Transcript: Thom Hartmann talks to Chris Hedges about how liberals are a useless lot. 07 Dec '09.
Thom Hartmann: "Liberals are a useless lot," writes Chris Hedges in today’s TruthDig.com and CommonDreams.org among other places. "They talk about peace and do nothing to challenge our permanent war economy. They claim to support the working class, and vote for candidates that glibly defend the North American Free Trade Agreement. They insist they believe in welfare, the right to organize, universal health care and a host of other socially progressive causes, and will not risk stepping out of the mainstream to fight for them. The only talent they seem to possess is the ability to write abject, cloying letters to Barack Obama—as if he reads them—asking the president to come back to his “true” self. This sterile moral posturing, which is not only useless but humiliating, has made America’s liberal class an object of public derision." Chris Hedges, the author of the article that I just shared the first paragraph from with you, is on the line with us. Chris welcome to the show.
Chris Hedges: Thanks Thom.
Thom Hartmann: I read this and you point out, you said "I don’t feel betrayed, ... I voted socialist" which meant I voted for Ralph Nader, something that I did in 2000, I voted for Ralph Nader. Although I lived in Vermont, I knew I wasn’t giving a vote to George W. Bush, had I lived in Florida I might have voted differently. But it’s very clear I think to all of us that the Republican Party, since reconstruction, has been a wholly owned subsidiary, back at that time it was the railroads then the oil and steel companies, now, you know, of corporate American in general. In fact, not even corporate America. The Republican party is a wholly owned subsidiary of transnational corporations who don’t give the smallest damn about America. They’re offshoring our jobs as aggressively as they can, you’ve got Carly Fiorina running for Barbara Boxer’s seat on the platform of when she was President at Hewlett Packard she sent 18,000 jobs to China. So, you know, we all know the Republicans are about that. But increasingly the Democrats are about that too. What’s, first of all your comment on my rant there. And then I want to get into what we can do about this.
Chris Hedges: Well, I think the Democrats in essence betrayed the working class in 1994 with the passage of NAFTA.
Thom Hartmann: Yes.
Chris Hedges: And at that moment, we should have walked out on the Democratic Party. It’s only gotten worse since then.
Thom Hartmann: Well a lot of us did.
Chris Hedges: Well, I did and I haven’t gone back. And, you know, the hollowness or the bankruptcy of American liberalism is that it is standing behind a political party and political candidates that do not legislate or govern according to the precepts or ideals that liberals claim to have.
Thom Hartmann: Right.
Chris Hedges: And it gets worse and worse and worse. And Obama has done nothing to alter the rape of America by corporations. He’s done nothing to alter the permanent war economy, 1 trillion dollars in defense-related spending, expansion of the imperial war in Afghanistan, 700 civilians dead in Pakistan from drone attacks since Obama took office. He hasn’t restored habeas corpus, revoked Bush's secrecy laws, ended extraordinary rendition or the torture of detainees in our offshore penal colonies nor, most egregiously perhaps, the looting of the US treasury by speculative interests on Wall Street.
Thom Hartmann: Right.
Chris Hedges: And at what point, we are watching in essence our country be destroyed, and we’re talking about months…
Thom Hartmann: Well, we’re watching our country turn into something that more closely resembles Spain under Franco.
Chris Hedges: Well, you know, the great political philosopher Sheldon Wolin in his book "Democracy Incorporated" calls the American system of government at this point inverted totalitarianism. And I think that’s a very prescient term. He argues that inverted totalitarianism unlike classical forms of totalitarianism doesn’t revolve around a demagog or a leader but finds it’s expression in the anonymity of the corporate state. So that under inverted totalitarianism you have corporate interests that purport to pay fealty to the constitution, to electoral politics, to democratic institutions while massively subverting or controlling the levers of power to annul the rights and desires of the citizenry so that in classical totalitarianism systems, both communism and fascism, politics always trumps economics. But in an inverted totalitarianism economics trumps politics.
Thom Hartmann: Economics trumps politics, right.
Chris Hedges: And with that comes a different form of ruthlessness. And I think that that very much describes the deterioration of American democracy.
Thom Hartmann: Right. I wouldn’t disagree with you at all about that Chris. But let’s go back to causality. I would suggest that there are a couple of things, you know, you go back and you read The Federalist No. 10, Madison kind of saw this coming. He was freaked out about the fact that they were, that he had created, he had helped create a constitution that basically required a two party state, because of the first past the post, winner take all nature of elections. And he didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t until 1861 that John Stuart Mill got proportional representation.
And at that time most of the rest of the world figured democracy was an experiment that was gonna fail. Our Civil War, had we, had our Civil War torn this country apart, you know, there were only five or six democratic countries at that time in the world, there probably would still only be five or six democratic countries in the world instead of a hundred. And now we have, you know, seven countries that are stuck like us with basically two party systems. Two of them, New Zealand and Australia, have fixed that with IRV, instant runoff voting. But Madison’s, the only solution he could come up with was to beg people not to form political parties and ironically six years later he’s the head of the second largest political party, the anti-federalists that became the Democratic Republicans.
So you’ve got one, a structural two party system and then two, you’ve got a series of Supreme Court decisions starting in 1886 with Santa Clara County and then going right straight through to Buckley v. Valeo, and First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, that have given to corporations rights of free speech and have interpreted cash as a form of speech in ways that have so totally corrupted our political process that many of, I’ve known a few people who have run for political office, become politicians, and are today serving in Congress, and who feel, and who are good and decent people, who feel captive to this system, who are as horrified by it as anybody. And yet know that if they don’t, you know every senator wakes up every morning knowing if he doesn’t raise 20 thousand dollars that day he’s not gonna get re elected. So how do we, you know, how do we fix. My take on fixing the system is number one, movement politics, number two, infiltrate the party and take it over. Do you have a better solution?
Chris Hedges: We did try, progressives and liberals did try or did infiltrate the party and try and take it over, that was George McGovern and Gene McCarthy and after that the democratic leadership fixed the rules so that that would never happen again. Madison, that’s a very good historical figure to raise. You know the word “party” and the word “corporation” never appears in our constitution.
Thom Hartmann: No.
Chris Hedges: And what Madison was unable to foresee is a congress, a legislative branch, that would willingly give up it’s power, and that’s what’s happened. Look, the President, under the constitution, has no right to send foreign troops, I mean American troops to foreign countries, whether it’s Somalia, whether it’s Iraq…
Thom Hartmann: No, no, I understand the problem, Chris. We have 30 seconds. What’s your solution?
Chris Hedges: Step outside the mainstream. Give up on the Democratic party. It isn’t gonna reform …
Thom Hartmann: Go back to movement politics.
Chris Hedges: Yes.
Thom Hartmann: Movement politics, join every movement you can get out there.
Chris Hedges: All of the correctives in American democracy came through movements.
Thom Hartmann: Absolutely, absolutely right.
Chris Hedges: From the Liberty Party, suffragettes, these are the correctives to our democracy. We on the left have forgotten that the question is not how do you get good people to rule, most people who rule are mediocre at best and usually venal. The question is how do we make those in power frightened of us and not be seduced by formal political processes.
Thom Hartmann: Right. And it’s by getting out in the streets or by the Internet equivalent of joining pdamerica.org or whatever, all these various groups that are out there. Chris Hedges, his new piece “Liberals are Useless.” You can read it over at TruthDig.com and CommonDreams.org. Thanks Chris.
Chris Hedges: Thanks Thom.
Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.