Austerity kills

It is always worth making the effort to recognize that an unnecessary but not pointless austerity politics creates adverse and, sometimes, existential problems for those individuals without the means or power to solve their personal problems. These individuals can only suffer what they cannot avoid. Scot Rosenzweig of Allentown, PA confronted Pennsylvania Governor Corbett with this issue, forcing him to defend his support for his Healthy Pennsylvania project, derided by its critics as CorbettCare. Corbett notoriously refused to accept the greater Medicaid monies authorized by the Affordable Care Act. Corbett eventually proposed a plan that would limit the scope and efficacy of the health care provided by the state of Pennsylvania to its poorest citizens. Currently, thanks to Corbett’s ideologically motivated scheming, Pennsylvania has neither an expanded Medicaid program nor even the lesser CorbettCare. At least one death can be attributed to this lack:

Her death did not faze Corbett, however.

With October first approaching

Let us recall a Kathleen Sebelius (Health and Human Services Secretary) interview which dates to 2009:

Asked if the administration’s program will be drafted specifically to prevent it from evolving into a single-payer plan, Sebelius says: “I think that’s very much the case, and again, if you want anybody to convince people of that, talk to the single-payer proponents who are furious that the single-payer idea is not part of the discussion.”

Sebelius says such concerns are unfounded because a single-payer plan is not under consideration, and these “draconian” scenarios have muddled the conversation over the president’s proposal for a public option.

“The whole idea of the public option has been difficult, in part, because some of the opposition has described it as a potential for a, you know, draconian scenario that was never part of the discussion in the first place,” Sebelius says. “So, disabusing people of what is not going to happen is often difficult, because there’s no tangible way to do that.”

Let us also recall that Obamacare (The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) will be neither universal nor affordable for many. Nor will it impose adequate controls on the costs generated by health care providers and drug companies. It might have mildly disinflationary effects on these costs. But it will not reduce them to a degree that they would approach the costs of care typical of a more rational health care system. Finally, Obamacare will make Uncle Sam the bagman for the health insurance industry.

America could have adopted a single-payer system that was universal, controlled costs, eliminated oligopoly profits, etc. But Obama and his party did and does not want that.

I wonder if the Democratic Party awards style points for exceptionally smarmy legislation?

A new Southern Strategy?

Sarah Seltzer of AlterNet suggests that:

It was only a matter of time before the bursting of the bubble for hard-core conservatives led to cries of secession. To be fair, blue-staters were saying similar things back in 2004 after Bush’s re-election, but the geographical ironies were perhaps less rich then, since this year the electoral map looks suspiciously like slave states and free states lining up in opposition.

Indeed, it does. Given Obama’s politics, I’d say the reactionaries are befuddled by their paranoid delusions.

Predictably, the Democratic Party left located at Daily KOS support the secessionist movement:

The repercussions of Tuesday’s victories just keep on coming! Now we have the opportunity to lose some of the most medieval states in the union. Petitions from Louisiana, Texas, and 13 other states placed at the White House petitions website have drawn thousands of signatures.

We need to sign these petitions! This is a great opportunity for the country!

I believe the Kossaks forgot that a gruesome war followed the last secessionist crisis….

Recommended: Massive Surge of Republican Money in Last Ditch Effort to Sink Obama

Thomas Ferguson and his collaborators have warned us about an endgame surge by the Romney campaign, a possible leap in his popularity that might eventually bury the Obama presidency. In this respect the Romney campaign may mimic the Bush campaign of 2000. Both have been fueled by massive spending and guided by lying. These, to be sure, are core competencies of the Republican Party. It is because of this late cycle spending that G.W. Bush leapt over Gore in the last days of the electoral season, although his election victory was helped by a corrupted electoral mechanism and a most dubious Supreme Court decision. Additional political disasters followed the constitutional coup d’état of December, 2000.

This is the post-Citizen’s United age in American politics, and money collection and spending along with elite ‘generosity and civic mindedness’ are the true stories of the current electoral season. This fact does not distinguish the 2012 elections from its recent predecessors. The defining mark this year issues from the quantities of money spent during the campaign. The Romney campaign, according to Ferguson, et. al., lately seems to be spending large sums of this money in the battleground states to win a victory next week. This effort favors Romney, of course.

A Romney victory fueled by big donor cash would certainly prompt outrage by Democratic Party partisans, although their rage would obscure the massive amounts of money raised and spent by the 2012 and 2008 Obama campaigns. The Democratic Party lacks clean hands in this matter. It, like the Republican Party, serves as a tool of Wall Street, the security-surveillance apparatus and, in a word, the empire. Thus the cries of the partisans ought to be considered mere hypocrisy rendered into obscure sounds, wholly without intrinsic importance. The somewhat obscure significance of this kind and degree of campaign spending lies elsewhere. Ferguson and company rightly locate and identify the effect produced by this money:

Big Money’s most significant impact on politics is certainly not to deliver elections to the highest bidders. Instead it is to cement parties, candidates, and campaigns into the narrow range of issues that are acceptable to big donors. The basis of the “Golden Rule” in politics derives from the simple fact that running for major office in the U.S. is fabulously expensive. In the absence of large scale social movements, only political positions that can be financed can be presented to voters. On issues on which all major investors agree (think of the now famous 1 percent), no party competition at all takes place, even if everyone knows that heavy majorities of voters want something else.

The quoted passage neatly expresses the gist of Sheldon Wolin’s inverted totalitarian thesis, namely, “Antidemocracy, executive predominance, and elite rule are basic elements of inverted totalitarianism” (2008, 239). Or, to make the point in different terms, those who have the gold make the rules, as Ferguson suggested in his classic book. The United States remains a democracy, albeit a highly qualified democracy. Elections occur, and candidates circulate in and out of office. But the demos at large cannot control or even hold its governors accountable for what they do or fail to do. Fractions of the demos that sit beyond the pale cannot expect to win the next election, as electoral losers can expect in a functioning representative democracy. They will remain a nullity. As a consequence, American citizens are principals without agents. The principals that count in American politics are the gold holders. The participation of the “lesser people” (Alan Simpson) in the creation of collective political power mimics that of a compliant and nearly mute Greek chorus. They may select only from all but indistinguishable options. The demos at large can therefore only replace one faceless face (or set of faceless faces) with another without, however, altering economic and security policy in a significant way. These policy choices belong to the gold bearing elite and oligarchs. The democratic mechanism in the United States thus makes adverse selection an unavoidable fate for most voters. Only massive and mutually supportive social movements have the potential power needed to break the cash-government connection. As Wolin once put the matter: In the United States…it is the streets where democracy is most alive…”, a “fugitive democracy” much like the early demos (2008, 227), but a democracy nevertheless.

Indeed.

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I got a letter from Bill Clinton!

The text:

I hope you’ll pay attention, Stephen.

We’re facing a big FEC fundraising deadline — after this, there’s only one more before Election Day.

Here’s why that matters: Your donation will go further now than it will next week. That’s because it will immediately be put to use — if your $5 (for example) goes toward hiring an organizer in Akron, Ohio, she’ll have more time to do her job and reach more voters. And that’s how elections are won.

I hope you’ll donate $5 or more before the September fundraising deadline:

https://my.democrats.org/Deadline-September

Thanks for everything you do.

Bill Clinton

P.S. — If you donate $5 or whatever you can today, you and a guest will be automatically entered to fly out to meet President Obama and me on the campaign trail.

Well, Bill, I gave your letter— Thank you so much! — my undivided attention. The first thing I noticed while I read it is a slight of hand trick which suggests that money donated after the September deadline passes will not be put to immediate use. Are we to believe that funds received after the deadline will not be spent until a post-election period? That would be silly, and I do not believe it to be true. Or, are we to believe that money spent next week is not money spent immediately? That too is sill.

So, I believe you lied to me.

I must say I am also surprised that you thanked me for everything I do since a part of what I do is to call for your arrest, trial and conviction for committing crimes of war and crimes against humanity. Why would you want to thank me for that?

Failure?

Recently, political conformists in the United States celebrated the diminished presence of the Occupy Movement. To be sure, the lack of standing, active occupations — mostly due to the repression of such by America’s local militarized police forces — promoted a sense of relief among the conformists. The system worked! The Occupation failed; America remains intact; the natural aristocrats are still in charge. And their relief makes sense (to them) since the Occupy Movement was the first significant social challenge to America’s capitalist democracy and the austerity-minded political culture which emerged after the Recession of 2008. It is, after all, to this capitalist democracy that the conformists wish to conform. Failure, irrelevance ludicrousness of the Occupy Movement — these are the beliefs about the movement that pass muster among the corporate media.

Yet, we ought to ask, “Did the Occupy Movement fail?” The obvious answer: No! As Michael Niman points out:

The [corporate] media always held the Occupy movement to high standards, demanding nothing short of revolution, then calling the movement a failure when it failed to transform society in its first few months. But the pundits could only envision their own notion of revolution — replacing one set of leaders with another, all within the confines of our two-party system. Occupy, however, never aspired to being an electoral party or player, like the Tea Party, which, once organized, was co-opted by corporate interests in a matter of minutes. Occupy instead wanted to transform the debate — to shift the zeitgeist. To a punditocracy reduced to quantifying electoral battles as horse races, reporting on electoral tactics rather than substance, Occupy made no sense.

The Occupy Movement was and is a social movement, not an embryonic political party or new faction within the Democratic Party. Its goal: Radical change. Revolutions are instances of radical change. They are also improbable events just as radical change is improbable. It is because such change is improbable that demanding it from the Occupy Movement is tantamount to creating a pretext for judging the Movement a failure. Yet popular dissatisfaction remains intact, has real world motives and therefore must be considered a politically relevant variable in any analysis of America’s capitalist democracy that wants to be both sober and supported by evidence. The expression of this popular dissatisfaction only awaits an occasion which calls its name.

Surprised by criticism from the left

I just concluded a brief phone conversation with a MoveOn activist. It’s an election year, and her natural and obvious goal was to promote Barack Obama’s cause in November. She did not say much, however, and did not have a chance to speak at length, for when I heard Obama’s name after her organization’s name, I told her that I would never vote for Obama.

“Why,” she asked.

“Because he’s a war criminal, a promoter of authoritarian government, a tool of Wall Street and an opponent of authentic health care reform, among many other reasons,” I replied.

There was a brief silent moment which I used to punctuate my claim that “I [was] criticizing Obama from the left.”

I told her this because I did not want her to consult her talking points when she formulated her response.

She didn’t. In fact, she seemed stunned, and indicated that she could not understand why anyone on the left would criticize the President.

And that’s just one problem with those progressives who tie their political fate to the Democratic Party and its candidates. They lack imagination. They have severely small horizons. Their commitment to a pseudo-pragmatic electoral strategy binds them to a corrupt Democratic Party, to its commitment to war-making abroad, the security-surveillance state at home, elite lawlessness, a general austerity, a predatory economic system and mostly to the oligarchs who own them.

Their electoral strategy also blinds them to the false dilemma inherent in the lesser evil principle. Why is the dilemma false?

Firstly, the Democratic and Republican Parties do not exhaust the political options available to America’s nominally free citizens. Movement work and alternative party participation remain options for the critically minded American citizen.

Secondly, whereas the policies of the two parties differ on this or that issue and whereas their respective constituencies differ to a degree, they are not so distinct that they differ in kind. The Democrat and Republican Parties are system affirmative entities, and their commitments and policies reflect this fact. Their system affirmative nature means that voting for a candidate of one party affirms the core principles and political operations of the other party. It cannot be otherwise when both parties serve the same masters and generate whatever legitimacy they through the workings of the democratic mechanism. There is “not a dime’s difference” between the two legacy parties, as George Wallace pointed out decades back.

Thirdly, both parties form a party system which affirms and reproduces the larger political system of which they are members. They accomplish these goals because they and the elections they contest operate as filters which eliminate opponents of the American system as an electoral force while thereby producing legitimacy for the results of the election and for the political system as a whole. The United States is a democracy. Barack Obama was elected President in 2008. His election was valid. He thus legitimately occupies the office of the President. His deeds carry with them the authority of his office. Outsiders — Ralph Nader and his kind — typically are shunned and ridiculed. They are losers, and unworthy of holding power or enjoying widespread prestige. The policies they promote are impossible and therefore ridiculous. Even their mere presence (allegedly) produces catastrophes (the lesser Bush’s presidency). It is because the party system does not generate an opposition that it reproduces itself every election. National elections change little. The upshot: America’s national politicians re-present the state and the higher strata of the economy to civil society. An authentically democratic politics can be found only in the streets, the place where the demos is sometimes found. Sheldon Wolin evaluated these features of the American political system and thus identified it as an inverted totalitarian regime, a political system without an opposition, a system which functions best when it makes opposition all but impossible.

Fourthly, there are situations, electoral contests and political choices that feature lesser evils which are too evil to tolerate. A lesser Hitler remains a Hitler. An Obama acts like a Bush. A Clinton works hard to complete the Reagan Revolution. A Carter anticipates a Reagan. War, war crimes and lawlessness; mass murder, suppression of dissent and incarceration of whistleblowers; social austerity, economic predation and personal hardship — these are some of the evil policies and policy outcomes which MoveOn supports when it thumps the tub for Barack Obama.

The world often and unfortunately presents many with lesser evil options that a rational person would strongly prefer over the greater evil. Additionally, for some Americans, the lesser evil principle acquires its most persuasive force when one considers the New Deal and Great Society reforms which once marked the history of the Democratic Party. These reforms benefitted so many that a critic cannot deny this point without appear mendacious. One may suspect that Americans who voted for Obama and “change you can believe in” affirmed the collective memory of and institutional residues left over from these past victories. Today, however, these memories are mostly just phantasms. They lack an institutional referent, for The New Deal State and the political culture which supported it parted ways decades back. What remains is a security-surveillance state that governs an empire and imposes austerity on the weak.

Stated differently, it is obvious that militarism and empire, finance capital and the capitalist class have pushed labor and the lesser sort to the margins of the Democratic Party. This is the place where one will find MoveOn and the like. Party star Rahm Emanuel once denounced them as “fucking retarded.”

The ideologically committed liberal should ponder well the intent inherent in Emanuel’s words and, to be sure, his public insolence.

CounterPunch published an early version of this article.

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