Saturday, February 7, 2009

Pitchforks & Torches (UPDATED)

guest posted by Armadillo Joe

I know that Obama has an army of monied interests ranged against him and against the implementation of the ideals of the people who've come to power in his wake and that limits all of their options. I know that everything can't magically change overnight. I know times of epochal change like the one we're living through right now are usually frought with violent and bloody back and forth before the new age becomes evident and the old guard fades into oblivion or dies off. I know all of that, but depending on which side of an historical conflict a society plants its flag and deploys its resources, the resolution of the conflict can and usually does mean the end of one civilization's hegemony for ascension of its opposition.

OK, time to stop being vague.

The history of human conflict has always been about the clash between the haves and the have-nots. This conflict is scalable and operates at every level from the micro to the macro from interpersonal to international from the beginning of time to right now, from two cave-men duking it out fireside over a leg of mammoth meat or a beautiful, curvy cave-girl all the way up to our invasion of Iraq to sieze control of their oil fields. In recent centuries, we've come to describe this conflict in terms of left and right, liberal and conservative, blue and red or what have you. But the conflict is always the same. It is always between those who want to restrict citizenship (i.e. - power and wealth, meaning agency over one's own fortunes) and those who want to expand citizenship to the masses (i.e. - "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal...", itself imperfect, or "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need").

And right now, I think Obama and company's fetishization of bi-partisanship puts him on the wrong side of history.

The last eight years have been the culmination of a decades-long program of willful destruction of the mechanisms of equality by the wealthy ruling class of this country. From 1776 forward, they were never really on board with that whole "democracy" thing anyway and only tolerated it to the extent that it was good for their personal fortunes. In flush times, the more prosperous the non-rich became, the more the ruling-class saw their power erode because -- unlike wealth, which can expand for the benefit of all people in a society -- the question of who wields power in any society is truly a zero-sum proposition: winning means someone else has to lose, because we can't all have everything we want all the time.

By the time ruling class' on-again/off-again program for total domination of the American economy had again failed more spectacularly than ever seen before in the 1930's, their power was probably at its lowest point in human history. That is why FDR was so often called a traitor to his class, because he could see the grand sweep of history and knew his breed were not unlike dinosaurs. Ever-expanding material wealth and the power it accrues cannot be limited to the priviledged few forever, just ask the Romanoffs. Afterall, royalty is just wealth so old nobody remembers the crimes that built the fortune.

But FDR's correcting of the societal tally sheet couldn't be allowed to stand by the wealthy families who had to surrender power, fancying themselves as they did as a kind of unaccountable American royalty (again, bad plan - just ask the Romanoffs). If FDR's New Deal hadn't been responsible for the widespread middle-class prosperity that followed our victory in World War 2, we might have seen a return to a kind of corporate feudalism much, much sooner. Afterall, the ruling class did try to oust Roosevelt-the-Traitor in a coup, including 43's grandpappy (he was never punished, obviously). So, instead of a swift and merciless overthrowing of the lefties, our country's ruling class had to take their time. Decades, in fact. Through Nixon's Southern Strategy and Saint Ronnie of the Ray-Gun's "Revolution" and the impeachment of a popular president for a blowjob and the theft of an election (or two) and, most of all, the selling-off of America's vast resources -- natural, industrial, human -- have been the preferred modes, means and methods of buoying the wealth at the top end while eroding the buying power of everyone else.

It almost completely worked. They were almost done. And then the bottom fell out of their plans this last September, before they could snatch another election.

They had to do something, and fast, before anyone could figure out what was happening.

From day one, the TARP was obviously a massive, last-ditch smash-and-grab for all the shit that hadn't already been gutted from Treasury (part of that "starving the public sphere for the sake of the private" thing I wrote about yesterday) and I said so at the time on my old blog:

The bailout, which is SOOOO last week I know, is (as Mr. Sideshow wrote a couple of weeks ago), long before Hank "The Donald Rumsfeld of Economics" Paulson's "Give-Me-All-The-Money-And-Don't-Fucking-Ask-Me-Any-Questions-Or-The-Economy-Gets-It" three-page plan was scuttled in The House - the People's Chamber - by the "Tru-Believers" in the Rethugli-bot coalition (before being rescued by The Senate - The Plutocrat's Chamber) because - weaned on the poison milk of the Reagan Revolution as they are - they never understood that all that free-market rhetoric was just so much malarky spread by the Ruling Class to get their signature pet policies package-dealt with all those the Culture War rostrums that get the shrieking wingnut brigades nice and agitated for the end result of election victories that translate via Abramoff and Delay and the like into more money in the pockets of the Monied Class.

Now, Obama's Money Boy -- Tim Geithner -- and all the other "serious" people who got us into this mess in the first place but somehow merited a job in the new administration anyway (bi-partisanship, I guess) have decided to go ahead and give away the rest of the money anyway with no additional strings or oversight, because why would we want to demand accountability from the Wall Street Masters of the Universe who got filthy, stinking rich putting the rest of us in this mess in the first place?

From the New York Times online:

The new financial industry rescue plan, to be outlined in broad terms on Monday in a speech by the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, will not require banks to increase their lending. That is despite criticism that institutions that already received money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, either hoarded it or used the funds to acquire other banks.

The incentives to investors could be in the form of commitments to absorb some of the losses from any assets they purchase, should their values continue to decline. The goal is to relieve the banks of their worst assets so that private investors might then provide more capital.

And I agree with David Sirota's assessment of that cozy arrangement: a nutshell, banks get more taxpayer cash, but taxpayers will not force the banks to lend more, nor will taxpayers have the leverage to throw out the economy-destroying management of the banks that we now own. Instead, our money will be used to ensure that huge private investors that put money into those banks don't lose any money on their risk.


Taxpayer money is being handed over to the Manhattan millionaires who created this crisis, and we get absolutely nothing in return - not even the illusion of anything, really.


They've turned this moment of political change and economic meltdown into an opportunity to distill kleptocracy into its most pure form.

I will make this prediction: No one responsible for this mess will every suffer any punishment. Ever.

Now prove me wrong.

Just like I'd like to be proved wrong about punishment for the lies about WMD in Iraq, Justice Department corruption and torture. I won't hold my breath.

UPDATE (2/8/09 12:30pm):

In the comments, Michael says:
I think you have seriously missed here. Obama cannot simultaneously be the good guy you imply in your first paragraph, and then do all the things you say in the rest of the article. It's time to face the music: the reason the administration is filled with the thugs who ruined things and continue to do so is because they are the people Obama supports and hires. Blaming bipartisanship is bullshit. He had choices, and he made them. He's not a good guy; he's one of them. It's bait and switch, yet again.
And I take his critique to heart. He's right, Obama cannot be both the crusader for good in the first paragraph and the typically-corrupt Washington politician in the remainder at the same time.

My writing was unclear.

Now, I have been called out before for making a claim just like Michael's ("Meet the new boss, same as the old boss") -- by the proprietor of this website, as a matter of fact -- back over at my old place, so I am not unfamiliar with feeling like Obama could prove to be part of the same hypocrisy. With that said, though, I want to clarify my train of thought in building the above post.

I believe Obama is fundamentally a good man, well-intentioned with the sort of strong moral compass that grows from seeing real human suffering up close and personal (something most of our monied class has no idea about). I also believe that Obama is a wily politician with a finely-tuned social radar from growing up never fully belonging to any one social group (being mixed-race when America was ripping itself apart over racial issues) and the same chameleon-like ease of movement one learns when moving up through the Ivy Leagues and on into the corridors of power from the lowest of the lower classes in this country. Bill Clinton, going from poor, fatherless Arkansas white-trash to President of the United States, had the same skill-set for many of the same reasons.

In many ways, Obama's background makes him the anti-Nixon. Nixon also grew up poor, but his class-consciousness didn't broaden his horizons and open his heart to human suffering, instead it rotted his soul, made him bitter about his upbringing and ultimately gave this nation the myriad petty and high crimes of his administration, derived as they were from the paranoia of a fundamentally sick, wicked man, surrounded by cronies equally twisted.

Obama sees the precipice this nation has either gone over or is about to, I feel certain, but I fear his inclusion of so many of the guilty parties in the effort to fix our condition comes not from corruption as much from naivete, trust and hopefulness. But it may be too late. The glorification of greed and acquisitiveness in the English-speaking world since Saints Maggie and Ronnie clawed their way into power three decades ago means that now "the lack of scruples in America and Britain has gone beyond the tipping point, and is going to exact high societal costs. The parasites are eating the host." (H/T C&L)

I am not confident that Obama can do much about our problems without some widespread suffering pulling down the forces that got us here, and those forces have money and the instruments of governmental power to protect them. We need us some good old-fashioned, people-powered populist politics to force out the kind of comfortable corruption that has become the norm in Washington D.C., which Obama must tolerate to get anything done. I think he is very much the outsider still. It remains to be seen whether or not he'll be frozen out by the permanent social classes of Washington the way "Billary" was 15 years ago. The way the Senate bill went down this week at the hands of a few squishy-centrists is but a small window into the smug self-righteousness that is the true heart of the "bi-partisanship" he fetishizes (along with the rest of the D.C. Villagers) and I hope the ugliness of what happened in the Plutocrats' Chamber will be a lesson to him and his people about what actual bi-partisanship actually means.

That's what I meant by pitchforks and torches in the title. I believe he can lead us out of this morass, but we the people must make him do it, even as our ruling classes scream and howl at the injustice of it all. Frank Rich writes about this exact topic today.

Obama can lead us, if we call him to it.


Michael said...

I think you have seriously missed here. Obama cannot simultaneously be the good guy you imply in your first paragraph, and then do all the things you say in the rest of the article. It's time to face the music: the reason the administration is filled with the thugs who ruined things and continue to do so is because they are the people Obama supports and hires. Blaming bipartisanship is bullshit. He had choices, and he made them. He's not a good guy; he's one of them. It's bait and switch, yet again.

Armadillo Hussein Joe said...

I think you make a good point, Michael. My writing was not clear. Hopefully, if you are reading this, my updated post will be up with your critique taken into account.

Chris Anderson said...

I'm not so sure that Obama really is playing the "bipartisan" game as much as the public image would seem to show.

We're not privy to the behind the scenes stuff obviously, but I'm willing to believe that there's more strong-arming going on here than you might believe. Remember, Obama came out of Chicago politics - and has done so by appearing to be be better, stronger, fairer, and cleaner than anyone else. All the while he's been carefully crafting, planning, and plotting his way to what even a year ago seemed like the most improbable electoral victory in American history.

The point? The man is a bad-ass motherf***ker and woe betide anyone who underestimates him. Has he made mistakes? Yes, as himself admitted this past week. The Daschle meltdown happened because he put too much blind faith into the man who was his Rabbi in the Senate and who essentially put him on the road to the Oval Office. It's a mistake I don't think he'll make again (mainly because there's no one else Obama is that beholden to). Obama's not going to be perfect, but he's going to get better, and stronger.

Evidence? Let's look as how this stimulus plan is going to play out. The way I see it, we're going to wind up with a tolerable stimulus package (hoping for perfection in the midst of this shitstorm is futile, 59 votes in the Senate isn't enough to write off the Republicans). And he's doing by buying off the centrist wing of the Republican party that's been looking for a reason to sell out their Limbaugh licking colleges. In pulling Snow and Collins (and, somewhat surprisingly Spector) over the aisle, Obama is slowly and methodically dismantling the opposition in the senate, while leaving the minority of the house to hang itself on it's own idiocy. That's power politics play intelligently.

I don't think Obama is really that interested in bipartisanhip as much as he is trying methodically reshape the politcal landscape to his own liking. Like it or not, he can't savage the thuggish wing of the right without emboldening them, and, ultimately strengthening them. The best way to beat them is to let them beat themselves by stepping up continuing open their mouths and "repeating the same worn out ideas".

As for the punishment. You're absolutely right, no one will hang for the mess we're into. Sadly, greed isn't a crime in this country, it's only a sin. And we already know how hypocritically protected the modern Christian Conservatives are from their own sinful behavior.

Broadway Carl said...

While I agree that we the people, need to keep the DC crowd's collective feet to the fire, I'm not sure what you mean by "the true heart of 'bi-partisanship'." Are you inferring that the only bipartisanship in DC is capitulation and that it's impossible to get to the true definition of the word?

My other observation is that I think it's silly to believe that Obama and his administration can change the way Washington works in the first 2½ weeks of his tenure. When you have such a large rodent problem, extermination of the pests takes a lot longer than just one visit. I believe he is sincere in his attempt to change the way DC works, but it's going to take a while. Thinking it was going to happen overnight is unrealistic and has become a Republican talking point. Don't let them frame the narrative.

Armadillo Hussein Joe said...

With regards to the bi-partisanship thing, the true heart of bi-partisanship, as opposed to the "lemming-herd" mentality that D.C. Villagers think it means (I'm thinking of Clinton's bi-partisan impeachment), come in three forms:

1.) a squishy "can't-we-all-get-along" desire to keep the peace, which any abused housewife will tell you is not a wise path, and which always amounts to capitulating to bullies

2.) a collusive, behind-the-scenes backroom dealing that is opaque and only really benefits the people making the deal. Will Rogers used to call this politicking "sausage-making"

3.) a smug, self-serving, Quisling-like desire to feel superior, to be above ideology, to collect all the accolades of being a "statesman" who can bridge divides and be better than all those dirty partisans - the Gang of 14 are of this type, and so are Specter, Collins & Nelson in the latest travesty

The fact is that our hard-on for bipartisanship is a hold-over from the bad old days in the 1950's of conservative Democrats & liberal Republicans when coalitions within each party would work with their comrades-in-arms across the aisle. Nixon's Southern Strategy fixed that once and for all.

Armadillo Hussein Joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.