Saturday, July 22, 2006


The Fault Line We're Never Supposed to Talk About

by David Sirota

The New York Times today posted an excerpt of the first chapter of Hostile Takeover as a preview to the review of the book coming out tomorrow by op-ed editor Tobin Harshaw (You will be able to see the review here tomorrow - I am headed out for a few days of vacation so, as promised earlier, I am posting my thoughts now since I have seen it already). The Times for months refused to review Hostile Takeover, preferring to try to ignore it. Only when the book hit the bestseller list did the paper realize it was embarrassing itself by its behavior. Not surprisingly, the review that the paper finally agreed to do is indeed a spectacle - and it highlights the fault lines of power that have taken center stage in American politics.

The review first tries to claim that Hostile Takeover is "directed less at the ruling Republicans than at their main opposition, mainstream Democratic centrists." That's factually inaccurate - the book is roughly 75%-25% critical of Republicans vs. Democrats, respectively, and you may recall that the Washington Post attacked the book as a Democratic Party "apologia" (I have submitted a letter to the Times' editor demanding a correction on this assertion, though I'm not holding my breath that it will be published).

The inaccuracy, of course, is no accident - it is designed to simply write off the book as just something of interest to Democrats in the upcoming election (thus, the subheadline in the piece that bemoans supposedly "more prescriptions to help the Democrats reverse their electoral fortunes"). What both the Times and Post reviewers display in their dishonest efforts to paint the book as one or another kind of partisan screed is a more fundamental desire to hide the fact that this the book is an analysis of the whole system. They don't want any systemic analysis gaining traction - because god forbid if we start talking about systemic problems, then we can actually have a real debate about the power equations that drive our broken political process and insulate the Establishment from small "d" democratic influence.

The Times review then goes into a barrage of cliched attacks calling me, among others, a "Marxist" and a "high school newspaper editor." Then, unable to hide a classic op-ed page elitism, Harshaw displays outrage that "a blogger tries to write at length" in book format. Beyond the fact that this is a dishonest tactic attempting to make readers forget that, for instance, I regularly write at length for various magazines, the sentiment is telling. Harshaw seems to say: How dare anyone other than someone with New York Times or other Establishment credentials get to write a book or have any sort of voice in our political debate?

The elitism that drips from that sentiment is backed up by the fact that the Times is forced to repeatedly admit that Hostile Takeover provids "creditable analysis" with wholly "accurate" facts and "admirably specific" policy prescriptions that are "on the side of angels." Put another way, what the Times is saying is that while it believes Hostile Takeover says is entirely accurate on the substance and completely supported by the facts, the paper's editors believe I have no right to say it, have it published in book format, or have it promoted in the political debate because I am not inside the Establishment's elite circle of accepted, polite voices who know never to actually challenge power.

That, my friends, is the fault line that is driving everything in today's politics: a battle between the people inside the Establishment whose careers rely on protecting the status quo and the vast majority of Americans who have been locked out of their own political and media debate. Of course, you don't hear that in our current political discourse - everything is always ramrodded into a debate between Democrats and Republicans, red and blue, liberals and conservatives. That's deliberate - the Establishment wants the public to think this battle is about everything OTHER than the struggle between those with power who want to preserve the status quo, and those without power who want democratic control of their country. Because if this fault line is actually brought to the front and talked about, it means a direct challenge to the powers that be.

You can see how frightened the Establishment is in how the elites treat anyone who dares highlight this fault line.

In the book world, books like Hostile Takeover, Crashing the Gates, How Would A Patriot Act?, Lapdogs and others are movement books that represent the desires, aspirations and centrist political positions of the vast majority of Americans. Books like The Good Fight and The World is Flat, on the other hand, are books that not only represent the status quo Establishment, but go out of their way to attack the nerve of those outside the Washington Beltway who want serious change. Not surprisingly, the Establishment aggressively pushes the latter in its corporate media channels, and attacks or suppresses coverage of the former.

In the electoral arena, Washington pundits and incumbent politicians are out in force breathlessly berating Connecticut voters that are backing primary candidate Ned Lamont in his challenge to incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman (D). The Establishment is outraged that voters would have the chutzpah to believe that elections should be, well, elections - and not coronations for Senators who think they are royalty and think they can sell out their constituents with no consequences.

Even in the policy arena, this Ordinary Americans vs. Establishment s power struggle is occurring. On one side, you see millions of newly engaged citizens involving themselves in Internet activism, union organizing, and political campaigns that take on the status quo and push a policy agenda that represents the vast majority of Americans. You see courageous politicians take principled stands on specific policies that the Establishment has tried to preserve for years.

On the other side, there are organizations like the Democratic Leadership Council, which is holding its "national conversation" in Denver this weekend. The group purports to represent America's political "center" but on issue after issue after issue, the organization and its highest-profile leaders have gone on record advocating for extremist national security, trade and economic policies well outside the mainstream of American public opinion. These policies, undoubtedly influenced by the group's big corporate donors, have helped destroy America's middle class and weaken America's security. The group, of course, purports to represent ordinary Americans. But they can't hide even the farcical nature of that assertion. As just one example, the Rocky Mountain News reports the DLC's supposedly "national conversation" runs "through Monday at the Hyatt Regency hotel and is not open to the public." And now the group is pitching stories to reporters trying to openly position themselves as the counterweight to grassroots political organizing and activism.

The New York Times and other Establishment media try to make everything about one party or another, and about one election or another. But what is clear - and what is frightening them and their friends at their elite cocktail party gatherings - is the realization that a movement is being built that transcends both parties and any one election. This is a movement that sees the principles of standing up for the little guy and the ideology that puts regular people first not as a threat, but as a necessity to rebuilding the foundations this country was built on - foundations that are now under a vicious assault by those in the Establishment.

Even in its angry review of Hostile Takeover, the Times is forced to acknowledge that we, the people fighting for our democracy, have the facts on our side. It is a tacit admission that the Establishment well understands the crimes being perpetrated on us - and simply doesn't care to change its ways. And while Washington's pundits, lobbyists, and other assorted status quo apologists will continue to scream like little children and berate us with epithets whenever we the people assert ourselves - rest assured that the louder their temper tantrums get, the more progress we are making.

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