Saturday, December 26, 2009

Obama and "Movin On Up to the Sky": Obama and the Jeffersons

Well, it looks like we are going to get "health care reform," as it has been called for some time now. Of course, as readers of this blog know, I am disappointed by what is being called "reform." There are, as there always are, some good things in these "reforms," such as doing away with pre-existing conditions limitations. And also I would not want to give the impression that, like a lot of others on both the right and the left, that something really bad is going to come from this legislation. That is because, for me, these kind of conclusions misunderstand the character of legislation and/or legislative reform. It is the rare piece of legislation that changes in significant ways the way we live in the United States. The 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Acts are the exceptions, perhaps, that prove this rule. And even the impact of these laws is often exaggerated. For example, some like to argue that the 1964 Civil Rights Act changed the country in fundamental ways when it came to race but that seems a bit exaggerated to me. I prefer the argument advanced by Eldridge Cleaver in his essay, "Convalescence," where he argues that Elvis Presley and what we whites call "rock n' roll" had at least as much impact, and maybe more, than the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. the Board of Education in 1954 that ruled that de jure racially segregated schools violated the Constitution of the United States. As Cleaver wrote there: Elvis and rock n' roll taught whites how to shake their asses again! We honkies once knew how to do that but, over time, lost that knowledge as the very idea of "shake, rattle, and roll" was junked for other forms of "dancing." In sum, rock n' roll taught we whites that we had bodies in addition to our minds and that enjoying those bodies, in different ways, was an essential element of our happiness. Has anyone adequately assessed the effect of rock n' roll on the American psyche and, hence, on the American political order? I doubt it. But what is safe to say is that those effects have been significant, even fundamental.

So despite my disappointment in the seemingly-about-to-be-passed legislation, I will not bash it overly much. Here though is what is most disappointing to me, and that is a passed up opportunity to recast how we think about politics in these United States. This is, for me, Obama's greatest shortcoming, his inability or unwillingness to try to reformulate the terms of our political discourse. He is a Chicago politician so this is, perhaps, not surprising. Jack Rakove wrote an excellent book on the Daley Machine in Chicago, the original Daley Machine, entitled, "Don't Make No Waves, Don't Back No Losers." That is, the Daley Machine was wonderfully geared to keep things on even keel in Chicago, for the most part. But the Machine did not and probably could not adapt to or advance the kind of significant change needed in any political order. Hence, on the race issue, an issue that cuts to the very core of our politics, the Machine could not or did not adapt to the changes that were blowing in the wind in the 50s and 60s, the kind of changes that Cleaver noticed coming as a result of "Elvis." It is a myth, a powerful myth, that maintaining the status quo is (a) always desirable and/or (b) always possible. Jefferson pointed out a long time ago that a little revolution every now and again is a good thing. I would add that a little revolution every now again is inevitable. Generations change and with the change of generations fundamental change is inevitable. For those who resist and try to maintain the status quo, the future is bound to be characterized by social unrest and even violence. Our best presidents have reformulated the terms of our political discourse, both reacting to the past and fostering a future that will be unlike and is only implicit in the past. [The best illustration of this can be read in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, where Lincoln, while looking back to the "original birth" of our nation at the founding, looked ahead to "a new birth of freedom," a birth apparently required by the limitations and shortcomings of the original birth, which ended in the bloodshed of the Civil War, a war necessary to redeem the nation from the stain or sin of slavery.] Obama, the Chicago politician, has not shown yet that he is one of our best - which is a pretty good signal that he is not.

But, in fact, it is hard to see anyone "out there" who would be capable of playing such a role. Both the Republican and Democratic parties are status quo parties, and this despite all their allegedly heated rhetoric and the allegedly partisan divide between them. In 2000 it looked for awhile that John McCain might play this role but, of course, nothing came of that as McCain was beaten down by the Bushies and the power brokers of the Republican Party, after which he caved in to the Republican establishment to get the nomination for president in 2008. It did him little good given the disaster of the Bush years and because the Republican establishment did not really care if McCain won. In fact, it was preferable to them that he lose. No one knew what he might do were he actually president. [And, of course, both parties kept Nader out of the debates for the same reason: He was a real threat to status quo and, hence, to both parties and their power.]

So, this is my disappointment: That Obama did not use this as an opportunity to try to reformulate the terms of our political discourse - just as he has not done with regard to Afghanistan. To be sure this is not surprising. But just as surely it is quite disappointing. "Movin On Up to the Sky" with the "Jeffersons" seems the best description of Obama and his administration. It isn't the worse thing that could happen but it certainly isn't the best either. In fact, it isn't even close to best.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Afghanistan and Vietnam

An argument occurs over the question: Is Afghanistan another Vietnam? Well, to me, the answer is a resounding "No!" But there is another question not so often, if ever, addressed: Are our politicians acting as our politicians did during the Vietnam War? And here the answer is a resounding, "Yes!"

Obama has acted on Afghanistan as the establishment acted during the Vietnam War. Back then when both Republicans and Democrats, that is, the leaders of these supposedly competing parties, saw that the peace movement was gaining power, that even some congressmen were moving toward embracing the peace movement, closed ranks immediately. Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic candidate for president in 1968, went to the White House to endorse Nixon's policies in Nam. Speaker of the House, Democrat John McCormack, had the House pass a resolution supporting Nixon's policies. In this way, the establishment, both Republican and Democrat leaders, took Vietnam out of politics, at the cost it should be said of many American lives. In fact, it was only after the peace movement had been marginalized that Democrats were allowed to come out against the war. Why did they act like this? To preserve their power and the power of the established political order, a political order that served the interests of both Republican and Democrat leaders. The peace movement constituted a threat to that order and, thus, had to be marginalized.

How to explain Obama's decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan? Simple. It is the same motivation that was prevalent in 1968 and thereafter, when it was necessary to take the Vietnam War off the front burner and put it on the back burner. Want to know why the Democrats did nothing after the 2006 Congressional elections in Iraq? The answer is the same: The movement for peace in Iraq, if successful, would have undermined the established order. Hence, they did nothing and the established order prevailed. Of course, Obama's decision will not be a deadly, as bloody as Nixon's because the establishment has learned, from Nixon's experience, to maintain a moderate level of bloodshed, of American deaths, or the people will in fact rebel. But then if that happens, there is always impeachment as there was with Richard Nixon. He had become disposable and Watergate was used to dispose of him. Note that a few years later, after the revelations of Iran-Contra, no one proposed impeaching Reagan. Wonder why? Well, because to do so would have threatened the existing order.

We Americans like to think that our politics is different from other politics but it isn't. It is the same and our politicians are the same as politicians elsewhere, viz., most concerned with preserving their own power and prestige. Looked at through these lenses, our politics begins to make sense.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Excerpt from Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone

Here is an excerpt from Matt Taibbi's piece in Rolling Stone on Obama and his sellout on the "economy." This excerpt is from the end of the article, which is quite thoughtful and well-argued. What is amazing is that some people still can say, seriously, that Obama is a "socialist." Of course, from some of these people this may just be rhetoric meant to disguise Obama's real agenda, which is to reward some fat cats, even those who were responsible for the economic collapse. It is, as stated many times before, all smoke and mirrors. If enough people think Obama is a socialist, they won't realize that it is the system that is ripping them off and not just one of the two parties. In this way, the "establishment" remains and the republic disappears, a little bit at a time.

Morning, the National Mall, November 5th. A year to the day after Obama named Michael Froman to his transition team, his political "opposition" has descended upon the city. Republican teabaggers from all 50 states have showed up, a vast horde of frowning, pissed-off middle-aged white people with their idiot placards in hand, ready to do cultural battle. They are here to protest Obama's "socialist" health care bill — you know, the one that even a bloodsucking capitalist interest group like Big Pharma spent $150 million to get passed.

These teabaggers don't know that, however. All they know is that a big government program might end up using tax dollars to pay the medical bills of rapidly breeding Dominican immigrants. So they hate it. They're also in a groove, knowing that at the polls a few days earlier, people like themselves had a big hand in ousting several Obama-allied Democrats, including a governor of New Jersey who just happened to be the former CEO of Goldman Sachs. A sign held up by New Jersey protesters bears the warning, "If You Vote For Obamacare, We Will Corzine You."

I approach a woman named Pat Defillipis from Toms River, New Jersey, and ask her why she's here. "To protest health care," she answers. "And then amnesty. You know, immigration amnesty."

I ask her if she's aware that there's a big hearing going on in the House today, where Barney Frank's committee is marking up a bill to reform the financial regulatory system. She recognizes Frank's name, wincing, but the rest of my question leaves her staring at me like I'm an alien.

"Do you care at all about economic regulation?" I ask. "There was sort of a big economic collapse last year. Do you have any ideas about how that whole deal should be fixed?"

"We got to slow down on spending," she says. "We can't afford it."

"But what do we do about the rules governing Wall Street . . ."

She walks away. She doesn't give a fuck. People like Pat aren't aware of it, but they're the best friends Obama has. They hate him, sure, but they don't hate him for any reasons that make sense. When it comes down to it, most of them hate the president for all the usual reasons they hate "liberals" — because he uses big words, doesn't believe in hell and doesn't flip out at the sight of gay people holding hands. Additionally, of course, he's black, and wasn't born in America, and is married to a woman who secretly hates our country.

These are the kinds of voters whom Obama's gang of Wall Street advisers is counting on: idiots. People whose votes depend not on whether the party in power delivers them jobs or protects them from economic villains, but on what cultural markers the candidate flashes on TV. Finance reform has become to Obama what Iraq War coffins were to Bush: something to be tucked safely out of sight.

Around the same time that finance reform was being watered down in Congress at the behest of his Treasury secretary, Obama was making a pit stop to raise money from Wall Street. On October 20th, the president went to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York and addressed some 200 financiers and business moguls, each of whom paid the maximum allowable contribution of $30,400 to the Democratic Party. But an organizer of the event, Daniel Fass, announced in advance that support for the president might be lighter than expected — bailed-out firms like JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs were expected to contribute a meager $91,000 to the event — because bankers were tired of being lectured about their misdeeds.

"The investment community feels very put-upon," Fass explained. "They feel there is no reason why they shouldn't earn $1 million to $200 million a year, and they don't want to be held responsible for the global financial meltdown."

Which makes sense. Shit, who could blame the investment community for the meltdown? What kind of assholes are we to put any of this on them?

This is the kind of person who is working for the Obama administration, which makes it unsurprising that we're getting no real reform of the finance industry. There's no other way to say it: Barack Obama, a once-in-a-generation political talent whose graceful conquest of America's racial dragons en route to the White House inspired the entire world, has for some reason allowed his presidency to be hijacked by sniveling, low-rent shitheads. Instead of reining in Wall Street, Obama has allowed himself to be seduced by it, leaving even his erstwhile campaign adviser, ex-Fed chief Paul Volcker, concerned about a "moral hazard" creeping over his administration.

"The obvious danger is that with the passage of time, risk-taking will be encouraged and efforts at prudential restraint will be resisted," Volcker told Congress in September, expressing concerns about all the regulatory loopholes in Frank's bill. "Ultimately, the possibility of further crises — even greater crises — will increase."

What's most troubling is that we don't know if Obama has changed, or if the influence of Wall Street is simply a fundamental and ineradicable element of our electoral system. What we do know is that Barack Obama pulled a bait-and-switch on us. If it were any other politician, we wouldn't be surprised. Maybe it's our fault, for thinking he was different.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Health Care "Reform"

So here an exchange between Bill Moyers and Matt Taibbi and Robert Kuttner:
"Bill Moyers: So explain this to the visitor from Mars. I mean, just this week, the Washington Post and ABC News had a poll showing that the American people supports the Medicare-buy-in that...
R. Kuttner: Right
BM: By a margin of some 30 points....
RK: Right
BM: And yet, it went down like lead balloon...
RK: Look, there are two ways, if you're the President of the US sizing up a situation like this, that you can try and create reform. One is to say, well, the interest groups are so powerful that the only thing I can do is I can work with them and move the ball a few yards, get some incremental reform, hope it turns into something better. The other way you can do it is to try to rally the people against the special interests and play on the fact that the insurance industry, the drug industry, are not going to win any popularity contests with the American people. And you, as the president, be the champion of the people against the special interests. That's the course that Obama's chosen not to pursue."

At least a couple of comments. First: Kuttner assumes, without argument, that Obama and Co. wanted real reform. There is little evidence now that this is the case. Obama has continued Bush's policy regarding education with a new, even more offensive name, "The Race to the Top," has continued Bush's policies in the Middle East and in Afghanistan. So Kuttner's assumption is unsupported by any evidence. And, of course, this is the same assumption others have made consistently about our politicians from FDR to the present, that they want reform, real reform, reform that would follow rather than sidetrack the wishes of the people.

Second: Kuttner assumes that the goal is to move reform forward, like football teams do, a bit of yardage at a time. But this is, again, an assumption for which there is little evidence. The alternative is that, for the most part and for as long as possible, politicians in both parties are not trying to move the ball forward but are trying to preserve the status quo and, therewith, preserve their perks and privileges. As almost anyone can see, the analogy to a football game is just inaccurate. Our politicians almost never "score." Gee, I wonder why? Even bad teams score in football.

Third: Note the implication that the "special interests" are so strong that even the president cannot take them on, even when he has the people behind him. Boy, what bunk! So let me get this straight: With the people, in large majorities on his side, the president cannot call out the drug corporations or the insurance corporations! Why? Because these corporations are so popular with the people? Even Kuttner, an apologist for Obama, knows this isn't true. Take note of this exchange:

"BM: Matt, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, a very progressive member of Congress who's been at this table wanted a public option. He says this health care bill appears to be the legislation that the president wanted in the first place.
Matt Taibbi: Yeah, I mean, that makes sense. Yeah, it's quite obvious that at the outset of this process, the White House didn't want, for instance single payer even on the table, you know, when Max Baucus had his initial discussions in committee on this bill, he invited something like 43 people to give their ideas....And he didn't invite a single person from - who was an advocate of single payer health care. So that was never on the table...."

Of course Feingold's argument makes sense. Obama is no fool and he knew what he wanted and he knew how to get it. Why do you think August happened with the health care forums and the alleged "crazies" were given so much face time? Ah yes, to create the impression that the Congress and the president were limited in what they could do, were limited to doing what would preserve their power and that of the drug and insurance corporations. Any other explanation is just unpersuasive at this point. Our political process is all "smoke and mirrors." As Yogi liked to say or was alleged to have said; "You can see a lot just by looking." One doesn't need any fancy theory to understand American politics. We only have to understand that it is "politics," and, of course, the goal of almost any politician is to get and keep power and that means preserving the status quo as much as possible. Obama is no different than Bush, than Clinton, than Papa Bush, than Reagan, than Carter, than Ford, than Nixon, than LBJ, etc., etc., etc. Just look around and see what happens and you can understand American politics.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Oh yeah, the beauty of our politics

This will be very brief. And now the new health care package has no public option at all, not even an option to have such an option, and no expanded Medicare, which of course will be blamed on Liebermann. Yes, he is to blame but the Democrats have had a process, reconciliation, available by which they could pass health care without 60 votes. So why not use it? Good question. Answer: We have a one party system, that is, a system in which the two parties collude to preserve the status quo as much as possible, that is, as much as possible without upsetting the people too much. "Change?" Obama style? It is such a joke.....How can anyone believe that our political system responds to the people? And as a Senator from Wisconsin, LaFollette, said a long time ago: "Machine politics is always a matter of collusion as it has to be." And it is just that now the 'Machine" is hidden behind the fog of rhetoric from left and right to make it seem that there isn't a machine operating. Hey, if you believe that I have a bridge in Brooklyn I would like to sell you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Very briefly on Health Care

Oh well, the more things "change" the more they stay the same. Now it looks like the "historic change" in health care will be anything but as Lieberman holds the Democrats hostage, or so the Democrats claim.....How convenient for those who don't want the system changed too much if at all. And it is interesting how easily these politicians fold when it comes to health care. For those who think we actually do have a two party system, I implore you to explain why it is that we are about to get a health care "reform" package that will, in reality, upset almost nobody. Oh yeah, don't give me the Fox News crap....It is all part of the game, the game of two parties colluding to preserve the perqs and privileges of the both parties.

It is time for a new stategy which I will call RIP, i.e., Reject Incumbent Politicians, all of them. Perhaps I will start a RIP web site and hope we can let these politicians Rest In Peace. It is time to send a message, viz., that we the people really do want change and not of the faux/Obama kind of change.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Obama and Afghanistan

Can a political system be republican when its leaders, the people's alleged representatives, lie to them and get away with it? A story in the NY Times for Monday, December 7th is headlined, "Officials Stress Long U.S. Stay in Afghanistan." Of course this will come as no surprise to anyone who has thought about our "involvement" in Afghanistan for more than 15 seconds. But that this is now U.S. policy only a few days after Obama spoke and said we would be out of Afghanistan by the middle of 2011 is quite remarkable. And very few seem to be objecting or calling the Administration on its lies. According to the article, "The Obama administration sent a forceful public message that American military forces could remain in Afghanistan for a long time, seeking to blunt criticism that President Obama had sent the wrong signal in his war-strategy speech last week by projecting July 2011 as the start of a withdrawal."

Sure, and of course, Obama did not foresee such criticism, right? All of a sudden, he is stupid, right? Geez, does he think we are that stupid? Anyway, another president, another lie, and it is all justified by references to 9/11....The more things change, the more they stay the same. Sad, especially for the republic.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Being "Radical"

Here is all that is necessary to be considered "radical" in the United States, that is, with regard to politics. All that is needed is to consider politics from a political angle, that is, from an angle that sees politics as being a struggle to get and maintain power by some "elites" at the expense of the many or the "rest of us." One need not delve into Marxist theory or any other kind of theory to be a "radical." Rather, one just has to look around and see that politics is the same today as it was when Plato and Aristotle wrote about it in ancient Greece and as the ancient Greeks practiced it. It is basically about getting power and keeping it. This is its primary characteristic, its motivating force, not governing well or solving problems. This is enough to make one a "radical."

According to the "official" ideology or the conventional wisdom of our times, our politicians, our leaders, are all trying to "solve problems" by coming up with "policies" based on expertise. As a result of this ideology, we have "liberals" and "conservatives" who, while agreeing on what the problems are, disagree about the "solutions" to those "problems." These two camps fight it out and one of them, allegedly, goes away with a "win" and their policies are implemented.

But it is easy to see that this is not really what happens in the United States. A few examples will suffice here to illustrate my argument.

a. Liberals and conservatives more often agree on the "solutions" then might be apparent from their rhetoric. Consider Obama's policy in Afghanistan, which seems best described as a continuation of the policy of G.W. Bush. Consider also the allegedly knock-down, drag out debate over health insurance. Very early on the single payer option was jettisoned and this was agreed to by almost all liberals and conservatives.

b. Note what happens when someone recommends or suggests that the agreed-upon problems are not our real problems. Consider Ron Paul and his argument against the Federal Reserve system, or Ralph Nader and his numerous attempts to redefine the problems we are facing from tort reform to our foreign policy, or Andrew Bacevich and his argument that one of our most important "problems" is something called "the New American Militarism," to use a title of one of his books. These people are "ostracized" in one way or another. For example, the Republicans first laughed at Ron Paul in the debates and then excluded him altogether! The same thing happened to Nader in 2000 as some may remember. But also as Nader has pointed out, our debate is controlled by our "sound bite" media because to dissent from the agreed-upon issues one must speak in paragraphs not in sound bites. For example, if you think it wise to recast the abortion debate, it is insufficient to answer questions about your stance on abortion by saying that you are "pro-life" or "pro-choice." To provide an alternative to these two, supposedly exclusive options, one must explain oneself and, of course, our media does not have time for such explanations. You get 30 seconds to "communicate" which is, of course, impossible. But this is the way our debates are controlled, kept within narrow parameters and limited to those who speak in sound bites.

c. Note too that the "problems" almost never get "solved" or even that the supposedly victorious camp, whether liberal or conservative, gets to enact its proposed policies. For example, after the 2006 election in which the Democrats regained control of the Congress, an election which all took to be a referendum of continuing the war in Iraq, what happened that was new in Iraq? That's correct: NOTHING! And even the "solutions" we do get are neither "liberal" or "conservative" but rather a hybrid. What explains the appeal of these hybrids? They preserve the power and status of those currently in office and those currently in positions of prestige and profit outside of government. Corporations don't have to "buy" politicians because the heads of these corporations and our politicians share a common goal: To preserve their power, prestige, and status. To preserve the status quo. And if you don't think this is correct, just think how easy it would be for any politician to refuse a donation meant to secure his/her vote by going public with what the "buyer" was trying to do. Why doesn't this happen? Because both the "buyer" and the "seller" are colluding to advance their shared goal. The money doesn't really buy anything. It is just a means of demonstrating loyalty to the system.

So think about it and keep your eyes open. As Yogi Berra is alleged to have said once, "You can see a lot just by watching."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Republic

First, a quote from Mercy Warren, an Anti-Federalist historian who wrote a melancholy history of the American Revolution:

"[S]uch a people as the Americans cannot suddenly be reduced to a state of slavery; it is the work of time to obliterate old opinions, founded in reason, and fanned by enthusiasm, till they had become a part of the religious creed of a nation. Notwithstanding the apprehensions which have pervaded the minds of many, America will probably long retain a greater share of freedom than can perhaps be found in any other part of the civilized world. This may be more the result of her local situation, than from her superior policy or moderation. From the general equality of fortune which had formerly reigned among them it may be modestly asserted, that most of the inhabitants of America were too proud for monarchy, yet too poor for nobility, and it is to be feared, too selfish and avaricious for a virtuous republic."

It seems to me the question for the day should be: How do we go about preserving a political, economic, and social order that has disintegrated or is disintegrating right in front of us? It is comforting to think that this disintegration can be stemmed by imposing or trying to impose our will on other nations, nations like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Of course we know it is not our right to do so, but an even more pressing issue is whether we have the capacity to do that. Maybe the surge in Iraq "worked" but maybe not. That has not been determined yet. But an even more troubling question is: Even if we could succeed in imposing our will on other nations, would it remedy what ails us? To take the suggestion of Mercy Warren, if what ails us is that we are "too selfish and avaricious" then it can be said with confidence that even if we could successfully impose our will on other nations this would not remedy what ails us, this would not stop the disintegration of our republic.

Take seriously for a few moments that this analysis is correct, that the republic is disintegrating, politically, socially, and economically, and add to this that our elites know this is happening and have sought to stem this tide if only to preserve their own power and prestige. What have we done to try to stem this tide? We have pursued an activist, interventionist foreign policy which requires a huge defense budget and a militarization of society. Can this preserve the republic? We have incarcerated huge numbers of human beings, which is one way of dealing with an economy that cannot create enough jobs to keep enough people employed and living a decent life. We have built far more prisons than schools over the past few decades, which does not bode well for the republic or even for "the race to the top" that our president likes to talk about. Our economy has been described as one huge Ponzi scheme which means it is not an "economy" at all, to say nothing of its need to feed the selfishness and avariciousness Mercy Warren spoke of. It is not an economy that could function if people live or if government lives within their means. It is an economy that requires profligacy and waste.

Perhaps this is incorrect but perhaps not. But at least it is worth thinking about.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Obama and Afghanistan Briefly

In the early 1950s Graham Greene published a book entitled "The Quiet American," which dealt with Vietnam and the growing American "involvement" there. It was a few years ago made into a movie with Michael Caine and others, which is quite good and quite faithful to the book. But in the story, Alden Pyle is an American who has come to Vietnam to, ostensibly, do medical work for the Vietnamese people. He is actually a CIA man and he has come to justify further American "involvement" in Vietnam, which he does in part by creating a massacre in Saigon that will be laid at the door of the Viet Minh. Pyle meets and befriends a Brit named Thomas Fowler who is most impressed by Pyle's innocence. Here are two quotes from the book which might be applied to Obama after his speech last night on Afghanistan:

"What's the good? he'll [Pyle] always be innocent, you can't blame the innocent, they are always guiltless. All you can do is control them or eliminate them. Innocence is a kind of insanity." [p. 155]

And earlier in the novel:

"That was my first instinct - to protect him [Pyle]. It never occurred to me that there was greater need to protect myself. Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm." [p. 29]

Innocence as insanity....Yes, I think that just about sums it up.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

More from Bacevich

Andrew Bacevich is worth reading and here is some more from his book, The Limits of Power.

"Victorious in snowy Iowa the candidate proclaimed...that 'our time for change has come.' If elected president, he vowed to break the power of the lobbyists, provide affordable health care for all, cut middle-class taxes, end both the war in Iraq and the nation's dependence on foreign oil, and 'unite America and the world against the common threats of the twenty-first century.' In an earlier age, aspirants for the highest office in the land ventured to promise a chicken in every pot. In the present age, candidates like Senator Barack Obama set their sights on tackling 'terrorism and nuclear weapons, climate change and poverty, genocide and disease.'

"The agenda is an admirable one. Yet to imagine that installing a particular individual in the Oval Office will produce decisive action on any of these fronts is to succumb to the grandest delusion of all. The quadrennial ritual of electing or reelecting a president is not an exercise in promoting change, regardless of what candidates may claim and ordinary voters believe. The real aim is to ensure continuity, to keep intact the institutions and arrangements that define present-day Washington. The veterans of past administrations who sign on as campaign advisers are not interested in curbing the bloated powers of the presidency. They want to share in exercising those powers. The retired generals and admirals who line up behind their preferred candidate don't want to dismantle the national security state. They want to preserve and, if possible, expand it. The candidates who decry the influence of money in national politics are among those most skilled at courting the well-heeled to amass millions in campaign contributions." [pp. 170-171]

Well, this just about says all that needs be said regarding how we think about, talk about and do politics today - and have for some time. The imperial presidency, the creation and even the crux of the progressive revolution in our politics, is appealing to us because it not only holds the promise of great things but it even absolves us of the responsibility of dealing with or confronting our "problems." That is, it absolves us of all responsibility but that of voting for the "right person." And this helps explain why there is so much emphasis put on voting today, on the duty of everyone to vote, which resembles the emphasis put on everyone's duty "to support the troops." Just as it is no longer an obligation of citizenship to serve your country but just to support those who do, so too it is no longer an obligation of citizenship to participate in politics except to vote for those who will.

As another commentator often quoted here, Wendell Berry, put it:

"What we are up against in this country, in any attempt to invoke private responsibility, is that we have nearly destroyed private life. Our people have given up their independence in return for the cheap seductions and the shoddy merchandise of so-called "affluence." We have delegated all our vital functions and responsibilities to salesmen and agents and bureaus and experts of all sorts. ...Most of us cannot think of dissenting from the opinions or the actions of one organization without first forming a new organization. Individualism is going around these days in uniform, handing out the party line on individualism. Dissenters want to publish their personal opinions over a thousand signatures." [pp. 73-74]