Time to Dismantle the War and the Constitution of Television

Cross-posted on OpenLeft.

One of Wes Clark's best expressions is 'we can do it because we are doing it'. And after wallowing in some frustration over mistakes progressives have made, I'm coming around to the view that we are working hard to end the war. Whether you are working to elect Democrats, fighting on progressive issue advocacy, registering voters, stopping military recruitment, engaging for media reform, running for office, doing voter integrity work, trying to pass good energy legislation or universal health care, you are working to end the war. We just have to begin to understand our political work that way. Just as Grover Norquist framed the conservative movement's moral attitude in a no-tax pledge, we must consider our mantra of reorganizing society as the need to end the war, and the war economy and culture it requires to keep going.

The biggest mistake made by antiwar groups and progressives in the spring of 2007 was looking for one big moment to cut funding for the conflict, and assuming that could put enough pressure on Bush to remove troops. I cheered on the strategy, so it's not like I'm saying 'I told you so', and I'm also not saying that the strategy failed. The Republicans are tied to Iraq, they are on the record voting to sustain the war repeatedly, and we were able to identify Bush Dogs as a problem to be solved. And it's quite possible that the pressure Republicans felt has led to a dramatic decline in the possibility that we are going to war in Iran. Certainly the 2006 elections, which led to Rumsfeld's ouster, weakened Cheney's hand.

In fact, I think that, if we broaden our view of the conflict, we'll see that there is an incredibly vibrant and effective movement against the war and that the nature of the problem is extremely complicated and not easily solved, and that we are already working hard to end the war and construct a different kind of society that doesn't need conflict to sustain its moral logic. It just was waylaid a bit by a lack of self-identification and groups that narrowed antiwar activity to legislative and political battles around war funding and timelines.

Let's take a broader view. The media reform movement started in 2003, when 3 million people wrote the FCC to protest new rules allowing media consolidation. FCC Commissioner Michael Copps recently told me that he didn't know 3 million people had heard of the FCC, and it's pretty well understood at the time that people were reacting to the new tools of the internet and to the lies told by media conglomerates about Iraq. It's still quite stunning to note that General Electric both has defense contracts and owns a substantial portion of our media infrastructure, but the work centered around the advocacy organization Free Press, the work to protect the internet, to open and protect networks, and to begin rolling back big media has been enormously successful. The internet is less likely to be destroyed by the people who sent us to war every day, and the institutions of journalism are being reformed both in a positive sense through new citizen journalism initiatives like Off The Bus and Talkingpointsmemo, and in a negative sense in the criticisms of the punditocracy and talking heads.

The blogosphere arose at the same time as the media reform movement, and Moveon grew and became even more powerful at the same time, expanding to media issues, internet policy, privacy, as well as antiwar work. And ColorOfChange has come in aggressively to work against people who voted for the war, like Democrat Al Wynn, even as the gates are being crashed and the Democratic Party that allowed us to go to war is being reformed by outsiders. ColorOfChange emerged after Katrina, as a response to the tragedy that the Bush administration allowed to happen. The 2000 election, which was stolen by Bush, and which allowed to the expansion of executive authority and eventually the push for war, has spurred a vibrant electoral reform effort, which is having significant impacts in Florida. Ohio even has a new Democratic Secretary of State, and the ACLU is working on rolling back executive authority, pushing the Presidential candidates on the Democratic side to make constitutional issues a centerpiece of their campaign. And on a cultural level, right-wing authoritarian evangelical church networks are seeing institutional reforms of their own in the form of new open source churches focusing on poverty and creation care.

What's happening, slowly but surely, is that the civic institutions that are broken - from the Democratic Party to the media to the electoral system to the legal system to our religious institutions - are being repaired by ordinary and engaged citizens. It is a broad, deep, and powerful antiwar movement, but it is not a centralized group that puts out press releases. It is ordinary people working every day for their values, and their values happen to contravene the values of the war economy and its bottleneck resource structures.

Going into the 2008-2010 political season, it's time to reexamine the nature of the antiwar movement and begin to recognize that rolling back the war has a direct and an indirect path. The direct path is described by Tom Hayden.

The peace movement can succeed only by applying people pressure against the pillars of the war policy--public opinion, military recruitment and an ample war budget--through marching, confronting military recruiters and civil disobedience. The pillars have been eroding since 2004.

Actually, the pillars have been eroding since 2003, when the public strongly disagreed with the first $87 billion request for funding the war. But Hayden is correct, the hard leverage points in ending the war are budget, troops, and public opinion. When those props are removed, the conflict ends one way or another.

The indirect pillars of the war are deeper and involve ending the national security state Chris and I have written about. Here's how I described this state just after the supplemental passed.

I've argued for the supplemental, and I'm glad it's going to pass today.  It's actually rather remarkable that it's going to pass today, as the larger context for the fight is actually not favorable to progressives.  Recognize that this is one step, not just directed at ending the war in Iraq, or at stopping Bush, but at ending a long-term trend towards an authoritarian national security state.  Many of our media, economic, cultural, and political institutions have been directed towards such a state, and this is very much a bipartisan trend - it's not a coincidence that the 1984 ad had such resonance for IBM in the early 1980s and with Hillary Clinton today (I'm not arguing she's big brother, that's absurd, only that the ad resonates).

The roots of this state are traceable directly to an authoritarian South, a one-party unique region in America that has held the balance of power since the 1930s and that was and is dedicated above all to a race-based hierarchical society.  Through shaping even progressive legislation, like the Wagner Act, Dixiecrats ensured that broad-based class movements failed.  It's not widely-understood, but the reason the South flipped to an anti-labor stance in the 1940s is because the CIO had tremendous success in organizing multi-racial unions as World War II labor markets tightened.  This was a direct threat to Jim Crow, and so Southern Democrats cooperated with Republicans to pass Taft-Hartley, a piece of legislation which basically made labor organizing impossible and turned unions into groups that can only advocate for their own survival.  At the same time, there were massive pre-McCarthy purges of leftists and decertifications of leftists unions, leaving unions open to infiltration by the CIA, FBI, organized crime, and bureaucratic inertia.  The biggest movement for social justice in American history - the labor movement of the 1930s - ran up against the South, and the South turned it into a pro-Vietnam reactionary force that rejected the New Left in the 1960s.

In 1945, there were more strikes than there had ever been in American history.  From 1946-1948, the purges happened.  And then the 1950s somehow placidly came, and women were no longer in the factories and African-American soldiers were somehow living back in segregated neighborhoods.  It's funny, how history is written by the winners.  It's funny how the history of the post-WWII reaction, the women in factories in WWII being forced out of work and the returning African-American soldiers and population migrants being forced into racist structures, is just kind of glossed over.  It shouldn't be.  That's when the national security state, the seeds of the authoritarianism that sprouted into Vietnam, Iraq, and a radically unfair media and economy, were fertilized.

And where were the liberals?  Well, the liberals were going along with it, helping to cooperate with the Southern autocrats to destroy what they perceived as the existential communist threat (and eliminate their Henry Wallace-ite rivals within the Democratic party).  The people that Peter Beinart fetishized destroyed the left from 1946-1948, and so the Cold War took the path it did, and television became the king's telescope into every American home.  We adopted the constitution of television, which was sketched out in the 1930s but not adopted until they got rid of the first set of dirty fucking hippies, the radical organizers of the 1930s who kept bothering everyone about class and race and social justice and ending the draft and the like.

Ending the war means fighting against this long and aggressive tide of war. It means moving us off of a carbon economy, which will probably be profitable and allows as Van Jones notes wealth to be distributed more evenly. It means restoring civil liberties and repairing the military, removing the incentives for war in the form of for-profit war making bodies like Blackwater. It means ending torture and engaging with the rest of the world through treaties like the Law of the Sea. It means electing more Democrats, and better Democrats, and holding their feet to the fire to ensure that they investigate everything when they finally have power. It means standing up against corporate interests in 2009, and framing the 2010 election as corporations versus Democrats.

Most of all, it means rethinking how we relate to each other. As John Edwards says, it's time to be patriotic about something other than war. A society that values public service values teachers and firemen, it values politicians and librarians, artists and engineers and entrepreneurs, and it values children and people. It does not value hedge fund managers, consultants, mercenaries, think tank experts, and billionaires. Robert Greenwald's 'War on Greed' is speaking to our culture, a different culture, the one that must triumph to genuinely end the war. That's why we're in it, to build a new world. Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine explains why the other side wants more war, wants more disaster capitalism, and pushes for free markets uber alles.

This is our world, it's our country, and it's time to recognize that our work in building a strong and multicultural democratic movement of elites, activists, citizens, and decision-makers rests on a different vision, a radical vision shared by the pamphleteers of the 1780s. It's a vision of a country where everyone has equal rights.

So let's end the war. We can do it, because we are doing it.