- October 9, 2012
- Dennis Loo
They want you to think that you’re making the decisions along with your fellow citizens when we aren’t doing that at all...
In other words, even if the Democrats and the Republicans are not distinguishable in terms of foreign policy, at least with the Democrats you get more humane domestic policies.
These supposed differences in domestic policies between the two parties are taken for granted as conventional wisdom, but upon closer examination a very different picture emerges. Before proceeding to discuss highlights of these alleged differences in domestic policy, I want to make an observation about Obama and Romney's first debate that is very telling about the nature of the Democratic and Republican Parties circa 2012. A major reason why Obama performed in such a lackluster manner in his first debate with Romney is not because he was suffering from altitude sickness (as Al Gore suggested, unless the altitude of being among the 1% is going to Obama’s head and making him dizzy) but because he and Romney don’t differ much on substance. If Obama were to take the gloves off and call Romney out on more of his lies, Obama would also be exposing himself for the policies that he has presided over that share the same fundamental philosophical outlook as Romney’s. Obama’s position would start to wobble and be in danger of falling apart because in attacking Romney he would also be undermining and exposing his own policies.
During the debate, for example, Romney demonstrated his agreement with Obama about Social Security by pointing out that Obama’s own appointee, Erskine Bowles, Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff, had advocated privatizing Social Security. This undermines the ultra fine distinction Obama makes that he stands for using the government to protect the public against the market’s brutalities. Romney’s pointed rejoinder skewers Obama’s fabricated image because Obama chose Erskine in the first place. Obama appointed Bowles knowing what Bowles’ views on Social Security were and knowing that he and co-chair Alan Simpson (the 2010 Bowles-Simpson Commission) would justify the cuts to Medicare and Social Security that Obama himself wants to make.
Romney can be on the attack on economic policy against Obama because Obama doesn’t represent a real alternative to Romney/Ryan, just a calibrated difference in how openly and explicitly they want to accomplish what the Dem/GOP working consensus is: that finance capital, transnational corporations, and the military-industrial complex shall be enhanced and protected at all costs as crucial to the U.S. Empire, and that privatization should move forward relentlessly resulting in the demolition of the New Deal either openly (Romney/Ryan) or with lots of verbiage claiming the opposite of what is actually happening (Obama).
If you share your putative rivals’ basic premises, as Obama does with Romney/Ryan, then you cannot wage an aggressive and convincing argument against your rivals because you share too much in common with them. Obama, after all, has made his political career by always acceding to those in authority while appearing to side with those who are disenfranchised, thus over and over again proving his value to those who pull the purse strings of power by quieting down the oppressed and legitimating and codifying things that the more blatantly plutocratic cannot get away with doing as well.
Good Cop/Bad Cop
This trick of making the people think that THE PEOPLE are the ones in charge through wielding their votes every four years - and not the 1% - is practiced by the police as the old “good cop/bad cop” routine. When a suspect is in custody, the cops break the detainee down by assuming superficially opposite roles, with the bad cop going postal on the detainee and the good cop stepping in and restraining his overly aggressive colleague, acting as the detainee’s new best friend. The “good cop” chases his out-of-control colleague out of the room, locks the door, and gives the suspect a cup of coffee and maybe a cigarette and attempts to convince the beleaguered suspect to tell the cops what they want so that s/he doesn’t get further beaten up by the “bad” cop.
“If you just give us what we need, I can keep that crazy colleague of mine off of you. Work with me here. I’m really on your side.”
The Democrats are the “good cop” telling the people that if it weren’t for them standing in to shield the people from the “bad cop” Republicans, then they’d be mauled by the “bad cop” Republicans.
This routine works marvelously with the Republicans appealing primarily to those people who identify with the top dog (the ones, for example, who identify with the executioner in publicly staged executions) and the Democrats appealing more than the Republicans can to those who identify with the underdog. Without this charade, it would be nearly impossible to project the false image that THE PEOPLE have their representatives in the corridors of power.
Solnit’s argument about Obama’s health care being better than the Republican version is a peculiar argument given that Obamacare is virtually indistinguishable from Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan when Romney was governor there, a plan that originated with right-wing think tank The Heritage Foundation in 1993. Romney defended himself against Obama when Obama pointed out their health care plans’ similarity by saying that when Romney got his plan through the Massachusetts legislature he did so with bipartisan support but that Obamacare was passed against the GOP’s wishes in Congress.
This doesn’t change, of course, the fact that Obamacare and Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan are mirrors of each other. It merely points to the fact that Obama, by moving further and further to the right, has pre-empted positions that the Republicans previously occupied and need to make themselves look different from Obama.
Thus, if the GOP has adopted more and more extreme right-wing policies in order to distinguish themselves from Obama (and pronouncing nonsense such as that Obama’s a Socialist), it has been at least in part because Obama has been Clinton-redux by embracing Republican policies and thereby forcing the Republicans to distinguish themselves from Obama by moving to ludicrously extreme positions. It is a measure of how right-wing Obama has been in his policies that the GOP has had to become so ridiculously and hysterically noxious to put some distance between themselves and him.
That doesn’t make Obama the sane one and the Republicans the insane ones. It means that as Obama has gone one better than Bush and Cheney did by moving further to the right, in specific ways that I will next lay out, he has taken the whole government further to the right because the GOP isn’t going to respond by positioning itself to the left of Obama.
Now, I need to say right here that this isn’t actually exactly how things work because no individual has the power to move the entire government a certain direction. But if one adopts the position that individual leaders are that meaningful and that getting one individual into the White House is going to matter that much versus another individual, then you have to logically and correspondingly argue that Obama has been single-handedly responsible for the right-wing, extremist turn in the U.S. government.
Remember that it was Obama who after soundly defeating McCain/Palin in 2008, leading a Democratic sweep that brought them not only the White House but majority control of both the House and Senate, and who therefore had a mandate and capacity to undo key elements of the Bush years. Instead of using this mandate, he insisted on governing in a “bipartisan” manner, even before the Democrats lost control over both houses of Congress in the 2010 election. “Bipartisan” in this case meant letting the Republicans, who were the much diminished minority party, veto everything except Obamacare. And with Obamacare, Obama allowed the Republicans to fan the flames of the Tea Party movement.
As I wrote in my book, Globalization and the Demolition of Society (2011):
Obama is like someone who takes your $500 to get you a deal on a refrigerator, comes back and gives you one that cost $200 but has no change for you because he says that he got robbed of $300 on his way to buy the appliance for you. When you object that you think this is a fishy story, he says, “but at least I convinced the robber that he should only take $300 and not all $500. I mean, imagine what would happen if I wasn’t here and you had to rely on the guy who robbed $300 of your money? Why, you’d be out of all $500 and have no refrigerator!”
Mass Incarceration and the Status of Black and Poor People
This is an area that for some peculiar reason Obama gets kudos from so-called progressives, kudos that are completely undeserved. Perhaps it’s because he’s the first black president and people who are not paying sufficient attention think that his election by itself means that the conditions of racist oppression of black people must be better. Their conditions are not better; the opposite is the case.
While there are more black faces in high places, Obama’s face included, this is not something that Obama had any role in bringing about, except insofar as his own black ambition brought him into the presidency (apologies to Madonna’s “Blonde Ambition” tour name). No, the shameful existence of New York City’s Stop and Frisk policies which explicitly target black youth for police shakedowns solely because of their color, about which Obama has had not a word of criticism for, the world record breaking mass incarceration of blacks and Latinos, the conditions of outright torture that exist for those whose crime is being black or Latino and/or poor, the ongoing murder by cop policies of these same people, the zero net worth and rapidly declining economic status of the poor who are increasingly plunged into more desperate circumstances by the malignant nature of neoliberal policies, these are all occurring under President Barack Hussein Obama. While Obama did express distress over the murder of Trayvon Martin, he was silent about Oscar Grant and all of the other murders-by-police and by vigilantes going on.
When Obama has had occasion to address these issues, he has scolded black parents and black men in particular, and talked about helping people like his poor grandmother who without Social Security would have had nothing, but his policies say something else altogether.
Civil Liberties and Due Process
When the infamous National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 was being considered by Congress and before it was signed into law by Obama, Obama’s White House itself asked for the bill to include American citizens among those who could have their rights and their citizenship stripped from them after being merely accused by someone in the military of being a terrorist or of being involved somehow with terrorists. In other words, this bill was made even more reactionary upon Obama’s specific request. Even without including American citizens the bill is atrocious, but Obama made it even more right-wing.
When Obama signed the NDAA on New Year’s Eve, he stated that he would never use it to imprison an American citizen. But if you don’t intend to use it and don’t want any subsequent president to use it against an American citizen, then why not veto the bill? Why ask for it to include American citizens in the first place? As Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, the NDAA merely extends unfettered and unconstitutional powers to the military which the Obama White House itself has already been exercising. Indeed, Obama’s expressed initial reluctance to sign the NDAA was based upon his objections that it might interfere with the White House’s powers, not that it was a repressive and fascist law that suspends due process and allows the government to detain people without charges indefinitely, merely upon an accusation. The standard in the war of terror is now, under Barack Obama, guilty until proven innocent. But you aren’t even necessarily going to be given the chance to prove that you are innocent because you can be detained without charge indefinitely. And even if you do get your chance before a military tribunal or court of law and are adjudicated as innocent, Obama has declared that he might hold you if he thinks you might do something in the future – see under “Indefinite and ‘Preventive’ Detention…” below.
As I revealed in an article that went viral in 2009, Obama’s DoD was instructing all of its employees that protest = “low-level terrorism.” This was, unfortunately, not an error or an aberration but actually an explicit statement about what neoliberal regimes around the world have moved to doing: treating free speech and free assembly as a form of terrorism and treating the people’s entreaties and supervision over authority as criminal. In December 2011, for example, the London City Police sent to businesses an advisory entitled: “Terrorism/Extremism update for the City of London Business Community” that lumped Occupy London together with al-Qaeda and other foreign-based terrorist groups, and dedicated their discussion of “Domestic” terrorist activities entirely to Occupy, saying, in part, “As the worldwide Occupy movement shows no sign of abating, it is likely that activists aspire to identify other locations to occupy, especially those they identify with capitalism.”
Indefinite and “Preventive” Detention, Surveillance, and Whistleblowers
In an article that will be appearing next week in the online journal State of Nature (“Secrecy, Surveillance, and Suppression: Neoliberalism and the Rise of Public Order Policies”), my co-author and I write:
Obama supports the DREAM Act but he has deported more people than Bush. Why would someone who says he’s for immigrants’ interests be responsible for deporting more people than Bush? Obama deported around 366,292 immigrants in 2012 by fall 2012 compared to 291,060 under former President Bush in 2007. This is at a time when undocumented immigration is down because of the distressed economy compared to what was going on under Bush.
Inheriting the financial disaster spawned by Bush et al, but made possible by Clinton’s administration’s repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, thus making the 2008 disaster a truly bipartisan financial affair, Obama proceeded to protect the assets of the big banks and approved of billions in bonuses that the 1% paid themselves for their wonderful work, even while the companies they preside over were facing bankruptcy and had lost money. When these bonuses came to light in the news, Obama expressed surprise, but his administration had been responsible for approving those very bonuses previously. Forced to reveal the totals of the bailout by a FOIA request, after the Federal Reserve refused repeatedly to say how much they spent and to whom, Obama’s Fed actually bailed out the banks (including foreign banks doing business in the U.S.) to the tune of $16 Trillion (with a T).
His appointments to key economic policy positions were people like Timothy Geitner and Lawrence Summers, the very people who were instrumental in the disasters brought on under Bush et al.
As Rob Urie notes regarding Medicare and Social Security:
Rob Urie points out,
Despite the overwhelming evidence of the unfolding disaster of global warming, Obama has not acted to mitigate this disaster, leading the papering over of the abject failure of the Copenhagen Summit on the climate to act in this emergency with deceptive language in the jointly issued communiqué from the Copenhagen Summit. The difference between Obama and the Republicans on global warming: the Republicans claim global warming doesn’t exist and refuse to do anything about it. Obama recognizes that global warming does exist and says in speeches and statements that it isn’t useful to deny global warming but refuses, however, to actually do anything about it that rises to the level of the disaster that it is.
The Oppression of Women and Gay Rights
While Obama has stated that he supports abortion and the rights of homosexuals, when push comes to shove he caters to and caves to the extreme right every chance he gets. When Proposition 8, for example, which would ban people of the same sex from getting married, was being debated in California, Obama was silent until literally the day before the vote, finally expressing his support for the rights of gay people to marry, but he did not call on anyone to defeat Prop 8, thus de facto helping Prop 8 pass.
As Debra Sweet has written, Obama became the first president to overrule his own FDA by executive order in denying girls 17 years and younger access to Emergency Contraception Plan B without a prescription.
As Sharon Smith writes,
As Riley Waggaman wrote in “When Obama Whitewashed Rape” at Counterpunch, responding to Obama’s retort that “rape is rape” to Rep. Todd Akin’s statement that pregnancy doesn’t result from “legitimate rape”:
Now for some good news.
Do the People Have a Choice?
Yes, but not through voting and the other means that those in power tell us are our only options. There’s a reason why they say around elections time, “it doesn’t matter who you vote for as long as you vote.” They say it because it’s true: it really doesn’t matter who you vote for. They want you to think that you’re making the decisions along with your fellow citizens when we aren’t doing that at all, which is why what matters is that you vote, not who you vote for.
As GOP pollster Frank Luntz confessed while meeting with Republican governors in the fall of 2011: "I'm frightened to death" of the Occupy Movement. "They're having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism." He did not say, “I’m frightened to death that people will vote for the Democrats.” He said, I’m frightened to death of this movement that is changing the way people think about capitalism.
Luntz thus blurted out one of the biggest secrets in political life: the way you change the political policies is by movements that influence how the people think. You don’t do this through voting. You do this through impacting public opinion. And the ways of doing that are various, including participating and helping to organize protests and speaking out through your body, your voice and/or through your pen/keyboard and where you donate your time, energy and money.
The powers that be are deeply and clearly aware of this, which is why they are deathly afraid of people saying and doing things that challenge the perspective that authorities work so hard to make the normative perspective. “Here’s what is possible,” they say. “This is what must be and now, would you rather have the Republican do it or the Democrat?” Would you rather have a guy in a red tie or a guy in a blue tie deciding how much to cut from public services and how much to give to the 1%?
When we vote for presidential candidates from either the Republican or Democratic Parties we are not deciding whom we like better. We are legitimating what those candidates do and stand for. When and if you cast a vote for Obama you are saying that you are okay with what he has done – his presidential kill list, his drone attacks, his refusal to prosecute torturers, his perpetuating of torture and places like Gitmo, his suspension of habeas corpus, due process, and the rule of law, his vengeful attacks on whistleblowers, his mass incarceration and mass deportations, his failure to address global warming, his failure to defend women’s abortion rights, in general, his Janus faced attitudes towards nearly everything under the sun that matters. You’re saying that you endorse this because you are not refusing to delegitimate it by publicly refusing to vote in their elections charade. This is the message you are sending. Is that the message you want to send?
The momentousness and virulence of Obama's legacy cannot be overstated: he has completed the rupture from the rule of law and unaccountability that Bush and Cheney pioneered so spectacularly. By refusing to prosecute Bush and Cheney's numerous crimes - not only their violations of domestic and international law with aggressive wars and torture et al and their ubiquitous and warrantless surveillance, but their repeated overruling of Congressional intent and laws - he has legitimated those lawless and tyrannical actions. He has made them the new norm. Not only, however, has he legitimated them and thereby greased the path for every subsequent president who does the same and worse, but he has himself forged forward in the reactionary direction of Bush and Cheney and gone even further than they dared. As he has done this, he has covered it all under the thick coat of honeyed words and shameless deceitfulness and through his skillful two-faced presentation of self won over those who otherwise resisted these same horrid behaviors when they were being committed by Republicans.
As neoliberal policies that tout the market and globalization as the solution to all problems spread, they can only do so by assiduously obscuring what they actually are for and the results that they inevitably bring. Because neoliberal policies are so damaging to the living standards of the people, bringing on disaster after disaster on the micro and macro levels, they cannot honestly be presented or else the vast majority of the world would rise in rebellion against it.
Here then is where people like Obama play such an important role in rebranding these policies as either the opposite of what they are or as the ineluctable necessity compared to an allegedly even worse outcome and in so doing, thereby quelling resistance to these atrocious measures. With friends such as these, as the saying goes, who needs enemies? The kind of people who tell you that you should ignore the fact that Obama has been a disaster for the people’s interests and has one-upped even Bush and Cheney in the wrong direction because he’s at least better than Romney are the kind of people who tell battered women that they should stay with their battering husband. They are the kind of people who you need to tell to shut the hell up and get real!
The upfront purveyors of neoliberal policies are people like Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney who declare that government is the problem, not the solution, even as they and their superrich friends spend untold sums relentlessly and aggressively pursuing the reins of power in government, the very institution they claim to despise as useless and harmful. But because not everyone can be won to celebrating the demolition of the New Deal and because too many people recognize that the market forces left to themselves will destroy and are destroying them, their neighbors and friends, and this planet, people who are much more artful and subtle must also be present, good cops like Barack Hussein Obama, to disarm the people and get them to accept the unacceptable.