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The Globalization of Hollow Politics

The emptying of content in political discourse in an age as precarious and volatile as ours will have very dangerous consequences.
 
 
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I went to Lille in northern France a few days before the first round of the French presidential election to attend a rally held by the socialist candidate François Holland. It was a depressing experience. Thunderous music pulsated through the ugly and poorly heated Zenith convention hall a few blocks from the city center. The rhetoric was as empty and cliché-driven as an American campaign event. Words like “destiny,” “progress” and “change” were thrown about by Holland, who looks like an accountant and made oratorical flourishes and frenetic arm gestures that seemed calculated to evoke the last socialist French president, François Mitterrand. There was the singing of “La Marseillaise” when it was over. There was a lot of red, white and blue, the colors of the French flag. There was the final shout of “Vive la France.” I could, with a few alterations, have been at a football rally in Amarillo, Texas. I had hoped for a little more gravitas. But as the French cultural critic Guy Debord astutely grasped, politics, even allegedly radical politics, has become a hollow spectacle. Quel dommage.

 

The emptying of content in political discourse in an age as precarious and volatile as ours will have very dangerous consequences. The longer the political elite—whether in Washington or Paris, whether socialist or right-wing, whether Democrat or Republican—ignore the breakdown of globalization, refuse to respond rationally to the climate crisis and continue to serve the iron tyranny of global finance, the more it will shred the possibility of political consensus, erode the effectiveness of our political institutions and empower right-wing extremists. The discontent sweeping the planet is born out of the paralysis of traditional political institutions.

The signs of this mounting polarization were apparent in incomplete returns Sunday with the far-right National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, winning a staggering vote of roughly 20 percent. This will make the National Front the primary opposition party in France if Holland wins, as expected, the presidency in the second round May 6. Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s leftist coalition, the Front de Gauche, was pulling a disappointing 11 percent of the vote. But at least France has a Mélenchon. He was the sole candidate to attack the racist and nationalist diatribes of Le Pen. Mélenchon called for a rolling back of austerity measures, preached the politics “of love, of brotherhood, of poetry” and vowed to fight what he termed the “parasitical vermin” who run global markets. His campaign rallies ended with the singing of the leftist anthem “The Internationale.”

“Long live the Republic, long live the working class, long live France!” he shouted before a crowd of supporters Saturday night.

Every election cycle, our self-identified left dutifully lines up like sheep to vote for the corporate wolves who control the Democratic Party. It bleats the tired, false mantra about Ralph Nader being responsible for the 2000 election of George W. Bush and warns us that the corporate technocrat Mitt Romney is, in fact, an extremist.

The extremists, of course, are already in power. They have been in power for several years. They write our legislation. They pick the candidates and fund their campaigns. They dominate the courts. They effectively gut regulations and environmental controls. They suck down billions in government subsidies. They pay no taxes. They determine our energy policy. They loot the U.S. treasury. They rigidly control public debate and information. They wage useless and costly imperial wars for profit. They are behind the stripping away of our most cherished civil liberties. They are implementing government programs to gouge out any money left in the carcass of America. And they know that Romney or Barack Obama, along with the Democratic and the Republican parties, will not stop them.

 
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