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Forum Post: Rachel Maddow and conservatism, the new liberalism

Posted 6 years ago on April 15, 2012, 10:36 p.m. EST by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

By Charles Davis

Washington, DC - Once upon a time - say, three years ago - your average Democrat appeared to care about issues of war and peace. When the man dropping the bombs spoke with an affected Texas twang, the moral and fiscal costs of empire were the subject of numerous protests and earnest panel discussions, the issue not just a banal matter of policy upon which reasonable people could disagree, but a matter of the nation's very soul. Then the guy in the White House changed. Now, if the Democratic rank and file haven't necessarily learned to love the bomb - though many certainly have - they have at least learned to stop worrying about it. Barack Obama may have dramatically expanded the war in Afghanistan, launched twice as many drone strikes in Pakistan as his predecessor and dropped women-and-children killing cluster bombs in Yemen, but peruse a liberal magazine or blog and you're more likely to find a strongly worded denunciation of Rush Limbaugh than the president. War isn't over, but one could be forgiven for thinking that it is. Given the lamentable state of liberal affairs, Drift, a new book from MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, is refreshing. Most left-of-centre pundits long ago relegated the issue of killing poor foreigners in unjustifiable wars of aggression to the status of a niche concern, somewhere between Mitt Romney's family dog and the search results for "Santorum" in terms of national importance. So in that sense, it's nice to see a prominent progressive at least trying to grapple with the evils of militarism and rise of the US empire. It's just a shame the book isn't very good.

For one, Maddow, a self-described "national security liberal" who is "all about counterterrorism", writes more like a politician seeking to flatter her US audience than a teller of tough, uncomfortable truths. While at times briefly alluding to its war-filled past, Maddow repeatedly paints a picture of the US as, at heart, a peaceful nation, one with a government structured by its noble founding founders with a "deliberate peaceable bias". It is only recently, she maintains - post-World War II, but especially since Ronald Reagan - that war and a gargantuan military-industrial complex have been deemed "normal".

"Jeffersonian prudence held sway in this country for a century and a half," Maddow claims. When politicians did start wars, they did so after a thorough public debate and with the explicit approval of Congress. One person, the president, couldn't just cite their "inherent" but unstated constitutional power to start a war and kill people with military force. Or so the story goes. Anti-unilateralism, not anti-war Though many might perceive it as an anti-war work, Maddow's overriding concern seems to be not so much the wars themselves - certainly not the non-American victims of them, who are never once mentioned - but the modern, unilateral way in which we go about fighting them. Reagan, for example, invaded Grenada without first seeking approval from Congress and armed and funded right-wing insurgents in Nicaragua despite a congressional prohibition, facts she holds responsible for the creation of all that "'imperial presidency' malarkey".

It wasn't always this way, we're told. Even as recently as the early 1990s presidents occasionally felt compelled to acknowledge Congress' constitutional war powers. Before launching the first Gulf War, Maddow notes, President George HW Bush first sought the consent of the Senate, which - as it is wont to do - gave it. Sure, the bombs dropped just the same and thousands of people died, but before that happened we talked in public about doing it and let a group of mostly old male millionaires vote on it. "Agree or disagree with this outcome," Maddow writes, "the system had worked. Our Congress had its clangorous and open debate and then took sides. We decided to go to war, as a country." The problem today, she laments, is "there isn't enough debate, there isn't enough chivalry toward the virtues of the old system we're killing for efficiency's sake".

But if the system was working as late as 1991, albeit in fits, that raises a pretty big question: is it really worth saving? The history of the US is characterised by near-constant military action and threats of war, including during the first century and a half when all those constitutional checks and balances were purportedly operating at full capacity. With "Jeffersonian prudence" holding sway, the US government fought major wars with Britain, Mexico and Spain. It militarily occupied Haiti, Nicaragua and the Philippines. Long before Reagan purportedly created the imperial presidency, US presidents were authorising the killing of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Koreans. And then there's the whole matter of the people who lived here first: The United States didn't exactly expand from 13 colonies to a continent by asking politely.

These are hardly aberrations, mere pock marks on the country's greatness that only a Frenchman or a blame-America-first professor would dwell on. These are defining episodes reflective of the institutions this country's fawned-over founders built. Perhaps there was more debate a few decades back over whether to kill this group of poor people or that one, but the debate then, as now, was a faux one, based on official falsehoods - "Remember the Maine, to hell with Spain!" - and involving the input only of moneyed interests and their elected representatives.

But Maddow doesn't tell her readers any of that. Nor does she advocate a radical break from the system of hierarchical power that allows a few people in Washington - one if you're a unilateralist, 535 if you're not - to have the literal power to destroy the world. Rather: "The good news is we don't need a radical new vision of post-Cold War American power," she says. "We just need a 'small c' conservative return to our constitutional roots, a course correction."

That's a comforting thought; flattering even. We were good before and we can be good again. But it relies on a whitewashing of American history. It depends on bizarre assertions like the claim that, "in 1895, the US had enjoyed peace for more than a generation", which ignores more than a century of war against North America's indigenous population, including the murder of more than 150 members of the Lakota Sioux - men, women and children - by US troops during the Wounded Knee Massacre, in 1890.

A militaristic bias

To be fair, America was indeed once a more peaceful place, the idea of permanent war once as foreign as the European colonisers who landed there. But that was before the time of Christopher Columbus, not Ronald Reagan. Yet, cheerfully whistling past the real history of America - and revising it to mostly cast Democrats as reluctant imperialists, ignoring Harry Truman's never-declared war in Korea while dwelling on Reagan's comparatively less bloody invasion of a Caribbean island - is crucial to Maddow's Bad (Mostly Republican) Presidents theory of American history. It's not the system, it's Dick Cheney.

As Maddow puts it, in order to get back on the peaceful path bequeathed to US citizens by their country's slave-holding, indigenous-peoples-killing founders, we just need to "vote people into Congress who are determined to ... assert the legislature's constitutional prerogatives on war and peace". Rinse and repeat every two to four years.

If the country is to break its addiction to war, however, electing more and better politicians to the same system that's brought us to where we are today doesn't seem up to the task. Whether the constitution authorised the permanent war national security state or not, this much is true: it sure didn't stop it.

What's needed is not the same old tried-and-failed remedy of electoral politics but, as Martin Luther King Jr remarked during a speech on the war in Vietnam, a "genuine revolution of values". That means not returning to our "constitutional roots", but striking at the root of our problem: the country's penchant for violence, particularly when waged against the foreign "Other". What's needed, in other words, is a social revolution, not political reformism. War will end the day the average US citizen learns to love the Afghan people more than they love their iPads - and is willing to do more than sign an online petition or vote for a promise-filled politician when their government murders them.

"Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism," King told that audience at New York City's Riverside Church back in 1967. "All over the globe, men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born."

Defending the system, ceding the debate

But Maddow, representing the far left of acceptable televised opinion in the US, is explicit that she does not want a new system. She doesn't even want a particularly liberal one. Embracing "small-c conservatism", she's loyal to the system she thinks we're losing. And like a lot of her fellow progressives, she's unwilling to so much as challenge the assumptions made by the national security establishment she decries, preferring instead to regurgitate them with a liberal veneer. After all, writes Maddow, the hawks are right when they say non-America is terrifying. "We can cede their point that the world is a threatening place," she writes. "We can cede their point that the US military is a remarkable and worthy fighting force." Indeed, says Maddow, "We all have an interest in America having an outstanding military." The only thing she isn't willing to cede is that using that outstanding military is always "the best way to make threats go away". A stirring anti-war manifesto Drift is not.

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[-] 3 points by francismjenkins (3713) 6 years ago

Okay, I mean seriously, Maddow is wedded to the conventional left (and I guess I don't blame her necessarily), but this whole thing isn't about rehashing every horror in history. Human history is in general a fairly twisted story.

Yes, Columbus killed Native Americans, Hitler killed Jews, Caesar killed Celts, the ancient Persians were tyrants, etc. etc. I'm guessing if we go back to prehistory it gets even uglier. Think of all the tribes through time that worshiped their gods through ritualistic human sacrifice, at one time it was common practice, when defeating an army, to fuck enemy soldiers up their ass (literally).

We shouldn't forget about this stuff, but it's primary value is in helping us understand how potentially savage and tribal we can be, and trying to formulate a society that doesn't produce these sort of people. It wasn't too long ago that the Taliban was tossing battery acid on little girls, so the human race obviously still has plenty of work ahead.

To our credit, we did finally get rid of stains like slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, etc. So while we can't forget the bad stuff, we also shouldn't forget the good stuff, born through the struggle of those who came before us.

[-] 0 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 6 years ago

She's not part of the left. She's what passes for the left in the corporate media. She is what is acceptable to elites and that is why she is on TV

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 6 years ago

I don't know ... maybe. The way I see these networks is basically, the 24/7 chatter box of useless bullshit. Seriously, I get more information about earth when I wipe my ass :)

They always fire the good ones don't they?

[-] 1 points by gnomunny (6819) from St Louis, MO 6 years ago

In regards to the chatterbox of useless bullshit: I'll bet Farnsworth is turning in his grave. And he had such high hopes initially.

[-] 1 points by MikhailBakunin (13) 5 years ago

Democrats the new republicans

[-] 1 points by OTP (-203) from Tampa, FL 5 years ago

Just watched an hr of Maddow. Havent done that in about, um, a long time.

What a bunch of crap.

Talking about Iraq, and then asking "Do we fight too many wars".

Some Republican clown up htere preaching....this is perfect opportunity for her....

And she drops the ball as usual. Get lost.

[-] 0 points by DSamms (-294) 5 years ago

That's hard shit man. It'll fry your brain... MSM kills.

[-] 1 points by quantumystic (1710) from Memphis, TN 5 years ago

Corporate hack. Listen if the Young Turks bailed on the cable money because of pressure to conform at msnbc you best believe their flagship anchor tows the multimillionaire line.

[-] 1 points by JesseHeffran (3903) 6 years ago

Yeah, I have a hard time taking any ""authoritative" book written during an election year very seriously, no matter the side. I file them under smut readings.

[-] 2 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 6 years ago

I never take any of these talking heads seriously. They serve the same corporate intrests as the polititicans.

[-] 1 points by Shule (2638) 6 years ago

I just wonder why folks confuse entertainment as political commentary....

[-] 1 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 6 years ago

I agree she's no better than O'reily or Hannity.

[-] 1 points by TheMisfit (48) 6 years ago

Hypocrisy is rampant in both parties and the lemmings that support them. Nothing new to those who observe from the outside.

[-] 1 points by Zombiefighter (-16) from Ione, CA 6 years ago

I mean no disrespect but why is any intelligent person supposed to care about her opinion on anything?

[-] 1 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 6 years ago

I have no idea but apparently alot of liberals do.


[-] 0 points by OTP (-203) from Tampa, FL 5 years ago

Now MAddow is hoping that if he had to reload 10 times instead of just the 4.

Is this a fuckin joke? Is this what we are discussing after dozens of kids are murdered?

And here we go, smooth transistion into the polticial theater.

Now we will put this hack Cruz up there, bring the viewers back in because he's a moron, and then.....

[-] -1 points by OTP (-203) from Tampa, FL 5 years ago

Actually, Cruz, they already fucked us in the 1st Amendment.

Ever heard of OWS?

And now here we go with Feinstein. "I have great respect for the constitution":...really? Where were you when everyone was going to jail? Sell out.

[-] 0 points by OTP (-203) from Tampa, FL 5 years ago

MAddow doing a review of Sandy Hook. Big picture of rifle.

There will be absolutely ZERO talk about what a sick culture this has turned into.

There will be ZERO talk about what big pharma drugs this dude was on.

She says that in less than 5min, he fired 150 bullets.

Sorry Madow, but 3D printing can make a magazine just like that for pistols. Your a hack. Your avoiding the root issues.

Get off our airwaves.