Ben Tripp

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It’s Time to Get the Message

By: Ben Tripp Friday November 9, 2012 3:50 pm

Ben Tripp

Americans have been trying to send their government a message for years. To anyone except the entrenched power elites in Washington D.C., the message is perfectly clear: solve the real problems that you have been elected to solve, don’t make up imaginary problems and solve those instead. Yet inside the Beltway the elected elites continue to deliberately misread that message. They have to. In order to address the challenges we send them to Washington to figure out, they’re going to have to let go of the radical policies they’ve been pursuing for 30 years, and compromise between the public weal and the powerful special interests that have bankrolled them during that time.

In the last few elections, the American public has voted for what appeared to be the left, then the right, and back again in quick succession. This doesn’t reflect polarization nearly as much as it reflects desperation. We have widespread problems before us, but Washington insists on working only within the narrow ‘safe zones’ that lobbyists, think tanks and ultra-wealthy campaign donors have defined. This has led to genuinely crazy up-is-down policymaking and a tendency to go after social and moral issues that excite the base but don’t have much effect on the big players, such as banking and industry.

After the 2010 midterm election there was a general belief that Democrats, who got trounced, were facing a come-to-Jesus moment. They’d been too liberal, the wise heads in Washington said. They’d pursued a social agenda the public didn’t want. This wasn’t true. What happened in 2010 was that a dispirited Democratic base stayed home. People weren’t upset by Mr. Obama’s liberal ideas — they were appalled that he’d bailed out the big banks and treated their piratical overlords with mincing tenderness. People were angry at a useless Congress that showed no interest in getting things done. It was infuriating. In the absence of accurate reporting on obstructionism among Republicans, blame was ascribed equally to both parties. And the ‘Tea Party,’ because it seemed to be populist and new, got a lot of votes. As it turned out, the Tea Party wasn’t something new, it was something old: a revival of the Know Nothing party of the 1850s, updated in the single respect that it now welcomed Catholics. The Republicans absorbed this fringe group and enjoyed a brief renaissance.

But when the issues are placed squarely before it, a majority in America understands we can’t simply return to the 1950s or 1850s to solve our problems. Compromises must be made. We cannot get the government out of health care while interfering with women’s personal medical decisions. We cannot pollute our way out of the energy crisis and still address global warming. We can’t deport our way out of a changing population. We can’t have an ever-expanding military apparatus and simultaneously reduce spending. We can’t further cut taxes without decimating the safety net, schools and critical infrastructure. We can’t solve the problems of poverty and inadequate medical care by waiting for the poor and sick to die; the rich can’t get richer unless the poor get poorer.

And that whole debt crisis thing? We were promised the nation would collapse. It hasn’t. In fact, all that profligate spending might even have done some good. We’ll pay it back in installments, like any other debt.

So the American public turned out in 2012 and voted to the left again, hoping this time to see some of the genuine change they trounced Republicans for in 2008. Folks may have been energized by the ‘Obamacare’ victory, which goes a long way to counterbalancing the sting of the coddling Wall Street got. They certainly understand, despite the ‘both sides do it’ reporting on the issue, that the Republicans were responsible for the debt ceiling hostage crisis and national credit downgrade. And the Tea Party’s behavior has demonstrated that the nation cannot move any farther to the right without entering a terrain in which minorities and women must accept second-class citizenship.

Based on the results of this week’s election, we won’t be dismantling Social Security, Medicare or access to health care as established by ‘Obamacare.’ The Supreme Court won’t be stacked with activist justices eager to overturn Roe v. Wade and further entrench corporate interests over the interests of citizens. Liberal and progressive issues will not get much traction, either, so the right-wingers needn’t worry we’re going socialist. It seems we have voted to stabilize ourselves.

Now we need everybody, Left and Right, to get engaged in the American project, and to respond to the actual issues that stand before us, not straw men set up as distractions. It’s time to let go of rebranding the same old product and come up with something new, even if it upsets the interests that bankroll campaigns. Democrats need to become more than just the lesser of two evils; a party that comports itself like a refugee camp can’t win policy fights. Republicans need to stop proving the government is useless by failing to govern. And we voters need to get educated to the real issues, not the rubbish the pundits on television promote.

Otherwise the product of politics is never going to change, only the packaging. Our pressing national business can’t wait until another election cycle for us to figure this out.

 

cross-posted at the Huffington Post

 

A Vote For Nothing

By: Ben Tripp Friday November 2, 2012 6:20 pm

I’m an Independent, and always have been. My politics are generally to the left of the Democratic Party and over the horizon from the Republicans; I’d have been a mainstream Democrat in 1934, but the Overton Window has shifted so far to the right it’s in the next room. Still, that’s not why I’m an independent.

I’ve never affiliated myself with one of the major political parties because I don’t like either one of them. They’re in it for the money. They don’t solve problems. It’s all about the campaign cash. This nation would not be in the state of perpetual crisis it is today if we had a third party, a fourth party, or more. Because each of them would stake out a different segment of the political spectrum, and so huge swaths of the electorate wouldn’t be rendered voiceless.

I start with this so that you understand that my politics are not represented in this election. I am voting for the lesser of two evils, as I usually do. You don’t have to agree with my policy opinions to agree that our system is badly broken.

No greater evidence of this damage exists than the way in which Mr. Romney has successfully campaigned. If this was a traditional election season, you might vote for him because he has conservative policy positions with which you agree, or you might vote for him because he’s not the incumbent. But this has not been an ordinary year. Mr. Romney has offered the electorate fifty kinds of nothing, and it’s been selling like hotcakes.

This is a new approach: the Republican candidate has taken both sides of dozens of issues, and sometimes more than both. Both sides is the same as neither side, from a policy-making standpoint. They cancel each other out.

He has taken directly contradictory positions on most of the important issues Americans are concerned about. For example, he has supported spending and austerity. Military buildup and tax cuts. Getting government out of healthcare, but into reproductive rights. Trade protectionism and expanded trade agreements. Will you vote for the Romney who wants to end our wars, or the Romney who wants to get back into Iraq and supports an Israeli strike on Iran? China, he insists, is our friend and our enemy. He’s against FEMA. He’s for FEMA. Against the auto industry, and for it. He doesn’t believe the government can create jobs, except for the 12 million he’s promised to create as president.

He’s a candidate for all Americans, or only 53% of us.

You can pick and choose between dozens of diametrically opposed policy positions he’s taken. That’s got to make it easy to vote for him: he’s promised to support precisely what you want. And what everybody else wants, too. Surely, this should set off a warning bell in the back of a voter’s mind?

I believe Mr. Romney decided to campaign in this openly disingenuous way because the news media are addicted to the horse race. Following a desperately lackluster campaign by the Republican ticket, the pundits pounced on a poor debate performance by Mr. Obama and declared Mr. Romney the winner. And the polls soon followed. The media abandoned the issues of Mr. Romney’s missing tax returns, his serial untruths, his plutocratic backers, his lack of real policy ideas. Paul Ryan was portrayed as some Washingtonian boy genius, not the partisan, pandering Pecksniff he’s well known to be inside the Beltway. Our media wanted a photo finish, presumably because it would mean another easy billion dollars to their broadcasters and publishers. They got it. After all, they’re in it for the campaign cash, too.

This was Mr. Romney’s one brilliant, daring calculation this election. He guessed the lure of the race would be greater than any devotion to reality the media might have, and it appears he was correct.

So now it comes down to this: Americans have a choice between a moderate Eisenhower-Republican-style president in Mr. Obama, or an entirely new creature: a man who believes in nothing, who seems to exist entirely in negative space. Which of his contradictory policy positions would Mr. Romney adopt once he’s president? I don’t know. Nobody knows. I don’t think Mr. Romney himself knows. And I don’t think he cares. Which might mean he’s the ideal candidate for our times — because millions of Americans don’t care, either. They have given up on our political system. They believe it is beyond repair.

Ultimately, a vote for the Romney ticket is a vote for nothing. It is a sobering thought to consider that millions of Americans are ready to make that choice.

cross-posted at the Huffington Post

 

A Nation of Leaders

By: Ben Tripp Wednesday October 12, 2011 9:09 pm

America has no leadership.  One after another, charlatans, quislings, and narcissists have taken their turn upon the national stage, trifling with great issues and taking great issue with trifles.  In the absence of principled, strong leadership, anybody with enough money can buy governing policies to suit his interests; lobbyists and corporations write our laws.  An election year is coming, and there will be no real leaders on the ballot.  So even the mechanism for ushering in fresh leadership is broken.

Into this power vacuum has stepped the most unlikely leader of our times: the ordinary American.

When there is this kind of breakdown in a nation’s government — especially that of a major power like the United States — there are only two possible sources of leadership to fill the void: a military coup, or a popular uprising.  History will be glad to recall it was the latter, not the former, which stepped into the breach this time.

The Occupy movement, which represents that uprising, has grown at incredible speed, and despite the jeers from the establishment dog-show jury that passes for journalism in this country, it has shown some real political savvy at a very young age, especially regarding its goals.  As I have written before, the reason a list of demands is required of any social movement is because demands can be talked to death — if you can keep a movement’s leaders at the bargaining table and in the back room, you can defeat it.  It seems the protestors, or Owls (as they are sometimes called), understand this.

Even if a universally sanctioned list of demands appears tomorrow, who in Washington has the power to enact the changes America must undertake in order to break free of its catastrophic decline?  Certainly not Mr. Obama, who seems to think we want a maître d’, not a president; certainly no-one in the House or Senate, cabals of nomenklatura so ill-regarded their approval numbers approach the margin of error for zero.

But if nothing may be done to upset the status quo, something must be done about the rabble.  I recall it was that paleo-hippie, Mahatma Gandhi, who said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you; then you win.”  The movement begun as Occupy Wall Street progressed swiftly from being ignored to being mocked; already there are signs the fight will soon begin.  Mass arrests in New York and Boston are just prelude.  At this rate we’ll have representative democracy in the United States before the crocuses bloom.

We all know that’s not really true, of course: it’s going to be a long struggle and a hard winter, and the whole thing could yet fizzle out.  It’s not a revolution.  Nobody is asking for overthrow or destruction — quite the reverse.  This movement demands we as a nation start growing and evolving toward a sustainable, just, and egalitarian future.  If nobody in power will act on behalf of the people toward this end, the people will act on behalf of themselves.  That doesn’t require violence, but it may be met with force.

The Wall Street/ Washington establishment does not want a sudden outburst of popular will at this precarious time.  The real economy is collapsing, it’s election season, and the consensus is that nothing whatsoever can be accomplished.  If the common folk were to rise up en masse, it might be necessary to enact real change in the Way Things Are Done — that, or start shooting into the crowds.  And yet the people are coming out in ever-greater numbers to demand their voices be heard.

This is supposed to be an ordinary election year in the grand American tradition.  As voting day approaches, the incumbent is expected to make speeches as ringing and as hollow as church bells; his opponent is expected to denounce any policy more recent than 1861.  Once all that has been done, the common people are entrusted to choose one of them — which one, it hardly matters, as far as the plutocracy is concerned, as long as the infernal mill of power grinds on.

But here are the ordinary Americans, demanding only one thing (and not in a list): to have their will reflected in the governance of this nation.   They are not waiting for that quadrennial visit to the voting booth and the nose-holding ballot for the lesser of two evils, knowing that whomever they choose, it will be too little, too late.

By the time election day comes around, there may already be a new leader to guide America forward — and that leader may be all of us.

 

Cross-posted at the Post of Huffington.

The Art of the Impossible

By: Ben Tripp Friday October 7, 2011 1:36 pm

The Occupy Wall Street movement has demonstrated — in the most literal sense of the word — its geometrically growing power. Week by week, the movement is growing in strength. In less than a month, in fact, it has gotten the attention of a profoundly inattentive Washington establishment.

In yesterday’s press conference, President Obama himself acknowledged the Occupy movement:

Obviously I’ve heard of it. I’ve seen it on television. I think it expresses the frustrations that the American people feel — that we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage all throughout the country, all across Main Street, and yet you’re still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on abusive practices that got us into this problem in the first place.

So far, so good. I’m glad Mr. Obama is willing to address what’s happening, and seems to grasp the general impetus behind the movement. But he’s also dedicated himself to the status quo and the mildest of half-measures, saying,

…On the issue of prosecutions on Wall Street, one of the biggest problems … is that a lot of that stuff wasn’t necessarily illegal, it was just immoral or inappropriate or reckless. That’s exactly why we needed to pass Dodd-Frank, to prohibit some of these practices.

In other words, little, if anything, is going to be done, because he doesn’t feel there wasn’t any real wrongdoing.

Why is the president unwilling to allow that the crisis requires anything more than tinkering around the edges? Probably because admitting the full scale of the problem would require admitting he’s not up to the task. I’m not picking on him especially, please understand – nobody in public office is up to the task. The system in Washington is so corrupt, the influence of money so entrenched, it is impossible for an insider to challenge it.

But a challenge must be made, and won, or the movement could well become a general uprising. Like many in the Democratic establishment, Mr. Obama knows he must limit the scope of the Occupy movement’s aims. He has allowed Republicans to box him in completely. The best he can hope for from his own party is a handful of laws that won’t get passed. But he needs to do something; otherwise he’s got an insurrection on his left to deal with when he fails to deliver. So it is understandable, from that standpoint, why he is trying to sell the political equivalent of homeopathic placebos to a body politic in need of much stronger medicine.

It’s too early to tell, but I think this ‘our hands are tied’ approach is not going to fly with this movement. There are too many extremely intelligent people involved, and they don’t care what Washington thinks is possible. The youngest of the protestors have lived their entire adult lives in the political and economic disaster America has become; they have no promise of future prosperity. The oldest protestors, meanwhile, have seen their future prosperity taken away. The ‘Art of the Possible’ (as Bismarck described politics) does not interest people who are being told that nothing is possible.

So there stands the dilemma: nobody who has experienced the effects of this political and economic nightmare, and understands its ramifications, has any confidence in the ability of the system to self-correct, especially given the timorous, doomed little gestures at reform that are being proposed.

But if you’re a member of the political elite, you know nothing can change. It would take the kind of leadership and strength of purpose that has been absent from the Hill for nearly fifty years. So the only thing to do is to try to co-opt the Occupy Wall Street movement and turn it into a platform for the Democratic Party’s re-election efforts (“take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes”), or, if you’re a Republican, to denounce its diverse membership as a bunch of dirty, incoherent hippies, a mob in need of the Kent State treatment.

I don’t think those efforts are going to fly, either. It will be interesting to discover what happens if the people stop taking ‘impossible’ for an answer. We may yet find out a great deal more is possible than we ever imagined.

Cross posted from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ben-tripp/occupy-wall-street_b_999185.html

What Are Your Demands?

By: Ben Tripp Monday October 3, 2011 9:41 pm
"Strike for the eight Demands" by DayDreamPilot on flickr. Strike Poster Workshop from Harvard University 1969.

"Strike for the eight Demands" by DayDreamPilot on flickr. Strike Poster Workshop from Harvard University 1969.

Don’t be fooled by the complaints that the Occupy Wall Street movement hasn’t got a clear set of demands. Everybody in a position of power knows exactly what the people want. They simply don’t want to acknowledge it. Because, one issue at a time, the demands all boil down to one thing: we don’t want you running the world any more. You’re bad at it. Your motives are evil. The future you imagine is a vision of hell.

If I were in charge, I wouldn’t want to acknowledge that, either.

It’s an old trick: when an angry mob descends on your castle, ask what its demands are. The commoners will argue and bicker and eventually hand up a watered-down set of conditions for not torching the castle. Those can be negotiated down to a few easily-managed, cosmetic modifications to the status quo. Demands met, mob disperses. Nobody’s happy, nothing has really changed.

History is rife with examples of this kind of thing. If your rule is met with popular resistance, insist on perfect clarity from the crowd. Get them arguing. Get them turned upon each other. It reinforces your power: they have to negotiate on your terms. The powerful know full well that a vast, systemic program of injustices cannot be opposed by a few bullet points on a list.

As often as not, the people dispense with the list, and bullet points become the points of bullets. Nobody wants that.

It’s no surprise that most of the commercial media are ignoring this extraordinary story. They don’t want to cover a massive popular mobilization against the powers-that-be in the United States. After all, the powers-that-be are writing their checks.

It was a different thing entirely to report on the Tea Party movement 24 hours a day. Its goals were in perfect keeping with the corporate powers.