Bloc That Metaphor!

the long march through the institutions has not reached the new yorker, apparently.

Gramsci would not be pleased. — Hendrik Hertzberg

Hendrik Hertzberg, trying to be funny in his March 8th Talk of the Town column for the New Yorker, mentions Iowa Representative Steve King’s bizarre invocation of Antionio Gramsci in an anti-healthcare reform speech at C-PAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Here is a transcript of King’s speech, in all its McCarthyist (or is that McCarhtyite?) paranoia:

Now who are we up against? I want to define that enemy. They are: liberals, they are progressives, they are Che Guevarians, they are Castroites, they are socialists, more enemies on this list, Gramsciites, ring anybody’s bell? Trotskyites, Maoists, Stalinists, Leninists, Marxists. They are all our enemies. Who’d I leave out? I think I heard that. How about I go to: democratic socialists? And I’m going to ask you to go to the dsausa.org website and take a look and see what you find there. The Democratic Socialists of America. They are the socialists. There is a game plan on there.

Hertzberg, rightfully critiquing this paranoia by joking about the obscure reference to Gramsci, writes:

Strictly speaking, that should be Gramscians, followers of Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Communist Party leader of the nineteen-twenties. Ding-dong!

The journalist ends his piece by pointing out how centrist the current health care legislation is:

The health-care reform bill—which, despite everything, is still alive—is an ambitious piece of legislation, however modest it may be by the measure of the rest of the developed world. Ideologically and substantively, it is centrist. It has Republicans, and Republicanism, in its family tree. For better or for worse, it’s already bipartisan. Gramsci would not be pleased.

But if you’ve read your Gramsci, you would know that Gramsci actually might be pleased.

This depends a bit on your interpretation of Gramsci, of course. Those who use Gramsci to affirm older, clunkier Marxist theories of ideological domination by ruling economic classes would cite the watered-down nature of the health care bill as an example of what Gramsci called “consent”: the compromised nature of health care reform offers an example of how the dominant class asserts its ideology over everyone, thus limiting radical reform. In this use of Gramsci, the socialist thinker and activist would not be pleased—though he would get to say “told you so!” from the prison he was thrown into for his beliefs.

Antonio Gramsci.

Or, more intriguingly, the centrist health care bill could be read as the beginnings of what Gramsci called a “counter-hegemonic bloc,” a new set of ideas and cultural attitudes that draws together groups that might not always agree with each other or have the same economic interests in society. In the case of health care reform, these beliefs revolve around the realization that corporate capitalist markets do not, in fact, solve all problems—and that it may be better in the case of health care for government to step in, regulate, and shape health care to make it a right, accessible and affordable for all. With this reading of Gramsci, he would indeed be pleased about the long march through the institutions, including the Congress, to make life better for citizens. But, if that is the case, then is King right?! Only if you think that the more than 25 million uninsured people in the United States more than 44 million uninsured and 25 million underinsured are also the enemy within.

3 thoughts on “Bloc That Metaphor!

  1. Steve King is a doofus. …That’s my intelligent commentary on your nice piece. …Isn’t it 48 million uninsured total? Or at least isn’t it in the 40s? …Your link references “under-insured” rather than uninsured. – Tim

    1. Yes on King. Doofy…and scary!

      The storied fact checkers at the New Yorker clearly didn’t take their Cultural Studies courses in college (or they would have caught the Gramsci stuff).

      But speaking of fact checking, I should not cast the first stone and all that…. I’ve hoisted myself on my own petard (oops, speaking of block that metaphor!). Thanks for your fix on the numbers, oh ye kind fact checker! I’ve made the correction in the post.

  2. I don’t relish fact-checking; it’s a tedious, thankless job. But I’ve been paying so much attention to health care reform that the 40 millionish number has been drilled into my head. …I hope it passes, by the way—Scott Brown be damned.

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