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Interpenetration in the Obama Administration

The Double Bed of Business and Government

by NORMAN POLLACK

Oh Mary Jo, we eagerly awaited your cleaning up of the stench, crud, dreck of SEC—all, and obviously, in vain, as your appointment to head the Commission once more reveals the Obama Administration’s mighty efforts on behalf of the American Business System, especially its most problematic, exploitative, illegal features, i.e., those which create the greatest unearned profits for the perpetrators of economic skullduggery and sleight-of-hand, now, as the latest attraction, derivatives trading.  Obama has found his soul mate in regulation in Mary Jo White, just as in paramilitary operations in John O. Brennan.  Government, at its finest hour of political treachery in serving the American people.

Let’s get serious.  The United States throughout its historical development has interiorized the structure and values of capitalism, a puristic capitalist-institutional formation, still more greatly accelerated since the aftermath of World War II, to a far more intensified expression than any advanced industrial nation, thereby making America and capitalism itself synonomous, identical, indistinguishable one from the other—a synchronism of the two transcending party, and with thorough bipartisan support, creating clear boundaries to social change and political protest.  Obama is merely the latest spear carrier in a continuous line—with few notable exceptions in the nation’s past—of presidents ministering to the needs of dominant groups and attempting, sometimes unsuccessfully (witness the latest financial crisis and its still unfolding consequences), to satisfy the imperative needs of the economic system.  Rather than seek, even within capitalism, the moderation of its war-prone, imperialist, underconsumptionist tendencies and societal class differentials, thereby adding some degree of justice and melioration to its execution and operations, America, now particularly under Obama, is going for broke to liberate its oppressive, even nightmarish, inner reason and potential, in which militarism, deregulation, and an economic freefall for working people become increasingly evident.

In this light, Mary Jo White at SEC, rather than a disappointment (for those who still hold out hope of Obama’s essential honesty as dedicated to social welfare and structural democracy), is par for the course, one that started off with the appointments of Geithner, Summers, and Robert Rubin’s policies, ideas, and confederates under Clinton, the placation of and support for Big Pharma and health insurers under Obamacare, the more  pointed assistance to the defense, nuclear, and oil industries, and the heartfelt embrace of Wall Street, and continues in a sophisticated corporatism—the real definition of liberalism—far more dangerous for its realization of a social order founded on monopolism and wealth concentration than is the unsystematic business favoritism and chisling mindset, the penny ante mode of capitalist development, which fails to marshall the full resources of the State, of the Republicans.

Obama has a step up on his predecessors—for reasons still difficult to determine, given that his personal acumen and brightness have been grossly exaggerated.  Perhaps he simply has allowed the gathering historical forces inhering in the US’s global posture, in which America can no longer dictate the course of world events, to coalesce in his administration: an aggressive defensiveness against the very democratization his candidacy supposedly represented.  Capitalism serves as the battering ram for the restoration of American world power.  Its helpmate, more than previously, is naked force displayed as the doctrine of permanent war, the military juggernaut adjusted to the specific theaters of concern from naval power in the Pacific to drones for targeted killing, intervention, CIA activities of regime change, the JSOC paramilitary operations, springing up throughout the globe.

Interpenetration, the integrative, instead of merely parallel, structures, values, relations of mutual dependence and inspiration, of business and government, has in America since the time of Theodore Roosevelt (Gabriel Kolko’s Triumph of Conservatism, after more than a half-century, still has not been assimilated into the collective realization that REFORM is largely big-business inspired, to achieve the consolidation of wealth and, relatedly, the security of capitalism at home and in the world, free from radical challenges, and even that of lesser-capitalist competitors), provided the foundations designed to ensure that capitalism in America, because inseparable from the State, could rely on government for its stabilization and global expansion.  Now, under Obama, there is no longer any question (one muted or nonapplicable for long stretches of the past, frequently embodied in the strategy of the Open Door) that a mainspring of capitalism is the reliance on the military, for purposes of counterrevolution abroad, economic stimulation at home, and in both arenas, a system of power fusing national and international purpose to create Fortress Capitalism as an eternal source of wealth and leadership.

Welcome Mary Jo; do your mischief with respect to derivatives, themselves already mischievous enough, knowing that you will sleep soundly in the knowledge that, if your Boss can sleep soundly after personally selecting targets for assassination, you too deserve restful slumber for participating in the wreckage of an economy whose victims are all but assassinated in their despair, loss of employment, and for some, foraging in the ash cans as in days of yore—under your counterpart servants of wealth.

Here follows my New York Times Comment (May 6) on its editorial disappointment on Ms. White’s record as the newly-installed head of the SEC.  My fond wish is that Times disappointment will turn into forthright and fundamental criticism of the whole shebang (but I’m not holding my breath):

The Times’ analysis of SEC partiality to banks and their role in the dervatives trade is wise, sound, and timely, but lacking fuller context: Obama’s wider posture of deregulation, exemplified by the appointment of White but actually running through the regulatory apparatus. SEC, FDA, EPA, in areas crucial to the welfare of the American public, we are being left to hang out to dry. The issue of derivatives cannot be treated in isolation: In all respects, internal corporate-banking hegemony defines the American scene, suitably disguised in liberal rhetoric.

When will the con game stop? Probably not for a long time, as both major parties contribute to the widening of economic and class differentials, accompanied by the weakening of the social safety net. Symbolically, derivatives signify the splitting apart of America–not the 1% vs. the 99%, too simplistic by far, but a structural cleavage sufficiently acute to result in underconsumption, unemployment, and the need to rectify domestic hardship through greater militarism, both as distraction and as the source of further enrichment for America’s wealthy.

Yes, we are witnessing the financialization of the US economy, introducing basic distortions across the board, from loss of manufactures to further financial crises. As a nation, we seem not to learn, possibly even incapable of learning. But I’m glad The Times in this editorial helps to open the can of worms.

Norman Pollack is the author of “The Populist Response to Industrial America” (Harvard) and “The Just Polity” (Illinois), Guggenheim Fellow, and professor of history emeritus, Michigan State University.