Michael Moore and Barack Obama: A Love Story
If you liked Michael Moore's latest movie, "Capitalism: a Love Story" (I did) and are long past being fed up with Barack Obama's deep allegiance and service to his corporate paymasters (I am), then this essay might be for you. I start with some happy reflections on
"CAPITALISM'S GOT TO GO"
Moore's film career began with a brilliant satirical, neo-Dickensian documentary (titled "Roger and
By the end of the Bush-Cheney administration, itself a leading
"I've done this for 20 years. I started out by warning people about General Motors, and my whole career has been trying to say the emperor has no clothes here, and we better do something about it .I've been having to sort of knock my head against the wall here for 20 years saying these things."
"Two years ago, I tried to get the health-care debate going, and it did eventually, and now where are we? We may not even have it. What am I supposed to do at a certain point?"
"I started this film before the crash. The crash happens, I'm thinking, oh, somebody's going to start talking about what I'm talking about in this movie...I've yet to see a talk show or read an op-ed where somebody has just named it, just come out and said, ‘Folks, what has to happen here is capitalism's got to go.' Because we can't have a system where the richest 1 percent own as much as the bottom 95 percent. That just isn't democracy. That's not
"I'm tired of feeling like I'm doing this alone. All through the eight years of Bush, you Google `Bush' and `nemesis' and I'm the first name up. And there aren't a whole lot of other names,"
Near the end of his new must-see movie,
I turned to the person sitting next to me and said, "Damn. Right on"
Moore had come to the conclusion that the profits system doesn't work for any for the privileged Few - a judgment that the historical Left has held (with good reasons) going back though Marx and back at least as far as the great 17th century British "Digger" Gerrard Winstanley. Moore is announcing something of a mid-life shift from Charles Dickens (for whom the crucial issue was indecent behavior on the part of specific Victorian capitalist and other authorities) to Karl Marx  (for whom the key issue was the underlying capitalist system of class oppression), consistent with the conclusion of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who decided by at least the middle 1960s that: "only by structural change can current evils be eliminated, because the roots are in the system rather in men or faulty operations;"  "radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced;" and "something is wrong with...with capitalism. There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe
Welcome aboard, Michael Moore. I am an anti-capitalist too.
ANTI-CAPITALISM AS SHRUGGING RESIGNATION
There are two critical qualifications to
In his new movie, Moore's seeming resignation is captured by his comic exasperation at his final effort to speak directly with the CEO of General Motors and as he engages in the lonely and futile act of streaming yellow "Crime Scene" tape around the headquarters of a leading Wall Street firm. "I can't keep doing this,"
"Actually Mike," I thought to myself, "you might want to think about how you've just started on a welcome new path of explicitly criticizing the class dictatorship of capital. This is new and exciting to see, isn't it?. I'd like to think you're beginning anew."
MICHAEL MOORE AND BARACK OBAMA: A LOVE STORY, PART 1: "THIS EXCEPTIONAL MAN"
Second, consistent with his apparent confusion (at the end of his Toronto statement quoted above) between being anti-capitalist and being (along with Sean Penn and the late Ted Kennedy), anti-Bush, Moore's unveiling of "Capitalism: A Love Story" was strangely accompanied by statements of attachment to the distinctly un-left president Barack Obama, whose first nine months in office have been marked by militant surrender to Wall Street and to, well, ummm......capitalism.
As the New York Times reported on the first page of its Sunday "Arts & Leisure" section last September 20th, "After the screening in Toronto, Mr. Moore took questions from audience members eager to know exactly what they should do. He offered some broad suggestions, stressing that he was worried that Democrats in the
This account was consistent with
"There are those who say Obama isn't ready, or he's voted wrong on this or that. But that's looking at the trees and not the forest. What we are witnessing is not just a candidate but a profound, massive public movement for change. My endorsement is more for Obama The Movement than it is for Obama the candidate."
"That is not to take anything away from this exceptional man. But what's going on is bigger than him at this point, and that's a good thing for the country. Because, when he wins in November, that Obama Movement is going to have to stay alert and active. Corporate
BARACK OBAMA AND CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY
"Our Greatest Asset:" Capitalism
Perhaps the now fully anti-capitalist Moore would like to look back both on the pro-Wall Street policy record of the Obama administration and on Obama's recurrent campaign statements of "love" for the so-called "free market" (code language for the profits system) and at an interesting passage from the candidate's 2006 book The Audacity of Hope. One key question addressed in Audacity came straight out of the neoconservative world view: what makes the
"Calvin Coolidge once said that "the chief business of the American people is business," and indeed, it would be hard to find a country on earth that's been more consistently hospitable to the logic of the marketplace. Our Constitution places the ownership of private property at the very heart of our system of liberty. Our religious traditions celebrate the value of hard work and express the conviction that a virtuous life will result in material rewards. Rather than vilify the rich, we hold them up as role models...As Ted Turner famously said, in
"The result of this business culture has been a prosperity that's unmatched in human history. It takes a trip overseas 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.
The Audacity of Hope left it to more radically inclined left progressives - characterized by Obama and many of his elite supporters as insufficiently "realistic" and excessively "moral absolutist" carpers, "cranks," "zealots," and "gadflies" (Obama's insulting description of the revered populist U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone ) - to observe some of the undesirable and less-than-"efficient" outcomes of America's heavily state-protected "free market system" and "business culture." Those results include the climate-warming contributions of a nation that constitutes 5 percent of the world's population but contributes more than a quarter of the planet's carbon emissions. Other notable effects include the generation of poverty for tens of millions of
It was left to insufficiently "pragmatic" Left thinkers and activists to note the American System's arguably wasteful and destructive allocation of more than a third of the nation's wealth to the top 1 percent of the
"Unreasonable" "radicals" were left to observe that business-ruled workplaces and labor markets steal "individual initiative" from millions of American workers subjected to the monotonous repetition of often imbecilic and soul-crushing operations conducted for such increasingly unbearable stretches of time - at stagnating levels of material reward and security - that working people are increasingly unable to participate meaningfully in the great "democracy" Obama trumpets as the Founders' great legacy. They were left also to "complain" about the fact that U.S. social mobility rates are actually quite low in comparison to other leading industrialized states, indicating a relatively fixed class structure in "magical" (Obama's description) America.
"What's the Dollar Value of a Starry-Eyed Idealist?"
The filmmaker might also have examined an important in-depth take on his special candidate in the May 7, 2007 issue of The New Yorker. In a carefully researched portrait of Obama based on extensive interviews, MacFarquhar found that Obama was about as far from being a radical reformer as one could imagine. "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, Obama," MacFarquhar determined, "is deeply conservative...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. Take health care, for example," MacFarquhar noted, quoting Obama on how the United States ' for-profit health insurance companies were too deeply entrenched for us to evict them from their Mafia-like control of our health-care future. MacFarquhar's essay was titled "The Conciliator: Where is Barack Obama Coming From?" 
"No One Has Asked You to Build a More Just
If he were to ever undertake a serious investigation of Obama,
These were strange beliefs to (claim to) hold in light of the actual historical pattern of business behavior that naturally results from purpose and structure of the system of private profit. An endless army of nonprofit charities and social service-providers, citizens, environmental and community activists, trade union negotiators, and policymakers has spent decades asking (often enough begging) the "American" corporate and financial capitalist over-class to contribute to the domestic social good - to little or no avail.
As the founder of the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute Jeff Faux noted in his 2006 book The Global Class War: How America's Bipartisan Elite Lost Our Future and What It Will Take to win it Back, America's largely business-based and bipartisan "governing class" holds no particular attachment to the people, communities, health, or even competitiveness of the United States per se. "As early as the 1950s," Faux observed, "A Ford Motor executive corrected a U.S. senator who referred to the company as ‘an American firm. We're an American company when we are in
"I Love the Market"
During the presidential campaign, the supposed (so the Republican right wing noise machine ritually and religiously claimed) "radical leftist Obama" repeatedly identified himself as a capitalism-enthusiast, saying things like, "Look, I am a pro-growth, free-market guy. I love the market."  His Inaugural Address proclaimed that "the question" of "whether the market is a force for good or ill" was not up for debate. "Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom," he proclaimed, "is unmatched."
I and many other on the actual, officially invisible Left agree with Laurence Shoup, who observed in the summer of 2008 that Obama's campaign trail declarations of "love" for the market "fail to note that the market loves and rewards those who already have money and power, not those lacking these advantages. To say that you ‘love the market' is akin," Shoup noted, "to saying that you love the ruling class (the top 1 percent of the population that controls 20 percent of the country's income and nearly 40 percent of the country's wealth) and do not care about the great majority (the 60 percent of the population that controls only 25 percent of the income and 5 percent of the wealth). To say ‘I love the market' — at a time when the financial system is deflating because of decades of lies about how great unregulated markets are which fueled rampant speculation, phony valuations, and deceitful assurances — is to be deaf to the reality of how powerful interests are protected by the government while everyone gets a lecture on personal responsibility. ‘Change we could believe in,' would involve confronting the perversity of market-driven capitalism...." 
By connecting his "love" for "the market" to being "pro-growth," Obama sided with the corporate state's longstanding ecologically and socially disastrous notion that the solution to contemporary difficulties is material expansion not the radical redistribution of wealth and power. A "rising tide lifts all boats," the standard Western maxim maintains, making "angry" comparisons between the Few's yachts and the Many's rowboats obsolete. "Expanding the pie," the reigning corporate wisdom runs, abolishes the supposedly irrelevant question of socioeconomic redistribution - of how the pie is shared out. "To escape any reevaluation," the French ecological writer Herve Kempf notes, "the oligarchy keeps repeating the dominant ideology according to which the solution to the social crisis is production growth. This is supposedly the sole means of fighting poverty and unemployment."
Abundant data over the last three-and-a-half decades shows that economic growth does not in fact reliably undo those and other social evils. But the notion that material growth is the answer lives on because it induces societies plagued by structurally imposed poverty and idleness "to accept extreme inequalities without questioning them."
Besides being demonstrably false on its own terms, moreover, the reigning doctrine ignores growth's giant negative impact on an increasingly fragile environment. The toxic ecological costs of increasing total consumption far outpace whatever gains in per-unit ecological efficiency are achieved through "green" developments within and beyond "advanced" economies 
PRESIDENT OBAMAS "SURREAL" COMMITMENT TO CAPITAL OVER LABOR AND THE CASE OF
Obama's love affair with American capitalism ("our free market system") and its big money elite has been on grotesque display in the first year of his plutocratic, plus ca "change" presidency. The president might briefly criticize excessive Wall Street salaries and visit hard hit job-loss towns like
"A Doubling of the Vehicles it Will Import from Overseas"
Obama's commitment to capital over ordinary working people has been especially evident in his treatment of Michael Moore's beloved autoworkers. The administration's federal restructuring of the auto industry in the winter and spring of 2009 was more than consistent with his "financial reform." Reflecting the persistent victory of the "low-road" corporate-globalization agenda in national economic policy, it wiped out tens of thousands of livable wage union jobs and led to a wave of wage and pension cuts for current and retired auto workers. The administration's refusal to impose such draconian restructuring on the elite financial firms, who collapsed the economy and hence the auto industry, reflected those firms' remarkable political power and economic reach but it likely resulted also reflected the fact there were no great institutions of working class power like the United Auto Workers (UAW)to be undermined on Wall Street.
Consistent with the suspicion of a pro-capital and anti-labor agenda under the new corporate-Democratic White House, president Obama quickly betrayed his campaign pledges to: (i) advance an elementary and overdue labor law reform that would have fundamentally (the Employee Free Choice Act) boosted labor's chances of overcoming employer opposition to basic union organizing and collective bargaining rights; (ii) pursue the re-negotiation of NAFTA to include stronger labor and environmental protections.
Ironically enough given the pro-labor sentiments he expressed during the campaign and the strong union support he got before and during the election, Obama's auto-bailout plan subsidizes the General Motors' efforts to move yet more jobs abroad. As William Greider explained last May:
"So this is how the auto bailout will work. American taxpayers pump tens of billions into rescuing General Motors from bankruptcy. Then GM pays us back by shipping more jobs overseas -- the equivalent of four assembly plants. The federal money will directly subsidize more imports from abroad, enabling GM to double its car production in
"...GM's restructuring plan envisions a doubling of the vehicles it will import from overseas factories, from 372,000 to 737,000, in the next four years. GM's imported cars -- already 15.5 percent of its domestic sales -- will rise to 23.5 percent."
" ‘ The overall number of vehicles GM will be importing in 2014 represents the production of four assembly plants, the same number that GM plans to close in the United States,' UAW legislative director Alan Reuther noted. People already outraged by the bank bailouts should save some anger for the carmakers. "GM should not be taking taxpayers' money simply to finance the outsourcing of jobs to other countries,' the UAW insisted."
"...The outlines of the auto deal suggest the president is sticking with Rubinomics. Will other Democrats be brave enough to stand in his way?" 
No relevant such bravery emerged.
"Ruining the Lives of the Workforce"
Obama's betrayal of American autoworkers reached levels that struck the renowned left
"Screw the Autoworkers"
Also in the category of the corporate-authoritarian "surreal" is big auto and the administration's assault on autoworker pensions. Under the terms of the bankruptcy that the Obama White House and its "Car Czar" Steven Rattner worked out with General Motors last May, the company was permitted to grab workers' pension funds to pay off Wall Street. As the progressive muckraker and expert corporate malfeasance-chronicler Greg Palast explained:
"Screw the autoworkers."
"They may be crying about General Motors' bankruptcy today. But dumping 40,000 of the last 60,000 union jobs into a mass grave won't spoil Jamie Dimon's day."
"Dimon is the CEO of JP Morgan Chase bank. While GM workers are losing their retirement health benefits, their jobs, their life savings; while shareholders are getting zilch and many creditors getting hosed, a few privileged GM lenders - led by Morgan and Citibank - expect to get back 100% of their loans to GM, a stunning $6 billion."
"The way these banks are getting their $6 billion bonanza is stone cold illegal."
"I smell a rat."
"Stevie the Rat, to be precise. Steven Rattner, Barack Obama's 'Car Czar' - the man who essentially ordered GM into bankruptcy this morning."
"When a company goes bankrupt, everyone takes a hit:fair or not, workers lose some contract wages, stockholders get wiped out and creditors get fragments of what's left. That's the law. What workers don't lose are their pensions (including old-age health funds) already taken from their wages and held in their name."
"But not this time. Stevie the Rat has a different plan for GM: grab the pension funds to pay off Morgan and Citi."
"Here's the scheme: Rattner is demanding the bankruptcy court simply wipe away the money GM owes workers for their retirement health insurance. Cash in the insurance fund would be replace by GM stock. The percentage may be 17% of GM's stock - or 25%. Whatever, 17% or 25% is worth, well ... just try paying for your dialysis with 50 shares of bankrupt auto stock."
"Yet Citibank and Morgan, says Rattner, should get their whole enchilada - $6 billion right now and in cash -from a company that can't pay for auto parts or worker eye exams."
MOORE AND OBAMA, PART 2
Obama's Curious Escape from Serious Scrutiny in "Capitalism: A Love Story"
Like many lefties watching "Capitalism: A Love Story," I was curious to see how serious Moore was ready to be about acknowledging the president's deep allegiance and service to the profits system. Would Moore have the brains and/or courage to (as one friend of mine put it) "stick it to Obama?"
The answer is a resounding "No!" The "deeply conservative" corporatist sitting in the White House gets portrayed in Moore 's generally excellent movie as a decent fellow who would actually like to be the leader of a populist-progressive movement against corporate power. As far as one can tell from "Capitalism: A Love Story," the only problems that the big corporations are "throwing money at him" and that he's surrounded by conservative Wall Street functionaries like Lawrence Summers and Timother Geither. The viewer is assumed to be unaware: that the Obama Team has hotly pursued big Wall Street money from the beginning (2003 and on); that Obama (as Silverstein showed) was carefully vetted by the financial and political classes and found acceptable early on; that Obama actively chose Summers and Geithner and numerous other corporate-imperial members of his White House apparatus; and that Obama is himself a corporate centrist (and imperial militarist) who shares core ideological precepts with the people he has placed around him. Of course, Moore's movie makes no direct reference to the sickening role that his "exceptional man" - his supposed people's candidate - in defending and advancing the October 2008 Bush-Paulsen-Pelosi bailout that serves as the central crime drama in "Capitalism: A Love Story."
"Where His Heart is...Those Things That He Believes In"
To be sure, all is not lost for Moore when it comes to the President. According to the New York Times' account of Moore's unveiling of "Capitalism: A Love Story" in Toronto, Moore was "pushed" by audience members "on Mr. Obama, a gradualist seemingly out of step with Mr. Moore's radical agenda of scrapping capitalism." According to Times reporter Bruce Headlam, "Mr. Moore could only say that he hoped for the best, but feared the influence of Goldman Sachs on the administration. Finally, he just shrugged. ‘You know,' he said, ‘the next movie may have to be about him.'"
I would be happy to help Moore in the research and writing for that movie
But he's not ready yet, that's for sure.
In a recent interview with the left Canadian journalist and author Naomi Klein , Moore worried about the outsized influence of the "corporate agenda" on Obama. He fretted about the president's taste for "half-measures" that do not rally "the millions" to his cause.
Still, Moore argued that Obama has "shown us, I think, in his lifetime many things about where his heart is" - on the left progressive side of the spectrum in Moore 's opinion.
Moore 's evidence for his claim was (to put it charitably) less than impressive. Below I give the four different components of his argument inside and offer criticisms of each.
1. "He [Obama] slipped up during the campaign and told Joe the Plumber that he believed in spreading the wealth."
This was a very over-wishful take on Obama's campaign-trail statement in the fall of 2008 to the effect that American capitalism works best "when you we spread the wealth around a little" (not actually a call for the redistribution of wealth long sought, with good reason, by left progressives).
2. "He was raised by a single mother and grandparents and he did not grow up with money. And when he was fortunate enough to be able to go to Harvard and graduate from there, he didn't then go and do something where he could become rich; he decides to go work in the inner city of Chicago ."
Here Moore ignores the fact that Obama quickly came to dislike and reject community organizing, which struck him as a dead-end career path. Moore got his history wrong here, failing to understand that Obama did his main community organizing gig before, NOT after going to Harvard Law. After Law School , Obama went to work for a downtown Chicago law firm, taught at the conservative University of Chicago Law School, and moved in the Illinois Legislative Assembly, all consistent with his longstanding interests in attaining high political office - an objective he knew would be better served by avoiding the path of corporate law. Also outside Moore's understanding of Obama's personal history: his mother was well connected to neoliberal global foundations that were hooked in with U.S. imperial foreign and economic policy and his grandmother was a well-paid bank manager who paid for young Obama's education at a prestigious pre-school in Hawaii and at two elite private higher-educational institutions: Occidental College and Columbia University. There is nothing about being raised by a single parent and outside the upper classes that dictates a progressive mindset orprogressive policies as president. The career of the brazenly corporatist Democrat Bill Clinton (product of a working class single-family household in Hope , Arkansas ), should certainly remind us of that. Like Obama, a graduate of Columbia and Harvard, Clinton absorbed conventional ruling-class and imperial wisdom at elite educational institutions ( Oxford , Georgetown , and Yale in the earlier president's case).
3. "His ethnicity."
Here Moore presumably meant to say that Obama deserves credit for being black, which Moore identifies with being progressive. The filmmaker might have wanted to listen first to the comments of a more radical filmmaker named John Pilger, who offered the following wise words in San Francisco last spring: "The clever young man who recently made it to the White House is a very fine hypnotist, partly because it is indeed exciting to see an African American at the pinnacle of power in the land of slavery. However, this is the 21st century, and race together with gender and even class can be very seductive tools of propaganda. For what is so often overlooked and what matters, I believe, above all, is the class one serves. George W. Bush's inner circle from the State Department to the Supreme Court was perhaps the most multiracial in presidential history. It was PC par excellence. Think Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell. It was also the most reactionary."
4. "Oh, and he decides to change his name back to what it was on the birth certificate - Barack. Not exactly the move of somebody who's trying to become a politician."
Here Moore failed to grasp that Obama's ethno-cultural nomenclature was actually an electoral asset, not a liability, in the post-Civil Rights era and in the wake of the Bush-Cheney fiasco in the Middle East (something Obama and his handlers certainly knew despite pretenses to the contrary). (And for what it's worth, as anup-close observer Democratic Party and black politics in Chicago and Illinois between 1996 and 2005,I can tell Moore that if Obama thought his chances of becoming president would have been helped by changing his name he would have done it many years ago.)
"I think that those things that he believes in are still there," Moore told Naomi Klein. "Now, it's kind of up to him. If he's going to listen to the Rubins and the Geithners and the Summerses, you and I lose."
"What things that he believes in, exactly?" I asked, incredulously, after reading this comment. "Does Mike's category of ‘things he believe in' include the president's repeated explicit embrace of the profits system Mike now claims to reject? Does it include the belief that the U.S. is a great and unquestioned 'force for good in the world,' uniquely qualified to run the planet'saffairs and beyond serious scrutiny and apology when it comes to its imperial project, with its occasional ‘mistakes' like the crucifixion of Southeast Asia and the murder of
Klein was much more polite than I am being here in her interview with Moore . Still, she reasonably pushed Moore to comment on the fact that Obama "is the person who appointed Summers and Geithner, who you're very appropriately hard on in the film. And one year later, he hasn't reined in Wall Street. He reappointed Bernanke. He's not just appointed Summers but has given him an unprecedented degree of power for a mere economic adviser... I often hear from people...that he's being duped by these guys. But these are his choices, and so why not judge him on his actions and really say, ‘This is on him, not on them'?"
A very good question, to which Moore could offer no response except to say something I've heard more than once from never-say-die Obamaphiles: "I don't think he is being duped by them; I think he's smarter than all of them."
This was consistent with Chomsky's observation that Obama has never really sought to hide the fact that he's a centrist. "With the rhetorical flourishes stripped away," Chomsky told San Francisco Examiner reporter John Kirch three weeks after Obama's election, "Obama presents himself as more or less as a familiar centrist Democrat, roughly on the Clinton model. His early appointments and advisers conform to that judgment." 
Chomsky's observation matches candidate Obama's warning (saying "you haven't been paying close enough attention to me," in essence) to his (supposed) "friends on the left" in July of 2008 , the president's reference to himself as a "New Democrat" in March of 2009, and, of course, with much else in his record.
At the same time, however, much of the Democratic Party's liberal and progressive base was targeted by Team Obama's potent effort to deceptively market Obama as a left progressive. Some left voters were capable of seeing through the façade and responding to the limited electoral choices of 2008 without falling prêy to the carefully crafted left illusion. Other voters, including - incredibly enough - Michael Moore, were not.
"PUMMELED" INTO FALSE HOPE: U.S. PROGRESSIVES' "PARADIGM OF LEARNED HELPLESSNESS" AND "WHAT THEY THOUGHT THEY HAD FOUND IN OBAMA"
Moore 's continuing attachment to a president whoa left acquaintance of mine reasonably calls "Wall Street Barry" is emblematic of the almost pathetic desperation and myopia imposed on many progressive-leaning intellectuals and activists by the corporate-managed fake-democracy that passes for popular governance in the U.S. The narrow, big business-friendly spectrum of U.S. political culture has created what Ricardo Levins-Morales calls "a paradigm of learned helplessness" on the nation's "left intellectual strata." Under the terms of that paralyzing paradigm, fed by the nearly complete absence of genuinely left (socialist or laborite) candidate and party choices on the U.S. "electoral market", U.S. progressives are conditioned to doubt their ability to meaningfully advance anything politically beyond the election and defense of corporate Democrats. As Levins Morales notes, "When liberals are in power we are compelled to defend them lest the Republicans return. When the right is in power we must replace them at all costs, which means backing the Democrats. Logically that means there will never be circumstances that would justify building a movement that speaks with its own voice."
For an almost perfect, textbook expression of this "paradigm of learned helplessness," we can, it happens, read Michael Moore's April 2008 endorsement of Obama, where he anticipated critics to his left as follows:
"I know some of you will say, 'Mike, what have the Democrats done to deserve our vote?' That's a damn good question. In November of '06, the country loudly sent a message that we wanted the war to end. Yet the Democrats have done nothing. So why should we be so eager to line up happily behind them?"
"I'll tell you why. Because I can't stand one more friggin' minute of this administration and the permanent, irreversible damage it has done to our people and to this world. I'm almost at the point where I don't care if the Democrats don't have a backbone or a kneebone or a thought in their dizzy little heads. Just as long as their name ain't ‘Bush' and the word ‘Republican' is not beside theirs on the ballot, then that's good enough for me."
"I, like the majority of Americans, have been pummeled senseless for 8 long years. That's why I will join millions of citizens and stagger into the voting booth come November, like a boxer in the 12th round, all bloodied and bruised with one eye swollen shut, looking for the only thing that matters -- that big ‘D' on the ballot."
"Don't get me wrong. I lost my rose-colored glasses a long time ago."
"It's foolish to see the Democrats as anything but a nicer version of a party that exists to do the bidding of the corporate elite in this country. Any endorsement of a Democrat must be done with this acknowledgement and a hope that one day we will have a party that'll represent the people first, and laws that allow that party an equal voice."
But deferring the dream for "a movement that speaks with its own voice" is a vicious, self-defeating and self-fulfilling circle. As Levins-Morales added in an important passage that helps us understand how and why left-liberals like Moore align their hopes with corporate Democrats:
"The absence of such a voice makes us even weaker at each new juncture and that fact becomes an argument for further timidity. With no countervailing pole to the left of them the Democrats continue to move right in the Republican wake."
"A strategy of timidity today will only reproduce the pathetic spectacle of the health care ‘debate': orchestrated, right-wing mobs launching attacks against a tepid, corporate-friendly ‘reform' that sets no one on fire (despite mass public support, single payer is declared ‘off the table' by the ruling Democrats). If things have deteriorated to the point that the selections on the political menu range from neo-liberal to neo-fascist it is past time to proclaim another option rather than select among those offered. After decades of rightist propaganda people are hungry for someone, anyone, to unapologetically declare for cooperation, generosity and solidarity. That's what they thought they had found in Obama. Millions of people stepped up to support what they thought was a radical turn toward justice, peace and compassion."
THE BAMBOOZLED AS BAMBOOZLER
Of course, Moore isn't just some silly, burned out campus-town liberal with an Obama bumper sticker in which the first letter of the president's last name is written (ala Orwell) as the Peace symbol. He's an influential "left" icon, someone whose opinions hold water with a considerable part of the nation's progressive citizenry.
When Moore gets (involuntarily or voluntarily) "punked" and "bamboozled" by "Barack," so do untold masses of much less culturally privileged and empowered Americans (and others) who watch his movies and follow his spoken and written commentary on his Web site and in numerous interviews on television and radio.
It's nice and important to see him tackling the problem of capitalism. The human race's viability probably can't survive more than another two decades of the profits system. It would be nicer still to see Mike understand Capitalism: A Love Story" as the beginning of a genuinely radical new phase in his movie-making, not a moment for shoulder-shrugging resignation, and to see him dramatically upgrade the moral and intellectual level of his understanding of the Obama phenomenon and presidency.
Personally, for what it's worth, I was just starting a book called "It's the Capitalism, Stupid." Unfortunately, I've had to put it aside for a couple months to write a short stranger-than-fiction political volume titled "The Re-Branding: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power and the Politics of Progressive Surrender." If it was a movie, I'm afraid that my casting department would be suggesting Mike for a starring role.
Paul Street (email@example.com)is the author of many articles, chapters, speeches, and books, including Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008); Racial Oppression in the Global
1. Quoted in David Germain, "Michael Moore: I May Quite Documentaries," Huffington Post (September 15, 2009), read at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/09/15/michael-moore-i-may-quit-_n_286854.html
2. Modern left anti-capitalists have generally rejected the great 19th century British novelist Charles Dickens' attachment to, and hope for, benevolent bourgeois elites who try to make things right for the lower classes (e.g., Mr. Brownlow's rescue of young Oliver Twist and the nice Ebeneezer Scrooge's kind turn towards the Cratchets in A Christmas Tale). As the democratic socialist George Orwell noted in a brilliant 1940 essay criticizing Communist efforts to claim the novelist as a "proletarian" author: "there isn't a line [in Dickens' work] that can be properly called Socialist; indeed, [Dickens'] tendency is if anything is pro-capitalist, because its whole moral is that capitalists ought to be kind, not that workers ought to be rebellious. Bounderby is a bullying windbag and Gradgrind has been morally blinded, but if they were better men, the system would work well enough - that, all through, is the implication. So far as social criticism goes, one can never extract much more from Dickens than this, unless one deliberately reads meanings into him. His whole ‘message' is one that at first glance looks like an enormous platitude: if men would behave decently the world would be decent."
"Naturally this calls for a few characters who are in positions of authority and who do behave decently. Hence that recurrent Dickens figure, the Good Rich Man....always a kind-hearted old gentleman who ‘trots' to and fro, raising his employees' wages, patting children on the head, getting debtors out of jail, and, in general, acting the fairy godmother." "It seems," Orwell noted, "that in every attack Dickens makes on society, he is always pointing top a change of spirit rather than a change of structure, " something that reflected Dickens' failure "to see that private property is an obstructive nuisance."
See George Orwell, "Charles Dickens" (1940), reproduced in George Orwell, An Age Like This, 1920-1940 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968), 416-17, 427-28
3. There is of course no explicit reference to Marx or any other modern left anti-capitalist thinker or activist in "Capitalism: A Love Story." Moore wraps his anti-capitalism in Christian (Catholic) clothing, quoting numerous priests and citing Jesus himself as his main anti-capitalist authorities, though he does present a brief interview with the democratic-socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
4. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience (1967), chapter two reproduced in King, A Testament of Hope, quotation on 642. .
5. Michael Eric Dyson, I May Not Get There With You: the True Martin Luther King, Jr. ( New York : Touchstone, 2000), 87-88; David Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1986), 382.
6. Bruce Headlam, "Capitalism's Little Tramp," New York Times, September 20, 2009, Arts and Leisure, 1, 14, 15.
7. Michael Moore, "My Vote's for Obama (If I could Vote)," Michael Moore.com (April 21, 2008), read at www.michaelmoore.com/words/message/index.php?id=225
8. Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream ( New York : Crown, 2006), 149-150.
9. David Sirota, "Mr. Obama Goes to Washington ," The Nation (June 26, 2006)
10. Paul Street, "Profit Surge," ZNet Magazine (February 10, 2007), read at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=12089.
11. For sources and a sample of such unbalanced reflections, see Paul Street , Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 ( Boulder , CO : Paradigm, 2004), pp. 143-184 and passim. See also Robert Howard, Brave New Workplace (New York, 1986); Edward N. Wolff, Top Heavy: A Study of the Increasing Inequality of Wealth in America (New York: The New Press, 2002); Joel Bakan, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power (New York: Free Press, 2004); Juliet Schor, The Overworked America: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure (New York: Basic, 1992); Godfrey Hodgson, More Equal Than Others: America From Nixon to the New Century (New York: the Century Foundation, 2004); David Gordon, Fat and
12. For background data, see Janny Scott and David Leonhardt, "Shadowy Lines That Still Divide," New York Times. 15 May, 2005; Lawrence Mishel, Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey, The State of Working America 2002-2003 ( Ithaca , NY : Economic Policy Institute and Cornell University Press, 2003), 414-422.
13, Ken Silverstein, "Barack Obama, Inc.: The Birth of a Washington Machine," Harper's (November 2006).
14. Larissa MacFarquhar, "The Conciliator: Where is Barack Obama Coming From?," The New Yorker (May 7, 2007).
15. Headlam, "Capitalism's Little Tramp," 15.
16. The Moore of "Roger and
17. Obama, "Our Common Stake in America 's Prosperity.," NASDAQ Headquarters. New York (September 17, 2007).
18. Jeff Faux, 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), pp. 87, 168.
19. The ridiculous description of Obama advanced by the right-wing hit-man Jerome Corsi in his best-selling book "Obama Nation." For a (I hope) useful review of Corsi's preposterous neo-McCarthyite (and yet best-selling) account of Obama, see Paul Street , "The Madness of Jerome Corsi," ZNet (August 25, 2008), read at http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/18540.
20. Quoted in Naomi Klein, "Obama's Chicago Boys," The Nation (June 12, 2008), read at http://www.thenation.com/doc/20080630/klein.
21. Barack Obama, "Inaugural Address," January 20, 2009, read transcript online at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/20/us/politics/20text-obama.html
22. Laurence H. Shoup, "Obama and McCain March Rightward," Z Magazine (September 2008), p. 27
23. Herve Kempf, How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth ( White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2007
24. Bruce Dixon , "Department of Broken Promises: Obama Closes Door On NAFTA Renegotiation," Black Agenda Report (April 22, 2009), read at http://www.blackagendareport.com/?q=content/department-broken-promises-obama-closes-door-nafta-renegotiation; Kevin Baker, "Barack Hoover Obama: The Best and the Brightest Blow it Again," Harper's Magazine (July 2009), p. 36
25. William Greider, "Obama's Weird Idea of Auto Industry Rescue: Use Our Money to Build Factories Abroad," AlterNet (May 11, 2009), read online at http://www.alternet.org/workplace/139940/obama's_weird_idea_of_auto_industry_rescue:_use_our_money_to_build_car_factories_abroad
27. Greg Palast, "Grand Theft Auto: How Stevie the Rat Bankrupted GM," GregPalast.com (June 1, 2009), read at http://www.gregpalast.com/grand-theft-auto-how-stevie-the-rat-bankrupted-gm/
28. Headlam,"Capitalism's Little Tramp."
29. See Naomi Klein, " America 's Teacher," The Nation (September 24, 2009), read at http://www.thenation.com/doc/20091012/klein
30. CNN, "State of the Union with John King: Interview With President Barack Obama" (September 20, 2009, 9 am, ET, read at http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0909/20/sotu.01.html
32. Michael Powell, "Obama Addresses Critics on ‘Centrist' Moves," New York Times, July 8, 2008, read at http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/07/08/obama-addresses-critics-on-centrist-moves/
34. Ricardo Levins-Morales, "Revolution in the Time of Hamsters," ZNet (September 18, 2009), read at www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticlePrint/22498
35. Moore , "My Vote's for Obama."
36. Levins-Morales, "Revolution."