Saturday, February 20, 2010

The 18th Brumaire of Barack Obama

[EC's note: I'll return to this blog infrequently. The amount of time I have (short term) to blog is adequate. By April or May, my posts will be very infrequent -- if at all.

My return is brought on by the occasional comments still received for this blog, and the present state of affairs within the Democratic party, the country as a whole, and our foreign policies.]


It was the place of origin of one candidate, then it was a campaign slogan for another.

The first "Man from Hope" oversaw the deregulation of Wall Street and fantastic asset bubbles pushed onto the country by unintelligent financiers, "philosopher" bureaucrats, and political expediency. (For more on just how arrogant and short-sighted Bill Clinton's financial team was, watch Frontline's "The Warning".) The second "Man of Hope" won a crushing electoral victory during the Great Recession. He formed a "team of rivals" (Read: the previous hope-based administration) and was photo-shopped as a sort of New FDR.

Barack Obama, contrary to what some people may say, is not a socialist. Even accepting the fast and loose political lexicon of our day, he does not remotely resemble a "socialist". The interconnections between Obama's administration and the Wall Street divines are staggering. Rolling Stone has gone so far as to say he sold out. Juxtapose the near transcendental photograph of the magazine (above) with the scathing article published approximately one year later, "Obama's Big Sell Out":

So on November 23rd, 2008, a deal is announced in which the government will bail out Rubin's messes at Citigroup with a massive buffet of taxpayer-funded cash and guarantees. It is a terrible deal for the government, almost universally panned by all serious economists, an outrage to anyone who pays taxes. Under the deal, the bank gets $20 billion in cash, on top of the $25 billion it had already received just weeks before as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program. But that's just the appetizer. The government also agrees to charge taxpayers for up to $277 billion in losses on troubled Citi assets, many of them those toxic CDOs that Rubin had pushed Citi to invest in. No Citi executives are replaced, and few restrictions are placed on their compensation. It's the sweetheart deal of the century, putting generations of working-stiff taxpayers on the hook to pay off Bob Rubin's fuck-up-rich tenure at Citi. "If you had any doubts at all about the primacy of Wall Street over Main Street," former labor secretary Robert Reich declares when the bailout is announced, "your doubts should be laid to rest."

It is bad enough that one of Bob Rubin's former protégés from the Clinton years, the New York Fed chief Geithner, is intimately involved in the negotiations, which unsurprisingly leave the Federal Reserve massively exposed to future Citi losses. But the real stunner comes only hours after the bailout deal is struck, when the Obama transition team makes a cheerful announcement: Timothy Geithner is going to be Barack Obama's Treasury secretary!

Any person who views Obama as either a "socialist" or a hope-inspiring "progressive" should read this article. The facts are clear. Neither interpretation is tenable. He is, clearly, one of the great politocrats of this farcical era. Never has Daniel Webster's words rung with more truth: “The world is governed more by appearance than realities so that it is fully as necessary to seem to know something as to know it."

In this age, it is necessary to seem to believe something so as to contravene those beliefs.

The major domestic push in Obama's first year as president has been in health care. Even with the nominal "super majority" in the Senate, the Democrats have lost the initiative in the debate. They seem to be afraid to lose voters that would never vote for them in the first place. To counter this revolution that hasn't, there is the "Tea Party" movement. This movement has gathered steam, dubbed itself a revolution -- a leaderless one at that -- and clothed itself in the old fashions and rhetoric of an era long passed.

Karl Marx described a farcical ere in France almost two centuries ago in the 18th Brumaire:
A whole nation, which thought it had acquired an accelerated power of motion by means of a revolution, suddenly finds itself set back into a defunct epoch, and to remove any doubt about the relapse, the old dates arise again – the old chronology, the old names, the old edicts, which had long since become a subject of antiquarian scholarship, and the old minions of the law who had seemed long dead.
Both sides of the aisle are creating revolutions almost to match the daily overturning of the News Cycle, and each whatever-term election. But, it is almost entirely confined to rhetoric. The actual change is the mere motion between two chunks of the same administrative class, under the symbolic leadership of the next marketable politocrat. And for this reason, be wary of Sarah Palin in 2012.

Each half of the administrative class has its own populist, classist "political philosophy". Each side's political philosophy is steeped in a national myth that is at best incomplete. These are persuasive stories, meant to capture loyalty and muster the people. But, they are inspired by the same level of thought that goes into successful ad campaigns for potato chips. No wonder the country is approaching ungovernable. How much does one actually expect to see from the Senate before early 2013? And, what more can we expect then but the next marketing campaign?

James Surowiecki noted recently in the New Yorker "The Populism Problem". He got it half right. To him the present political impasse results from a contradiction:
But even here populist sentiment is at odds with itself. People want the government to help provide jobs, but they also want it to cut the deficit. Of course, one can worry about rising long-term debt and still think that, right now, more deficit spending is crucial to the nascent recovery. But angry voters aren’t that nuanced in their thinking: they want the government to tighten its belt and fight unemployment at the same time. Not that they believe that the government’s efforts will do any good...
The American people are not just "mad as hell" at two aspects of the country's economic situation. The problem is that the political powers that be, on both sides of the aisle, are following the same economic/political plan -- with at best a nuanced set of small differences -- while attacking the other side of the aisle. That small set of differences unique to each party and the rhetoric used to attack the other party coincide. Republicans say that Democrats "tax and spend". Democrats accuse the Republicans of supporting the rich. Republicans cut taxes and spend. Democrats expand social programs an iota and spend. The partisan on each side finds solace in the half-measure of his or her party that justifies the interpretation that he or she wants.

And every change, no matter how insignificant or timid, is called a revolution.

George W. Bush expanded entitlement programs and created huge deficits. Barack Obama appointed a cadre from Wall Street to oversee the government's response to Wall Street's crisis.


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