The Armies of the Right
Political pundits were divided over the significance of Doug Hoffman's successful bid to grab the "conservative" banner from Dede Scozzafava in the race for New York's 23rd Congressional District. Scozzafava withdrew after finding herself trailing badly in three way polls between Hoffman and Democratic Candidate Bill Owens. The National Review saw Scozzafava's defeat as the "first Republican scalp" of the Tea Party Movement, itself a kind of insurgency within the GOP demanding a return to the principles of small government and low taxes. Certainly Hoffman's candidacy seems like perfect evidence for the proposition that both the Republican and Democratic Party leadership are the same class of people divided by cosmetic differences. For one, Scozzafava was hardly the stereotypical conservative. The National Review wrote:
Her sympathies — pro-choice, pro-homosexual marriage, weak on taxes, sticking by the Teamsters and the SEIU on the “card check” program, which would deprive workers of a secret ballot in union-organizing votes — found her to the left of many Democrats and most Republicans. It was no surprise, then, that she enjoyed the support of such hard-Left elements as ACORN, the government-employee unions, and Daily Kos honcho Markos Moulitsas Zúñiga.
For another, she immediately confirmed the worst suspicions when she endorsed Democrat Bill Owens immediately after resigning from the race. This deeply embarassed Newt Gingrich, who had endorsed Scozzafava and drew a public mea culpa from House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). Following her endorsement of the Democratic candidate he said:
"This lady clearly has an agenda that's different than most Republicans," Boehner said of Scozzafava, who dropped out of the race Saturday. "She was out there promoting herself and we're doing everything we can to help Doug Hoffman in this race and we hope he wins."
To make matters worse, it looked like a case of attempting to join a bandwagon that had left the GOP leadership behind. Polls had Hoffman -- the outsider who didn't stand a chance -- ahead of Bill Owens. Although the Tea Party flag is now effectively flying from the New York 23rd district Republican standard, the National Review has serious doubts about the the insurgent's ability to take the more heavily fortified establishment bulwarks. They explained that in the case of the 23rd District, the town doors had been left open and the watchmen were mostly asleep.
The unique circumstance of a special election allowed Republican county chairmen, not Republican primary voters, to choose the candidate. That’s not going to be the case in congressional districts around the country next year. Nor will many Republican candidates be as awful as Scozzafava, the choice of New York’s decrepit GOP establishment. Yes, candidates should reflect their districts — Buffalo, N.Y., is not Ames, Iowa, is not Orange County, Calif. — but the line obviously should be drawn well short of positively liberal candidates like Scozzafava. We suspect all those liberal pundits gleefully predicting a self-defeating GOP “civil war” will be sorely disappointed next year.
Next time they'll be ready, said the NRO. But although there is confusion and high dudgeon in Republican leadership circles, an unaccountable panic has seized Mr. Frank Rich, who Commentary calls "the New York Times’s theater-critic-turned-political-columnist". For Mr. Rich, Hoffman is a 'right-wing Stalin' incarnate:
For most people, this is an interesting intra-party skirmish with some potentially important political ramifications. But for Mr. Rich, it’s so much more than that. It’s going to set off a “riotous and bloody national G.O.P. civil war.” The northern district in New York “could become a G.O.P. killing field.” What’s going on there is evidence that “the right has devolved into a wacky, paranoid cult that is as eager to eat its own as it is to destroy Obama.” And conservatives are “Jacobins” who are “re-enacting Stalinism in full purge mode.” And in case that was too subtle, they are “the Stalinists of the right.”
Commentary argues that Rich is merely running scared. "Rich and others on the Left are going around the twist because they sense that the political ground is shifting beneath their feet. Their political Messiah is turning out not only to be mortal but also deeply flawed. His policies are generating widespread and intense opposition." Both the Commentary and NRO pieces, for all their excellence, don't tackle the most interesting question raised by Frank Rich's reaction to Doug Hoffman's earthquake. Where are the Tea Parties of the Left?
A partial answer is provided by the New Republic. The grassroots movement of the Left is presently cooling its heels in "party headquarters inside a putty brown stucco building south of the Capitol." Lydia DePillis writes of the rise and fall of Obama's grassroots. "It wasn't supposed to be this way." But in the process of telling the story of Obama's grassroots, she lets the most interesting fact of all out the bag. All the strings were being pulled from the top. The words are those of DePillis. The emphasis is mine.
Previous presidents had outsourced their activism to interest groups; Obama was going to create his own. OFA was supposed to be a new kind of permanent campaign: a grassroots network wielding some 13 million email addresses to mobilize former volunteers on behalf of the administration's agenda (and keep them engaged for 2012). "We've never had a political leader who has continued their organizing while in office like this at this scale," Tom Matzzie, former Washington director of MoveOn, told NPR in January.
As right-wing protesters dominated the news this summer, it would have seemed the perfect opportunity for Obama's much-touted organizers to drown out the conservatives with some coordinated agitation of their own. But they barely made a ripple. Where were they? And how could such a formidable grassroots operation--having just put Obama in office--fall quiet so quickly?
The morning after the election, some 10,000 organizers dialed into a conference call with President-elect Obama, who told them that they would be needed for fights to come. But within the Obama camp, there was disagreement about how, exactly, their services ought to be used. OFA could become a freestanding organization that would advocate independently for the president's agenda. Or it could be folded--along with its formidable fundraising potential--into the Democratic National Committee. Steve Hildebrand, Obama's deputy campaign manager, favored the independent option: It would allow the group to "pressure anybody who we would need to build a coalition of votes in the House and Senate," he told the Los Angeles Times in mid-November. David Plouffe, the campaign's mastermind, disagreed. He had won the election through a precisely directed field operation combined with iron message discipline, and wasn't about to give it up.
A few days before the inauguration, Obama announced, in effect, that Plouffe's view had prevailed: Organizing for America would be securely housed within the DNC. (Hildebrand returned to his consulting firm in Sioux Falls, and would later become vocally critical of the administration's incremental approach to issues such as gay rights. Plouffe stayed on as an adviser, and his firm raked in $376,000 this year from the DNC.) The bulk of the DNC's new hires have gone to support OFA, which takes up about half the square footage at party headquarters inside a putty brown stucco building south of the Capitol.
Although Barack Obama has often been described as an "Alinsky organizer", the calumny was on Alinsky. Barack Obama is the very antithesis of the kind of organizer that Saul Alinsky envisioned: a man who permanently eschewed the limelight; who developed leaders and never became a leader himself and who always lived by the axiom, "let the people decide". In Obama we see a man who purposefully mobilized supporters in order to control them from the outset. Then when Obama attained the White House, he reconfirmed his earlier decision. Organizing For America became Organizing for President Obama.
To the question, "Where are the Tea Parties of the Left?" the simple answer is: they were led from the top. The crucial question which every man of the left must wrestle with is whether Tea Parties of the Left will ever be led from the bottom. George Orwell always assumed the answer to be "yes" until he learned differently in Catalonia. Most people on the Left think that rebellion is a permanent condition of "their" side. When out of power maybe. When in power things are different. Conservatives operate on a different model from that of the Left. They band together at need but tend to form no permanent organizations. By contrast, the Left is a standing political army. It never sleeps. It never disbands. It is always on the march, in season and out of season. And even when it isn't doing anything -- it is doing something. And when it is in power, it must do even more.
The Blue Collar Professor notes that Alinsky was Gramscian rather than Stalinist in his approach. People may be surprised to learn that Saul Alinsky wrote:
Let us in the name of radical pragmatism not forget that in our system with all its repressions we can still speak out and denounce the administration, attack its policies, work to build an opposition political base. True, there is government harassment, but there still is that relative freedom to fight. I can attack my government, try to organize to change it. That's more than I can do in Moscow, Peking, or Havana. Remember the reaction of the Red Guard to the "cultural revolution" and the fate of the Chinese college students. Just a few of the violent episodes of bombings or a courtroom shootout that we have experienced here would have resulted in a sweeping purge and mass executions in Russia, China, or Cuba. Let's keep some perspective.
The interesting question is whether, if Saul Alinsky were alive today, he would be sitting "at party headquarters inside a putty brown stucco building south of the Capitol" having meekly obeyed the order of the One to go home and disband. Well, would George Bush read Albert Camus?
Three essays by Dr. Miho Takashima in the International Journal of Humanities explore the relation between the work of the French writer Albert Camus and the English writer George Orwell ... Takashima argues that Orwell — perhaps intentionally, in order to warn the intellectual elite — compromised with "Big Brother", while Camus confronted with The Plague. This is observed not only in the comparison between Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Rebel but, especially, in Camus' play The State of Siege. This theatrical play was written together with the novel The Plague and the essay The Rebel. It is the work which — according to Camus himself represents him best and is a response to George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. The hero, Diego, opposes the totalitarian dictator named Plague, and dies in order to set a Spanish town free from the Inquisition.
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