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The Bases of Empire

The Bases of Empire

By Catherine Lutz

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Want Hope and Change? Build a Real Left

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Posted on Sep 6, 2012
AP/Chuck Burton

A demonstrator known only as “The Captain” is detained by police during an unscheduled protest march in Charlotte, N.C.

By Alan Minsky

(Page 3)

At the Ritz-Carlton, I tried to listen in on a few conversations; I couldn’t make much out, though I did hear two men talk about the party’s relationship with AIPAC. I finally decided to ask a few questions directly of a tall young man schmoozing among the high rollers with his jacket off. As I began to ask some of the same questions I’d bounced off the rank and file the previous day, two other men started to listen in. Among the three of them, they were sympathetic to the progressive positions that were supported by the attendees I had spoken with earlier. But in marked contrast to the enthusiastic responses I’d gotten Monday, these men qualified their remarks, citing the political reality in the country and in Congress. One even said, “We’re operating in a different era than when public financing was readily available for social programs.”

Meanwhile, the rain had ceased. I left the hotel, planning to return Wednesday to dig for more information, wearing a suit jacket to blend in. As I approached the convention hall, I heard the blare of an activist loudspeaker. I soon saw the women of the peace and social justice group Code Pink, chanting at the delegates entering the hall about getting money out of politics. As I’ve known Code Pink founders Medea Benjamin and Jodie Evans for years, I approached them, suggesting a great place where they could continue their chants. We marched together back to the Ritz-Carlton, merrily sauntered through Bar Cocoa and into the main lobby, where they pulled out their loudspeaker and began a spirited chant about getting money out of politics. They wound their way across the floor, to the dismay and occasional amusement of the suits. They were then chased out the front door by security. 

So there they were in the Ritz, some of the rulers of the Democratic Party. Did the rank and file even know they were around? Who they are and what their politics are precisely, is difficult to say. I live in Los Angeles, where many of the wealthy entertainment industry folk who’d supported the Democratic Party in recent years actually harbor some seriously radical beliefs. It seemed rather unlikely that the same was the case with this crowd. 

The rank and file I encountered on the streets knew, in a visceral way, that the right-wing drift since Reagan has been unrelenting. The Ritz-Carlton crowd, the big-money element of the party—so many fewer in number than the rank and file—are more than acclimated to the post-Reagan reality. However much more socially liberal this crowd may be than major Republican donors, it is the phenomenon of big money controlling the Democratic Party, as much as any development in recent years, that has generated the widespread sense that the American electoral system is little more than a charade guaranteed to produce political confirmation for the brazen plutocracy this country has become. 


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The following day, I ran into a friend of mine, an activist from Southern California, right outside the Ritz-Carlton. I know, from having attended many fundraisers, that this person knows a lot about the politics of the Democratic Party elite. She confirmed that my sentiments were roughly correct, but the people at the posh hotel were not the ones rubbing elbows with the right-leaning Democratic Leadership Council. They apparently were staying at another hotel; she thought it might be the Westin. Furthermore, all the people at the Ritz-Carlton had changed their mind about money in politics since the Citizens United ruling. Recognizing that they could never compete with the war chests of corporations, the days of wealthy individual donors as the big-money kingmakers of the Democratic Party were fast becoming a quaint memory of the 1992-2008 era. Chances are that this crowd, a legacy of its relationship with the Clintons and the ’08 Obama campaign, still exerted tremendous influence over the party’s policies, certainly more than the thousands of rank-and-file members in Charlotte. But the Democratic Party of today will almost certainly follow the money. Somewhere in Charlotte, the Obama team is meeting with its corporate donors, no doubt assuring them, given Romney’s huge advantage in this regard, that their public policy wish list will be fulfilled should the incumbent get a second term. 

Mr. Satan

What the mainstream passes off as acceptable political dialogue in this land is obscene. Everyone knows the system works for the few. Everyone knows the economy collapsed on the backs of the people a few years ago, and that the very criminals whose exploitations led to the crash are, if anything, doing better now than they did before the crisis, while everyone else suffers debilitating anxiety about making ends meet on a melting planet.

When Occupy burst on the scene in October, Bill Maher heralded its arrival by stating that for the first time since he had been hosting political talk shows, the full range of serious ideas about society could now be discussed. Everything was finally on the table.

I’m in Charlotte and was in Tampa to perform a play called “Mr. Satan Goes to Wall Street.” The play was born in reaction to the press’ demand last fall that the Occupy movement state succinctly what it stands for. Occupy had differing political tendencies that were active within it, and the playwrights felt the best way to represent them was through developing characters that embody these valid, competing beliefs. “Mr. Satan” strives to be an effective allegory about the struggle to build a viable, socially just alternative to the current political system. In particular, the play asks the question of whether the progressive pro-New Deal American left can form a coalition with radical anti-capitalists (as attempted in Occupy), in the belief that such a combination can attract significant, even majoritarian, support in an era in which neo-liberal capitalism is in free fall around the globe. 

Pity my predicament of these past two weeks: to be traveling with a play that performs in exile, at the margins of the grotesque spectacle of choreographed conventions and the hollow platitudes that pass for American political discourse.

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