[Trigger warning: The following contains descriptions of rape apologists and their positions.] As I confessed a few weeks ago, the drama of our national elections has drawn me in, regardless of my anarchist sensibilities. So I've been watching the debates with great interest. The Obama-Romney debate was painful to watch for me as for everyone on the left; Romney lies with fluidity (as he always has), and I was honestly surprised that he got a bump in the polls from his performance. But Obama underwhelmed, even as he avoided any campaign-ending gaffes.
Now, the Biden-Ryan debate was much more energetic. While I don't adore Obama or Biden, and I loathe Romney, I detest Paul Ryan, who co-sponsored bills with Todd Akin (of "the woman's body has ways of shutting that stuff down" fame) debating forcible rape vs. normal or unforced rape or non-forcible rape or whatever the hell those rape apologists think rape is if it isn't forced. Also, every time I look at him, I think "guy who actively wants children to be hungry" because of his attempts to slash food-stamp funding. So I had more of a desire to see Ryan publicly shamed and forced to admit that he's a lying bastard whose grasp of math is not nearly as strong as he claims. The debate satisfied my desire to see that happen. My favorite moment was when Ryan said, "Let's look at this from the allatoyahs perspective," and betrayed how easily he slips into a totalitarian theocrat viewpoint!
However, the joy of all Democrats at seeing this weasel embarrassed aside, the debate reminded me of something much more fundamental. Now, both "sides" of the "debate" have claimed that this election is a referendum on the role of the State, and they are not wrong; however, I would suggest that more than anything this is a referendum on how the State can be the most healthy--and the tragic part of this is that they are really talking about how the state can most effectively wage war. Indeed, issues of war consumed most of the debate--where are we at war? Where should we be at war? How can we use war to further American interests? Meanwhile, the issues of poverty, of prisons, of institutional racism and sexism, of repression, and the evils of empire slouch under a bipartisan invisibility cloak, waiting for the state to become ill enough to address them.
You see, anarchists have a saying, "War is the health of the state." While I am not completely against government as such, I do believe that centralized nation-states exist primarily to wage wars; the rest is window dressing. The Social Contract is not so much a contract as it is a bribe--the state has to figure out the minimum of rights and security it has to allow the people to have in order for them not to riot in the streets and demand their lives back from the war machine. You may have noticed that this year there were, in fact, a lot of people in the streets, rioting, demanding their lives returned. So we could hazard a guess that the State is not healthy, that its warmaking capacity is threatened.
Both Biden and Ryan depend on the health of the state, however; their job is not to serve the American People, but to revive the state. I think the Republican plan for invigorating the state apparatus is clear: vilify the Enemies (Iran, Liberals, the Gays, the 47%) to justify destroying all public works, so that the enemy can't use them (and yes, I am thinking of public schools here); to justify going to actual war with Iran; to justify removing people's rights (a la the Patriot Act) and then punishing any protestors vigorously. (On this note, I send a shout of solidarity to Leah Lynn-Plante, who the state deprived of her liberty yesterday. Read all about it.) The healthy state that Ryan envisions is pure--a profit-generating machine, dependent on classic government repression rather than bribes to keep the population in check; a tank to drive over any opponents of American business "interests;" the Emperor, without any clothes--and proud of it--a pure ruling power that knows no shame, that dominates and devastates all it touches.
The Democrats do try to clothe the emperor (to warp the usual metaphor a bit). In their healthy state, everyone contributes to and benefits from the war machine. They offer a better bribe to keep people off the streets. And don't get me wrong: the better bribes alleviate suffering, and as such they are much more moral than the alternative of cutting government down to pure capitalist bulldozer. But Biden is still focusing on the health of the state over that of human beings. Obamacare is offered up as a way to save federal dollars, instead of a way to save lives. The Democrats bailed out banks for the good of the economy, instead of people because they are inherently worthwhile. The campaigns both focus on the advancement of the middle class, and marginalize people in situations of poverty further by pretending they don't exist (while disenfranchising them if they can). Obama has authorized numerous, numerous, numerous drone strikes and argued in favor of detaining people at any time; are those acts good for people? Adamantly not, but it's good for the state. Any problem-solving discussion degenerates into squabbling over how to cut the deficit, not how to empower human beings to make their lives better. This, too, is for the good of the state; and by remaining focused on a healthy state over healthy humans, the Democrats are complicit in these evils.
Am I utopian in dreaming of a world where we don't have to support war and violence and domination in order to secure true prosperity for all humans? Of course I am. The various governments of the world aren't going to turn their swords into plowshares anytime soon; the erstwhile owners of the swords aren't going to return them to the common arsenal without a fight.
But I am not utopian in proclaiming our current bribe a terrible deal. The workers toil all day with little protection and insufficient compensation, doing overtime work that unemployed people could be taking over; one in seven households suffered from food insecurity last year; our soldiers die in unpopular wars; education is ever more privatized and unaffordable; hell, some places we no longer have clean drinking water. Are our life forces not worth more than this? We should up our prices, be in the streets and squares and courts and halls proclaiming that we will not overlook wars for the paltry service that the government does for us right now.
Alas, our only electoral choices are between the intolerable status quo and an unimaginably horrible surrender to the super-rich. These are not choices. This is a nightmare.