With the recent capitulation in the face of small government, “free-market” ideologues, Obama continues in the grand tradition of corporate spokesliars like Ronald Reagan, who use popularly endearing personalities as cover for regressive transferals of wealth.
Nothing encapsulates the subservience of these U.S. Presidents to their corporate financiers like the moment, captured in a brilliant segment of M. Moore’s Capitalism, in which then-chairman of Merrill Lynch literally whispers directives into Reagan’s ear.
Reagan went on to preside over the “wholesale dismantling of our industrial infrastructure” for the “sake of short term profits.”
Reagan began with the evisceration of the labor unions, infamously firing every member of the air traffic controllers union after they had been on strike for two days. Moore identifies this moment as “The Day the Middle Class Died“.
But he lays ultimate responsibility for the calamity not on Reagan or his puppet-masters — they were just looking after their own interests after all — but on the lack of solidarity among the other labor unions who refused to fight:
The biggest organization of unions in America told its members to cross the picket lines of the air traffic controllers and go to work. And that’s just what these union members did. Union pilots, flight attendants, delivery truck drivers, baggage handlers — they all crossed the line and helped to break the strike. And union members of all stripes crossed the picket lines and continued to fly.
Reagan and Wall Street could not believe their eyes! Hundreds of thousands of working people and union members endorsing the firing of fellow union members. It was Christmas in August for Corporate America.
And that was the beginning of the end. Reagan and the Republicans knew they could get away with anything — and they did.
(At MotherJones, btw, Kevin Drum looks at the numbers over the past decades to show why unions matter, not only for unionized employees but for non-unionized workers as well. The punchline: Sociological studies show that in the absence of strong labor unions, income inequality grows and the political clout of the middle class shrinks.)
Popular capitulation in the face of this rightward shift took a brief respite as a result of the outrageous excesses of the most recent Bush presidency — millions took to the streets in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, for example. And while Democratic Party leaders, fearful of not “supporting the troops”, colluded with the Bush regime at every dark step, there was at least the pretense that they stood in opposition to aggressive war, secret prisons, government surveillance and the like. And when Bush tried to gut new deal social programs by privatizing them, the Unions, as weak as they had become relative to the decades preceding Reagan, blocked his plans.
“But since 2008 a Democratic president has neutralized all these constituencies,” laments A. Cockburn at Counterpunch.
Indeed, those to the left of pro-war free-market ideologues who run this country have no appetite for taking the current imperial spokesmodel to task. Why? Because he is “the first black president”, or because “he is doing the best he can”, or because they fear who might succeed him if he is defeated in the next election.
This reflexive support for Obama leads Cockburn to the ironic conclusion that “the best outcome for the left in 2008 would have been a victory for McCain, Obama’s Republican opponent”:
McCain! But, you wail, he would have plunged America into new wars, kept Guantanamo open, launched an onslaught on entitlements, surrendered to Wall Street and the banks…
McCain would have tried all these things, but maybe he would have quailed amid a storm of public protest.
The lesson, I think, is that what is essential is a principled, rather than partisan, opposition to Imperial theft and violence. And this means an opposition that remains alive even when the office of the President is filled by a person whose surface qualities — their party affiliation, their skin tone, their oratory skill — one finds appealing.
Ultimately it is this popular capitulation of principle that allows officeholders to betray their constituencies. If they can take your vote for granted, there is no need to be concerned about your interests.