Very well-spoken article poking fun at our enigmatic president, who continues to flirt with both of the groups who brought him to the Big Dance: the corporate/financial elites who paid for his campaign, and the millions of progressive Americans who mobilized and turned out the vote.
Inspirational words, impressive moves, and boyish good looks have kept the two suitors enamored thus far, but at some point Barack’s going to have to choose his partner for the slowdance. So far he’s been sipping punch with the bankrolling capitalists, who have seduced him with fancy airplanes and false promises, but we, the people have to work up the courage to demand his attention if we have any hope of him coming home with us at the end of the night. And we can’t hide our intentions; let’s make clear that partnering with us means rejecting the system that caused this crisis – capitalism. Let’s be realistic and demand the impossible. [alex]
by Michael Brownstein
Originally published by Reality Sandwich, April 13, 2009.
“You can never awaken using the same system that put you to sleep in the first place.”
This is an appeal, an open letter, a cry in the night: no matter how cranky it may make us to brush the stardust from our eyes, no matter how many friends we think we’ll lose by looking long and hard at what’s going on around us, let’s try to stay awake. Let’s not lose touch with what we really want for ourselves. Let’s not forget what we know about the nature of consumer capitalism: it is unsustainable and unworkable because it depends on infinite expansion in a finite world. It can only survive by a violent takeover of what belongs to others. Let’s not settle for halfway measures.
And let’s not wait for deliverance from on high.
Because the president we elected — out of so much hope for a definitive break with what came before — is not who he seems. It’s true that unlike the previous inhabitant of the White House (remember him?), Barack Obama is sane, intelligent, and mature. He’s responsive to what others think. He hopes to institute real change in education, health care, the environment.
But even with his great charisma and silver tongue, he’s a proper soldier for the system which is ravishing the planet. As he said in his inauguration speech in January, already aware of the huge financial mess he was inheriting, “We will not apologize for our way of life.”
What do these words mean? They mean that the mall-i-zation of the planet will continue. They mean that the commercialization of all of life will not stop. They mean that our massive so-called footprint will never be substantially downsized.
And they mean that the force which has erased indigenous cultures and plant and animal species, which has sullied our air and soil and water, will essentially not be called into question, no matter how many of its most glaring excesses may be curbed.
“We will not apologize for our way of life…” Let’s not forget who else used very similar words when insisting that America’s energy policy would remain unchanged, no matter how much devastation it might cause: Dick Cheney, soon after taking office in 2000.
Without the active support of those who are running this toxic show into the ground, Barack Obama would not have been nominated in the first place, much less elected. There is no more sure sign of this than the fact that his supposed nemesis, Hillary Clinton, became his Secretary of State.
Forgetting for a moment the eight schizoid years under George W. Bush, Obama’s appointees and the policies they represent form an unbroken line back through the Clinton era and beyond. Those in control of our society have always been in control. Decade after decade their names and identities change, but their outlook, their mindset, remains the same. Since infancy they’ve been raised to aggrandize, to capitalize on their advantage over others-whether “others” is defined as business competitors, indigenous people, foreign nations, or the fruits of the earth itself. This is the culture we have exported to the whole world. And once they get a taste of it, it seems that everybody wants more.
The distinction between Democrats and Republicans — again, except for the neocons let loose by George Jr. — has always been more negligible than we’ve cared to admit. The main difference is that Democrats, when in power, usually have shown concern for the less fortunate in our society. They’ve advanced social programs rather than contracting them. But the basic story line remains the same: in order to keep turning a perpetual profit, someone or something must be ripped off. The clubhouse filled with those who run things has never changed its size or location. It can be found within the high walls of the ruling class
It’s become fashionable to call what the banks and other financial institutions did to this country a Ponzi scheme, but the same is true not only of capitalism but of Western civilization itself. It’s built on absence: the absence of all the indigenous people killed. It’s built on ballooning expenditures and the continual depletion of resources with-like the monetary structure on which it depends-nothing supporting it underneath. Nothing at all…
In order to understand how we may still be sleeping, let’s remember that we live in a relative universe. Everything exists in relation to something else. After eight years of subzero temperatures, of trying not to lose heart while locked in the deep freeze, when it’s suddenly 38 degrees and we’ve been let outside we feel expansive, liberated, optimistic. But defined in terms of what we actually need-a workable, fair, humane way of life-it’s nowhere near summer sunshine out there.
In fact, if we’re honest with ourselves regarding some of the moves Obama’s administration has made around the economy, the military, commerce, and agriculture, we’ll see that replacing Nero with Fred Astaire isn’t enough. Stands on issues like state secrets and the rights of detainees are too close for comfort to what came before. The soft shoe may be reassuring, but we deserve more
Let’s not forget what we’ve always known about politicians: their primary motivation is to get elected and, once elected, to stay in power. These two things are often in conflict. That’s why, for example, there’s disappointment around the gap between what candidate Obama said in Ohio and Michigan regarding NAFTA and the signals he’s sent since taking office. There’s disappointment about his hesitation to really hold accountable the very banks and financial institutions which have brought the country to the brink.
And there’s disappointment about his determination to extend the war in Afghanistan. Which looks to include Pakistan as well.
Fear of terrrorism is being used in the same way fear of communism was used in previous generations. For decades we’ve established more and more military bases around the world, allowing us to grab any source of raw material we deem necessary.
Real change can only mean a change of consciouness. On the social level, it means things like a new way of educating our children, alternative forms of exchange and energy, local agriculture. On the macro level, it means adopting an entirely new system, such as Herman Daly’s Steady State Economy. This will only come about if we risk what seems impossible. But maybe it isn’t impossible.
Let’s not forget that many of the changes happening in our lives now are taking place outside the political structure. We need that structure with its cynical baggage and tunnel vision much less than we think.
We’re not interested in dragging solutions from the past into the future. If they didn’t work then, why should they work now? We’re not interested in lifelong defensive postures. We have no more patience for indulging our fear and paranoia simply because that’s what our so-called enemies are doing…
In fact, we have no choice. Systemic breakdown awaits us otherwise. We can no longer maintain American hegemony, even the reasonable, personable, happy-face version. We can no longer maintain rampant materialism, even of the green variety.
Remember Obama’s campaign slogan? “Yes we can.”
Yes we can what? Stand the robot of monoculture up on its wheels again? Our challenge goes beyond universal health insurance or fixing the economy or saving the environment. In fact, it’s no less than pulling the plug on 8000 years of Empire. We need to rid ourselves of what has made us a consuming, semi-psychotic collective.
And that means we have no further use for nationalism, either. Flushing down the tubes that pattern of knee-jerk reaction to the Other constitutes the most important change of all. Let’s take a cue from the Internet, all lit up around the globe with communication among people having no more identity than their names.
“We are one” is the only acceptable slogan. What’s happening to the Bushmen in Botswana is also happening to us. What’s happening to the Amazon rainforest is also happening to us.
Obama’s narrative that everything went wrong only eight years ago disregards the history of this country and the policies which for decades have set us on a collision course with reality. George W. Bush did not invent military hegemony. He did not magically create uncontrolled greed or global warming. He did not loose on the world mortgage-backed securities and other forms of “toxic waste.” (What about the toxic waste in landfills that reach to the sky? Can’t we show the kids in our schools how the two are related?)
Naomi Klein reminds us in a recent interview (http://www.thestar.com/) that it was Bill Clinton who periodically bombed Iraq and tightened economic sanctions which killed one million Iraqis. It was Bill Clinton who axed Depression-era restrictions preventing investment banks from also being commercial banks. It was he and Alan Greenspan who resisted regulating the huge derivatives industry.
As we’ve seen, these policies were in place long before Bush and Cheney took them to new levels. Let’s not forget that the United States didn’t recover from the Depression until the Second World War amped the economy up to speed, and that this lesson was not lost after the war. Ever since then, the internal contradictions of a system which depends on limitless growth have been dealt with by a ballooning military industry. They’ve been dealt with by a post-modern colonialism which, now called economic globalization, nevertheless fulfills the same function: eviscerating less developed cultures around the world for profit.
If we succumb to amnesia about this, then, as Naomi Klein says, “you do exactly what Obama is doing. You resurrect the Clinton economic and foreign policy apparatus, and you appoint Larry Summers, the key architect of the economic policy that has imploded at this moment. The amount of money that’s at stake in the bailout, if you include everything — the deposit guarantees, the loans, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, AIG — is now up to $9 trillion. The American GDP is only $14 trillion. So they’ve put more than half of the American economy on the line to try and fix a mess that actually cannot be fixed in this way.”
In our desire to be reassured, let’s not lose track of the fact that Obama’s bailout plan refuses to admit the obvious: the banks are zombies, they’re the walking dead, and as such they should be allowed to go under or else be nationalized. And the people responsible for this state of affairs need to be held responsible. Otherwise the freefall of foreclosures, unemployment, and frozen credit may go on for longer than we care to imagine.
no matter how unfashionable this may sound, we need to protest. Rather than finding clever new ways to beat the cellphone bills that have suddenly become onerous, now’s the time for something we Americans seemingly have forgotten how to do, as opposed to the Greeks, the Latvians, the French, even the Chinese. We need to mobilize.
We need to turn off that comforting DVD of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers — of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton –dancing across our field of vision, and make our voices heard.
Image by Photo Giddy, courtesy of Creative Commons license.