The Tanking of Liberalism


Let POTUS henceforth be known by his correct designation, S.A.E., “S” for surveillance, “A” for assassination, “E” for eavesdropping, an indelible legacy, no matter what follows in his second term, and from all indications, his militarism abroad, and degradation of the poor at home, can only get worse. The US is reeling, self-devoured in its own juices, a structural-ideological mix of corporatism, hierarchy, and—far beyond John Winthrop’s wildest dreams- exceptionalism. Leviathan is becoming brittle, nay, ossified, old before its time, likened to an Alzheimer patient who can no longer remember the glory days when democratic values were taken seriously, when workers proudly struggled for their own and the rights of all, where hegemony was not a universally accepted national value. I think of the Flint Sit-Down Strike, Paul Robeson singing at Peekskill, the three civil-rights workers murdered at Philadelphia, Mississippi—defeats, yet in reality victories, when Americans still could and did stand for universal human rights, a nation still with prospects for hope, because its citizenry, albeit a minority, were able to distinguish right from wrong.

Now instead, the great melding into Reaction, liberals indistinguishable from conservatives, together a somewhat bland incipient fascism, characterized by business-banking growth, consolidation, and ever-greater political influence at home–the State it is moi (monopoly capitalism), for what and why else is government established?—and battleships, carrier groups, strategic bombers, paramilitary forces, armed drones, JSOC and CIA units globetrotting in search of regime change, all (and more!) in a last-ditch effort to remain at the top of the international power pyramid. Obama here is the quintessential liberal of modern times: devious, enthralled by prospects of continued world domination (of course, to bring democracy to the benighted masses struggling to be free, American-style), a reverential attitude toward power itself and as the corporeality realized in US business and military leaders, and prostrate in worship before Great Wealth. Liberalism, the heavily-rouged face of corporatism, adds flair and vigor to an increasingly widening system of class differentiation by its inclusion of military prowess to provide the dash and thrill of intervention, expansion, market-penetration, and obliteration of the “terrorist,” real or supposed, via missiles guided from 8,000 miles away—in sum, to also provide distraction from the pillaging of the Republic.

Yesterday, a Warhol painting sold in excess of $100M (a Francis Bacon triptych for considerably more)—the devolution of culture? Much worse, a process of wealth-concentration at the societal core which promises further militarism so that it might continue unabated. The race to the bottom, usually thought of as corporate behavior—outsourcing—to achieve the lowest labor costs, has its analogy in reducing the US political culture itself to the lowest moral level: a depersonalization not only of the victims here and overseas, but also the process of unrestricted wealth accumulation (no questions tolerated or even asked), obstacles, both human and governmental, to this process summarily run roughshod over in the self-justification of wealth at the apex of the moral-ideological system. Poor Warhol, a babe-in-the-woods, from the standpoint of milking and/or serving the broader framework of capitalism, compared with Team Obama, Clapper, Brennan, Rhodes, Rice, all vying for the president’s attention in pursuit of systemic rejuvenation through slash-and-burn tactics and the amassing of overwhelming force, less to counter terrorism than to confront and contain China, check Russian influence in the Middle East,, bring the EU closer within the US trade-and-financial orbit, and reestablish America’s world supremacy as its economic foundations, meanwhile, gradually erode.

Nothing is coming out right, largely because a complicit populace takes it on the chin as government and business continue their tango of aggrandizement, business, its massiveness and cumulative hold, thanks to deregulation, on policy-making as well as the people’s consciousness, government, anxious as always to identify with capitalism and please its leaders, going the extra mile to ward off domestic criticism of business operations, however productive of inequality, waste, shoddiness, and worse, while viewing the monopolistic base as the ideal economic groundwork for mounting an expansionist foreign policy. The tango, partnership for an integrated political-military complex advancing capitalism both at home and abroad, speaks to the existence of a unified structure, the interpenetration one the other of two parallel power formations, inseparable in their commitment to class rule and to promoting the interests of each, the strengthening alike of capitalism and the State. In America, their mutual dependence provides the united front against radicalism—or even authentic welfare measures still within capitalism. The current case in point is Obamacare, government as midwife to health insurers’ gross profitability. Measured by the standards of other advanced industrial nations, this does not even meet the betrayal-of-the-public test, so fraudulent its provisions and workings.

What we refuse to admit or to learn is that public policy (including, necessarily, foreign policy) forms a coherent and consistent whole. Fakery on health care does not hold promise for efficacious action on, say, climate change, gun control, job creation, mortgage protection, etc., because the motivation and receptivity to class- and power-arrangements is the same, the placation of, and support for, capitalist interests at the highest levels of wealth and structural concentration, no matter the particular issue at stake. Moreover, how expect constructive action on health care, when the selfsame USG and POTUS vaporize individuals in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere, promiscuously spy on Americans at home, in obvious contempt for civil liberties and rule of law, or eavesdrop on foreign leaders, in utter disregard of international standards of privacy and sovereignty? Manipulative, sure, treacherous and deceitful, keep talking, no end to political-economic dishonesty at its deepest level, yet we are asked to believe in the virtues of Obamacare, as though a step toward the authentic democratization of the social safety net, as meanwhile that social safety net is being gutted on the altar of military expenditures.

My New York Times Comment on Stolberg and Craig’s article, “Health Enrollment Figures Far Lower than Initial Estimates” (Nov. 13, though Comments expunged, no reason given, hours after first appearance) follows:

Obamacare is an abomination. Obama gave away the store even before passage, a gutless performance that makes one suspect he never intended other than a giveaway to the vested interests, chiefly, health insurers. In the W.H. Health Summit, attendees were carefully chosen, dissident views plainly unwelcome. Of course Obama would not accept single-payer, but why reject, as he did, the public option?

Present troubles are a good thing, if they reveal the administration’s pattern of deceit. Health care is not alone–every policy area, from civil liberties to climate change to bank regulation, is a disgrace, Democrats shifting blame to Republicans to cover their own cowardice and conservatism.

Obamacare is not his signature achievement (bad as that is); rather, SAE are: surveillance, assassination, eavesdropping. With a record like that, why expect the health-care plan to be other than a cruel imposture? The nation gets what it deserves, in this case, taxpayer subsidies to the insurance companies, as meanwhile, the people by and large remain unprotected.

Norman Pollack is the author of The Populist Response to Industrial America (Harvard) and The Just Polity (Illinois), The Humane EconomyThe Just Polity, ed. The Populist Mind, and co-ed. with Frank Freidel, Builders of American Institutions. Guggenheim Fellow. Prof. Emeritus, History, Michigan State.  He is currently writing The Fascistization of America: Liberalism, Militarism, Capitalism.  E-mail: pollackn@msu.edu.

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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