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Obama and Keystone XL: A Bastardized Legacy

Obama’s rejection of the pipeline extension for transmission of a portion of Alberta tar sands oil on November 6, already the subject of three solid critical articles in CounterPunch, reveals the political and ideological nihilism of his presidency and actions of his administration, an effort at legacy-building when all else has failed. How could it be otherwise, for who wants a legacy of being known as point-man of the American Corporate System (which he is!), obfuscation in the name of liberalism his signature method of operation, deep-seated impulses—even when not showing cause, as though wired into his make-up and belief system—toward war, intervention, regime change, and feelings of power through personal approval of drone assassination, covert action, persecution of whistleblowers, mass surveillance, an identification with the purposes of US global hegemony given practical meaning in the reliance on force and exultation of all things military? When one begins with that context, the archetypal capitalist front man, it is difficult to take seriously his rejection of this pipeline project as other than planned deceit to burnish his image, at the same time attempt to silence his environmentalist critics, and fend off opposition to further contamination of the atmosphere.

Obama’s record on climate control (like so much else in the 2008 campaign, he made promises about taking strong action on the environment, yet did not introduce plans to use the EPA to limit greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants until mid-2014) is inseparable from his larger treatment of corporations, as in making the security and profitability of US business near-absolute under the provisions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. There are no soft spots in his economic policy; the welfare of major industrial-financial enterprises is possibly second to, and even then interrelated with, militaristic expansion, itself less for its own sake than as the basis for market end investment penetration in an American defined and guided international political system. US multinationals of practically every description are fully intended to operate as vehicles of national power (privatization as the simulacrum of American Exceptionalism) and furnish impetus for the further tightening of the structure of advanced capitalism, in both cases complemented by a strong military underwriting the principle of globalization.

What has this to do with oil, natural gas, coal? Extraction, like consumerism, becomes a god-given right (and rite!) to the superior among individuals, corporations, nations, an instrumental approach to life and statecraft alike which reflects the amoral core of capitalism, the mindset of plunder and take no prisoners. Of course there is concern about energy independence on the level of policymaking, but that hardly explains the lies about the effects of fracking, methane, the turn in strategy to ever more dangerous methods and sources of supply, all pointing to the rapid acceleration of factors promoting climate change. It is as though the nation under Obama intends the outcome, takes pride in self-deception, values denial as an expression of loyalty to capitalism, and ridicules science as faintly socialistic. Only the poor would suffer, marginalized already, and therefore not to be considered. Do I exaggerate? Let’s go back to 1950, Theodor Adorno and colleagues, in The Authoritarian Personality, use the f-scale [fascism] to show the unitary character of the human personality structure, the interconnectivity of ideological views when it comes to attitudes toward the individual, society, and government.

Obama cannot obliterate fellow humans through drone assassination and pursue constructive policies on global warming. He cannot pretend to putting in place environmental safeguards when the entire infrastructure of delivery systems (with the lone exception) with the attendant risks ignored has now been constructed, even including ports for the export of oil. What is here lacking is a moral conviction that the affirmation of life requires social justice broadly conceived to apply to nature as well as persons, that respect for one, to be authentic, necessarily entails a respect for the other. By his leadership, fusing Wall Street and militarism, he proves incapable of addressing societal problems, for whether oil or natural gas, the emissions’ floodgate is wide- open; pollution goes with consumerism as the genius of American life. Obama is content to go along with the tide, a legacy of spoliation and carnage perhaps altogether fitting for the role the US has set for itself in the world.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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