbers might change his mind on a topic? He was himself a community organizer and must at some level believe in that process.
TR: He can certainly be reached through public opinion. But realize, that is all that has happened.
Among the majority of likely Obama voters, most favor gay marriage.
The question really is, did he lead on this? No. If he hadn’t made a statement, would it have made any difference? Did he speed up acceptance of gay marriage by making the statement? I don’t think so. Would the absence of his statement of support slowed it down? I don’t think so, either.
Because the polls really haven’t moved on this since he issued his statement, it suggests he took no political risks whatsoever. He has not advocated any change from current law on the subject. He just expressed support for what is now the default public opinion on gay marriage.
If anything, the gay marriage issue is a perfect example of the dysfunction of the system. If you have a president who is just following the polls, adjusting to their adjustments, we don’t really need that president at all. That is not leadership on an issue.
CW: If people were sufficiently informed and properly empowered, what should be their next steps? Options seem limited.
TR: I personally believe that the Occupy movement needs to be taken to the next level, becoming a more active force for positive change. Get out of the parks. Occupy the entire country.
People need to stop thinking about the two-party system, and start thinking about what matters and propose solutions outside the box. We’re in such a permanent state of crisis, and it is not like there is an alternative set of conditions.
The political class thinks it can ignore the people it purports to represent. And they’re right for now. But not forever. A reckoning is at hand.
CW: We face a grim choice in November. Because it is either this man, and what we might agree have been his marginal advances, or a full rollback to the neo-cons. Not a breadth of options.
TR: Voters are in a terrible place, yes. They have to stop thinking about themselves as voters and start thinking about themselves as citizens.
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