Jon Stewart recently chewed out the Fox News set for their (typically) cynical defense of Romney’s leaked “47%” comments: “The biggest problem with the denizens of Bullshit Mountain…is that if they had success, they built it. If they failed, the government ruined it for them. If they get a break, they deserve it. If you get a break, it’s a handout and an entitlement. It’s a baffling, willfully blind, cognitive dissonance.” If you read this blog, you know that for me, cognitive dissonance (a polite way of saying hypocrisy) is something of a pet peeve. So you hopefully won’t be too shocked if I add to Jon’s rant a bold thesis: There are more than just Republicans on Bullshit Mountain.
I recently addressed, point by point, some of the common arguments for supporting Obama and the Democrats, which mostly hinge on the premise that the choice between the two major candidates/parties this fall is one between gradual progress and a time machine to the Dark Ages. Then I explained why I’m supporting Jill Stein and the Green Party, and summarized some key points from their 2012 platform. Today I’m going to focus on stuff I didn’t cover in the Sept. 5 post, mostly because it (for whatever reason) hasn’t been trumpeted as a selling point by the Democratic cheerleading-industrial complex.
Amid the deafening chorus of liberals attacking those to their left, a few progressive voices—most notably at The Atlantic, but also, for one, John Cusack—have drawn what I call “ethical red lines” at the President’s savage, unconstitutional policies of indefinite detention and targeted killing (let’s not act like “drones” are the problem). This dissent is admirable. I think we have the same values. My concern is that by focusing only on the red lines crossed in terms of civil liberties and “foreign” policy, some progressives seem to imply that Obama’s “domestic” policy doesn’t trample the many ethical red lines that they seem so afraid a Romney Administration would cross. It hurts our case to leave them out.
One supposed liberal value that most actual liberals have been noticeably quiet about is tackling climate change. And who can blame them? It’s hard to see how the President lovingly dubbed “George W. Obama” by grateful climate change deniers could have a more regressive environmental policy. President Obama, not a Republican, restarted the nuclear energy program, touting the promise of “safe” nuclear energy even after the Fukushima disaster. The first two plants he greenlighted are being built in mostly black and poor communities in Georgia and South Carolina, where nuclear leaks have already been linked to cancer epidemics. He personally propagates the myth of “clean coal”, and has okayed dozens of mountaintop removal coal mining projects, which destroy landscapes and dump toxic waste into streams and valleys.
President Obama, not a Republican, lifted the moratorium on offshore drilling after the BP oil spill, including several projects right in the Gulf of Mexico, and recently authorized Shell’s extremely risky Arctic drilling operation. His administration asked the EPA to withdraw a proposal for new smog regulations projected to prevent as many as 12,000 deaths due to heart and lung effects. He even reissued a Bush Administration regulation severely limiting protections for polar bears under the Endangered Species Act. You could not make this stuff up.
What the global nature of the ecological crisis should make abundantly clear is that we shouldn’t get caught in the fallacy that “domestic” policy only affects the US. Untold animal suffering aside, the small island nations of the Third World are already paying the price for our government’s continued refusal to address the urgency of a radical shift in energy policy. It makes no difference to polar bears or the citizens of Tuvalu whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican who refuses to sign the Kyoto Protocol. In what perverted moral universe is this not a red line?
Similarly, our economic policy doesn’t pertain only to “the economy”, but has consequences the world over. Such is global capitalism. In my post on the “case for Obama”, I mentioned that Obama’s draconian “Secure Communities” policy has resulted in the deportation of undocumented immigrants at record rates, so far almost 1.5 million (more than during the first 6.5 years of the Bush Administration). A leading cause of immigration from Latin America has been “free trade” agreements, both multilateral (like NAFTA, signed into law by President Clinton), and bilateral (like those the US has signed with Peru and Chile). These deals open up a country’s natural and state resources for private plundering by multinationals, and have been shown to sharply increase wealth inequality (both at home and abroad), displace small farmers and workers, and severely diminish labor rights in partner nations.
President Obama, despite criticizing NAFTA as a candidate, has embraced the neoliberal trade policies of Bush and Clinton. Ironically enough, these deals, which enjoy bipartisan support, lead directly to both “illegal immigration” and the dreaded phenomenon of “outsourcing”. Moreover, they keep the Third World the sweatshop of global capitalism, while keeping natural resources, the products of human labor, and the allocation of state funds outside the grasp of democratic processes at the national level. Currently being negotiated in secret by the Obama Administration is the most radically anti-democratic multilateral FTA to date, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which creates an entirely separate court system in which multinationals enjoy virtual immunity from prosecution by host nations. But hey, look! It’s Romney’s taxes!
To get a sense of the futility of trying to disentangle the right-wing expansion of empire from right-wing economic policy, one need only look as far south as the 2009 CIA-backed military coup in Honduras. President Manuel Zelaya was a moderately pro-labor, center-left reformer who had in 2008 joined the Bolivarian Alliance that includes Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, and Bolivia. The Honduran elite, fearing that the alliance with ALBA would jeopardize the private pillaging that passes for investment under CAFTA (the Central American version of NAFTA), ousted Zelaya in a coup d’état. The reactions of President Obama and Secretary Clinton bore all the hallmarks of an old-fashioned CIA-led putsch, including the refusal to condemn it as a coup. Honduras promptly withdrew from ALBA, and the Obama Administration made no attempt to call for Zelaya’s reinstatement or even meet with him during his six subsequent visits to Washington. Since the coup, government repression continues to yield reports of the killings, torture, and kidnapping of journalists and labor activists.
Closer to home, this administration’s agenda of privatization and attitude towards labor rights is less violent but hardly friendlier. While corporate-bought unions and their cumulative billions in campaign contributions help Democrats keep their façade as the party of working people, Chicago Teachers’ Union president Karen Lewis got a rare taste of Democratic candidness when her final meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel (Obama’s first Chief of Staff) in 2011 ended with an outburst of “Fuck you, Lewis!”. Though Emanuel conveniently excused himself from campaign events during his recent extended clash with the upstart CTU, he insists that the President “has weighed in. Every issue we’re talking about regarding accountability of our schools…is the core thrust of Race to the Top”. He’s right, of course. But not only did Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan make his name in the Chicago public school system, Race to the Top is itself a repackaging, in some ways a marginally worse facsimile of Bush’s much-maligned No Child Left Behind. The continuity between administrations, once again, means far more than the differences: the hard truth is that corporations want the $600 billion the federal government spends a year on education, and that comes through charter schools, union-busting, standardized testing, and hiring under-skilled temp workers.
That’s just one culmination of the assault on labor that’s become more and more of a bipartisan consensus, in deed if not in word, since Congress passed the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act over President Truman’s veto. Yet neoliberalism wears many faces, and it’s often the most palatable, reasonable-seeming, Urdu-poetry-reciting faces that can do the most damage to the last vestiges of public oversight of the ruling elite’s oligarchic shenanigans. Take, for example, Obama’s so-called JOBS (“Jumpstart Our Business Startups”) Act, which Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi remarks “appears to have been specifically written to encourage fraud in the stock market.” Exaggeration? Hardly. The law exempts startups from independent accounting requirements for up to 5 years, which not only doesn’t encourage investment in honest startups, it actually puts them at a disadvantage relative to other, perhaps less honest companies. In other words: the JOBS Act isn’t just sweeping deregulation, it’s “like formally eliminating steroid testing for the first five years of a baseball player’s career.”
This isn’t an isolated incident of deliberately enabling and then turning a blind eye to corporate pillaging of the economy. According to the radical leftists at the Census Bureau, since the financial crisis began, the rich (to risk a cliché) have gotten richer, and everyone else’s fortunes have declined. Not only that, but blacks have done poorly relative to whites, and women relative to men. The wealth of the rich has risen in correlation (not causation!) with the prices of stocks and bonds, which the Federal Reserve has shelled out $4 trillion to buy up. Let me be clear: I’m not saying the President controls the economy, but he does control his administration’s economic policy, including the policy of the Federal Reserve, whose chairman he appointed. Why hasn’t this supposedly liberal administration proposed anything like a jobs program? Doesn’t $4 trillion sound like enough to get that off the ground, and have some spare change left over to bail out underwater homeowners? Denizens of Bullshit Mountain, I ask you: by what reality-based metric has President Obama, in terms of economic policy, been anything to the left of a moderate conservative?
Perhaps the most damning continuity between President Obama and the past few decades of ramped-up economic exploitation is his continuation of that immensely profitable civil rights disaster we mockingly call the “War on Drugs”. Is it the euphemism that lets us go on believing that the US isn’t the world’s largest police state, that this decades-long drain of federal law enforcement resources isn’t really a war on the poor, and poor people of color most of all? US prisoners outnumber their Chinese counterparts by 600,000. The population of US prisoners of color is equal to the entire prison population of China, a country of 1.4 billion people. In the context of the increasing privatization of prisons, the War on Drugs demands the policing and sentencing necessary for poor minorities to not only make profits for corporations, but also remain disenfranchised from the political process and the legal labor market for the rest of their lives. In Illinois, 36% of ex-prisoners and 48% of black ex-prisoners are incarcerated again within three years of their release. It’s the War on Drugs’ policy of mass incarceration that produces job openings in the drug trade and itself creates the social causes of drug crime and with it, a new form of apartheid. So excuse me if I don’t join in the mindless slobbering about Obama’s Presidency bringing us closer to “racial progress”.
Now, a few words on Iran: it’s become a cliché that Romney is just itching to bomb Iran, and Obama is the only thing standing between us and the next decade-long war. Here are the facts: a military engagement in Iran is, politically, extremely undesirable. Nevertheless, the President has publicly threatened at least 20 times to bomb Iran if the government doesn’t stop “pursuing nuclear weapons”, and Romney has claimed there is no difference between his Iran policy and Obama’s. These threats are all the more sinister in light of yet another IAEA report confirming only that Iran is continuing enrichment and that there is a complete lack of evidence that Tehran is “pursuing nuclear weapons”.
A University of Utah study has shown that even an attack that targets only the four “key” nuclear sites would kill 5,000 Iranians immediately and kill or injure up to 70,000 through exposure to toxic fumes. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration boasts that brutal sanctions are strangling the Iranian economy, as thousands of sick Iranians go without medicine and treatment, and millions more suffer food shortages. This isn’t peaceful, and it’s not “diplomacy”. This is collective punishment, and it’s barbaric. Now, I can’t say whether Romney or Obama would actually start a war with Iran, but one doesn’t seem more likely than the other to do so. Yet all of a sudden, many liberals have conveniently decided to take Mitt Romney at his word.
With very few exceptions, everything we’re told McCain would’ve done, or Romney would do, we’ve gotten anyway under Obama. It’s a testament to this system’s adaptability—and to the hypocrisy and willful ignorance on the other side of Bullshit Mountain—that after eight years of Bush, Obama has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined; overturned judicial dissent to preserve its right to detain anyone indefinitely without trial; proposed to reduce the deficit by cutting $4 trillion in federal spending, failed catastrophically (according to his own military) to stabilize Afghanistan; deployed troops back into Iraq; increased military aid to Israel; granted immunity to Wall Street fraudsters and Bush-era torturers; repeatedly told the Palestinians to drop dead; expanded to 120 countries a targeted killing program that even targets the funerals and rescuers of its victims; and started, without Congressional approval, a 7-month bombing campaign of another nation (that had threatened to nationalize its oil) that increased the conflict’s death toll by tens of thousands and ended with the murder of that nation’s leader. We got all that and more, and without any of the resistance the pseudo-left put up to past Republican efforts to do these very things. The “lesser evil”, as Glen Ford says, is the more effective evil.
Some people who should know better are clinging to the argument that we should vote for Obama, and then push him—how’d that go the first time? Everyone on the left who didn’t get in line with the President (like Cornel West and Glenn Greenwald) has been marginalized, demonized, and called “fucking retarded”.
Some people who should know better say voting third-party makes the left responsible for a Romney Administration, just like we handed Bush the election in 2000.
Bullshit. This isn’t algebra. It’s politics.
Bush won because Republicans voted for him, because of some sketchy voting machines in Florida, because of the Supreme Court, and, if you really want to take it there, because Gore was (like everyone of consequence in the Clinton Administration) a neoliberal free-marketeer mostly incompatible with progressive values. The price of a left that doesn’t vote with its principles is that the Republican policies of today are the Democratic policies of the next ten years.
If you vote for Obama, you’re responsible for that.