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Stupid Politics From a Smart Administration

Joseph Palermo: The whole tenor of the next two years is going to feel like George W. Bush never left office. The GOP will have de facto control over the nation's politics and agenda. If President Obama goes down the Clinton path of triangulating against his progressive base (as seems likely) then he deserves to be a one-term president.

The whole tenor of the next two years is going to feel like George W. Bush never left office. The GOP will have de facto control over the nation's politics and agenda. If President Obama goes down the Clinton path of triangulating against his progressive base (as seems likely) then he deserves to be a one-term president.

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Just look at our captains of industry and finance: Even with the Dow over 11,000 and corporate profits sky high, they label Obama "anti-business." The oligarchy is going for all the marbles. It's behaving like a caricature from the 19th century. It's no accident that the Supreme Court and the Chamber of Commerce and "Americans for Prosperity" and the Koch Brothers and other power elite groups have moved so aggressively at this time to cement their chokehold on our governing institutions.

We're told that corporate profits are the highest in sixty years. Yet at the state and local level we still face savage cutbacks in services while teachers, social workers, police officers and firefighters are being laid off. Public employees' unions (systematically vilified) have agreed to give up all manner of concessions in the form of "take backs" in their contracts, higher fees for health care, slashes in pensions, lay-offs, etc. And this is being done amidst the highest persistent unemployment since the Great Depression. This orchestrated contraction of the public sector at a time when the private sector has failed so miserably is the opposite direction we should be heading.

And why are we told to rejoice that corporations are making record profits?

The dominant narrative of the current economic crisis is not about the recklessness of Wall Street or the folly of Ayn Randism, it's about taxes and deficits and public employees and regulations - the exact narrative the power elite wants.

In his new book, Death of the Liberal Class, the journalist Chris Hedges writes:

"Liberals conceded too much to the power elite. The tragedy of the liberal class and the institutions it controls is that it succumbed to opportunism and finally to fear. It abrogated its moral code. It did not defy corporate abuse when it had the chance. It exiled those within its ranks who did. And the defanging of the liberal class not only removed all barriers to neofeudalism and corporate abuse but also ensured that the liberal class will, in its turn, be swept aside. . . . One by one, these [liberal] institutions succumbed to the temptation of money, the jargon of patriotism, belief in the need for permanent war, fear of internal and external enemies, and distrust of radicals, who had once kept the liberal class honest. And when it was over, the liberal class had nothing left to say." (p. 139)

Death of the Liberal Class provides an interesting counterpart to Sam Tanenhaus's The Death of Conservatism. The authors show that the two major ideological trend-lines in American politics are both bankrupt. But Hedges is more on target since he saves his harshest criticism for people who are members of the "liberal class" who have become nothing more than facilitators and enablers of corporate power in all its manifestations, economic, cultural, even spiritual.

Whether it's "liberal" Hollywood booing Michael Moore for speaking truth to power at the 2003 Academy Awards, or the "liberal" Thomas Friedman prattling on about "victory" in Iraq and the virtues of "flat-earth" globalization, or journalists being drummed out of the profession for displaying a "bias" not in sync with the needs of the power elite, in such cases it wasn't the "Right" doing the silencing, but the "liberal class" itself purging ideas the corporate power structure doesn't like.

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Death of the Liberal Class is poorly edited and Hedges' discussion of the New Left is flawed and incomplete, but he raises some critical points that are as convincing as they are depressing. It's an important little book for anyone who is concerned with the current state of the Democratic Party and liberalism in general. The Obama Administration might very well represent the liberal class in its death throes.

During his first twenty months in office Obama whittled away at his base. He lost the single-payer activists when he denied them a seat at the table even before the negotiations on health care reform began. He lost the peace movement when he caved in to the generals and escalated the war in Afghanistan with 30,000 more troops and a Bush-like open-ended commitment. He lost many environmentalists when he promoted fast-tracking deep water oil drilling and nuclear power to try to win over Lindsey Graham on a climate change bill. He lost homeowners who are underwater when he sided with Wall Street banks to allow the foreclosures to continue unabated. His lackadaisical approach to closing Guantanamo alienated civil libertarians. His Education Secretary's insistence on trashing teachers and their unions and calling for policies that would privatize public education pushed away public school teachers and many women who make up the Democratic base. His Press Secretary's belittling of the "professional left" was just the icing on the cake and illustrates the kind of "death of liberalism" Chris Hedges examines.

Meanwhile, FDR, Truman, JFK, and Lyndon Johnson are all rolling over in their graves at the spectacle of a "liberal" Democratic president appointing a "bi-partisan deficit commission" with one co-chair who serves on the board of directors of a Wall Street investment bank (the "Democrat"), and another co-chair who is a certified right-wing nut-job from Wyoming who calls Social Security "a milk cow with 310 million tits" (the Republican). The smarter move for a Democratic president would have been at least to appoint a commission with one very liberal and respected Democratic co-chair teamed up with a lesser-known moderate Republican. Obama's choice of Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles is stupid politics from a supposedly smart administration.

In Afghanistan, when the U.S. and NATO aren't negotiating with hucksters posing as "the Number Two Taliban Commander," they're escalating drone attacks that are swelling the number of Pashtun refugees who have fled the fighting. Five million or so have settled in Karachi, Pakistan, upsetting that city of 18 million's subtle and tense ethnic mix.

And when Afghan President Hamid Karzai periodically complains about the U.S. and NATO needlessly killing women and children in his country the official American response is eerily reminiscent of the Vietnam War era. "If we're ponying up billions of dollars to ensure that President Karzai can continue to build and develop his country," President Obama recently said "then he's got to also pay attention to our concerns as well. . . . he's got to understand that I've got a bunch of young men and women" who are "in a foreign country being shot at" and "need to protect themselves." If Karzai cannot even criticize the rules of engagement of a Western army that is occupying his country without bringing ridicule from the President then Obama might as well come out and say outright that Karzai is a U.S. puppet.

And there's Representative Darrell Issa, (the wealthiest member of the House and now one of the most powerful), who hails from a California district that is heavily dependent on massive infusions of federal money even while he denounces "Big Government." But you can count on the "liberal" media to sweep this glaring hypocrisy under the rug while they hyperventilate over each one of Issa's latest "Obama-gates."

The Democratic Party lost its spine the moment it decided to cash in on all that corporate political money. If we don't reverse Citizens United and get the money out of our political system all of the other progressive causes don't stand a chance. A real breakthrough would be to unite Left and Right, the progressives and the Tea Partiers in a shared effort to get the money out of the politics -- we might disagree on almost every other issue, but buying and selling politicians and rigging elections with corporate cash should be an area where there is common ground. And if Obama starts triangulating Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich should run in the primaries. The Democratic Party at that point will have nothing to lose.

Joe Palermo

Joseph Palermo

Crossposted with permission from Joseph A Palermo