Ancient philosophical ideas lie behind more of modern discourse than many people imagine. Philosophical post-modernism arose partially from Martin Heidegger’s radical critique of Plato’s ontology (via Descartes) that itself lies behind Western economics and many of the modes of demonstration in science. From Heidegger’s critique philosopher Jacques Derrida drew his own idea of materialism—for present (limited) purposes a placing of imagination in this world rather than in the world of the imagined (Where does it reside otherwise?). But it was by placing imagination wholly in the world of the imagined that Democrats sold their pageant in Charlotte—as if the fact of the last four years were but one of an infinite number of equally plausible universes.
To trot out former President Bill Clinton as the incarnation of ‘elder statesman’ required an even grander imagination— one where the last twenty years either didn’t happen or didn’t matter. In fact, and despite the teary-eyed windbaggery of liberal nostalgia, Dot-com Bill and his financial deregulatin’ is nearly single handedly responsible for the economic plight that still grips the West. His promotion of right-wing talking points (‘The end of the era of big government,’ ‘the end of welfare as we know it’) attached to his right-wing policies begs the question of where Democrats think right-wing ‘crazies’ got their ideas about small government and economic self-reliance from? And with his welfare ‘reform’ Mr. Clinton began the job of gutting the social safety net that Barack Obama now welcomes as his own. Welcome back Mr. President.
The premise of the Democrats, that ‘facts’ don’t matter when it comes to what their actual policies are while in office, is made visible by the visions of the (Democratic) future being offered. The economy is ‘healing’ and therefore jobs will reappear, foreclosures will cease, incomes will rise and retirements will be secured. Nonsense. Median wealth and income continue to fall (link), banks are holding foreclosed houses off of the market to stabilize prices, but won’t do so forever, and the jobs that are appearing provide neither income nor employment security, or even in many cases a living wage. But the coup-de-grace is that the predatory financial system that crashed the economy has been wholly re-vivified by Mr. Obama and is using citizen-supplied funds to gut prudent re-regulation. Count on recurrent severe financial crises until this system is shut down. And did Mr. Obama mention his plans to cut Social Security and Medicare?
The economic frame that is Mr. Clinton’s legacy is a banker’s wet dream, in large measure because it was bankers (Robert Rubin) who created it. In the mythology, fiscal discipline led to the Clinton era economic boom that was in fact the result of the dot-com stock bubble (link) and the ‘freeing’ of money from the grip of prudent banking through bank deregulation. The housing bubble that eventually disappeared the entirety of black wealth began under Mr. Clinton (link). And Mr. Obama has used the Clinton frame to explain both his absence of adequate policies to respond to the economic crisis caused by rogue bankers and the need to further gut the social safety net.
In the views of the convention Democrats interviewed the current conundrum seems a terrible accident, the result of a horrific set of circumstances handed Mr. Obama by ‘the previous administration.’ While this is true, the degrees of regress required to get back to the point where Democrats don’t share responsibility takes them back to the Johnson administration. The facts are that Barack Obama could have taken the liberal / progressive policies that these constituencies imagine he supports to the people. The practice is called ‘politics’ and involves rallying public support for programs that entrenched interests might not otherwise support. Instead, he took them to his people—the insurance industry, Wall Street, the oil and gas industry and the military. The result is that he handed those of us who he now petitions for support over to an increasingly predatory corporatocracy.
The liberal pundit class, which now includes the fully deluded Tom Hayden (link), is going all-out to convince the people whose interests Mr. Obama has spent the last four years working against that the fate of the Western world lies in their hands if he isn’t re-elected. Mr. Hayden’s specific points– that Republican governments have historically been more militaristic and less tolerant of civil dissent, should be addressed.
First, it is unfortunate that Barack Obama didn’t know this history as he was building out his domestic spying apparatus, expanding Presidential power to assassinate citizens without evidence or trial, executing secret drone wars on multiple continents, saber-rattling against Iran for the benefit of Israel and acceding to right-wing coups in Central America. As far as ‘voluntarily’ quitting Iraq, Mr. Obama tried unsuccessfully to gain agreement from the Iraqi government to continue the U.S. military presence in Iraq and failed—there was nothing voluntary about it. Mr. Obama ratcheted up the war in Afghanistan toward what end? And as an active participant in a domestic group engaged in political dissent called Occupy Wall Street, Barack Obama can rot in hell for eternity for the violence coordinated against us by the White House.
With a particularly nasty bit of deceit Mr. Hayden, former radical, puts forward a liberal canard when he alludes to poll results that show zero percent support for Mitt Romney among African Americans as evidence of stealth racism amongst Barack Obama’s former supporters turned critics. What this statement conflates, in true Nixonian fashion, is criticism of Barack Obama with support for Mitt Romney. A quick speculation is that support for Mitt Romney amongst Barack Obama’s former supporters turned critics is also zero percent. Those with whom I’ve spoken favor a more radical rethinking of the entire political economy.
But more remains to this charge that should be addressed. Anyone paying attention would know of the wholesale effort being carried out by Republicans to disenfranchise traditional Democratic constituencies– people of color, the poor and the elderly, from voting. The ‘anyone’ in the above sentence includes Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and the entirety of the Democratic establishment. So, where are they? The answer is that they are busy soliciting campaign contributions from the bankers who stole the entirety of black wealth through the housing boom-bust. And the oil and gas companies that killed the indigenous economies in the Gulf Coast. And the hedge fund managers allied with the Peterson Institute who would gut the social safety net to keep more of their ill-gotten wealth.
Also deeply offensive and factually racist is the use of people as props in Democratic political theater. In the American social ontology the prism of race is one cut and economic class another. The promise of social inclusion that Democrats occasionally voice hasn’t been effectively codified since Lyndon B. Johnson was in the White House. While Mr. Obama’s tepid, three year late ‘personal’ endorsement of gay marriage in a challenging election cycle was better than a kick in the teeth, the benefit is limited when his economic policies fully support greater class stratification and a predatory financial system that uses America’s long history of race and gender domination as a pricing guide to extract additional economic rents.
By feigning large differences between the political parties what is hidden is the narrow set of interests that both parties serve. In polls liberals, progressives and even most conservatives favor ‘getting the money out of politics’ while continuing the fiction that singular economic interests result in oppositional politics. This finds faux-form in the alleged political differences between George Soros and the Koch Brothers. Both owe their economic existence to a single economic system. One is nominally ‘Democrat’ and the other ‘Republican,’ but both are capitalists. Make whatever excuses you care to for Barack Obama, the one area where he consistently delivered results was in keeping the ruling class out of prison and extremely well fed. His policies benefited both George Soros and the Koch Brothers.
And to put the question back, where have the intractable, obstructionist Republicans been when it came to intractable obstruction of Mr. Obama’s never ending sops to the ruling class? They could have revived the fortunes of their party with calls to jail the banking malefactors who Mr. Obama gave free passes to, to end the ‘too-big-to-fail’ guarantees that maintain the corrupt, dysfunctional banking system and with calls to end his Afghanistan adventure that funds military contractors and slaughters innocent civilians. The answer is that current Republicans are ideologically opposed to holding the ruling class responsible for their crimes and limiting how much they can loot and Democrat Barack Obama is factually opposed to holding the ruling class responsible for their crimes and limiting how much they can loot. How do we know this? Those are his policies.
Rob Urie is an artist and political economist in New York.