Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Democrats resort to mindless name-calling in budget battle

About a week ago, blogger Nathan Schneider posted this thoughtful commentary about the relationship of anarchists to government. Scheider was reacting to a statement by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in which Reid called House Republicans "anarchists" because they were trying to use the threat of a government shutdown to defund the Affordable Care Act.

Schneider pointed out that:
(A)narchists today disagree about how to relate to institutions like the pseudo-democratic U.S. government. Some, much like their counterparts on the libertarian right, advocate total withdrawal and non-participation, refusing to do things like vote or pay taxes. Others believe that for now government can be a means for pursuing anarchist-friendly ends; “it’s completely realistic and rational to work within structures to which you are opposed,” writes Noam Chomsky, “because by doing so you can help to move to a situation where then you can challenge those structures.”

Most people with anarchist tendencies fall somewhere in between. They’re less fixated on debating whether government is good or bad than on rebuilding political life from the ground up, starting in local communities that are connected through global networks. When the anarchist-inspired Occupy movement sprang up two years ago, commentators were quick to compare it to the Tea Party — and to judge it by whether, like the Tea Party, it elected politicians to office. But this standard seemed beside the point for Occupy participants, who tended to hold a different strategy for making change. The more useful right-wing analogue would be not the Tea Party but churches, whose massive political power stems from being effective centers of mutual support and community. Megachurch pastors generally keep aloof from elected office, but nobody can deny their influence.
In the current budget stalemate in Washington D.C., I would like to be sympathetic to the Democrats, because the Republicans are just being so hateful. Simple-minded tactics such as Reid's name-calling make it difficult for me to support the Democrats, though. Calling House Republicans "anarchists" -- when they clearly aren't -- isn't any more principled than the old right-wing habit of calling liberals and moderates "communists."

What's really disappointing is that Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has such an honorable history, resorted to the same sort of simple-minded insults, as you can see in the video clip below. The name-calling mars what was otherwise an impassioned but thoughtful speech. In the short run, Democrats might gain some political advantage by using such tactics. In the long run, they'll reinforce the apathy and disgust of citizens with the U.S. political process -- a result that can only benefit the most extreme Republicans.

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