The ungrateful bastards

The New York Times reports that:

President Obama’s re-election campaign is straining to raise the huge sums it is counting on to run against Mitt Romney, with sharp dropoffs in donations from nearly every major industry forcing it to rely more than ever on small contributions and a relative handful of major donors.

From Wall Street to Hollywood, from doctors and lawyers, the traditional big sources of campaign cash are not delivering for the Obama campaign as they did four years ago. The falloff has left his fund-raising totals running behind where they were at the same point in 2008 — though well ahead of Mr. Romney’s — and has induced growing concern among aides and supporters as they confront the prospect that Republicans and their “super PAC” allies will hold a substantial advantage this fall.

To whom does the Obama campaign turn when the stuffed-pocket crowd has turned its collective back on him?

With big checks no longer flowing as quickly into his campaign, Mr. Obama is leaning harder on his grass-roots supporters, whose small contributions make up well over half of the money he raised through the end of March, according to reports filed Friday with the Federal Election Commission.

As one should have expected after the Supreme Court’s very controversial Citizens United
decision (.pdf), the Republican Super PACs are fat with cash. This has forced the Obama campaign to appeal for funding from the lesser people whose interests he failed to serve during his first term.

Caveat emptor!

Food for thought

Food for thought

The political philosopher Andrew Levine recently addressed the nearly lifeless condition of democracy in America. The condition he discussed hardly affirms America’s self-identification as the world’s oldest, freest and most democratic country. Yet this sour claim resonates with the experience of many, and has real material and systemic causes which cannot be separated from the institutions which self-satisfied patriots affirm without thought or irony. These causes include a duopolistic party system with nearly unscalable entry barriers; the strongly anti-democratic features of the 1787 Constitution; the vast sums of money now spent on electoral campaigns, monies which mostly spring from the coffers of the better-off, the massive corporations and the obscenely rich oligarchs; the social, economic and political powers embedded within private institutions; and the enormous size, complexity and diversity of the American social system. These factors affect the quality of American democracy, as Levine points out:

Despite what students are told in civics classes (where they still exist) and what normative theories of democracy propose, democracy in America today has almost nothing to do with rational deliberation and debate, and very little to do with aggregating preferences or reconciling conflicting interests. It is about legitimating government of, by and for the corporate malefactors and Wall Street banksters who own Congress and the White House along with an obscenely large chunk of the nation’s wealth.

The Occupy movement has driven this point home, but it was widely appreciated long before Zuccotti Park entered the national consciousness. Why then is there no legitimation crisis here in the Land of the Free? The answer, in short, is that we hold competitive elections and, for the most part, abide by their results. Evidently, that suffices.

Thanks to centuries of struggle, we are all today at some level democrats, no matter how removed our political system is from anything like real democracy — rule by the demos, the popular masses (as distinct from economic and social elites). Democratic commitments run so deep that almost anything that smacks of real democracy becomes invested with extraordinary powers of legitimation.

This is why competitive elections have the power to legitimate even regimes like ours in which elites plainly do rule a disempowered ninety-nine percent plus of the population. Competitive elections embody a shard of what real democracy is supposed to be, and that evidently is good enough for us.

The United States of America — a land with a deep and intractable legitimation deficit (due to its democracy and accountability deficit) but no legitimation crisis to speak of, a country where the well-off and powerful fear the latent power of lesser people and where the relatively powerlessers have little input into the system which governs them. Common Americans mostly obey the laws made for them while meekly meeting the needs of their betters, a feature of the American system which affirms the status quo. The public face of this paradox will be on display this election year. One need only juxtapose presidential Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to sense the absurdity of this electoral contest, the completion of which will legally but not popularly legitimize the government thus elected. We have government with only barest consent of the governed.

This condition, ironically enough, may be compared to one which could be found in the various countries which composed the Warsaw Bloc prior to the Velvet Revolutions of the late 1980s. There one could find a depoliticized and seemingly cowed population, one which endured the policies and intrigues of an elite which they could not hold accountable in any way. Only a popular refusal to submit to authoritarian governance, when coupled to the dissolution of the Soviet imperial system, put these regimes into their well-deserved graves. Neither the Tea Party Movement, the two legacy parties, the Pentagon and the security-surveillance apparatus in general nor the coequal branches of the federal government embody the spirit of the American Revolution. That is, they are not agents of radical democratization. In the United States today, that honor today belongs to the Occupy Movement, for democracy in America can be found only when it is put into practice on the streets of its cities and towns.

As a matter of fact, the Tea Party Movement, the legacy parties, the security-surveillance apparatus and the coequal branches of the federal government are committed opponents of the democratization of the American political system.

Heroic Americans — citizens of the land of the free, home of the brave

Journalist Eyal Press, during his report on dissent, whistleblowing and elite opposition to both in Obama’s America, makes this remarkable but unsurprising claim:

Despite the lore of the whistleblower that pervades popular culture, Americans turn out to be less sympathetic to such dissenters than Europeans. Drawing on data from the World Value Surveys and other sources over multiple years, the sociologist Claude Fischer has found that U.S. citizens are “much more likely than Europeans to say that employees should follow a boss’s orders even if the boss is wrong.” They are also more likely “to defer to church leaders and to insist on abiding by the law,” and more prone “to believe that individuals should go along and get along.”whistleblower

Whistleblowers may often be praised in the abstract and from a distance, but Americans have a tendency to ignore or even vilify them when they dare to stir up trouble in their own workplaces or communities.

Stirring up trouble. Right here in River City. We can’t have that. Nosiree. We can’t have any of that.

Whistleblowers have walked hard road during Obama’s tenure (see, for instance, this, this and this), the ever-hopeful, sunshine President. They often lack a sympathetic ear in government, a lack which enables grifters on Wall Street and security apparatchiks in Washington to work their black magic on the weak. Crimes undetected are not really crimes! They’re smart business deals or realistic acts of sober G-men. And the powerful are always innocent until proven guilty.

Since Americans do not like to listen to discouraging words about important things, things on which they depend, it so happens that the fate of these whistleblowers obliquely mirrors the fate of the Occupy Movement: Like the Occupiers, whistleblowers are ignored when they are not harassed and denigrated. They, like their Occupy cousins, sometimes face prison terms for their efforts. They lose their jobs and their homes for exposing the powerful to critical scrutiny. It is fortunate that America’s whistleblowers in an out of government are not beaten or assaulted with caustic chemicals, although I would be negligent if I were to fail to point out that whistleblower Bradley Manning has had to endure mental and physical torture inflicted on him by the Pentagon. He stands before the world as an object lesson for anyone tempted to blow the whistle on America’s empire. The Occupiers have felt the baton and the pepper spray. The whistleblowers have been spared those methods. Yet, the powerful seek the same goal when confronting a whistleblower or an Occupation. They want to quash dissent.

It is sad that Americans typically advocate following the path of the witless and craven servant. For one thing, it is sad because the powerful are to remain unmolested even when they deserve close judicial scrutiny. It seems as though Americans prefer their authority figures to remain inscrutable and free. This condition creates a moral hazard problem for the country. For another, the beliefs which inform this advocacy comprise the social cement which binds together the elements that compose America’s security-surveillance government and its financial plutocracy. These institutional complexes could not operate as they have and want to without the passive and active consent of most Americans. Common Americans collude in the domination exercised by the elite. We might have a functioning democracy if it were not for these beliefs and the collusion they sponsor. We have instead what Sheldon Wolin called an inverted totalitarian system (see this and this). America’s politics are as vacuous as its plutocrats are rich and its war-makers are violent.

The antidote for minimal democracy remains strong democracy.

Bradley Manning: Before, After