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Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old

Democracies have fallen, they have always fallen, because humanity craves the outstanding personality.

?Ezra Pound

In the weeks and months leading up to the 2008 election, I hit the streets and the phones – along with about 1.5 million other believers. At Obama HQ here in Kansas City I was given a cell phone and I made calls to get voters to the polls. I traipsed up and down neighborhood streets along with other volunteers and knocked on doors, and on more than a few occasions faced snarling dogs or snarly Republicans.

This was it! If we did this, the nightmare would end. Sanity would return. We’d get out of Iraq; Gitmo would close; rendition would end, as would secret prisons and the neglect of habeas corpus. Universal health care would finally arrive – fifty years after Harry S. Truman first dreamed of it. The lobbyists would get the boot. Corporate money would no longer make laws and policy. Science and reason would determine our energy policy so that rapid and dramatic action could be brought to bear on the looming catastrophe of climate change.

But here we are a little over a year later and none of this happened. Permanent war, now reinforced by a tripling of forces in Afghanistan and the outsourcing of some of our military commitments to Mercenaries Incorporated, is the official policy of the Obama administration. The president’s speech to declare this policy – whose live audience, notably, was the current and future military leadership at West Point – could well have been delivered verbatim by his predecessor.

Health insurance and pharmacy industry lobbyists have nearly worn out the front hall rugs at the White House as the debate raged nationally – and futilely, it appears – over whether America would finally have a health care system commensurate with its presumed status as a prosperous and civilized nation. Not so much. Remember the nitpicky debates among Obama and Edwards and Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primaries about whose plan was most effective and offered the best coverage? Healthcare industrialists and lobbyists must have snickered through it all – the wasted efforts of staffs to develop those plans and prep their candidates and then post all the fine points on the Web, the wasted breath of pundits and editorialists, and the empty hopes of people who thought that one of those plans might actually become the law of the land. But money wins and we lose in a country where citizenship requires an Inc. after your name to have a voice – and for your vote to matter.

And while healthcare lobbyists put on their galoshes and overcoats the White House front hall, banking and brokerage lobbyists and CEOs were taking theirs off. The question of whether bailouts were needed to save us all from financial Armageddon need not even be raised to ask why accountability was never part of the program when hundreds of billions of our dollars were handed out. To be clear, life is good (remember that catch phrase of the booming 90s?) if you’re employed in the upper strata of the companies that led us to the brink of disaster. As one of the best years of the entire decade comes to a close on Wall Street – just one year after Armageddon! ? here are a few recent headlines from the website of that oracle of free market optimism, CNBC:

Stocks Will Soar in Q1: ‘Very Optimistic’ Asset Strategist
Earnings Will Rise 16% Next Year: Citi’s Levkovich
Stay ‘Fully Invested’: Stock Picker
S&P Charts Full of Bull (Market)
Art Cashin: Class Warfare a Threat to US Recovery
Citi: The Can’t Lose Trade of 2010?
Cramer: 10 Stocks to Buy Your Kids in 2010
Market to Rise 10% in First Half of 2010: Strategist
Market Tips: No Big Correction in 2010

“What, me worry?” seems as apt a slogan as “Life is good.” But why should they worry? An economy pumped up by money that still smells of printer’s ink from the Treasury Department is surely a more resilient economy than one in which people make things and then sell them to each other, isn’t it, at least, if your business is using money to make money? Who needs the middle man? Just keep printing and borrowing, just as we did for the past fifteen years or so since deregulation and the jettisoning of Glass-Steagall. It’s different this time. Tulip bulbs anyone? You only need to spend ten minutes listening to CNBC to recognize that the main theme of their economic outlook is consumption. The almighty consumer is the engine of the economy, and all they’re waiting for is all of us to get back to Wal-Mart and the mall with our credit cards.

Well, we can’t lay all this at Obama’s feet, can we? In fact, that’s the point, isn’t it? We expected too much and were too naïve. The systemic damage of a generation of consumption and squander and corruption in both government and business is no doubt irreparable. The change we need is more than a new face in the White House – and even in Congress. It’s a change in expectation, a change in the way we lead our lives, a change in the kind of country America has become.

Have I become too cynical to vote this year, as pundits like Ed Schultz fear many Obama supporters may be? No, I’ll vote – and I’ll work to elect candidates who don’t take corporate money and who don’t rely on superstition or incendiary tactics to rally their supporters. And I’ll work to expose those who do. I’ll volunteer for candidates who have proven records of environmental foresight and who vote against funding war and redundant and unnecessary weapons systems. I’ll support candidates who made the tough votes – candidates who don’t see more coal-burning utility plants, mountain-top removal, dirty rivers, and corporate farms & healthcare & warfare in our future. I don’t care if there’s a D or an I or even an R after their names. I don’t care if they’re electable. Maybe if enough of us began voting for the unelectable ones with spines and consciences they would get elected.

Time is short. The economic system is a thin veneer lacquered over an unthinkably massive amount of debt. The tipping point of global warming is perhaps only a decade away. Buying a Prius won’t matter much once the permafrost of the arctic regions thaws and massive quantities of methane gas are released into the atmosphere, or once the dead zones of our oceans have expanded to the point at which dozens of generations will have to pass before undersea life returns, or once our glaciers have melted and drought brings suffering on a scale such as we have never seen.

I’ll need better reasons to face down a snarling dog in a potential voter’s front yard than I’ve had for the past year.

BOB SOMMER’s novel, Where the Wind Blew, which tells the story how the past eventually caught up with one former member of a 60s radical group, was released in June 2008 by The Wessex Collective. He blogs at Uncommon Hours.

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