Democratic Accomplishments At Home since 2008

Slightly updated version

In my earlier post on White Privilege (which you should read before reading this), I argue that it does us little good to distinguish between whether the Dems care about “civil rights” at home more than their attention to rights violations against foreign nations and foreign nationals.  Now, let’s talk about the charge that the Democrats are a safer bet on a number of issues that concern libs and progs. I am willing to entertain the argument—from a liberal or progressive viewpoint–that the POTUS/Dems are a better bet to protect the interests of citizens and folks of color. Here’s a just a brief review of his/Dems’ record on all non-War on Terror-related issues (I write about those all over this blog).

The Environment: Here’s what comes to mind immediately:

Fracking.  As the Boston Globe reports, POTUS hailed fracking as awarding thousands of new jobs. Great. But at what cost?

The process requires huge volumes of pressurized, chemical-laden water to break apart rock. Not only does it consume scarce water resources, a particular concern in the West, but it poses a threat of contamination if the fracking water is spilled or migrates into aquifers. The industry insists such risks are nearly nonexistent.
 
In the western part of Colorado, preservationists worry that scenic federal lands will be threatened by energy companies eager to take advantage of fracking technologies. On the east side of the Rockies, north of Denver, where there are more voters, entire suburban communities are rising against what they consider a potentially hazardous industrial activity in their backyards. The water used in fracking often contains chemicals known to cause cancer and other human health problems.
 

Clearly, if the industry insists that the threat of contamination is non-existent, then we should believe them. Right? Because what do they have at stake? They’re not in it for the money or anything like that.

By the way:

Environmentalists have been especially dismayed that Obama’s Department of the Interior, in new fracking regulations that apply to leases on federal lands, required drillers to publicly reveal the contents of fracking fluid only after drilling operations have taken place, not before.

Tar Sands Pipeline. POTUS has put off of a decision until after 2012 elections. In light of his other anti-environmental moves, I’m not confident about this major move to environmental degradation.

 British Petroleum. Obama was the biggest recipient of BP’s cash. After the initial disaster, it’s true that POTUS paid lip service to making BP accountable…and have we heard absolutely anything about BP since 2010?

Off-shore drilling. This is an area where Obama’s plan to drill (notice—Not NOT drilling) got overtaken by the House’s more ambitious plan to expand off-shore drilling. So, here’s what the POTUS’ compromise got us: Nothing. If one is going to go down fighting (and by the way, what exactly did the Dems get done under their solid majority until mid-term elections), why not just NOT give in at all?

Labor: 3 FTA bills, dead under the Bush Administration, revived and pushed through under the present Democratic administration. Notice that FOX news is crowing about this. POTUS/Dems are GOOD for the 1%. So apparently, “protecting labor” means passing a bunch of bills that enable US companies to move overseas, engage in “Free Trade” without labor protections—in China, and with the latest, the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Malaysia and Brunei (Hot bed of labor protections there, huh?).
Notice also that our previous Democratic President, the oh-so-liberal Bill Clinton managed to one-up George Bush I by promoting and signing the 1991 NAFTA which spurred the impetus to push jobs to Mexico, forego labor and union rights, and approve sub-par wages for Mexican citizens. Oh, I forgot: we’re supposed to root for the Democrats because they protect labor. Sorry, I lost the script.

Perhaps I’m being paranoid about labor rights and protections being undermined by the TransPacific Partnership. But we can’t find out, can we, because it is one of the least transparent agreements to date.

Health-care: According to some progressive economists, Obamacare is hardly healthcare reform, but rather a subsidy that draws insurance companies squarely into the mix. Great for a bunch of folks who can generally afford health-care, but by and large, puts unemployed and poor folks of a certain income at risk of being penalized if they don’t buy health insurance. Some progressive economists suggest that while Obamacare is being touted as a victory, but it isn’t much of one for poor people and people of color who are already having trouble making ends meet.

Banking: Need we discuss the colossal failure of POTUS and the Dems to manage, scold, punish, fine the bankers?  Read anything, ANYTHING, by Matt Taibbi, Bill Black, Matt Stoller, Sheila Bair, and others, who have discussed this failure ad nauseum. Last time I checked, the banking failure is hurting tons of folks at “home” in the U.S. And I don’t see anyone pointing to POTUS’ courageous stance in resisting the banks.

Mortgage Settlement: Again, need we discuss the colossal failure on the part of Kamala Harris to negotiate an adequate compensation package? See here and here. Neil Barofsky has a new book about the futility of their demands for accountability.  Who is this hurting? Clearly, those families who were hoping to be rescued from losing their houses in the sub-prime mortgage fiasco.

Social Security: A number of progressive economists think that there is a plan to cut Social Security right after the election; and others such as Dean Baker believe that the idea that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme is a myth.

Incarceration. I’ve written about this over and over again. No win here for black and brown US citizens. No win here for migrants and foreign nationals. None.

Drug war: Again, no win here. According to Michelle Alexander, it’s expanded and contributed to the systematic mass incarceration of Black and brown Americans.

Same-Sex rights: Some progress here:

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: Yes, As POTUS and Dems were to be one-upped by a federal judge, they came out in favor of DADT. Very late in the game. And need I remind anyone that it was under Democratic President Clinton’s watch that DADT was instituted? The cycle of life.

Same-Sex Marriage: Yes, as of June of this year—the day AFTER a referendum banning it was passed in North Carolina. The POTUS had 3 years to come out in favor, and was notorious for not being in favor well before his election. The attention to timing is crucial here.

Reproductive Rights: Dem HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius managed to reject an initiative that approved the OTC birth-control pill, even after the bill had passed.

POTUS gave the Catholic Church an out from having to provide insurance for birth control to its employees.

POTUS did manage to include a co-pay free birth control provision.

Violence Against Women Act: Depends on which feminist you ask. Better for US women than for women migrants. Will come back to this in another post.

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White Privilege, American Privilege: Does It Make Sense to Be More Concerned with Rights at “Home”?

Updated Version

I love how white folks are going around deploying “white privilege” pejoratively at this particular moment, 6 weeks from the elections. I think the term is useful and can be illuminating in demonstrating racial and political economic hierarchies   But if white folks are going to use it responsibly, the term should be placed up front, followed by a verb, object, and citation to someone—preferably a writer or activist of color– who explains and puts the term in context.

I wonder if they know that lobbing it against someone else doesn’t make them racially or morally superior, it doesn’t exculpate them from their own (white) privilege, and it doesn’t actually do the work of explaining their concerns.

I also don’t think “white privilege,” as deployed by whites, is a particularly illuminating term in pointing to some of the serious issues that trouble people like me.  After all, we know plenty of folks of color who have accepted the invitation into white supremacy, and helped design policies that induced the suffering of many folks of color—through the architecture of torture, justifying rendition practices, cementing the extra-legal category of enemy combatant, among other things: Condoleezza Rice, Alberto Gonzalez, John Yoo—and that was under the Bush Administration. But plenty of folks of color are doing it today: Governors Nikki Haley & Bobby Jindal on eradicating social structures, reproductive choice, etc. Really, the privilege in question is American (whitish or liberal) privilege: the privilege of not having to know (or know about) foreign nationals or feel particularly obliged to them, or know about the harms done to them, simply because the wars, jingoism, and aggressive foreign policy of the US empire won’t affect you.

White supremacy. Pretty loaded word. As philosopher Charles Mills uses the term in his book, white supremacy is defined to talk about the system of power that is designed to keep whites in power. Mills uses it to talk about the Racial Contract—both as the counterpart of the Social Contract and its foundation. The Social Contract—the one that ensures that white folks will have access to equal and reciprocal rights, can only do so on the backs of black and brown folks, who are sub-persons, in Mills’ terms. And we’ve seen plenty of what this Racial Contract leads to–I write about it here and here and here. But it is certainly possible for brown and black folks to accept the invitation to move ranks—for plenty of good reasons—to escape vulnerability, persecution, harassment. But there are also less than compelling reasons, like doing the work of white supremacists for them: being the architect of torture, of rendition, leading the charge to invade other countries. It’s not unusual that folks of color are invited to do this—and may have some compelling self-interests to do so; but it doesn’t mean that we should refrain from criticizing them, or constantly be subject to charges of racism.

In short, yes, there are some—debatable—improvements with regard to issues that affect mostly middle- and upper-class U.S. citizens. But this is hardly a proud record of accomplishments that should be touted as representing “Americans.”  I’m listing the differences on a new page—both to support my position, but also because I don’t want to distract from the argument here. See here if you are interested.

Really, the idea that we must look so hard to find substantive difference between the two parties suggests that at so many levels, empire has finally taken root.  Empire. White Supremacy. Gawd, such loaded words. And yet, really, this is where the U.S. is. Empire is deployed to justify actions and unite those at home against the Other overseas, who have been subject to conquest.

Hannah Arendt, wrote about the links of race and capitalism as embedded in empire in the Origins of Totalitarianism in 1948.  As she explored the roots of empire in the early 1900’s, she found the “inner contradiction between the nation’s body politic and conquest as a political device” an obvious one.” (1948, 128)  But the failure of this contradiction leads to one of two outcomes: either a fully united national consciousness of those who were conquered…or tyranny. Empire was meant to unite folks at home, to insist upon the moral good done abroad, and to expect their conquests to like it.

Arendt pointed out that the drive to expansion and conquest was fueled by the desire for money to make itself and for power (the state) to follow money (the bankers and capitalists). Imperialists wanted “to expand political power without the foundation of a body politic”—without having a political structure that managed and checked capital and secured rights.

Sound familiar? Here is Arendt again:

“The secret of the new happy fulfillment [of the bourgeoisie’s desire to have money beget money]  was precisely that economic laws no longer stood in the way of the greed of the owning classes. Money could finally beget money because power, with complete disregard for all laws—economic as well as ethical—could appropriate wealth. Only when exported money succeeded in stimulating the export of power could it accomplish its owners’ designs Only the unlimited accumulation of power could bring about the unlimited accumulation of capital. (Arendt 1948, 137)
 

History repeats itself at this moment. This is why it does us little good to separate out “our” obligations to “our own” from our obligations to “Others.” If we try, then we engage in a false disconnect. What happens internationally is intrinsically linked to what happens in the U.S.   Foreign policy influences domestic policy, by insisting that we have to band together against the Other—or it brings the same mentality—and similar policies abrogating rights protections back home—in the form of NDAA, the expansion of FISA, Indefinite detention, wiretapping, FBI databases and fusion centers. Capitalists influence foreign policy in line with their own interests–and consistently in line with domestic policy that lines up with their interests. This seems clear when looking at the list of accomplishments on the parts of the Democrats.

Glenn Greenwald, Jonathan Turley, and numerous others, including myself, have been making this point repeatedly.  This is why I think the term “white privilege” deflects attention from what’s at stake: there is absolutely a privilege in being able to ignore what’s happening abroad, or to insist on our moral superiority or exceptionalism. As Sam Holloway points out:

It’s very revealing that the most consistent argument in favor of supporting Barack Obama (when better options are clearly available) is that the other corporate option (Romney) will be worse. Crystal ball access notwithstanding, this is a terrible justification. It’s a clear demonstration that millions of us are willing to allow atrocities to be visited upon others as long as our own privileges are left more or less intact. We don’t care how many foreign brown children Obama exterminates as long as the wealthier among us still has access to health care, abortions, etc. Let’s be clear– I’m not suggesting those are trivial issues. However, if you accept a situation where you have access and others don’t, then you are reducing these basic human rights to privileges. The same goes for your right to due process; if you tolerate Obama’s extrajudicial killings, then you are saying that life is a privilege that you deserve and that others do not. In addition to being morally reprehensible, this approach leaves you open to having your own privilege (to health, security, life, etc.) revoked at any time.
 

Isn’t this what we’ve been seeing? In the deportation of migrants, drone attacks, indefinite detention, NDAA 2012, H.R. 347, suppression of speech? These issues are inseparable—when they happen to others, they are used to justify “our” privilege—in this case, American privilege. But “our” privilege can be revoked using the same laws, same authority (or lack thereof) that were used to kill vilified U.S. citizens like Al-Aulaqi, to detain, harass, and confine U.S. citizens without fair trials—like Jose Padilla, John Walker Lindh, Fahad Hashmi, Tarek Mehanna, Bradley Manning—these will be used against “us” too–starting with the most vulnerable, dark, and threatening first.

Having the right to have my contraception paid for won’t protect you or me against that immoral use of power to hurt, humiliate, torture, incarcerate—lawfully. The violations of bodies of Black and brown folks are intrinsically connected to the lack of respect for the bodies of black and brown women–in the US and elsewhere.  And Mitt Romney may be worse on some of these issues—but his ability to harm all of us will have been made much easier by the likes of our past 2 POTUSes—Democrat and Republican—and the current Administration. Not to worry. That is the devastating future of American –and not just white–privilege.