Wednesday, January 23, 2008
The Audacity Of Hype
AN AUDACIOUS DEFERENCE TO POWER
If the Democrats’ candidate in 2008 is Obama, we can be sure that the right-wing Republican noise machine will denounce the nation’s potential first non-white male president as a dangerous “leftist.” The charge will be absurd, something that will hardly stop numerous people on the portside of the narrow U.S. political spectrum from claiming Obama as a fellow “progressive.” Certain to be encouraged by Obama and his handlers, this confusion will reflect the desperation and myopia that shaky thinking and the limited choices of the U.S. electoral system regularly instill in liberals and some squishy near leftists.
So what sorts of policies and values could one expect from an imagined Obama presidency? There is quite a bit already in Obama’s short national career that has to be placed in the “never mind” category if one is to seriously believe his claim (cautiously advanced in The Audacity of Hope) to be a “progressive” concerned with “social and economic justice” and global peace.
Last August, Obama audaciously told thousands of labor union members at Chicago's Soldier Field that he was "running for president...because of you, not because of folks who are writing big checks." He made a big point of the fact that he "does not take money from corporate lobbyists," unlike business-friendly Hillary Clinton.
He uttered his worker-pleasing words even as his campaign was bending with fierce plutocratic winds fanned by giant global investment firms and corporations that were helping him join leading corporate Democrat Clinton in setting new electoral fundraising records.
Ever wonder why the "progressive" (as he repeatedly describes himself) Obama dances for Wall Street on the (fake) Social Security "crisis" and sounds like Mitt Romney and Rudy Guliani in decrying the specter of "government mandated" universal health care? Curious about why the avowed environmentalist thinks that nuclear power should be considered part of the solution to America's energy crisis and has recently joined Hillary in voting for the extension of the corporate-neoliberal North American Free Trade Agreement to Peru?
FOLLOW THE MONEY
Obama's presidential campaign has received nearly $5 million dollars from securities and investment firms and $866,000 from commercial banks through October of 2007. Obama's top contributor so far is Goldman Sachs (provider of $369,078 to Obama), identified by Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) investigators as "a major proponent of privatizing Social Security as well as legislation that would essentially deregulate the investment banking/securities industry." Eight of Obama's top twenty election investors are securities and investment firms: Goldman Sachs, Lehman Bros. (#2 at $229,090), J.P. Morgan Chase and Co. (# 4 at $216,759), Citadel Investment Group (#7 at 4166,608), UBS AG ($146,150), UBS-America ($106,680), Morgan Stanley ($104,421), and Credit Suisse Group ($92,300). The last two firms are also known to be leading privatization advocates.
Meanwhile, Obama's presidential run has been "assisted" by more than $2 million from the health care sector and nearly $400,000 from the insurance industry through October of 2007. Obama received $708,000 from medical and insurance interests between 2001 and 2006. His wife Michelle, a fellow Harvard Law graduate, was until a recently a Vice President for Community and External Affairs at the University of Chicago Hospitals, a position that paid her $273, 618 in 2006.
And Obama's sixth largest contributor is Exelon, the proud Chicago-based owner and operator of more nuclear power plants than any entity on earth.
As for his "lobbyist ban," last August the Los Angeles Times reported that Obama "raised more than $1 million in the first three months of his presidential campaign from law firms and companies that have major lobbying operations in the nation's capital." Campaign finance expert Stephen Weissman observed that this raised troubling questions about the practical relevance of Obama's much-ballyhooed pledge to turn down donations from "federal lobbyists."
Obama's rise to national prominence and presidential viability has in fact depended significantly on PAC and lobbyist money.
To give one example, Obama received $33,000 in the first quarter of 2007 from the Atlanta-based law firm Alston & Bird, which maintains a large lobbying division in Washington. Obama's $33,000 came bundled from a number of "consultants" employed by the firm.
Also deleted from Obama's "ban" are state lobbyists. Obama took $2000 from two Springfield, Illinois lobbyists for Exelon, which spent $500,000 to influence policy in Washington in 2006 and gave $160,000 directly to Obama.
An especially big dent in the armor of Obama's effort to sell himself as the noble repudiator of lobbyist, PAC, and special interest money generally was inflicted in early August of 2007. That's when the Boston Globe published a widely circulated article titled "PACs and Lobbyists Aided Obama's Rise: Data Contrast With His Theme." Globe reporter Scott Helman reviewed campaign finance records to find that a "more complicated truth" lurked "behind Obama's campaign rhetoric." Obama's rise to national prominence and presidential viability, Helman discovered, depended significantly on PAC and lobbyist money, including large sums from "defense contractors, law firms and the securities and insurance industries" to his own powerful PAC "Hopefund." Of special interest was Helman's determination that Obama was retaining close and lucrative funding relationships with leading Washington-based lobbyists and lobbying firms while technically avoiding direct contributions from those key campaign finance players.
When politicians offer nothing, and the people demand nothing, then the powers-that-be are free to continue doing whatever they choose. The death knell of participatory politics can often be a very noisy, celebratory affair - such as we have witnessed in the call-and-response ritual of "Change!" "Hope!" and other exuberant but insubstantial campaign exercises.
After more than four years of observing Obama's descent from vaguely progressive rhetoric to shameless pandering and vapid "Change!" mantra nonsense are we to ignore the facts on the ground stick our heads in the sand and say never mind?
Never mind, for example, that Obama was recently hailed as a “Hamiltonian” believer in “limited government” and “free trade” by Republican New York Times columnist David Brooks, who praises Obama for having “a mentality formed by globalization, not the SDS.” Or that he had to be shamed off the “New Democrat Directory” of the corporate-right Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) by the popular left black Internet magazine Black Commentator.
Never mind that Obama (consistent with Brooks’s description of him) has lent his support to the aptly named Hamilton Project, formed by corporate-neoliberal Citigroup chair Robert Rubin and “other Wall Street Democrats” to counter populist rebellion against corporatist tendencies within the Democratic Party. Or that he lent his politically influential and financially rewarding assistance to neoconservative pro-war Senator Joe Lieberman’s (“D”-CT) struggle against the Democratic antiwar insurgent Ned Lamont. Or that Obama has supported other “mainstream Democrats” fighting antiwar progressives in primary races. Or that he criticized efforts to enact filibuster proceedings against reactionary Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.
Never mind that Obama “dismissively” referred—in a “tone laced with contempt”—to the late progressive and populist U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone as “something of a gadfly.” Or that he chose the neoconservative Lieberman to be his “assigned” mentor in the U.S. Senate. Never mind that Obama opposed an amendment to the Bankruptcy Act that would have capped credit card interest rates at 30 percent.
Never mind that Obama voted for a business-friendly “tort reform” bill that rolls back working peoples’ ability to obtain reasonable redress and compensation from misbehaving corporations. Or that Obama claims to oppose the introduction of single-payer national health insurance on the grounds that such a widely supported social-democratic change would lead to employment difficulties for workers in the private insurance industry—at places like Kaiser and Blue Cross Blue Shield. Does Obama support the American scourge of racially disparate mass incarceration on the grounds that it provides work for tens of thousands of prison guards? Should the U.S. maintain the illegal operation of Iraq and pour half its federal budget into “defense” because of all the soldiers and other workers that find employment in imperial wars and the military-industrial complex? Does the “progressive” senator really need to be reminded of the large number of socially useful and healthy alternatives that exist for the investment of human labor power at home and abroad—wetlands preservation, urban ecological retrofitting, drug counseling, teaching, infrastructure building and repair, safe and affordable housing construction, the building of windmills and solar power facilities, etc.?
In an interview with Klein, Obama expressed reservations about a universal health insurance plan recently enacted in Massachusetts, stating his preference for “voluntary” solutions over “government mandates.” The former, he said, is “more consonant with” what he called “the American character”—a position contradicted by regular polling data showing that most Americans support Canadian-style single-payer health insurance.
Never mind that Obama voted to re-authorize the repressive PATRIOT Act. Or that he voted for the appointment of the war criminal Condaleeza Rice to (of all things) Secretary of State. Or that he opposed Senator Russ Feingold’s (D-WI) move to censure the Bush administration after the president was found to have illegally wiretapped U.S. citizens. Or that he shamefully distanced himself from fellow Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin’s forthright criticism of U.S. torture practices at Guantanamo. Or that he refuses to foreswear the use of first-strike nuclear weapons against Iran.
Never mind that he joins victim-blaming Republicans in pointing to poor blacks’ “cultural” issues as the cause of concentrated black poverty (Obama, The Audacity of Hope)—not the multiple, well-documented, and interrelated structures, practices and consequences of externally imposed white dominance and corporate-state capitalism. Or that he claims that blacks have joined the American “socioeconomic mainstream” even as median black household net worth falls to less than eight cents on the median white household dollar.
Never mind Obama’s power-worshipping campaign book “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream” (2006) – the book to which Obama refers reporters asking him for policy specifics behind his often vague statements – refers to the United States’ rapacious, savagely unequal and fundamentally “materialist” capitalist economy as the nation’s “greatest asset.” “Audacity” absurdly praises the “American system of social organization” and “business culture” on the grounds that U.S. capitalism “has encouraged constant innovation, individual initiative and efficient allocation of resources.” It commends “the need to raise money from economic elites to finance elections” for “prevent[ing] Democrats...from straying too far from the center” and for marginalizing “those within the Democratic Party who tend toward zealotry” and “radical ideas” (like peace and justice). It praises fellow centrist Senator and presidential rival Hillary Clinton (D-NY) for embracing “the virtues of capitalism” and applauds her “recognizably progressive” husband Bill Clinton for showing that “markets and fiscal discipline” and “personal responsibility are needed to combat poverty”– an interesting reflection on the militantly corporate-neoliberal Clinton administration’s efforts to increase poverty by eliminating poor families’ entitlement to public cash assistance and privileging deficit reduction over social spending.
Never mind that “Audacity” also advances a model of health care reform that mocks his claim to support "universal" insurance. Like the [corporatist] Democratic Leadership Council Obama advocates retaining the for-profit nature of American health care, and mandating that poor people pay for it, somehow. His plan is only ‘universal’ in the sense that mandatory auto insurance is universal.
"I believe that U.S. forces are still a part of the solution in Iraq.”
- Barack Obama
Obama’s handlers and supporters place considerable emphasis on the claim that the junior senator from Illinois has voiced a “consistent position against the war” and (by extension) the Middle East. The assertion has some technical accuracy; Obama has publicly questioned the Bush administration’s case for war since the fall of 2002. But serious scrutiny of his “antiwar position” shows that the supposedly “pragmatic” and “non-ideological” Obama speaks in deferential accord with the doctrine of empire. In Obama’s carefully crafted rhetoric, Operation Iraqi Liberation (OIL) has been a “strategic blunder” on the part of an essentially benevolent nation state. Given his presidential ambitions, it is unthinkable for him to acknowledge the invasion’s status as a great international transgression that is consistent with the United States’ long record of imperial criminality. It is equally unimaginable for him to acknowledge that the war expressed Washington’s drive to deepen its control of strategic petroleum resources—an ambition in direct opposition to the alleged U.S. goals of encouraging Iraqi freedom and exporting democracy.
In a recent address designed to display his foreign policy bona fides, Obama showed his continuing willingness to take seriously the claim that OIL was an effort to “impose democracy” on Iraq, even faulting the Bush administration for acting in Iraq on the basis of unrealistic “dreams of democracy and hopes for a perfect government” (Obama, “A Way Forward in Iraq,” speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs [CCGA], November 22, 2006).
Consistent with his denial and embrace of Washington’s imperial ambitions, Obama has refused to join genuinely anti-war forces in calling for a rapid and thorough withdrawal of troops and an end to the occupation of Iraq. In a critical November 2005 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Obama rejected Rep. John Murtha’s (D-PA) call for a rapid redeployment and any notion of a timetable for withdrawal. Obama’s call for “a pragmatic solution to the real war we’re facing in Iraq” included repeated references to the need to “defeat” the “insurgency”—a goal that means continuation of the war.
Obama’s November speech to the CCGA advocates a vaguely timed Iraq “scenario” in which “U.S. forces” might remain in the occupied state for an “extended period of time.” Obama advances a “reduced but active [U.S. military] presence” that “protects logistical supply points” and “American enclaves like the Green Zone” (site of one of the largest and most heavily militarized “embassies” in history) while “sending a clear message to hostile countries like Iran and Syria that we intend to remain a key player in the region.” U.S. troops “remaining in Iraq” will “act as rapid reaction forces to respond to emergencies and go after terrorists.” This is part of what Obama meant when he told a fawning David Brooks that, “the U.S. may have no choice but to slog it out in Iraq.”
At one point in his CCGA oration, Obama had the audacity to say the following in support of his claim that U.S. citizens support “victory” in Iraq: “The American people have been extraordinarily resolved. They have seen their sons and daughters killed or wounded in the streets of Fallujah.”
This was a spine-chilling selection of locales. Fallujah was the site for a colossal U.S. war atrocity. Crimes included the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the targeting of ambulances and hospitals, and the practical leveling of an entire city—in April and November 2004. The town was designated for destruction as an example of the awesome state terror promised to those who dared to resist U.S. power. Not surprisingly, Fallujah is a leading symbol of U.S. imperialism in the Arab and Muslim worlds. It is a deeply provocative and insulting place for Obama to choose to highlight American sacrifice and “resolve” in the occupation of Iraq.
It gets worse. Obama has repeatedly voted to spend billions on the illegal invasion since his arrival in the U.S. Senate. He inveighs against the “Tom Hayden wing of the Democratic Party” and has told congressional Democrats they would be “playing chicken with the troops” if they dared to actually (imagine) de-fund the Cheney-Bush “war.”
He voted to confirm as Secretary of State (of all things) the mendacious war criminal Condaleeza Rice, who played a critical role in advancing the preposterous Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) claims Bush used to invade Iraq.
He distanced himself from fellow Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin when Durbin faced vicious right-wing attacks after daring to tell some basic truths about U.S. torture practices in Iraq.
Obama has repeatedly and absurdly claimed that the illegal invasion was launched with the “best of democratic intentions.”
He praises U.S. military personnel for their “unquestioning” “service” in Iraq and (despite numerous U.S. atrocities there) for “doing everything we could ever ask of them.”
His belated calls for withdrawal are hedged by numerous statements indicating that an Obama White House would maintain a significant military presence in and around Iraq for an indefinite period of time. And Obama has refused to support taking a reckless (possibly even nuclear) U.S. military assault on Iran off the table of acceptable U.S. foreign policy options.
Barack Obama reacts to the world's response to imperialism in precisely the same way as his counterparts; he proposes more war. Obama wants to add almost one-hundred thousand new troops to the U.S. military, to alleviate the shortage of manpower that Iraq attrition has wrought. In his speech to the Woodrow Wilson Center, Obama gave away their destination: Waziristan. Obama wants a more aggressive approach to the so-called "war on terror," to take "the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan."
So what we have in Barack Obama is an alternative War Party, planning an alternative War. He has told us so, and we should believe him. He is no peace candidate, and goes out of his way to prove it.
A DEEPLY CONSERVATIVE MAN
“I believe all of you are as open and willing to listen as anyone else in America. I believe you care about this country and the future we are leaving to the next generation. I believe your work to be a part of building a stronger, more vibrant, and more just America. I think the problem is that no one has asked you to play a part in the project of American renewal.”
- Barack Obama, speaking to the masters of “American” finance capitalism at the headquarters of NASDAQ, Wall Street, New York City, September 17, 2007
STANDING UP AND KNEELING DOWN
Maybe it’s because Barack Obama and his handlers are sensitive to the need to reassure ruling forces that the “first black United States president” will not challenge existing hierarchies. Maybe it’s because he’s bought and paid for by big money. Or maybe it’s because he believes in his “deeply conservative” heart that good Americans show deep respect for their socioeconomic masters. Whatever the explanation it’s hard to imagine ever seeing an avowedly “progressive” political candidate more eager than Obama to display his deep willingness to obsequiously kiss the ring of dominant political and economic authority. For someone who is marching across the country calling on working- and middle-class Americans to “get fired up” and “stand up” for democracy (and for him), Obama sure likes to spend a lot of time groveling before supposed upper-class superiors.
This “new Democrat” Barack Obama is engaged in the exact same “juggling act” as the “old Democrats” i.e. Clinton. He likes to call himself a “progressive” and to identify himself with “the principles of equality,” the “Golden Rule” and the cause of “social justice,” citing as evidence his youthful experience as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago. Still, Obama is a freshly minted millionaire who recently purchased an opulent Georgian Revival Mansion below price at $1.65 million thanks to some help from the felony-indicted political fundraiser and longtime Obama friend and campaign finance pivot man Tony Rezko.
Obama is a company man. He knows the language, the subtle and overt signals, and emits them like a beacon. Ruling circles have gotten the message, and that is why corporate media have made him a contender, and corporate billfolds have financed him. The "skinny kid" made his bones at the Democratic National Convention, in August, 2004, while he was still an Illinois senatorial candidate - a shoo-in against the hopeless and deranged Black Republican Alan Keyes. Obama put all white fears to rest: "There is no white America. There is no black America. There is no Latino America. There is no Asian America. There is only the United States of America." Hallelujah!
The scam of this still-new century enthralls and envelopes the nation, a narrowly-packaged farce in which political twins Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama pretend they are not joined at the hip on every public policy issue that has been allowed to enter the corporate media-vetted discourse: health care, Iraq, trade. Even these points of (non)contention disappear in the din of purely commercial marketing mantras with infinitely malleable meanings: "Change," "Hope," "Reform."
When no real change is offered - when both frontrunners are wedded to a lingering presence in Iraq and to reestablishing U.S. hegemony in the world; when insurance and drug companies are left virtually untouched by duos' tepid forays into broadening health care coverage; and when neither offers a whisper of an idea on halting the corporate-engineered global Race to the Bottom, then it is certain that, although "change" may come, it will be at the direction of the rich who have brought the nation and planet to the very brink of catastrophe.
But then, Obama would never have risen so quickly and remarkably to his current position of dominant media favor and national prominence if he was anything like the egalitarian and democratic “progressive” that some liberals and leftists imagine. In the corporate-crafted and money-dominated swamp that passes for “representative democracy” in the U.S., concentrated economic and imperial power open and close doors in ways that preemptively suffocate populist potential. Big money is not in the business of promoting genuine social justice or democracy activists (so-called “gadflies” like Wellstone, to use Obama’s description).
Understanding public policy as a mechanism for the upward distribution of wealth, it promotes empire and inequality by underwriting the smothering K Street culture and the revolving door that feeds it—not just lobbyists themselves but the entire interconnected world of campaign consultants, public relations agencies, pollsters, and media strategists—without whose favor and assistance serious presidential bids are next to unthinkable.
“For years I labored with the idea of reforming the existing institutions of society, a little change here, a little change there. Now I feel quite differently. I think you’ve got to have a reconstruction of the entire society...a radical redistribution of political and economic power.”
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., May 1967