Obama’s Praetorian Guard of Capitalism


Obama’s “Hidden Hand” political strategy in his second term (Peter Baker, in NYT, July 16) merits notice for its utter phoniness (and NYT/Baker gullibility), as though a low profile, designed to convey the velvet glove of measured yet steady reform, has changed anything in his presidency, which from the start has raised sophisticated corporatism, with its full antiradical implications, policies, consequences, to a high art.  Obama’s legacy—it’s too late for him to worry about this now—will be defined by his treachery as a leader and putative tribune of the people.  In retrospect, Nixon and Bush 2 appear as mere choirboys in comparison, not because of Obama’s “smarts” (he has the brashness of a hustler, which passes in our day for intelligence), but because he can use liberalism as a backdrop for the pursuit of consistently reactionary policies, domestic as well as foreign.  Liberals and progressives, especially, have been taken in, the latest enormous crime being massive surveillance which, once revealed, is allowed to become yesterday’s news, attention shifting instead to Snowden’s apprehension—an example where the real criminal seeks to pin the label of “criminal” on the one who exposes the crime.  Liberals/ progressives sit on their hands (perhaps that’s where Obama’s team got the idea of the “hidden hand” as the latest selling point to cover up a record which hardly needs covering up, so far has radicals’ rigor mortis set in) while data mining, Espionage Act prosecutions, the whole range of civil liberties made mincemeat of, all constitute only one area of manifold and fundamental abuses: the liberalization of cynicism, to render it palatable to the groupies, while the haute crowd of bankers, militarists, defense contractors, national-security advisors, DOJ apologists for international war crimes, and, as they say in the Shakespeare plays, diverse and assorted other characters, laugh in their teeth.

The “hidden hand” fits perfectly with Obama’s (and all of Washington’s, now that he has set the tone, and shown how easy it is to get away with it) compulsive-obsessive regard for secrecy, itself entwined with not only the over-classification of government documents (leading to a state-secrets defense for what amounts to as judicial immunity), but also surveillance per se, the need for control, the perhaps still greater need for acting with impunity, as with targeted assassination, without fear of discovery.  What a bunch of miscreants on which we, as a nation, have bestowed the public trust!  It gets worse, the further one probes: taxation, or the lack thereof, of corporate, banking, and individual wealth; deregulation, nonregulation, outright favoritism—take your pick, as economic concentration moves along, and the Boeings, GEs, Monsantos, Morgan, Chases, are doing very well, thank you; stonewalling and utter stupefaction when it comes to climate change; above all, a gargantuan military apparatus, and missions enough planned or secretly executed to please the most discerning connoisseur (aka, maniacal devotee of  murder, mayhem, and lethal instruments of terror), with little at all remaining to maintain a social safety net worthy of the name.  Under Obama, militarism = planned impoverishment.  Or if not planned, nevertheless operationally the result; for the country is suffering big time, as corporate profits swell, infrastructure crumbles, education is neglected, cities decay, private equity funds blossom, all amid the inhumaneness and colossal waste of military outposts spread worldwide, naval forces steam to the Pacific, Special Ops forces gain purchase on practically every continent, a veritable merry-go-round as the music spins in tarantella fervor the tune of counterrevolution.  The Obama Administration is the New Praetorian guarding the welfare of global capitalism, with a special nod to what is quaintly termed the US national interest.

My New York Times Comment to the Baker article (July 16) follows:

The “hidden hand” approach to presidential leadership is just one more public relations gimmick to distract attention from the substantive content of Obama’s record and policies. This was a failed presidency from Day One, when it became apparent that ’08 campaign rhetoric (replete with teleprompter, the Axelrod writing stable, and Americans’ desperate wish to turn a corner) was plain hooey. The appointment of the Geithner-Summers team of Clinton-Rubin deregulators was the tip-off to acceptance of market fundamentalism and Wall Street rampages with impunity. And the coziness of Obama’s relations with the CIA, JSOC, and the intelligence and military communities made clear an aggressive foreign policy (pace, Nobel Peace Laureate) composed of the Pacific-first geopolitical strategy, an escalation in paramilitary operations, and, with John Brennan and “Terror Tuesdays,” the extreme ugliness and ruthlessness of embarking on a personal course (far exceeding his predecessor) of armed drones for targeted assassination.

Obama carries on, with some new faces (e.g., Rice, Powers), and new slogans, such as humanitarian interventionism, but on his watch, and with his essentially nihilistic, opportunist mental framework, we as a nation are closer to fascism than at any time in American history.  Whomever constitute his “admirers,” presumably liberals and progressives, merely confirms that radicalism is dead in America, the victim of its own shallowness and false consciousness.

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. His new book, Eichmann on the Potomac, will be published by CounterPunch/AK Press in the fall of 2013.


Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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