Wednesday, July 04, 2012

A pair of July 4 warnings, and one eulogy

If I ever picked up the phone to a pollster, I guess I'd have to say I don't like the country's direction. To celebrate the Fourth, then, I'd like to highlight a trio of warnings/diagnoses published today.

The first is by Kurt Andersen, writing in the Times about The Downside of Liberty. He is not the first to link the sixties mantra "if it feels good, do it," with the '80s' "greed is good," but he does so cogently:

When I was growing up in Omaha, rich people who could afford to build palatial houses did not and wouldn’t dream of paying themselves 200 or 400 times what they paid their employees. Greed as well as homosexuality was a love that dared not speak its name.

But then came the late 1960s, and over the next two decades American individualism was fully unleashed. A kind of tacit grand bargain was forged between the counterculture and the establishment, between the forever-young and the moneyed. 

Going forward, the youthful masses of every age would be permitted as never before to indulge their self-expressive and hedonistic impulses. But capitalists in return would be unshackled as well, free to indulge their own animal spirits with fewer and fewer fetters in the forms of regulation, taxes or social opprobrium.
I am reminded of Herbert Marcuse's argument in One-Dimensional Man that American commercial culture absorbs, co-opts and monetizes (a word that may not have existed when the book was published) every rebellion. (That is, if I remember the thesis right after 30+  years. It often comes to mind when I see slickly-packaged rebellious acts, usually on album covers. If there still are album covers.)

The second warning is from Marcy Wheeler, regarding our decimated civil liberties. I think she stretches a point a bit, using the grievances against the crown laid out (with some distortion) in the Declaration of Independence to highlight violations of civil liberties against Anwar al-Awlaki and Jose Padilla. But her warning is well taken nonetheless:
Awlaki and Padilla surely wanted to harm this country. But that doesn’t excuse the harm done by those betraying the foundational principles of this great country.

With regard to the erosion of our civil liberties generally, I both blame and don't blame Obama. For thirty-plus years, the pattern in this country has been, Republicans destroy and Democrats acquiesce. Each time the GOP wrecks norms and breaks taboos (on taxes and parliamentary procedures as well as civil liberties), it becomes politically impossible to revert to the lost status quo or create strong new safeguards, at least any time soon. Or so it has seemed, given the leadership we have. Again, Marcuse comes to mind, as the profit-driven innovations of Murdoch and Fox and Limbaugh infect the media as a whole, corrupt public opinion, and make cowards of elected officials.

And to go with warnings about American democracy, here is Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston's epitaph for the kind of Zionism that respected the rights of others:
Now, at long last, Yitzhak Shamir can rest. Having adopted his brand of stealth and wile and relentlessness, the government is about to effectively annex the West Bank, by turning a college in the settlement city of Ariel into a full-fledged Israeli university, thereby turning it into a full-fledged part of Israel. No referendum. No questions asked.

This is the ultimate triumph of Yitzhak Shamir. This, from the standpoint of democracy, is how Zionism ends. Not with a bang, but with a university.

It was not only Shamir that we buried this week. When he went, he took Zionism with him. When that university is declared, Zionism in all of its meanings will have run its course. Israel will have cemented its rule over the West Bank. There is nothing more to conquer, and no need to formally annex.

Until this week, I wasn't sure that Zionism was still alive. But when that university is declared, we will all know that it is dead.

It's time to let it go. Perhaps it's time that moderates and liberals for whom democracy in Israel is a paramount value, stopped calling themselves Zionists. Starting with me. Not because the idea of creating a Jewish state was wrong. But because revolutions, especially if they succeed, go wrong, and when they do, it's time to get off the bus, and board a new one.

Zionism got what it aimed for, a state for the Jews. Ironically, perhaps inevitably, the state has become so all-powerful that it is no longer what, in a post-Holocaust world, it most crucially needed to be - a refuge based on democracy. Not even for Jews.
I hope Burston is wrong, and I imagine he does too. But I doubt it.

How did this become a two-state lament? For one thing, the dysfunction in American politics in large part enables the dysfunction in Israel.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps it's time that liberals and progressives for whom democracy in America is a paramount value, stopped calling themselves Democrats.

    Another warning, from someone intimately associated with Independence Day:

    "I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush in it’s birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and to bid defiance to the laws of their country." —Thomas Jefferson