The American empire has not altered under Barack Obama. It kills as brutally and indiscriminately in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan as it did under George W. Bush. It steals from the U.S. treasury to enrich the corporate elite as rapaciously. It will not give us universal health care, abolish the Bush secrecy laws, end torture or “extraordinary rendition,” restore habeas corpus or halt the warrantless wiretapping and monitoring of citizens. It will not push through significant environmental reform, regulate Wall Street or end our relationship with private contractors that provide mercenary armies to fight our imperial wars and produce useless and costly weapons systems.
The sad reality is that all the well-meaning groups and individuals who challenge our permanent war economy and the doctrine of pre-emptive war, who care about sustainable energy, fight for civil liberties and want corporate malfeasance to end, were once again suckered by the Democratic Party. They were had. It is not a new story. The Democrats have been doing this to us since Bill Clinton. It is the same old merry-go-round, only with Obama branding. And if we have not learned by now that the system is broken, that as citizens we do not matter to our political elite, that we live in a corporate state where our welfare and our interests are irrelevant, we are in serious trouble. Our last hope is to step outside of the two-party system and build movements that defy the Democrats and the Republicans. If we fail to do this we will continue to undergo a corporate coup d’etat in slow motion that will end in feudalism.
We owe Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney and the Green Party an apology. They were right. If a few million of us had had the temerity to stand behind our ideals rather than our illusions and the empty slogans peddled by the Obama campaign we would have a platform. We forgot that social reform never comes from accommodating the power structure but from frightening it. The Liberty Party, which fought slavery, the suffragists who battled for women’s rights, the labor movement, and the civil rights movement knew that the question was not how do we get good people to rule—those attracted to power tend to be venal mediocrities—but how do we limit the damage the powerful do to us. These mass movements were the engines for social reform, the correctives to our democracy and the true protectors of the rights of citizens. We have surrendered this power. It is vital to reclaim it. Where is the foreclosure movement? Where is the robust universal health care or anti-war movement? Where is the militant movement for sustainable energy?
“Something is broken,” Nader said when I reached him at his family home in Connecticut. “We are not at the Bangladesh level in terms of passivity, but we are getting there. No one sees anything changing. There is no new political party to give people a choice. The progressive forces have no hammer. When they abandoned our campaign they told the Democrats we have nowhere to go and will take whatever you give us. The Democrats are under no heat in the electoral arena from the left.
“There comes a point when the public imbibes the ultimatum of the plutocracy,” Nader said when asked about public apathy. “They have bought into the belief that if it protests it will be brutalized by the police. If they have Muslim names they will be subjected to Patriot Act treatment. This has scared the hell out of the underclass. They will be called terrorists.
“This is the third television generation,” Nader said. “They have grown up watching screens. They have not gone to rallies. Those are history now. They hear their parents and grandparents talk about marches and rallies. They have little toys and gizmos that they hold in their hands. They have no idea of any public protest or activity. It is a tapestry of passivity.
“They have been broken,” Nader said of the working class. “How many times have their employers threatened them with going abroad? How many times have they threatened the workers with outsourcing? The polls on job insecurity are record-high by those who have employment. And the liberal intelligentsia have failed them. They [the intellectuals] have bought into carping and making lecture fees as the senior fellow at the institute of so-and-so. Look at the top 50 intelligentsia—not one of them supported our campaign, not one of them has urged for street action and marches.”
Our task is to build movements that can act as a counterweight to the corporate rape of America. We must opt out of the mainstream. We must articulate and stand behind a viable and uncompromising socialism, one that is firmly and unequivocally on the side of working men and women. We must give up the self-delusion that we can influence the power elite from the inside. We must become as militant as those who are seeking our enslavement. If we remain passive as we undergo the largest transference of wealth upward in American history, our open society will die. The working class is being plunged into desperation that will soon rival the misery endured by the working class in China and India. And the Democratic Party, including Obama, is a willing accomplice.
“Obama is squandering his positive response around the world,” Nader said. “In terms of foreign and military policy it is a distinct continuity with Bush. Iraq, Afghanistan, the militarization of foreign policy, the continued expansion of the Pentagon budget and pursuing more globalized trade agreements are the same.”
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This is an assessment that neoconservatives now gleefully share. Eliot A. Cohen, writing in The Wall Street Journal, made the same pronouncement.
“Mostly, though, the underlying structure of the policy remains the same,” Cohen wrote in an Aug. 2 opinion piece titled “What’s Different About the Obama Foreign Policy.” “Nor should this surprise us: The United States has interests dictated by its physical location, its economy, its alliances, and above all, its values. Naive realists, a large tribe, fail to understand that ideals will inevitably guide American foreign policy, even if they do not always determine it. Moreover, because the Obama foreign and defense policy senior team consists of centrist experts from the Democratic Party, it is unlikely to make radically different judgments about the world, and about American interests in it, than its predecessors.”
Nader said that Obama should gradually steer the country away from imperial and corporate tyranny.
“You don’t just put out policy statements of congeniality but statements of gradual redirection,” Nader said. “You incorporate in that statement not just demilitarization, not just ascension of smart diplomacy, but the enlargement of the U.S. as a humanitarian superpower, and cut out these Soviet-era weapons systems and start rapid response for disaster like earthquakes and tsunamis. You expand infectious disease programs which the U.N. Developmental Commission says can be done for $50 billion a year in Third World countries on nutrition, minimal health care and minimal shelter.”
Obama has expanded the assistance to our class of Wall Street extortionists through subsidies, loan guarantees and backup declarations to banks such as Citigroup. His stimulus package does not address the crisis in our public works infrastructure; instead it doles out funds to Medicaid and unemployment compensation. There will be no huge public works program to remodel the country. The president refuses to acknowledge the obvious—we can no longer afford our empire.
“Obama could raise a call to come home, America, from the military budget abroad,” Nader suggested. “He could create a new constituency that does not exist because everything is so fragmented, scattered, haphazard and slapdash with the stimulus. He could get the local labor unions, the local Chambers of Commerce and the mayors to say the more we cut the military budget the more you get in terms of public works.”
“They [administration leaders] don’t see the distinction between public power and corporate power,” Nader said. “This is their time in history to reassert public values represented by workers, consumers, taxpayers and communities. They are creating a jobless recovery, the worst of the worst, with the clear specter of inflation on the horizon. We are heading for deep water.”
The massive borrowing acts as an anesthetic. It prevents us from facing the new limitations we must learn to cope with domestically and abroad. It allows us to live in the illusion that we are not in a state of irrevocable crisis, that our decline is not real and that catastrophe has been averted. But running the national debt can work only so long.
“No one can predict the future,” Nader added hopefully. “No one knows the variables. No one predicted the move on tobacco. No one predicted gay rights. No one predicted the Berkeley student rebellion. The students were supine. You never know what will light the fire. You have to keep the pressure on. I know only one thing for sure, the whole liberal-progressive constituency is going nowhere.”