April 01, 2010

The Nonentity in the White House

From Kevin Baker's essay in the April issue of Harper's Magazine, "The Vanishing Liberal":

Baker comments on Obama's West Point speech of 1 December 2009, in which he first said that we have to limit our troop commitment in Afghanistan, because our own priorities come first, and then announced that he was sending 30,000 more troops there. He continues:

"How could this be? It was the question that Obama's most fervent supporters had been asking themselves for months, as their candidate discarded almost every vision of a new America, a new world, that he had described during his campaign. By the time of his West Point speech, health-care 'reform' had already been transformed into yet another scheme to transfer wealth to the richest corporate interests in the country. The stimulus program had been botched, the promised money delayed and diverted from badly needed public projects into unhelpful tax cuts. The banks had been bailed out but not the people, and any significant proposals for repairing our infrastructure, addressing climate change, re-regulating the financial markets, or rebuilding New Orleans were generally acknowledged to be dead letters.

"Now, with the president's decision on Afghanistan, our foreign policy settled back into its familiar pattern of endless war for unknown purposes. To people who had been clamoring for real change in how we work and consume, how we live in the world and with one another, this retreat to the failed policies of the recent past was stunning. No other president in our history had so thoroughly spurned his political base in so short a time....

"The party that claims to represent all progressive interests in this country proceeds with its impervious, self-interested agenda. The administration's stated priorities for the near future are to balance the budget before a deep recession has abated and to commit the nation to a long-running war in a dysfunctional Asian country that we neither understand nor care about--thereby promising to repeat, simultaneously, the two worst mistakes made by liberal presidents in the past seventy-five years. As for the long term, the White House will form a commission bent on cutting 'entitlements,' such as Social Security and Medicare, that are the bedrock of retired Americans' prosperity...

"It is increasingly clear that [Obama] never intended to challenge the power structure he had so skillfully penetrated....There is no longer any meaningful reformist impulse left in our politics. The idea of modern American liberalism has vanished among our elite, and simply voting for one man or supporting one of the two major parties will not restore it."

Translation: Game over, folks!

March 29, 2010

We're Just Not Very Bright

Well amigos, y'all need to have a look at Chris Hedges' column at truthdig.com today, on America yearning for Fascism. The disintegration of America continues apace, and the real dummies are not especially the Palin-Beck crowd, but the Democratic establishment and those who support it. As Hedges points out, the forces that are now lining up, and the way they are expressing themselves (gun imagery, targeting of minority groups), follow the classic fascist pattern. How intelligent is Mr. Obama, really? In the wake of the crash of 2008, did he move to rescue the (by now nearly 20%, in real figures) unemployed? Or the millions who were/are losing their homes to bank foreclosures? Nah...start with an $800-billion bank bailout, quickly up it to $12 trillion, and now, apparently (figure estimated by Nomi Prins in It Takes a Pillage), $17.5 trillion. What will that do for the angry Americans who are now searching for scapegoats? Will they target the Bernankes, the Geithners, and the Summerses, who are (stupidly) seeing to it that the cash goes to the rich? Will they go down to Wall Street and rage against Goldman Sachs or AIG? Will they rail against Mr. Obama in the right way--i.e., not as a 'socialist' (what a joke that is), but as the man who delivered 32 million uninsured Americans into the hands of corporate health care? Will they be angry at the president for scuttling the 'public option', which would have by-passed obligatory corporate control of the health-care system? I'm guessing not. And all of this is working together with the Tea Party crowd, really; they and the 'power elite' are doing a synergistic, downward dance, reinforcing each other as they go.

Of course, a lot of our continued spinning out of control is due to the absence of any moral center in this country--as the Right has argued all along. The problem (or one, anyway) with the right-wing argument is that you cannot simultaneously decry the lack of a moral center and exalt corporate market (or even true laissez-faire) capitalism, whose only philosophy is 'more!'. Money is necessary, but it's not a value system; and 'more' certainly isn't. An article by George Packer in the March 15th New Yorker ("Obama's Lost Year") argues that Obama is failing because he has no narrative of where the country ought to go. Nobody knows what he wants, writes Packer; we don't know who he really is. But I would add that Mr. Obama himself doesn't know what he wants, or who he really is. True, he is not the creepy, eerie, near-psychotic hologram that was George W. Bush; but is he all that different? It seems to me he's just a chic version of Nowhere Man. In that sense, however, democracy does work: he is us. We have no values, we have no goals (beyond 'more'), and we certainly don't think a whole lot. I used to point to the .00001% 'Kucinich vote' as the only hope we had, but as you all know, Mr. K has sold out as well.

How could this scenario possibly have a positive outcome? This is precisely how civilizations collapse; this is exactly, Dark Ages America.