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.