This commentary is rated MA for mature audiences. It contains analytic discussion of liberal talking points that will point out the flaws in so-called progressive thinking from a position further left than speaker. It will rigorously apply an analytic to find internal consistency to a certain liberal celebrity who considers himself as an anti-racist radical.
Let me introduce you a very specific rhetorical trick employed by Tim Wise. Apparently, as a white man, Tim Wise has taken it as his agenda to point out how demanding a progressive vision is de facto racist when that criticism is aimed at Barak Obama. For a long time, I was impressed with Wise. His clear statements of the problems of so-called post-racial America. Furthermore, conservatives and explicit racists hated him and attacked him with the most transparent arguments so that I couldn’t help by like him. I mean having WorldNutDaily call you anti-white genocidial fiend is almost the best kind of advertisement since the hyperbole means they care. Yet, something felt very strange about one man making his career off of pointing out white “privileged” (power). It seemed like a form of said power. Then I noticed something else, the hedging and really weak arguments given by Wise against liberals
criticizing Obama. I will give you an example.
Wise posits an alternative candidate:
“Unlike Barack Obama, he supports an immediate end to our current and ongoing wars abroad.
Unlike Barack Obama, he supports an end to predator drone attacks by the United States military, which kill innocent civilians and foment growing hatred of America. He believes that the so-called “war on terror” as we’ve engaged it has undermined American freedoms at home and contributed to greater tensions and anti-American sentiment abroad.
Unlike Barack Obama, he supports an entirely revamped Middle East policy, in which the U.S. will no longer subsidize the oppression of the Palestinian people by the state of Israel.
Unlike Barack Obama, he supports either abolishing or fundamentally reforming the Federal Reserve system, and he opposed bailing out the banks with public funds.
Unlike Barack Obama, this individual opposes government spying and believes in absolute freedom of speech and the press, and as he puts it, “reduced government intrusion into our lives.”
Clearly, with such a progressive vision, no one of the left would want to pass up the opportunity to support a candidate such as this for president! Surely it would be a vast improvement over Barack Obama, that Wall Street- friendly, imperialistic, war-monger, who promised to close Guantanamo but didn’t, among other unforgivable crimes.
So by all means, let’s get behind someone who will close down the national security state, stand up for civil liberties, and stop
handing out money to bankers.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the left, I give you your perfect candidate for 2012:
Now, is Wise making a point about how David Duke is more anti-war than many anti-war liberals and thus making a point about the incoherence of Democratic politics and it’s tribalism? That’s a powerful contradiction to point out. That a white supremists wants to stop killing brown people and end expansions into the middle East and central Africa while a “black” President does not. Black Agenda Report has been utterly consistent on this point: Going so far as to point out as far as the supremism of a certain class (which is mostly white) and as cover for the objective standards of living for black people, Barak Obama is not the “lesser” evil, he’s the more effective one. Furthermore, economic well-being for African Americans has declined under Obama’s tenure disproportionately. As Glen Ford points out:
Traditional Black progressive and movement politics has been replaced by fear and sycophantism, as Blacks once again circle the wagons around Obama and contort the events of the last three years to justify their unrequited loyalty to the Banker’s President. Fear of Republicans is deployed as an excuse for failure to defend the community from its worst domestic crisis in many generations, and for Black America’s collective failure to intervene in Obama’s assaults on peace, in general, and Africa, in particular. But something more insidious is at work, here: a kind of Black group “patriotism” that values vicarious African American association with imperial power. When a Black man is virtual king of the world, African Americans must be more than simply the bottom rung of the domestic social ladder – no matter what the statistics say. African Americans may account for one out of eight prison inmates on the planet, but one of their own is also the most powerful person on Earth.
Thus, the proud legacy of Black American progressivism and activism is trumped by the narrowest, self-defeating nationalism. A Black misleadership class that cannot raise a finger in defense of its own people manages to move their lips all day long urging Blacks to rally around Obama – a man held in such high esteem among the enemies of Black people, on Wall Street, he will undoubtedly be the biggest recipient of corporate campaign funding in 2012, repeating his 2008 performance.
This seems like a symbolic tribalism that is actually bad for the national cause of African American politics. It’s purely about a cultural elite within an ethnic group as Glen Ford, himself a left-wing black nationalist, is pointing out.
No, this is not the focus of Wise’s outrage. Wise is pointing out that many liberals impressed by Ron Paul would be impressed by David Duke on the same grounds.
Yessir, legal weed and an end to the TSA: enough to make some supposed leftists ignore everything else Ron Paul has ever said, and ignore the fundamental incompatibility of Ayn Randian thinking with anything remotely resembling a progressive or even humane worldview. And this is so, even though he wouldn’t actually have the authority to end the TSA as president, a slight glitch that is conveniently ignored by those who are desperate to once again be able to take large bottles of shaving gel onto airplanes in the name of “liberty.”
I want those of you who are seriously singing Paul’s praises, while calling yourself progressive or left to ask what it signifies — not about Ron Paul, but about you — that you can look the rest of us in the eye, your political colleagues and allies, and say, in effect, “Well, he might be a little racist, but…”
Let’s paraphrase: Paul is a paleo-conservative libertarian. You see what how these privileged liberal white boys like in him is only because he’s pro-pot and ending wars. Lifestyle stuff. Never mind the horribleness of his economic policy.
Now, I would agree with him if this strawman of these “white liberals” (which Wise himself is definitely one and would admit) didn’t obfuscate a larger point. Why is that Paul seems more consistent than Obama? Paul’s lack of a progressive agenda shows how shallow so many progressives are in terms of world politics. The progressive liberal still accepts expliotation as long
as the moral optics within the country are acceptable. Paul exposes the contradictions in liberal position(both the left-liberal and libertarian position): you can’t have a “progressive” social democratic movement within only ONE country or just a few rich countries and ignore the plight of all those whose labor must be exploited to maintain it as long as they are outside that system.
Now, I am not a Maoist and definitely not a third-worldist, but it’s not hard to see their point on this. Paul is not cynically manipulating the public for a capitalists dystopia as Wise is suggesting.. Paul’s believes in the promise of classical liberalism’s liberation and that it is in line with traditional Protestant values. People are responding to that just as much as they are responding to their own freedom. Paul is a symptom of these contradictions and an embodyment of them.. Wise, however, can’t acknowledge this because: You see, this is only about white privilege and not trying hard enough.
I’ll let Wise speak for himself:
How do you think that sounds to black people, without whom no remotely progressive candidate stands a chance of winning shit in this country at a national level? How does it sound to them — a group that has been more loyal to progressive and left politics than any group in this country — when you praise a man who opposes probably the single most important piece of legislation ever passed in this country…
Wise has a point here, again, but the point seems to fly over his own head. Why is that a man who opposed to the civil rights platform wants to stop the indiscriminate killing of brown people for the benefit of a few. Notice the moral language. But is this really a moral appeal?
No, it’s real politique while completely dressed in moral language and public relations. Wait, huh, Wise is chastising white liberals on moral grounds and then makes a cynical appeal based on the need for black progressives in a progressive political base? Now, that actually sounds exploitative to me.
You see, if it was a moral critique then we could ask some serious questions to Wise. Questions like:
How do you think shilling for a President that increases drone attacks on brown people sounds to said brown people when ignored to score some points with the African American political base? How cynical is it to hollow out the struggle for African American nationalism for symbolic pride?
Since, however, this is not really a moral argument, we don’t have to ask those. According to Wise, however, the white liberals didn’t think about how bad that sounds because “they don’t have to” implicitly due to privilege:
It’s the same reason you don’t have to really sweat the fact that he would love to cut important social programs for poor people. And you don’t have to worry about how it sounds to them that you would claim to be progressive, while encouraging support for a guy who would pull what minimal safety net still exists from under them, and leave it to private charities to fill the gap. And we all know why you don’t have to worry about it. Because you aren’t them. You aren’t the ones who would be affected. You’llnever be them. I doubt you even know anyone like that. People who are that poor don’t follow you on Twitter.
But what about Wise’s class and geographic privilege–and that which every American shares regardless of their (or lack of)? Wise doesn’t have to think about that any more than the white liberals he castigates has to think gender or race issues within those set of privileges. This just becomes a set of concerns over life style issues in which the actual fate of those people are ignored.
Now if Obama was remotely consistent on these issues would said white liberals be running to “illiberal” (read: conservative liberal and libertarian) candidates like Paul?
I think you know what the answer to that probably is. Now, the meta-posturing that Wise does here is amazing: “You, white liberal, can never know what it is like to be black, and you wouldn’t be affected by Paul’s policies.”
Well, actually, almost all of those silly liberals who line up for Paul would be affected by those choices. Dramatically and drastically, even ones affecting woman’s reproductive health. It just doesn’t occur to them. But the self-righteous of this posture coming from a person to whom the critique applies is actually staggering. Yes like the death of Afghanistanis or the structural need for cheap labor for the warfare-welfare state to be maintained in a neo-liberal context doesn’t occur to Wise either. (Or if it does, he doesn’t mention it. But I am more charitable in my strawmen than Wise is). Yet, it would be logically fallacious to invalidate Wise’s argument just on the tu quo que fallacy.
But let’s look at Wise’s next substantive claim:
When you support or give credence to a candidate, you indirectly empower that candidate’s worldview and others who hold fast to it.
Given what Glen Ford has pointed out about the material conditions under Barrack Obama, what does this mean for Mr. Wise? Especially given that this is the same false binary that former President Shrub employed right after 9-11, which I am sure Wise objected to. Wise talks about the importance of subtle judgments when it comes to Barrack Obama:
See, believe it or not, judgment matters. If a man believes there is a straight line of unbroken tyranny betwixt the torture and indefinite detention of suspected terrorists on the one hand, and anti-discrimination laws that seek to extend to all persons equal opportunity, on the other, that man is a lunatic
So there is a libertarian logic here is insane. But the then Wise does the slippery slope move himself:
And please, Glenn Greenwald, spare me the tired shtick about how Paul “raises important issues” that no one on the left is raising, and so even though you’re not endorsing him, it is still helpful to a progressive narrative that his voice be heard. Bullshit. The stronger Paul gets the stronger Paul gets, period.
Logically and structurally the two sentiments are identical: Wise’s argument against Greenwald is the identical to the insane libertarian argument in everything but degree. You, according to Wise, pointing out that Paul raises important issues is the same as supporting EVERYTHING he says out. See how that works? Wise is in direct contradiction to himself. In fact, Wise takes it a step-further:
I mean, seriously, if “raising important issues” is all it takes to get some kind words from liberal authors, bloggers and activists, and maybe even votes from some progressives, just so as to “shake things up,” then why not support David Duke?
See, Wise, anyone who believes that these are the same is a lunatic.
So whose fault is this situation:
Meanwhile, at what point do you stop being so concerned about whether a presidential candidate is pushing the issues Paul raises (so many of which do need raising and attention), and realize what every actual leftist in history has realized, but which apparently some liberals and progressives don’t: namely, that the real battles are in the streets, and in the neighborhoods, and in movement activism?
Now, I have a question for Tim Wise here: In the past, in a electoral Republic, how is battles in the streets of New York and in the neighborhoods of the suburbs going to end wars in Afghanistan? Oh, yeah, according to liberal and progressive politics, by putting pressure on politicians.
Now, how is it if there are no candidates running the Democratic primary and there are no third parties that are viable is movement politics supposed to work, Tim?
Because, if anyone does run, they are going to look like a spoiler who allowed Mitt Romney, who only substantive difference from Barrack Obama policy from a “progressive” perspective would be appointment of supreme courts judges, or Rick Santorum,, whose basic competence I doubt, win. Furthermore, given that Mr. Wise knows the hawkish element of the Republican party will not allow Paul win and Ron Paul remains in the GOP, that all he is doing is attracting people to these issues anyway.
Now I am not defending Ron Paul: I am a socialist, not a libertarian. I think Paul’s economic policies would accelerate degeneration of late capitalism. But, you see, by pointing out how sad these things are for Obama, I am forgetting that pressure is in the streets. Where real politics is. If real politics is taken to the streets in a real way, I doubt Mr. Wise would like the results. When electoral politics is no longer an option, and people take to the streets for while: You are as likely to have Syria as Tunisia.
But I’ll let Wise speak:
In short, if you’re still disappointed in Barack Obama, it’s only because you never understood whose job it was to produce change in the first place.
Last time I checked, Tim, victim blaming is not something good liberals do.
“You elected him, but now from your privilege you are pointing out that Paul is better on foreign policy than him. Therefore you should put do your activism in the streets.” (Implication: TO put pressure on Obama to do the right thing). Oh, never mind that you have no electoral choices and to even point out how much of a problem this is because you are privileged, so support Barrack Obama so he’ll do the right thing. The logic isn’t even circular.
You see, this is what passes for anti-racism these days. Apologetics for Democrats while adopting moral postures to actually point out real politique in a logically incoherent way. People wonder why I distrust liberals as much as conservatives. So what a leftist, even who believes in some of the promises of Enlightenment liberalism, must do is combat liberalism. To fight for livelihood of black people, you have to go beyond symbolic politics within the Democratic party. If you to be willing to be honest about how flaccid so much of what passes for good liberal punditry is not even consistent on its own terms within the same advocacy piece, you have to turn up your nose at pieces like Wise.
To be change the world, you have to be honest about what the world as it currently exists is, which few liberal Democrats can still do.