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REP Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-22-10 03:11 PM
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How Liberals learned to be helpless
From April 2010 Harper's harpers.org

The vanishing liberal:
How the left learned to be helpless
By Kevin Baker
...

All of which may be true. But it only skims the surface of a greater tidal shift, one that has little to do with Obama himself and in fact has inundated the whole of our democratic process. This shift, which is subtle and has been many years in the making, might best be understood by considering a design underlying many of the interrogation techniques we employ at the (still-unclosed) prison at Guantnamo or at the black sites we still maintain, wherever they are. That is, bringing about the state known as learned helplessness.


The expression dates from a famous set of experiments by Martin Seligman some forty years ago, in which he found that dogs exposed to repeated and seemingly random electric shocks eventually stopped trying to escape those shocks, even when they could very easily do so. This insight gave rise to no touch torture, pioneered in large part by the CIA, whose efforts to break prisoners involved all manner of techniques, from the unsavory to the absurd, such as depriving prisoners of sleep for weeks on end, bombarding them with ear-splitting noises, exposing them to extreme heat and cold, shackling them in stress positions, tying bras to their heads, making them bark like dogs, and waterboarding them. There is no evidence that such practices enhance the odds that prisoners will provide more useful information to interrogators. It is well established, though, that they will make prisoners docile, and so the techniques remain popular.

For decades now, as our public discourse in general has become more scattered, random, and irrational, Republicansfunded by corporate and other elites in the private sectorhave stunned Democrats with absurdist attacks that have proved to be effective at garnering votes and, more important in the long term, at hampering Democrats even when they hold the majority. Democrats have been reduced to a state of psychological helplessness, one in which any political obstaclesranging from the prevarications of stalking horses like Senators Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, to the plaintive cries of the tea-baggers out in the streets, to the sterner demands of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or Big Pharmaare transformed into insurmountable organic obstacles.

We have learned to be helpless. And in this state of political depression, it no longer matters how many elections liberals win for the Democrats, or how badly Republican, right-wing policies fail or how much damage they do to the country or the world. There is simply no way to do anything differently.

full essay
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stray cat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-22-10 04:34 PM
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1. Thats what Republicans have always claimed about progressives
that they expect government to save them while they sit home and do nothing to aid themselves
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REP Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-22-10 04:37 PM
Response to Original message
2. More
We have learned to be helpless. And in this state of political depression, it no longer matters how many elections liberals win for the Democrats, or how badly Republican, right-wing policies fail or how much damage they do to the country or the world. There is simply no way to do anything differently.

Such hapless fatalism is, of course, in direct opposition to every tenet of American liberalism, which is rooted in the idea that human agency is still possible in the modern worldthat democratic action can make a difference when ranged against vast, impersonal forces and supposedly immutable laws of human society. Liberalisms antecedents lie in one nineteenth-century rebellion after anotheragainst laissez-faire capitalism, patriarchy, slavery, Social Darwinism, and other efforts to transmute political dispositions into irrefutable social science. American voters of the time were regularly assured by authoritative voices that hard money was an indispensable economic principle; that women, people of color, and many varieties of European immigrant were inherently inferior; that any attempts to regulate the natural workings of the economy, even private charity, would thwart human progress because they interfered with the culling of those who, in Herbert Spencers description, were not sufficiently complete to live.

Crusades against these self-serving philosophies of the wealthy and the powerful were waged in a series of determined grassroots movementsfrom abolition, universal suffrage, and womens rights to the first revolts of working men and women in the cities and the millsthat were the essence of the democratic idea. They presumed that ordinary people, learning from their own experiences, could challenge and overcome the superstitions powerful elites used to oppress them. And in so struggling, they would free not only themselves but many others, so that they, too, could contribute to the progress of the human enterprise.

The first attempt to fashion this idea of agency into an enduring, broad-based political movement was Populism, which began in the 1870s as an agrarian uprising. American farmers, who still made up the majority of the population, were confronted with a monetary system that depressed crop prices and gave financiers a near monopoly on capital. Many families were forced deeper into debt with every harvest, even as unchecked financial speculation regularly set off Wall Street panics followed by devastating depressions lasting anywhere from several months to several years.

full essay
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Prism Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-22-10 04:53 PM
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3. They could take a page from LGBTers
We don't put up with it, much to the partisans' chagrin. Last night was funny. Posters declaring they won't support LGBT issues because LGBT posters don't say nice things about the President. Look where this party is and the psychology that grips it!

It isn't that liberals are helpless. It's that there's a learning curve. When you elect Democratic politicians, it's common to expect those politicians to do Democratic things. LGBTers have had to watch scores of broken promises before we figured out that no Democratic politician is going to do what we desperately need and deserve. The object lesson is "Don't wait. Protect yourself now." And so most of us bounce around grabbing up what private legal protections we're able. When you you're expecting a hosing, it's sound policy to have an umbrella at hand. So most of us do.

Our current crop of D.C. DLC Dilettantes haven't broken quite enough promises just yet. Oh, they will. Clinton was just the first course, the appetizer. This Congress and administration are the grand show. Want to see just how unDemocratic the Democratic Party can be? Look closely. Look - and learn.

With this health insurance bill, tens of millions of Americans are about to get a cold, hard look at what the Democratic Party is currently about. And then power will change hands again, the Democrats will be in the wilderness, and Republicans will carry on with the erosion of our country.

But unlike with Clinton, I have a hunch this failure will be so big, so spectacular, that the next Democratic politician to come sailing out of the blue with exorbitant promises will be scrutinized in a way our current leaders have not. There are factors, of course. I think people were feeling so brow-beaten after Bush that Obama's tonic was swallowed with little examination - and I count myself among the guilty there. People wanted anything at all.

But people can only take so much before they'll start thinking. And we all know what thinking leads to. Nothing good for those in power. The more cataclysmic shocks the politicians send sailing through our economic and political system, the more people will wake up. We'll get there. Not before millions of Americans suffer, lose everything, or die. But we will get there. In history, we always have and we always will. Not always on a timescale we'd like, but there are a few inevitable in history, and political or social revolt against a power class that walks all over the people seems like a fairly true absolute.

The irony is that it will probably be the Democratic Party that initiates it. The Republicans are horrible, and most people know it. But as long as the Democratic Party is there with the hope of better, things remain in stasis. Once Americans learn that "better" isn't much, all of D.C. is going to be in serious trouble.
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REP Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-22-10 05:49 PM
Response to Original message
4. Kicking it while it's down
;-)
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REP Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-22-10 07:29 PM
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5. >>>
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smokey nj Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-22-10 07:37 PM
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6. Kick
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stillwaiting Donating Member (591 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-22-10 07:59 PM
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7. The Democratic Party itself is tearing down liberals.
They toy with liberals in ways that constantly get their hopes up only to dash them again on so many different issues.

It's really something to behold, and I do believe it is deliberate.

They are purposefully attempting to create learned helplessness within the liberal flank. It's not just the Republicans. It's the corporatist strategy from both parties.

It hasn't and will not work with a lot of us, but it has helped many "pragmatists" believe that it will never be possible to adopt liberal legislation and because of this they have currently won. I just hope a strong liberal movement emerges from the ashes of what has clearly happened to the Democratic Party.
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REP Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-22-10 09:25 PM
Response to Original message
8. More from this essay
The first attempt to fashion this idea of agency into an enduring, broad-based political movement was Populism, which began in the 1870s as an agrarian uprising. American farmers, who still made up the majority of the population, were confronted with a monetary system that depressed crop prices and gave financiers a near monopoly on capital. Many families were forced deeper into debt with every harvest, even as unchecked financial speculation regularly set off Wall Street panics followed by devastating depressions lasting anywhere from several months to several years.

The farmers had come to view both major parties as hopelessly unresponsive. Elections tended to be colorful festivals, often decided on the basis of personality or gaffes endlessly harped on in the outrageous, highly partisan media of the day. It was the time of the Mugwumps and the Plumed Knight; Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion, Ma, Ma, Wheres My Pa? Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!, and James G. Blaine, the Continental Liar from the State of Mainephrases that mean as much to us today as Borking, I did not have sexual relations with that woman, and swift-boating will to Americans a century from now.

Candidates appealed to voters mostly by appealing to their ethnic and social identities, waving the bloody shirt to remind their audiences of the treasonable crimes the other side had committed during the bitter culture wars of the Sixtiesthe 1860s, that is. No matter who won, the local and federal governments were understoodwith good reasonto be the wholly owned creatures of corporate entities whose enormous wealth dwarfed that of the governments themselves. When offices changed hands, the new group of political professionals and their sponsors were the only people likely to benefit. Any and all appeals to the court system were useless. Just thirty years after it had supported a federal income tax to fund the Civil War, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the very practice unconstitutional, an assault upon capital and the start of a war of the poor against the rich. In 1886, the Court wielded the Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed the rights of freed slaves, as a shield against the regulation of big business, ruling that corporations were now somehow the same as people.

But the farmers had not yet learned that they were helpless in the face of such corruption. In September of 1877, a small group of men met at a farmhouse in Lampasas County, in the heart of Texas. They called themselves the Knights of Reliance, and though that name was soon changed to the Southern Alliance, their original appellation reflected their determination to rely on themselves and no one else to alter their situation. By 1890, they were the National Farmers Alliance, with some 500,000 members in the South and another 100,000 in Kansas alone. Gathered under the banner of the Peoples Party, and inviting input from everywhere, the Populists quickly assembled a host of solutions and formulated ways to get them doneperhaps the most imaginative and genuinely grassroots political movement in American history.

The leaders of the Peoples Party organized a circuit of thousands of farmer-lecturers who spoke to audiences about problems they knew, in terms they understood. The Populists had ideas for dealing with every obstaclemany of them amazingly sophisticated and effective. In the halls of the nations legislatures, they demanded the public ownership of railroad, telegraph, and telephone infrastructure; a graduated income tax; the direct election of U.S. senators; recall provisions; the secret ballot; laws to allow labor unions to organize; an expanded money supply; and a sub-treasury system of storing crops so that farmers could not only wait for the most favorable conditions before putting their goods on the market but in the meantime could draw credit from that reserve rather than from Wall Street.
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REP Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-22-10 11:16 PM
Response to Original message
9. Another kick for the night people
Thanks for the recs, all - but please read the piece. It makes some good points and is worth reading!
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