While I, like all of you political junkies, am practically main-lining the GOP Presidential primaries, they bring to mind a basic criticism I’ve had of almost every “outsider” political movement: they foolishly focus on electing a President. But that really doesn’t matter. It’s the McGuffin.
While so many on the left have expressed outrage at Obama’s ineffectiveness, I for one did not expect all that much to begin with. A cursory skimming of the Constitution makes it clear: the power in this government rests with Congress.
And with the last, oh, 15 Congresses, more’s the pity.
So I have to ask: why are we so fixated on the President if that office doesn’t really have that much power and, more importantly, why _aren’t_ we fixated on Congress? The answer, of course, is that the Congress is complicated and the President…well, there’s only the one. It’s so much easier to rally behind a President but completely useless. It’s the McGuffin.
What is a McGuffin?
The Wikipedia page at the link above includes Alfred Hitchcock’s famous explanation of a McGuffin:
It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men in a train. One man says “What’s that package up there in the baggage rack?”, and the other answers “Oh, that’s a McGuffin”. The first one asks “What’s a McGuffin?”. “Well”, the other man says, “It’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands”. The first man says “But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands”, and the other one answers “Well, then that’s no McGuffin!”. So you see, a McGuffin is nothing at all.
The McGuffin is a plot device designed to distract the audience so that the more important aspects of the thriller come as a complete surprise. The McGuffin dominates the first act, but is completely forgotten by the last. Psycho starts out as a movie about a woman who embezzles a large sum of money from the law firm where she works. But is that what the film is really about? The embezzlement is the McGuffin.
So when it comes to implementing the crucial changes that will make this nation better for all of us, our fixation with electing a sympathetic President only prevents us from getting the job done. Congress made this mess; Congress can fix this mess. The President is the McGuffin.
Who is the “Hitchcock”?
Any good detective knows where to start when trying to unravel a mystery: look for the person or persons who benefit the most from the crime. In this case, it’s obvious that “big business”, particularly those businesses that suckle at the federal teat, benefit from a Congress that has largely abdicated its responsibilities and prerogatives.
Is it any coincidence that the US military/intelligence apparatus now circles the globe with “hot” wars in
two one nation s and covert ops in dozens of others while Congress has basically given up its Constitutional duty for oversight while simultaneously doling out billions annually in “defense contracts”? Congress has not declared war since 1943, yet the military/intelligence apparatus gets more business every year.
Congress pays for the US military to hire mercenaries and out-source torture! Do you really need any more proof?
These are only the most egregious examples. Look into any industry, any area for which Congress has authority and you’ll find a similar scenario — the good of the nation and the goals of virtually all more-or-less normal people come in a distant second to the venal wants of those who
own pay for the campaigns of Congresspeople.
Thus the “Hitchcock” here, the director that distracts us so masterfully, is these money interests — amoral non-humans (or worse, amoral humans) that have become absurdly wealthy through the largesse of a long series of Congresses that serve their interests and their interests alone. My film-oriented metaphor is not random; the major media are high on the list of those who benefit from a store-bought Congress and thus high on the list of villains in this drama.
Occupy the Second Act
Like all McGuffins, the meaninglessness of electing a sympathetic President will eventually become known, and this nation will wake up to its responsibilities. Indeed, this is happening already, and no force today is more meaningful to this cause than Occupy. Occupy does all the things necessary to put this into action except run for Congress.
First, Occupy is national at a minimum. Ultimately, this is a global movement, but let’s just focus with what’s on our plates right now. Occupy serves to bring the same basic message of solidarity and direct action to every city of meaningful size as well as towns and hamlets in the most remote areas. Everywhere it goes, it brings a message of civic and political activism. This is the only way for the progressive movement to develop the national groundswell necessary to become a force in Congress.
Second, Occupy breaks through the major media narratives about who we on the left are. I’m not a child. I don’t live in my parents’ basement. In fact, I’m a “job creator”; when I succeed, people in the Blackstone Valley get manufacturing jobs. Occupy Youngstown (OH) is dominated by senior citizens. By forcing itself into the national consciousness, Occupy shows how diverse, intelligent, active, articulate and, above all, how capable we are. We are not to be scorned; we are not to be feared. We are admirable. We are the future.
Third, Occupy jump-starts the national discussion about the truly important issues, and it shows as trivial the issues that The Director wants to keep front and center. Poor people are not millionaires that failed; homelessness is not a function of laziness. In fact, the current severity of both of these issues is a direct result of national policies instituted by Congresses over the past 30 years or more. As long as Occupy can hold itself together, these narratives will become harder and harder to ignore.
Finally, by using the tried-and-true approach of provocative, non-violent direct action, Occupy forces the villains to show their hands. From nonchalant, pepper-spraying UC Davis cops to obsequiously pandering so-called “liberals”, street-level action forces those in authority to prove out their credentials. And, as the Occupiers like to remind us all: The Whole World is Watching. For any more-or-less normal human, it’s obvious which side they’re on.
Act 3: TBD
I don’t doubt for a minute that The Director will develop a counter-attack, a reassertion of the McGuffin. (Wait, did Mitt Romney just do something foolish? Oh, that’s awesome!) Sorry…what was I saying?
If we really want to see change happen, we need to double-down on our program. And it needs to be local first, state second, Congress third and the McGuffin.
At this point, we can quibble around the edges. Does city councilor X need to be replaced, or can he or she find the guts to vote rightly? Is Congressperson Y really in the pocket of the donors, or can a strong, left wing primary candidate make the message clear. (You _know_ what I mean, guest writer, when I say: Apparently NOT!)
RI Future’s own Libby Kimzey is running for RI House 8 against a known villain who takes semi-legal means to destroy historic structures that his own district is trying to preserve (and who drives his preposterous pickup truck like a positive ass-hat). With luck, others will announce against Gordon (H71) and Ottiano (S11). And those are just the ones that come to mind.
The election season is just getting going, and we have more questions than we have answers. But this much is clear — the time to move is now. Progressives have more openings, more opportunity than I’ve ever seen in my political memory. And I remember Nixon vs. McGovern.
Get up. Get out. Get moving.
Somebody asked me recently: How can I vote Progressive for my GA members? I told him, “I’m not sure, but the Progressive candidate in your district might just be you.”