Springtime for Obama


For Gabriel Kolko – scholar-activist of human freedom. Mel Brooks, please don’t go there. It’s dangerous; artistic license only extends so far. Oh, alright, I can’t stop you. Not “The Producers,” you say, but its sequel, “The Despoilers,” about pillagers of American democracy, and starring, not Zero Mostel, but an equally gifted actor, whose warm smile can melt the edges of any war crime, Barack Obama, with extensive theatrical training at Harvard Law, and coaching by Wall Street’s finest, skilled in the art of duplicity. Mel, a sure winner, congratulations; central casting will never be the same. From now on, all roles featuring militarism, global conquest, the promotion of wealth concentration, cannot seek refuge in fictional treatments or the sci-fi genre (the Strangelovian scenario once and for all spoiled for amusement, and now confirmed as REAL) and necessarily must be identified, as to leadership, with a Democratic president. Curtain. Chorus girls on an inclined stage–so audience can appreciate dance routine—riding on the top of miniature Predator drones (far more effective than the Swastika number of the earlier production); orchestra, recently augmented by members from Svoboda and Right Sector marching bands, in addition, NATO drum line; staging, with diverse groups–FBI, CIA, JSOC—scurrying about, mixing together in a blur of animated discussion (words popping from the din, “assassination,” “regime change,” along with free improvisation), and in the background somewhat muffled as diffuse noise, the sound—proudly stated in the Program Notes—of an authentic recording of “shock and awe” operations, courtesy of the Pentagon (the same team that brings you Stealth flyovers at football games). Thank you, Mel, for assigning the script to Ben Rhodes. (You knew you could not do it justice, such sight gags as Moses descending Mount Sinai with the Twenty—oops, Ten—Commandments, simply couldn’t hack it.) As with the leading man, we need star quality throughout, here one fresh from the Goebbels School of Creative Writing, whose credits include the Cairo Speech pledging friendship to the Arab and Muslim world, and whose speech patterns are specially suited to the teleprompter. Wise choice, as is that of the accountant—no longer Gene Wilder, but in homage to corporatism, the firm of Brennan, Rice, and Clapper, whose schema for itemized deductions is finely tuned to take advantage of contributions to the newly formalized National Security State. The time is the present. After much jubilation, the scene dissolves to a Kennedy Center Gala, black tie, celebrating the Leader and Liberalism, the two interchangeable, on the occasion of his triumphal tour of Pacific Rim “friends and allies,” spreading American Good Will in the form of military alliances and joint-military exercises whose purpose is the engagement/encirclement followed by the containment and subsequent isolation of China. The mood is upbeat. The Leader, in self-congratulatory mode, is celebrating the presumably successful launch of a two-front reinvigoration of the Cold War. The audience, fully appreciative of this goal and the spectacle surrounding it, is charmed by the scene, complacent, zealous in its dedication to militarism, Exceptionalism, unilateral global hegemony. (Not like that, in “The Producers,” stupefied, open-mouthed, at the blatancy of the Nazi-style allusions.) Concluding Act One, Obama, center stage, having just returned from his Pacific Rim swing, in a soliloquy, breaks into a plaintive recitative, after announcing with great pride his proposed military alliances for achieving the encirclement of China, in complaint that he is misunderstood by his Republican critics and in fact is just as fascistically-inclined as they. Even his TransPacific Partnership (TPP) is not sufficiently appreciated in completing the containment and isolation of China. Shadow boxing with the ghosts of Stalin and Mao, he expected all to fall in line with adoration of his world-transformative persona, a blend of liberalism (in its classic Lockean emphasis on the supremacy of the property right) and fascism (structuralizing the property right into an hierarchical ordering of classes bound together in a military ethos). This is a tender moment, a feeling of proper recognition denied, as though valiant service to the corporate order (background chorus chanting “deregulation”) and sympathetic vibrations leading to the ascendancy of the military and intelligence communities were not exemplary presidential qualities in an advanced capitalist society. The second act takes off from there. Obama, resolving to push ahead, sings about his double-barreled implementation of a Cold War strategy (what’s good for Russia is good for China, from ostracism to the opportunity for dismemberment and/or destruction). US capitalist penetration of Asian markets, here, is less significant than enlarging the American empire in order to head-off the Sino-Russian Eurasian trading bloc and its attendant POWER considerations in a world used to America’s unilateral dominance. In the hit number of the show, Obama rhapsodizes about his Pacific-first strategy as marking the turning point in geopolitical military-structural alignments, paving the way for a return of the US as the single center of world power. The Philippines and, now, Malaysia, in the bag, joined by not-so-subtle urgings for Japan to rearm, the prospects appeared bright—quick scene changes to illustrate myriad settings for military bases—for a further transfer of “assets” closing in on China, accompanied by steadfast declarations of solidarity with friends and allies, all pointing to maintaining a state of tension as indispensable to fueling domestic bellicosity inclined toward a permanent state of war preparation and war itself. Once more, the chorus comes in: War, its preparation, the martial spirit (three-part harmony) reaches a crescendo on the word, “hegemony,” repeated solemnly, relentlessly, for ten minutes, as on the screen is projected the image of Obama, now styled Maximum Leader, being conferred the Nobel Peace Prize. We now return to today: Verily a Springtime for Obama, basking in the approval of such estimable elites as the New York Times, whose only criticism is that his so-called vacillation and indecisiveness (which it and critics alike sorely mistake) underestimates his consistency and thoroughness in favoring confrontation, a disdain for civil liberties, and the unswerving devotion to American Capitalism, an admirable carrier of the paradigm of global dominance. Intermission: My New York Times Comment on the editorial, “President Obama and the World,” (May 4), pertinent to the discussion, yet left out of the Program Notes, follows:

The Times’s assessment is wholly uncritical, particularly where criticism is justified, notably, the geostrategic framework of isolating and containing, simultaneously, both Russia and China–the free pass here explained by your assumption that America by right should be pre-eminent in world affairs, i.e., exercise unilateral power to shape global political-economic-military powers, or simply, GLOBAL HEGEMONY. Nothing else satisfies the editorial board, and becomes the standard of leadership. Obama has done much to disrupt international peace, the Pacific-first strategy, implemented (the “pivot”) by military means, is openly provocative of war; the reliance on CIA-JSOC paramilitary interventions on behalf of regime change, in at least a dozen countries (including support for the coup in Ukraine, embroiling the US and Russia in the first place), another example; most egregious and significant as a war crime, his personal authorization of targeted assassination. Why is America’s reputation scorned in the world? Not because of putative weakness and indecision, but because of intervention, surveillance, eavesdropping (praise to Merkel for standing up to him). NYT, take off the blinkers. The US is engaged in the resumption of the Cold War, primarily because of its own DECLINE, the erosion of its industrial base, the overall financialization and militarization of capitalism at the expense of the social safety net and infrastructure–yes a multipolar world not to be feared.

Act 3: Springtime for America as well, in the form of alleged recovery from the 2008 financial crisis and the recession, is equally important to our script, because to prosecute a global offensive on the Forces of Darkness, Obama, if wanting to contain and isolate China, is still more persistent in his desire to humble Russia and destroy its influence. This requires a World Strategy which combines global hegemony with counterrevolution. (Like in Blue Man Group, with diagrams of plumbing flashed on the wall, designers bring out the intricacies of the interconnections between hegemony, regime change, drone warfare, cyberattacks, the whole mishmash of counterrevolution, with piercing lighting effects to underscore the majesty of US power.) Here the chorus line, dressed in camouflage, does a high-kick number. Entitled, “If you want to avoid criticism, keep the home fires burning,” they sing, in Brechtian voice, a paean on submission to Authority (thirty-second rising growl, “Authority”), Obama, now stage right, in a loud whisper, to the audience, adding, “Be submissive to the nation’s capitalist-military purpose and strategic assumptions,” a deliberate mouthful to obfuscate the deadly meaning. Yet, even these lyrics had to be changed after the fortieth performance, because of their unaccustomed honesty. In fact, a joint task force, composed of DOJ, FBI, CIA, visited, at its request, the director and assembled cast after the fifty-eighth performance (earlier this spring) and threatened to close down the show on national security grounds. The charge: violation of the Espionage Act, because even though it was 100% American in content, its fidelity to raucous Patriotism acted to expose the ideas (and inadvertently, the record of Obama, starting with global hegemony) to ridicule. Fortunately, the relish for war and other giveaways of fascist intent were softened in tone and musical execution—and therefore, production still continues. Fortunately also, the number featuring a cadre of Economists was not removed. Led by a Paul Krugman look-alike, they marched in lockstep, top hat and cane, bellowing out, to the tune of “No Business Like Show Business,” an Anthem of Reassurance: “This Is the Best of All Possible Worlds.” A real show-stopper, this was followed by the seemingly impromptu rendition of a song now making the charts, “What Makes America Great? War, Poverty, Underclass!” Second intermission: My New York Times Comment, on the editorial, “A Better Economy, Still Far From Good,” (May 5), which, despite obvious pertinence, also did not make the Program Notes. Probably my fault because I implied The Times was throwing stardust on a lackluster record in order to pave the way for—while not recognizing—Obama’s fascistic, tripartite agenda: disregard for civil liberties, as in the Espionage Act prosecutions for whistleblowers; deregulation of the business and financial systems, as in making increased wealth-concentration now a given, with added tilting to the “defense” sector, integral to the militarization of capitalism; and the enlarged military budget in hand enjoying bipartisan support, an ambitious planning and program of intervention, market penetration, and global assertion of military prowess. At best, or worst, the belief in economic recovery is subjoined to foreign expansion and aggression, though the Comment is focused on the recovery issue:

I don’t question NYT’s sincerity, here, an argument for commonsense decency…but still myopic and panglossian. What improvement in employment? 238,000 vs. by your own admission, wages flat, “nearly 10 million unemployed people are looking for jobs, and MILLIONS MORE [caps mine] have become so disenchanted that they have given up on finding work altogether.” The latter are tossed out of the picture–yet it is that silent category (along with those still looking) that defines the real picture. From 6.7 to 6.3 is deceptive, even 6.7 being so–by your figures only 5/8ths “working or looking for work.” Anything as per The Times’s usual to praise Obama and blame Republicans, when in fact both are EQUALLY culpable for an economy whose driving forces are privatization and militarism, Democrats as eager as Republicans in the pursuit of both. Time for fighting back: restoring consumption through public works and vitalizing the social safety net. No, the New Deal, contrary to American thinking, was not communistic, nor Keynes, a stooge of Moscow. Crumbling infrastructure, exctravagant waste with sophisticated agents of death, a fast emerging semipermanent UNDERCLASS, financial skullduggery beyond the novelist’s imagination, a Dreiserian cloud settling over the polity. Yes, fight back, rather than lavish praise on what Brecht might term (although he didn’t use the phrase) POLITICAL GANGSTERISM, taking in the whole Washington financial-military scene. NYT can do better.

Finally, and most innovative, producers, director, writer, all agreed a final act, changing each week to reflect current issues of interest, hence improvisatory in character, should be added to provide context for “Springtime,” an updating of Odets to include a taste of the cultural scene which made these events, and the production itself, intelligible. In the week under review, the Sterling Affair became the cynosure of all eyes in the social media, television, the press—racial slurs by the owner of the L.A. Clippers, to be outright condemned as the contrasting darkness to the light of global hegemony. The setting becomes a Kafkaesque Court Room, each judge hurling thunderbolts of menace on the hapless, clueless defendant. (The actor was good in conveying that billions in real estate could lead to unguarded complacency.) The message: Sterling detracts from America’s greatness and moral rectitude. He must be punished, else if such racial comments go unanswered, what will happen to humanitarian intervention, IMF austerity programs, drone assassination in the name of human rights? Here Lady Liberty rides out on a white horse, the scepter of freedom in her hand, joined by the chorus, now enlarged and standing solemnly at attention, the Obama-character coming forward to conduct the Star Spangled Banner, the audience now rising in unison—a paroxysm of patriotism, red, white, and blue confetti released from the ceiling. Curtain down, to thunderous applause. What a moment! Yet, on leaving the theater, I confess to having had disturbing thoughts. NBA needs a scapegoat, but so does the society, in both cases—although neither one sees it that way–as testifying to a self-righteousness inherent in their treatment of blacks. The façade of democracy remained intact so long as it paid (NBA) or proved useful in foreign-policy moves directed to military supremacy, market expansion, and global ideological sway (society). Otherwise, once out of the limelight, blacks would be prime candidates for membership in the Underclass. Contrary to most, I therefore see L’Affaire Sterling as the moralistic orgasm of Liberalism, when, in fact, racism penetrates far deeper into the foundations and history of the polity, foundations which themselves have been left untouched by the presumed outrage (more a knee-jerk reaction) of the public. Comparable indignation does not greet Obama’s own partiality to megabanking and capitalism in general, which does far more to sustain racism in the form of disproportionate attendance in the underclass. Here my New York Times Comment, same date, without reference to fictitious identities, is to David Carr’s excellent article, “V. Stiviano Feeds Media Appetite for Scandal,” revealing a carnival of self-invention, wealth beyond imagination, matters perhaps far worse than the stupid ignorance of Sterling himself:

“…a perfect totem of our age.” Wonderful, fact over fiction. I have refused to follow the Sterling story, Carr’s article–excellent–the first I’ve read. Privacy, ha! Opportunism, everywhere. The super-rich, of course. But as one who fought in the civil rights struggle for years in the 1950s-60s, I cannot feel indignation, because the response to Sterling is so contrived, particularly when racism itself has structural foundations, in a nation over the top in its militarism (POTUS authorizing targeted assassination) and pressing the poor and unemployed into a semipermanent underclass (both exemplify far more obscene racism than Sterling’s gut ignorance and stupidity). Cheers to Stiviano, demonstrating self-invention is the American Way. Rather than heap condemnation on the two, reserve some thought as to an America making them possible and enjoying the orgiastic spectacle. I take the distraction to be an exercise in self-righteousness on the part of the public and NBA, and a way of not thinking about the widening differentials in wealth and power along with an aggressive foreign policy looking actively for confrontation with Russia and China. Sterling is the villain, Obama, with his CIA-JSOC paramilitary operators for regime change, the exemplar of justice. Nonsense; look to ourselves, across the board, before conducting a media lynching of Sterling or lascivious thoughts about Stiviano.

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.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire