The Stoker and the Plugger

Tsunamis and plugs

To plug a tsumani, no matter how metaphorical, we need all the tools in our kit. Credit: Creative Commons/Kupferstich "Deichbruch" von Winterstein 1661.

Today, a tsunami is gaining lethal force, promising to send giant waves over the top of a poorly constructed levy. One man is madly stoking the winds that give force to the storm. Another is putting his finger in a hole in the levy, as if to plug a leak. In the 2012 election we are asked to choose between these two men.

Obviously, neither man will stop the deadly tsunami. The position of both men is absurd. Does that mean we should not vote in the election? Fighting catastrophe with either of two absurd methods makes no sense.

But, paradoxically, we should vote for the plugger over the stoker.

The stoker will accelerate the catastrophe. Blinded by ideology and money, he will tear down the levy and raise the flood tides. Possibilities of reconstruction will fade. The conversation will shift to how to build arks to survive the lethal floods. The very rich will see salvation in this choice. And, favored by the stoker, in an act of true evil, they will block any action to dissipate the storm and rebuild the levy. Stopping the stoker is a matter of human survival.

The plugger will not prevent the catastrophe either. His finger in the dike is a symbolic act of resistance. Of course, it is irrational since it cannot stop a storm that is overflying the levy rather than pounding through leaks.

But symbolism matters, especially in moments of existential threat. The finger in the dike comes from the man at the top. His action is a subliminal invitation to generalized and more rational resistance from the bottom, a building of a new levy rather than the plugging of the old and useless one.

Resisters from the bottom are already surfacing. During the Occupy Movement at its height, they tented out all along the levy, calling for mass mobilization to rebuild the nation and world. Grassroots movements are the best hope for saving us from the tsunami.

In the Great Depression, a former plugger, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, told the people that he cannot stop the storm unless they forced him to do so. This tends to be the best that all men at the top have done in this land, and the plugger in 2012 may play this positive role for new waves of tenters.

Plugging the leak opens up prospects that the people will mobilize rapidly from below and rebuild the levy while quieting the floodwaters.

Stopping the tsunami requires every tool in our kit, even the choice of a timid and misguided plugger—whom we need to prod, push, and often militantly oppose—over the stoker.

(To read more Fall 2012 online exclusives on American Beyond the 2012 Election, click here.)

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One thought on “The Stoker and the Plugger

  1. We are faced with a presidential election in which one of the two major candidates is a skilled speaker, adept at appealing to the best in people, and expressing lofty sentiments, while, in practice, undermining the most fundamental pillars of our democracy. The other major party candidate (and his supporters) openly advocate all kinds of irrational, extreme policies. Both of these candidates are clearly under the control of the corporate elite.

    Among the acts of the Obama administration that justify the above assessment are:

    -Claiming the power to order the killing of Americans without a semblance of due process, and actually exercising such power.

    -Nullifying the constitutional right of habeas corpus.

    -On the basis of spurious claims of national security, denying to those abused by the US government the right to redress in the courts.

    -Persecuting government employees who have called attention to immoral and illegal acts of our government (such as torture).

    -Endorsing laws that violate constitutional provisions for privacy.

    -Assuming, in violation of our constitution, the right to launch attacks on other countries without even a semblance of congressional authorization.

    In addition, the Obama administration has escalated one war, and greatly expanded the use of drones to murder and terrorize people in at least 4 countries.

    On the domestic scene, the same administration has put control of our economic and financial policy in the hands of Wall Street agents of the corporate elite. It has already weakened Social Security thru a reduction of the payroll tax and has indicated a desire to reduce benefits and to increase the retirement age, and the age for medicare eligibility.

    The proudest achievement of the administration is passage of a health care program devised by the right wing Heritage Foundation, adopted by Romney in Massachusetts, and drafted in large part by a recent high level insurance company executive.

    Having already, after taking office, squelched a surging popular movement that might have brought about a rebirth of the New Deal, it is clear that a second term for Obama would most likely lead to further dismantling of New Deal policies and, by accepting the idea that we must cut domestic programs and refrain from substantially increasing taxes on the wealthy, would probably lead us into an even deeper depression.

    Arguing that progressives should vote for Obama in order to defeat Romney is to argue that we should endorse a monster in order to block the ascendency of a worse monster. This is an immoral idea that has produced our present situation, and which can only lead us further down the path to utter chaos. Actually, there are good reasons to argue that Obama is worse than Romney, in that he is, in the words of Black Agenda Report Editor Glen Ford, the “more effective evil”, in that he has been able to get away with acts that would have produced massive protests if done by openly conservative politicians.

    The time has clearly come for progressives to abandon the lesser evil tactic and to dump the Democratic Party, by voting for the candidates of the Green (Jill Stein) or Justice (Rocky Anderson) parties, and then working to build a powerful progressive party starting at the grass roots. A more detailed argument along these lines is in, “Should You Vote for the Best Candidate?”, accessible at

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