Thank you Stephen Colbert. Last night’s insanely brilliant sendup of the Citizens United decision’s impact on the presidential race was pitch-perfect, and I am so looking forward to watching what happens as Stewart and Colbert bring their critique of absurdity through satiric and hysterically funny performance straight into the heart of the 2012 race.
More important, I can finally stop seriously considering a vote for Ron Paul. I never thought I’d vote Republican, but the past weeks have found me warming to the idea. Here is why.
This fall, the Occupy movement sparked (well, joined) a process of radical social transformation that is still just getting its sea legs. And the key insight coming from the movement’s inception is that only direct action has the power to make a dent in our increasingly catastrophic business-as-usual economy. For years, masses of Americans complained and criticized and many of us attended ritualistic protests, but nothing really changed until a bunch of badasses in a park decided to act, to actively disrupt the business as usual that so many understand is driving us — economically, environmentally, culturally, politically — off a goddamn cliff. When they did, the whole game began to change.
The lesson here is that no politician — even one who seems to kind of get it, like Obama — will deliver us the change we want to see. Americans, joining protesters around the world, have relearned the lesson that only collective, disruptive activity has the power to transform. Direct, disruptive action sets the limits to what elites can pull off in their own interests. Over the last few decades, we’ve seen what has happened to the working class, the environment, and our democracy when capital has been relatively unfettered by effective opposition. Face it, if corporations in America could get away with polluting so much that we all had to walk around wearing freaking gas masks, they would. If finance capital could get away with just installing their own functionaries to run what David Harvey calls the “state-finance nexus” of the world’s nations themselves, they would. (Oh, wait…they have done that.)
Only when the process of exploitation — of human life, of nature, of politics — is disrupted collectively are limits set to it. Only movements, not lesser-of-two-evil corporate-bought-and-paid-for politicians, make gains for people over the logic of profit.
Given this, civil liberties is in many ways the only issue that matters. If the servants of finance capital in the American government can call their opponents “enemies” and detain them indefinitely, without a lawyer, without a trial, without habeas corpus, that is, pure and simple, the effective end of any really transformative movement activity. Game over. Seriously.
And Ron Paul is the only candidate taking civil liberties seriously. He is the only candidate actively opposing Obama’s recent signing of the NDAA and its indefinite detention provision. For those in the Occupy movement, this has just got to matter. I believe that it is the central issue that we face today.
I am certainly not down with Ron Paul’s fetishization of the market (although I dig the market way more than most lefties do). Or the fake libertarianism that advocates the free flow of capital across national borders but not the free flow of labor — which only puts workers everywhere at a severe disadvantage, leverage-wise. Or the “freedom” that somehow doesn’t apply to gays or to women and their reproductive decisions. And, of course, there’s the racism.
But agreeing with a candidate is not everything. I think that Obama “agrees” with me on climate — but he’s for expanded oil drilling, “clean coal” (aka bullshit), and Timothy Geithner (aka Goldman Sachs) continuing to drive economic policy. I suspect Obama “agrees” with me on reproductive freedom — but his FDA just blocked the ability of young women to get the morning-after pill over the counter. I think Obama and I “agree” on race — but he is silent on mass incarceration, the drug war, poverty and the poverty draft, and racism itself. Agreement is not everything. It’s time to be strategic.
Ultimately, I don’t believe that voting matters all that much in our winner-take-all system anyway. And a strike, or a direct action blocking something like a Keystone pipeline or a hydrofracking procedure, or a foreclosure-blocking occupation, is infinitely more effective than a vote or a bloc of votes. In a world dominated by the global flows of capital, the regulations that even the most progressive of elected national representatives might enact simply can’t have the same impact that they once did.
Still, we have an election and the Occupy movement might as well have a candidate. And it should most definitely not be the Democrat. (Ralph Nader, where are you when we need you?) As much of American political history demonstrates, when a party can count on the votes of a particular constituency, that group gets the shaft. When electoral instability in the south made civil rights a swing vote, the movement was able to extract key political concessions. Once the unions, civil rights, feminists, and gays got in bed with the Democrats, every single victory won by those movements began to be chipped away. Electoral unpredictability is key to movement power in representative politics, for whatever that is worth.
The thing is, I just can’t do it. As much as I love Paul’s line on civil liberties, not to mention the Fed, drugs, and war, I can’t bring myself to vote for someone whose cultural politics are so dangerous. But I still like the idea of the 99% being a swing vote and watching the politicians squirm (and pander).
Now that Stephen Colbert (and his SuperPAC money) look to be joining the fray, we may just have a candidate. In organizing for a Colbert candidacy, we could both feel our power and, not for nothing, have some fun. Every time we vote for a Democrat or a Republican, we are voting “yes” to the idea that this system is legitimate. Colbert mocks both by not caring which ticket he runs on. We need to take our real movement activity seriously but mock the American political system for the goddamn utter absurdity, the obnoxious pageant of the 1%, that it is. And who better to lead us in laughing the corporatocracy off the world stage than Stephen Colbert?