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The Globalization of Hollow Politics

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Posted on Apr 23, 2012
AP/Francois Mori

A supporter wears a T-shirt depicting French Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande and the legend “H is for hope,” echoing the Obama campaign of 2008.

By Chris Hedges

I went to Lille in northern France a few days before the first round of the French presidential election to attend a rally held by the socialist candidate Francois Hollande. It was a depressing experience. Thunderous music pulsated through the ugly and poorly heated Zenith convention hall a few blocks from the city center. The rhetoric was as empty and cliché-driven as an American campaign event. Words like “destiny,” “progress” and “change” were thrown about by Hollande, who looks like an accountant and made oratorical flourishes and frenetic arm gestures that seemed calculated to evoke the last socialist French president, Francois Mitterrand. There was the singing of “La Marseillaise” when it was over. There was a lot of red, white and blue, the colors of the French flag. There was the final shout of “Vive la France!” I could, with a few alterations, have been at a football rally in Amarillo, Texas. I had hoped for a little more gravitas. But as the French cultural critic Guy Debord astutely grasped, politics, even allegedly radical politics, has become a hollow spectacle. Quel dommage.

The emptying of content in political discourse in an age as precarious and volatile as ours will have very dangerous consequences. The longer the political elite—whether in Washington or Paris, whether socialist or right-wing, whether Democrat or Republican—ignore the breakdown of globalization, refuse to respond rationally to the climate crisis and continue to serve the iron tyranny of global finance, the more it will shred the possibility of political consensus, erode the effectiveness of our political institutions and empower right-wing extremists. The discontent sweeping the planet is born out of the paralysis of traditional political institutions.

The signs of this mounting polarization were apparent in incomplete returns Sunday with the far-right National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, winning a staggering vote of roughly 20 percent. This will make the National Front the primary opposition party in France if Hollande wins, as expected, the presidency in the second round May 6. Jean-Luc Melenchon’s leftist coalition, the Front de Gauche, was pulling a disappointing 11 percent of the vote. But at least France has a Melenchon. He was the sole candidate to attack the racist and nationalist diatribes of Le Pen. Melenchon called for a rolling back of austerity measures, preached the politics “of love, of brotherhood, of poetry” and vowed to fight what he termed the “parasitical vermin” who run global markets. His campaign rallies ended with the singing of the leftist anthem “The Internationale.”

“Long live the Republic, long live the working class, long live France!” he shouted before a crowd of supporters Saturday night.

Every election cycle, our self-identified left dutifully lines up like sheep to vote for the corporate wolves who control the Democratic Party. It bleats the tired, false mantra about Ralph Nader being responsible for the 2000 election of George W. Bush and warns us that the corporate technocrat Mitt Romney is, in fact, an extremist.

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The extremists, of course, are already in power. They have been in power for several years. They write our legislation. They pick the candidates and fund their campaigns. They dominate the courts. They effectively gut regulations and environmental controls. They suck down billions in government subsidies. They pay no taxes. They determine our energy policy. They loot the U.S. treasury. They rigidly control public debate and information. They wage useless and costly imperial wars for profit. They are behind the stripping away of our most cherished civil liberties. They are implementing government programs to gouge out any money left in the carcass of America. And they know that Romney or Barack Obama, along with the Democratic and the Republican parties, will not stop them.

The abrasive Nicolas Sarkozy is France’s oilier version of Bush. Sarkozy, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has done the dirty work for bankers. He and Merkel have shoved draconian austerity measures down the throats of Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Spain and Italy. The governments of all these countries, not surprisingly, have been deposed by an enraged electorate. [Editor’s note: On Monday, the Netherlands’ prime minister and his Cabinet resigned after the government failed to agree to austerity demands from the European Union.]  And if the new governments in these distressed European states continue to be ineffectual—which is inevitable given the sacrifices demanded by the banks—the instability will get worse.

Politicians such as Obama—and, I fear, Hollande—who carry out corporate agendas while speaking in the language of populism become enemies of liberal democracies. Labor unions, environmentalists, anti-war activists and civil libertarians, blinded by the images and lies disseminated by public relations offices, stop watching what these politicians do. They mute their criticism to give these politicians, whose rhetoric is rarely matched by reality, a chance. The result accelerates our disempowerment. It is also, more ominously, a discrediting of traditional liberal democratic values. The longer the liberal class does not vigorously denounce expanded oil drilling, our corporate health insurance bill and the National Defense Authorization Act, simply because these initiatives have been pushed through by the Democrats, the more marginal the left becomes. If Bush had carried these policies, “liberal” pundits would have thundered with feigned outrage. The hypocrisy of the American left is too blatant to ignore. And it has effectively left us disempowered as a political force.


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Duppy Durruti's avatar

By Duppy Durruti, April 23, 2012 at 4:16 am Link to this comment

I suppose the Obama campaign was too successful not to mimic but it is depressing to see American-style politics everywhere, especially in countries where you’d think the populace would see through the shenanigans.

I convinced a French expat to trade her vote for mine- she lived in the US for a while and wants to affect change and I wanted to vote in a national election where I thought my vote might count. I’ve never voted for a candidate that won (0-3 with Ralph) so initially I was overjoyed to see that Holland won. I felt like I was finally in a majority.

However, the results have been completely overshadowed by the numbers the fascists pulled and many people believe Sarkozy will have to swing harder to the right to capture those votes in the next round.

It seems my attempt to affect positive change has backfired, especially given that I have to trudge down to the embassy to cast my vote for Romney in November. I assumed that Obama would be the choice for a girl from Brittany who worked in the States as a SDE but apparently many Europeans (especially those that have lived and worked in the states) are convinced that Romney is more likely to “fix” the economy- so we’ll all be disappointed together.

Occupy LSX wised me up the frivolity in trying to make a difference through protest/activism but it seems national elections are just as worthless. I still have some hope for local elections but if Livingstone doesn’t win next month then I have to consider giving up voting too.

This democracy thing is not working out for me, regardless of where I go…

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By Edward Kerr, April 23, 2012 at 3:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Chris:

Rarely can one find a gem of an assessment. Your analysis of “our” present dilemma is as ‘spot on’ as any that I have encountered. Sadly too few minds see things as clearly.

Edward Kerr

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By Trish, April 23, 2012 at 3:51 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you for this piece. Very interesting

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