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The Surprise Party

by ELLIOT SPERBER

The federal government has been shut down, and the Tea Party crowd (who make no bones about wanting to both shrink the fed until it’s small enough to fit in a bathtub – to paraphrase Grover Norquist – and to drown it in there as well) is thoroughly enjoying the situation. Indeed, for Tea Partiers, among the many other minions of the business class, it’s a veritable dream come true. All those regulatory agencies that interfere with business (yet, in quasi-dialectical fashion, preserve them all the same) are now out of the way. With the EPA and OSHA shut down, worker safety and the environment, among other aspects of the common good, will no longer interfere with the accumulation of private goods (not that these agencies were such effective impediments to begin with).  Furthermore, and in demonstration of the fact that the market only functions with the aid of state force, “essential services” (which, in turn, confirm that the essence of the state is not security, per se, but security in the sense of force) are still very much in effect. As such, the business class can work its workers and drill and mine and otherwise ransack the planet as much as it likes.

Insofar as it relates to the ostensible elation of Tea Party types, it is interesting to reflect upon Barack Obama’s recently articulated plan to neither budge nor otherwise give in to Tea Party pressure. For if the Tea Party is enjoying the present situation, and if their constituency is pleased – which they all appear to be – it is difficult to see why the Tea Party would have any interest in budging either – especially when they can “drill, baby, drill.” Indeed, rather than persuading the Tea Party to relent, intransigence on the part of Obama would result, it would seem, in little more than mutual catatonia.

That said – and though proclamations such as Obama’s shouldn’t be taken at  face-value – it takes little to recognize that a standoff involving doing nothing is particularly advantageous for the Tea Party, and disadvantageous for Obama. For if catatonia prevails, the federal government will remain shut. And though Obamacare (the ostensible cause of the shutdown) is already being rolled out, such a setup could very well prove to be a merely pyrrhic victory for Obama. Among other outcomes, the upcoming debt ceiling deadline could not only tank the economy. Just as dramatically, Obama, (blatantly encouraged to do so by the New York Times already) could equally disastrously resolve the upcoming funding crisis by becoming a “sovereign dictator” – in the classic Schmittian sense – outright. Yet (in spite of its counter-intuitiveness) none of this should deflect from the fact that, when it comes down to brass tacks, Obama and the Tea Party aren’t really all that different in the first place.

To be sure, though Paul Krugman has likened the Tea Party to a monster a la Frankenstein’s – created by the .01% and now rampaging out of control – the real out-of-control monstrosity, it must not be overlooked, is the ecocidal capitalist economy that Obama and the Tea Party – in their own privatizing ways – each so zealously champion. That is, their merely quantitative differences mask their actual, qualitative sameness.

Whether their respective efforts to wholly privatize the public sphere is advanced through charter schools, or giveaways of public land to private interests, both are in agreement. The world must be divided – ordered – into commodities – irrespective of the objective harm such a paradigm provokes. And though it may be the ostensible trigger of the present shutdown, we should not forget that – irony of ironies – Obamacare is itself, in fact, a product of the same ideology, and of the same business class, that produced the Tea Party. Not only did the Right Wing Heritage Foundation essentially write Obamacare (as an alternative to Clinton’s paltry healthcare efforts) the primary aim of Obamacare is not the distribution of healthcare. This is apparent even in Obamacare’s official name. As rising health costs began to threaten the stability of the status quo (of the overall stability of the existing Order) the Affordable Care Act was produced to deliver “affordable” healthcare to the uninsured. Delegated to the insurance industry via Obamacare, the provision of health care has nothing to do with providing health care as a basic human right, but serves the double function of distributing commodities – for the purpose of deriving profit – and maintaining the general Order.

In spite of the fact that there is a patent conflict of interest between providing care and reaping profit (and despite the fact that – in any conflict in a profit-based system – profit prevails over care as a matter of law) business is still in charge of the distribution of care, reaping profits from a complex of social relations and obligations that by all rights should not be determined by business priorities in the first place. This dynamic will only be amplified once the “individual mandate” is in place, compelling people to purchase this “product” – under penalty of law – from the monopoly.

What’s more, even the Affordable Care Act’s notion of affordability is stilted. Though premiums are unknown at this point, as an example of what a good deal people can expect, we are told that a 27 year old, in good health, making 25,000 dollars a year (a near poverty income in many parts of the country, by the way) will still have to pay close to 10 percent of his or her annual earnings to the industry to secure care; this amount will be higher, of course, should this hypothetical patient ever fall ill and receive actual treatment. And this is an example of a particularly affordable plan. The healthy young must subsidize the infirm old, we are told. That the healthy young, and everyone else for that matter, must also subsidize the wealthy is something that is less frequently discussed.

Defenders of Obamacare will object. Important reforms have been made, they will argue. Obamacare in fact ameliorates some of the grosser inequities of the insurance industry (allowing people with pre-existing conditions, for instance, to secure care). And look at how the Health Exchanges are being gobbled up.

Bandwagon fallacies aside, the putative  popularity of Obamacare derives less from its merits (unknown and untested) than from the fact that people in the US have been starving for access to health care for generations. As is well known, starving people will not only eat rotten cabbages, or boiled shoes, they will be grateful for the opportunity of feasting on such rubbish. What’s more, they’ll even pay for it. Deprivation (either real or imagined) does this to people; treatment that might otherwise elicit disgust elicits praise. And with the health exchanges open for business, and some seemingly able to receive care, it is only one irony that the government shutdown provoked by Obamacare should threaten the larger Order Obamacare was designed to reinforce. Another one is that this order – insofar as it is based on varieties of exploitation that systematically reproduce all types of disease (from sleep deprivation to cancer) – is itself a grave threat to the health of the people of the world.

With respect to all of these facts, and because the shortcomings and benefits of Obamacare remain obscure, it is little  wonder that people from across the political spectrum (excluding those zealots of banality – the Democratic Party partisans) remain dubious about the insurance industry’s new compulsory monopoly. Rather than Obamacare, poll after poll reveal that a single-payer system (medicare for all – universal healthcare) is consistently most popular – as much as it was when Obama unilaterally removed the “public option” from the so-called bargaining table prior to the negotiations that would lead to the ACA. Confirming the notion that those with the power to define what is possible define reality as well (and much to the insurance industry’s presumed pleasure, and the majority’s chagrin) we now have Obamacare – as well as, for now, the shutdown.

As both Tea Party adherents and Obama, Democrats and Republicans, pursue generally unpopular policies – and as the Obama regime, with its wars, mass surveillance programs, drone strikes, and Romneycare/Obamacare demonstrates the interchangeability of the two hegemonic parties – the present shutdown may lead some to consider how the general public would respond if a party pursued such a tactic (akin in some respects to a general strike) not in furtherance of the demented populism of the Tea Party, but in furtherance of a genuinely popular politics. For lest we forget, when we hear the blather about how the shutdown is just part of the messy project of a functioning democracy, we should remember that Republicans and Democrats combined comprise less than a majority of the people.

That said, it is interesting to consider how public opinion would respond, say, to a government shutdown, and/or a  general strike, that aimed to secure, for instance, a single payer health care system, or an end to the wars. Not merely the wars in Afghanistan, among other places, mind you, but the so-called War on Terror in general, and the War on Drugs as well; one whose goal included not only shutting down Guantanamo, among other black site prisons, but sought to shutter our extensive domestic prison system, too, and shutdown the government to do so. One can already hear the predictable,  pseudo-working class argument that this would destroy jobs. And indeed it would. Moreover, these jobs should be eliminated, for a just society should neither reproduce such practices, nor have an economy that is dependent on them.

When confronted with the follow-up that asks how people would pay for rent, among other necessities, one could envision such an imaginary party responding by remarking that the transition to a just society (in which positive rights to not only housing and health care, but education, and leisure, among other conditions, would be realized) could proceed by way of the institution of a Guaranteed Livable Income, not to mention a ten-hour work-week. Further, one could add that student, consumer, and other debts would be eliminated, too. To be sure, the decrease in production involved in this is not only necessary to combat global warming and environmental degradation, but for the sake of well-being. In other words, not only would the War on Terror and the War on Drugs be concluded, but the Class War itself – which subsumes these lesser wars – would be ended. Along with other systems of domination, capitalism (the sine qua non of which is domination and exploitation) would be phased out; and political and economic power, as well as political and economic rights and duties, would be redistributed according to the demands of justice.

While people criticize the Occupy movement for not congealing into such a party – providing a counterweight of sorts to the Tea Party – such criticism betrays a deeply flawed analysis of the Occupy Movement. Notwithstanding the problem that inheres with parties in general (which is a problem of dogma, and hierarchy, among other things, and is found even in consensus-based organizational approaches), among its other weaknesses the Occupy movement could not fully embrace such positions owing to a fundamental split between its anarchistic, emancipatory elements, and its very large contingent of pro-business libertarians and liberals – libertarians and liberals whose fundamentally reformist, pro-market sensibilities were, and are, not only at odds, but irreconcilable, with the critical requirements of a genuinely emancipatory politics. In spite of the good intentions of many in the Occupy movement, this inability to not only fail to recognize the need for, but the reasons for, decapitating capital (as well as the state) brought it to a theoretical and practical impasse.

As the federal government remains shut, and the NSA, among other “essential” agencies, continues to function, and Fukushima continues to release its lethal radiation, and the September jobs report, when corrected for population growth, will most likely show virtually no sign of jobs, and global warming continues apace, and the distribution of wealth polarizes ever further into extremes of rich and poor, it seems as vital as it seems unlikely that a “party” championing the above positions will arise; which means that, should it appear, it would come as something of a Surprise – a Surprise Party. Don’t tell anyone.

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney and contributor to hygiecracy.blogspot.com. He lives in New York City, and can be reached at elliot.sperber@gmail.com

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and adjunct professor. He lives in New York City and can be reached at elliot.sperber@gmail.com and on twitter @elliot_sperber

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