Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sorry. We Can't Get There from Here

"Change," John Steinbeck wrote, "comes like the stealthy perfume of wildflowers hidden in the grass."

The stealthy change that has transformed our country into a corporate kakistocracy has been more akin to a snake in the grass than wildflowers.  Chris Hedges, the distinguished former journalist and scholar, referred to it recently as "a coup d'etat in slow motion by corporations."

"Barack Obama is a brand," Hedges told the blogger Rob Kall. "Barack Obama serves the interest of the corporate state and the permanent war economy as assiduously as George W. Bush.

"I think we have to begin to understand that corporations have won and we've lost. And then we have to begin to build resistance movements based on that knowledge. And we're not there yet."

The great question is, will we ever "get there?"

Recently I reconnected with an old friend, a quasi-retired college professor who has always shared many of my political views.  Somewhat to my surprise, he opened our conversation by defending the Obama record: "Considering what he inherited," my friend said, "Obama has done about all that could be expected.  I grade him 95 per cent positive."

Yet as our conversation was ending, my friend sighed and said, "the country we knew as younger men no longer exists.  And we may never get it back."

Naomi Klein, Nation columnist and  author of The Shock Doctrine and No Logo, says,"We have to build that independent left. It has to be so strong and so radical and so militant and so powerful that it becomes irresistible."

I agree, and have written often that if we do not or cannot form a strong Progressive third party in this country, democracy is doomed.

Now, I fear, it's too late for Hedges's resistance movements or Klein's vigorous new left.  The battle is lost.

Some of the ugliest, bitterest, least qualified and most radically far right people ever to hold office in this country will be elected to Congress in November.  The corporate kakistocracy that did so much damage in the Bush years, and that Obama failed to stifle, will become a runaway freight train.

In their book 13 Bankers, the brilliant economist Simon Johnson and his associate, James Kwaak,argued that the key forces behind the transformation of the financial sector and the resulting financial crisis were political, not simply economic.

"Business interests in all sectors organized a takeover of political power," Kwaak explains. "(It) pushed organized labor and other groups protecting middle-class interests to the sidelines and made possible decades of policies that have enriched the super-rich at the expense of everyone else, including the merely affluent. Finance was simply the biggest and most profitable of these sectors–and, we would emphasize, the one best able to hold the government hostage in a financial and economic crisis."

Kwaak agrees with economists who have written that the turning point in the corporatization of the United States ocurred in the 1970s. 

"The Nixon presidency saw the high-water market of the regulatory state," Kwaak writes. "The demise of traditional liberalism occurred during the Carter administration, despite Democratic control of Washington, when highly organized business interests were able to torpedo the Democratic agenda and begin the era of cutting taxes for the rich that apparently has not yet ended today."

The Tea Party kooks and the blathering fools on the TV networks would have us believe that all of this was propelled by a profound shift in public opinion.  But in Winner-Take-All Politics, the authors Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson demolish the myth.  Most of the public, they demonstrate, still resents economic inequality and believes in taxing the rich to help the less advantaged.  But in Congress, where money talks and the politicians obey, the concerns of men and women in the street back home don't matter.  “When well-off people strongly supported a policy change," they write, "it had almost three times the chance of becoming law as when they strongly opposed it. When median-income people strongly supported a policy change, it had hardly any greater chance of becoming law than when they strongly opposed it."

After November, things will only get worse.  The country we knew as young men has vanished.  We will never get it back.

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