Fear Comes of Age

Elena Kagan is the perfect
Supreme Court pick for Barack Obama.

In fact, in so many ways,
she is Barack Obama.

Moreover, they both represent
their generation well. They are the leading edge of Generation
X, and they embody its character fully.

Elena Kagan is the perfect
Supreme Court pick for Barack Obama.

In fact, in so many ways,
she is Barack Obama.

Moreover, they both represent
their generation well. They are the leading edge of Generation
X, and they embody its character fully.

You don't need a fancy
degree in sociology to figure that generational politics are driven
at in least part by generational life experience and social and economic
conditions. It makes a certain degree of sense, to wit, that the
last generations in American history known for their mobilization around
progressive politics were products of extreme economic conditions, albeit
polar opposite ones. In the Thirties, when socialism had real
prospects in America, the economy could hardly have been more
challenging. During the Sixties, on the other hand, the young
people marching in the streets were arguably the product of the world's
first-ever generation of widespread economic security, if not opulence.

Perhaps what they both
had in common is little to risk. In any case, by the time Gen
X came around, the doors were already slamming shut. In part this
was because we were actually living beyond our means anyhow, and the
principles of economic physics reasserted their inevitable gravitational
pull. In part it was because the Boomers were such a large generation
that they sucked up a lot of opportunity in the economy for those who
came after them. And in part, this happened because regressivism
had begun its thirty year (and counting) successful project to undo
the anomalous fairer wealth redistribution of the mid-twentieth century,
which had scandalously produced a somewhat just economic system for
the first time since the industrial revolution, if not ever.

Whatever the explanation,
I don't think it's an accident that the people coming of political
and career age under such conditions have exhibited a certain degree
of conservatism in their outlook on life. I don't mean here
ideological conservatism, though there is that as well, but more of
a hunkered-down, blinkered, instrumental, cautious, personal conservatism
- one that is devoted to the narrowest agenda of self. One might
even call it peasant conservatism, to which it is akin.

I don't mean that term
entirely pejoratively. It seems to me a natural human survival
instinct to act conservatively in times of scarce resources, and I don't
fancy myself anymore immune to that sensibility than is anyone else.
But I do think there are multiple possible responses to such challenges,
especially to the extent that they are being driven by political decisions
allocating those scarce resources, as opposed to natural phenomena like
drought or disaster. One solution, in place of an atomistic enhanced
to devotion to self-interest, is to seek a collective political response
to insanely destructive societal policy choices. No generation
I can think of has been handed a lousier deal by its parents and grandparents
than Generation X (except Generation Y, of course), and none has responded
to that as silently.

If Barack Obama isn't
the epitome of this mentality, then Elena Kagan surely is. Nobody
can figure out what she stands for, because she has been so careful
never to stand for anything. Obama's really the same, although
as a former candidate for the US Senate and the presidency, he's been
obliged to make a few more vague noises about political positions than
Kagan has or will in her confirmation process. In both cases,
though, you can look long and hard - and ultimately in vain - for
much of anything that resembles a political conviction. In the
end, though, what both of these folks are really about is right there
in front of you. They're about themselves. They are bloodless

They are also supposedly
the left in America, and that's the disastrous part. You see
nothing whatsoever of this kind of (non-)politics on the right.
Regressives in this country are passionate, strategic, mobilized, extreme
and effective. And because of that, they are winning, and have
been for thirty years. Where there used to be a left in America,
only a black hole exists today, sucking in everything around it, including
light and truth. Obama, for example - the supposed socialist
in the typical regressive's infantile paranoid nightmares - is actually
one of the most conservative presidents of the last century. And
he is not alone.

It's axiomatic among
the grandees of the moronic mainstream media that he is a liberal, to
such an extent that the question is never even discussed. In fact
- though I suspect he is ultimately far more of an apolitical careerist
than anything - the truth is that his policies are so regressive that
they cannot meaningfully be distinguished from George W. Bush's.
And I don't mean that in the powerfully true relative sense that reminds
us of what a real liberal president would actually look like, either,
though contemplating that long-lost comparative benchmark puts the point
even more emphatically. And I don't even mean that in the sense
of a Ralph Naderesque critique about the lack of fundamental difference
between the Tweedledee and Tweedledum parties. I simply mean that
a purely empirical side-by-side comparison across the board - from
civil liberties to civil rights to 'defense' budget to war fighting
to Middle East policy to Wall Street sycophancy to every other meaningful
policy area, including health care by the way - reveals a literal
near identity between the two administrations, other than in style.

The upshot of all this
is that America has been moving seriously rightward, at least concerning
matters of political economy if not social policy, for a full generation
or two now. Where once there was a right, now there is a rabid
right. And where once there was a left, now there is a collection
of apolitical careerists. Given the powerful ability of the right
to tilt the playing field in every meaningful dimension, the policy
options seemingly open to these would-be progressives when they gain
office (which happens almost purely because of regressive over-extension,
rather than on their own merits) are effectively, but not actually,
proscribed to more of the same right-wing insanity that has brought
this country so much grief and decline since the Hollywood Cowboy rode
into town and borrowed insipid two-dimensional morality plays from the
sets of B-movie lots and screened them as the cheap horror production
known as American politics.

The same is absolutely
true of judicial politics as well. As Justice Stevens has himself
correctly noted, every single appointment to the Supreme Court since
and including his own, 35 years ago and now again today, has replaced
the prior justice with someone further to the right. The entire
center of gravity of the Court (and the federal courts below it) has
shifted dramatically rightward. Not only do regressives vehemently
demand that Republican presidents nominate throaty young Troglodytes
to fill any vacancy (as they did when they forced Bush to withdraw the
Harriet Miers nomination), but this is in fact probably the single biggest
reason that they fight so hard to win the presidency. Sure, they
want some twisted pathological freak in the White House who will invade
hapless third world countries, slash spending on the poor, keep the
womenfolk in their place, and then piously attend church on Sunday (though
both Reagan and W typically managed only the first three items on that
agenda during any given week of their presidencies, but they faked their
religiosity well enough that they were forgiven), but what they really
want is somebody who will stick a Sam Alito on the Supreme Court for
the next forty years. It's not quite as permanent an establishment
of their repressive politics as would be, say, making up some religion
for people to adhere to over the next couple of millennia, but it's
as close as you can get as long as that pesky Constitution and its evil
secular government is still around and in the way.

Democrats, on the other
hand, do what Democrats do best when it comes to making judicial appointments,
or anything else for that matter. Which is to say just about nothing.
This is why Kagan is so representative of Obama, and Obama is so representative
of the politically neutered Generation X. Imagine somebody living
through some of the most contentious debates of the last decades, and
serving in some of the most prominent positions in and out of American
government during that time, and leaving absolutely no paper trail whatsoever
that indicates any politics of any sort. I'm sorry. Elena
Kagan is not a socialist, she's a Kaganist. She's not a liberal,
she's just a nil.

And so, as Stevens leaves
and she fills his seat, the Court marches yet further rightward, with
a weak apolitical centrist taking the place of a towering progressive.
Meanwhile, Obama continues to do his part to aid in the complete repudiation
of liberalism by running a presidency so anemic Neville Chamberlain
would be embarrassed by it, while continuing allow himself to be labeled
as some radical leftist by the regressive right, whose bottomless cleverness
is matched only by their sociopathic cynicism. The upshot is that
Obama - the appointer of nothingburger apolitical nobodies to the
Supreme Court - will soon enough be replaced by another Republican
president appointing a fresh crop of Lil' Scalias to complete the
process. As soon as one of those replaced is one of the moderates
on the Court rather than one of their own, the show will be definitely
over (as it almost entirely is already), moving the regressive voting
dominance from the current 4.75 to 4.25 votes (Kennedy occasionally
siding with the non-Neanderthals), to a full-out 6 to 3 instead.

And nobody says much
of nuthin' about it. Nobody holds Obama's feet to the fire
like the right did to Bush with the Miers nomination. Can you
imagine the conversations in the White House? Maybe some twenty-something
rube staffer is dumb enough to say, "Hey, don't we need to appoint
a progressive every once in a while to take care of our base?"
To which everyone in the room bursts out laughing, and Rahm Emanuel
responds: "#$@%& those stupid #@$^&-@#$#%'s. What
are they gonna do? Send us #$^@ing email? Have a @#$%ing
rally with fourteen aging hippies doing a sit-in at Harry Reid's office?
$#@&$ 'em, and the horses they rode in on. We answer to
Wall Street, son."

So the short version
of the story is that the aberration of partial economic justice and
democracy that characterized the middle of the twentieth century is
collapsing all around us. That implosion has now swallowed up
both political parties. It has long held sway on both ends of
Pennsylvania Avenue. And it is finally being ossified into place
for at least the next several decades with lifetime appointments to
the Supreme Court. The first priority is to create an all-powerful
executive. The second priority is to create an all-powerful state.
And the third priority is to make sure that both are put to the service
of oligarchic interests. This is the regressive play book, rarely
ever seen with greater clarity than in the voting records of the Scalia
bloc on the Court. All else is commentary, if not diversion.

The astonishing irony,
of course, is that there could hardly be a moment more propitious for
an ideological swing in the other direction. People are hurting
badly. Elites are vastly richer today than they were three decades
ago. The connection between the two, in the form of predatory
Wall Street plunderings continually aided, abetted and even funded by
the government, is no longer even particularly hidden. And yet
there is no left at all on the national horizon, apart from an occasional
Bernie Sanders or Dennis Kucinich. Indeed, quite the opposite
is the case. All energy is with the blind raging tea party mentality,
which only seeks to vastly exacerbate the problem through some sort
of vague libertarianism that will further unleash corporate dominance
and further shred what little is left of a tattered social safety net
in America.

You really have to hand
it to the right. They understand mass psychology so much better
than progressives do. They know that rationality is the first
victim of fear, and that fear breeds upon itself, amplifying its own
effects exponentially. They understand how fragile a thing is
a thoughtful, sober and responsible democracy, and how readily undermined
it can be for nefarious and hidden purposes.

And they understand how
easy it is to buy off those with the capacity to prevent a country's
political and economic suicide.

Barack Obama and Elena
Kagan have gotten everything they've ever wanted from life.

All they had to do, in
return, was to stand for nothing.

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