Tuesday, September 15, 2009

American Politics: Two Left Feet

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Some people have two left feet. America doesn't even have one, not a toenail. My latest theory is that the impotence of our left can be judged in inverse proportion to the amount of Che tee shirts worn by its proponents. And the decibel level of their response to political outrages.

When the Democrats recently forced out Van Jones as Obama's green jobs Tzar to quell Republican fury, the most I heard were squeaks from the left. Only whispers were offered in protest when Republican administrations tolerated, actually applauded conservatives who denied global warming as frequently as the Holocaust, posited a secret global government, and supported "Middle Eastern policies meant to hasten the second coming" as Michelle Goldberg notes in the American Prospect.

Why the relative silence? Especially when those revolutionary Che tee-shirts are in ample supply in the U.S.?

Because they don't indicate anything except failure, of good sense, and the imagination. What Republican would wear an image of Bush on the destroyer declaring victory in Iraq shortly before the place exploded, taking the entire region, and the American economy, more or less along for the ride? We won, we won. Kaboom. No. You wash your hands of the triumphalist image and move on.

The left, however, continues to embrace Che, who along with his bosom buddy Fidel, gave birth to an equal, if more localized, disaster. Cubans in that enormously fertile island are going hungry, and it's not all the fault of the embargo. Police profiling of black folks, even women, is as bad as in New Jersey. The lauded Cuban health care system is largely reserved for the party faithful. School kids don't have school uniforms, books. Or toilet paper. "Revolutionary" forces protect the working class by forbidding union organizing. Queers are arrested if they try to do anything outside the sphere of their protectrice Mariela Castro who defends us in a creepy, medicalized way as homossssssssexuals and transssssexuals that have to be tolerated because they were born that way.

Altogether, Cuba has become what Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez calls "a society marked by the criminalization of opinions, where even the nuts and children don't say what they think, just the drunks." Which are then arrested. After a clip was posted on YouTube of a hammered Juan Carlos Gonzalez Marcos, "Panfilo" interrupting a video interview to announce that "what Cubans really needed was grub. We're horribly hungry," the middle-aged Afro-Cuban man got two years in jail.

And despite his early, and heroic departure, Che can't be absolved for how Cuba evolved. If I remember correctly, he was the architect of the "re-education" camps for prostitutes that went on to imprison queers, other social degenerates and enemies of the revolution that now include bloggers in addition to voluble drunks.

If that's the truth, why oh why oh why do so many in the American left cling to the myth of Che as hero, using Cuba as a handy hook on which to hang all our hopes and dreams of beauty, revolution, life under a perpetually shining sun?

Ignorant? Or just lazy? For a revolution all you need is a beret, a boat called Granma, a bunch of guys with guns, pure hearts, and a couple of weeks of ripe historical conditions. Change in a democracy, especially a mediocre one, takes years of wallowing in political filth, compromise, back room deals, insults, persistence, and of course buckets of dough.

It's more entertaining, cleaner to just go out on the streets to protest for women's and queer rights. Against war and against racism. To collect money for Green Peace and animal sanctuaries. With their insistence on keeping their hands spotless, I sometimes think the left have far more invested in our Puritan heritage than the religious right.

As a result we're not even in the game. Unlike most other democracies, we have no viable Green Party or other group of the left that could manage to get more than one or two representatives in the House. We have only the centrist and center-right Democrats up against the right-wing and extreme right Republicans.

Without the counterbalance of a political left, the extreme right easily paralyzes the Republicans, and pulls the center farther and farther towards their particular brand of schizophrenic American politics which manages to be both authoritarian and isolationist, paranoid, theocratic, and popular in an elitist (racist, misogynist, homophobic) kind of way.

The only solution is to artificially create a left. Where it could come from though, is anybody's guess. A cabbage patch? Storks? Churches have been the breeding ground of the rising extremists on the right. The left has nothing similar. Social justice movements in 2009 are too fragmented and demobilized to hatch a movement, or even the left wing of a baby chick.

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