1980s >> 1984 >> no-956-april-1984

Running Commentary: Hart Attack

Senator Gary Hart’s primary campaign is looking rather like an old Mickey Rooney movie, with its message that money doesn’t matter and that what does matter is being young, honest, humane . . .


Hart claims to bring the very stuff of youth—freshness, vitality, courage—to the election and he is not too abashed to admit that, compared to the overflowing coffers of Walter Mondale, his is an impecunious campaign. If the early primary results are any guide, workers all over America may be about to fall for this, and perhaps in November make a choice between Hart and the wrinkled, somnolent Reagan.


Of course we have seen this all before, many times and in many countries. It is very often a profitable political tactic, to promote a candidate on personal characteristics which mark them out from the person they are to challenge and to assert that these characteristics are a virtue in themselves. Thus the ageing, aristocratic land owner Douglas-Home was challenged by young, ex-grammar schoolboy Wilson. After Eisenhower, Kennedy was able to make his promise to “get America moving again” sound like a battle hymn of American youth. And what myths have been fashioned, and have lived on, about Kennedy’s time in office.


It is to be expected that Hart should be compared with Kennedy; he is not the first American politician to try to gain from those myths. But workers who are seduced by such propaganda might take pause to recall what happened to Kennedy, and to Wilson, when the realities of capitalism overcame their posturing. They might remember how the ambitions turned sour, the promises were forgotten, the wizard was exposed as a tawdry trickster.


There is no reason to believe that if Hart makes it to the White House he will succeed where Kennedy, Johnson and Carter failed. He can offer nothing new; he must deal in the same outworn policies which have time and again been discredited, even if they are offered with his own gloss of striving youth.


No politician, whatever their age or other attributes, has ever been able to control capitalism. None has been able to cajole, or charm, the system’s problems into abolishing themselves. That can come about only through a social revolution, for which society will need a working class invulnerable to all political seduction.


Ring down the curtain, not just on Hart but on everything he represents.


On the Move
One of the most revered names in the Labour Party is that of Noel-Baker. The patriarch of this clan was Philip, a frail embodiment of pacifist humbug, a spectral figure whose performance at party conferences often went some way to reassure unhappy delegates that Labour’s heart was in the right place, and so reconcile them to accept the most bellicose of policies.


So it was predictable that Philip’s son, Francis, should also join the Labour Party and carry the honoured name into the Commons in the bright young intake of 1945, who outraged parliamentary customs by singing The Red Flag in the House and who were sure that they would set Britain’s feet on the road to the new Jerusalem.


The rest, as they say, is history — the disillusionment with Attlee and his crew as they steered British capitalism through the early post-war years; then the long wilderness of opposition: then the heady euphoria of Wilson, which ended miserably as Callaghan was beaten by Thatcher. Labour was not just defeated, they were also in despair.


So at some point Francis decided that he, and his dad, had got it wrong. He took himself off to the Ecology Party, a well-meaning bunch who survive through an ability to observe the problems of capitalism as if through the wrong end of a telescope. Then he moved again, to the Liberals and the SDP, who survive through a stubborn refusal to admit that the problems exist to be observed. This, it seemed, might be a natural resting place for a Noel-Baker, exhausted by the demands of a heritage of self-delusion.


But the clan is made of sterner stuff and Francis is on the move again. Fed up now with the Alliance because it has no joint policy on nuclear weapons, he has switched to the Conservatives who he says, he finds “more credible”. It is tempting to speculate on the “credibility” of a government which presides over three million unemployed, which has launched a harsh assault on workers’ living standards and which proudly puts its name to the jingoistic blood-letting in the Falklands. Tempting too to wonder about Noel-Baker’s “credibility”; by easy stages he has moved from Labour Party to Tory and there is, as they say. no place much for him to go now.


Many colourful metaphors have been used to depict the process in which a government fails to master the problems of the social system which they all claim to be able to control.


Like being caught, in the thirties, in an economic blizzard. Or, in the sixties, being blown off course. These are prime examples of the art of deception through language, in which metaphors can be especially effective. For in these cases they gave the impression that the problems were temporary and surmountable; like the weather they will eventually clear up and meanwhile there is the strong, clever political leader at the helm able to provide shelter for us all.


The art of the metaphor composer has never been better displayed than in the current fondness for describing the Thatcher government’s difficulties as a tendency to slip on banana skins. What could be more temporary than that? It needs only a new political broom, to clear away the carelessly discarded debris, and all is well . . .


Unemployed workers—many of them being told that never again in their lifetime will capitalism find a profitable use for their abilities—will have some feelings about being compared to a banana skin—slimy, undermining and discarded. Those whose discomfort is being accentuated by cuts in hospitals or social services may also have some questions to ask about the usefulness of the phrase, as well as its sensitivity.


In fact it is never useful to regard the problems of capitalism, and the difficulties which governments experience in trying to control and reform the system, as temporary, easily remediable matters. This social system inexorably produces poverty, war and a vast range of other social ills, none of which can be eliminated unless there is a fundamental social change—a revolution to replace capitalism with socialism.


The political metaphor-maker exists to obscure that fact and to divert attention from that reality to fantasy. Governments do not slip up; even if at times they become accident-prone that is beside the point. What matters is that as long as the working class are prepared to accept the fantasies and the obscuring they will remain, metaphorically speaking, flat on their backs.