When considering elections in the U.S. the tendency is for voters to look at the issues placed in front of them rather than at history, political trajectory and who it is that chooses the issues? On their face Republicans, broadly considered, are more direct shills for the worst of the corporate-state— Wall Street, multi-national oil and gas companies, munitions manufacturers and replacement of any and all democratic tendencies with corporate interests. This written, Democrats have been the cleverer proponents of these same interests, the clean-up crew that poses state support as response to ‘natural’ catastrophes that are exactly and precisely the product of self-cannibalizing corporate-state capitalism.
Political strategy within the mainstream, the choice between slower or faster decay, leaves out of its calculation the possibility of break and rupture that are the most likely ends. Wall Street, which counts ‘both’ political parties in the U.S. as wholly owned subsidiaries, has had three crises of increasing magnitude in as many decades. The oil mafia, the CIA-MI5-BP-Exxon Mobil-military oil and gas establishment, is launching wars at increasing cost with decreasing results except inasmuch as human and environmental catastrophes sustain it. And the ‘political’ establishment that sits metaphorically atop this morass retains public attention only through infinite iterations of manufactured cultural difference.
In history the relation arose during the George W. Bush administration that his most fervent supporters tended to know the least about his actual policies. Mr. Bush effectively mixed Pentecostal identity politics with fear based nationalism and a willingness to say anything, no matter how distant from ‘the facts,’ to advance the corporate-state interests firmly in place since the mid-twentieth century. With a different mix of identity politics and a combination of wishful thinking and desperation on the part of their supporters President Barack Obama and national Democrats have institutionalized the very worst policies of the (George W) Bush administration and added a few of their own under the façade of necessity.
Drawing from a hateful and tragic history, American social ontology poses difference in its objects rather than its facts. The charges of racism that meet criticism of President Barack Obama and his administration find close analog in the charge of anti-Semitism used by Israel for six decades to silence critics of Israeli state policy. From fealty to Wall Street and an international corporate elite to claiming the right to kill without evidence or due process to endless wars for multi-national oil companies and munitions manufacturers to perpetuation of the neo-liberal coup through support for ‘trade’ agreements, the actual policy differences between Mr. Obama and George W. Bush are the decoration of Party politics, not the substance.
Racism plays a role in political calculation and institutional racism is deeply embedded fact that confronts people in the U.S. at every degree of relation. It also unites the murder of Mike Brown in Missouri with the murder of Palestinians in Gaza through Western corporate-state interests expressed in manufactured social difference. This history is real and its residual in difference is both cause and effect. But ‘nature’ didn’t kidnap and enslave Africans or deliver Palestine to Israeli occupation. Imperial history and its modern day incarnation in corporate-state hegemony did. President Barack Obama is the nominal head of this modern corporate-state and his policies are wholly the product of corporate-state interests. And any look at his actual policies suggests that he understands this regardless of whether his supporters do.
The distinction between national and state and local political races has substance, but only within the context of corporate-state hegemony. Of what effect are pro and anti-privatization initiatives at the state level when trade agreements negotiated and enforced at the national and supranational level ultimately determines the form and content of local governance? Put differently, why does the corporate takeover of public functions in Pennsylvania or Wisconsin so closely resemble the neo-liberal dogma embedded in the international trade agreements that national Democrats support? The Republican political ‘branding’ in both states derives from the same misrepresentation of national accounts that Mr. Obama put forward with his conflation of national and household accounts as fiscal constraint.
The misleading charge made by his supporters that President Obama had to ‘save’ Wall Street is slight variation on the broader canard put forward by financial industry lobbyists that the choice was binary. With three crises of increasing intensity in three decades the question of whether Wall Street was saved or temporarily patched up remains to be seen? What appears to be poorly understood is that Wall Street was in the process of cannibalizing itself in the financial part of the economic crisis in 2008 – 2009. By 2007 Wall Street had already looted everything then available to it from the ‘outside’ so it turned on itself. The financial ‘crisis’ was wholly the product of this process.
Bankers supported by their minions in the (George W) Bush and Obama administrations decided which firms lived and died and actively sought to profit from the demise of their competitors. Eric Holder, President Obama’s Attorney General, first articulated the premises of ‘too-big-to-fail’ as an attorney in the (Bill) Clinton administration after which he worked for the white-shoe law firm Covington & Burwell representing clients like Bank of America and General Electric. When Mr. Holder joined Timothy Geithner, former head of the New York Federal Reserve and Larry Summers, one of the chief architects of financial deregulation in the 1990s, in Mr. Obama’s administration the free-pass for Wall Street crimes high and low was assured.
The play on American social ontology required to place Mr. Holder (and Mr. Obama) on the ‘outside’ as a black man rather than as a connected insider depends on the realm of circumscription. Through American support for Israel’s racist slaughter in Gaza Mr. Obama is both a black man within American circumscription and a leader in racist slaughter outside of it. (Anyone doubting either America’s support or the neo-colonial narrative at work in Israel hasn’t done the research). Conspicuously, these aren’t mutually exclusive categories. This is to assert that imperial history is closely tied to its residual of racism in Western social ontology but that it doesn’t end there. Attorney General Eric Holder’s deference to Wall Street with little to no regard for its victims is indistinguishable from that of Timothy Geithner, Larry Summers and former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
Like school privatization efforts at the state and local levels, President Obama’s major initiatives were negotiated in secret by insiders with only cursory public input. The ACA (Affordable Care Act) was written by a health insurance executive, Liz Fowler, based on the model designed by the Heritage Foundation. This ‘insider’ model of governance is the corporate model, it is hierarchical, technocratic, and successfully bringing a product to ‘market’ is the goal. It is ‘pragmatic’ only to the extent that it places corporate interests before those of the alleged beneficiaries, the ‘public.’ Put differently, the premise of this pragmatism is that corporate interests take precedence or the public interest won’t / can’t be represented.
Despite the ‘self-evidence’ of corporate-state pragmatism in the chambers of Western power some semblance of the public interest could in theory have been recovered had Mr. Obama taken his case to ‘the people.’ With regard to Wall Street, a functioning financial system could have been recovered by nationalizing the ‘too-big-to-fail’ banks, breaking them into separate ‘good’ and ‘bad’ banks, selling the bad assets for whatever could be gotten for them and re-regulating the ‘good’ banks to prevent future crises. Doing this is the central purpose of the FDIC (Federal Depositor Insurance Company) and this same basic scheme was successfully implemented in Sweden in the early 1990s.
However, Mr. Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder was the inventor of the ‘too-big-to-fail’ doctrine (link above) and senior administration officials Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers were the (Bill) Clinton administration officials largely responsible for deregulating Wall Street. There were no advocates for the public interest to be found inside the Obama administration by design. And the Wall Street bailouts proceeded precisely as if this were the case. After Wall Street ‘collapsed’ the Obama administration fed it directly at the public trough through bailouts, guarantees and subsidies. This was followed by hedge funds using free and cheap money to buy foreclosed houses to rent back to those from whom they were taken in foreclosure. At no point was the public interest represented.
The same is true of health care ‘reform.’ The starting premise of the Obama administration was that ‘private’ interests would undermine any real effort at reform. Mr. Obama appointed industry and government ‘insiders’ to manage the process of getting an industry bill turned into law. But if private interests precede the public interest then in what way does promoting an industry bill not strengthen this relation? This entire approach to ‘public’ policy is radically undemocratic and its joint product is to put a ‘political’ wrapper on a health care industry give-away. As with the Wall Street bailouts, any actual benefit to the public is incidental. And this political wrapper proceeds from a neo-liberal conception of the public interest as the aggregation of individual ‘private’ interests.
The relation again to state and local political races is the confluence of political and economic hegemony; iteration of the neo-liberal program into the bowels of domestic governance. The privatization of the public sphere is supported at the national level by the Obama administration and national Democrats. The capacity to use supranational governance through trade agreements to override local governance finds its ‘facts’ in implementation at the local level of the global neo-liberal program. The increasing capacity of states to force privatization of the public realm onto cities— schools, water, prisons, roads, garbage collection and health care, through ‘emergency’ takeovers places the capitalists looking to sell their ‘services’ to the public in charge of the decisions to buy them.
This is to write that what appears as political choice at the local and state levels is better explained as the removal of choice at the national and international levels. The corporate-neo-liberal programs increasingly found in state and local political races— privatization, the undermining of democratic institutions and the disappearance of the public realm under ‘fiscal’ constraints, is every bit as much the work of national Democrats as it is of ‘local’ Republicans. And part of the reason the selling of political outcomes under the guise of economic constraints has been so effective is that ‘liberal’ politicians like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have been selling right wing misdirection as liberal ‘fact’ for decades now.
If the polls are correct and Democrats lose ‘control’ of both the Senate and the House of Representatives they have only their own fecklessness to blame. The eternal refrain that the Democrat Party must ‘move back to the political center’ now places Barack Obama several miles to the right of conservative Republican Richard Nixon in every conceivable dimension of governance. As Mr. Obama’s first Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel put it when Democrats regained the House and Senate in 2006, ‘now we (Democrats) can get corporate campaign contributions again.’ As the current Mayor of Chicago Mr. Emanuel finds himself promoting the same neo-liberal interests at the local level that he helped promote nationally in the Obama administration.
Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is forthcoming.