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Gosh that’s tough

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 16 years ago, in 2008, on the World Wide Web.

In a footnote on a generally appalling post, devoted entirely to abusing anyone who might have the temerity to hold the doing-worse-than-nothing Democratic Congressional majority in general — or Nancy Pelosi in particular — to account on matters of principle (a post which makes itself completely impossible to reply to with anything other than more abuse and facile sarcasm, because the post does not, at any point, identify any particular person or action that is being targeted, and so offers no basis for serious discussion), Anthony McCarthy has this to add:

Volunteering in a political campaign, seeing what they go through, I'm sick and tired of hearing people run down our [sic] politicians. They are just about all dedicated to pubic service. Few moderate to liberal Democrats serving in elective office at the national level couldn't be enjoying a much more comfortable and profitable life pursuing a wealth-making career. With considerably fewer headaches. You think it's such a bed of roses, try getting yourself elected. Try dodging the bullets and balancing the pressure groups.

It must be so hard on them.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is out there trying to dodge metaphorical bullets. If she doesn’t make it past those metaphorical bullets, then, sometime in early 2009, she’ll be demoted to a mere Representative, or might even have to look for a new well-paying white-collar job. Meanwhile, near Mosul, a woman and a child failed to dodge some actual bullets, when U.S. soldiers opened fire on their car.

They died.

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A woman, a child and two gunmen were killed by U.S. forces conducting a military operation targeting al Qaeda in northern Iraq, the military said on Sunday.

It said U.S. forces fired on a car carrying suspected militants that refused to stop near the northern city of Mosul on Saturday.

… Iraqi and U.S. troops launched a major offensive in northern Iraq on Saturday against al Qaeda militants in the region.

— Dean Yates and Sami Aboudi, Reuters (2008-05-11): Two civilians killed in U.S. operation in N.Iraq

Those non-metaphorical bullets were paid for by the United States government. The reason that they keep getting paid for is that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi keeps on voting for the government to keep paying for it, and has used her considerable power and influence, both under parliamentary rules and through back-room party politics, to make sure that her fellow Democrats in Congress also go on voting to keep paying for it. (She is about to do her damnedest, along with her other political cronies, to do this yet again, and is trying to figure out how to ramrod the bill through Congress as quickly as possible.)

This war would be over if Pelosi didn’t choose to spend the past year and a half safeguarding her political career at the cost of perpetuating a murderous and disastrous occupation, which she herself recognizes as a bloody failure. The reason for this disgusting policy, forcing me and millions of other antiwar Americans to pay hundreds of billions of dollars over this past year and a half, for a war now almost universally recognized as a catastrophic mistake and an unrelenting failure, is that doing anything different is widely thought, among Democratic power-brokers like Pelosi, to be political suicide. (That’s the melodramatic metaphor that politicians and their enablers like to use to describe an act that will probably cause you to lose some measure of political power that you’d otherwise have some hope of seizing and holding onto. Thus it is endlessly used to justify, or excuse, politicians who sacrifice the very things that they supposedly wanted the power in order to achieve for the sake of the power itself. Thus, by rhetorically equating a hold on political power with life itself, power is treated as if it were an end-in-itself rather than what it is, a mere means to further ends, which are always more important.)

Let me tell you a story about something that happened less than 40 years ago. On April 9, 1970, the New York Assembly passed a new abortion law, which repealed almost all government restrictions on a woman’s right to choose abortion. The vote was extremely close. In fact, it was so close that the final round of floor voting resulted in a 74-to-74 tie. Without a tie-breaking vote, the repeal bill would be defeated, and the New York state government would go on coercing women in the name of forced pregnancy. But just before the clerk could declare the bill officially defeated, an upstate Assemblyman named George M. Michaels got up and took the microphone. He was a Democrat representing a conservative district, and while he was personally pro-choice, he knew that most of his constituents were anti-abortion, and would be outraged by a vote for the abortion bill. Here is what he did.

George Michaels (voice shaking): I fully appreciate that this is the termination of my political career…. But Mr Speaker, what’s the use of getting elected, or re-elected, if you don’t stand for something? … I therefore request you, Mr. Speaker, to change my negative vote to an affirmative vote.

So the bill passed. Abortion was completely decriminalized. But Michaels was right: it was the termination of his political career. He was running for re-election that year, and within weeks of the vote his political party formally announced that they were abandoning him. Two months later, Michaels was defeated in the Democratic Party primary. George Michaels’s political career was over. But abortion is still legal in the state of New York.

It’s one of the most admirable and important things an elected politician has ever done in the United States. And it was a deliberate act of political suicide.

Those who would never think of doing something like that, who dismiss the very idea of political suicide out of hand, with a shudder or a sneer, and who make self-pitying pleas about how much it would cost them to take some kind of stand — which is to say, sanctimonious excuses for clinging to power, no matter how much they sacrifice and betray in order to keep it — are worth less than nothing as political allies.

Further reading:

4 replies to Gosh that’s tough Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Kevin Carson

    Below are the comments I left over there:

    You’ve made a pretty good case that any political strategy for change will probably achieve a lot more through broad coalition-building outside the state, and mass public pressure on the state from outside to change its policies, rather than trying to elect the right people on the inside.

    If people like Nancy Pelosi are the furthest left the government is ever apt to go, and if the most we can ever hope for from inside is something like the corporatist FDR administration making economic policy on the recommendations of Gerard Swope and the Business Advisory Council, we can probably accomplish a lot more by trying to change the external political culture. Maybe through education and organization, we can put the kind of pressure on all the corporate lawyers and investment bankers currently engaged in “public service,” so that their calculus of what constitutes political self-interest or political suicide is radically altered. In other words, engage in radical agitprop from outside, to expose the corporate hirelings of both parties for what they are, and bring withering pressure on them. Kevin Carson | Homepage | 05.13.08 – 12:02 pm | #

    Gravatar In addition to agitprop to pressure the Pelosis of the world by shifting the constituencies leftward, I also drew the conclusion that there’s a second strategy that makes more sense than getting the best of a mediocre lot into office:

    That is, putting most of our efforts into building the kind of society we want outside the state, through worker and consumer co-ops, radical unions like the Wobblies that focus on direct action on the job rather than NLRB certification votes, LETS systems, tenant unions, neighbhorhood democracy, human scale technology and alternative economics, promotion of file-sharing resistance to the copyright nazis, etc. Kevin Carson | Homepage | 05.13.08 – 12:12 pm | #

  2. Rad Geek


    You’re obviously only saying that because you … don’t miss too many meals or have to pay for your health care out of pocket.

    As everyone knows, people who are desperately poor all care deeply and personally about whether a Democrat or a Republican becomes President of the United States. They also believe in all the compromises that Progressive Democrats have made in order to preserve their position within the war-corporatist political process, and they can all afford to stake their access to food and to healthcare on brute-force methods of social change that require the cooperation of tens of millions of much more privileged people, and which only come around once every four years.

    In all seriousness, thank you.

  3. Jeremy


    Well said, RG.

  4. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2008-05-15 – House of Representatives rejects war funding bill:

    […] supplemental appropriation for the conflicts, but they expected Republicans to push it through. [Utterly despicable. —R.G.] Instead, 131 House Republicans voted present on the measure, incensed that House […]

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