Monday, July 23, 2012

Change or No Change - your choice

We live in a world in which we can assume neither competence nor good faith from those in authority. Decades of inequality in America have produced a deformed social order and a set of elites who cannot help but be dysfunctional and corrupt. Most of us don't see it that way. We have accepted that there will be some class of people that will make the decisions for us, and if we just manage to find the right ones, then all will be well. Fundamentally we still think that a select few should rule; we just changed our criteria for what makes someone qualified to be a member of that select few.

It is as clear as ever that the Republican and Democratic parties pretty much support the same economic policies. Indeed, any honest perusal of congressional votes proves that the party establishments are roughly the same when it comes to financial deregulation (less of it), free trade (more of it), bailouts (more of them) and corporate taxes (less of them). Politicians deny this obvious reality, of course. But they do so because they have a vested interest in the red-versus-blue “polarization” narrative from which they generate campaign contributions and ratings, respectively. It's also why more Americans are wholly tuning out of politics— they are less and less interested in the two heads of the same economic monster.

If you are still gullible enough to believe the illusion of huge differences on economics, behold the “debate” over taxes. Because of America's progressive tax system, all taxpayers under Obama's plan—including those making more than $250,000 a year—will get a tax cut on their first $250,000 of income.  This means that Obama's initiative, will give a one-year $20,130 tax cut to the top 1 percent of income earners. Meanwhile, the Romney plan would give that income group a $70,790 tax cut. In other words, this supposedly monumental debate isn't over whether to punish or further enrich households in the top 1 percent—both proposals do the latter. Instead, this is a minor dispute over whether the tax code should give each of those households the equivalent salary of one butler (Obama's plan) or three butlers (Romney's plan). For every other income group, the two proposals are identical. Pretending this is some big divide is yet another farce. Both parties are proposing to enrich the already rich, meaning the whole argument is yet another attempt to hide the two-headed monster behind a mask of conflict. Unfortunately, that monster is still under there - still rigging the economy against us.

If you were a Martian, the animosity of America’s many in the 1 percent toward Obama might seem a bit odd and rather mysterious. Although those at the bottom and in the middle are still suffering from the downturn that began in 2008, with unemployment above 8 percent, the affluent economy has bounced back quite smartly. The stock market has recovered, corporate coffers are overflowing with cash, and the luxury goods market is booming. Even Wall Street has reason to be grateful. Bankers got the biggest government bailout of all – much more than laid-off workers or beleaguered homeowners received from this Democratic administration – and the president resisted calls from the left to nationalize the banks he rescued. Obama’s most extreme critics delight in accusing him of being socialist and sometimes communist but Obama has insisted that “we love folks getting rich.” When former President Bill Clinton said Mitt Romney “had a sterling business career.”  Why was he defending private equity bankers—the people Texas Gov. Rick Perry once called “vulture capitalists”? Ralph Nader explained the strategy “He’s laying the groundwork for Hillary Clinton running for president in 2016.He wants to appear with Hillary as very friendly to business. He operates out of New York City. He doesn’t want to alienate Wall Street.” Clinton learned long ago not to bite the hand that feeds him. Obama is no different.

But by now, it should finally have dawned everyone that the politicians who presume to guide the economy have no idea what they’re doing. We’re long past the time when knowledge of economics was required to see that the government is impotent when it comes to creating economic recovery. If you want evidence of that impotence, just look around. There is a limit of their powers. Politicians will promise the moon and they will blame everything and everyone for their failures. Obama and former president George W. Bush directed over a trillion dollars in spending increases and tax cuts toward stimulating the economy. What’s to show for it? The consequence of the failure of the elites and the distrust it has spawned is the most powerful and least understood aspect of current politics and society. It structures and constrains the very process by which we gather facts, form opinions, and execute self-governance. It connects the Iraq War and the financial crisis, the Tea Party and MoveOn/Occupy, the despair of laid-off autoworkers in Detroit to the foreclosed home-owners in Las Vegas: nothing seems to work. All the smart people fucked up, and no one seems willing to take responsibility. Obama's political success lay in his ability to connect to this core sense of betrayal and his political setback has been his inability to deliver us from failure. He invoked, time and time again, the great social movements in American history that attacked the authority of the unjust institutions that preserved the status quo. But as much as Obama spoke of the desire for reconstruction and reform, he cultivated the support of those members in power and who longed for restoration of authority rather than a revolution from below. Obama may have boasted of  his years as a community organizer in Chicago, but he spent just as much time at Harvard Law serving business interests. Despite his campaign promises to take on the “system,” Obama has operated safely within it.

 Beyond Democrat and Republican isn't just a motto. When people come to view all politics as fraudulent, a vicious cycle of acceptance and low expectations kicks in rather than an increased demand for change and revolution. The most pressing need for those who desire a better functioning, more representative democracy is conceiving not policies that will enhance equality, but mechanisms by which the power of the current capitalists might be challenged. The ruling class are reluctant to part with their power, they must be convinced that the current status quo is unsustainable. Normalcy is what keeps the system moving and its inequities unaddressed—so normalcy must be disrupted. Occupy Wall Street succeeded in taking possession of public spaces in cities and towns across the country. The protesters disrupted the basic normalcy of everyday life. Mayors and police and media and fellow workers had to pay attention. And while the message may have been sometimes lost,  the basic effort was successful in expanding public consciousness about social and political problems. But disruption as disruption isn't enough. In order to actually effect deep and meaningful change, those opposed to the current social system must widen the base of power that can credibly challenge the power of incumbent interests. It's about class. We must unify around class.

Our broken down world should not be revived as many well-meaning radicals propose with their various reforms and palliatives. It should be terminated for good. It means we have to create a new system. In that monumental task the odds may be against us. But what we need is not na├»ve hope for change. We have to believe in something more than hope. We're not talking about heaven and Pie in the Sky. Nor should we distract ourselves by looking to science fiction and living in domed cities or inventiing ourselves out of our problems. So, lets not pay any attention to the claims of the religious fundamentalists and the prophets of technology. Socialists are materialists which means dealing with the what is and not the what if. We cannot avoid reality by praying for deliverance by the hand of God or deliverance through the wizardry of gadgets. 

Averting a planetary-scale destruction demands global co-operation. Humanity has not done anything to stave off the worst because the class organisation for doing something just isn’t there. We all have to summon the political will to radically change the way we live. If we can do that, we might have a chance to avert disaster.  A socialist's task is to tell it as it, as much as one can bear, to proclaim hard-to-hear truths.

We become fully human only through embracing our humanity when we care for each other and care for the wider larger living world. Our chance of saving ourselves depends on enough people willing to act. We must throw everything into the endeavor to re-make the world into what we say we want it to be.

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