Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Breaking news (OK, it's old): "Obama girl" for Nader and ruminations on the Cult of Personality

The Campaign Trail of Hope(?)--Obama girl has changed her mind on Barack over the last few months, and she's not alone.

Neither major party candidate is addressing the current financial crisis in any substantial or concrete terms, just more of the same. For this reason and all the numerous others, it's time to build a strong third party movement in America, and it has been a long time coming.

Though attempts at this during the Great Depression didn't pan-out, the voice of the people was heard loud and clear through the protest vote. The message remained clear, even after being filtered through the tragically flawed "pundits" and "Populist" leaders of that time, like the Catholic Father Charles E. Coughlin, Huey Long, and Dr. Francis E. Townsend.

Coughlin was a Catholic priest who preached a kind of peculiar social liberation gospel out of Northern Michigan and had a radio show from which he railed against Wall Street after the great crash of 1929. Long was an utterly corrupt Governor of Louisiana (though he did deliver social programs better than most states, even bettering the federal government's) who was dead by an assassin's bullet by 1935, and Dr. Townsend was a retired Doctor who found himself 66 and destitute during the Great Depression. After a long period of lecturing for aid to the elderly, Townsend actually had some real success with the creation of Social Security for the elderly. Millions listened to his radio broadcasts on the economic crisis and the government's inaction, and sent his organization large amounts of money as they did with Long and Coughlin. But these weren't perfect men by any means.

The others succumbed to their own egos in some way or another and became what is commonly known as "demagogues," which is much like accusing someone of yelling fire in a crowded theater. You might cause a stampede. But were they rabble rousers trying to fan the flames of hysteria in-the-midst of the Great Depression and the government's inaction under Herbert Hoover? Yes and no, though--like everything else--it's down to one's political opinions and persuasion where you come down on their methods and rhetoric. The fact is, people were angry and confused just as they are today and wanted some voice of reason, or any voice, that echoed their concerns and offered proposals to fix the economy. Not being genius material, these very famous men were really just channels for the feelings and ideas of the public during hard times, lifted-up by the masses to address and convey what the public wanted.

After all, here are no supermen coming to save us, and the public is the solution. As then, we're trying hard not to learn this, but we might succeed despite ourselves in improving our lives when this all blows over. When we no longer need them, we discard the so-called "strong men," because we should.

Predicably, Coughlin tended to go with whatever the trends of the day happened to be at the moment on his radio show, a program that was heard by as many as 40 million at its peak. In some respects, the "radio priest" whose broadcasts and sermons originated out of Royal Oak, Michigan, resembles today's Michael Moore who uses the mainstream media to spread the message of a socially progressive agenda. But that's where the comparisons end.
[Ed., 10.25.2008--Both men have roots in Canada. Coughlin was originally from there, while Moore has Canadian relatives.]

Charles E. Coughlin was the same kind of disappointing blend of Jew-baiter and hypocrite as many of the Populists of the 1890s had been (my own great-great grandfather
possibly being one). To be certain, the radio priest was a reactionary fascist who made a fortune from his radio broadcasts against Wall Street and the rest of big business--and then promptly invested in it. The irony is that without much of his agitating--and the agitating of the other Populists and the Left--against the Roosevelt administration and Congress, a number of important pieces of social legislation might never have gone anywhere. Bad times open-up these kinds of opportunities, and nothing comes from power without a demand, even when the messengers are wrong-headed boobs.

Coughlin, who claimed to have confronted the KKK for their acts of anti-Catholic violence degenerated into--or was revealed to be--a rabid anti-Semite and a hypocrite, finally embracing Hitler and National Socialism in Germany by the late-1930s. He was far from alone in this, and shared this opinion of fascism with that of the business class of his day. One of them was the grandfather of George W. Bush. After Pearl Harbor, nobody wanted to listen to the radio priest anymore. His Union Party and the Populist convention that converged in 1936 couldn't agree on much, his popularity was waning due to revelations of his own large-holdings on the Wall Street he railed against, and with the assassination of Huey Long, the momentum for a viable Populist Party had stalled once again (an 1896 attempt had also failed).
But then, there's the fact that change sometimes occurs on-accident, but that's life. Long was larger-than-life.

As should be clear by now, Huey Long ran the state of Louisiana like a dictator. Yet Long began what was the template for massive public works programs in the state and went as far as to levy heavy taxes on the oil companies drilling off the shores of the Gulf state. Imagine a politician doing this today, because you're going to have to. At one point, Long was both the governor and a senator of and to Louisiana. Many in and out of Louisiana thought he was a run amok demagogue who had to be stopped.

To say that Huey Long was flamboyant would be an understatement, and the governor used the medium of radio and speechmaking as well as Coughlin and FDR, if not better. Eventually, his growing power and fame would put him in an adversarial position with the president and many others. Ironically, the Louisiana governor was a longtime supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but his own aspirations for the White House severed the ties between them. In 1934, Long created the "Share-our-Wealth Society," a political organization that was supported by tens-of-millions like Coughlin's and Townsend's own groups. When Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama mentioned the term "share-our-wealth," he was referring to Long in an oblique way.

Long stated in an April, 1935 radio address:

Now in the third year of his administration, we find more of our people unemployed than at any other time. We find our houses empty and our people hungry, many of them half-clothed and many of them not clothed at all.
Mr. Hopkins announced twenty-two millions on the dole, a new high-water mark in that particular sum, a few weeks ago. We find not only the people going further into debt, but that the United States is going further into debt. The states are going further into debt, and the cities and towns are even going into bankruptcy. The condition has become deplorable. Instead of his promises, the only remedy that Mr. Roosevelt has prescribed is to borrow more money if he can and to go further into debt. The last move was to borrow $5 billion more on which we must pay interest for the balance of our lifetimes, and probably during the lifetime of our children. And with it all, there stalks a slimy specter of want, hunger, destitution, and pestilence, all because of the fact that in the land of too much and of too much to wear, our president has failed in his promise to have these necessities of life distributed into the hands of the people who have need of them. (http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5109/)
It all sounds very familiar, even timely to our present crisis. Long was dead not long after the broadcast, and it had been hoped that he would be part of a coalition with Townsend, Coughlin, and other progressive groups fighting for social programs to fix a broken nation and economy. With the exception of Huey Long, none of these men ever held public office and were generally off the public stage by the end of the 1930s. Their dreams--and the dreams of the tens-of-millions of Americans who backed them--of a unified national Populist Party--were dashed on the rocks.
Yet, things changed in the several of the directions they had pushed, and they influenced the public dialogue for a badly needed social agenda during an unprecedented economic crisis. It wasn't just FDR or Congress that created the New Deal. It was the American people, speaking through these horribly imperfect men, who achieved the Social Security programs, the public works programs that brought people out of widespread unemployment and poverty, who created progressive taxation, who unionized the workplaces of predatory and exploitative employers, and who helped civilize this society in ways their ancestors would have thought unthinkable.
But where does Ralph Nader fit into this? Why should he run at all if he doesn't have much of a chance of winning?

Things change, and contexts change. We're in a threshold moment in our history where things are never going to be the same ever again. These moments hold incredible opportunities that must be acted on by the public if they want them to go in a constructive direction for all. Some of the infrastructure is already here with the internet, but we must begin rebuilding social-networks based on trust and friendship. The day of "me first, and only me" is coming to a crashing end, and only by banding together and helping one another will we come out the other end with a nation worth living in and defending.

"Obama girl" isn't a girl at all, but a woman. She's grown-up and understands that the two party system is going to fail us without some very hard shoves. For this reason, she--like myself and many others--will be supporting our most responsible public citizen, Ralph Nader. Because, you don't always have to "win," but you have to pressure the people in Washington endlessly to do what you want them to do for the good of everyone. Hint: you don't ask. Trust is important, foster it in yourself and others. Have someone else's back. Smile. Make a friend. Open a door for an old lady. Give people the right-of-way. Treat others as you would like to be treated. That's the social contract, and it's time to retake the political process in this country. Why Nader? Why not? People like Ralph Nader are here to push the politicians to serve the public.

The myth is that Nader's the "spoiler" of the 2000 election, which is a lie and holds an anti-democratic attitude that deserves no quarter. Democrats should remember that the Republicans are working hard to attempt stealing this election as they have done so for a very long time. But there's a catch: it has to be close. That's also not Ralph Nader's fault, but the fault of the electorate for choosing poorly, especially when they vote Republican, truly the party of crime and corruption.

Vote with your heart and your mind, but also with your conscience. Don't ignore the warning-signs of a candidate, and remember that you're going to hold them accountable once they're in office. The last eight years is the cost of apathy and indifference in these areas.

Postscript, 10.25.2008: The best thing to remember with Nader is that he's also a person-of-color, an Arab-American, and one of the finest examples of the positive-effects of immigration for America. His parents were Lebanese. I will be voting for another historically unprecedented candidate besides Obama. Who's done more for America? Obama or Ralph Nader? It wouldn't matter who it was--don't listen to me--a voter--and you're going to be out. That includes Ralph Nader, or anyone else.