The results of the US mid-term elections reflect a return of cynicism and ennui among those who were moved by the visionary promises of Barack Obama as he campaigned for the presidency a short 2 years ago. In May 2008, when campaigning in North Carolina, he described the core message of his campaign in the following terms: "It's not enough just to replace the party in the White House. We've got to change our politics as well." Our collective memories are too short. Our expectations too easily side-stepped.
The past two years have shown that in US politics, it is still business as usual. The problem, of course, is that US business continues to affect us all.
While Obama, shadowed by 250 US business executives, was meeting with high dignitaries in India on his 10-day tour through Southeast Asia, his erstwhile opponent-become-Secretary-of-State Hillary Clinton, accompanied by her Defense Secretary Robert Gates, were meeting with Julia Gillard and her new coterie in Australia.
And while Obama was busily negotiating new arms deals which included securing a $3.5 billion contract for 10 Boeing C-17 cargo planes -- the sixth biggest arms deal in US history -- and lining up an additional $11 billion order for 126 combat fighter jets for the Indian air force, Clinton and Gates were meeting with Australian politicians and military planners in order to secure an increased US military presence in Australia.
It was therefore both politic and pragmatic that Obama was met by Jim McNerney, CEO of Boeing, and Jeffrey Imelt, CEO of General Electric, when Air Force One touched down on the Tarmac of Mumbai airport on 7th November. General Electric was recently contracted to supply 107 F414 engines for the new Tejas lightweight jet fighter presently being constructed in India. And for the past 2 years, GE-Hitachi have been jockeying for the construction of new nuclear power stations in India.
It would seem that the US presidency has more decidedly become an office to promote the sale of US arms in a world already ravaged by the effects of too many wars and too much deadly weaponry.
There is no shortage of irony. In a speech given at a joint sitting of both houses of Parliament in New Delhi on 8th November, Obama invoked the spirits of both Gandhi and Martin Luther King: "I've always found inspiration in the life of Ghandiji and his simple and profound lesson to be the change we seek in the world." He went on to say: "After making his pilgrimage to India half a century ago, Dr. King called Ghandi's philosophy of nonviolent resistance 'the only logical and moral approach' in the struggle for justice and progress."
Words have ever been cheap in the theatre of politics. The contradiction between the rhetoric and the action in his speech in New Delhi is as sharp as it was in his acceptance speech for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize at Oslo a year ago.
Despite the hopes and the promises that brought Obama to the US presidency, American pragmatism continues to rule. If the US does not sell its jets and its weapons to India, then the Russians or the Europeans will. The Indian military remains one of the largest importers of military hardware on the planet despite the fact that tens of millions of Indian men, women and children continue to live in deep poverty. But the whole game plan has now changed. Many who were of the view that Barack Obama shared their insight into what was necessary during this time of escalating planetary difficulties have been left wondering what peculiar deception was at play.
Obama took office at a pivotal point in history. The Bush era had brought the theory and practice of political self-interest to a high pitch. The rich got richer, the already powerful got more power, the belligerent were given greater scope for the exercise of their belligerence.
As independent journalist Robert Freeman has so astutely pointed out, nothing really changed when Obama entered the White House. Mammon's rule was confirmed by Obama's selection of the unholy trinity of Larry Summers, Timothy Geithner and Ben Bernanke to run the country's finances. Under Clinton, Larry Summers had single-mindedly driven the deregulation of banks that enabled the rape of national economies around the globe. He was appointed Head of the National Economic Council. Under George W. Bush, Timothy Geithner had already funneled trillions of dollars of public moneys to his old buddies on Wall Street in the guise of "saving the system". He was appointed Secretary of the Treasury. And as Chairman of the Federal Reserve since 2006, Ben Bernanke had presided over a series of monstrous excesses that fattened the already rich and flayed the poor of what little they had. Bernanke was re-appointed in his role by Obama.
And able economists like Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman and David Korten continue to remain on the margins awaiting the inevitable.
Most of Obama's choices have followed this pattern. Despite his promise to renew and to reform US politics, little has changed. According to Robert Freeman, US banks "are making the largest profits in their history and paying themselves the biggest bonuses on record." Meanwhile, both the Pentagon and the US armaments industry are as busy as ever. Oil and energy companies have demonstrated who is really calling the tune through their scuttling of the Copenhagen Climate Summit last year. Their activities continue unabated. While tar sands continue to be mined in Canada at enormous cost to the environment and enormous expenditure of energy, methane gas begins to pour out of the entire Siberian permafrost region and the Arctic seabed itself. The inexorable receding of immense continental glaciers bodes poorly for those populations dependent on the great river systems issuing from ancient glaciers for their drinking water and for the irrigation waters that enable food production.
The 2008 financial crisis offered an opportunity to clean up the dirty practices that bankrupted literally millions of householders by recklessly enabling unserviceable mortgages and that emptied untold numbers of pension funds and retirement savings by exploiting newly created financial instruments such as derivatives.
The unconditional multi-billion bailout of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler at that time similarly squandered an opportunity to completely redesign transport systems and to transform an obsolete industrial infrastructure.
These opportunities came and went while politicians argued, bankers schemed, oil companies colluded and armaments manufacturers planned.
It would seem we are a refractory species. Not until the situation has become irremediably dire do we begin to take the necessary collective action we could have taken and should have taken long before to prevent widespread collapse and progressive dissolution.
Let us never lose sight of the potencies available to us in familial and community awareness and action during these times of political dereliction and moral abandonment.