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The People (imprisoned in their own fantasies, delusions, false consciousness) vs. Obama (skillful practitioner of deceit, war criminal) is no contest, given the political culture of acquiescence he has intensified and accelerated, through the pervasive atmosphere of counterterrorism on one hand, and worshipful gratitude to wealth-concentration and the structural hierarchy of power—founded on that wealth– on the other, on the shoulders of his predecessors, themselves adept at pushing the fortunes of advanced capitalism. A vicious circle, or perhaps dark hole out of which the public cannot climb, defines the present, with Obama the personification, the ideal leader, from the standpoint of ruling groups, in achieving the smooth integration of capitalism and militarism—the latter critical to the prevention of stagnation in the former. In today’s New York Times editorial (May 19), practically beseeching POTUS to take action on the climate issue, rather than slamming down hard on his dismal, indeed, treacherous, record, one sees the problem: abject dependence on a policy-structure rooted in the performance and systemic requirements of capitalism, whatever the quality, character, or decisions of leadership, and the consequences to the United States and the world at large.
We are chained to, our destiny rides on, a system purposefully degrading and inhumane if it is even to exist at what are regarded as acceptable levels of profit, PROFIT itself being the overriding moral (?) norm. Outsourcing, why not, so long as our manufacturers can get away with it, and it does not stir up a ruckus? Intervention, why not, so long as the rewards are great, US hegemonic demands are met, and the geostrategic strategy of counterrevolution, to prevent challenges to capitalism as a world system, is advanced? Domestic scare tactics to foster conformity, and complicity in the machinery of war and regime change, why not, so long as class-and-wealth differentials are preserved, the militance of labor subdued, the consuming drive to stop LEAKS satisfied (lest they reveal grounds for world revulsion and a trip to the International Criminal Court at the Hague)?
There may have been a time, capitalism historically perhaps at midpoint, when the system could tolerate dissent, make room for civil liberties, and value pacific international trade as a stabilizing mode of commercial organization. No longer, at least as pertains to the US. Beginning with Theodore Roosevelt, when American capitalism, sector after sector, was rapidly consolidating (TR as trustbuster is among the most flagrant distortions of US history), monopolism was viewed as necessary and desirable, in its own right (prevention of putatively harmful internecine competition), and as the economic foundation for achieving military power, therefore implementing capitalist expansion in an increasingly hostile world.
Capitalism as a world system is productive of war. This, of course, was confirmed under Wilson and FDR, when rival imperialisms, disputing markets and territories, squared off against each other. The lesson was never lost on American policy makers (today especially, national-security advisers), except that its instructive legacy was not the search for peace through the renunciation of imperialism, but just the opposite, to gain uncontested global supremacy via military power and the creation of or influence on international organizations (e.g., IMF, World Bank) to be the extension of that power. In this light, Obama is merely an exaggerated distortion of the previous outlines of imperialism, adding targeted assassination and the strategic role of paramilitary operations to the witches’ brew. Who needs a Kissinger when John Brennan has the president’s ear? Who needs a Marshall or Bradley (not that I’m glorifying these generals, but in comparison), when Petraeus and McChrystal are on hand and the merry band of advisers convene off the Situation Room on Terror Tuesdays, plotting—yes, an accurate word—the death, without trial, counsel, evidence, of those held to be terrorists, regardless of civilian casualties (i.e., euphemistically termed “collateral damage”), and, for good measure, the deliberate targeting of funerals and first responders, as potentials collaborators of the victims.
Our president authorizes deaths by technological means thousands of miles away, and we expect compassion from such a one, or even to do his duty on climate change or promote the transparency of government at home or create a respectful attitude toward civil liberties? I wrote months ago in CP about the cusp of fascism—I fear we now have passed that turning point. My Comment on the New York Times editorial (May 19) dealing with Obama and the climate issue follows:
“…and no one doubts that he cares about it [the climate issue].” Is there any salutary position affecting a vital issue that Obama does care about? None. NYT misreads his record and intentions at every turn, climate change being an obvious case in point. Why persist with this delusion? Why grant heart and intelligence which, if only Republican obstruction did not exist, presumably would be resoundingly clear?
Face the reality, a deceitful president who would say anything to get elected and reelected, while supporting, by inaction as well as action, every vested interest working against the American people. Did he not even chastise his own EPA for raising the issue of ozone levels? Does he not have an Interior and Sec. Salazar compromising the beauty, fragility, and sustainment of the environment at every turn?
Policy-making has a core, in this case, deregulation, and a consistency, so that climate change fits the pattern applied by Obama to banking, market penetration, intervention, assassination, job creation, and much more–all to the disadvantage of the American people and world peace alike. His signature militarism, using up vast sums and resources, cannot be expected to be propitious ground for favoring, much less taking action on, climate change. Until the Times takes the measure of the person, its editorials, however well-intended, will prove ineffectual.
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.