Fullerton has weird politics. Its most outspoken activists are from political perspectives that lie outside the mainstream. Without trying to minimize the diverse plurality of views in town, there is a very politically active group of libertarian rightists, allied in part by fairly hardcore though libertarian-leaning leftists. For these groups to have forged any sort of working alliance and to have achieved electoral victory is surprising. But if you look at the way these two groups think about politics it shouldn’t be.
Leftists think that capitalism, particularly as personified in the corporation, is the root of all evil. Libertarians think that government, both as an abstract concept and as actually existing government, is the root of all evil. But sane people from any perspective realize that corporations and government are in bed together and can hardly be separated. This is most clear nationally, in the ties between the financial industry and elected officials, and in the symbiotic relationship of the Pentagon, defense contractors, and oil companies.
When government is thoroughly embedded with corporate cash and individuals who represent corporate interests, it is corrupted. A corporatized government can never be a fair, just, government with integrity and the public interest in mind. But government is also dominated by its own internal interests groups of bureaucrats and administrators; its vast law enforcement, legal and carceral apparatus (the racialized prison-industrial complex); and the military and defense establishment, all of whose primary purpose is their own self-perpetuation, at whatever the social cost. A case in point here would be something like the DEA – ever-growing, billions squandered, purely negative outcomes – but this is in many ways typical. These internal interests groups are another inherently corrupting influence upon government, seized on by libertarians but sadly ignored by too many leftists.
So government cannot be cited as a cure-all for corporate power or as a generally fair steward for the public interest for at least two reasons: 1. It is already thoroughly corrupted by corporate power (see Middle East oil wars) and 2. It is also thoroughly corrupted by its internal interest groups’ desire to self-perpetuate at the public’s expense (see for instance, the War on Drugs and the incarceration explosion). And as the increasing desire for dictatorial power by the executive branch – regardless of who is in charge – shows, power just begets lust for more power.
Fullerton has its ordinary liberals and conservatives too. Liberals can be well-intentioned but are often too naïve to understand the true depravity of the government they trust to solve all problems. Conservatives can be well-intentioned but are too naïve or ideologically influenced by the imagining of free-market utopianism to sense the depravity of the corporation. Essentially I think of these two groups as just less well-informed and less-internally consistent versions of the leftists and libertarians. While liberals and conservatives tend to be complacent as long as they think that “their own” are in charge, leftists and libertarians tend to be alarmed by circumstance and desirous of radical change. Plus they are never in charge, which allows their radical critiques to blossom. Except, suddenly the libertarians in Fullerton, supported by a small but active group of leftists, actually are in charge.
Police brutality is a strange middle ground issue where leftists, who have historically been a target of US government repression (think Chicago 1968 or more recently Occupy), and libertarians who are ideologically opposed to abusive authority meet. This was the rare moment when you could look at the other side and know they were exactly as angry and determined as you were and for the exact same reasons. Anybody who wasn’t in serious denial, from any political perspective, could see that the rash of police abuse cases in Fullerton represented a tremendous moral and ethical wrong. But it was the libertarians and leftists who were out in the streets making a big deal about it. The far-right and far-left groups who showed up in support like the Oath Keepers and Answer LA are not nearly as far apart as even they think, and their presence in the streets along with anarchist groups like Anonymous made the Fullerton protests a national flashpoint for radical politics. And it was a few open-minded if ideologically committed libertarians, with a host of libertarian allies and a few leftist and anarchist friends, who utilized the new media and public outrage to mastermind the recall election that resulted. This is as far as I know without precedent in American politics.
Strange politics and uneasy bedfellows is probably the best way to think about the Fullerton political scene at this fascinating moment in time. But beyond Fullerton, the similarity of Obama and Romney on the majority of all issues and the lack of a viable alternative illustrate how a libertarian/progressive-left alliance is exactly what the national scene needs. We will not agree on everything, but we can still work together on the things we do agree on, and they are very, very substantive issues. Here’s hoping this alliance can last in Fullerton and take shape for the rest of the country to see, rather than quickly implode into a maelstrom of bickering and positioning as the next election approaches.