Hope-Killer for Re-Hire: Brand Obama and the Management of Popular Expectations
Expectation calibration and expectation management is essential at home and internationally. - Samantha Power, a close friend, adviser, and spokesperson of Barack Obama, February 21, 2008
As president, Mr. Obama will have to convey optimism without over-promising....his near-term moves will go a long way towards making the burdens yet to come more bearable. - New York Times Editorial Board, December 22, 2008
Paul… Making change is hard. I know that sometimes it feels like we've come a long way from the hope and excitement of the inauguration, with its ‘Hope’ posters and historic crowds on the National Mall. I will never forget it. But it was never why we picked up this fight. You and I are in this because we believe in a simple idea -- that each and every one of us, working together, has the power to move this country forward….That change happens only from the bottom up. - Personalized e-mail message to the author (and a few million other prospective votes) from “Barack Obama” (email@example.com), October 8, 2010
“To Make Life Worse for the Majority”: Neoliberal Capitalism’s Shift From Exuberance to Pessimism
The emergence in late 2007 and 2008 of the first full economic crisis in the neoliberal stage of capitalism has taken the idealistic swagger away from the masters of the West. The economic elite can no longer sell its profits system as the hope of humanity. As the left political scientist David McNally notes, “Desperation, anxiety, and hopelessness preside. The dominant class seems no longer to believe in itself… Rather than trying to inspire belief in their system, society’s rulers seem to have no higher purpose than maintaining the status quo, squeezing profit and privilege out of a decrepit but well protected machinery of power. They know that talk of growth, development, and human improvement is idle chit-chat. They understand that their task is to make life worse for the majority. In this climate, our rulers grow increasingly spiteful and unaccountable…Society seems bereft of any uplifting human cause.” It’s about reducing, smashing, and deflecting popular expectations, among other things.
This is a departure from the dawn of the neoliberal era, when “politicians such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan strode forth triumphantly, full of evangelical vigor about the righteousness of their crusade on behalf of markets and liberal individualism. But yesterday’s optimism has been replaced by a glum pessimism,” befitting an age of austerity, when economics and politics are all about the big NO: what the people can’t have and will not get even as government spends unprecedented trillions of dollars in propping up the very parasitic financial institutions that did so much to crash the global economy in 2007 and 2008.
It might at first seem odd to see Barack Obama as an expression of this shift from bourgeois exuberance to capitalist cynicism. Was Obama not elected as symbol and agent of Change for the better? Did millions not hail Obama’s election as heralding a shining new brightness on behalf of newly recognized and empowered masses at home and abroad? Did Obama not break onto the national and global scene with his instantly famous 2004 Democratic Convention Keynote Address, which proclaimed that the United States was “a magical place” that served as “a beacon of freedom and opportunity” to those who exhibit “hard work and perseverance”? Did his bestselling campaign book not bear a broadly smiling picture of the handsome young politician and bear the inspiring title The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream? Did that book not sing the praises of so-called free market capitalism, praising the U.S. for “plac[ing] the ownership of private property at the heart of our system of liberty” and for being “consistently hospitable to the logic of the marketplace” in ways that created “a prosperity that’s unmatched in human history”? And did candidate Obama identify himself with the buoyant national images of John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, both of whom held the presidency during periods of significant economic expansion?
CANDIDATE OBAMA AND THE PROMISE OF “EXPECTATION CALIBRATION”
“That’s About It. It Isn’t Much”
Yes, but you can’t tell a book by its cover. There was a different Obama beneath the optimistic campaign branding, one who matched the masters’ desire to keep the people pacified and bamboozled as the shit of the coming capitalist crisis hit the fan. This other Obama was appreciated by political operatives from America’s unelected dictatorship of money, who vetted the young political phenomenon and knew that the long neoliberal expansion was hitting its limits and approaching a crash (the signs were clear to insiders well before the plug was pulled). The coming correction would require an unusually fresh new face to provide pseudo-democratic cover for Wall Street bailouts and other plutocratic policies to come – certain to provoke popular anger as millions more faced joblessness, poverty, foreclosure and eviction. It was time for a bigger-than-customary makeover for “Brand USA” at home and (thanks to George W. Bush’s disastrous messianic militarism) abroad.6
Candidate Obama sent early signals that he understood his hope-managing mission. In The Audacity of Hope, he praised ordinary Americans he claimed to have met for harboring “modest hopes” and low expectations regarding state and society. The outer boundaries of popular demands, as far as Obama could tell in his book, were “that people shouldn’t have to file for bankruptcy because they get sick,” that “every child” should have “a decent shot at life” [emphasis added], and that folks should get “to retire with some dignity and respect…when they get old. That [is] about it. It [isn’t] much,”Obama wrote. Ordinary Americans, Obama claimed, seek little more from government than a few minimal protections and base supports at the bottom end.  It was a pretty pallid statement of the American Dream.
“It Takes a Trip Overseas”
Consistent with this minimalism, The Audacity of Hope offered a curious standard of comparison for measuring the “unmatched” bounty brought to Americans by “their” capitalist system: the former Third World, currently labeled “the developing world” (the majority periphery of the world economic system). “It takes a trip overseas,” Obama wrote, “to fully appreciate just how good Americans have it; even our poor take for granted goods and services – electricity, clean water, indoor plumbing, telephones, televisions, and household appliances – that are still unattainable for most of the world.”
But of course, “it” depends on where the “overseas” journey takes the traveler. If it brings the traveler to much of the rest of the industrialized world, where state (so-called “free market”) capitalism’s inherent tendencies towards wealth inequality and corporate rule are more tempered by social-democratic programs and popular movements, the comparison is generally less than flattering to the United States. Such a comparison reminds the minimally attentive societal observer that the United States’ “unmatched prosperity” is doled out in harshly regressive ways that create relatively high percentages and numbers of poor and uninsured households, drastically long working hours, rampant economic insecurity and generally inadequate and under-funded public services alongside simply spectacular opulence for the privileged few.10
Given Obama’s desire to raise money and win approval from the top 1 percent that owns more than half the United States’ financial wealth, it made sense that he preferred to compare the U.S. poor with the desperately impoverished masses of Nairobi, Jakarta and Bogota rather than with the comparatively well-off lower classes of Oslo, Paris and Toronto. In the summer of 1966, by contrast, Obama’s supposed role model Dr. Martin Luther King (an actual Left progressive) was most struck by the greater poverty that existed in the U.S compared to other First World states. “Maybe something is wrong with our economic system,” King told an interviewer, observing that (in his biographer David Garrow’s words) “in democratic socialist societies such as Sweden there was no poverty, no unemployment and no slums.”12
No Wars on Poverty
Consistent with his tepid reflections on “how good [ordinary] Americans have it” (based on a revealing comparison with impoverished nations, not other core states) and how little they really want from society (“not much”), candidate Obama avoided strong and sweeping proposals to confront and overcome poverty in the U.S. As The New Yorker’s Larissa MacFarquhar noted in a May 2007 Obama portrait titled “The Conciliator,” the solutions offered in Obama’s book, speeches, and town-hall meetings were “small and local rather than deep-reaching and systemic.” Obama became known in mid-2007 for addressing deep social problems like poverty with no policy at all, preferring to substitute empty political platitudes and soothing bromides of hope and togetherness (“we are our brothers’ keeper”) for concrete policy and action proposals. His refusal to advance large scale reforms reflected Obama’s “deeply conservative” take on history, society and politics: “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 reported, “Obama is deeply conservative. There are moments when he sounds almost Burkean. He distrusts abstractions, generalizations, extrapolations, projections. It’s not just that he thinks revolutions are unlikely: he values continuity and stability for their own sake, sometimes even more than he values change for the good.” MacFarquhar found that Obama’s “deep conservatism” was why “Republicans continue to find him congenial, especially those who opposed the [Iraq] war on much the same conservative grounds that he did.” She noted that some of Bush’s top fund-raisers were contributing to Obama’s campaign and observed that Obama garnered 40 percent of the Republican vote in his 2004 Senate victory.13
True to MacFarquhar’s findings, candidate Obama “eschewed the phrase ‘war on poverty’” when he spoke to the editorial board of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel two days prior to the Wisconsin presidential primary in mid-February of 2008. The paper’s editors were advocates of a radical and regressive policy experiment – private school vouchers – but they praised Obama for “preferring…to describe the task [of ending poverty] as a long-haul effort. No one should launch a program,” they wrote, “fight a battle and declare mission accomplished, he seemed to say. Instead, it will require continuous and unflagging efforts along several fronts – taxation, education, economic development, and yes, personal responsibility – to make progress.” Obama spoke to the Journal-Sentinel board in “reasonable” capitalist language, making sure to assort a proper share of the personal and moral blame for poverty onto the truly disadvantaged. (Here his rhetoric contrasted sharply with that of his early primary election rival, the subsequently scandal-plagued John Edwards, who consistently related poverty at the bottom to extreme wealth at the top and to unjust patterns of inequality, and who spoke not of the traditional duty to merely care for “our poor” but of Americans’ radical obligation and ability to abolish the obscenity of poverty in “the world’s richest nation.”) This is no small part of what financial and corporate elites (who funded Obama’s presidential campaign in record- setting dollar numbers) liked about the overnight rock-star politician who became the United States’ first black president.15
“Expectation Management is Essential At Home and Internationally”
Another indication of popular betrayals to come emerged in late February of 2008, when leading Obama foreign policy advisor, friend, Harvard professor Samantha Power appeared on the syndicated “Charlie Rose Show.” Noting that George W. Bush had recently been swamped by cries of “O-ba-ma” during a recent state visit to Africa, Rose asked Power if she was concerned about the “sky-high expectations” much of the world seemed to have for an Obama presidency. There is “a danger” in this, Rose worried. Yes, Power said, noting that Obama was concerned about unrealistic hopes and adding that “that’s why expectation calibration and expectation management is essential at home and internationally.” Behind this disturbing application of elitist, manipulative, and technocratic language to the “management” of domestic and global opinion and hopes lay an obvious if unstated admission: Obama was going to disappoint expectant masses in U.S. and across the world The peoples’ faith in change needed to be carefully and downwardly “calibrated.”17
THE PRESIDENT-ELECT’S PERVERTED PRIORITIES
Wall Street Dividend, Yes; Peace Dividend, No
In October of 2008, consistent with Power’s candid comment, Obama aligned himself with the wealthy few over and against the American non-affluent many by joining his Republic opponent John McCain in supporting the Bush administration’s highly unpopular decision to hand over 700 billion taxpayer dollars to cover the toxic assets created by the world’s leading financial perpetrators – this even as millions were pushed into destitution by one of the masters’ profits system’s recurrent and inherent meltdowns. The leading Wall Street investment firm and federal bailout recipient Morgan Stanley subsequently (one day after Obama defeated McCain) reported the following: “Obama has been advised and agrees that there is no peace dividend….we believe, based on discussions with industry sources, that Obama has agreed not to cut the defense budget at least until the first 18 months of his term as the national security situation becomes better understood….The Democrats,” Morgan Stanley’s researchers added, “are sensitive about appearing weak on defense, and we don’t expect strong cuts.”20
“Defense” was an interesting label for a giant military budget that paid for two mass-murderous occupations (in Iraq and Afghanistan) and 770 military bases located in more than 130 countries. The United States accounts for nearly half (48 percent) of the military spending on the planet. Coming in at $1 trillion (by the measure of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s National Income and Product Accounts) in 2007, American “defense” (empire) spending outweighed domestic U.S federal expenditure on education by more than 8 to 1; income security by more than 4.5 to 1; nutrition by more than 11 to 1; housing by 14 to 1; and job training by 32 to 1. The military accounted for more than 50 percent of all discretionary federal spending – to the great, taxpayer-funded benefit of the owners and managers of such high-tech corporate giants as Raytheon, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin.
The peace dividend referred to the notion of reversing these “perverted national priorities” (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s phrase ) by taking money spent on war and the preparation for war and using it to address such human problems as poverty, ecological crisis, crumbling infrastructure, joblessness, and inadequate education, health, housing, and schooling. The idea of a peace dividend received some attention in the United States around the end of the Cold War, when many progressives hoped that the collapse of the Soviet Union would encourage a shift in public resources from militarism to social health. For nearly half a century, the alleged (mythical) threat posed by Russian “communism” provided the core propagandistic justification for the existence of and use of the extraordinary military power of the United States. With the Soviet specter eliminated, progressives dreamed, the United States could now be realistically pressured to transfer significant new public resources to the meeting of social needs and away from the maintenance of the most spectacular and deadly military-imperial system in history. The dream was strangled in its cradle by the presidential administrations of George H. W. Bush (two wars of invasion—Panama  and Iraq [1990–1991]) and Bill Clinton (an air war on Serbia in 1999) and by dominant U.S. war media. The “military-industrial-media triangle” and its many enablers and allies in church, school, academia, and other wings of so-called civil society rapidly substituted new rationalizations and pretexts for the persistence of a permanently militarized U.S. economy and culture: purported protection and advance of “free markets” and “democracy” (falsely conflated), the U.S, right of “humanitarian intervention,” and the grave dangers posed by terrorists, drug-traffickers, and “weapons of mass destruction.”21
The Violin Model
The victory of perverted corporate and imperial policies was clear in his administration-elect’s staffing decisions. From the start of his campaign and through his cabinet selections and appointments, Obama consistently surrounded himself with elite, hope-killing agents of corporate and imperial power, people such as James Jones (Obama’s national security advisor, a high-ranking Pentagon official rumored to be a Republican), Robert Gates (a Republican carried over from the Bush II–Cheney) administration, Rahm Emmanuel (a fiercely corporate-militarist center-Democratic party operative known for fierce attachment to Israel and ruthless disciplining of antiwar, left-leaning Democrats in the name of “party unity”), Lawrence Summers (a veteran Goldman Sachs–minted neoliberal operative from the Clinton administration who helped design and implement critical aspects of the very financial deregulation that blew up Wall Street in the late summer and fall of 2008), and Timothy Geithner (a veteran Wall Street bailout apparatchik and, like Summers, an acolyte of former Goldman Sachs chief and Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin). Obama’s claim in the wake of his election that he would provide the “vision” to move such corporate and imperial operatives in a “progressive” direction was like a baseball manager claiming that he’s going to build a team based on speed and defense with a roster full of clumsy, slow-footed, 280-pound power hitters. Conventional Washington wisdom has long held with good reason that “personnel is policy.”23
Two and a half weeks after Obama’s victory, David Rothkopf, a former Clinton administration official, applied a musical metaphor to the president-elect’s transition team and cabinet appointments. Obama, Rothkopf told the New York Times’ David Sanger, was following “the violin model: you hold power with the left hand and you play the music with the right.” In other words, “you” gain and hold the presidency with populace-pleasing progressive-sounding rhetoric, but you govern, you make policy, in service to existing dominant corporate, state, and military institutions and ideologies.
“Making the Burdens Yet to Come More Bearable”
It was all very consistent with the counsel of Sanger’s bosses at the nation’s most influential, agenda-setting newspaper. In a revealing editorial published three weeks before Obama’s inauguration, the Times editorial board explained that Obama had to walk a fine line in relation to the badly damaged domestic business order he was inheriting from George W. Bush. The next president would need to embrace a level of government intervention adequate to save the profits system while distancing himself from democratic pledges that might encourage the citizenry to rebel. “As president,” the Times lectured, “Mr. Obama will have to convey optimism without over-promising. He will have to inspire confidence, even in the absence of a dramatic turnaround—which is simply not on the cards.” The editorial ended on an interesting note: “While Mr. Obama must continue to level with the American people—the economy is unlikely to turn up until 2010 at the earliest, and even then it will probably rebound slowly—his near-term moves will go a long way towards making the burdens yet to come more bearable.”25
The Times editors had a different take on Obama’s duty to the American Empire. Their emphasis on Obama’s need to downsize popular hopes in regard to domestic policy stood in curious contrast to the grandiose expectations they held for Obama’s obligation to expand the power of the Pentagon. In a November 16, 2008 editorial, they worried that Obama had inherited an inadequately equipped military. The editors urged the next president: to provide “sufficient troops, ships and planes to reassure allies in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe;” to “ensure [the Pentagon’s] ability…to move enormous quantities of men and material quickly around the world and to supply them when necessary by sea;” and to re-build “a significantly larger ground force” and “a military that is large enough and mobile enough to deter enemies,” among other things.26
Taken together, these two post-election Times editorials were a striking example of King’s “perverted priorities.” The nation’s leading newspaper called for cautious, conservative, and hope-chilling modesty when it came to addressing domestic pain and inequality. It advocated expansion of Superpower’s already gargantuan capacity to deliver death and destruction across a world that is routinely described as “dangerous” in the standard paranoid parlance of imperial militarism.
THE BIG CHILL IN POWER: FROM HOPE TO NOPE
“Our Collective Failure”
As chief executive, Obama would not disappoint the editors of The New York Times. Further warnings of President Hope’s stealth determination to maintain the economically regressive status quo and wield the machinery of public power on behalf of private wealth came in his Inauguration speech. “Our economy is badly weakened,” Obama said, “a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.” This statement cynically served and protected the wealthy financial few by evading the special agency and culpability of Wall Street and government elites, which systematically undermined government’s capacity to regulate the financial industry’s dangerous speculative machinations under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. It shaded into vicious victim-blaming by preposterously saying that the country’s broad populace shared equal responsibility with the investor and political class for the nation’s dire economic straits. The U.S. working- and lower-class majority possesses less than negligible power when it comes to the direction, of “our [corporate-managed state-capitalist] economy,” in which the top 1 percent owns 40 percent of the wealth and 57 percent of all claims on wealth.27
“A Blunt Lesson About Power”
The rest is history, as they say. Platinum-plated plutocratic history, that is: corporatist betrayal, the “violin model” and concomitant top-down “expectation management” with a vengeance. As the right-wing noise machine has absurdly denounced the 44th president as a “radical leftist” (Glenn Beck once claimed that the president was a “Marxist-Lenninist”), the “Obama, Inc.” administration has proceeded to construct a new historical monument to the old French saying plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose (the more things change the more they stay the same). With its monumental bailout of hyper-opulent financial overlords, its refusal to nationalize and cut down the parasitic too-big (too powerful)-to-fail financial institutions that paralyzed the economy, its passage of a health reform bill that only the big insurance and drug companies could love (consistent with Rahm Emmanuel’s advice to the president: “ignore the progressives”), its cutting of an auto bailout deal that rewarded capital flight, its undermining of serious global carbon emission reductions at Copenhagen, its refusal to advance serious public works programs (green or otherwise), its disregarding of promises to labor and other popular constituencies, and other betrayals of its “progressive base” (the other side of the coin of promises kept to its corporate sponsors), the “change” and “hope” (Bill Clinton’s campaign keywords in 1992) presidency of Barack Obama has epitomized the cynical essence of corporate-managed fake democracy. As William Greider noted in the spring of 2009, “People everywhere [have] learned a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t. They [have] watched Washington run to rescue the very financial interests that caused the catastrophe. They [have] learned that government has plenty of money to spend when the right people want it.” The “right people” include the top military contractors and the Pentagon, of course. The “new” White House has escalated Superpower violence in South Asia, passed a record-setting “defense” (empire) budget, rolled over George W. Bush’s not-so counter-terrorist assault on human rights (in the name of “freedom”), extended the imperial terror war to Yemen and Somalia, disguised escalated U.S. occupation of Haiti as humanitarian relief, aided and abetted a thuggish right wing coup in Honduras, expanded the Pentagon’s reach in Columbia/Latin America, and more – a fascinating record for the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.30
Veal Pen Abuse, Progressive Demobilization, and Elections 2010
According to the left-liberal author and blogger Les Leopold on the eve of last year’s mid-term elections: “It’s open season on Obama, whom so many hoped would lead us out of the neoliberal wilderness. He was once a community organizer and ought to know how working people have suffered through a generation of tax breaks for the rich, Wall Street deregulation and unfair competition. When the economy crashed, he was in perfect position to limit the unjustified pay levels on Wall Street….Instead we got a multi-trillion dollar bailout for Wall Street, no health care reform, no serious financial reforms whatsoever, record unemployment, and political gridlock that will be with us for years to come.”31
Such complaints have always elicited disgust and disdain in Obama’s West Wing. Liberals, leftists, and progressives who had the audacity and decency to question this ugly policy record were shouted down, threatened, mocked, and berated – as “fucking retarded” (Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel) and as in need of “drug test[ing] (Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs) – by administration officials, who delighted in beating up lefties even as they claim to hold the sole legitimate right to progressive hearts, minds, and (of course) votes. Speaking to cowed national progressive and liberal organizations in weekly “veal pen” (progressive activist Jane Hamsher’s term) meetings in 2009, strongman Emmanuel warned of dire consequences – being frozen out of meetings and denied funding – for activists and groups who were “fucking stupid” (Emmanuel’s term) enough to challenge any elected Democratic officials (no matter how conservative) on anything.34
One of the results of this policy and political path was the Democratic Party’s epic demoralization and stand down of its own progressive electoral base – an essential factor in the victory of the hard Republican right in the mid-term elections of November 2010. By the fall of 2010, a large number of Democrats and independent swing voters agreed with Leopold that “Obama hasn’t produced the reforms he promised, while embracing policies like Bush’s ‘war on terror,’ and the Afghanistan war that they abhor.” For a large number of core Democratic supporters, mainstream Democratic liberalism had failed to live up its idealistic campaign rhetoric
The electoral consequences were deadly. In the general midterm contest, the Democrats suffered from significant declines in voter participation on the part of segments of the electorate that played key roles in their triumphs in the 2006 (Congressional) and 2008 (Congressional and presidential) elections cycles. Union households (predominantly Democratic) comprised 23 percent of the active electorate in 2006; in 2010 they were 17 percent. Their support for Democratic House candidates dropped from 64 percent in 2006 to 60 percent in 2010. Young people (18-29 years olds)were 18 percent of voters in 2008, when two-thirds of them voted for Obama; in 2010 they made up just11 percent of the electorate and they voted 56 to 40 percent for Democratic candidates. Black voters (90 percent Democratic in the 2010 elections) fell from 13 to 10 percent of the voters between 2008 and 2010. By contrast, voters who identified themselves as “conservative” increased their share of the active electorate from 32 to 41 percent between 2006 and 2010. “Conservatives” were more enthusiastic about GOP House candidates last fall than in 2006, when 74 percent of self-identified conservatives supported Republicans. Last November, 84 percent did. And this was all it took for the highly energized and re-branded Republican Party – what I only half-jokingly call “the Tea.O.P.” – to clean up in a mid-term election, when turnout is considerably smaller than during the quadrennial race that includes a presidential contest.35
No big “shift to the right” was required or took place. As the left analyst Charlie Post notes, “An 8 percent shift in an election where only 40% voted—a shift of approximately three percent of the total eligible voters—accounts for the Republicans’ victory.”36
Obama’s Latest Shift Right
Thanks to “the Tea Party’s” role in energizing the pseudo-conservative ultra-Republican base, the dominant media’s partnership in selling the Grand Old Party’s latest (Tea Party) makeover, and (last but not all least) the critical role of the state-capitalist Democratic Party and its corporatist standard bearer Obama in demobilizing the nation’s progressive majority and working and lower-class voters, right wing Republicans swept into majority power in the House of Representatives, came close to achieving a majority in the U.S. Senate and took over a large number of governor’s mansions and state legislatures in the south, Midwest, and across the country.
To the delight of many in the elite business class, no doubt, much “mainstream” media commentary responded to the historic elections by advancing the preposterous line that the center-right Obama had governed “too far to the left” in his first two years in power. Also warming the heart of capital, Obama himself undertook yet one more of his much-ballyhooed “shifts to the right” in response to the rightist triumph. Claiming falsely that the American “people ha[d] spoken” in November 2010, President Obama made a number of moves calculated to win the more heartfelt allegiance of top business players. He continued his pattern of disregarding and irritating his liberal and progressive “base” by agreeing to sustain George W. Bush’s deficit-fueling tax cuts for the rich beyond their original sunset date of 2010. Accepting the false business and Republican Tea Party claim that “overpaid” public sector workers are a leading force behind rising government deficits and economic stagnation, Obama ordered a two-year freeze on federal worker salaries and benefits. He published an Op-Ed in the plutocratic editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal – an essay that praised “free market capitalism” as “the greatest force for prosperity the world has ever known” – and said that government often places “unreasonable burdens on business” that have a “chilling effect on growth and jobs.” The tone of his editorial suggested that it wasn’t neoliberal deregulation that sparked the financial collapse of 2008, but all those nasty little government rules and guidelines that stifle innovation and growth.39
Obama signed an executive order calling for a government-wide review of regulations to remove or revise those that supposedly inhibited business. He appointed JPMorgan Chase’s William Daley – a leading agent of the corporate-globalist North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) under Bill Clinton – as his chief of staff. He put Goldman Sachs’ Gene Sperling (another legendary neoliberal) at the head of the National Economic Council. He tapped General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt to head his new “President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.” The new council’s title referred to specifically American jobs and competitiveness – something that made Immelt’s appointment more than a little darkly ironic: with fewer than half its workers employed in the United States and less than half its profits coming from U.S. activities, New York Times columnist and Princeton economist Paul Krugman noted, “G.E.’s fortunes have very little to do with U.S. prosperity.” 40
Consistent with these rightward moves, Obama’s late January 2011 State of the Union Address (SOTUA) falsely claimed that American business was plagued by the highest corporate tax rate in the world. Obama opened the door to lowering that rate (something advocated by the Tea Party and Republican right), stating that he hoped to slash it “without adding to our deficit.” He offered no bold, large-scale economic stimulus, antipoverty or public works programs to address the mass unemployment and economic destitution still stalking the land two years into his presidency. Whether out of political necessity, ideological preference or both, Obama appeared to have pinned his hopes for an expanded economic recovery (vital for his chances of re-election) on appeasing the right and the business class. All of which was certainly all to the good, as far as the business elite was concerned.
According to a May 2011 USA Today/Gallup poll, “liberals by nearly 2 to 1 see [Obama] as more conservative than they expected.” These disappointed liberals needed to do more due diligence research to grasp why corporate and financial elites were behind “Brand Obama” in record dollar amounts in 2007 and 2008, but the disillusionment they feel is real and to no small degree appropriate.42
A Forgotten Prediction of “Repressive Desublimation”
To really kill hope well, it helps to bring it out in the open first, like a stalking horse. For the “hidden primary of the ruling class” (Laurence Shoup), Obama was nicely suited to prick the boil of “populist anger” by stealthily wrapping establishment corporate politics and the related American Empire Project in deceptive insurgent garb. Once he was properly vetted and found to be “reasonable” – to be someone who would not fundamentally question core underlying power structures and doctrines of class, race, and empire – Obama’s multicultural background, race, youth, charisma, and even early opposition to the planned (and ultimately disastrous) Iraq War became useful to corporate and imperial interests in the dark wake of the “polarizing” Bush-Cheney regime. His outwardly progressive image and “change” persona promised to divert, capture and safely control current and coming popular rebellions; to stealthily prick and smoothly drain the alternating boils of mass disgust and mass elation (at the impending passing of the Bush regime); to simultaneously surf, de-fang, and manage the citizenry’s hopes for real change. By Los Angeles writer Juan Santos’s account in early February of 2008, Obama was distinctively qualified for the critical task of “repressive desublimation” – a system-preserving job made necessary by the vast popular alienation and revulsion that the almost proto-fascistic Bush administration and Bush era generated and by the great popular expectations raised by the ever more imminent passing of Bush 43 administration. According to Santos in words that sound clairvoyant two and a half years into Obama’s “blunt lesson about power”:
‘There is nothing wrong at all in the hopes we have that Obama’s rhetoric speaks to. The problem lies in what Herbert Marcuse called “repressive desublimation” — a hope, a need, that has been buried and denied by an oppressive system, is allowed some room to breathe, then co-opted and redirected back into a form that ultimately reinforces the oppressive system that denied and suppressed out hopes and needs in the first place. That’s what Obama represents.’
‘The Bush regime was and remains an expression of a conscious plan by the far right — to crush everything that came to life in the upheavals of the cultural revolutions of the 60s era. They meant, as they consciously expressed it, to counter the counter culture, the culture of hope, and offer a new “hope” of a “purpose driven life” in the context of the old traditions of oppression. …The regime of Bush the Lesser was the pinnacle of this effort; he carried the agenda as far as it could go, before it began to fracture and collapse under the weight of its own madness … Literally, in terms of time in office, and as a sweeping reactionary social agenda, the Bush regime is coming to an end. With its end, inevitably, comes a wave of hope and euphoria.’
‘This is the wave Obama is riding, the ocean of energy he is trying to steer into an acceptance of the same old deal, the same old wars, the same old systemic racism, packaged as if it were something new. This wave of energy is not something he’s inspired, it’s something he’s riding and that he is uniquely qualified to channel toward his own ends — which are not our ends.’45
Obama’s unmatched capacity for the repressive, fake-liberating “channeling” of popular energies was why sophisticated Wall Street elites saw him as (in Marxist observer Doug Henwood’s words)“the man to do their work.”46
According to the left writer and Wall Street veteran Pam Martens in May of 2008 (clinging to a lingering admiration for Obama even as she detailed his capture by Wall Street lobbyists and election investors), “Senator Obama has become the inspiration and role model to millions of children and young people in this country. He has only two paths now: to be a dream maker or a dream killer. But be assured of one thing: this country will not countenance any more grand illusions.” Top political investors knew well that Obama would take the second, killing path.
BRANDING CHALLENGES FOR 2012
Whether the nation is ready to stop tolerating great political illusions is not at all clear. Beneath nonsensical media talk – hardly restricted to FOX News and right wing talk radio – of Obama as a “man of the left,” the president has done pretty well for the rich and powerful. Wealth and power have been concentrated yet further upward as Wall Street’s profit rates have rebounded to record highs, thanks in no small part to the trillions of taxpayer dollars Obama and his neoliberal team have dutifully funneled into the coffers of the de facto dictatorship of capital. But a second term is not guaranteed. With all its remarkable power to shape election and policy outcomes, really big capital can never get enough subservience from politicians. And abject service to the moneyed elite and the underlying vicissitudes of crisis- and stagnation-prone capitalism – ultimately beyond the control of any president – have both predictably tarnished the Obama brand, creating opportunities for another ruling class candidate to seize the eternal campaign mantra of change. As an epically slumping capitalism moves into a technically double-dipped recession, the official jobless rate recently ticked back above 9 percent (the real or functional unemployment is certainly well above 15 percent). The national housing market continues to decline. High gas prices are crimping summer household budgets. Rising health insurance premiums and declining employer health coverage discredit the president’s unpopular, corporate-captive “health reform.” Despite months of media and political blather about “recovery,” 55 percent of Americans said in an April survey that the U.S. is in a recession or depression. “For the first time,” USA Today reports, “most [Americans] thought the next generation wouldn’t have a better life than their parents. Just 22 percent are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States.” In a USA Today/Gallup survey conducted after Obama bagged Osama, Obama’s approval rating on handling the issue Americans care about most, the economy, has fallen to a grim 37 percent. Fifty-one percent of those surveyed said Obama does not deserve re-election; 47 percent said he does. Obama’s overall approval rating has fallen from a sky-high 64 percent (the highest of any new president since Ronald Reagan) in January 2009 to 47 percent. He has already lost the momentary boost he got from ordering the Navy Seals take out bin-Laden, an action adventure that was clearly part of his 2012 election campaign.50
What now in the campaign to re-market the presidential product called Barack Obama? According to the political marketing consultant Jonathan Salem Baskin, speaking in terms that epitomize the vapidity of a political culture that sells prospective public officeholders like it sells toothpaste and cars, “Brand Obama 2008 was brilliant. Change [was] a powerful branding message” for “an electorate disenchanted with Bush’s tenure…All you had to say was ‘I want change.’ That led you directly to ‘I’m going to vote for Obama.’” Obama “lost control of his brand once he took office” and has failed to effectively “define and market his brand.” We are waiting to see if the Republicans can find some way to overcome their own severely damaged brand health – the Tea Party “movement’s” makeover of the G.O.P. has lost some of its luster – and come up with a candidate and a marketing campaign that can take advantage of Obama’s woes.
Maybe the real problem is that you can’t win the votes required to attain the presidency and other top elected offices in America’s “dollar democracy” without serving the masters of the profits system, whose inherent tendencies towards boom and bust determine political and election outcomes more significantly than the machinations of political advertisers.
“Change Happens Only From the Bottom Up”
We can expect Team Obama to crank up some revised if chastened version of their original pseudo-progressive, fake-populist hope and “change from the bottom up” imagery as the current state-capitalist party in executive power rolls out a refurbished “Brand Obama” for 2012. USA Today reports that “strategists in both parties agree Obama needs to recapture the energy that marked his last election, especially to build a grassroots organization and engage the younger voters who played an important role for him in 2008.” Again, as in 2007 and 2008, the marketing campaign will seek to cover the harsh corporatist and big money reality of “Obama Inc.” with “emotionally potent oversimplifications” (Noam Chomsky) meant to resell the president as a nice, caring guy – one of us, our besieged ally against those big nasty special interests and bad guy Republicans. A taste of some of the manipulative and disingenuous nonsense we can expect is found in the following, false-personalized e-mail I got (along with millions of other differently named voters) from ”firstname.lastname@example.org” on October 8th, 2010, three weeks before the Democrats’ drubbing at the polls last fall:
“PauL...I know some out there are frustrated by the pace of our progress. I want you to know I'm frustrated, too...Making change is hard. It's what we've said from the beginning. And we've got the lumps to show for it. The fight this fall is as critical as any this movement has taken on together. And if we are serious about change, we need to fight as hard as we ever have. The very special interests who have stood in the way of change at every turn want to put their conservative allies in control of Congress. And they're doing it with the help of billionaires and corporate special interests underwriting shadowy campaign ads. If they succeed, they will not stop at making our work more difficult -- they will do their best to undo what you and I fought so hard to achieve…. I know that sometimes it feels like we've come a long way from the hope and excitement of the inauguration, with its ‘Hope’ posters and historic crowds on the National Mall. I will never forget it. But it was never why we picked up this fight. I didn't run for president because I wanted to do what would make me popular. And you didn't help elect me so I could read the polls and calculate how to keep myself in office. You and I are in this because we believe in a simple idea -- that each and every one of us, working together, has the power to move this country forward. We believed that this was the moment to solve the challenges that the country had ignored for far too long. That change happens only from the bottom up. That change happens only because of you….if you, like me, believe that change is not a spectator sport -- we will not just win this election. In the years that come, we can realize the change we are seeking -- and reclaim the American dream for this generation.”
It was an interesting message to read after years of work tracking Obama’s top-down service to “billionaires and corporate special interests,” in total defiance and betrayal of his declared faith in “change from the bottom up.”59
“You Can Speak in a Pure and Authentic Way”
Obama’s top image-molder David Axelrod claims to reject “the notion of a political brand….’We’re not an iPod or a box of soap,” he tells USA Today, adding that “a campaign gives you a chance to talk to people…without cloudy filters. You can speak directly to them through advertising…You get a chance to communicate your story in a…pure and authentic way.”60
Nonsense. Axelrod is lying through his teeth, of course. He know very well that Obama is in fact a box of soap – that political advertising, like commercial product advertising, is about creating irrational attachments and poorly informed decisions. It was Axelrod above all who explicitly “crafted the [presidential] Obama brand” starting in February of 2005 and it was not for nothing that his handiwork (the 2008 Obama campaign) won the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) prize for the “Marketer of the Year” in 2008. 63
Again as usual in the next big rollout of the highly personalized and candidate-centered “quadrennial electoral extravaganza” (Noam Chomsky), both sides will seek to play the game that lay at the heart of what the formerly left Christopher Hitchens once lucidly called “the essence of American politics” – “the manipulation of populism by elitism.” Again, as for many election cycles now, the pseudo-conservative Republican candidate and party will be so incredibly awful and arch-regressive that many leftists and progressives and many moderates too will feel compelled to vote for the Democrats, Obama included. Such are the longstanding and ongoing absurdities of America’s narrow-spectrum business-ruled one-and-a-half party system, pitting history’s “second most enthusiastic capitalist party” (Kevin Phillips on the Democrats) against history’s most enthusiastic capitalist party (the Republicans).67
Interesting context for a curious finding in an April Gallup/USA Today survey: half of the American people think “the two parties are doing such a bad job that a third party is needed.” 68
Paul Street (www.paulstreet.org) should be reached at email@example.com. Street’s latest book (co-authored with Anthony DiMaggio)is Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2011), order at http://www.paradigmpublishers.com/Books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=280225
1 David McNally, Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance (PM Press, 2011), 187.
2 Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope (New York: Crown, 2006), 149-150. “America,” Obama intoned, “may have been blessed with some of the planet’s best real estate, but clearly it’s not just our natural resources that account for our economic success. Our greatest asset has been our system of social organization, a system that for generations has encouraged constant innovation, individual initiative and efficient allocation of resources…our free market system.”
3 Paul Street, Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Paradigm, 2008). xix-xxiv.
4 On the global expansion of neoliberal capitalism in its heyday and the onset of profitability crisis and then collapse, see McNally’s important book, Global Slump.
5 Pam Martens, “Obama’s Money Cartel: How Barack Obama Fronted for the Most Vicious Predators on Wall Street,” CounterPunch (May 5, 2008) at http://www.counterpunch.org/martens05052008.html; Pam Martens, “The Obama Bubble Agenda: Bankrolling a Presidential Campaign,” CounterPunch (May 6, 2008) at http://www.counterpunch.org/martens05062008.html
6 Street, Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics, xiv-xvii, 166-176.
7 Obama, Audacity, p.7.
8 There was nothing in Audacity about American parents’ need and right for their children kids to have equal access to the conditions and opportunities that make for good living. There was nothing about the indecent right of some children to receive limitless “shots” at – indeed an inherited guarantee of – luxuriant hyper-affluence while a much larger number of less fortunate others are socially pre-selected for lifelong poverty and despair, receiving perhaps one or two passing shots at middle-class “decency” if they are lucky. There was nothing, of course, about the critical difference between the mythical bourgeois promise of equal opportunity and the classic Left goal of social and economic equality as such.
9 Obama, Audacity, 149-150.
10 See Ha-Joon Chang, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism (New York: Bloomsbury, 2010), 102-111, for some interesting and highly informed reflections on the conservative myths surrounding the United States’ standard of living.
11 Edward N. Wolff, Top Heavy: A Study of the Increasing Inequality of Wealth in America (New York: The New Press, 2003).
12 David Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1986), 568; Paul Street, “The Pale Reflection: Barack Obama, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Meaning of the Black Revolution,” ZNet Magazine (March 16, 2007), read at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=12336
13 Larissa MacFarquhar, “The Conciliator: Where is Barack Obama Coming From?” The New Yorker (May 7, 2007).
14 Editorial Board, “Obama: Change for the Good,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 16 February, 2008.
15 Paul Street, Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Paradigm, 2008), Chapter 1: Obama’s Dollar Value,” pp, 1-58 for more details and sources. “On condition of anonymity,” the left-liberal journalist Ken Silverstesin reported in the fall of 2006, “one Washington lobbyist I spoke with was willing to point out the obvious: that big donors would not be helping out Obama if they didn’t see him as a ‘player.’ The lobbyist added: ‘What’s the dollar value of a starry-eyed idealist?’” Ken Silverstein, “Barack Obama, Inc.: The Birth of a Washington Machine,” Harper’s (November 2006), 40.
16 On Power’s close relationship with Obama (for whom she served as a foreign policy fellow during his brief U.S. Senate career), see Ryan Lizza, “The Consequentialist,” The New Yorker, May 2, 2011, 44.
17 The Charlie Rose Show, PBS, February 21, 2008. See www.charlierose.com/shows/2008/02/21/2/a-conversation-with-samantha-power.For a more elaborate discussion of Power’s comments, see Paul Street, “‘ Calibrating’ HOPE in the Effort to ‘Patrol the Commons’: Samantha Power and the Hidden Imperial Reality of Barack Obama,” ZNet (February 25, 2008) at http://zcommunications.org/calibrating-hope-in-the-effort-to-patrol-the-commons-samantha-power-and-the-hidden-imperial-reality-of-barack-obama-by-paul-street
18 For sources and details, Paul Street, The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010), 184-185,
19 See McNally, Global Slump, 25-113, for an important discussion of capitalist crises, past and present.
20 For sources and details on this and the next four paragraphs, see Street, Empire’s New Clothes, 185-87.
21 Nevertheless, a 2004 poll by the Chicago Council of Foreign Relations found that just 29 percent of Americans backed the expansion of government spending on “defense.” By contrast, 79 percent supported increased spending on health care, 69 percent supported increased spending on education, and 69 percent supported increased spending on Social Security. There would appear to have been a wide base of public support for a peace dividend if anyone in a position of power—a new president perhaps—would have advanced it in a meaningful way. Morgan Stanley, a leading Obama sponsor that most certainly had high levels contacts with the Obama campaign from the start, had reason to believe and reassure its investors that the new “peace president” (in the minds of millions of deluded and hopeful progressive voters) was not interested in doing any such thing
22 Sam Stein, “Obama Defends Cabinet: The Change Will Come from Me,” Huffington Post, November 26, 2008, at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/11/26/obama-defends-cabinet-the_n_146648.html.
23 Thomas B. Edsall, “The Obama Test: Personnel Is Policy,” Huffington Post, November 26, 2008, at www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/10/24/the-obama-test-personnel_n_137757.html
24 David Sanger, “Obama Tilts Toward Center, Inviting a Clash of Ideas,” New York Times, November 22, 2008.
25 New York Times Editors, “The Printing Press Cure,” New York Times, December 22, 2008.
26 New York Times Editors, “A Military for a Dangerous World,” New York Times, November 18, 2009.
27 Street, Empire’s New Clothes, 192.
28 Street, Empire’s New Clothes, “Chapter 1: Business Rule as Usual,” pp. 9-45.
29 William Greider, “Obama Asked Us to Speak but Is He Listening?” Washington Post, March 22, 2009
30 Street, Empire’s New Clothes, “Chapter 2: Empire’s New Clothes: Deeds and Words in Obama’s Foreign Policy,” pp. 47-108.
31 Leo Leopold, “Obama Is No FDR, We’re No Mass Movement,” Huffington Post, February 10, 2010, at www.huffingtonpost.com/les-leopold/obama-is-no-fdr-were-no-m_b_457452.html
32 Jane Hamsher, “Rahm Emmanuel: Liberals are F-king Retarded,” Firedoglake (January 26, 2010) at http://fdlaction.firedoglake.com/2010/01/26/rahm-emanuel-liberals-are-f-king-retarded/
33 Sam Youngman, “White House Unloads Anger Over Criticism from ‘Professional Left,’” The Hill (August 10, 2010) at http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/113431-white-house-unloads-on-professional-left
34 Christopher Hayes, “Tuesdays with Rahm,” The Nation (October 9, 2009).
35 Karlyn Bowman, “What the Voters Actually Said on Election Day,” The American (November 16, 2010), citing CBS exit polls at http://www.american.com/archive/2010/november/what-the-voters-actually-said-on-election-day; Paul Street and Anthony DiMaggio, Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Paradigm, 2011), 145-165.
36 Charlie Post, “Why Has the Capitalist Economic Crisis Benefited the Right in the U.S?” unpublished essay, May 2011, in author’s possession.
37 Nick Wing, “Rep. Gary Ackerman: Tax Cut Deal Is GOP's 'Wet Dream Act,'” Huffington Post (December 9, 2010) at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/09/gary-ackerman-wet-dream-act_n_794374.html; D. Herszenhorn and S.G. Stolberg, “Obama Defends Tax Deal, But His Party Stays Hostile,” New York Times, December 8, 2010, A1; Paul Krugman, "Obama's Hostage Deal," New York Times, December 9, 2010, at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/10/opinion/10krugman.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper
38 Paul Krugman, “Freezing Out Hope,” New York Times, December 2, 2010 at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/03/opinion/03krugman.html?ref=paulkrugman; Peter S. Goodman, “Obama’s Bogus Explanation For Troubles: Too Much Regulation,” Huffington Post (January 18, 2011) at
39 Barack Obama, “Toward a 21st-Century Regulatory System;” Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2011 at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703396604576088272112103698.html; Goodman, “Obama’s Bogus Explanation.”
40 Paul Krugman, “The Competition Myth,” New York Times, January 24, 2011; Paul Street, “State (of) Capitalist Absurdity: Reflections Before and After Obama’s State of the Union Address,” ZNet (January 28, 2011) at http://www.zcommunications.org/state-of-capitalist-absurdity-reflections-before-and-after-obama-s-state-of-the-union-address-by-paul-street;Patrick Martin, “Obama Outlines right-Wing, Pro-Corporate Agenda in State of the Union Speech,” World Socialist Web Site, January 26, 2011); Glen Ford, “Obama’s Comfort Zone: King of Collaboration,” Black Agenda Report, January 12, 2011, at http://www.blackagendareport.com/?q=content/obama%E2%80%99s-comfort-zone-king-collaboration). Some Obama fans applauded Immelt’s appointment because, they said, he represents a company that actually produces goods rather than just being a parasitic manipulator of paper, financial wealth. But this praise was ridiculous, since, as Krugman noted, G.E, actually “derives more revenue from its financial operations than it does from manufacturing.”
41 Susan Page, “What Comes After HOPE? Obama Seeks Reshaped Image for 2012 Effort,” USA Today,June 6, 2011, 2.
42 “I’m one of the few people who isn’t disillusioned,” Noam Chomsky told an interviewer last year, “because I had no expectations. I wrote about his record and prospects before the campaign, just looking at his website. And it was pretty clear that he’s going to be a normal centrist Democrat roughly Clinton-style. He never pretended to be anything else. I mean there was rhetoric about hope and change. But it was like a blank slate. You can write on it whatever you wanted. And he is kind of personable. People were desperate for some hope so they grabbed onto it. But there was no basis for any expectations.” Kontext Interview by Noam Chomsky” (2010), read transcript on ZNet at http://www.zcommunications.org/kontext-interview-by-noam-chomsky.I would not let Obama himself and his handlers off the hook quite so completely. Obama has been actively and consciously (the president is aware of the deceptive dynamics involved) engaged in riding, raising, dashing and managing liberal-progressive and popular expectations. That is of course what smart Democratic politicians do under the United States’ corporate-managed fake democracy and narrow-spectrum “winner take all” elections structure. Still, that hardly absolves Obama and his team of branders from charges of trickery and betrayal. Nobody held a gun to his head and forced him play the fraudulent game of marketing that lay at the heart of the essence of American politics. Obama was free to reject the narcissistic pursuit of individual advancement and power within the existing authoritarian political and class-imperial system.
43 “The term stalking horse originally derived from the practice of hunting, particularly of wildfowl...Hunters noticed that many birds would flee immediately on the approach of humans, but would tolerate the close presence of animals such as horses and cattle. Hunters would therefore slowly approach their quarry by walking alongside their horses, keeping their upper bodies out of sight until the flock was within firing range. Animals trained for this purpose were called stalking horses. Sometimes mobile hides are used for a similar purpose.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalking_horse
44 Street, Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics, xvii-xxxvii; 22, 165-175.
45 Santos, “Barack Obama and the End of Racism, “ Dissident Voice (February 13, 2008;) at http://dissidentvoice.org/2008/02/barack-obama-and-the-%e2%80%9cend%e2%80%9d-of-racism/
46 Doug Henwood, “Would You like Change With That?” Left Business Observer, No. 117 (March 2008)
47 Martens, “Obama’s Money Cartel.”
48 Even the ultimate conservative Winston Churchill used “change” as a campaign slogan in his successful bid for reelection as British Prime Minister in 1951.
49 Jack Rasmus, “The Coming Double Dip Recession,” ZNet (June 2, 2011) at http://www.zcommunications.org/the-coming-double-dip-recession-by-jack-rasmus
50 Page, “What Comes After HOPE?”
51 For important reflections U.S. elections as deceptive marketing exercises in the cultivation of personalized irrationality, see Noam Chomsky, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (New York: Metropolitan, 2006), 220-22
52 Page, “What Comes After HOPE?”
53 Nate Silver, “Poll Shows More Americans Have Unfavorable View of Tea Party,” New York Times blog (March 30, 20011) at http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/30/poll-shows-more-americans-have-unfavorable-views-tea-party/.CNN poll (March 11-13, 2011) at http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2011/images/03/29/rel4l.pdf.Between January 24, 2010 and March 13, 2011, the Tea Party “movement’s” unfavorable rating with Americans rose from 26 to 47 percent – a very significant increase. During the same period, the American population’s negative opinion of the Democrats and Republicans rose modestly – from 46 to 48 percent in the case of the Democrats and from 45 to 48 percent in the case of the Republicans.
54 In the actuality of American politics, officially “electable” candidates are vetted in advance by what Laurence Shoup calls “the hidden primary of the ruling class.” By prior Establishment selection, all of the “viable” presidential contenders are closely tied to corporate and military-imperial power in numerous and interrelated ways. They run safely within the narrow ideological and policy parameters set by those who rule behind the scenes to make sure that the rich and privileged continue to be the leading beneficiaries of the American system. In its presidential as in its other elections, U.S. “democracy” is “at best” a “guided one; at its worst it is a corrupt farce, amounting to manipulation, with the larger population projects of propaganda in a controlled and trivialized electoral process. It is an illusion,” Shoup notes. “that real change can ever come from electing a different ruling class-sponsored candidate.” Laurence H. Shoup, “The Presidential Election 2008,” Z Magazine (February 2008)
55 McNally, Global Slump, 61-84.
56 On the remarkable election outcome predictability of election year business cycles, see Larry Bartels, Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009), 98-104.
57 Page, “What Comes After HOPE?”
58 Noam Chomsky, “Force and Opinion,” Z Magazine (July-August 1991).
59 For this work through early April of 2010, see Street, Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics and Street, The Empire’s New Clothes. For the period since, see numerous articles posted on my Z Space page at http://www.zcommunications.org/zspace/paulstreet and my Web site at www.paulstreet.org
60 Page, “What Comes After HOPE?”
61 Twenty six years ago the clever anti-television writer Neil Postman dissected the authoritarian nightmare that is modern U.S. political advertising. The television commercial, Postman noted, is the antithesis of the rational popular consideration that leading early philosophers of western economic life took to be the enlightened essence of capitalism. “The distance between rationality and advertising is now so wide,” Postman observed, “that it is difficult to remember that there was once a connection between them. Today, on television commercials, propositions are as scarce as unattractive people.” The television commercial, Postman noted, makes “hash” out of the capitalist assumption of intelligent and informed consumer sovereignty. It undercuts the notion of rational claims, based on serious propositions and evidence. In the place of cogent language and logical discourse it substitutes evocative imagery and suggestive emotionalism. And when political success came to revolve largely around the same manipulative anti-enlightened methods prevalent in commodity advertising, Postman observed, the same sorry fate fell to “capitalist democracy’s” assumption of rational and informed voters. Like the bamboozled commodity purchasers propagandized by radio and television ads, voters are subjects of persuasion through deception instead of through respectful and sensible communication. Candidate marketing destroys the myth of voter sovereignty in “democratic” politics. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Penguin, 1985), 126-132.
62 Mike Dorning and Christi Parsons, “Carefully Crafting the Obama Brand,” Chicago Tribune, June 12, 2007.
63 "Obama Wins...Ad Age's Marketer of the Year," Advertising Age (October 17, 2008), read at http://adage.com/print?article_id=131810.Six days after the election, Advertising Age heralded “Brand Obama” as a “case study in audacious marketing.” The journal praised Obama’s “messaging consistency” and “communications success,” placing special emphasis on the Obama campaign’s “boldness, that trait that happens to be the most important for anyone trying to build a brand now, in a chaotic time when many will be tempted to shelve innovation and creativity to take u defensive postures.” See "Barack Obama and the Audacity of Marketing," Advertising Age (November 10, 2008), read at http://adage.com/print?article_id=132351
64 “The U.S. presidential race, impassioned almost to the point of hysteria, hardly represents healthy democratic impulses….Americans are encouraged to vote, but not to participate more meaningfully in the political arena. Essentially the election is yet another method of marginalizing the population. A huge propaganda campaign is mounted to get people to focus on these personalized quadrennial extravaganzas and to think, ‘That’s politics.’ But it isn’t. It’s only a small part of politics. ..The urgent task for those who want to shift policy in progressive direction – often in close conformity to majority opinion – is to grow and become strong enough so that that they can’t be ignored by centers of power. Forces for change that have come up from the grass roots and shaken the society to its foundations include the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the peace movement, the women’s movement and others, cultivated by steady, dedicated work at all levels, everyday, not just once every four years…”Noam Chomsky, Interventions (San Francisco: City, Lights, 2007), 99.
65 Christopher Hitchens, No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family (New York: Verso, 2000), pp. 17-18.
66 Paul Street, “Kerry is Coke, Bush is Crack,” ZNet ( March 24, 2004) at http://www.zcommunications.org/kerry-is-coke-bush-is-crack-by-paul-street
67 Lance Selfa, The Democrats: A Critical History (Chicago: Haymarket, 2008); Sheldon Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), 103-04, 110, 156, 201-208, 286-87.
68 Page,“What Come After HOPE?” The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken on this matter: “nothing doing. There will be only two parties because we say so” (I paraphrase liberally). See Jamin B. Raskin, Overruling Democracy: The Supreme Court vs. The American People (New York: Routledge, 2004), “Chapter 5: America’s Signature Exclusion: How Democracy is Made Safe for the Two-Party System,” pp. 91-116.