“Of Obama, Democrats, and the Power Elite”
CHARISMATIC, ARTICULATE, SMOOTH, AND INTELLIGENT, Barrack Obama is the living embodiment of his vague, ethereal, and tantalizing messages of “hope” and “change.” To the millions upon millions of US Americans desperate to purge the naked imperialism and blatant criminality of the Bush administration from the White House, Obama IS hope and change. Yet like many establishment liberals before him, Obama is no cure for the malignant creep toward fascism plaguing our nation. If elected, at best he will merely serve to postpone the inevitable a bit.
To understand why Obama and the ilk he took with him to DC would be little or no better than the human excrement currently occupying the tangible, visible positions of power in the US, let’s examine various facets of Obama(1) and of our rotten-to-the-core sociopolitical and socioeconomic systems.
Issue one is that Obama or no Obama, we are still stuck with a bourgeois democracy. Which means that despite all the rhetoric and mythologies about equality, freedom, meritocracy, opportunity, and a host of other lies that placate the masses and maintain the social order, the United States is a nation of the rich, by the rich and for the rich.
Even if we suspend our critique of Obama for a moment and pretend he is a man of saintly virtue, trusting an Obama or a JFK or whomever to do the right thing by the nation, the environment, the people, etc. rests on the assumption that the American president is indeed an all-powerful figure capable of enacting or precipitating policies of tremendous consequence for the country. This illusion holds when the person in the executive office is moving within the traditional confines, values and methods of the capitalist system, which even such a “radical” as FDR observed. In such a case, the media would not align and uniformly attack him and there would not be a capital strike (as savage capitalism has waged against true left reformers like Allende); we’d just see a sectoral division within the ruling class, and factions would develop—but the policy dialogue would remain within the historically acceptable parameters of capitalists elites. Their principal interest would be to maintain and preserve as many of their privileges and as much of their way of life as possible. That was fine for FDR’s time.
However, let’s look at the larger picture we traverse today.
In the current circumstances we face, we see a rapidly degenerating empire, in which the logical evisceration of FORMAL aspects of democracy proceeds accordingly. The prospect is for endless wars, more super-exploitation of the planet, and so on. If any “remedial” policies are implemented against judicial abuse, planetary death, or human/non-human animal exploitation in various contexts, these cannot take hold and neutralize the overarching slide toward worse because “toward worse” is embedded in the dynamics of the system—and how could it be otherwise in a socioeconomic structure premised on greed and selfishness? There are systemic contradictions at play that almost force the hand of capitalists to do what they do–for example they are now trying to roll back the social democratic gains of the European working class during the postwar period. Merkel, Brown, Berlusconi, and Sarkozy are no accidents. They represent the concerted effort of the European bourgeoisie, egged on by the American elites(2), to push back on the working class and take it all back under the pretext of “remaining competitive” and a plethora of other fraudulent reasons.
Capitalism faces insoluble issues. As the world’s population continues to grow, it cannot hope to cure unemployment—ever– because the dynamic of modern capitalist industry is toward ever larger portions of machine labor replacing human labor. Neither science nor technology can be stopped. And advancing technology naturally makes work production routines continuously more efficient, thereby reducing the need for human workers. This phenomenon can be seen nearly everywhere now (it was always there lurking right under the surface, but remained hidden from most via cultivated ignorance, lies, and the complicity of the media) including in “cheap labor” zones such as India and China, which at last count had more than 150 million unemployed. In many places in Europe one paycheck has to be spread among 2 or even 3 “employed” workers. That means that 2 jobs have vanished and the fiction of smaller unemployment is kept alive by musical chairs, a trick which is becoming increasingly transparent to many.
The American people, in keeping with their reputation as the most misinformed people on the planet, have been the slowest to recognize that as citizens of a clearly fibrillating bourgeois democracy they are perpetually teetering on the brink of fascism. Meanwhile, while the world edges ever closer to the edge, the media–including those revered phonies on the PBS Lehrer Newshour—rarely talk about these things and the politicians even less (both out of sheer ignorance and a sense that such topics are taboo), which enables the cancer to grow unchecked. What we do receive are fictions like those of Robert Reich and his ilk, who go about preaching the pseudocure of “better education” and job retraining for technological unemployment. Reich–a terrifically intelligent fellow—may really believe his own message, but either way, it doesn’t matter because the solution is no solution. This is not to say that under any and all circumstances it’s not better to be educated. However the structural aspects of a capitalist economy at this point make that posture moot: all the titles in the world will not get you a job when the economy says it needs only 5 PhDs and 10 skilled technicians while there are 25,000 PhDs and 15 million technicians clamoring for jobs. (Check out Jeremy Rifkin’s THE END OF WORK, to get a taste of what this is all about).
Those who bank on stopping the slide to fascism through a liberal president are deluding themselves, because the American president is powerful ONLY when he’s playing with the consent of most of the ruling class and the institutions it controls. Such personal power deflates rapidly when playing against the values and consensus of the US power elite, at which point a “rogue president” would likely suffer a wave of opposition that would literally bring them down–via impeachment or through a coup orchestrated during a state of tumult created by capital strikes, agents provocateurs, and the media. Not to mention even a military takeover.
Further, we must recall that the slide to fascism is both a witting and unwitting choice by the bourgeoisie in power. The very essence of capitalism is anarchy: anarchy in production, anarchy in distribution and so on. Military precision may rule the day within each business entity, but from the larger societal perspective there is little coordination, only the selfish pursuits of the companies in play. Hence the horrific duplication and waste we see. For example, in the health care sector up to 1/3 of costs are squandered on paper-shuffling. None of this is likely to change until one deals with the fatal flaws of capitalism, which an Obama is about as likely to do as a lion is to go vegetarian.
Remember that FDR’s reforms (FDR representing the classic example of the “savior” liberal president), radical as they seem now (and denounced at the time by many fellow capitalists as sheer communism and rank “class betrayal”) were never such; they were just realistic measures to save the store that remained at all times totally respectful of the rights of private big business property. Thus FDR never really went deep into the question of workplace democracy, production choices, income distribution, or many other issues that would have meant a true clash of class interests. And the War of course obscured all that. Sure, FDR entered the war against the Axis, and MOMENTARILY a segment of official propaganda shifted to demonize the Germans and Japanese insteads of the “Reds”, but those were not so much antifascist/anti-imperialist sentiments as nationalist power calculations.
The above means that if the ruling cliques deem it necessary to take the “nice mask” of democracy off (a big gamble since they may never restore the “legitimacy” they retain through this ruse), it will happen, no matter who’s nominally in charge at the White House. In the case of the Bush/Cheney duo, they were born to stage the perfect friendly fascist coup and have almost pulled it off in slow motion over the last eight years. But if confronted with a less cooperative president, the power elite would find a way to neutralize him. We’re dealing with a huge cast of actors here, many with colossal stakes, and who have enormous resources at their disposal to create all sorts of mischief, which they have done at taxpayer expense all over the world for years. These criminals will not give up their accustomed ways without a fight. In fact, they will do as Bush/Cheney have done and go on the offensive in a nearly transparent way.
What the world needs—desperately (and we are using this word sans hyperbole here) are dramatic changes in policies and top personnel and new models of advanced democratic enfranchisement. That means real democratic restructuring, proportional representation, certifiable elections, workplace democracy, a disenfranchisement of the power and income rights of the reigning plutocracy, and an effective global program of ecological respect and sanity. Do you see that being initiated under ANY establishment politico, including “Mr. Change” himself? Do you see any of these radical (yet utterly necessary) changes being implemented without a HUGE fight from capital and its affiliated elites around the globe?
Even if, and that is a big if, Obama wanted to institute beneficent change, he would be facing impossible odds. Need proof? Consider one of the ugliest and most absurd contradictions of American capitalism. Despite frontpage acknowledgement by the crypto-fascist WSJ in 1973 that 68% of US Americans supported a universal, single-payer healthcare system, the fact that even fellow capitalist nations have such a system, and the reality that our existing health care system is ruining many capitalists in the US (especially those in the small and middle sectors but even making corporate giants like GM uncompetitive), the health of the masses remains tertiary to the profits of health-care industry giants and to the availability of the gold standard in health care to a relative few. Think Obama and his family don’t have the best medical care known to man?