by Butler Shaffer
by Butler Shaffer
The 100-day "cone of silence" suspended above the Obama administration has been lifted and has thus far proven as uneventful and meaningless as the feared consequences of Y2K. As for any significant media criticism of the new administration, you need not spend time before the television set or searching the editorial pages of your favorite dying newspaper for evidence of same. As it has long been the mainstream media's purpose to promote — rather than question — the political establishment's scheme of things, it will prove to be as round-heeled as it was in the post 9-11 period.
Thus far, I see nothing to indicate a reversal of the arrogance of power for which George W. Bush was rightfully criticized, and which was a principal reason for Obama's having been elected to the presidency. The empty slogans of "change" and "hope" were largely interpreted by most Americans as "anybody but Bush!" But with Obama's continuation — and escalation — of the war system; his inconstant positions on torture; the continuing insistence on governmental secrecy; his urging of the Supreme Court to overturn an earlier decision restricting police interrogations unless a suspect's lawyer is present; and his uninterrupted efforts to further socialize the economy — all of which were vigorously undertaken by Mr. Bush — it is apparent that his campaign promise of "change" had nothing to do with the destructive policies he had inherited from the previous reign.
This is not to suggest that his presidency has been without any meaningful alteration of the past. His rhetorical style is a great improvement over George W. And he has upgraded the cosmic significance of the presidency from what it was under his predecessor. Mr. Bush, as you will recall, only talked with God — the dominant voice in the conversation was never revealed — and he was the deity's alleged choice to be president "at times like these." Mr. Obama has escalated the presidency to the ultimate heights of deification. Photos of the man surrounded by a halo suggest the mindset seen in earlier civilizations in which the ruler was regarded as a god-king. A reverence for political rulers is a most dangerous practice.
The media's servility to Obama was displayed on the night of his victory when MSNBC's Chris Matthews told us "I'm going to do everything I can to make this thing work — this new presidency." His counterpart at the same network, Keith Olbermann did, to his credit, strongly criticize Obama's commitment to governmental secrecy, but has nonetheless spent far too much of his time — since January 20th — attacking Mr. Bush for the moral and legal shortcomings of his administration, in a major segment he has referred to as "Still Bushed."
Nor can we ignore the pathetic sight of seemingly adult Americans who set the tone of obeisance to the new god-king by participating in a video chanting a "pledge of allegiance" not to the nation-state — as they had been conditioned to recite in the government school system — but to "Barack Obama!" This was the same kind of Obama-worship in e-mails from "liberal" friends of mine who, upon Obama's election, enthused over their opportunity to work on behalf of his "progressive" policies.
But what was the "progress" of which my friends speak? Were they motivated by the same sentiments that underlay Chris Matthews' previous comment? If Mr. Obama is at least continuing — and, perhaps expanding — the destructive and inhumane policies of the Bush administration, why should decent and intelligent Americans want to "get to work" to advance his agenda? What is the fundamental difference between Barack Obama and George W. Bush that would elicit such enthusiasm?
It has been clear that what Mr. Obama's candidacy truly represented could be reduced to two factors: (1) to satisfy the "anybody but Bush" thinking that permeated American society — a trait which virtually any Democrat would have satisfied — and (2) his race. He had the opportunity to become the nation's first black president, an accomplishment that would far exceed John F. Kennedy becoming the first Catholic president. To many, Obama's primary qualification for this office lay in the fact that he had more melanin in his system than did John McCain. To this day, the words "first black president" continue to echo and define his accomplishment.
I do find some encouragement in this. While I have no interest whatever in whether the president is black or Caucasian; a man or a woman; an Asian, Laplander, or even a resident of Connecticut — my preference is for the office to remain open for a few terms! — I think there is some significance in the fact that most voters did not consider his race to be a disqualifying factor for this office. At the very least, his election should quiet the Al Sharptons, Jesse Jacksons, and other black political activists from continuing to bleat the gospel about the white-racism that supposedly dominates America, a charge necessary to keep their political clientele in line.
But if Barack Obama's role as president is not to dismantle the oppressive and destructive policies of the Bush administration; and if his purpose, in getting elected, was to satisfy the "anybody-but-Bush" sentiments, and to become the first black president, then is it not clear that he has accomplished his agenda? There is no more for the man to do! He fulfilled his tasks the day he took office. Is it not, therefore, timely for him to resign and enjoy the judgment of history as America's most successful president: a man who carried out, as he was being inaugurated, the agenda for which he had been elected?
Of course, this would leave us with Joseph Biden as the next president, and raise the question of what governmental policies he would pursue. But to those whose inquiries are driven by a sense of realpolitik, such a question is completely irrelevant. Biden would promote the same expansionist programs as Obama, who fosters the same basic policies as George W. Bush, etc. Each is but the Puppet-in-Chief of the political establishment; the owners of the corporate-state system who offered to voters a number of candidates suitable to the corporate world's purposes. The notion that any of these men might strike out on a course of action that deviated from what the owners desired is unimaginable. Of course, Biden could try to get Congress to approve Hillary Clinton as his vice-presidential choice, leaving Boobus liberalis to now march, dream, and chant of a day when a woman would become president!
The 100th day did produce some matters of worthiness. Arlen Specter informed us that he was changing his affiliation from Republican to Democrat, an act as meaningless, policy-wise, as would Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders announcing that he was becoming a Democrat. Specter babbled some incoherencies about his "ideological" and "philosophical" differences with the Republicans, leaving us to wonder just what possible normative principles separated these two gangs. The only philosophic standard that drives politicians of either stripe was revealed by Specter's later admission that his switch was due to the difficulties he would have getting re-elected as a Republican! Specter insisted upon the pursuit of "self-interest" that politicians urge the rest of us to "sacrifice" for some alleged "greater good."
On this same day of centuriate importance, we were also told that Democrat Al Franken had finally bested the Republican incumbent, Norm Coleman, for a Minnesota seat in the Senate. That an amateur comedian might be outdone by a professional one was not surprising. With the Democrats now holding sixty seats in the Senate, and control of both the House of Representatives, the White House, and perhaps the Supreme Court, it does leave them in what may prove to be the embarrassing position of trying to explain how the continuing collapse of our society was due to Republican obstructionism rather than to their own policies. In the end, Al Franken's presence — as the sixtieth Democratic member — may cause us to revise T.S. Eliot's prognosis: "This is the way the world ends: not with a bang but a giggle."
Where does all of this leave the GOP and, for that matter, that vacuous body known as "conservatism"? Where they have been for more years than even their most ardent supporters will acknowledge: dead, as dead as the parrot in the classic Monty Python sketch. Like the two-brained stegosaurus — whose rear brain was destroyed by a tyrannosaurus rex as its front brain continued to munch on the greenery before it — the Republican party and "conservatism" are each totally unaware of their terminal condition. The conservative "movement" does not move, but is ossified. Its leaders can do no more, today, than seek a new "image," as though appearances can be concocted that will prevail over substance. Rush Limbaugh has gone so far as to declare Sarah Palin to be "the most prominent and articulate voice" for conservatism. He is doubtless correct.
In contrast to Arlen Specter's pretense of philosophic motivations, one lone principled voice remains within the GOP, perhaps representative of Albert Jay Nock's "Remnant." Ron Paul expresses views contrary to those that now represent a bipartisan commitment to the destruction of a free and productive country. But as his principles run counter to the demands of state power to which both Democrats and Republicans are firmly committed, the popularity of his ideas will continue to find expression in the only place from which a fundamental transformation of society can occur: the minds of ordinary men and women — particularly the young — who recognize that the present system no longer works.
The GOP party leaders will never get the message. I suspect that, even as I write these words, the Republicans are busy searching for their own style of comedians to run for high office. Perhaps, here in California — where Arnold Schwarzenegger's comic-relief continues to amuse — the GOP could go after the senate seats of Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein by enlisting the noted comedians Cheech and Chong as candidates.
But it is the Democrats and "liberals" who must await the lesson now being taught denizens of the "right." Nor am I optimistic of the consequences. Those who seek — and acquire — autocratic power are unlikely to question themselves while enjoying such authority. This is what corrupted those on the Right in recent years. The political Left has long had an unquestioning attachment to violent statism that will make them reluctant to understand and accept the decentralizing processes at work within the world. From world economic planning to world environmental controls to world governments, the Left is far too enmeshed in the sociopathic premises of politics to be able to do more than generate new slogans.
Conservatives and Republicans are now experiencing the hangover from an eight-year drunkenness on state power. Whatever impact the coalescence of Ron Paul/Austrian economics/and libertarian philosophy may have in bringing America back to sobriety, I do not see such influences accruing to the benefit of morally and intellectually corrupt conservative/Republican forms. In the words of Gertrude Stein — in commenting upon the city of Oakland — "there's no ‘there' there." The "change" that will serve the liberty and material well-being of individuals, rather than the power interests of institutions, will arise not from empty sentiments of unfocused "hope," but from deeper levels of understanding.
May 9, 2009
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of the newly-released In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918—1938 and of Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival.
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