Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dems to Base: "Drop Dead"

They should call it the Obama Doctrine and we should thank the Democratic leadership in the Senate for making its nature clear – most recently in their efforts to craft a health care reform (actually an insurance company enrichment) bill.

The Republican leadership, such as it is, follows just the opposite tack. Either out of guile or because they are controlled by the useful idiots they’ve been recruiting for decades, they play to those idiots, aka the Republican base. Whether this is a recipe for winning elections in 2010 remains to be seen. Maybe not because there’s a limit to how buffoonish Republicans can be and still win back the apolitical middle they lost thanks to George Bush and Dick Cheney. But as a recipe for influencing policy – which is, after all, what anybody who is not a party functionary or one of their media hacks cares about – it is a sure winner. It was Republican obduracy that empowered the Democratic right. Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson were the lucky beneficiaries; but for Republican nay saying, they’d never have been able to act out their obstructionist strategies or to stick it to their colleagues (never mind the voters).

Mainstream Democrats responded like the cowards they are. At a time when “bipartisanship” means surrender, they were happy to oblige.

It should now therefore be clear to all that, win or lose, Obama and his Congressional comrades are weak and unable to govern; that all they can do is betray the hopes of their base. The Petreus-McCrystal-Gates axis realized this long ago; so has the Israeli Right, which could have been tamed but is instead, as usual, calling the shots. And despite their moral and intellectual deficiencies, Congressional Republicans have figured it out too. The time is long past due for the Democratic base to realize what has been going on and to react accordingly – which means taking initiatives and restricting Obama’s choices, as much or more than Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson do.

Meanwhile, even if Obama finally gets a bill that is not, on balance, an unmitigated disaster, what a difference a year makes!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lose One for the Gipper!

Like the Clintons before him, the Obama health care reforms began with the Commander-in-Chief giving away the store, and then negotiating down. Add to that Obama’s self-defeating “bipartisanship” and his unwillingness to stand up to right-wing Democrats – and Joe Lieberman – and voilĂ , an historical opportunity has been lost. [This is just one of many examples. Obama’s first year in office should go down in history as a year of lost opportunities.]

Spineless Democrats now seem poised to acquiesce in what amounts to a give-away to private insurance companies – and also to Big Pharma and the for-profit health care industry. They are satisfied, it seems, with minor insurance reforms which, they insist, make the best of a bad situation. But the bad situation is of their own making and Obama’s. And their real motive for acquiescing is to win one for the New Gipper, Barack Obama – at no matter what cost. Not that anything that can be represented as a victory is likely; at least not before Democratic spinmeisters and their friends in the “liberal” media get on the case.

In the minds of Democrats, it’s a “now is the time for all good men (and women) to come to the aid of the party” moment. But if their heads were screwed on right and if they had half the courage of their convictions, they’d scuttle the whole effort and start over – without the “stakeholders,” the health care profiteers, calling the shots, as Obama insisted they must from the outset.

Now is the time to lose one for the Gipper. It will be good for America in the long run, and good practice too – for standing up against the Petreus-McChrystal axis that seems to have our War is Peace Commander-in-Chief in its thrall. Not that, with the Party of Pusillanimity in the majority (for what that’s worth!), there’s much chance of standing up to anybody.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Obama's War is Peace Prize

Would Orwell have believed it: Barack Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize just two weeks after he fixed the Petreus-McCrystal plan for perpetual war in Afghanistan and for a not very secret war in Pakistan in stone; while the occupation of Iraq continues; and just days after the Obama Justice Department intervened on behalf of torture lawyer John Yu, arguing that he cannot be sued in civil courts? This from the man who was elected to restore the rule of law and who has done nothing but protect Bush-Cheney era war criminals from prosecution.

The Nobel Committee claimed that Obama was chosen for his potential, not his accomplishments, and for his promise to reintegrate the United States into the community of enlightened states. That was a lame contention back when the prize was announced; by now, it is simply preposterous. Just ask the negotiators for developing countries how “multilateral” the United States is being, at this very moment, in Copenhagen. And reflect on the fact, announced while Obama was on his way to Oslo, that Attorney General Eric Holder, who was one of the good ones (compared to the unreconstructed Wall Streeters and Clintonites), has authorized death sentence prosecutions at about the rate Alberto Gonzales and Michael Mukasey, Bush’s last two Attorney Generals, did. [Bush’s first AG, John Ashcroft, maintained a slightly higher pace, but then he was an in-your-face Christian.]

One can only avert one’s gaze. But how can anyone whose head is still screwed on right not be revolted by the praise liberal commentators have been heaping on Obama’s speech? Yes, in a low-grade way and compared to what George Bush’s speech writers used to concoct, it was eloquent, thoughtful, and nuanced. But, for anyone with eyes to see -- for anyone who lacks Obama’s confidence that his, Obama’s, saying it makes it coherent and true -- the speech was intellectually shallow and morally depraved.

Notwithstanding the praise it has drawn, the part of what he said that actually made sense was hardly news. Obama declared that war (or, more generally, violence) may sometimes be necessary to advance peace (or non-violence). Thus he referenced the timeworn case for the permissibility of non-pacifist means for pacifist ends. Need I point out that this is what almost all non-pacifists already believe or that the case for it is or rather ought to be familiar to all educated people? Obama’s point is the theme, for example, of Max Weber’s “Politics as a Vocation”; an essay he could hardly have failed to read back at Columbia along with a host of other classics that argue for a similar point. Still, the nuance Obama added was troubling. He introduced an explicitly religious motif – about the inexorability of Evil. As commentators on the Right, including Karl Rove, were quick to point out, this was vintage Bush boy. So too was his embrace of the Commander-in-Chief title and his insistence on his prerogatives as “head of state.”

Obama declared Al Qaeda evil. In passing, he maintained that America’s “enemies” in the Balkans and in other “humanitarian interventions” fall in the same category. It should be almost as unnecessary to correct these errors as it is to dwell on the Orwellian aspect of the whole event. But I can’t resist pointing out, yet again, that, by being in the thrall of warmed over Petreus-McCrystal “counter-insurgency” nonsense, Obama is inciting Islamicist resistance, not suppressing it. And neither can I fail to restate the obvious: that 9/11 was not an other-worldly eruption of Evil, but an understandable consequence of decades of American policy in the Middle East – that it was blowback for what the U.S. has done in Israel/Palestine, in Kashmir, in Afghanistan itself and, especially, for its support for corrupt but subservient Arab regimes. What is the Nobel laureate doing about these and other root causes? The short answer is Nothing. The slightly more eloquent, thoughtful and nuanced answer is not much different: from time to time, he talks a good earful, raising expectations he then betrays.

Whatever Obama may think, his saying “X” does not make it the case that X. And, despite what liberal pundits may think, his saying “X and not-X” simultaneously -- as in “escalate” and “wind down” -- is hardly a sign of greatness of mind. It only shows that his thinking is incoherent. Now that Obama has embraced the role of Commander-in-Chief, not just of our bloated armed forces but of American capitalism and its empire, this incoherence threatens to give rise to outcomes that are infinitely more worrisome than anything several hundred “evil” Al Qaeda operatives can contrive.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bipartisan At Last!

Letting Bush era war criminals get away with murder didn’t do it. Neither did giving away the store to Wall Street or sacrificing the public interest to the insurance, pharmaceutical, for-profit health care and dirty energy industries. Abject servility before the NRA and AIPAC and their ilk didn’t do it either; nor did putting the interests of the constituencies who put him in office – labor especially, but also gays, Latinos and even African-Americans – on the back burner. No matter how far to the right he veered, Barack Obama just couldn’t get the Party of No to say Yes.

Until now! In somber, “pragmatic” tones, Obama made his case for escalating the Afghanistan War and prolonging the occupation indefinitely. [Or until the impending 2012 elections necessitate rethinking. Does anyone believe that, if the troops really do start “transitioning” in July of 2011, it will be for any other reason?] The incoherence of his rationale – build an Afghan state, the better to defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan – was staggering. [I will leave for a later time or for others to elaborate why, for any conceivable American national interest, the Obama escalation is transparently counter-productive.] But the Republicans could hardly dissent. If they did, it would mean they don’t “support the troops.” It would also require them to break ranks with God and General McChrystal. Clever Obama! In one foul stroke, he won what he most longs for -- a Yes from the GOP.

I don’t expect that many will agree with this diagnosis. How, it will be asked, can bipartisanship explain such an obviously ill-conceived leap into the abyss? But it’s as good an explanation as any of the other contenders: that Obama is the prisoner of his own campaign rhetoric or of hapless Generals eager to get “counterinsurgency” right; that he fears what the Right will do if he “loses” Afghanistan; that the military industrial complex has something on him; that, as the acting steward of the American empire, he can’t be perceived to back away. No doubt, these factors have something to do with Obama’s dreadful decision, as does the inertia of war (we’re there because we’re there), and the willful impotence of what passes for a Left in this country, eager as it has been to cut Obama slack. But I stand by my contention: the main culprit is Obama’s obsessive, reckless bipartisanship.

Over the past year, it has become clear that the guiding principle of Obama’s governing style is to win the hearts and minds, or at least the grudging acceptance, of Republicans and Blue Dogs and Joe Lieberman – in other words, of the most execrable of the execrable. That was the Clintons’ idea too but, for them, it was, like everything else, just opportunism. Obama really believes in it. And, with a little help from his friends Petreus and McChrystal, he figured out how to get what he so desperately wants. Joy to the world, he must be thinking. Until the Party of No figures out how to get back on course, over in the West Wing, it will be a season to be jolly.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Obama Is the Enemy Now

The Afghanistan War is not and never has been “a war of necessity,” as Barack Obama has claimed. By now, it is not a “a war of choice” either. It’s a pointless, inexorable, nightmare.

In the beginning, the Afghanistan War was arguably less pointless. It was a war of revenge. Too bad that it was fought mainly against the wrong target, against ordinary Afghanis, not “terrorists” or their protectors. Those pesky terrorists were just too hard to round up and kill. Most of them weren’t even in Afghanistan, even then. Still, back in the day when George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld set the moral compass, revenge was the best revenge.

As a legal scholar and reader of Euripides, Obama should know that revenge is a motive that civilized societies are supposed to rise above. But never mind: after 9/11, there was not holding back the Furies. Never mind too whether Osama bin Laden might have been captured “dead or alive” years ago but for the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-neocon obsession with Iraq. The fact is that the Afghanistan War could never have been “won” in any plausible sense, and it certainly can’t be won now. If history teaches anything, it is that occupations breed resistance, not acquiescence. And if, say, the history of the Vietnam War is no guide (as apologists for escalation have lately been proclaiming), then surely common sense is. Put enough troops on the ground and, of course, the level of violence will diminish while they are there. But even if our economy were not wrecked, and even if the Home of the Brave was not already war-weary, it would be impossible to keep enough troops in Afghanistan indefinitely. Eventually, Obama’s “exit strategy,” whatever it may be, is bound to give way to the only sensible exit strategy there is: cut and run. The question is only whether that day will come sooner or later, and how much more murder and mayhem there must be before it arrives.

The sad fact is that Obama knows this at some level; and so do his advisors and all but the most deluded Democrats in Congress. Maybe even some Republicans know it too, if there are any sane ones left. But it doesn’t matter. Whatever “it” is, we’ll be there for as long as “it” takes. Why? Because we must “support the troops,” of course; in other words, because we’re there.

Is it that Obama is the prisoner of remarks he made about Afghanistan during the campaign? According to the conventional wisdom, he had to say that he was gung-ho for that war in order to show that, despite his opposition to Bush’s Iraq War, he’s no sissy; that, as well or better than Hillary Clinton, he could play Commander-in-Chief. [It is worth noting that, despite Obama’s supposed opposition, the occupation of Iraq continues unabated!]

Or maybe the problem is that Obama is the prisoner of forces in the military, the Petreuses and McChrystals and their demented ilk, who, having come of age as Vietnam was sputtering out of control, are aching for a chance to get “counterinsurgency” right?

Or is it, as many on the left now believe, that Obama is afraid of the right? Fear of the right is now the favored explanation for why Kennedy and Johnson did their own Afghanistan thing in Vietnam. Why not Obama too?

Or perhaps it’s the Nixon-Kissinger preoccupation with “credibility.” After all, a successful bully can never just walk away. I favor this explanation, though the correct answer is probably “all of the above” and then some.

I think credibility is the main culprit because I believe that Obama is nothing if not foolishly consistent. Our vaunted agent of “change,” has proven himself a good steward of the interests of the powers that be: not just on Wall Street but in the corporate boardrooms of health-care profiteers, reckless polluters, and wherever else contributions for Democrats lie waiting. Surely Obama would not treat those who benefit egregiously from U.S. world domination and perpetual war differently.

But whatever the reason, one thing is clear – that for many months many Americans were in the thrall of an illusion. Remember how all the Clintonites and Wall Streeters Obama brought into his administration were there only for their expertise, and how Obama, from his perch on Mount Olympus, would use them to promote the changes people thought they’d voted for? Can anyone be so deluded any longer? The problem isn’t just Obama’s needlessly excessive servility. It’s worse than that. Bush’s wars didn’t have to become Obama’s wars; not with all the political capital he had to squander. But they are Obama’s wars now. Thus the great non-white hope of the willfully blind months ago has become, for all to see, the enemy today.

It never made sense to cut Obama endless slack, but it surely makes no sense now that he has proven himself an enemy, not an agent, of “change.” Obama is no savior. He’s not even part of the solution -- not now, anyway. Can it still be made otherwise? Hope fades fast but, to the extent it still survives, there is only one way: fighting back. Militance is again abroad in the land – witness the building occupations at University of California and Cal State campuses and the demonstrations marking the anniversary of the Battle of Seattle. The time is past due to make Obama and his wars its target. Gentle lesser evilists will just have to deal with it! There is no other way.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wishful Thinking

In the 2008 election, Barack Obama was the Rorschach candidate -- what people saw in him depended more on their hopes than on what was actually there; and after eight years of Dick Cheney and George Bush there was a lot of pent up hope in the land. Obama took full advantage of it and won handily. Then, slowly but inexorably, came the crash. By the end of the summer, disillusionment was already a mighty force. If, as expected, Obama announces a major escalation of the Afghanistan War next week, expect disillusionment to be triumphant; expect all but the last redoubts of Obamamania to fall. In just a year after that Grant Park moment, Obama will have succeeded in disappointing nearly everyone; even those of us who never expected much. There are exceptions, of course; they can be found on Wall Street, in the military, and in the board rooms of corporations engaged in health care profiteering, environmental degradation and similarly nefarious exercises of business as usual.

To be sure, Obama is still better than Bush – much better. But Democrats know they cannot pin their hopes for the 2010 and 2012 elections on that; not in what Gore Vidal calls the United States of Amnesia. That’s why the wishful thinkers have transferred their hopes from Obama himself to such cartoonish characters as Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Lou Dobbs. If only these worse than Bush GOP “leaders” will run, baby, run! Or, failing that, if only they’ll do to “moderate” Republicans what Doug Hoffman did to Dede Scozzafava in up-state New York. Then, the “moderates” will stay with Obama, even if hardly anyone any longer believes it will do much good. Then, reduced to its base of misfits, losers and godly looney tunes, the GOP will effectively cede the election to its POP rival, the Party of Pusillanimity and now of Wall Street too.

Maybe, but don’t count on it. Like the idea that Obama would be an agent of change, this is wishful thinking. The lunatics now run the Republican asylum, but the more sophisticated pillars of American capitalism, the “malefactors of great wealth” who brought them on board, still have the resources to call them off and take their party back. With disillusionment in the erstwhile Rorschach candidate mounting, they won’t have to take very much of it back to win handily.

The question for progressives, though, if not for party functionaries is: why care? There is some reason – bad as things are with Pelosiites in power, a Republican controlled House and Senate would be worse. So, yes, by all means, lets hope Democrats win; lets even vote for them faute de mieux. But the main thing is what the lunatics do understand: that what really matters is not how many elections they win, but how much influence they have. Sarah Palin’s fans, few as they may be and oblivious as they are to the facts and to reason, have already had an enormous influence over policy; they have dragged the healthcare reform debate even farther to the right than it already was. Blue Dog Democrats in the House of Representatives and “moderate” (right-wing) Democratic Senators, not to mention Joe Lieberman, know this too. When will what passes for a left in the Lesser Evil Party catch on? If they don’t soon, forget about even the small “changes” that are still possible under Obama – as he capitulates far more than need be to the darkest forces of American capitalism, and as he takes over leadership of the Party of War.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Perils of Niceness

There is no doubt that political factors constrain the Obama administration’s freedom of action severely, but it is impossible to say, with anything approaching precision, just how constraining those constraints are. They would have to be contested to tell, and the Obama administration hardly tries. Instead, groveling before the powers that be –“business as usual” in Washington – is the Obama style, notwithstanding claims to the contrary repeated throughout his campaign last year and still occasionally heard from willfully blind Obama supporters.

Bowing before the Emperor of Japan, as Obama did last week and as protocol requires, is a sign of weakness, according to the still unprosecuted war criminal Dick Cheney; a charge taken up by the Republican Party and therefore echoed across Fox News. This is ludicrous, of course; like almost everything else emanating from the bowels of the GOP. But it is true that the Obama administration exudes weakness – precisely because it does not test the limits of the constraints confronting it. This is one reason why the healthcare legislation passed by the House is so awful, even if, on balance, it does improve upon the status quo. Awful healthcare legislation is what you get when you grovel before health care profiteers. And it is why Israel is now flagrantly jerking Obama around – by authorizing illegal settlement expansion on the fringes of occupied Jerusalem just days after Hillary Clinton praised Bibi Netanyahu for his flexibility and openness to resuming negotiations. There are countless other examples that might be adduced: from the administration’s positions on environmental issues, on “free” trade, on questions of war and peace, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq, and, of course, on Wall Street (re)regulation.

Again, it is not clear how necessary Obama’s groveling before entrenched economic and political power is -- though it is surely excessive. What is clear, though, is that the Obama administration, with the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate in tow, evinces weakness of another kind altogether; and that, despite what Rahm Emanuel and other Clintonite Obama advisors may think, there is nothing necessary about it. This weakness is a bi-product of Obama’s excessive civility – of his “niceness” in situations where ruthlessness is called for. Republicans don’t understand much, but they do understand the value of party discipline; and they understand that, when “reasonable” (cooperative) people are at odds with obstreperous ones, the obstreperous almost always prevail. Democrats are clueless about such things.

That’s why three right-wing Democratic Senators – Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, and Blanche Lincoln – can threaten to keep the health care bill Harry Reid fashioned from even reaching the Senate floor; and why Joe Lieberman threatens to filibuster the bill if it includes a “public option,” even one as innocuous as the one included in the bill passed in the House.

[Shame on the Senate leadership for allowing Lieberman, sanctimonious and treacherous as ever, to receive the public attention he craves by holding hearings on the Fort Hood shootings, raising the prospect of throwing the government’s case into legal jeopardy!]

It is also why Blue Dog Democrats have the power they do; and why anti-abortion Democrats, led by the hapless Bart Stupak, were able to join Republicans in putting women’s reproductive rights in mortal jeopardy. There is plenty of blame to go around for these shenanigans and others like them, but the buck stops with the Forgiver-in-Chief.

He is proving himself too nice to fight -- too deferential to people whose views are not only unworthy of serious consideration, but harmful in ways that exceed the harms inherent in the political constraints he faces. Obama is turning out to be the quintessential “reasonable” liberal; well-meaning, but ill-disposed to take a principled stand or even, as Robert Frost famously said of liberals generally, his own side in an argument.

Before it’s too late, if it isn’t already, Obama should look around and see that in the real world nice guys, as they say, finish last. He should realize that to cede an inch to the Moronic Minority – or to their representatives in both political parties -- is to give up almost everything. And he should realize that it is impossible to govern, much less institute “change,” without offending the Republican Party’s “base.” One need only look at the spectacle reported from Grand Rapids, Michigan yesterday where hordes of benighted non-readers gathered to buy the book of that cartoonishly incompetent Republican “superstar,” Sarah Palin, a petty and vindictive woman who can’t write and doesn’t think, and who would be yesterday’s lunch were she less easy on the eyes, less ostentatiously patriarchal and God-fearing (professing to Oprah her belief in “Todd and God”), and less identified with the delusions of the terminally mediocre.

Make nice to Palin people? Well, maybe some of the “patriotic Americans” waiting in line in Grand Rapids turned out just to see a celebrity; and maybe a few of them are teachable. But I wouldn’t count on very many of those true believers breaking loose. If the future is like the past, the hopelessly benighted will be always among us. Of them, all one can say is what William Blake, an author Sarah Palin may never have heard of, despite her attendance at any of a half dozen colleges, said -- that “as the air is to birds and the sea to fish, so is contempt for the contemptible.” In other words, it isn’t just bought and paid for Republicans and Blue Dogs and Lieberman who merit contempt, and who should be treated accordingly. Those who placate the contemptible, who shower them with "niceness," merit it as well.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bad for the Party

Republicans under Nixon and then Reagan recruited the useful idiots of the “moral” (moronic) “majority” (minority) to wrest control of Washington from the Democrats. In time, they took the Republican Party over too. In consequence, one would have thought that the GOP would have long ago divided against thanks to the cultural contradictions separating the nation’s rulers from the benighted souls who elect Republicans to do their bidding. But that rift has been slow to develop; no doubt because, in ruling circles, greed trumps all. However, with Obama in the White House, the useful idiots, reacting more to the promise of “change” than to the reality of it, have grown even more Angst-ridden, and also less cautious about expressing the racism Nixon set out years ago to exploit. Thus they are tightening their grip. The more they do, the more acute the cultural contradictions will become. It is happening already; the Scozzafava affair is a sure sign that a purge of “moderates” is underway. The pillars of the party can hardly be pleased. They could well turn to Democrats to fill the void; their traditional allegiances speak against it, but it would certainly be in their interest.

Thus it is becoming conventional wisdom that the Republicans are fashioning themselves into a mainly regional (Southern) party, and that they will therefore remain a minority party for an indefinite future. This is one instance where the conventional wisdom has gotten it right. So-called independents may be cool to Obama’s style of governance and to what they understand (or misunderstand) his policies to be, but the fact remains: the narrower the Republican tent becomes, the worse it will be for the electoral prospects of the Grand Old Party – all the more so, when the only ones let in under the tent are Palin-besotted, god-fearing, certifiable loonies.

But the conventional wisdom misses the point. For true believers, the idea was never just to elect Republicans. Why would any self-respecting reactionary care about that? The idea was and is to affect policy. This, the moronic minority has succeeded in doing beyond their wildest expectations of just a few months ago. With a Democrat in the White House and with Democrats in control of both houses of Congress, they have dragged the entire political scene to the right. They will likely continue to do so, no matter how well or poorly Republicans fare in 2010. Last week’s events illustrate the situation perspicuously: Republicans lost a Congressional seat in up-state New York, but they turned the Obama-Pelosi health care reform bill into an anti-abortion bill that solidifies the power of private insurance companies over health care while guaranteeing that pharmaceutical companies will continue to be able to charge extortionist prices for their wares. Which matters more?

What goes for the Republican goose goes too for the Democratic gander. By recruiting and supporting right-wing Democrats – in accord with the theory and practice of Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer and with the approval of liberal pundits – the Democrats did win control of the House of Representatives in 2006 and of the Senate in 2008. They have a good chance too of retaining control of both houses in 2010, even if ruling parties do generally lose seats in off-year elections. But why should anyone to the left of the Clinton family care if this only means that Blue Dogs and Liebermans rule the roost?

The tea-baggers et. al. have a point, and not just, as it were, on the top of their heads. A principled, organized cadre of legislators can affect policy mightily whether or not their party is in the majority. Progressives would do well to take that lesson on board – in this respect only to become more like the lunatics who have taken over the Republican asylum.

There is not much risk involved. Bush era incompetence and Obama era Republican insanity have provided Obama and the Democrats with an unending string of opportunities, most of which they have dutifully squandered. Count on the gift to keep on giving – all the more so as the erstwhile favored party of the ruling class is purged of anyone who, like Dede Scozzafava, is more or less reality-based. That’s why were liberals to stand up more for themselves – for what has come to be called “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” -- they would probably not put Democratic control of the House or Senate in jeopardy. But, again, that’s not the point. What matters is affecting policy. The idiots have shown the way.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sinking In

The full measure of the Pelosi-Obama 220-215 “victory” Saturday night, passing their health care reform bill, H.R. 3962 with all but one Republican and thirty-nine Democrats voting against, is finally sinking in.

Out maneuvered, the Pelosiite leadership allowed right-wing Democrats to turn the measure into significant anti-abortion legislation. If the victorious Stupak Amendment or some functional equivalent makes its way into the final bill, it will effectively prohibit private insurers participating in government organized “insurance pools” from offering funding for abortion services. This would be a major step backward from the long established and already horrendously backward Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal money from going directly to pay for abortions or related services.

As bad or worse, the House legislation, with its weak “public option” and mandated insurance coverage would provide a bonanza to the insurance industry, and also to Big Pharma, which could continue to sell its wares domestically at extortionist prices. A truly “robust” public option, available to everyone (or nearly everyone) would provide a way for America eventually to back into the mid-twentieth century – into a world in which health care is a right, not a commodity. So would the Kucinich Amendment, which would allow states to establish their own single-payer systems without fear of being put in legal jeopardy by rapacious private insurers. The Kucinich Amendment passed in committee; but, along with a robust public option, it is not included in H.R. 3962. Thus, as matters stand, the Pelosi-Obama “reforms” would further entrench the existing indefensible and failed system.

Who is at fault? Throughout the process, the so-called “stakeholders,” the profiteers, have acted predictably; their involvement has been deplorable, but it was only to be expected. It was also clear from the outset that the Pelosiite leadership and our pathologically “bipartisan” President would end up giving away the ranch. Their role has been deplorable too, but they too are only acting out their “moderate” natures -- which render them incapable of not groveling before power. Thus the blame lies with the so-called progressives. Whether out of pusillanimity, incompetence or just because they wanted to win won for the Gipper – not Reagan this time, but the New Gipper, the agent of “change,” Barack Obama – they won one for the religious Right (and the Catholic bishops) and for the insurance companies.

I have argued in countless entries that most of the self-identified progressives in the Progressive Caucus are hardly progressive at all by any reasonable standard; and that even the best of them are, for the most part, feckless. They are unwilling or unable to leverage their power in the way that, for example, Newt Gingrich’s minions did in 1994, when they executed their “contract” on America. Over eighty House members were on record as supporters of a single-payer system. As it turns out, had just a few of them organized themselves with a modicum of skill and resolution, they could have blocked the worst features of H.R. 3962 by threatening not to support the bill. They didn’t even try.

Dennis Kucinich was the sole exception – but his No vote was too little, too late. It was essentially a feel good vote, though I wonder how well he can feel voting in the same way as Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats. Still, I sympathize: I too almost always vote “expressively” -- against not for someone because there is seldom anyone to vote for. But I realize, as should Kucinich, that these gestures are largely pointless.

The sheer impotence of progressive Democrats is staggering. Suppose, for example, that, after a wave of gun violence, popular opinion turned against the Second Amendment fetishism that does so much harm to our public safety; or that, after ever more blatant Israeli atrocities, public opinion turned against continuing to provide Israel with the blank check it is now given automatically. Suppose, in consequence, that a few less than usually pusillanimous Democrats were inclining towards doing the right thing. Then imagine how the NRA or AIPAC would yank on their chains. How different it is with the Progressive Caucus and its single-payer advocates!

To be sure, H.R. 3962 does include some worthwhile insurance reforms. If progressives continue to be unwilling or unable to make the bill better, then they should think about passing the insurance reforms on their own, and scuttling the rest – especially the assault on abortion rights and the solidification of the power of health care profiteers. Then true progressives can continue the struggle for genuine health care reform. But then too,unless his spin-doctors do an A+ job, it might look like a loss for the Gipper. Would that be a bad thing -- especially now, when Obama is on the brink of escalating the long failed wars he was elected to stop? I’m conflicted on that if only because I want our first African-American president to “succeed.” But one thing is clear: were Obama to continue along his present path, he certainly will “fail” and, even more certainly, he’ll deserve it.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Health Care in the House

Score one for the pope, who got his way on abortion (no way, no how, unless he says it’s OK) but, even with this additional blemish on its face, the Pelosiites did get their milquetoast health reform bill through – by a hair. One and a half cheers for that, and two cheers if they learn something from the experience – if they figure out, at last, what their pandering, and Obama’s, to Republicans and Blue Dogs was worth. Don’t count on it, though; in all likelihood, one and a half cheers is all the outcome of months of Sturm und Drang will ever deserve.

We’ll never know whether it would have been worse had the Party of Pusillanimity gone for something worthy of three full cheers. I think not, if only because it would then have been possible to make a clear moral argument, the one that has been the consensus in all developed countries for decades; that health care ought to be a right, not a commodity. And since the Blue Dogs and the others purport to be deficit hawks, even as they eagerly vote to finance Bush’s and now Obama’s perpetual wars, it would have also been possible to make a sound economic argument about drastically reducing health-care costs while providing care to all without diminishing the quality of care people receive (indeed, improving it for all but the most fortunate under the old, profit-driven regime).

Of course, the liberals will say that had Obama and the Pelosiites gone for the obvious solution, the health care profiteers and their media flacks would have played even dirtier, and the political culture would have been even more debased. Maybe, but it’s hard to see how.

Still, even a not very “robust” public option, combined with sensible insurance reforms, is better than nothing, and far better than the ludicrous Republican proposal that emerged in the “debate’s” final days. Therefore last night’s much touted “victory” was indeed a victory of sorts. One and a half cheers for it, and more if the experience deflates bipartisan fetishism in Democratic ranks and sparks competition in the up-coming primary season. For there is no doubt about it (except in the minds of Democratic leaders): the Blue Dogs have to go.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Change Obama Style -- in Israel/Palestine and Afghanistan Too

Whatever Hillary Clinton may say about how helpful Benjamin Netanyahu’s “promise” not to start new settlements in the occupied territories may be, and no matter how much Palestinians may find themselves without alternatives to acquiescence in the face of overwhelming Israeli military dominance, the fact remains that the prospects for a viable Palestinian state are rapidly diminishing as settlements expand; the point of no return may already have been reached. Because Israel is utterly dependent on American support – economically, militarily and diplomatically -- the United States effectively calls the shots there, even if only by giving Israel carte blanche to do whatever it pleases. In the present circumstances, there are three general courses U.S. policy can take; the first two involve departures from the past (i.e. change); the third would continue the usual policy of (depending on one’s point of view) malign or benign neglect:

1) The United States can demand not just that the pace of settlement construction slow down or even stop altogether, but that some, indeed most, settlements be dismantled – along the lines indicated in the near-agreement reached at Tabah in the final days of the Clinton administration. Unless Israel is forced to give back at least that much of what it has illegally appropriated since the so-called peace process began, a two-state solution will be out of the question because there will be no way to make a viable state out of geographically isolated Bantustans.

2) Or it can impose a one-state solution in which, as throughout the modern world, members of all ethnic groups enjoy equal citizenship rights and full human rights. Since the very idea of an ethnic state rightly offends modern (post-American and French Revolution) sensibilities, this is plainly the preferred outcome for everyone who is not in the thrall of Israeli nationalism, Jewish ethnocentrism or Christian Zionism. But since a secular democratic state in “the Land of Israel” would entail the end of a Jewish state, and since Israeli nationalism, Jewish ethnocentrism and Christian Zionism are weighty positions in the United States and Israel, this outcome would be much harder to implement than a two-state solution with a viable Palestinian state.

This is why (1) is what the United States should impose, even if it is morally and philosophically indefensible. It is indefensible; the idea of a Jewish state – not a state of its citizens but of a self-identified ethnic group scattered around the world -- was always a bad idea – even in the aftermath of the Nazi Judeocide when, thanks in part to the efforts of anti-Semites and Zionists alike, Western countries, the United States especially, were unwilling to absorb more than a handful of Jewish refugees. But belief in the legitimacy of a Jewish state in “the land of Israel” has become so entrenched in our political culture, and in the political culture of Israeli Jews, that it may now be impossible to expunge the idea. There may be no alternative other than to come to terms with it.

The Obama administration is, of course, officially in favor of a two-state solution, as is most of the rest of the world and most of the (increasingly disorganized) leadership of the Palestinian national movement. But, as in so many other areas, Obama only “talks the talk” – raising expectations that are soon dashed thanks to his singular reluctance to turn his words into deeds.

Of course, in the case of Israel/Palestine, the transition from words to deeds would be unusually difficult even if the will were present – because the Israel lobby has a stranglehold over the Congress of the United States. To implement real, not just verbal, changes in American policy towards Israel would require that Obama spend vast amounts of his rapidly diminishing political capital. He could have done it last spring; maybe he can do it still. But don’t hold your breath.

3) Thus the most likely prospect is that the United States will continue to permit Israel to dictate its Israel/Palestine policy – continuing the status quo in Israel and the occupied territories. The State Department’s reaction to the Goldstone Commission Report – saying only how “disappointing” it is – is a portent of things to come. Israel will therefore remain the settler state it has always been, and will continue its policy of creating “facts on the ground” accordingly. It will also continue to crush opposition to its Apartheid regime on the West Bank and to its on-going crime against humanity in Gaza -- by any means it deems necessary. Count on Obama to let it happen.

The Occupation has persisted now for more than forty years, and its trajectory has been, almost without exception, from bad to worse. Unless Obama rises to the occasion, expect the downward trend to continue into the near and not-too-distant future. But it can’t go on forever; the demographics of the situation and strategic factors beyond American control make a Final Solution to the Palestine Question impossible. In the long-term, supporting the status quo will mean not only a further diminution of Israel’s Herrenvolk democracy and its generally liberal civil society, but a diminution in the very prospect of maintaining Israel as a Jewish state.

The end of Israel as the state of the Jewish people would not be an outcome to regret. The beneficiaries would not just be the indigenous population of Palestine and peoples elsewhere who are historically or currently Muslim. The end of Israel would be good for “diaspora” Jews too, inasmuch as Zionism has hijacked Jewish identity and the Jewish religion – to no good ends in either case. I would venture that the end of Israel as an ethnic state would be an especially good thing for Israeli Jews as well. If nothing else, it would relieve them of the burden of oppressing their Arab compatriots. It would even advance the cause of establishing a safe haven for world Jewry, one of the few Zionist aims that is worth preserving. After all, the Israeli settler state is now the only place on earth where, thanks to the Palestinian resistance, Jews are in danger just for being Jewish. But the end of Israel as a Jewish state is an outcome that will be vigorously resisted in ways that could well put the region and indeed the planet in grave jeopardy. The American government can prevent this result. But don’t count on Obama to do anything of the sort. He’s too much of a go-with-the-flow and don’t-make-enemies kinda guy.

Change Obama style is change in words only – and even then, if the words are carefully parsed, there’s less change spoken of than most people assume. In this case, that’s bad for Israelis and for Palestinians and for diaspora Jews. It’s bad for Americans who are not Jews too.

The so-called realist position in international relations theory holds that there are genuine “national interests,” interests of the entire nation as distinct from its national elites. I am skeptical of this contention. But if anything does count as a national interest, surely a more “balanced” Israel/Palestine policy is a prime candidate. From a realist point of view, unqualified support for the policies of Israeli governments may have been warranted when the “enemies” were “International Communism” or Arab nationalism. Then, arguably, it was useful to have an independent state in the region that could function as an offshore military asset of the American empire; which is more or less what Israel became after 1967. But when the enemy is religious fanaticism, Islamicism, there is little that Israel can do that is in the American national interest. What it does instead is help generate even more fanaticism. Along with the continuing occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, America’s Israel/Palestine policies are doing untold harm to the American national interest already. Needless to say, Obama is doing nothing to change this unhappy state of affairs, except by raising expectations that his inaction then quickly confounds.

* *

Political difficulties in the way of doing the right thing are less formidable in the case of Afghanistan, where nothing like an Israel lobby exists. But, even there, it is change Obama style, not real change, that is in the offing.

Would withdrawal, a “strategic retreat,” be in the national interest? Here the situation is more complicated than with Israel/Palestine. There is no doubt that the American people, the vast majority anyway, would be better off were the United States not at war with Afghanistan – if only because it would diminish the likelihood of the kind of blowback experienced eight years ago at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But, for America’s ruling elites, the situation is not so clear. To be sure, there are sectors of American capitalism that benefit from on-going wars, and Afghanistan is not without strategic importance. But, even from the vantage point of those who do benefit from the Afghan War, it is far from obvious that the benefits outweigh the risks. After all, blowback blows back over everyone equally.

Once upon a time, Barack Obama called the Iraq War a “stupid war.” For reasons having mainly to do with his electoral campaign in 2008, the Afghan War got a different billing; it was somehow a “war of necessity.” That made no sense then, and it makes even less sense now. The time is long past due that Obama should come out and declare that the Afghan War is a stupid war too.

This would hardly be news to anyone. But, for our elites, it hardly matters. They know it’s a stupid war from which no good will come, but they also believe that, once in, there is no obvious way out. Like street-level gangsters who think they must never be seen as weak, the commanders of our capitalist economy think that they cannot permit their state, the imperial center of the empire from which they benefit egregiously, to seem to back down in defeat. As their counterparts did four decades ago in Vietnam, they will therefore do their best to keep the war going beyond any chance of victory -- whatever “victory” might mean in this case -- just to avoid (or postpone) an outcome they cannot abide.

That’s why the “debate” over what to do next, eight years into a long lost war, is between the likes of General Stanley McCrystal, Vice President Joe Biden, and Senator John Kerry; and why withdrawal is “off the table.” McCrystal wants more troops – 40,000 of them at least – to keep the murder and mayhem going Iraq-surge style. He and his fellow “counter-insurgency” advocates – including the hapless but wildly popular General Petreus – are proponents of “nation building;” they therefore propose staying engaged in Afghanistan for as long as it takes. Leaving aside the moral fact that Afghanistan’s fate is for the Afghan people to decide, not American elites or defense intellectuals or Generals who lead economic conscripts into battle, the good General is plainly pissing in the wind. It is beyond the means of the American military to accomplish anything like what he has in mind. This is why his might be called the throw good money after bad strategy. And not just money – lives and limbs too.

Meanwhile, our Vice President wants a technological fix – targeting “terrorists” only, wherever they may be (in other words, expanding efforts to bring the war into the tribal areas of Pakistan, in plain disregard of our ally’s sovereignty). His strategy, compared to McCrystal’s, would probably save lives and money, but it would also destabilize the region as much or more than McCrystal’s would. No surprise there: Joe Biden has always been a reliable source of atrocious ideas. I never thought I’d say it, but I’m glad that Obama made Hillary Clinton his Secretary of State. It could have been worse; it could have been Joe.

That leaves John Kerry, who proposes keeping things pretty much as they are. Kerry’s position is the most honest of the three main contenders: it reflects a realization that the only reason to remain in Afghanistan -- the only achievable outcome, in any case – is to avoid, or rather postpone, the appearance of defeat. Ironically, Kerry’s proposals, eschewing even the appearance of change, would do the least harm. But they are still bound to lead eventually to as bad or worse consequences for Afghanistan as would immediate withdrawal, and like Biden’s proposals, though to a lesser degree, they will continue to destabilize the region.

I’d wager that Kerry will win the debate. After all his pondering, Obama will decide that the best, least bad, course of action is just to keep on keeping on. He owes it, after all, to the ruling class.

But this is foolishness. No good will come from muddling on ahead in Afghanistan, just as no good will come from letting Israel continue to dictate America’s policies in the Middle East. For anything good to come out of the present situation the only real alternative is, as it were, to give peace a chance. That would be a real change, not a change Obama style. But for that to happen, Obama would have to be the agent of change that most of his supporters thought he was. A year after he made an indelible mark on history just by the fact of having won, Obama has yet to show that he is anything of the kind.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Bad Day for Plutocrats

The good news is that election day 2009 was a bad day for plutocrats; New Jersey’s sitting governor, John Corzine, lost his bid for reelection. That he was an incompetent administrator and a right-wing Democrat sweetens the result, but the best part is that he was a former CEO at Goldman Sachs. New Jersey voters therefore had the rare opportunity, and exquisite pleasure, of voting against Wall Street, the “homeland” of the masters of most Democrats (including Barack Obama) and all Republicans . But, alas, good news seldom comes unadulterated. By kicking Corzine out, voters put Republican Christopher Christie in. The standard bearer of the Greater Evil Party will likely be even worse than his predecessor was.

Plutocrat Michael Bloomberg did succeed in buying himself reelection as mayor of New York City, spending some $100 million of his own money to that end. The good news there is that, confounding expectations, he only won by about 5% of the votes. Bloomberg made his billions in the financial news industry not in finance itself and, despite some conspicuous shortcomings (in the civil liberties area especially), he has done a far better job than Corzine as a chief executive. It is therefore not wishful thinking to conclude that winning by only 5% against a little known and poorly funded opponent who was all but ignored by Obama and other leading Democrats represents a repudiation of plutocrat-friendly capitalism too.

Nevertheless, count on Democratic Spinmeisters to ignore or disparage “populist” rage against Wall Street, and to conclude instead that the 2009 election results attest to the wisdom of Obama-style centrism. Strictly speaking, the case the Spinmeisters are likely to make applies to Republicans, not Democrats, inasmuch as “centrist” (actually, right-wing) Democrats did not do all that well yesterday. But Democrats are eager to seize on any opportunity to conclude that making nice to all is the wisest course to follow, no matter how ill conceived or disabling that strategy may be. On the other hand, having put the inmates in control of their asylum, Republicans are impervious to notions that their “base” doesn’t already accept; they are beyond – or rather beneath – the point of drawing conclusions based on evidence. This is why I would not expect much support for centrism to emanate from their quarters in the weeks and months ahead.

Leaving aside the fact that centrism helped few, if any, Democrats yesterday, the electoral results do provide Obama-inspired Spinmeisters with a thing or two to spin. Virginia’s new Republican governor, Robert McDonnell, has the credentials – and also the character and intellect -- to please even ardent tea partiers, but he did run towards the center and he did win the election. The fact that McDonnell had the good fortune to be opposed by Creigh Deeds, an undistinguished, right-wing Democrat, is a consideration that promoters of centrism will surely ignore. But the best evidence the cheerleaders for centrism will adduce is, of course, the victory of Democrat Bill Owens, a Blue Dog in waiting, over the hopelessly in-over-his-head Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman in an up-state New York Congressional District that has voted Republican for the past century and a half. Because the Republican base had already dispatched the “moderate” Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, several days earlier -- with more than a little help from national GOP “leaders” like Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty and from Fox News and its ilk --the lesson will surely be drawn: that “moderation” is the path to victory.

Maybe it is, for what is left of the Republican Party. But if Democrats draw that conclusion too, count on them to become even more like what their electoral rivals would still be had the movers and shakers of American capitalism not let their useful idiots take their favorite party, the Grand Old Party, over. Already today, many of the most burdened victims of the system in place associate Democrats, even more than Republicans, with the Wall Street establishment. The last thing Democrats should do, if they want to take advantage of the opportunities provided by a self-destructing GOP, is to embrace that perception. It’s a losing gambit – a point it cost John Corzine dear to find out, and Michael Bloomberg too.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Wrong Lessons

The Age of Obama will be remembered as an age of missed opportunities. Team Obama is missing another one right now -- by not using the illegitimacy of Afghanistan’s Bush installed Karzai government as an excuse for a “strategic retreat,” saving countless lives and billions of dollars, while diminishing homeland insecurity in the process. With the cancellation this morning of the planned November 7 election re-run -- after Karzai’s only rival, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew -- the illegitimacy of the corrupt and now out of control Karzai regime has become blindingly obvious. Nevertheless, the best we can hope for from Obama is that he will not increase troop levels -- withdrawal being “off the table, along with so many other morally urgent and politically expedient measures and policies.

The Age of Obama will also be remembered as a time when ostensibly right-thinking pundits drew all the wrong lessons from developments on the political scene. Witness the reaction to the sudden withdrawal, also this weekend, of Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava from the race to represent New York’s 23rd Congressional District in tomorrow’s election. Whether or not the Conservative Party candidate, Doug Hoffman, beats the Democrat, Bill Owens, the conventional wisdom is that the contest was a battle for the soul of the Republican Party – between broad tent “moderates” and crazed tea-baggers – and that the latter won. The lesson drawn: that if the GOP doesn’t put the tea-baggers in their place – turning them back into useful idiots, not lords and masters – they will not come back into power any time soon because the only way to win general elections in most jurisdictions (New York’s 23rd being a possible exception) is to run to the center.

This has long been the unjustified and patently false belief of the movers and shakers of the Lesser Evil Party, the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity; and it is advice Obama has taken wholeheartedly on board. It is why right-wing Democrats, so-called Blue Dogs (a designation demeaning both to dogs and the color blue), are running the show.

Let me be clear: Scozzafava supported Obama’s insufficient but still useful stimulus package, and her positions on gay and reproductive rights are in the American mainstream; this is all to the good. Hoffman, on the other hand, is, to put it mildly, morally and intellectually “challenged.” In the race to the bottom, Scozzafava therefore beats Hoffman, just as some (not all!) Blue Dog Democrats beat Scozzafava, the “moderate” Republican. Let me be clear too: lesser evilism has its place. Except in cases where going for the lesser evil (in the short-run) is likely to make outcomes worse (in the middle- or long-run), it is obviously wise to opt for the lesser, not the greater, evil.

But it does not therefore follow that running to the center, as Democrats do and as mainstream columnists and the talking heads of cable news (Fox excepted) think Republicans should, is anything to applaud. Quite the contrary. Running to the center is what has given us the race to the bottom now being conspicuously played out in New York’s 23rd Congressional District. The electoral contest there does have much to teach “progressives.” But the right lesson is emphatically not the one that the generators and sustainers of conventional wisdom draw.

The lesson is that there is no more need for progressives to suffer Blue Dogs or, for that matter, Pelosiites intent on taking opportunities “off the table,” than there is for tea-baggers, birthers, deathers and other assorted looney-tunes to suffer “moderate” Republicans. All it takes is mobilization at the base and support from a few nationally recognized party figures.

What the Lesser Evil Party has instead is a largely demobilized base – thank the lingering effects of Obamamania for that! – and “progressive” leaders who, notwithstanding some conspicuous displays of courage in the on-going struggles over health insurance reform, are loathe to do anything that might put their role as “players” in jeopardy. Thus the race to the bottom continues. Indeed, its pace has accelerated since Obama took office -- driven now by the inmates who run the asylum the GOP has become and by the increasing disillusionment of Obama voters,as it becomes clearer, day by day, how the “change” so many thought they had voted for isn’t happening on his watch.

Would, therefore, that the Democratic base were more like the Republicans’. Depraved as the tea-baggers et. al. may be, there is actually something to learn from them: that it is not necessary for voters to remain helpless spectators while the people they vote for – most of whom are just feckless followers of their parties’ paymasters -- treat their interests and beliefs with contempt.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


I used to think that the Israeli settler state had finally definitively overreached with its Gaza Anschluss last winter,. Notwithstanding the moral capital Israel relentlessly squeezes out of the Nazi Judeocide (deeming it a “Holocaust,” an event of metaphysical, indeed theological, significance, beyond the course of ordinary human history), I expected that the world would finally say “Enough!” I was wrong. Even now, after the Goldstone Commission findings, Israel remains free to do pretty much whatever it wants to Palestinians -- and to Lebanon too -- largely because, for the U.S. Congress and the Obama administration, nothing short of gas chambers would count as overreaching. For this sorry state of affairs, the blame lies not just with Republicans and Blue Dogs; Pelosiites are as bad if not worse, and the handful of “progressives” in Congress aren’t much better.

Indeed, in the more-than-enough-is-never-quite-enough department, Democrats are even worse than Republicans. This is not always evident on matters of substance, inasmuch as Democrats have left-leaning constituencies they must placate or at least not treat with obvious contempt when they join Republicans in advancing the interests of their corporate paymasters. But it is clear on procedural matters. Republicans enforce party discipline; they are not afraid to coerce and, if need be, to punish anyone bold enough to stray. That’s why Olympia Snowe was the only one of his co-thinkers on the other side of the aisle whom Max Baucus was able to pry loose from the Party of No; and why even she is now retreating back into the Republican fold. On the other hand, Democrats will forgive anything – even Joe Lieberman.

Barack Obama came into office committed to overlooking (forgetting or, if need be, forgiving) Bush-Cheney era war criminals. But at least he had a principled, though spurious, reason – he wanted “to look forward, not back.” Thus his continuing reluctance to restore the rule of law by bringing these criminals to justice, though contemptible, is not especially abject. On the other hand, agreeing not to strip Lieberman of his seniority in the Democratic caucus -- even after he lost the 2006 Democratic primary in Connecticut, ran against a Democrat in the general election, and then, two years later, campaigned actively for John McCain and other Republicans -- is contemptible and abject.

We have Obama to thank for the fact that Lieberman has been getting away with so much party treachery. I wonder whether now that the chickens (or rather the chicken-hawks) are coming home to roost, he is having second thoughts. Obama evidently has the stomach to suffer a sanctimonious twit, but Lieberman is worse than that – he is also more than just normally corrupt. This is why when Connecticut based health insurance profiteers call in their chips, he is eager to accommodate them – by threatening to join the Republicans in filibustering the milquetoast insurance reforms that Senate Democrats will soon be putting forward. If, G-d forbid, the Senate plan includes a public option, as we now know it will, Lieberman says he’ll oppose it by any means necessary. No matter what his constituents think, the insurance companies must have their way.

It shouldn’t be too hard, even at this late date, for Obama and Harry Reid to lean on Joe Lieberman – to insist that on procedural, if not substantive, matters he accept party discipline. Republicans would demand much more from any potentially wayward senator in their own unseemly midst. But for the lesser evil party, almost anything, no matter how damaging, is forgivable. For Democrats, overreaching may be conceivable in theory, but it is almost always unachievable in practice.

However, unlike Israel, Lieberman has no lobby. His power consists just in the media attention he is able to elicit as a Republican in Democratic ranks. But what Obama and Reid and the others have given, they can just as easily take away. That they have not yet done so attests only to how utterly abject (accommodating, forgiving, “bipartisan”) they are.

I have gone on in countless entries about how desperately in need of a backbone Democrats are. They are in need of basic human dignity as well. For as long as they have none, the likes of Joe Lieberman will be free to overreach with impunity, walking all over the ruling party of the world’s most powerful state, just as Israel has been doing for decades.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Could Be Worse

Forget about anything with the word “change” in it: “could be worse” should be the motto of the Obama administration. That is faint praise – after Dick Cheney and George Bush, everyone knows, or should know, that it could indeed be worse, much worse – but “could be worse” is about the best that can be said on Obama’s behalf.

Examples abound from every corner of the planet, but especially in Afghanistan and the Middle East, where the Obama administration is, so far, only flirting with disaster; not plunging into it. And, in at least one case, on management of the economy (minus the controversial and unforgivable bail outs of Wall Street profiteers and other “too big to fail” predators) conventional wisdom now agrees. But for Obama’s stimulus package, “Main Street” would be in even worse shape than it now is. Thus it could be worse, but it could also be better because the stimulus was too meager, especially with state and local governments, required by law to balance their budgets, producing counter-stimulus packages of their own.

The inclusion of a public option in the Senate’s health care bill is another, especially timely, example. On the one hand, there will be a public option in the bill because “progressives” in the Democratic Party (I use the term loosely) stood firm. Could it be that after decades of unadulterated pusillanimity the majority party is finally developing a backbone? But Harry Reid’s public option is not a single-payer system (Medicare for all) nor is it a National Health Service type of public option (Veterans Administration health care for all). Thus while it may help many of the 40 million plus uncovered Americans to get health insurance, it will not do very much to lower health care costs.

It would do more in both respects if everyone, not just the uninsured, could buy into it, and if states with reactionary governments (and also, not incidentally, worse health outcomes than is the American norm) were not free to “opt out.” But, as presented yesterday, the Senate bill severely restricts who can buy in and does permit states to opt out. The bill would be better too if it had a real employer mandate and if it didn’t tax so-called Cadillac health plans, many of which unions won for their members by sacrificing wages and other benefits.

Still, we have to look on the sunny side. What will be in the Senate bill is better than nothing, and better than what we would have if Democrats were still determined to cower, for “bipartisanship” reasons, before Olympia Snowe, their one possible Republican collaborator. And, since Reid is nothing if not shrewd, if he decided to include a public option in the bill, it probably means that he has persuaded the most right-wing Democrats in the Senate, Snowe’s co-thinkers, not to hold their colleagues hostage to a Republican filibuster.

Thus Obama will very likely get the kind of health care bill he has been promoting. It’s not much of a solution for what ails us, but it could be worse.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Stages of Enlightenment

In the beginning, Barack Obama, the Rorschach candidate in whom people saw what they wanted to see, was, for an alarmingly large number of voters, an agent of “change.” This illusion flourished throughout the primary campaign, notwithstanding the absence of any supporting evidence, and it survived his selection of Joe Biden as a running mate. It persisted too as Obama, once elected, loaded his administration with old Clinton hands, including Hillary Clinton herself; and as he re-empowered the Clinton economic team, insuring that Wall Street’s hold over the economy would be maintained. Nevertheless, in due course, as counter-indications accumulated, a bit of light penetrated the Obamamaniacal miasma. Thus, at some point after the first Hundred Days, a new, slightly less untenable illusion insinuated itself into many hearts and minds.

Specifically, the idea was born that Obama is a master-tactician who brought the Clintonites and the Wall Streeters into his administration only to benefit from their “expertise,” but that he was riding them; not vice versa. In the end, many believed, he’d somehow make it all right. Of course, there was no evidence for this belief either; with illusions there seldom is. Accordingly, by August, as the Moronic Minority of tea-partiers, birthers, deathers, tenthers, and other constituents of the Fox News-talk radio demographic mobilized with more than a little help from their corporate friends, this illusion too fell victim to the light.

Thus a more enlightened view has taken hold; it is even on the threshold of becoming the conventional wisdom. We’ll know it has arrived when Cokie Roberts, the doyenne of conventional wisdom, declares it. For the time being, though, Maureen Dowd will have to do. Her column in this morning’s New York Times is exemplary. According to Dowd and many others nowadays, the problem is that Obama’s is too conflict averse, too disposed to get on everyone’s good side, and too inclined to compromise. If he would just get over it, the expectations that were riding on his presidency will get a new lease on life. Insofar as this belief takes hold, our political culture will rid itself of disabling illusions. But we will still not achieve a genuinely enlightened view.

This is because the Obama-is-too-nice theory, though true, is superficial. The flaw in Obama’s governance style is more profound than Dowd claims, and it has very little to do with his or anyone else’s psychology; it is a structural problem. In a word, Obama is a creature of the regime, just as anyone who got into the White House in anything like the usual way would have to be. Of course, his quest for “bipartisan” compromises has made matters worse, and he is, in any case, constrained by the various messes Bush era torturers and free marketeers bequeathed him. But, above all, what shapes his policies is the overriding need American presidents have to serve the interests not of the people who elected them, but of the country’s elites. The problem is not just that these elites are the paymasters of all Republicans and nearly all Democrats; though this also makes matters worse, much worse, than need be. The more basic problem is that, this side of genuine change – radical, structural change – the interests of our elites must be served; because the regime exists for them and does well only when and insofar as they do.

In a more enlightened political culture, Obamania would have been tempered by the realization that a state in a capitalist society like ours has to serve the requirements of the capitalist system and must therefore operate, broadly speaking, in ways that accord with capitalists’ interests. Then Obama would have raised fewer expectations that he would go on to disappoint. But it is also the case that when a state in a capitalist society does its job poorly, as it did spectacularly under Cheney and Bush, opportunities are greater than usual for making things better not just by changing the system (which is a pipedream at this point), but even within the framework of the old regime. They would also know that capitalist crises, such as the one Obama inherited, make the prospects for constructive change within the system greater still. This was the case in the United States in the 1930s. Then the Roosevelt administration rose to the occasion to some extent. It was, again, the case last year – when opportunities that had not existed for decades briefly opened up. It goes without saying that Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress – not just the Blue Dogs, but the “liberals” as well – have not risen to the occasion at all; and that, to the extent opportunities still exist, they still show no signs of doing so.

Thus while there is now a more enlightened view of Obama than there used to be, there is still not nearly enough enlightenment. One need only look at how America’s “quality” media – National Public Radio is the best example – frames its accounts of policy debates in Washington. Leaving aside all the many “things” they do not “consider” but should, if the idea is indeed to enhance democracy, the journalists and commentators at NPR, along with their counterparts at The New York Times, The Washington Post and other supposedly liberal media, take for granted the framework within which our political leaders debate the issues they do address, marginalizing views that are obviously better than the ones in contention. The health care debate and the debate over the Bush-Obama Afghanistan War are cases in point. In a more enlightened political culture, mainstream media would at least acknowledge that the obviously best policies were dispatched into the night and fog even before the current debates began. This they have yet to do.

With health care, for example, it is obvious -- at least for anyone who thinks that health care should be a right, not a commodity – that a government run single-payer system or its functional equivalent (operating through not-for-profit, highly regulated private insurers) is indispensable. There is no other way to lower costs significantly and no other way to guarantee universal coverage. Every other developed capitalist country effectively decommodified health care along these lines years ago; a single-payer system is not a radical departure from capitalist norms. But it is anathema to American capitalists in the insurance, pharmaceutical and for-profit health care industries, especially now that the system they have constructed for their own benefit has grown to involve more than a sixth of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. This is why Democrats with Obama in the lead, along with Republicans, have taken the obvious solution “off the table.” Our media have let them get away with it, leaving the progress of enlightenment stalled.

Or take Afghanistan. The debate now raging is between Generals in search of fresh cannon fodder, and “doves” reluctant, as it were, to throw more good money after bad. The leader of the good (less bad) guys, it seems, is Joe Biden, the imperialists’ best friend, whose presence on the Obama ticket should have led even the willfully blind to realize that an Obama presidency would not be all that different from the Clinton or, for that matter, the Bush presidency on matters of concern to the beneficiaries of American world domination. Biden thinks that, for now, no additional troops should be sent into the Afghan “quagmire,” while the Generals look forward to another “surge.” But neither Biden nor anyone else whom Obama takes seriously favors immediate withdrawal, the obviously right way to deal with an ill-conceived war that was lost long ago. Biden just wants to fight the war Colin Powell-Bill Clinton style – from the air (ideally with unmanned drones) and with less self-defeating “nation building.” The indications now are that Biden will lose. But even if his side doesn’t, it’s far from clear that less harm will be done than if the Generals get their way. The murder and mayhem and waste of treasure needed elsewhere will go on indefinitely no matter who wins; and the occupation will continue to generate resistance (and, yes, terrorism), and to destabilize a strategic region awash in armaments, including nuclear weapons. Joe Biden on one side; Stanley McChrystal on the other. How pathetic is that!

Immanuel Kant declared the motto of Enlightenment to be “dare to know.” That is a hard thing for Obamamaniacs, past or present, to do because faith in Obama has always rested on illusions -- on beliefs based, not on evidence, but on wishes and hopes. But, with the stakes now so high, it is urgent that even the true believers confront reality and deal with it accordingly. I am confident that, in time, even the most Obamamaniacal among us will see the light; that they will realize that Obama, though better in countless ways than his predecessor, is hardly the agent of change he was once widely thought to be. The evidence is mounting and it is compelling. For everyone’s sake, it is better that this next stage of enlightenment be reached sooner rather than later. If not now, when?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It Just Keeps Getting Worse

In a last minute move to scuttle “reform,” the health insurance industry had their whores at PricewaterhouseCoopers issue a spurious “report” on the likely consequences of the so-called Baucus bill, that concoction of the Senate Finance Committee which flacks for insurance profiteers mostly wrote, but in which the lobby didn’t get quite everything its paymasters wanted. This report was not just flawed, as even commentators in the corporate media and spineless Democrats made plain; it was a threat, by the insurance companies, to raise premiums if they don’t get everything they want – specifically, disabling financial sanctions against individuals who refuse to buy their offerings.

At the very least, President Obama might have seized this opportunity to come down really, not just in an “inspirational” way, for his milquetoast “public option.” Needless to say, he did nothing of the sort. Instead, he heaped praise on the Finance Committee for finally passing their awful bill; in other words, for giving away the store (albeit not quite all of it) to those who add nothing to health care, but only take away. That’s not all. The biggest heap of praise went to an asinine Senator from Maine who voted for the bill, Olympia Snowe. Because she is a Republican, Snowe is Obama’s trophy; she is what he has to show from all those months of “bipartisanship.”

What a trophy! Thanks to Obama and Baucus and the rest of them, the nation’s healthcare and therefore the health of its citizens has come to depend on the good graces of a Senator whose words of wisdom yesterday included among other gems, “my vote today is my vote today” and “when history calls, history calls.” No, she wasn’t channeling Gertrude Stein; Snowe is as tone deaf in poetry as in policy. She was threatening to change her mind in the future, depriving Obama of his “bipartisan” victory.

Why? Not, presumably, for reasons of principle, and not even to hold out for more “campaign contributions.” To observe Obama’s fave Senator in action, even just on C-Span, is to discover the answer. Olympia Snowe likes the attention and wants it to keep on coming. She may not know much, but she does know that if she had voted the Greater Evil Party’s line, she’d have immediately become yesterday’s lunch. Perhaps this is par for the course in our upper chamber. But it is manifestly sub-par how eager our President was to oblige.

I must say it again: even for those of us who never expected much of Obama, he continues to disappoint. And, as the months go by, the pace of disappointments quickens; our bipartisan President just keeps getting worse.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What Obama's Nobel Could Do But Won't

Worrywarts are good for at least one thing: they make plain what events make more probable. Since the Israeli elite is comprised of world-class worrywarts, Israeli elite opinion is therefore good for that too. Witness the piece by Leslie Susser for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (October 12), “Obama’s Nobel, Israel’s Problem?” Evidently, there is great concern in the Holy Land that, having been anointed a Man of Peace, Barack Obama will be much less likely to permit Israel to make war on Iran (and a fortiori to let the United States be drawn into any such venture); and, since Obama’s professed nuclear abolitionism was reportedly a factor in the Nobel Committee’s deliberations, there is a "danger" that he will now press as well for a nuclear-free Middle East. Israeli elites are particularly worried that Ahmadinejad will have the wits to make definitive, Iranian renunciation of nuclear weapons contingent on the West’s insistence that Israel lose its more than two hundred nukes.

Too bad that Israeli worrywarts, along with so many others throughout the world (and on the Nobel Committee), “misoverestimate” Barack Obama. But the Nobel Committee’s folly does indeed open up the opportunity Susser identifies. It also provides an occasion for massive cuts in the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. And that’s not all, inasmuch as the time is long past due for Britain and France to go non-nuclear – and why not, inasmuch as the rationale for their puny, but costly, nuclear forces vanished two decades ago along with the Soviet Union. There is, of course, the question of national pride, but the British lost theirs the moment they decided that a “special relationship” with the United States was in their national interest, and the longstanding determination of the French not to be too blatantly subservient to the United States vanished along with the election of Nicolas Sarkozy. But, alas, in hoping for a nuclear free Western Europe, I am misoverestimating the British and the French.

Then there is the opportunity to deflate the worst danger inherent in Obama’s senseless determination to continue the occupation of Afghanistan and to extend his war there into Pakistan. Neither the Indians nor the Pakistanis are quite as bellicose as the Israelis, but geographical and historical circumstances put the India-Pakistan theater at far greater risk for a nuclear conflagration. Surely, the first order of business, even for those determined to keep the United States in a state of perpetual war, should be to press for nuclear disarmament on the Indian sub-continent.

The realization of these hopes, along with so many others, depends on the President of the United States being the man the Nobel Committee thinks he is. Although the evidence never supported that belief, had they made the award four or five months ago, they would have found many Americans thinking similarly. Now, there are not so many. Evidently, the news has yet to reach Norwegian shores. But, even on this side of the Atlantic, the hopes that led so many to believe (and be disappointed) survive. What many Israelis fear and what most of the rest of the world hopes for is indeed “change we can believe in.” But if it wasn’t clear enough before, it should be clear to all by now that delivering on that promise, as opposed just to talking about it or seeming to promote it, is not what Barack Obama is about.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama's Nobel Prize

Since April Fools Day is months away, my first thought, when I turned on the radio this morning and heard that Barack Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize was that The Onion had taken over NPR. But it’s for real. They gave the prize to a man who, as I write these words, is meeting with advisors to decide not how to withdraw America’s army of occupation from Afghanistan, but instead how many more troops to send there; to the anti-(Iraq)War candidate who has continued the indefinite occupation of that country; to a leader whose motto might as well be “trillions for ‘defense’ (war),” but not one penny more to the national debt for “reforming” (sort of) health care.

But, then, I realized that this morning’s news is not as bizarre as appears. After all, the Nobel Committee, decades ago, gave the prize to the war criminal Henry Kissinger and then to the likes of Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. [The great comedian-song writer Tom Lehrer once said that he stopped writing songs when Kissinger won the prize because, after that, there was nothing left to satirize.] Obama isn’t even the first sitting President to win the Nobel. He is preceded in that “honor” by two of our most stalwart imperialists: Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt.

Just as I never expected much from Obama, but am still mightily disappointed, those who have learned not to expect much from the Nobel Committee should still be outraged. More often than not, this eminently “political” prize is awarded to deserving (or, at least not, patently undeserving) people; more often than not, the award does register a worthwhile point. But giving it now to Obama as he ponders how to continue the empire’s perpetual warfare regime demeans the Committee’s less Onion-like efforts. This is why this award deserves derision, and why the Nobel Committee deserves condemnation.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


In the beginning Reaganites did their best to free American capitalists from vestiges of New Deal and Great Society reforms. Their guiding idea was that capitalists have a “right” to do pretty much whatever they want to the rest of us. They didn’t quite succeed in turning back the advances of recent decades, but they did leave a lasting mark on the political culture – disabling the spirit of New Deal and Great Society institutions, if not the institutions themselves. The task of demolition fell mainly to the Democrats under Clinton. For electoral reasons, Reagan and then (Poppy Doc) Bush continued Nixon’s “southern strategy” – mobilizing Know Nothing and racist enthusiasms for the back to laissez-faire cause. The Clintons had less benighted constituencies to appease. Thus, whether from conviction or plain opportunism, they were “liberals” – social liberals – while their Republican rivals, radical as they might be, were “conservatives – social conservatives. Around that essentially apolitical axis, “partisanship” has intensified in recent decades. At the same time, on traditional political differences pertaining to the economy and society, there has been a remarkable degree of consensus.

Thus “Clintonism” (as I have referred to the phenomenon in preceding entries) is, at its (rare) best, a version of Eisenhower Republicanism -- though, as befits the times, with better racial politics. Ike never tried to reverse the New Deal; it was enough for him just not to advance it. Bill Clinton sometimes did play Ike to Reagan’s (and Poppy Doc Bush’s) Taft, the anti-New Dealer, but for the most part, he played the Reagan game. He was better at it than Reagan was, partly because Reagan and Bush had moved the political culture so far to the right. But the main reason he was more successful was that he was able to talk “left” (socially liberal), while acting right, covering his deeds with legitimating words. This is how, more even than Reagan himself, Bill Clinton led “the Reagan Revolution” to victory.

It was much the same on foreign policy. Reagan still had to contend with
”the Vietnam Syndrome,” a drag on the empire’s predations. He did his best to put it to rest – securing public support with military victories over such foes as Grenada. Bush continued along similar lines -- taking on Panama. Then, by invading Kuwait, Bush’s old buddy, Saddam Hussein, presented him with just the opportunity imperialists craved. With no Soviet Union to restrain him and with competent advisors leading the way, he rose to the occasion. Even so, the empire was not quite free of the Vietnam Syndrome; thus it fell to Bill Clinton to deliver the coup de grace. He did so mainly, but not only, by participating (from a safe distance) in the dismemberment of Yugoslavia and the ethnic cleansing of its constituent parts. Among its many, mainly untoward, consequences, that “humanitarian intervention” showed those uppity Europeans, who wanted to rule the roost in their own continent a thing or two! Liberals, of course, still credit Clinton for his Balkan adventures. Typically, though less enthusiastically, they also credit him for his murderous sanctions against Iraq, the condition for the possibility of the Bush boy’s continuing war there. In short, his social liberalism enabled him to win a lot of mileage for his capitalist masters – not just on the home front, but overseas as well.

As I have argued many times before, what I call “Pelosiism” is the stage of Clintonism appropriate for the waning days of the Cheney/Bush administration, a time when public opinion had drifted leftward. Pelosiites talk left – to a degree the Clintons would never have dared, even if they had the inclination. But when it comes to doing anything constructive, much less “radical,” Pelosiites go missing. Or, what comes to the same thing, they see to it that the obvious solutions are “off the table,” so long as there is any chance they might offend their paymasters, the powers that be.

Thus it was that the prototype for Obama’s governing style was Nancy Pelosi’s insistence that the impeachment of Cheney and Bush would never be. No matter how obvious their high crimes and misdemeanors, the Democrats would do nothing about them. Tellingly, even now, the Obama Justice Department is still doing nothing, or next to nothing.

It is much the same with “Obamaism” – that is, Pelosiism (and therefore Clintonism and, in a sense, Reaganism) in power. This latest evolutionary stage involves more than just talking a good line and then doing nothing, or almost nothing, to make it happen. It has more to do with the other dimension of the Pelosite “advance” on classical Clintonism: with taking solutions to pressing problems that are obvious – not radical or visionary, but just obvious -- “off the table,” and then starting out from, and willingly backing off, pale approximations of those solutions.

Health care reform is a plain example. Obama knows well that if the goal really is to lower costs substantially and to institute universal coverage, a single-payer system is the only way. He has even said so explicitly several times lately (not just in the good old days when he was not yet a national political figure). But, at the same time, in league with the Pelosiites in Congress, he has taken single-payer “off the table,” replacing the obvious solution to the many problems besetting the current system (or lack of one) with an incoherent and vaguely specified mishmash that includes a milquetoast “public option.” That pale approximation of what the situation calls for is the most we can now hope for. Moreover, if we’re lucky enough to get it, it will most likely fail. After all, what Obama and the others will eventually settle on will have been designed by the insurance industry, which, from the beginning, has been calling the shots.

Or consider the ongoing “debate” within the administration (and between the administration and unchastened insubordinates in the military, like the vaunted General McChrystal) about how to continue the Bush-Obama Afghanistan (and now Pakistan!) War. If the idea is to combat “terrorism,” the obvious first step is to stop churning out terrorists; and the way to do that is, again obviously, to end the occupation of Afghanistan with all deliberate speed – in other words, to admit defeat and withdraw, as the moribund British and Russian empires did (in the British case more than once). But according to the old CIA hand and Bush (then Obama!) Defense Secretary, Bill Gates, on CNN yesterday, that too is off the table.

Why are our later-day Pelosiites so intent on squandering lives and treasure in that distant quarter of the world? The details await historical inquiry, but the short answer is already clear enough: because the elites Obamanians serve are like Mafia bosses. Anything that smacks of “cut and run” is unthinkable for them and therefore for their functionaries; because what matters, above all, is saving face or, as they used to say expressly in the Vietnam era, maintaining “credibility.”

The same principle is at work in the health care debate too: the interests of elites – in that case, of health-care profiteers in the insurance, pharmaceutical and for-profit health care industries – must, at all costs, be served. Needless to say, these costs too are measured in lives and treasure.

Thus has Reaganism evolved – through a series of small steps out of which what we have gotten, despite the hopes generated by that Grant Park moment last November, is a discernible, though, in the end, only a barely cosmetic change.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Right Republicans

Political lore has it that Joe Kennedy used to say: “Show me a Republican, and I’ll show you a son of a bitch.” Since it takes one to know one, he should know. But that was back when the pillars of the WASP establishment were, to a man (I use the term deliberately), Republican. Nowadays, the Grand Old Party is comprised mainly of folks with whom those gentlemen and their ladies would never think of breaking bread or welcoming into their houses (except to work there) – ill-informed, status-anxiety ridden, racist, God-fearing morons. This is what Nixon’s Southern Strategy and Reagan’s recruitment of useful idiots has come to. Even so, for the most part, ruling class types remain in the Republican fold – after all, their greed knows no bounds, and the idiots are useful. Meanwhile, however, cultural contradictions are intensifying, and who knows where it will end. For the time being though, it is fair to say that “son of a bitch” is much to kind. Show me a Republican and I’ll show you a reprobate (at least as regards anyone already born) with the mind of a laughing stock or, what comes to the same thing, a Limbough/Beck/Palin fan. To whoever says otherwise, I say “you lie!”

The moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Republican Party is, of course, good news for Democrats. But it would be far better news if the Democratic base had more than a handful of representatives in Congress, and if the White House was not so resolutely “bipartisan.” Small as it may be, the Republican base is well represented in Congress. Show me a Democratic legislator nowadays and there’s a better than even chance I can show you a son of a bitch – a bought and paid for one to boot. But show me a Republican legislator and I’ll show you an authentic representative of the Moronic Minority.

[There are other advantages that the Republican base has over the much larger Democratic base. Among other things, the political entrepreneurs and public relations hacks who rile the Republican base up have the backing of very deep corporate pockets, while the Democratic base is self-generating and, for the most part, self-sustaining. Also, unlike the Democratic base, the Republican base has a network of well-funded, dedicated mass media, not just Fox News, pushing its case.]

Witness the endless “deliberations” of the Senate Finance Committee – with its five miscreant Democrats (led by the profiteers’ flunky-in-chief, Senator Max Baucus) and its Republicans. Noxious as the other Democrats on the committee may be – I’m thinking especially of Charles Schumer – it’s hard not to root for them against the others. After all, what they are promoting is significantly less bad than what will emerge from Baucus’ bipartisan efforts. Nevertheless, there is a stubborn fact that cannot be denied: that on the question of the “public option,” the good (less bad) guys are wrong and the Republicans, along with their Democratic co-thinkers, are right.

They’re wrong, not in wanting a public option, but in insisting that a real one – one that is not transparently a sham – would do no lasting harm to the insurance industry but would only keep private insurers “honest” by forcing them to compete. Like Obama’s claim that real health care reform can be “deficit neutral,” this is nonsense. If the mere addition of a competitor were so beneficial, then costs should be lower and access greater in proportion to how much competition among private insurers there is in different markets now. Where is the evidence that competition has this effect? There is none for an obvious reason: because the only way one more competitor would lower costs and improve access significantly is if its costs were significantly less than its competitors. Any public option that is not just a sham concocted to placate “liberals” as they cave in entirely, would lower costs and improve access by reducing administrative costs and, above all, by eliminating the profit motive. It would therefore be a harbinger of a system of health care provision in which, as in civilized countries, health care is a right, not a commodity. Thus the Republicans are right, and the Democrats (or rather the “liberals” among them) are wrong. The public option is the camel’s nose in the tent. Get it in place and we will finally be on track for backing into where we should long ago have gone directly.

After all, other things being equal, who but a doctrinaire libertarian – in other words, a free market theologian – would prefer to pay more just in order to keep health care a commodity? Outside the cesspools from which birthers and deathers and tenthers are spawned, not anybody at all, except perhaps the handful of capitalists who profit directly from the system in place. That’s why a public option, assuming it’s one worth having, is so important.

Wrong-headed and dumb as they may be, the Republicans are therefore right about one thing – the debate over a public option is not about holding private insurers “honest.” It’s about whether, in matters of illness and health, we will inch towards the only viable cure for what ails us or, as Republicans and their co-thinkers in the Lesser Evil party prefer, hurdle towards disaster by letting private ownership and market mechanisms work their many harms.