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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

To Noam is to Love Him: Chomsky on the election

Posted By on Tue, Nov 2, 2010 at 4:37 PM

Lots of e-mails coming in from state Democrats boasting of high turnout and grassroots fervor on Election Day. It's premature to say whether their collection of anecodtes means anything, which is why I'm not going to quote it at any length. (And of course, there's high-for-an-off-year-election turnout in Republican strongholds like Cranberry too.) But clearly the goal is to make sure that claims of an "enthusiasm gap" don't become self-fulfilling.

And they shouldn't be. The polls won't close for hours, so it's way too soon to assess turnout. But enough people have shown up at the polls that you have no excuse. 

As we prepare for a long night of awaiting poll results, however, I thought I'd offer a bit of reading material for your delectation. Last night, famed linguist and progressive Noam Chomsky came to Pittsburgh to be honored by the Thomas Merton Center (whose annual dinner also had a heavy turnout).

Chomsky met with reporters before the event, and was asked what he made of this year's election climate. I'll reprint his answer below, because if things go badly for the Dems, there's gonna be a game of "whack-the-progressive." (In fact, it's already started.) One thing Democrats and Republicans have in common, it seems, is their desire to blame lefties for all their problems.

I should point out that this is an edited answer: In the best Chomskyiate fashion, his actual answer ran nearly 10 minutes. Chomsky is aging, but there's nothing wrong with his lung capacity:

The election is kind of an interesting illustration of the almost total collapse of the democratic culture of the United States. As everyone recognizes, the dominant theme of the election is rage, hatred, and distrust of everything. So the reputation of Congress is in the gutter ... Last time I looked, about two thirds of the population thinks that the whole Congress should be thrown out, and start from zero. The Democrats are hated because they are regarded as the apostles of big government, and the Republicans are hated even more in the polls because they are regarded as in the pocket of big business.

The scientists are distrusted, because "why should we believe these pointy-headed elitists?" Which is a very severe matter because it means that things like, say, global warming -- which is going to destroy the species -- are dismissed. It's rather interesting that the corporate sector is pouring huge resources into trying to convince people that it's a hoax, though the people running those propaganda campaigns are just as aware as the rest of us that it's all real, and that it's going to destroy what they own, and destroy the possibility of a decent life for their grandchildren. Which raises an interesting question as to why they are doing it, and that takes us back to market systems and the way they function.

It's very striking. I mean, there are very good studies by now about the attitudes of ... a large sector of the population that says, "We want big government off our backs. We want small government, we want to reduce taxes." If you look at the attitudes of those people, they are basically social democratic. They want more money spent on education, more money spent on health, more money spent on infrastructure, more money spent on assistance to the poor, but not welfare. Ronald Reagan succeeded in convincing a great number of people that "welfare" means black women driving in their limousines to the welfare office to pick up our hard-earned money. So not welfare, but yes, help for the poor. No foreign aid -- because none of those undeserving foreigners should get help -- but we ought to provide more aid [to Americans], maybe twice as much as we do now.

So it goes across the board: People's attitudes are pretty much social democratic, "liberal" as it's called in the United States. On the other hand, they want to get government off their backs, get rid of the banks, get rid of taxes and so on. You can say it's just irrationality, which it is of course, but it raises the question of "why?" And there are reasons.

Most people have been through over 30 years ... in which their real income has pretty much stagnated. Working hours have increased, benefits which were never very great have declined by international standards. There's a tremendous burden on families just to keep going, and the way they've done it is with two members of the household working ...

People have survived by basically going into debt and by asset inflation [i.e. banking on increasing home prices] ever since Reagan. [People] aren't suffering by third world standards, but they are suffering by the standards of what they have every right to expect in a rich country. And they can see that there is plenty of wealth -- wealth has been created in these years, but it's gone into very few pockets. [Economic] inequality is back to the 1920s, maybe worse.

And people who live in those circumstances have a right to ask for answers: "Who's doing this to me? Why is it happening? I'm a good, hard-working person; why is this happening to me?" But we're not going to get any answers from the perpetrators in the Democratic and Republican parties. They're the ones who did it, but they're not going to say, "Well, this is happening to you because our policies advocated and pursued the financialization of the economy, the transfer of massive wealth and power to the financial institutions ... And we've also cooperated in helping corporate management ship production abroad."

[Voters] are not going to hear that from Democrats, they're not going to hear it form Republicans. So they're getting no answers ... So people are angry and upset and frustrated, and they are taking it out in very irrational ways -- shooting themselves in the foot.

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