Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Democracy

In NATO countries with troops in Afghanistan – Britain, Germany, and Italy, especially -- support for immediate withdrawal from the Bush-Obama Afghan War is overwhelming; anywhere from two-thirds to three-quarters of the population, according to recent polls. But the “democratic” governments of NATO states are nevertheless steadfast in their support for the American “counter-insurgency.” It is not entirely clear why; after all, they could band together to counter the imperial hegemon. No doubt, part of the explanation is that, despite economic integration, there remain too many political animosities among European countries for concerted political integration to be feasible, especially in foreign policy. Better, therefore, to accept direction from a super-power above the fray. A more important factor, though, is that the elites of NATO states – and of Japan and other first-world powers – still find it in their interests for their countries to remain subordinate to the United States. Exactly why this is so in particular cases is not obvious, but the general contours of the situation are clear enough.

[It bears comment, in this regard, that, if American power, prevails so thoroughly in countries that, collectively and even individually, rival the United States economically, how much more able the United States is to rule events in countries that depend substantially on American economic, military and diplomatic support. The U.S. could force any Israeli government, no matter how reactionary and chauvinist, to make peace with the Palestinians; it could reverse the coup in Honduras, and so on, if only it wanted to; and, in the Israeli case, if only domestic political considerations were less disabling.]

Meanwhile, according to a spate of new polling date, on the home front, where opposition to the war in Afghanistan, though growing, still lags far behind European levels, support for a “public option” in health care reform already approaches levels of support abroad for immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. [I suspect that, had Democrats not taken it “off the table” before the so-called debate began, support for a single-payer system would be equally strong, if not stronger -- if only because the proposal makes vastly more sense than the cowardly mishmash Obama and his Congressional allies are pushing.] Nevertheless, yesterday, all Republicans and, depending on the “amendment” before them, five or three Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee voted to quash the public option. Thus it seems, yet again, that in the Land of the Free, legislation does indeed follow the median dollar, not the median voter. Profiteers in the insurance, pharmaceutical and for-profit health care industries own the Republican Party, they own Finance Committee Chairman (stoolperson) Max Baucus, and they own many a “conservative” Democrat as well. Thus we should not be surprised with the outcome.

But who cannot be outraged! Who can fail to see that what “democracy” has come to mean – at home and abroad – is that, where elite interests are engaged, elites rule through ostensibly democratic forms? There is only one way to change this – it is to wage a protracted struggle, in and over “democratic” institutions, for democracy’s sake. It is trite, but nevertheless true that, as countless demonstrators have for many decades proclaimed: “the people united, can never be defeated” – not by “pro-American” elites and not even by health care profiteers with deep pockets hell bent on getting the Max Baucuses of the world to do their bidding.

Here, in the United States, where the undemocratic nature of our democracy is particularly egregious, it should be clear to all how much our system of campaign finance works to denude our institutions of any semblance of real popular control. It is because our campaigns are financed as they are that a Max Baucus is possible, and that we have swarms of equally pernicious Democratic legislators. It may even emerge, when this latest “health care reform” effort is finally concluded, that the way not just to genuine health care reform, but even to the piddling reforms the Obama administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress are promoting lies through campaign finance reform.

Supreme Court Justices who willfully confuse free speech with political corruption are in the way of course; and thanks to George Bush (and Democrats who acquiesced in his judicial appointments), the problem has become much worse. Needless to say, in time, even Supreme Court justices can figure out which way the wind is blowing; if they couldn’t, we’d still be living under Jim Crow. Meanwhile, though, people are being killed and injured in (or rather not in) our hospitals and clinics – just as people continue to be killed and injured in the Bush-Obama wars. And people are being bankrupted through our health care system, just as we and other NATO countries squander our treasure on a transparently lost – and ill-conceived -- cause. This is why it is more than ever urgent to nudge history along. The Roberts Court does need a weatherman, and the weatherman is us.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Conspiracy Theories, II

The “vast right wing conspiracy” is back, according to Bill Clinton on “Meet the Press.” Isn’t it odd how liberals don’t seem to mind that conspiracy; how they don’t call the Clintons “conspiracy theorists” or suggest, by implication, that they are somehow unhinged. Maybe it’s because there’s very little that the right is doing that is “conspiratorial,” at least according to the dictionary definition of the term. They’re totally up-front about their insanities. Too bad liberals weren’t more “conspiratorial” in a similar way. They might have prevented or at least impeded some of the Cheney/Bush administration’s catastrophes “of choice.”

The target this time, according to Bill (not Hillary!), is Barack Obama. But nowdays, it seems, the conspiracy, though equally “virulent,” is “smaller,” thanks to “demographic changes.” In other words, reading between the lines, what Clinton said was: “I had it even worse (yea, me).” Whenever I see that man I cannot help but remember Leopold Bloom’s reflections on Blazes Boylan in the penultimate chapter of Ulysses – “Reflections on his vigour (a bounder), corporeal proportion (a bill sticker), commercial ability (a bester), impressionability (a boaster).” Hillary’s husband is no bill sticker, not in his public parts anyway; but he is most assuredly a bounder, a bester and a boaster.

Sunday morning was bad enough. What cruel divinity thought to follow it the next day with an interview with Madeleine (Mad Maddy) Albright on NPR’s “Morning Report.” NPR called back its icon, Susan Stamberg, for the honor of interviewing our former Secretary of State. Did she ask about the half million Iraqis killed by sanctions -- whether Ms. Albright still thinks it was “worth it” -- or about the countless other ways her foreign policy (and Clinton’s) paved the way for Condoleezza’s (and W’s)? Not a word! It seems that Mad Maddy has written a book about her costume jewelry and its role in diplomacy, and that’s all the ladies discussed. Imagine listening to that first thing in the morning! Worse still, and in the same vein, imagine waking up to an interview with George Packer about his September 28 New Yorker “Reporter at Large” piece on Richard Holbrooke. Packer’s article isn’t exactly a puff piece. But it is innocent of any hint that Holbrooke, an inveterate Henry Kissinger wannabe, along with Albright and the Clintons were on any side other than that of the angels in the years they maintained and enhanced the empire through several military adventures, “humanitarian” and otherwise, and various other offenses against international law and morality.

First Bill Clinton, then Madeleine Albright and Richard Holbrooke. It’s enough to recall the age-old question – with “liberals” like these, who needs a “vast right wing conspiracy?” Many of the right’s wiser souls, including one of the “conspiracy’s” main financiers, Richard Mellon Scaife, seem to have come around to this view; they learned to stop worrying and love the Clintons. They should love the Obama administration too, since it is so thoroughly Clintonized. If there is anything at all to Clinton’s claim that the “conspiracy” is now smaller than when he was its target, maybe that’s why – because the unhinged fringe has fewer sugar daddies to fund its delusions, now that some of the plutocrats who turned them into useful idiots have come to realize that the Clintons and Obama are, in the final analysis, on their side. “Demographic” changes, indeed.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Conspiracy Theories

It’s a welcome development that, for the first time in years, liberals are no longer so thoroughly on the defensive that they feel free to go after the left. For this, we have the Moronic Minority, “the Republican base,” to thank. By being so appalling, they have inched public opinion over into the liberal camp, emboldening liberals to go on the offensive. However, it remains to be seen just how robust the liberals’ new backbone will be. By my reckoning, the chances remain better than good that, true to form, they will cave in to the Moronic Minority yet again – on health care reform and climate change and everything else of (economic) consequence, and on matters of war and peace. But the left is a different story; there the liberals have a softer target and, for fund raising purposes, a more profitable one.

Thus, within liberal precincts, there has been a resurgence of the idea that “extremes” are not only bad, but essentially the same. This is a slightly more thoughtful version of the now familiar Moronic Minority identification of fascism and Nazism with socialism and communism. It is therefore only slightly less wrong-headed. But be that as it may, the thought does underwrite the kind of centrism liberals favor. The center is moving (ever so slightly) leftward and, in the liberal view, it is where the action should remain. To that end, tarnishing all “extremists” with the same brush makes sense.

Reemerging in tandem with the idea that all “extremism” is bad is the idea that what “extremists” have in common is a predilection for “conspiracy theories.” This bit of conventional wisdom has been called upon, in the past several weeks, by those who, mistakenly in my view, see the Republican base’s acting out this summer –the tea parties, the town hall meetings, Mad Joe Wilson’s outburst et. al. -- as evidence of a “populist” revolt, rather than just corporate-manipulated astro-turfing. Dangerous, out of control “populists,” the story goes, are nothing if not “conspiracy theorists.”

But as a moment’s reflection will establish, history abounds with conspiracies, a point everyone, including the movers and shakers of the dead center, would acknowledge, at least implicitly. What, after all, do they think their Department of Homeland Security is supposed to investigate if not conspiracies? And what about the rest of the national security apparatus and that pillar of Order, the FBI? The latest, much publicized conspirator du jour is an airport shuttle bus driver in Denver named Najibullah Zazi. He, along with some fellow Afghanis in Queens, New York, are supposed to have conspired to do something (exactly what is not clear!). Maybe, this time (for once!), the government will be able to make a legally defensible case; usually, they can’t even make a plausible case. But, in any case, the point remains: it is always an empirical – and, in principle, decidable – question whether or not a purported conspiracy is real. Calling one or another claim to that effect a “conspiracy theory” settles nothing; it is, in Harry Truman’s apt expression, a red herring.

One could say, of course, that a “conspiracy theorist” is someone who sees conspiracies where none exist, with the plain implication that the phenomenon is evidence of a kind of paranoia. But, of course, even paranoids are sometimes right; sometimes others really are conspiring against them. To repeat the obvious point: it is in principle always an open question whether purported conspiracies are real.

In practice, “conspiracy theory” functions politically, much as “terrorism” does. People, especially people in power, use the expression to discredit positions they oppose. Thus, so long as liberals remain disposed to let President Obama keep Wall Street criminals in command of the country’s financial system, they will call those who blame Wall Street for ordinary peoples’ economic woes “conspiracy theorists.” It is worth noting, though, that, even now, it is hard to maintain that aspersion; the evidence of Wall Street’s role in causing the current crisis – evidence, in effect, of Wall Street “conspiracies” gone bad – is too overwhelming. Or consider how those who claim that the Israel lobby played a major role in leading the Bush administration into its war against Iraq are deemed “conspiracy theorists.” My view, for what it’s worth, is that this contention is probably wrong; that the Israel lobby dictates American policy towards Occupied Palestine, but plays little role in American Middle East policy elsewhere. This, however, is an empirical question; and a contrary view – like the one articulated, for example, in John Mearscheimer and Steven Walt’s The Israel Lobby – is hardly implausible, much less delusional.

It should also be noted that those who look for conspiracy theorists on the left have a hard time coming up with examples. The people who claim that Cheney and Bush are in some way behind the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the “truthers,” are often cited, notwithstanding two inconvenient facts -- that this is hardly a view that any significant or even insignificant portion of the left holds, and that there are “truthers” across the political spectrum. Nevertheless, for liberals, this “leftist” conspiracy theory is somehow of a piece with the ravings of birthers and deathers and tenthers and other Moronic Minority looneys.

I am by no means a truther. But I must say that the “evidence” truthers adduce is at least as compelling as anything the Department of Homeland Security has made public in support of its alleged conspiracies – including its conspiracy du jour in Denver and Queens. What is a bomb making manual, some telephone calls, and a trip to New York in comparison with the fact that Cheney and Bush were prepared in advance to seize the opportunities 9/11 provided them for their many nefarious domestic and foreign projects? And since when is the cui bono? (“who benefits?”) question no longer relevant for identifying when and where real conspiracies exist? I don’t take the truthers’ claims seriously mainly because the cover-up would require a level of competence that vastly exceeds anything else the Bush administration was able to muster in eight dreadful years. But the point remains: the case the “truthers” make is at least as plausible as almost anything – and perhaps literally anything – emanating out of the Department of Homeland Security.

The lesson is plain. Meaningless name calling is no substitute for thoughtful reflection and historical analysis. Let Fox News and its ilk blather on about “conspiracy theories.” It demeans liberalism when liberals follow their lead. But, then, liberals have never been particularly eager to see the world as it is because, doing so, would make their centrism indefensible. It is therefore easier just to go along with the blather, especially insofar as the idea is still to stand with Obama on the middle of the road.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Seize the Anger/Seize the Time

A conventional wisdom is crystallizing in liberal and mainstream circles, according to which the tea parties and town hall meetings and Congressional outbursts aren’t just expressions of racism and status anxiety egged on by corporate PR firms and Fox News; they are also, perhaps mainly, expressions of “populist” outrage at Wall Street and Big Government. I suspect that the conventional wisdom was more on target a few weeks ago when the bruhaha was attributed to corporate-funded “astro-turfing.” But however that may be, the idea has emerged that President Obama should do something dramatic to seize the anger and get his mojo back.

Thus, in its September 28 edition, The Nation editorializes that Obama should turn the rising tide of anti-Wall Street anger to his advantage by issuing an executive order forbidding executive compensation at institutions rescued by the federal government from exceeding $400,000 per annum, the salary of the President of the United States. That’s not a bad idea – it would mark one small step for equality and one more substantial leap (well, maybe not exactly “substantial”) for putting the banking system back on track. Of course, actually putting the banking system back on track by restoring the Roosevelt era regulations Bill Clinton and his Wall Street hands -- now they are Obama’s Wall Street hands! -- undid would be a better idea still, and reforming the banking system to better serve the people would be even better. But in the Pelosiite world of contemporary liberalism, just about everything to the left of Eisenhower Republicanism, and a good deal to the right of it too, is “off the table.”

Nevertheless, the fact remains: if it makes sense to seize the anger for electoral advantage, it makes even more sense to seize the time to move the country forward. To that end, measures like the one The Nation proposes fall short, and the measures the Obama administration has been proposing fall shorter still.

The administration fumbled on health care not just because it was dead-set on “bipartisanship,” but also, relatedly, because it was determined to ameliorate the dreadful – indeed, shameful and unsustainable – situation in which decades of “capitalist medicine” have left us only to the extent that the “stakeholders,” i.e. the profiteers, could be brought along. But if liberals stick to their guns, as enough of them may, some good might come out of Obama’s feeble reform efforts nevertheless. There is still a chance, albeit a slim one, that we will get a “public option” worth having – one that is susceptible to being transformed into something that, in time, will save lives and money by displacing private insurers. But if, in the end, things work out not too badly, it will not be because Obama has seized the time; it will be because the times are pushing his administration and the Democratic Party forward, forcing them to do some pale semblance of the right thing. [It goes without saying that the Republican Party is beyond ever doing the right thing, and that no force on earth can make them.]

Health care reform was one area where Obama could have seized the time, but didn’t. There are many other opportunities, however. Obama could, for example, insist on a full restoration of the rule of law by holding Bush era war criminals accountable for their lawlessness; in other words he could bring Cheney and Bush and Rumsfeld and the rest of them to justice. Or, in the next few days, when he meets with Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas in New York, he could force Israel to make peace with the Palestinians by closing down its (patently illegal) settlements in the portion of mandate Palestine that the international community recognizes as Palestinian, and then to acquiesce to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel. In this, as in bringing our own torture regime to justice, he’d have ample support. After all, where support for Israel is concerned, it isn’t just AIPAC any more: there’s now a pro-two-state-solution, pro-Israel lobby as well, J-Street; they are large enough already to give even a timid politician like Obama cover. Indeed, with just a tad of courage, Obama could easily turn Netanyahu’s jerking the U.S. around to the advantage of the peace camp, by mobilizing U.S. public opinion against the Israeli settlements and against Israel’s multi-party prevarications on the question of a Palestinian state. Obama has all the cards. If only he weren’t afraid to play them, he could make a giant leap forward for peace; while, not incidentally, diminishing the threat of Islamicist terror attacks in the Middle East and in what we nowadays call “the homeland.”

One more thing Obama could do in that regard is accede to common sense by conceding that the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars were lost a long time ago, not that it was ever clear what it would have meant for them to be “won.” There are many Democratic legislators who believe this; many Pentagon bureaucrats do as well. So do most Americans. There are also other impeccably sound moral, economic and strategic reasons to end these wars. All that it would take, at this point, is a little courage; a virtue in short supply in Democratic precincts.

Of course, for Obama to seize the time in these and other ways he would have to reinvent his administration; to make it more like what most Obama voters thought they had voted for. He has the vision to do it, and the knowledge. What he lacks is the will. He could and should seize the time; so far, though, he seems unwilling even just to seize the anger.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Who Does Baucus Think He's Fooling?

“Bipartisanship” fetishism has its limits, as even Barack Obama is beginning to see. After all, it strains the credulity of even the most willfully blind Democrat to think that, for bipartisanship’s sake, one must give up on almost everything – especially if, as in our on-going health care “debate,” the not-very “other” side is determined not to go along any way. Even corporate media pundits are finally coming around to this view!

So who does Max Baucus think he’s fooling with his terrible “health insurance reform” bill? Those who call it an Insurance Company Protection Act are on target, as are those who point out that it is the three million dollars worth of “campaign contributions” from the insurance and pharmaceutical industries that account for Baucus’s unyielding bipartisanship. It’s not that like ordinary Democratic cowards, he’s afraid of Olympia Snowe; it’s that, like the Republicans, he’s owned by the health care profiteers.

Make no mistake: Baucus is not being devilishly clever – coming out with a bill so bad, with such dire consequences for those whom Bill Clinton once called “the great forgotten middle class,” that his fellow Democrats will have no choice but to move forward in a better direction. Baucus is not clever; he’s a bought and paid for hack – as bad as any Democrat can be (and that’s saying a mouthful!).

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Silent Majority versus the Moronic Minority

Remember Nixon’s “silent majority.” It was made up of the un-cool, middle aged working stiffs who stood for good old American values like short hair and support for the empire in all its predations, while remaining politically impassive – the very opposite of insurrectionary blacks seeking “liberation” or spoiled, sex- and drug-crazed white kids looking to stop the Vietnam War. Nowadays, of course, almost everyone claims to have been against that war. But, in fact, until war weariness and Watergate sent his popularity plummeting, depleting the ranks of his silent defenders, Nixon was probably right about which side was in the majority. [Post-war France provides another example of this phenomenon. Nearly everyone claimed to have been in the Resistance. In fact, very few were, and most French people collaborated more or less actively with the German Occupation.]

But that was then. Nowadays, the shoe is on the other foot and the foot has grown much larger. Today’s silent majority is, if not exactly progressive, at least not reactionary; it is comprised of nearly everyone who has his or her head screwed on right. Meanwhile, the ones making noise, lets call them “the Moronic Minority,” are a tiny assemblage of misinformed, alienated and resentful creatures – recruited by corporate PR types from the minions whom daytime television, talk radio, and Fox News long ago pre-moronized.

America has seen it all before, even in recent decades, especially when there were Democratic presidents in office -- or Republicans like Ike, who were no worse than Democrats. Eisenhower and Kennedy had to contend with the John Birch Society and the Minutemen; Clinton had the militia movement. However in those days, the craziness, though sometimes violent, was effectively sequestered; it therefore had little effect on policy. Now, thanks to the internet and the cable news networks, it is spilling over into the mainstream. The problem is made worse by the fact that the Republican Party -- even at its best, the party of the Greater Evil -- has all but turned itself into the Moronic Minority’s political vehicle.

What Richard Hofstadter long ago called “the paranoid style” in American politics has been a factor in our political life almost since the country’s founding. But it only becomes a serious threat in those times when a portion of the elite identifies with it or exploits its potentialities. That is what is happening now.

On the other hand, there has been progress of a sort in comparison with the recent and more remote past. Today’s Moronic Minority, like its ancestor political movements, is transparently nativist (anti-immigrant) and racist. Can anyone doubt that the fact that the President is African-American rattles the cages of tea party militants or that, in their minds, “illegal immigrants” are the new Negroes! But, on matters of race and ethnicity, no matter how unhinged they become, the demonstrators at town hall meetings or in the halls of Congress at least have the decency not to be too overt. Following the lead of Fox’s hapless Glen Beck, they even accuse the other side of “racism,” effectively conceding what their predecessors never would -- that racism is a bad thing. It’s progress too that “Nazi” and “fascist” are terms of reproach for these later-day Know-Nothings; or, at least it would be progress, if those who use these words as derogatory epithets had any idea what they meant. [That they conflate “Nazi” and “fascist” with “socialist” and “communist,” and then claim that this has something to do with health insurance, is reason to think that they haven’t a clue.] In addition, today’s Moronic Minority, though comprised mainly of fundamentalist Protestants, is not anti-Catholic. This too is progress; but we should not forget that part of the explanation for this happy turn of events has to do with the unholy alliance between Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants in the inaptly named “pro-life” movement.

Most startling of all, there seems to be little, if any, anti-Semitism in today’s Moronic Minority, in stark contrast to right-wing movements of the past. But even that advance is not quite as much an improvement as one might suppose, inasmuch as throughout our political culture, it is taken for granted that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are more or less the same thing. Once that mistake is taken on board, it is only natural that birthers and deathers and tenthers and tea partyers would assume ostensibly philo-Semitic attitudes. How, after all, could they not identify with a state whose very existence depends on ethnic cleansing; indeed, one that periodically wages wars on Muslim peoples, and imposes an Apartheid regime on Muslims in the territories it has occupied for more than forty years! How could they not be pro-Israel and therefore pro-Jewish? Then too there is the theology that runs rampant in Moronic Minority ranks, according to which Biblical prophecies are being fulfilled in the Holy Land before their very eyes. Of course, the original Crusaders were as delighted to kill Jews as Muslims. But they were Papists, after all; and therefore, Christian Zionists think, in the thrall of the Anti-Christ, not that they would say so directly given their anti-abortion driven d├ętante with Rome. The Crusaders therefore didn’t realize, as fundamentalist Protestants do, that killing Jews was not the business of right thinking Christians; that pleasure is reserved for God who, at the end of time, will see to it that Jews who do not accept Jesus will get what they deserve. Until then, Christians should make common cause with Jews in killing Muslims, the better to hasten the Final Days.

Still, all this “progress” is small consolation. The fact remains: unhinged Know-Nothingism is again dragging the political “center” rightward. Would that the Left were similarly vociferous; would that it would drag Obama and the Democrats in control of Congress the opposite way!

But today’s equivalent of the militant minority of the Nixon era has gone into hibernation; the champions of Reason have faltered. Part of the problem is the transparently untenable idea, still held by many, that President Obama will, through sheer charisma, make things right. Part of the problem is exhaustion after countless, feckless “marches on Washington” and demonstrations elsewhere. What a waste of time and effort they have been!

[In that regard, it is worth noting how The New York Times and The Washington Post always underestimate the size of anti-war demonstrations by orders of magnitude. In contrast, both papers were more than happy to declare that “tens of thousands” of “anti-government” (i.e. anti-Obama for the wrong reason) demonstrators descended on Washington on 9/12.]

But Obamamania and exhaustion are not the whole story; misplaced civility, the ‘niceness’ liberals promote, is part of the problem too. To the degree, often exaggerated, that protests helped bring the Vietnam War to an end, it was not because masses of well-behaved demonstrators assembled together to plead their cause. For that sort of thing to have had much effect, we’d have to have had a much more democratic polity than we did back then or than we have now. What helped to restrain Nixon and Kissinger was the “war at home” – and in the military – because it threatened the maintenance and reproducibility of the existing order. The anti-Iraq war movement never rose to that level. It was too decorous, too “respectful” of contrary views, too supportive of “the troops,” too inclined to assume that, with compelling arguments, the enemy was persuadable. On the unhinged and otherwise mindless Right, they know better.

Obama’s “bipartisanship” is cut from the same cloth as the civility of today’s left opposition, except that it is even more plainly disabling. Thus he and his co-thinkers still labor to find “common ground” with the nut cases who came to Washington on 9/12 and with the public relations manipulators and political entrepreneurs who stirred them into (re)action, making paranoia, yet again, a major factor in American political life. Instead, like those to his left, Obama should learn what the nut cases in the streets can teach him: that rational discourse is an improver only to the extent that people are rational; and therefore that, in a world like ours where Unreason is rampant, a little, unreasonable obstreperousness (for Reason's sake) – or, better yet, a whole lot of it -- can go a long way.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Liberals Enraged

Could anything be more ludicrous than liberals enraged? Dopey Joe Wilson called Barack Obama a “liar” and, in less than a day, they raise more than a half million dollars for his opponent. Good thinking, liberals – elect another Blue Dog, why don’t ya!

Note: Obama is a liar: as I pointed out yesterday, he lied in his speech to Congress about being open to good ideas. He’s for “death panels” too. Where there is private insurance, there are death panels comprised of capitalist profiteers and their flunkies, and Obama is very definitely for private insurance or, as we ought to call it, “the private option.”

Still, it is enlightening, now that the liberal media have turned on Dopey Joe, to find out more about the lowlifes Republicans elect. It seems that like his co-thinker, Mr. Plumber, this Son of the Confederacy is not really even a “Joe”; it turns out that he’s an “Addison Graves”!

Anyway, had liberals been outraged, as they should have been, about how Obama and Company let Van Jones succumb to the swords and daggers of the Mighty Glen Beck and his followers – in other words, to the leader of a gaggle of Fox News listeners with incipiently fascist dispositions; had they instead listened to Jones when he tactlessly uttered a truism, they’d have already taken to heart the plain fact that Republicans are “assholes.” But instead of raising a dime or two for Jones, or even supporting him with their mouths, they prefer to follow their Leader down the path of “niceness.” They might realize that it’s not just racism and resentment that has made the GOP a party of faux-Joes; it’s also “civility” like theirs – “bipartisan” civility. That civility is also what keeps Bush and Cheney and their underling torturers from being brought to justice; and it’s why Obama’s “reforms,” to the degree they’re at all ameliorative, are so utterly milquetoast. But then, as Robert Frost famously put it, a liberal is someone who will never take his own side in an argument.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Opportunities Missed

Republicans are good for one thing: handing opportunities over to Democrats. South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson did it again last night: before a national audience watching President Obama address a joint session of Congress, he yelled out that Obama was a “liar” – at that point in Obama’s speech when he declared that he was not proposing health insurance for “illegal aliens.” Needless to say, Obama was telling the truth as any minimally informed Congressman should know; needless to say too, in this case as in others (for instance, when he declared that not one cent of federal money would go to pay for abortions), Obama’s “bipartisan” concessions are anything but estimable. Judging by the reaction of the corporate media, Wilson’s “incivility” was a boon to the Democrats; much as was the town hall blathering of “birthers” and “deathers” and “tenthers” and other unhinged morons, spurred on by Fox News and even less savory instruments of the GOP’s propaganda machine.

Democrats are good for one thing too: doing as little for the public good as they can with the opportunities that fall their way. Had Obama just said, from the beginning, that health care ought to be a right, not a commodity, and therefore that no one who doesn’t contribute to health care should profit from it, we’d now be on the point of joining the rest of the world in this regard. I’ve suggested before, and I continue to believe, that corporate opposition to a single-payer system would be no more intense than the opposition has been to Obama’s vague and not very coherent “guidelines” for reform, notwithstanding how much Obama’s reforms will do to “grow” the client base for private insurers, even if a “public option” survives the “sausage-making” now underway. But, following the lead of the Clintons before him and for reasons that are all too plain, Obama, along with the Pelosiite leadership of the House and Senate, ruled single-payer out of bounds from the get go.

In last night’s speech, Obama didn’t fold on the public option – not yet. He only said that it is one of several means to the end of providing affordable and universal (well, not quite universal) coverage. Thus he suggested that “the left” was wrong to fetishize the idea or, as the pundits say, “to draw a line in the sand” at that point. This was a skillful way to evade what is really going on in the “debate.” The right fears, and the (not-very) “left” hopes that a public option will be a Trojan Horse leading to a single-payer system. These fears and hopes are well-founded. If a public option is robust enough to be worth having, it will be attractive to almost everyone who is not a heavy investor in the insurance industry or a dogmatic free-marketeer. As John Edwards made clear in the early Democratic debates, a public option can be a way to back into the obvious solution. This is the hope and the fear that Obama, along with nearly everyone else in the political class and the corporate media, is intent on obfuscating.

It was interesting to see how Obama dealt with the obvious superiority of single-payer proposals last night. First, in good “centrist” fashion, he threw a sop to both the “left” and the “right” – saying that there are good arguments in favor of both single-payer systems and for relying on unregulated markets; in other words, good arguments in favor of the obvious solution but also in favor of the empirically and theoretically unsustainable convictions of free-marketeers. But then he said that, given how much of the American economy involves health care, it would be impractical to do anything other than build on and improve upon the system in place. This is a contention Obama makes whenever the issue arises. What he never does is support his claim with compelling arguments. The reason why is plain – a transition to a single-payer system is no more impractical than what Obama is proposing. What it is is detrimental to the interests of the health care profiteers (in the insurance, pharmaceutical and for-profit health care industries) who own the Republican Party outright and the Democratic Party nearly as completely.

I’m no expert, but I do know that there is nothing especially disruptive about people transitioning from private insurance to Medicare when they reach the age of 65. Here then, off the top of my head, is a way to make single-payer practical: beef up Medicare and then progressively lower the age for joining the system (going down from 65 to 55 would be a reasonable start); while making SCHIP an entitlement for all children (progressively raising the age for admissibility). Add to that the insurance reforms Obama is proposing for those in the middle and we would indeed be well on our way to where the rest of the developed world has been for more than half a century. If there really are fiscal concerns about going this route, then the steps up and down could be calibrated to take them into account. Meanwhile, one might think about the fiscal benefits of ending the hyper-costly Bush-Obama wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and rescinding the deficit-swelling tax cuts Republicans, along with many Democrats, gave to the super-rich in the early days of the Cheney-Bush administration.

No doubt, there are other, better ways, to get from here to there. Obama claimed last night that he was interested in hearing about “good ideas” and that his door is always open. At that point, it would have been salutary, though uncivil, for someone to yell out that he is a “liar.” For he is surely not interested in the thinking of the victims of the system in place or in hearing about ideas, no matter how compelling, that those who commodify health care oppose. If his door is open to anyone, it is to the bought and paid for legislators he is trying to woo and to the lobbyists of the interests they represent. For everyone outside this “bipartisan” consensus, the doors of power are, as always, firmly shut.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Van Jones

Back when it looked like Hillary Clinton was a shoe-in for the Democratic nomination, I urged the formation of Monica Lewinsky Democratic Clubs in every corner of the nation, in the hope that she – and other Clintonites – would be shamed into oblivion. Needless to say, that plan fell on deaf ears. Now, in an equally vain effort to impede the rightward drift of the Obama administration, I urge the formation of Van Jones Democratic Clubs. Jones was, after all, one of the very few Obama appointees who told it like it was (“Republicans are assholes”) and who comes out of a genuinely left-wing background. To his honor, he was “outed” by Fox News – with the imbecilic Glen Beck leading the charge. It should come as no surprise that Barack Obama acquiesced. This has always been how he deals with those who speak inconvenient truths -- Jeremiah Wright, for example.

In a posting this morning, AlterNet’s executive director, Don Hazen, claims that Jones’s resignation (firing) is actually a good thing for “progressives”; that he can do more good outside the administration than buried within it. But how seriously can one take the judgment of someone who, in contrasting Jones with other potential leaders of a movement to put the Obama administration back on the road to “change,” groups together Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Bill Moyers and Robert Reich; someone, moreover, who, just a month ago, urged AlterNet readers to thank Bill Clinton for all the “good” he has done by sending him warm greetings on his birthday?

No, AlterNet – Jones’ firing is yet another victory for the vilest and most obstreperous sector of the corporate media; and, as such, another sad consequence of Democratic pusillanimity and “bipartisanship.” I’ve long maintained that a Clintonized Democratic Party is beyond redemption but, just in case I’m wrong about that, Van Jones Democratic Clubs might be just the answer!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Who's Afraid of Olympia Snowe?

As I have noted countless times, the ruling class types who were the pillars of the Republican Party of old have effectively ceded control of the Grand Old Party to the useful idiots Ronald Reagan and others enlisted into their ranks. Thus the GOP today is morally and intellectually bankrupt. Worse still, it is in league with the Dark Side – especially now, with the election of an African-American President. To their everlasting shame, Republicans have aided and abetted those who make it their business to cultivate that seedbed of resentment which, it seems, is always with us -- reawakening what Richard Hofstatdter long ago called “the paranoid style” in American politics. Nevertheless,, one must admire the Republicans for their obduracy, if only because it works. The GOP is well on its way towards blocking the timid reform measures advanced by its electoral rival, the Democratic Party -- or, as I prefer to call it, the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity.

If only the good and reasonable legislators who comprise “the democratic wing of the Democratic Party” would learn a trick or two from their vile and ludicrous competitors! This may be happening. At long last, as the Obama administration careens rightward on health insurance reform, there is hope that the not very progressive Progressive Caucus is finally developing a backbone. It is far from clear, though, whether, in the end, progressive legislators will indeed resist Obama’s call to be “good soldiers” – by conceding just about everything. They could still cave – winning yet another one for the Gipper (figuratively speaking, of course).

The conventional wisdom has it that if nothing that can be called “health care reform” passes, it will sink the Obama administration. This is nonsense. The Obama administration is sinking itself thanks to its bipartisanship, and unless it is forced to hold its ground, at least on this central theme of its first year, it will only sink deeper into the muck.

Progressive legislators should remind themselves that, so far, Obama has effectively betrayed or at least neglected every progressive constituency that supported him; that, contrary to what they assumed a few months ago, he is turning out to be a determined practitioner of continual war (today in Iraq and Afghanistan, tomorrow who knows where), a flunky for Wall Street interests, and, in general, just a more intelligent and less inept version of George Bush. Being better than Bush is old news; it is now time, as Obama’s liberal shock troops might say, to “move on.”

Even the remaining Obamamaniacs should appreciate this by now; even they should expend all their efforts in encouraging the Progressive Caucus to remain firm in its resolve to defect if its very minimal demands are not met; especially, if some viable “public option” is not part of the final bill.

Sadly for those who do want to win one for this Gipper, it is a truism that one cannot credibly threaten to defect without being actually willing to do so if need be. The lunatic Right understands this well; it is the source of their power. Progressive Caucus members, along with others in the POP are beginning to understand too. Our task is to keep them on course; to encourage them to hold fast.

Progressive Caucus members should be made to realize that if they do not stop Obama from conceding too much when they have the means to do so, they will have effectively ceded control of the health and welfare of their constituents and the financial solvency of the United States itself (in an era of ever-rising health care costs) to the likes of Olympia Snowe – and perhaps a few other “moderate” Republicans and “conservative” Democrats. Enough already. That hapless characters like the ones Obama is courting should be calling the shots is an insult to the American electorate and, needless to say, a guarantee that Obama’s “victories” will be Pyrrhic victories only. Are the Democrats afraid of Olympia Snowe? Is Barack Obama? By Wednesday night’s joint session of Congress, we’ll probably know.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Scales Are Falling

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I thought that the only “serious” candidate vying for the Democratic nomination in 2008 (that criterion ruled out Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel) who offered any hope at all, however slight, for seizing what was plainly a rare historical opportunity for significant, beneficial “change” – who might, just might, take on corporations and banks and other “malefactors of great wealth” at least to the extent that the more radical Progressives and New Dealers did when similar opportunities presented themselves – was John Edwards. I thought so mainly because I thought Edwards could be counted on to advance organized labors’ interests, and that, if he could succeed in doing so, it would shift the domestic balance of power somewhat – at least back to where it was before our politics went south under Ronald Reagan and his successors (including Bill Clinton).

Unfortunately, the Edwards campaign ended badly, months before it became known just how badly it ended. Thus primary voters were left with a choice between a full-fledged Clintonite Restoration, led by the First Lady of Clintondom, and a lesser Clintonite Restoration, led by Barack Obama. To my relief, the lesser Clintonite side won. But then Barack Obama picked Joe Biden to be his running-mate; and later, after the election was over, he proceeded to pile Clintonite after Clintonite into his administration -- even to the point of making his erstwhile rival his Secretary of State. Thus it became clear to all with eyes to see that the anti-Clinton side’s victory was largely illusory; that it would not be our fate even to enjoy cosmetic changes in the Clintonite Restoration underway. For a long time, though, few had eyes to see. The vast majority of liberal voters, along with “independents,” were mired in a happy, Obama-induced, illusion, dreaming the dream of “change.”

In the months that followed, even those of us who never expected much from Barack Obama, still found ample reason to be disappointed. But we are less alone than we used to be. The ranks of the disappointed are growing by leaps and bounds.

For Obama’s first hundred days and beyond, countless folks who should have known better all along exercised all their ingenuity in cutting the new President slack, even as the evidence mounted that instead of “change,” what we would be getting was just a more competent version of the politics that has blighted our land at least since the Reagan days. Thus, instead of ending the (long ago lost) Bush Wars, Obama continued the one in Iraq and intensified the one in Afghanistan. Instead of re-regulating Wall Street, Obama and his team of Wall Street functionaries, bailed out its most flagrant predators and profiteers. Instead of proposing health care (actually health insurance) reforms that, like the ones John Edwards advanced, would lead inexorably to a single-payer system, he let a bought and paid for Congress develop an incoherent mishmash with, maybe, a milquetoast “public option.” Instead of addressing labor issues, the Employee Free Choice Act especially, he has done almost nothing for working people beyond humoring the leaders of their unions. Instead of bringing Bush and Cheney and other Bush era war criminals to justice, Obama is busy “looking forward.” Instead of making good use of his once enormous political capital, Obama engaged in foolhardy and ultimately self-defeating “bipartisanship.” And so, on and on.

Nevertheless, Obamamania survived for months after the Inauguration. No matter whom he re-empowered, no matter what policies he proposed, it was all deemed part of a master strategy, too clever for words, out of which would come the “change” Obama promised. But you can only fool most liberals most of the time; and you can’t do it forever. At long last, reality is kicking in. The scales are dropping away from the dreamers’ eyes.

Thus I find that I have less to say than I used to about how wide the gap is between the reality of the Obama administration and the hopes it engendered -- because so many others, many of whom have access to major media outlets, are saying it for me. There is, of course, some gratification in having been right all along. But this is of no consequence in the face of the ever-increasing likelihood that, yet again, a major historical opportunity is being lost.

Within the next week or two, decisions will be made in the White House about what kind of health insurance reform will go forward and about whether the Afghanistan War will continue full-throttle – for no plausible strategic purpose and at great cost, not just to the treasury but to the security of the “homeland” as well. Thus there is still a chance, albeit slight, that Obama will find it within himself and within his party of bought and paid for cowards to salvage something worthwhile from what could have been. I wouldn’t bet on it, however.

The situation will become clearer soon enough. What is clear now is that to prove pessimists like me wrong, it will be necessary for the scales to fall entirely away from the eyes of those who want to push Obama along. Contrary to the conventional, Obamamaniacal wisdom of the recent past, Obama is no Lone Ranger. Long ago, he decided to run – and govern – from within the corporate fold, and without shaking up the political establishment. In other words, he decided not even to try to expand the constraints in the way Edwards might have. So long as Obama remains fixed in this mode – and there is no reason to think he has any inclination to change – there is no reason to impute any inscrutable strategic genius to his bipartisan panderings. It is true now, as it always has been, that, where Obama’s governance is at issue, what we see is what we get – provided we see clearly what is there, not what we would like to be there as we dream. For the “change” Obama promised to come to pass, the baseless idea that he is already somehow making it come to pass must be thoroughly and completely overcome.


Leave it, therefore, to Clintonite liberal groups, like moveon.org, to defend Obama’s milquetoast reform policies against the lunatic Right. Partisans of the change Obama seemed to speak of should, instead, rail against Obama from the left – to force him, kicking and screaming, if need be, to restore the rule of law (by bringing Bush era criminals to justice), to end the Bush (now Obama) wars, to continue the call for single-payer health insurance, to regulate (not placate) Wall Street, and to force Obama to champion the interests of the constituencies who elected him – organized labor, above all. To collaborate with the mainstream of the Party of Pusillanimity, not to mention its right-wing Blue Dog component, is now more than ever to reinforce a problem that there is still a chance to begin to solve. The time is long past due to see this clearly, and to militate accordingly.