Tuesday, 11 October 2011


Against the background of the current wave of grassroots protests that started in New York and have now spread in other cities and called "American Spring", in view of the fact that in the last three years the top ten percent of income earners have done very well under Obama while the bottom 90 percent are experiencing downward pressures in their finances, in view of a system that continues along the path of strengthening corporate welfare and cutting social welfare, is it appropriate to ask if Obama has made any difference as he had promises when he was campaigning against Republicans in 2008?

Senator Bob Dole took part in commercials as spokesperson for Pepsi and erectile dysfunction. Just as with Bob Dole who used to refer to himself in third person singular, I always imagined that the strength of George W. Bush was not in politics, but as spokesperson either for Jack Daniels Whiskey or Webster's Dictionary and Thesaurus. Obama's strength also rests in the advertising domain, either in promoting jeans for Calvin Klein or selling mutual funds for Goldman Sachs whose executives always wind up in key government positions no matter who is president. 

During the 2008 presidential campaign, I argued on WAIS that people should be cautious about buying into the 'Obama mystique', that his presence was symbolic and not substantive, that it was obvious his policies would not be very different than those of Bush who has the distinction of earning the rightful place of one of the worst American presidents. Bush was in office 8 years and his gift to the world was two wars and $3.3 trillion in debt - 3.3% of GDP. Obama is in office 2.5 years and he continues the wars of the previous administration, started a new on in Libya, and added $3.3 trillion or 2.7% of GDP to the sovereign debt.

While Bush inherited a $3 trillion debt, Obama inherited $6.3 trillion debt and the Republican economic crisis, therefore, the debt he added technically belongs to his predecessor. However, he continued the policy of strengthening corporate welfare that only adds debt, as he continued the wars that are both lost. In fact, the situation in Iraq has actually deteriorated under Obama.

On 30 April, a suicide bomber in Mosul killed 8 and wounded 19 people. The war on the ground in Afghanistan is much worse owing to the reckless Obama policy of expanding it, despite all evidence that the US has lost and has zero chance of accomplishing anything but body count on all sides, especially innocent civilians, more thorough destruction of the country, and more debt for the US.

Job losses accelerated under Bush, but barely improved under Obama. Bush doubled the public debt as has Obama, both of them promising that the move would stimulate growth by strengthening finance capital. Finance capital - Wall Street - is strong, but main street is suffering because Wall Street is piling up profits because government has not compelled banks to use public money to help stimulate economic growth.The issue is not the rising debt, but that the top ten percent is continuing to benefit from both the crisis and the recovery while the bottom 90% is paying the price.

Even worse, the projections are that in the next ten years, public deficits will average 4.2% of GDP, or 1.2% higher than the EU permits its members; hence the sinking value of the dollar and high price of gold and silver. Again, it would all be worth the sacrifice, if it were a shared one and if it held the promise of a better future for the middle class and workers.

That is not at all the future, however, as the US is looking at the end of its global economic preeminence and age of affluence that started in the 1880s and began to wane one hundred years later. Both Bush and Obama promised that bailout money in the trillions was necessary to save jobs and keep the economy going, presumably living standards steady. Taxpayer money went into banks and corporations but people still lost their jobs and suffered sharp drop in living standards, while the economy remains anemic.
How do voters choose between Democrat and Republican? In foreign affairs there is very little difference, more in style than substance and in domestic affairs the substantial differences are not in economic, monetary and fiscal policies, but in social issues like abortion, gay marriage, and what I call, 'mass distraction hype issues" that gives the media, analysts and politicians the opportunity to focus the public's attention on matters of personal morality rather than public policy.

This is not to trivialize social issues, all of which are very important, but they are for the most part a matter of personal choice. Clearly, many right wingers have a psychotic obsession with guns, as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee confirmed on 30 April 2011 before the National Riffle Association when he called himself a "gun-clinger and a God-clinger". As a presidential hopeful, Huckabee's populist speech was tailored to the given audience, indicative of political manipulation with the intent to distract. What does gun ownership and personal religious choice have to do with the numerous problems confronting America? How does owning a gun solve the problems of public debt, 9% unemployment, immense trade deficits, declining living standards, lack of health care for millions of people, deteriorating educational system, a foreign policy based on military solutions, etc.

Many argue what if McCain and Palin had been elected in 2008 America would be worse off, and I would not disagree. In September 2009, Glenn Beck stated in  TV interview that the Obama was better for the country than McCain - an endorsement from an extreme right winger for Obama that says a great deal about the importance of symbolism for the office of the presidency and lack of substance between Democrat and Republican.

But how different would America be under McCain/Palin? In foreign affairs and economic issues, America would be about the same as now because its waning economic power determines both its forced compromises with allies and belligerent position toward Third World countries. America would probably be a bit poorer with a weaker working class and middle class, and much more ideologically polarized because the Republicans thrive on right wing populist issues with the nefarious covert purpose of distracting Americans from substantive issues impacting the health of the economy and US policy abroad.
If McCain/Palin had won, Republicans and their apologists would still be claiming to be the defenders of democratic values, a smokescreen behind which there is a quasi-authoritarian state. How is that different from what Obama has created? People placed their hopes on Obama who fed them an image behind which are the same corporate interests, the same defense industries, the same lobbies, the same media that backs Republicans.

The road to downward socioeconomic mobility and rising aspects of authoritarianism in America is not inevitable. However, it is very likely to continue because the bourgeois political and socioeconomic elites are only interested in preserving their privileged positions. For those asking themselves what can be done, to paraphrase 19th century Russian scholar Nikolai Chernyshevsky, the answer rests with the kind of society that people want. If the society that people have now is satisfactory, then they should honor the social contract. If they feel that their government has violated the principles on which the social contract was founded, then they have to decide a course of action, as John Locke (Second Treatise of Government) advises.

No comments: