Establishment Politics in “Rebel’s Clothing:” Corporate Power, Populist Pandering, and the Ironies of Identity in the Democratic Presidential Race
She’s my girl; I want a woman in the White House.
Hillary Clinton would not be as well-positioned to save the Democratic Party from its base if women in the
- Laura Flanders, 2007
John Edwards’ “left-leaning” (Nagourney 2007) attempt to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in the name of ordinary working people and against corporate rule and “the privileged few” faces three interrelated obstacles. His first and most obvious challenge is the defensive instincts of the powerful corporate plutocracy, including the owners and managers of the nation’s dominant (so-called “mainstream”) media. There are numerous indications that the “populist” Edwards may be the most elect-able of the Democrats’ top three presidential hopefuls in a contest with the Republicans. But the United States’ “business community” can hardly be expected to embrace Edwards’ insistent rhetoric about “fighting and beating” corporate power, attacking poverty and economic inequality, supporting the labor movement (which he repeatedly calls “the greatest anti-poverty program in American history”), and “ending” a “rigged game” of business-dominated special interest politics that creates “corporate Democrats” as well as “corporate Republicans.”
There’s a certain amount of populist pandering that is understood to be part of the Democrats’ quadrennial game and Edwards’ populace-pleasing rhetoric considerably outruns the substantive egalitarian content of his policy agenda. That agenda is closer to the mainstream Democratic Party than it is to the social democracy and anti-militarism of the inherently (under the rules of American “dollar democracy) “unviable” (because too actually left) Dennis Kucinich (1). Still, Edwards’ willingness to embrace unions and the nearly forgotten languages of class and labor certainly bothers politically attentive members of the nation’s ruling investor class. The former North Carolina Senator’s “working class hero” campaign gives corporate America reasons to think he would be considerably harder to control – and more likely to encourage popular challenge to business domination – than Hillary and/or Obama. The supposedly overly “angry” (says Chris Dodd) advocate of “class war” (according to Bill Richardson in the most recent Democratic presidential candidates’ debate) John Edwards has a considerably less advantageous campaign finance and media profile as a result.
A second obstacle for Edwards is the tendency of a large number of voters to identify Hillary Clinton with the long economic expansion and era of “peace” that her husband supposedly “oversaw” between from 1993 through 2000. Never mind that presidents ride waves of economic growth and decline more than they create them. Or that the Clinton administration’s social and economic policies followed in strict and regressive accord with neoliberal imperatives that privileged deficit reduction, “market discipline,” and negative (corporate) globalization over Clinton’s populace-pleasing campaign promise to “put [working] people first.”
Never mind that the limited and uneven, economic expansion that occurred under
And never mind the
All this terrible history aside, the
An “Ultimate Insider”
Edwards’ third barrier is the ironic politics of identity. The majority working-class Democratic base wants a genuinely progressive, populist, and peace-oriented candidate – somebody who will challenge corporate power, fight for working people of all races and genders, and reorient the nation’s priorities away from imperial plutocracy and towards peace, justice, and democracy.
Hillary does not fill the bill. Featured last summer on the cover of FORTUNE magazine, next to the claim that she is the candidate” that “corporate
Her main political advisor, Mark Penn, runs a corporate public relations firm that “specialize in spin for union-busters, Shell Oil, and big tobacco companies” (Berman 2007; Flanders 2008). By sharp and telling contrast, Edwards’ leading consultant is the former pro-labor
Having been a fierce Iraq invasion hawk (3) well past the point where many moderate Democrats got off the “war” (4) train (Gerth and Van Natta 2007), Hillary has essentially announced (with her call for keeping combat troops in Iraq to “fight terrorism”) her determination to indefinitely continue the bloody, illegal, racist, mass-murderous, and petro-imperialist occupation of Mesopotamia. She continues to advance the offensive claim that she had no good reasons to know that the Bush administration was lying about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction when she voted to authorize Bush to invade in the fall of 2002 (Edwards simply apologizes for his 2002 war vote, calling it a “terrible mistake”). And contrary to her claims that she wanted and expected George W. Bush to exhaust all “diplomatic options” before choosing “war” (naked imperial aggression, that is) against Iraq, she joined 74 other U.S. senators in voting against Senator Carl Levin’s (D-MI) earlier (several hours before the war authorization vote) proposal of an amendment that would have required the White House to follow a diplomatic process (returning to the UN and perhaps again to Congress) before the legislative branch would fully authorize the use of force. In campaign speeches and meetings where she likes to accuse Bush of having given “short shrift to diplomacy,” Clinton naturally never mentions “her own vote against Levin’s 2002 amendment, the one that would have required the president to pursue a more diplomatic approach before any invasion of Iraq” (Gerth and Nan Natta 2007; Street 2007a; Street 2007b).
She would be likely to support a disastrous and criminal Bush attack on Iran. She recently supported the White House’s absurd, provocative, and saber-rattling campaign to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as an “international terrorist organization.” She voted for the preposterous Kyl-Lieberman Senate resolution, a bill so stupid and malicious that it wasn’t even brought up in the House.
"If Mr. Bush actually does make a strike against Iran,” liberal Sunday New York Times columnist Frank Rich notes, “Mrs. Clinton will be the only leading Democrat to have played a cameo role in enabling it.” And if Hillary is the Democratic nominee in 2008, Rich adds, a fear- and war-mongering Republican will “once again square off against a Democratic opponent who was for a preemptive war before being against it” (Rich 2007).
By Laura Flanders’ interesting account, “the job Hillary has signed up for is to win her party’s nomination – and then the country – while keeping the party status quo mostly in place. Clinton is seeking the nomination without a record of dissent from Bush on the use of force to solve problems abroad. She’s also hoping that by muttering things about ‘reviewing NAFTA,’ she won’t have to actually break with her husband’s tainted [corporate-neoliberal, P.S.] policies on domestic spending and trade.”
Fond of looking for “common ground” with reactionary, arch-regressive and messianic-militarist Republicans like Newt Gingrich (co-sponsor of the Clinton administration’s noxious welfare bill), Hillary is what Flanders calls an “ultimate [corporate and imperial, P.S.] insider” (Flanders 2008, pp. 24, 38).
Heckuva Fair Trade and Antiwar Record, Barry
But so, contrary to Flanders’ account (Flanders 2008, pp.. 23-24), is Obama, who has made finding “common ground” to “get things done” with the toxic American Right (what Obama likes to call “pragmatism”) a subtle lynchpin of his campaign. Obama’s power-worshipping (and power-seeking) subservience to dominant domestic and global/imperial hierarchies and doctrines is widely documented and easily discernible – for those who care to look – in his profuse and openly conservative, cautious, and “Hamiltonian” writings and speeches and in his political and policy behavior. As I have shown in numerous articles to date, Barack (“love your oppressor”) Obama is a master triangulator and serial deceiver in the insidious corporate-neoliberal and militaristic Clinton-DLC mode (5).
His recent expression of support for the expansion of the militantly regressive and corporate-neoliberal North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) into Peru is just one of many examples. In telling a New Hampshire voter why supported the expansion, he claimed that the agreement contained the labor and environmental standards advocated by organized U.S. labor. But, as David Sirota notes, “the AFL-CIO does not support the bill expanding NAFTA into Peru, and the much-trumpeted labor and environmental standards leave enforcement up to the Bush administration, rather than empowering third parties to enforce them (like corporations have the power to enforce investor rights provisions in these same trade agreements). Leaving enforcement to the Bush administration – or to any administration – is the biggest loophole possible. It is precisely why corporate lobbyists have bragged to reporters that the standards are not enforceable.” Sirota finds Obama’s statement of support for NAFTA-Peru (the first to be made by a presidential candidate of either party) unsurprising “considering he was the keynote speaker at the launch of the Hamilton Project – a Wall Street front group working to drive a wedge between Democrats and organized labor on globalization issues” (Sirota 2007).
Having admitted that he might well have voted to authorize Bush’s invasion of Iraq had he been in the U.S. Senate in the fall of 2002 (New York Times, 26 July, 2004) even as he campaigns on his initial opposition to the “dumb” – he deleted “criminal” – “war” (6), Obama has repeatedly voted to fund the illegal, racist, mass-murderous and brazenly petro-imperialist occupation of Iraq since his arrival in the U.S. Senate. He voted to confirm as Secretary of State the mendacious war criminal Condoleezza Rice, who played a critical role in advancing the preposterous Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) claims Bush used to invade Iraq. He distanced himself from fellow Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin when Durbin faced vicious right-wing attacks for daring to tell some basic truths about U.S. Gestapo-like torture practices in Iraq. He used his considerable political and campaign finance muscle to back centrist Democrats against antiwar progressives in numerous Congressional primaries in 2006. He supported the neoconservative Joe Lieberman - his self-chosen Senate mentor – against the antiwar insurgent Ned Lamont in Connecticut. He has repeatedly and absurdly argued that the illegal invasion was launched with the best of [democratic] intentions” and praised U.S. military personnel for their “unquestioning” “service” in Iraq and – despite numerous U.S. atrocities there – for “doing everything we could ever ask of them.”
His belated calls for withdrawal are hedged by numerous statements indicating that an Obama White House would maintain a significant military presence in and around Iraq for an indefinite period of time. He refuses to support taking a reckless (possibly even nuclear) U.S. military assault on Iran “off the table” of acceptable U.S. foreign policy options. And last April, he rewarded Cheney-Bush by warning fellow Democrats not to “play chicken with our troops on the ground” by denying the Occupier- in-Chief funds to continue his reckless and mass-murderous oil invasion of Iraq. A significantly more strident opponent of the Iraq invasion than Obama (despite or perhaps because of his 2002 war authorization vote), Edwards responded to Obama’s April comment by saying that “this is not a game of chicken. This is not about making friends or keeping Joe Lieberman happy. This is about life and death.”
A recent high point in Obama’s “antiwar” record came when he couldn’t bother to be present on the Senate floor to vote against the same Iranian Revolutionary Guard resolution that Clinton supported and Edwards strongly opposes
Reflecting Obama’s claim to stand above the “old politics” fray of partisanship and “ideology,” his bestselling campaign book The Audacity of Hope (2006) is devoid of any of the sort of indignation and rage that has been historically associated with populist and progressive critiques of the extreme wealth concentration and inequality that prevails in the United States today. While he is currently compelled to pander to populist sentiments like never before in the three-way Iowa caucus (reported to be a dead heat between Clinton, labor-"populist" Edwards, and Obama), the supposedly non-ideological Obama is famously uncomfortable with the venerable progressive exercise of cultivating popular indignation by relating ordinary Americans’ economic problems and then explaining how those difficulties are produced by powerful groups gaining wealth by exploiting ordinary folks.
The relative absence of such rhetoric in his discourse reflects Obama’s sense that anger at injustice is dysfunctional and works against the higher, Camelot-inspired goal of national “unity.” “He rarely accuses,” Larissa MacFarquhar notes, “preferring to talk about problems in the passive voice, as things that are amiss with us rather than as wrongs that have been perpetrated by them [emphasis added].” He prefers an academic or even medical approach that deletes elite culpability in the creation of social misery. In a supposedly flattering May 2007 New Yorker portrait of Obama titled “The Conciliator,” MacFarquhar usefully captured the supposedly neutral and non-ideological tone of his ponderous book and of Obama’s “professorial” town-hall meeting in Iowa and New Hampshire during the spring and summer of 2007 (MacFarquhar 2007):
“In the past couple of months, Obama has hosted health-care forums of his own—in New Hampshire, in Iowa. In these forums, he is tranquil and relaxed, as though on a power-conserve setting. He paces slowly, he revolves, he tilts his head. He comments in a neutral, detached way. He doesn’t express sympathy for sickness, or scorn for bureaucracy, or outrage at unfairness. He says that the system is broken and needs to be fixed, but conveys no particular urgency.”
“This mode of his is often called professorial, and Obama himself likens these forums to the constitutional-law classes that he taught at the University of Chicago. [But] Obama’s detachment, his calm, in such small venues, is less professorial than medical—like that of a doctor who, by listening to a patient’s story without emotional reaction, reassures the patient that the symptoms are familiar to him. It is also doctorly in the sense that Obama thinks about the body politic as a whole thing. If you are presenting a problem as something that they have perpetrated on us, then whipping up outrage is natural enough; but if you take unity seriously, as Obama does, then outrage does not make sense, any more than it would make sense for a doctor to express outrage that a patient’s kidney is causing pain in his back.”
Never mind, most good progressive populists and (apparently now) John Edwards would say, that the body politic is deeply poisoned by the plutocratic power and agency of the corporate elite and begs for the sort of democratic detoxification that still requires popular outrage – however insufficient such anger might be in and of itself. Never mind that such transformation requires dropping the widespread illusion that ordinary people’s problems are about “things that are amiss with us” and looking hard at – and acting against – the wrongs that are regularly perpetrated by the wealthy few. And never mind that tens of millions of Americans are afraid to visit a real doctor thanks to the structurally super-empowered United States “business community’s” longstanding efforts to prevent the elementarily decent introduction of universal health insurance in the “land of the free.”
“In his view of history, in his respect for tradition, in his skepticism that the world can be changed any way but very, very slowly,” MacFarquhar notes “Obama is deeply conservative" (MacFarquhar 2007).
Obama is being richly rewarded for his careful, cautious, and even “deeply conservative” politics and rhetoric with more than $80 million (just $10 million behind Hillary) in largely corporate-funded campaign financing (Center for Responsive Politics 2007) and with the support of much of the Democratic Party’s imperial foreign policy establishment (Traub 2007).
“Rebel’s Clothing” and “The Essence of American Politics”
How on earth do Hillary & Obama pull off the image of being “progressive” outsiders fighting for the people and against the big corporate special interests and the masters of war and empire? Part of the answer is spin, whose state-of-art practitioners both of them can afford with their record-setting backing from the private election investors who do so much to narrow the moral and ideological parameters of U.S. “market democracy.” Following in the putrid "Third Way" footsteps of the similarly pseudo-progressive Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, both of them are adept at the traditional Democratic Party game of “mak[ing] populist and peace-stressing promises and gestures that” they are guaranteed to “ betray…instantly on the assumption of power” (Herman 2007, p. 23).
They and their handlers know very well how to tap into what a still left Christopher Hitchens once called “the essence of American politics. That essence,” Hitchens wrote, “consists of the manipulation of populism by elitism. That elite is most successful,” Hitchens explained, “which can claim the heartiest allegiance of the fickle crowd; can present itself as ‘in touch’ with popular concerns; can anticipate the tides and pulses of opinion; can, in short, be the least apparently elitist” (Hitchens 2000, pp. 17-18).
According to Flanders, “Hillary’s task is to dress her establishment self up in just enough rebel’s clothing to pacify the critics before the primary, and then win over enough alienated voters in November – probably by persuading them that she’ll change some things, but not too many” (Flanders 2008, p. 24).
Much the same could be said for the great white Hamiltonian hope Barack “The Conciliator” Obama.
“In a Sane World”
Another part of the answer is that sexism and racism richly assist Hillary and Obama’s corporate-sponsored “rebel’s clothing” spin project. Here’s a perceptive formulation from Flanders, worthy of extended quotation (Flanders 2008, p. 9):
“Hillary Clinton would not be as well-positioned to save the Democratic Party from its base if women in the United States had fewer reasons to be infuriated. As it is, the junior senator from New York just may be the party leaders’ last best chance for rescue from the angry and disgruntled Democratic voters. At a time when the anti-war, anti-free trade Democrats are crying out for substantive change in their party and in the country, Clinton is able to cast herself as an agent of that change, even as her record and policies promise, above all, cautious continuity. It’s a feat made possibly by the single fact that Clinton stands to be the first woman elected US president. In a less sexist world, it’d be hard for Clinton to present herself as any sort of political insurgent. Her husband is the country’s favorite living presidents, and her campaign coffers are bulging with establishment dollars. In a sane world, this two-term senator from New York would be the ultimate insider. The US media, however, can always be relied on to single out a woman for ‘outsider’ treatment, and Hillary Clinton is no exception.”
Hillary’s status as the person with the strongest chance ever to become the first female U.S. president helps her seem like a defiant challenger to political business as usual.
But much the same could be penned with no small justice about the Council of Foreign Relations spokesman and Hamilton Project Keynoter Obama. He is “able to cast [him]self as an agent of [progressive/leftward] change, even as [his] record and policies promise, above all, conscious continuity” and as his “campaign coffers are bulging with establishment dollars.” This is “a feat made possible by the single fact that [Obama] stands to be the first [African-America] elected US president. In a less [racist] world, it’d be hard for [Obama] to present [him] self as any sort of political insurgent….In a sane world, this [first]-term senator from [Illinois] would be [understood as an] insider. The US media, however, can always be relied on to single out [a black] for ‘outsider’ treatment and [Barack Obama] is no exception.”
One welcome and important thing to note in Flanders’ formulation is that she is not following tiresome liberal pundits like E.J. Dionne and Michael Tomasky in simplistically castigating post-1960s liberals for emphasizing evil “identity politics” when they ought to have been stressing economic issues of shared concern to the predominantly white working-class majority. While business interests (dominant media included) can be counted on to use Hillary’s gender identity for reactionary purposes, gender discrimination remains rife in contemporary America – something that leads many middle- and working-class females to understandably (if all too ironically) see Mrs. Clinton as something of a women’s champion. Hillary would be much less useful to the corpotocracy and (to say much the same thing) far less elect-able – less capable of attracting a (disproportionately female) rank and constituency in a general election if the United States wasn’t still significantly sexist.
A similar point can and should be made for the “deeply conservative” and neoliberal, corporate-imperial “player” and big money fundraising phenomenon “Obama, Inc” (Silverstein 2006). America’s potential first black president would find it considerably more difficult to don the “rebel’s clothing” and pose as an insurgent if the US wasn’t still significantly racist.
Jeff Faux is right to note that class has been pushed dangerously to the margins of liberal Democratic politics since the Sixties. As he rightly observes in his brilliant new book The Global Class War: How America’s Bipartisan Elite Lost Our Future and What It Will Take to Win it Back, “the civil rights and Vietnam conflicts of the 1960s splintered the Democratic Party’s broad-based New Deal coalition that had been united around issues of economic class. Since then, liberal identity has been defined by issues of gender, sexual preference, disability, and other subclass categories that emphasize differences among their own core constituencies. The institutions that united the traditional Democratic constituencies but make business uncomfortable, such as the labor unions and the local political clubs, were gradually marginalized by the party, a process that accelerated in the 1980s with the expanded role of corporate money.” Faux is correct to note that race and gender barriers have lowered somewhat while class inequality – the core theme in Edwards’ interesting “New Deal” and anti-“corporate Democrat” (Edwards calls himself a “real Democrat, not a corporate Democrat”) campaign – has significantly worsened during the last thirty years (Faux 2006, pp. 60-61).
But so-called “subclass” race and gender oppression remain deeply entrenched and pervasive in the American System. They are concretely experienced in ways that make it less than surprising that large segments of the electorate are going to be excited at the possibility that a woman or an African American – however “establishment” – might ascend to the pinnacles of corporate-imperial power. And the best way to take away the power elite’s ability to exploit “identity politics” is to eliminate sexual and racial discrimination, both arguably less fundamental than class oppression to the operation of the dominant U.S. state-capitalist sociopolitical regime.
Not Very Strong on Gender and Race
Ironically enough, Hillary is not all that good on women’s rights and Obama is probably worse on civil rights. Besides assaulting poor women ad children with her silent support of the vicious Clinton-Gingrich welfare elimination, Hillary now calls abortion a “tragic” choice. Flanders notes that such “language…sells down the river any notion that a woman has a right to terminate a pregnancy to save her hopes and dreams (not to mention her existing kids or the elder parents she’s caring for).” At the same times, leading feminist Ellen Bravo observed that Hilary “missed an opportunity to lead” when she tried to make her abortion stand more nuanced. Mrs. Clinton failed to point out the hypocrisy of those who assert their commitment to “life” while opposing policies to expand women’s rights to living wages, health care, and birth control” (Flanders 2008, pp. 38-39).
Seeking “common ground” with the white majority, Obama has denied elementary U.S. social reality by claiming in his campaign book that “what ails working- and middle-class blacks is not fundamentally different from what ails their white counterparts: downsizing, outsourcing, automation, wage stagnation, the dismantling of employer-based health care and pension plans, and schools that fail to teach young people the skills they need to compete in a global economy” (Obama 2006, p. 247). Obama went with the same white-pleasing “class-over-race” theme and purveyed the very “postracial politics” he claims to reject when the New York Times asked him about his last-minute decision not to let Rev. Jeremiah Wright give the invocation before his presidential candidacy announcement. “Reverend Wright is a child of the 60s,” Obama told the Times, “and he often expresses himself in that language of concern with institutional racism and the struggles the African-American community has gone through. He analyzes public events in the context of race. I tend,” Obama said – positing a false dichotomy – “to look at them through the context of social justice and inequality” (Kantor 2007, p. A1)
To further reinforce conservative whites’ sense that Obama harbors no undue “grievance” regarding the officially “over” problem of racism, Obama likes to occasionally join neoconservatives and sold-out bourgeois blacks like Bill Cosby and Henry Louis “Skip” Gates in blaming poor blacks for their own poverty. He also agrees with neocons that “conservatives and Bill Clinton were right about welfare” (Street 2007c).
Consistent with such sentiments, Obama has hardly distinguished himself on the Civil Rights battlefield during his time in federal office and on the national stage. He criticized efforts to enact filibuster proceedings against reactionary Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, a well-known enemy of black rights. He earned Rev. Jesse Jackson’s criticism for “acting like he’s white” when he failed to meaningfully support the significant struggle against Jena, Louisiana’s decision to charge six African-American teenagers with attempted murder for engaging in a school fight with racist white teens. Known as “the Jena 6,” the case brought tens of thousands of black people and white allies to the predominantly white town to protest racist criminal justice practices in early September of 2007. “If I were a candidate,” Jackson said, “I’d be all over Jena. Jena is a defining moment, just like Selma was a defining moment” (CNN 2007). Some political observers were reminded by this comment of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when Jackson and Obama tangled over the latter’s determination to significantly downplay the obvious role of race (and racism) in the abandonment of black New Orleans residents.
Consistent with an interesting pattern, Edwards’ comments on the Jena situation have been more forthright than Obama’s on the persistent problem of racism in the U.S. And for what it’s worth, Edwards announced his anti-poverty candidacy from a home in the black Ninth Ward of abandoned and hurricane-ravaged New Orleans while Obama announced before a predominantly white audience in the distinctly Caucasian downstate Illinois town of Springfield.
Ironically enough, the nomination and/election of Obama could deepen racism in the U.S. by encouraging the widespread white illusion that blacks no longer face any relevant racist obstacles to equality and advancement in American life. Hillary’s election could have a similar negative impact on the struggle against sexism. Meanwhile, of course, the worst presidential-electoral outcome for women’s rights and civil rights would be the election of another Republican administration.
Given his status as the most elect-able of the top three Democratic candidates in a contest with the Republicans, the southern white “populist” male “New Deal” candidate Edwards is arguably the best bet among the top three Democrats to defend the interests of non-white and female citizens against the extremist assault of racist, patriarchal, border-mad, plutocratic, nationalist, imperial, nationalistic, and messianic-militarist Republicans. But the multi-millionaire Edwards’s more Jeffersonian rhetoric and persona may be too rebelliously close to the needs of the working-class majority for him to get the nomination – a chilling reflection of the depth of the business-sponsored authoritarian peril that haunts this land.
Veteran radical historian Paul Street is a writer, speaker and activist in Iowa City, IA and Chicago, IL. His latest book is Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007). He can be reached at email@example.com.
1. It doesn’t help his ability to serve populist ends that Edwards remains wedded to the American-exceptionalist notion that the “the U.S. military” must continue to be “the most modern and capable fighting force on the planet...because, as Robert F. Kennedy once wrote, ‘Our answer is the world’s hope.’”(John Edwards, speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, May 23, 2007, read online at http://www.johnedwards.com/news/ speeches/20070523-cfr/). The massive global-military empire that reflects and sustains this grandiose vision of American power takes hundreds and billions of public dollars that ought to be spent on fighting and ending poverty and improving the nation’s social, ecological, and literal health and hands it over to the corporate-plutocratic likes of Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed-Martin, Halliburton, and Blackwater, Inc. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Edwards’ insistent call for politicians to “tell the truth” about Iraq does not lead him to acknowledge the fairly elementary fact – well understood by the predominant majority of the morally and politically cognizant planet – that the monumentally criminal and inherently mass-murderous occupation of Mesopotamia was “largely about” (Alan Greenspan) the bipartisan and corporate U.S. Empire’s drive to deepen its control of super-strategic Iraq and Middle Eastern oil. Sadly, Edwards has joined Clinton and Obama in failing to pledge to end the occupation of Iraq by 2013.
2. As Tuft’s University political scientist Tony Smith noted in a candid Washington Post commentary last March, the Clintonian “neoliberals are nearly indistinguishable from the better-known neoconservatives.” By Smith account, “sources for many of the critical elements of the Bush doctrine can be found in the emergence of [Clintonian] neoliberal thought during the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War. In think tanks, universities and government offices, left-leaning intellectuals, many close to the Democratic Party, formulated concepts to bring to fruition the age-old dream of Democratic President Woodrow Wilson ‘to make the world safe for democracy.’ These [Clintonian] neolibs advocated the global expansion of ‘market democracy.’ They presented empirical, theoretical, even philosophical arguments to support the idea of the United States as the indispensable nation.” helping provide “the intellectual substance of much of the Bush doctrine” (Smith 2007).
3. As Laura Flanders points out, “when the US-led invasion of Iraq lay in the balance, pending a vote in Congress, Hillary rose in the Democratic-controlled Senate and voted to give the president the authority he sought to decide to attack. But Clinton not only gave Bush and Cheney her vote, she embraced their argument, saying the Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had ‘worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stocks…and his nuclear program.’ Alone among Democratic Senators, she accused Iraq’s leader of giving ‘aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members.’ That link, so shamelessly pushed by the Bush administration, was always doubted by most in so-called ‘intelligence’ – and most Democrats, not to mention war critics. It was later publicly debunked as false” (Flanders 2008, p. 19).
4. The commonplace statement by politicians that Americans are living in “a time of war” is absurd and tiresome. Beneath administration and media-fanned rhetoric about the U.S. as “a nation at war” and Bush as “a wartime president,” “Operation Iraqi Freedom” (OIF) is naked imperial aggression pure and simple. The people of the United States are under no attack from Iraq or Iraqis at home or abroad and never have been. We are not dodging Iraqi IEDs and sniper fire on the way to and from our shopping malls, workplaces, and schools. Where’s the war? As most of the morally and politically cognizant planet knows, and as “mainstream” U.S. media will never acknowledge, American soldiers have been sent to Iraq to participate in a brazenly imperialist, monumentally illegal, and inherently mass murderous occupation of a formerly sovereign nation that posed zero threat to the U.S. Nearly four thousand U.S. GIs have been killed in the execution of a criminal invasion sold on false and manufactured pretexts. Beneath the deceptive official reasons given, the invasion is, in Alan Greenspan’s words, “largely about oil.” More precisely, “OIF” is about deepening and sustaining U.S. control of The Middle East’s super-strategic petroleum reserves. If we insist on calling this vicious imperial assault a “war,” we should admit that it is a very one-sided U.S. war of imperial aggression and colonial subjugation against the people and government of Iraq. And if the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times are correct in their estimation that the broader U.S. electorate would find it hard to handle impeachment “in a time of war,” we should admit that U.S. voters have been rendered incapable of making reasonable distinctions between such aggression and the rigors and of actually “wartime” experience as actually experienced by national populations past and present.
5. See my following articles: “The Obama Illusion: The ‘Hopes of Slaves’ and the ‘Hamiltonian Ambitions’ of a Corporate-Imperial ‘Player,’” Z Magazine (February 2007); “Obama’s Audacious Deference to Power,” ZNet (January 24, 2007), read at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=11936; “The Pale Reflection: Barack Obama, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Meaning of the Black Revolution,” ZNet (March 16, 2007), read at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=12336;
“Barack Obama’s Wonderful Wealth Primary,” ZNet (April 11, 2007), read at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=12551;
“Sitting Out the Obama Dance in Iowa City,” ZNet (April 28, 2007), available online at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=12687; “Imperial Temptations: John Edwards, Barack Obama, and the Myth of Post-World War II U.S. Benevolence,” ZNet (May 28, 2007), read at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=12928; “Barack Obama’s White Appeal and the Perverse Racial Politics of the Post-Civil Rights Era,” Black Agenda Report (June 20, 2007), read at http://www.blackagendareport.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=254&Itemid=34; “Running Dog Obama,” ZNet (July 29, 2007), available online at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=13396;
“Obama’s Insults,” ZNet (October 3, 2007), read at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=13940;
“What Would Obama Have Done? Vote for the War and Lied About It – Just Like Hillary,” ZNet (October 13, 2007), read at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=14030
6. Flanders claims that Obama “spoke out against” the invasion of Iraq “for all the right reasons before it started” (Flanders 2008, p. 22) in the fall of 2002 – an interesting (and I think mistaken)comment. In his October 2002 “dumb war” speech, presented at a protest organized by elite Chicago “lakefront liberals” and given when he could afford to be more reckless – before he had been tapped to join the level one national power elite – Obama said he was “not opposed to all wars; I’m opposed to dumb wars.” He criticized “the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.” Obama was accurate and forthright about critical matters. His speech rightly (consistent with elementary common sense and the counsel of much of the U.S. foreign policy establishment) predicted that invading Iraq would exacerbate Islamic anger and terrorist threats. It correctly criticized the politically motivated nature and the potentially long duration and high (U.S.) costs of the planned “war.” It struck a progressive chord when it related the administration’s military ambitions to Bush's desire to turn public attention away from pressing domestic problems like poverty and corporate corruption. But it was not a Left oration. Calling Bush’s imminent war “dumb” but not criminal or immoral, it deleted the illegal and petro-imperialist ambitions behind the Iraq invasion being planned in Washington. It said nothing about the racist nature of the administration’s determination to conflate Iraq with 9/11 and al Qaeda. It argued that invading Iraq would be a foreign policy mistake – something that would likely not work for American power – but NOT that it would be a brazenly imperialist transgression certain to kill untold masses of innocent Iraqis. Still, the speech was strong enough to be quietly taken off Obama’s campaign Web site by the summer of 2004. Even his relatively tepid 2002 objections to the forthcoming invasion – actual Left voices within the beyond the U.S. were (quite accurately) describing Bush’s plans as racist, oil-driven, imperialist, and criminal – were deemed too truthful for public viewing when he was running for the U.S. Senate and had been selected to give an important, nationally televised address for an “opposition” party that was muting its delegates’ criticism of a radically interventionist foreign policy its own leaders helped create.
Ari Berman 2007. “Hillary Inc.,” The Nation (June 4, 2007), pp. 11-18.
Center for Responsive Politics 2007. “Barack Obama: Top Contributors,” read online at www.opensecrets.org/pres08/contrib.asp?id=N00009638&cycle=2008.
CNN 2007. “Jesse Jackson: Obama Needs to Bring More Attention to Jena 6,” CNN Politics.com (September 19, 2007), read at http://edition.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/09/19/jackson.jena6/index.html?eref=edition_us.
Jeff Faux 2006. The Global Class War: How America’s Bipartisan Elite Lost Our Future and What It Will Take to Win it Back (New York: Wiley, 2006).
Laura Flanders 2008. “Clinton: Class of ’68,” in Laura Flanders et al., The Contenders (New York: Seven Stories, 2008).
Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr. 2007. “Hillary’s War,” New York Times Sunday Magazine (June 3 2007).
Edward S. Herman 2007. “Democratic Betrayal,” Z Magazine (January 2007).
Christopher Hitchens 2000. No One Left to Lie To (New York: Verso, 2000).
Jodi Kantor 2007. “A Candidate, His Minister and the Search for Faith,” New York Times, 30 April 2007).
Lisa MacFarquar 2007. “The Conciliator: Where is Barack Obama Coming From?” The New Yorker (May 7, 2007.
Adam Nagourney 2007. “Staking His Campaign on Iowa, Edwards Makes a Populist Pitch to the Left,” New York Times, 18 June 2007, read at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/18/us/politics/18campaign.html?ei=5124&en=816ead3247453b00&ex=1339905600&adxnnl=1&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink&adxnnlx=1195232551-1mmsZcJCbA1V0QkPbHsE9A
Barack Obama 2006. The Audacity of Hope (New York: Henry Crown, 2006).
Robert Pollin 2003. Contours of Descent: U.S. Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity (New York: Verso, 2003).
Frank Rich 2007. “Noun + Verb + Iran = Democrats’ Defeat?” New York Times, 4 November 2007.
David Sirota 2007. “Obama Says He Will Vote for NAFTA Expansion,” October 9, 2007, read October 10, 2007 at www.workingassetsblog.com).
Ken Silverstein 2006. , “Obama, Inc.: The Birth of a Washington Machine,” Harpers (November 2006).
Tony Smith 2007. “It’s Uphill for the Democrats: They Need a Global Strategy, Not Just Tactics for Iraq,” Washington Post, 11 March, 2007, p. B01.
Paul Street 2007a. “Who Does Hillary Think She’s Kidding?” ZNet (February 14, 2007), available online at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=12120
Paul Street 2007b. “Hillary’s War and the Next 9/11,” ZNet (July 5, 2007), available online at www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=72&ItemID=13215
Paul Street 2007c. “Barack Obama’s White Appeal and the Perverse Racial Politics of the Post-Civil Rights Era,” Black Agenda Report (June 20, 2007), read at www.blackagendareport.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=254&Itemid=34
James Traub 2007. “Is (His) Biography (Our” Destiny?” New York Times Magazine (November 4, 2007).