Pay no attention to the oligarch behind the curtain
I'm going to meander about here and end up at DanP's nine-word word platform. This is sloppy and unfinished because RL is shouting again, but maybe there are some useful questions in it. This is an inferior substitute for the big think piece I was asked for in mail (you know who you are).
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From the Barcalounger:
One of the many lessons of Egypt for me is that the Egyptian revolutionaries settled on one simple demand and slogan that all walks of life could support (except, I suppose, for those who tended not to walk at all, but to take limos); everybody from the poorest worker to a Heliopolis suburbanite could support "Mubarak must leave!" or "Leave!" And although Egyptian society was and is polarized and fragmented in many ways, that particular demand sharpened a polarization -- Mubarak against everyone else -- that culminated in a favorable outcome.*
Our ground is different, because our country is ruled not by a crony dictatorship, state TV, the state police, and a (conscripted) military, but by a loosely affiliated (and often multi-generational**) class of Mr. Bigs: The controllers of Big Money, Big Media, Big Energy, Big Food, Big Military, and so forth. There is no polarizing personality whose visible state of denial can be used to unify all walks of life and delegitimize a regime.
Our oligarchs (the Mr. Bigs) struggle against each other to seize as much rent for themselves as possible, and collaborate with each other so that the total amount of rent extracted from us is maximized. Considered as a class, our oligarchs are in a state of denial as profound as Mubarak's -- indeed, one of the important duties of Big Media is to maintain our rulers in that state, as the brute fact that FOX plays in every Congressional office shows --- but their denial is not visible to us. (The "prank call" from "Koch" to Walker briefly lifted the curtain to show who our real rulers are, and Walker is not in that class.) The duty of the legacy parties and the political class, including "progressives," is to maintain the invisibility of our oligarchs' denial, by presenting regular spectacles (we call them "elections") that somehow and always, in the end, redistribute rents among the oligarchs, but leave the total amount of rent extracted from the rest of us the same or greater. (We call the process of redistributing wealth among the oligarchs "reform," as in Health Care Reform, or Financial Reform, and we call the practice "politics.")
Because the legacy party system is thoroughly corrupt, functionally, morally, and intellectually, "elections" are valuable in that they may allow citizens to exercise their organizational muscles -- building social capital for, say, 2016 -- but they are valuable only for that purpose. (And even the purpose of that exercise can be corrupted, as shown by Obama's Bultigaya in 2008, and the even-more-ludicrous-in-retrospect marketing of Obama as a "community organizer."***) Further, the value of "elections" is inversely proportional to their scope, since the more nationalized an "election" issue, the more it will come within the span of control of one or another oligarch. Local elections encounter local oligarchies, which are less effective and totalizing than national ones. ("They have less money.") (See Stirling Newberry on pyramids.)
Rental extraction is a relation, and wherever you look at the way we live now: (a) rents are more onerous; (b) value is declining; and (c) the rule of law is giving way to force majeure. Onerous rents visible to all include the creation of a new "forced market" for purchasing health insurance; another forced market is retirement "plans," where you're forced to pick from a menu of schemes that don't, for example, include investing locally ("money management"); a third forced market is fees on cards.**** Value declines visible to all are occuring for every class of goods at the base of Maslow's hierarchy of needs: Clothing is shoddier, food is less healthy and tastes worse; shelter isn't built to last. (Unless you can remove yourself [#75] from the rent extracting systems that produce shoddy clothes, food that is neither clean nor fair, and shoddy housing.) And lawbreaking visible to all has occurred all across the financial sector, from outright fraud and looting to the unilateral revision of card agreements. (We call the process whereby the banks rebuild their balance sheets by stealing people's homes "the foreclosure crisis.") Every rental relation is delivering less value for more money. We are all experiencing this. This process of degradation and coarsening occur in all walks of life, because the same oligarchs, using more or less the same playbook, are running more or less the same plays in all the transactions they control, using players from more or less the same farm teams (Harvard, Yale, etc.) It seems the same because it is the same. But the stock market is up!
Our oligarchs are, no doubt, in denial about all these: Onerous rents, declining value, the end of the rule of law. (See Lloyd Blankfein, under "Doing God's work.") And our political class is busily keeping their denial invisible (See Obama, under "skin in the game")
So, if we regard our political (no quotes) task as making the denial of our oligarchs visible so as to delegitimize their rule, as the Egyptian did with Mubarak, how is that to be done, given that our ruling class has not one face, but a set of shifting false faces?
Can a set of relations ever be personalized? Rental relations don't have a real face. (Yes, one can create personas, but Mubarak was the real face of the regime ("Do I need a button that says TYRANT?"). For that reason alone they're harder to resist (although see; [#73]).
So I don't have an answer for how to create a wedge slogan that makes denial visible, as "Leave!" did for the Egyptians. However, DanPS's nine-word platform comes the closet I've seen to creating such wedges on policy, and it has an Egyptian simplicity to it:
1. Medicare for All
2. End the Wars
3. Soak the rich
Note that all three are not about redistributing rents among oligarchs, but reducing rental extraction as such. In the current climate, that makes them much more than "reform." However, the third point has always been the point of contention. Some have objected to the rhetoric ("soak"). Others have argued that it's not really a policy, unlike the first two points. (Although if you don't want the conservative outcome of an aristocracy of inherited wealth, soaking the rich is what you must do.) What I'm wondering is whether it can or should be changed into something that's an even more pointed form of class warfare: Perhaps "Prosecute the banks," or "Jail the banksters."
Why? For one thing, the bankers ought to be in jail; CEOs in orange jumpsuits doing the perp walk. That they aren't in jail, but have more money and power than ever, is an outrage and makes the complete moral collapse of the elite obvious to those with eyes to see; a ruling class that can't throw one of its own to the wolves to appease or pre-empt popular outrage isn't worthy to rule, in the same way that an empire that can't maintain a hold on its client states doesn't deserve to be an empire. In addition, "banksters" comes as close to creating a persona for a class as words can do; and the stories of paying for cocaine and prostitutes out of the research budget are not wrong. Finally, the line between the banksters and the rest of us is, I think, a good place to put the point of the wedge in terms of the important appeal to all walks of life: I know conservative businessmen locally who are simply outraged at how the rule of law is ignored. Finally, "Mubarak must go" was terrific in that it provided a binary indicator of a change in system state; that is, if Mubarak had not gone, the protests would go on. "Jail the banksters" has that binary characteristic, as "Soak the rich" does not. (Medicare for All and End the Wars have a lot of implementation detail, and so are not suitable metrics.)
So, in terms of placards for the next march, for values:
3. Pursuit of Happiness
and for proposals:
1. Medicare for All
2. End the Wars
3. Jail the Banksters
NOTE I also want to tersely stress two more takeaways from Egypt: 1. Strategic doctrine: Non-violence. 2. Operational art: Self-organization. Note how WI, so far at least, shares these with Egypt. The protests around, say, G20, share neither aspect. #2 often comes under the heading of "leaderlessness," by which is meant not the idea that there are no leaders, but that leaders emerge on the ground in the moment because of their skill sets, they don't go on the teebee, and they disappear when their work is done. We should have, for example, no Lenin at the Finland Station, no generals in sunglasses, and no Mario Savio (or Chicago 7, for that matter). All that devolves into spectacle must be shunned.
Also, I suppose I'm subsuming "productive relations" under "rental relations." That may be sloppy and bad, a consequence of my class position. I'm not sure.
Maybe for strategy and tactics (just throwing this out there):
3. Women and children first
NOTE * From our Barcaloungers, we can say "Oh! It's just a military dictatorship!" But what we forget is that a transition to the military (and a military transition...) was the outcome that the protesters themselves preferred. Nobody can know whether they were "right" or not, but that's what they wanted.
NOTE ** Kochs; Murdochs;
NOTE *** I'll put Moveon's twitter feed on WI in the sidebar when I've got some indication that Moveon won't throw working people under the bus in 2011 and 2012 in the same way they did in 2008.
NOTE **** Why don't we turn the banks into regulated public utilities?
NOTE ***** Last week I went to our local Thrift Store and bought an LL Bean cotton shirt for $0.50 (fifty cents) that's far better constructed, and much more pleasurable against the skin, than a shirt I could by for $20 (twenty bucks) at the Mall.