FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

All the Populism Money Can Buy

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

Across the country, last weekend there were anti-war demonstrations, modest in turnout, but hopefully a warning to Obama that war without end or reason in Afghanistan, plus 40,000 more troops to Kabul, is not why people voted for him.

I spoke at our own little rally in my local town of Eureka, California. My neighbor Ellen Taylor decided to spice up the proceedings by having a guillotine on the platform, right beside the Eureka Courthouse steps. It’s in the genes. Her father was Telford Taylor, chief U.S. prosecutor at Nuremberg.

When she told me about the plan for the guillotine, I wasn’t sure it was a good idea. But Ellen said she wanted to reach out to new constituencies beyond the committed left, and what better siren call than the swoosh of the Avenging Blade? A hundred years ago, people liked to stress the similarities of the American and French revolutions. Mark Twain composed the most passionate defense of the Terror  ever written in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court . But then, after 1917, the French Revolution was seen as the harbinger of Bolshevik excess and it grew less popular.

Up on the platform, I took the guillotine issue head on. In the  Terror, only 666 aristocrats had been topped in Paris in what is now the Place de la Concorde; 1,543 throughout France. The reward: a decisive smack on the snout of the land-holding aristocracy; durable popular power for peasants, workers and the petit bourgeois: M. le patron and M. le proprietaire stepped into history.

Here, in America, the corporate class is now entirely out of control, lawless and beyond the sanction of prosecutor, juror or ballot box. If corporate lawbreakers felt that somewhere along the line the retribution of the guillotine might await them, it would concentrate their minds marvelously, and cow them into lawfulness.

I got some cheers, and a charming young hippy, Brooklyn, mother of three, told me she wanted to move to France forthwith. Ellen asked the executioner, Michael Evenson, to put the contraption through its paces. She invited the crowd to call out designated victims – CEOs of the major banks, billionaires of note. Michael hitched the blade up six feet, and down it came with quite a satisfactory thwock.

Three days earlier, Goldman Sachs announced $3.1 billion in third-quarter profits, and set aside $5.3 billion for bonuses. Since G-Sachs is only still in business because of public bailout money, the bonus payments really make people mad. On the whole, Americans aren’t keen on axe blades, preferring the lynch mob’s rope, but if the target had been the board members of Goldman Sachs, I’m sure they’d make a generous exception, particularly after Lord Griffith’s remarks were widely quoted on this side of the Atlantic. Griffiths, vice chairman of Sachs International, told an audience at St. Paul’s Cathedral last Tuesday that the  public should “tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity for all. I believe that we should be thinking about the medium-term common good, not the short-term common good …”

Left and liberal commentators have talked yearningly about a new populist fever raging in the American body politic, prompted by the spectacle of bailouts for bankers but foreclosures and the dole for everyone else. I can’t say there’s much sign of populism in any energetic form. Look at movies from the Thirties, like Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and there’s a real edge to the anger of that time Capra felt it artistically important to convey. These days, the anger is formulaic. Over the weekend, the liberal opinion makers at the New York Times – Bob Herbert and Frank Rich – chewed out Goldman Sachs. Growled Herbert:

“Even as tens of millions of working Americans are struggling to hang onto their jobs and keep a roof over their families’ heads, the wise guys on Wall Street are licking their fat-cat chops over yet another round of obscene multibillion-dollar bonuses – this time thanks to the bailout billions that were sent their way by Uncle Sam, with very little in the way of strings attached.”

The Obama administration promptly rushed to cover its left flank by announcing it’s planning to impose cuts in executive pay at seven companies with substantial bailout funds. The U.S. senate’s parlor populist, Bernie Sanders, dutifully proclaimed that the Obama administration deserve praise for “taking an important step forward in trying to control the obscene compensation packages of the top executives on Wall Street.”

Note the meek qualifier, “trying.” The truth of the matter is that the Obama team has managed the tricky shot of giving more bailout money to the banks than the cumulative dispensations of all previous U.S. governments, while at the same time NOT giving any significant debt relief to ruined homeowners, a huge slice of whom is poor, black and Hispanic. Obama is not seeking to reform the financial system, and it would be beyond miraculous if he did, since the contrivers of the present mess – Lawrence Summers, et al – were given a welcoming clap on the back by the new president, as he stepped into the White House and told them to get on with the job. This amazing bailout for the existing corrupt system – as if Lenin had used the October revolution to restore the Romanovs – has been engineered without significant opposition from organized labor or the left-ßliberal end of Obama’s own party.

Of course, people curse the bankers and their political flunkeys as they watch their 10Ks atomize, their homes go, and their jobs disappear to China. They smolder as they watch the parade of Murdoch’s demagogues on Fox, flirting and toying with the theme of Obama’s assassination. The Obama administration dares to go to war with Glen Beck, apparently the only enemy it feels capable of confronting, at least at the time of writing. The gossip site Gawker calls on its readers to turn in all discreditable information about Goldman Sachs executives. The liberal talk host Olberman calls on his audience to rat out Beck. Neither invitation has thus far yielded any significant harvest.

Alas, American populism needs the octane of cash. During the Clinton scandal, Hustler supremo Larry Flynt wanted his audience to rat out high-ranking Republican sinners. He offered $100,000 cash rewards, and the dirt rolled in. Populism has to be cash-based these days. Maybe that was Ralph Nader’s point. His first work of fiction, 700 pages long, is titled Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us.

Kevin Gray, Mark Rudd, Bruce Franklin…The Gang’s All Here!

Ten months into Obama-time, the plight of black Americans is terrible. Yet overwhelmingly they rally behind the president. In a powerful report from South Carolina Kevin Alexander Gray asks the question: what should the black political agenda be?

New to CounterPunch, Mark Rudd contributes an important piece on movement-building – task number one for the left today. He counterposes “organizing” with “activism” and describes what it will take to build a movement.  H. Bruce Franklin gives a chronology of the march into Afghanistan.

Subscribe today!

ALEXANDER COCKBURN can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com

More articles by:

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

November 22, 2017
Jonathan Cook
Syria, ‘Experts’ and George Monbiot
William Kaufman
The Great American Sex Panic of 2017
Richard Moser
Young Patriots, Black Panthers and the Rainbow Coalition
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima Darkness
Lee Artz
Cuba Libre, 2017
Mark Weisbrot
Mass Starvation and an Unconstitutional War: US / Saudi Crimes in Yemen
Frank Stricker
Republican Tax Cuts: You’re Right, They’re Not About Economic Growth or Lifting Working-Class Incomes
Edward Hunt
Reconciling With Extremists in Afghanistan
Dave Lindorff
Remembering Media Critic Ed Herman
Nick Pemberton
What to do About Al Franken?
November 21, 2017
Gregory Elich
What is Behind the Military Coup in Zimbabwe?
Louisa Willcox
Rising Grizzly Bear Deaths Raise Red Flag About Delisting
David Macaray
My Encounter With Charles Manson
Patrick Cockburn
The Greatest Threats to the Middle East are Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman
Stephen Corry
OECD Fails to Recognize WWF Conservation Abuses
James Rothenberg
We All Know the Rich Don’t Need Tax Cuts
Elizabeth Keyes
Let There be a Benign Reason For Someone to be Crawling Through My Window at 3AM!
L. Ali Khan
The Merchant of Weapons
Thomas Knapp
How to Stop a Rogue President From Ordering a Nuclear First Strike
Lee Ballinger
Trump v. Marshawn Lynch
Michael Eisenscher
Donald Trump, Congress, and War with North Korea
Tom H. Hastings
Reckless
Franklin Lamb
Will Lebanon’s Economy Be Crippled?
Linn Washington Jr.
Forced Anthem Adherence Antithetical to Justice
Nicolas J S Davies
Why Do Civilians Become Combatants In Wars Against America?
November 20, 2017
T.J. Coles
Doomsday Scenarios: the UK’s Hair-Raising Admissions About the Prospect of Nuclear War and Accident
Peter Linebaugh
On the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest
Patrick Bond
Zimbabwe Witnessing an Elite Transition as Economic Meltdown Looms
Sheldon Richman
Assertions, Facts and CNN
Ben Debney
Plebiscites: Why Stop at One?
LV Filson
Yemen’s Collective Starvation: Where Money Can’t Buy Food, Water or Medicine
Thomas Knapp
Impeachment Theater, 2017 Edition
Binoy Kampmark
Trump in Asia
Curtis FJ Doebbler
COP23: Truth Without Consequences?
Louisa Willcox
Obesity in Bears: Vital and Beautiful
Deborah James
E-Commerce and the WTO
Ann Garrison
Burundi Defies the Imperial Criminal Court: an Interview with John Philpot
Robert Koehler
Trapped in ‘a Man’s World’
Stephen Cooper
Wiping the Stain of Capital Punishment Clean
Weekend Edition
November 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Thank an Anti-War Veteran
Andrew Levine
What’s Wrong With Bible Thumpers Nowadays?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The CIA’s House of Horrors: the Abominable Dr. Gottlieb
Wendy Wolfson – Ken Levy
Why We Need to Take Animal Cruelty Much More Seriously
Mike Whitney
Brennan and Clapper: Elder Statesmen or Serial Fabricators?
David Rosen
Of Sex Abusers and Sex Offenders
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail