Do Not Pity the Democrats

Chris Hedges
September 13, 2010

AP/Elise Amendola

There are no longer any major institutions in American society, including
the press, the educational system, the financial sector, labor unions, the
arts, religious institutions and our dysfunctional political parties, which
can be considered democratic. The intent, design and function of these
institutions, controlled by corporate money, are to bolster the hierarchical
and anti-democratic power of the corporate state. These institutions, often
mouthing liberal values, abet and perpetuate mounting inequality. They
operate increasingly in secrecy. They ignore suffering or sacrifice human
lives for profit. They control and manipulate all levers of power and mass
communication. They have muzzled the voices and concerns of citizens.
They use entertainment, celebrity gossip and emotionally laden public-
relations lies to seduce us into believing in a Disneyworld fantasy of

The menace we face does not come from the insane wing of the Republican
, which may make huge inroads in the coming elections, but the
institutions tasked with protecting democratic participation. Do not fear
Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin. Do not fear the tea party movement, the birthers,
the legions of conspiracy theorists or the militias. Fear the underlying
corporate power structure, which no one, from Barack Obama to the right-
wing nut cases who pollute the airwaves, can alter. If the hegemony of the
corporate state is not soon broken we will descend into a technologically
enhanced age of barbarism.

Investing emotional and intellectual energy in electoral politics is a waste
of time. Resistance means a radical break with the formal structures of
American society. We must cut as many ties with consumer society and
corporations as possible. We must build a new political and economic
consciousness centered on the tangible issues of sustainable agriculture,
self-sufficiency and radical environmental reform. The democratic system,
and the liberal institutions that once made piecemeal reform possible, is
dead. It exists only in name. It is no longer a viable mechanism for change.
And the longer we play our scripted and absurd role in this charade the
worse it will get. Do not pity Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.
They will get what they deserve. They sold the citizens out for cash and
power. They lied. They manipulated and deceived the public, from the
bailouts to the abandonment of universal health care, to serve corporate
interests. They refused to halt the wanton corporate destruction of the
ecosystem on which all life depends. They betrayed the most basic ideals
of democracy.  And they, as much as the Republicans, are the problem.

“It is like being in a pit,” Ralph Nader told me when we spoke on Saturday.
“If you are four feet in the pit you have a chance to grab the top and hoist
yourself up. If you are 30 feet in the pit you have to start on a different

All resistance will take place outside the arena of electoral politics. The
more we expand community credit unions, community health clinics and
food cooperatives and build alternative energy systems, the more
empowered we will become.

“To the extent that these organizations expand and get into communities
where they do not exist, we will weaken the multinational goliath, from the
banks to the agribusinesses to the HMO giants and hospital chains,” Nader

The failure of liberals to defend the interests of working men and women as
our manufacturing sector was dismantled, labor unions were destroyed and
social services were slashed has proved to be a disastrous and fatal
misjudgment. Liberals, who betrayed the working class, have no credibility.
This is one of the principle reasons the anti-war movement cannot attract
the families whose sons and daughters are fighting and dying in Iraq and
Afghanistan. And liberal hypocrisy has opened the door for a virulent right
wing. If we are to reconnect with the working class we will have to begin
from zero. We will have to rebuild the ties with the poor and the working
class which the liberal establishment severed. We will have to condemn the
liberal class as vociferously as we condemn the right wing. And we will have
to remain true to the moral imperative to foster the common good and the
tangible needs of housing, health care, jobs, education and food.

We will, once again, be bombarded in this election cycle with messages of
fear from the Democratic Party—designed, in the end, to serve corporate
interests. “Better Barack Obama than Sarah Palin,” we will be told. Better
the sane technocrats like Larry Summers than half-wits like John Bolton. But
this time we must resist. If we express the legitimate rage of the dispossessed
working class as our own, if we denounce and refuse to cooperate with
the Democratic Party, we can begin to impede the march of the right-wing
trolls who seem destined to inherit power. If we again prove compliant we
will discredit the socialism we should be offering as an alternative to a
perverted Christian and corporate fascism.

The tea party movement is, as Nader points out, “a conviction revolt.”
Most of the participants in the tea party rallies are not poor. They are
small-business people and professionals. They feel that something is wrong.
They see that the two parties are equally responsible for the subsidies and
bailouts, the wars and the deficits. They know these parties must be
replaced. The corporate state, whose interests are being championed by tea
party leaders such as Palin and Dick Armey, is working hard to make sure
the anger of the movement is directed toward government rather than
corporations and Wall Street. And if these corporate apologists succeed,
a more overt form of corporate fascism will emerge without a socialist

“Poor people do not organize,” Nader lamented. “They never have. It has
always been people who have fairly good jobs. You don’t see Wal-Mart
workers massing anywhere. The people who are the most militant are the
people who had the best blue-collar jobs. Their expectation level was high.
When they felt their jobs were being jeopardized they got really angry. But
when you are at $7.25 an hour you want to hang on to $7.25 an hour. It is a
strange thing.” “People have institutionalized oppressive power in the form
of surrender,” Nader said. “It is not that they like it. But what are you
going to do about it? You make the best of it. The system of control is
staggeringly dictatorial. It breaks new ground and innovates in ways no one
in human history has ever innovated. You start in American history where
these corporations have influence. Then they have lobbyists. Then they run
candidates. Then they put their appointments in top government positions.
Now, they are actually operating the government. Look at Halliburton and
Blackwater. Yesterday someone in our office called the Office of Pipeline
Safety apropos the San Bruno explosion in California. The press woman
answered. The guy in our office saw on the screen that she had CTR next to
her name. He said, ‘What is CTR?’ She said, ‘I am a contractor.’ He said,
‘This is the press office at the Department of Transportation. They
contracted out the press office?’ ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘but that’s OK, I come to
work here every day.’ ”

“The corporate state is the ultimate maturation of American-type fascism,”
Nader said. “They leave wide areas of personal freedom so that people can
confuse personal freedom with civic freedom—the freedom to go where you
want, eat where you want, associate with who you want, buy what you want,
work where you want, sleep when you want, play when you want. If people
have given up on any civic or political role for themselves there is a sufficient
amount of elbow room to get through the day. They do not have the freedom
to participate in the decisions about war, foreign policy, domestic health and
safety issues, taxes or transportation. That is its genius. But one of its
Achilles’ heels is that the price of the corporate state is a deteriorating
political economy. They can’t stop their greed from getting the next morsel.
The question is, at what point are enough people going to have a breaking
point in terms of their own economic plight? At what point will they say
enough is enough? When that happens, is a tea party type enough or [Sen.
Robert M.] La Follette or Eugene Debs type of enough?”

It is anti-corporate movements as exemplified by the Scandinavian energy
firm Kraft&Kultur that we must emulate. Kraft&Kultur sells electricity
exclusively from solar and water power. It has begun to merge clean energy
with cultural events, bookstores and a political consciousness that actively
defies corporate hegemony.

The failure by the Obama administration to use the bailout and stimulus
money to build public works such as schools, libraries, roads, clinics,
highways, public transit and reclaiming dams, as well as create green jobs,
has snuffed out any hope of serious economic, political or environmental
reform coming from the centralized bureaucracy of the corporate state. And
since the government did not hire enough auditors and examiners to monitor
how the hundreds of billions in taxpayer funds funneled to Wall Street are
being spent, we will soon see reports of widespread mismanagement and
corruption. The rot and corruption at the top levels of our financial and
political systems, coupled with the increasing deprivation felt by tens of
millions of Americans, are volatile tinder for a horrific right-wing backlash
in the absence of a committed socialist alternative.  

“If you took a day off and did nothing but listen to Hannity, Beck and
Limbaugh and realized that this goes on 260 days a year, you would see that
it is overwhelming,” Nader said. “You have to almost have a genetic
resistance in your mind and body not to be affected by it. These guys are
very good. They are clever. They are funny. They are emotional. It beats me
how Air America didn’t make it, except it went after [it criticized]
corporations, and corporations advertise. These right-wingers go after
government, and government doesn’t advertise. And that is the difference. It
isn’t that their message appeals more. Air America starved because it could
not get ads.”

We do not have much time left. And the longer we refuse to confront
corporate power the more impotent we become as society breaks down.
The game of electoral politics, which is given legitimacy by the right and the
so-called left on the cable news shows, is just that—a game. It diverts us
from what should be our daily task—dismantling, piece by piece, the iron
grip that corporations hold over our lives. Hope is a word that is applicable
only to those who grasp reality, however bleak, and do something
meaningful to fight back—which does not include the farce of elections and
involvement in mainstream political parties. Hope is about fighting against
the real forces of destruction, not chanting “Yes We Can!” in rallies
orchestrated by marketing experts, television crews, pollsters and
propagandists or begging Obama to be Obama. Hope, in the hands of
realists, spreads fear into the black heart of the corporate elite. But hope,
real hope, remains thwarted by our collective self-delusion.

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent, spent two decades
covering wars in Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East for
the New York Times and is the author of War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning.
His latest book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of
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