The most recent news from Brooklyn is that Rep. Edolphus Towns is not going to contest the next election for his House district, and that the seat is coming open. Republicans are not seriously competitive in Bedford-Stuyvesant (imagine that, I wonder why?) but the Democratic primary there may end up being one of the most important in the country, because that election is going to be a showdown between the forces of serious reform and the forces of unhinged revanchism.
The two candidates, interestingly enough, both have made it clear that they are supporters of the Occupy movement. As most of you know, I do not consider Occupy to have been a particularly useful political movement; some of the reasons for this are Occupy’s repeatedly expressed hostility to the political process, its continuous use of the Citizens United case as an example of how no one can do anything through the political process, and its instant mobilisation against anyone who would try to use Occupy to do something via the political process. This is a movement which has laborious discussions about what it is, exactly, it stands for in general terms, but which reacts immediately to the idea of “Occupy-friendly” candidates for public office as a threat to everything holy.
In Brooklyn, there are two “Occupy-friendly” candidates, who are nevertheless as different as they could possibly be. One, Hakeem Jeffries, is a serious advocate for the policy positions most “Occupy-friendly” individuals out there in the real world hold dear. The other, Charles Barron, is someone who goes out of his way to be at a eulogy service for Moammar Gaddafi, who gushes about Robert Mugabe, and who effuses about Hugo Chávez. He denies that the Libyans were behind the attack on the plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, and that Gaddafi fired on his own people during the Arab Spring protests. He is, unsurprisingly, completely hostile to Israel and a participant in George Galloway’s crusades to bring aid to Gaza (which the Gazans refuse, in order to prove a political point…you know, not _real_ aid for Gazans, political aid for Hamas).
What actual policy positions Mr. Barron has, nobody knows – indeed, these seem to be beside the point for him. He’s not about making the world a better place, he’s about whipping up anger about how it is and using that to his benefit.
I’d like to think that everyone with serious hopes that Occupy can actually do something about income inequality will do what they can to support Hakeem Jeffries in his run for Congress. But that probably will not happen, for reasons as dull as they are, at this point, inexorable.
For starters, the Democratic Party establishment will naturally endorse Jeffries, since Towns is now out of the race. This will convince some quart-low-in-the-noggin people that Jeffries is the “candidate of the establishment”, and that will be enough for them. Indeed, the one good thing one can say about Charles Barron is he is not the choice of the Democratic establishment – and the one good thing one can say about the Democratic establishment is that its members are not certifiable enough to want Charles Barron to be their candidate.
In addition, the howls of outrage from the press if Barron does get the nomination rather than Jeffries will convince this same group that “the corporate media is afraid of Barron”, so it must be a good thing that he got the nod. Of course, this is nonsense. Right-wing advertisers would funnel money to any newspaper which reported on Barron as often as it could. The sounds of right-wing pundits having an orgasm in the background would also be quite audible. Charles Barron getting the endorsement of Brooklyn Democrats would serve as proof of every race-based conspiracy theory they’ve ever had. Time would not be wasted trying to connect Barron to Obama.
The other day I commented that a very similar South African demagogue, Julius Malema, would never be defeated until the very real social problems that drive people into his arms are dealt with, and that’s certainly true here as well. It’s all very well for me to attack the lunacy Mr. Barron represents, but unless I also speak for the necessity of improving conditions in Bedford-Stuvyvesant, I know my words will fall on at least some deaf ears. I will be told that “at least Barron is doing something” because he shakes his fist angrily at the establishment instead of playing along. That I speak against him in the first place, additionally, will only be cited as proof I’m _in_ the establishment.
If we want to cure the body politic of politicians like Mr. Barron, it is indeed not enough to speak against them. But it starts there. Furthermore, it should start there for Occupy. Both of the candidates in this primary election will run on how supportive they are of Occupy’s message. Only one of them really is, the other wants to appropriate the message for demagoguery. The Occupy faithful, if they want anyone to believe in _their_ message, should indicate that they understand the difference.