I want to take a minute to write about an idea I thought up a little over a year ago. And I think it’s a good idea? But I just don’t know because I’ve been sitting on it all this time instead of putting it out there and talking about it, not only because it’s way outside my comfort zone but also because it’s just such a big idea—which is not to say “big” as in profound but “big” as in “I can’t even begin to wrap my head around the magnitude of all the activism and organization and collaboration that would be required to even start putting this in motion.” But whatever, all I know is that over the last couple of weeks I’ve heard far more than I need to from this chorus of critics levying the (facile!) charge that what’s going on right now in downtown Manhattan somehow lacks legitimacy because (so they claim) it lacks any specific demands or any clearly defined remedies.
So I just want to put another idea in the mix, not necessarily because I’m sure it’s a good one but mostly because it comes from the best of intentions and—regardless—I have to get it off my chest.
Ok, moving on!
So a thing that bothers me very, very much in politics right now is how we find ourselves with these two opposing groups who share very similar desires and grievances but who utterly fail to see their kinship because of the presumption that partisan opposition excludes any possibility of such kinship. By which I mean: I’m a raging lefty, and I’m supposed to hate the Tea Party simply because… I’m supposed to hate the Tea Party! And yet I actually have a lot in common with them? To wit: we agree the government is fucked up; we share the same anxiety about the economy; we’re both pissed at Wall St. and pissed at “politics as usual” and pissed at “the way Washington works” and pissed at the small group of people who can game the system at the expense of the vast majority of those of us who lack such access. And ultimately we’re in complete agreement that money is a corrupting influence in our government. This is a lot to have in common with people I’m supposed to hate!
But a thing that gives me a great deal of hope in politics right now is exactly how much all of us have in common on a pre-ideological level. And by “pre-ideological” I mean both the temporal as well as the (oof, sorry) epistemological, i.e. the moment in the actual doing of politics—the angry town halls, the protests, etc.—when all the various dissents and grievances have yet to be tidied up and arranged into a strategy, a platform, a specific series of actionable items to be slapped on a partisan agenda and subsequently argued about and agreed or disagreed upon. Think the early Tea Party. Or think Occupy Wall Street!
In short: me and the Tea Party can agree that government is fucked, but me and the Tea Party disagree very much on what government is supposed to mean. So why not take a little time to focus on what we can agree on? Because just look at where we are right now: the rhetoric of “the 99%” affords us one of the most inclusive moments in recent political memory, a category that doesn’t break down according to gender or sexual orientation or skin color but a category to which membership is granted simply by not being filthy rich (ok yes it also maybe helps to feel a little queasy about the intimacy between Washington and Wall St. these days).
And I think if we’re going to accomplish anything thanks to these pre-ideological harmonies that means we need to collaborate on a pre-ideological level. So this is why the thing I want to see more than anything else right now is a movement that has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with process. I don’t want to argue about the sins of homosexuality or the merits of a border fence or whether there is or isn’t a god or whether we did or didn’t evolve from apes—we do enough of that!
So let’s for once just agree to agree, because right now 99% of us can agree that government is broken, and that the reason government is broken has a whole lot to do with money.
So how do we fix it? Well, how about this: a completely non-partisan grassroots movement. And by non-partisan I don’t mean one of these feel-good third-party “centrist” groups that pop up and fizzle out again every few years, but a legitimately non-partisan movement: a movement that has nothing at all to do with party and everything to do with the the pre-partisan process of government itself.
It would draft a nationwide field of candidates for all levels of government and from all ideological persuasions—from Democrats to Republicans and liberals to conservatives, from the White House to Congress and all the way down to state legislatures and state houses—and the movement would pledge to support any candidate whatsoever—regardless of how we feel on an individual level about that candidate’s opinions on all the culture wars that are so often used to divide us—provided the candidate promises to advance the following two simple demands.
- Publicly finance elections. Every election in this country could be financed for a mere fraction (a fraction of a fraction, maybe!) of what it costs the taxpayer in kickbacks to campaign contributors every election cycle. Get private donations out of the process to ensure that politicians are beholden to all constituents equally.
- Eliminate paid lobbying. Wealth inequality may be a necessary consequence of a market economy, but if speech is to be free and representation to be equal then money cannot play a part in access to either.
And this is why I called this such a “big” idea before, because notwithstanding all the logistical complications involved here (who qualifies for public financing? is it only major party candidates or all parties and all primary challengers? and then how do we keep the money from creeping back into the system once we’ve got it out? because it will! capital is wily like that!) accomplishing these goals would mean not merely legislative measures but constitutional ones (like reversing Citizens United, for starters), and this of course requires passing bills and ratifying amendments and, by necessity, fielding hundreds of candidates across all levels of government to ensure these measures actually have a chance of getting enacted. And I have no idea how something like that gets done!
But what I do know is that it would mean setting all the childish bullshit aside. It would mean being grown-up enough to sit down and talk to people we’re not necessarily comfortable having as much in common with as we do. It would mean dropping the name-calling, whether it be the coastal metropolitan condescension towards middle America or the middle American victimization schtick against coastal metropolitan elites. It would mean not wasting our time reblogging wearethe99percent and arguing about whose anxieties or debts or financial conditions are somehow more or less legitimate than our own and agreeing instead that right now all of us are pretty well fucked, and that the only way out is to remember that we’re all fucked equally, and together.
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