Why Some Truth Slips Through
It has long been and remains possible to find a good deal of candid, one might think dangerously revealing information and commentary in the United States’ richly conservative political system and corporate media. This might seem to be an anomaly or paradox for those radical critics who, like myself, have determined that that system and media are all about authoritarian social control and the “manufacture of [mass] consent” (Walter Lippmann) to existing dominant domestic and imperial hierarchies and doctrines. I’ll explain at the end of this essay why there’s nothing contradictory or inconsistent (for radical criticism) in the truth that slips through. First, however, I want to give a few semi-random examples of the slippage in question.
During the middle 1990s, for instance, I walked into an industrial relations classroom in Chicago with an issue of the corporate magazine Business Week. The issue’s cover story proclaimed that the U.S. consumer market was becoming increasingly split between the affluent people who shopped at Neiman Marcus and the working class and poor who shopped at Wal Mart – between the $100 lunch and the $5 dollar lunch. This market polarization, Business Week explained in frank and accurate ways, reflected deepening socioeconomic (class) inequality in the United States.
The story hardly fit the cheery official image of shared economic uplift – a rising tide lifting all boats and rendering the problem of disparity irrelevant – amidst the long “Clinton boom.” I found it very useful in advancing my teaching narrative of top-down corporate class warfare on working and lower class Americans.
U.S. Elections as Wealth Primaries
Around the same time I was handed a grant-funded research project that involved looking at the nation’s campaign finance laws and at reams of campaign finance data. As I quickly learned, it was possible to use readily available Web sites and other avenues of research to show how cringingly beholden American political candidates and office-holders were to big money election “contributors” (investors) from elite business and legal sectors. Exploring further, I had little difficulty finding respectable mainstream commentary on the openly plutocratic, harshly undemocratic reality of the elections system in “the world’s greatest democracy.” That system was captive to what Harvard Law graduate John Bonifaz called “the wealth primary: that exclusionary process, leading up to every party primary and every general election, in which those with money or access to money choose by means of their campaign contributions the candidates who almost invariably go on to govern.” Bonifaz elaborated: :”Those candidates who do not raise enough money -- that is, those who lose the wealth primary -- almost always do not win office….The rest of us, the vast majority of American people, are shut out of this process.”1
“They Do Not Hate Us Because of Our Values…”
Nine years later, a candid government study gave the lie to the reigning post-9/11 mantra that the Arab and Muslim worlds “hate us for our freedoms” and “our values”: because of who we are and what we think, not because of anything the U.S. did. In the late summer of 2004, a thorough refutation of this ubiquitously disseminated claim came from the Defense Science Board (DSB), a federal body of strategists and academics tasked with advising the U.S. Secretary of Defense. Examining numerous polls indicating tiny (single digit) Arab and Muslim support for the United States and its policies (these got a 94 and 98 percent “unfavorable” rating in U.S.-allied Egypt and Saudi Arabia, respectively), the DSB found that most Arabs and Muslims did in fact support “modern,” “Western” and “American” values like freedom and democracy, welcomed western science, and enjoyed western consumer products and movies. “In other words,” the DSB concluded, “they do not hate us for our values, but because of our policies” – that is, for our sponsorship of authoritarian despotism and Israeli oppression and our use of deadly military force and torture in Iraq and Afghanistan. Totally contradicting core claims behind the bloody post-9/11 U.S. “war on [of] terror,” the DSB report was readily available on the World Wide Web.
That same year, one could find a number of books that exposed the self-serving and fallacious nature of the “they hate us for our freedoms” claim. A particularly relevant volume published in 2004 by the former Central Agency official in charge of pursuing Osama bin Laden was titled Imperial Hubris. The book was readily available and prominently displayed at the nation’s two leading chain bookstores (Barnes and Noble and Borders). Its author Michael Scheurer (original penname “Anonymous”) argued that the biggest threat to American security was U.S. policymakers' lockstep insistence that al Qaeda and its expanding ilk and progeny were driven by a blind hatred of "who we are” (the land of freedom, democracy, and all that). His book was dedicated to the proposition that al Qaeda and the considerable support it received in the Muslim world (dramatically increased by the invasion of Iraq, a recruiting windfall for bin Laden et al.) was about what “we” do to and in the Middle East. And what “we” did, Scheurer acknowledged, was function as imperialists: stealers and controllers of Arab oil, sustainers of Israel's racist occupation state, protectors of corrupt Arab regimes, butchers of Muslim innocents, attackers of Islamic shrines and values, and so on. This is how Scheurer described (accurately) the U.S. presence in the Middle East: “a new imperial order, one that has much the same characteristics as nineteenth-century European imperialism: military garrisons; economic penetration and control; support for leaders, no matter how brutal and undemocratic, as long as they obey the imperial power; and the exploitation and depletion of natural resources.”
Reporting Savage Race Disparities on Rush Limbaugh’s Radio Station
A year later, I was given an opportunity to become a source of candid information in corporate media. I was invited (in my role as the research director of the establishment Chicago Urban League) to go on WLS Talk Radio 890 AM (the station that carried Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity to Chicago and its suburbs) to report on the persistence of savage racial inequality in and around Chicago. I broadcast a number of unpleasant details across the WLS airwaves, including the following: black median household income was just 58 percent of white median household income in the Chicago metropolitan area; a quarter of the metropolitan area’s black households were officially compared to just 5.6 percent of white households; 16 percent of Chicago’s blacks were living in what researchers call deep poverty (at less than half of the federal government’s notoriously low and inadequate poverty level); two-thirds of Illinois’ more than 43,000 prisoners and more than 80 percent of its drug prisoners were black this in a state that was just 15 percent African American); a quarter of the state’s released prisoners returned to 10 predominantly black Chicago zip codes (6 on the South Side and 4 on the West Side); the number of black males carrying the lifelong mark of a criminal record in Chicago was equivalent in number to 42 percent of the city’s black male workforce; there were nearly 20,000 more black males in the Illinois state prison system than enrolled in the state’s public universities in the summer; all but 2 of Chicago’s 15 richest neighborhoods were disproportionately white and all but 3 of its 15 poorest communities (with average household incomes ranging from $11 to 28,000) were disproportionately black; and so on. My report did not jibe very well with the dominant whitewashed “colorblind” narrative of our post-Civil Rights era, according to which skin color no longer carries much significance in the sorting out of opportunities and resources anymore.
Obama the War Hawk (2007)
In researching my book Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics in 2007, I looked at then Senator and presidential candidate Obama’s speeches to and writings for establishment foreign policy institutions and journals. All this material was readily available to anyone with the willingness and ability to examine it – on the Web and in bookstores and libraries. It was not difficult to find a vast amount of material showing that the Obama who spoke to the nation’s foreign policy “influentials” was quite different from the antiwar and non-imperial brand Obama rolled out for liberal and progressive primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. To give one example, candidate Obama’s summer 2007 article in the establishment journal Foreign Affairs was titled “To Renew American Leadership.” Containing numerous dubious historical reflections that badly whitewashed past U.S. crimes abroad, Obama declared that “we can be [Kennedy’s] America again” and essentially accused the George W. Bush administration of dropping the ball of empire. “The American moment is not over, but it must be seized anew,” Obama proclaimed, adding that “we must lead the world by deed and by example” and “must not rule out using military force” in pursuit of “our vital interests.” “A strong military,” Obama wrote, “is, more than anything, necessary to sustain peace.” We must “revitalize our military” to foster “peace,” Obama argued – echoing Orwell – in part by adding 65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000 to the Marines.
Obama gave reasons to expect future unilateral and “preemptive” wars and occupations carried out in the name of the “war on terror” by an Obama White House. “We must retain the capacity to swiftly defeat any conventional threat to our country and our vital interests,” Obama pronounced. “But we must also become better prepared to put boots on the ground in order to take on foes that fight asymmetrical and highly adaptive campaigns on a global scale.” Reassuring the more militarist segments of the power elite that he would not be hamstrung by international law and civilized norms when “our vital interests” are "at stake," Obama added that “I will not hesitate to use force unilaterally, if necessary, to protect the American people or our vital interests wherever we are attacked or imminently threatened…We must also consider using military force in circumstances beyond self-defense,” Obama added, “in order to provide for the common security that underpins global stability -- to support friends, participate in stability and reconstruction operations, or confront mass atrocities”  – words that take on a haunting significance in light of president Obama’s fake-humanitarian, petro-imperialist intervention in Libya.
Obama’s “Renewing American Leadership” article was just one of many ways in which he went out of his way to prove his imperial credentials to the foreign policy establishment. The cumulative evidence did not fit the dominant media portrayal of the 2007 and 2008 presidential elections as pitting the “antiwar” Obama against hawkish Hillary Clinton and the militarist John McCain. But it was readily available to any interested and minimally capable researcher. I bought the Foreign Affairs issue in which candidate Obama’s essay appeared at my local Barnes and Noble.
Obama the Deeply Conservative State Capitalist, 2009-2011
Staying with Obama, I was recently struck by the ease with which it is possible to determine in the mainstream media that the supposedly left-liberal president distanced himself from the inspiring public worker rebellion that recently broke out in Madison, Wisconsin last February. Both feeding and playing on the dominant media narrative of Obama as a “man of the left,” the Tea Party right insisted that their great, supposedly socialist nemesis Barack Obama – the corporate-friendly savior of Wall Street – intervened decisively on workers’ side. But, as national New York Times correspondent Jackie Calmes reported in early March, the White House intervened against the national Democratic Party’s initial efforts to support the Wisconsin labor protests, which administration officials saw as contrary to their happy and neoliberal message. “When West Wing officials discovered that the Democratic National Committee had mobilized Mr. Obama’s national network to support the protests,” Calmes wrote, “they angrily reined in the staff at the party headquarters…Administration officials said they saw the events beyond Washington as distractions from the optimistic ‘win the future’ message that Mr. Obama introduced in his State of the Union address.”8
It was all very consistent with New York Times’ financial writer Floyd Norris’ observation in the Times’ business section that the Obama administration’s supposedly socialist auto bailout plan was more militantly capitalist than the actual capitalist auto firms. As Norris explained in the fall of 2009:
“One rap on socialism has always been that governments are much more worried about jobs than profits. No politician wants to be responsible for layoffs, so the government is happy to rely on optimistic assumptions to avoid painful decisions.”
“That is how the term ‘lemon socialism’ was coined.”
“So what happened this year?”
“First, the Obama administration demanded G.M. and Chrysler come up with believable strategies for getting out of the mess they were in. When those plans came back with the usual rose-tinted perspective, the administration demanded changes.”
“The result was a lot of job cutting, not something you might have expected from an administration elected with union support. The unions lost their generous pay for laid-off workers. To be sure, the union health plans were not treated as harshly as some creditors were, but in the end creditors and workers all paid for the sins of past managements.”
In the Obama administration version of state capitalism as applied to the auto industry, the state was more ruthlessly capitalist than the capitalists themselves. 9
It is all very consistent also with the journalist Larissa MacFarquhar’s depiction of candidate Obama in a fascinating early portrait of the future president in a May 2007 issue of the elite weekly magazine The New Yorker. Obama, MacFarquhar determined on the basis of extensive research (including candid and in-depth interviews), was “deeply conservative.” When Obama spoke about poverty, MacFarquhar noted, “he tend[ed] not to talk about gorging plutocrats and unjust tax breaks: he says that we are our brothers’ keeper, that caring for the poor is one of our traditions.” Obama’s refusal to advance large reform – e.g. single payer health insurance on the Canadian model – reflected what MacFarquhar found to be Obama’s traditionalist and reactionary 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, 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. Take health care, for example. ‘If you’re starting from scratch,’ he says, ‘then a single-payer system’—a government-managed system like Canada’s, which disconnects health insurance from employment—’would probably make sense. But we’ve got all these legacy systems in place, and managing the transition, as well as adjusting the culture to a different system, would be difficult to pull off. So we may need a system that’s not so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they’ve known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside’…Asked whether he has changed his mind about anything in the past twenty years, he says, ‘I’m probably more humble now about the speed with which government programs can solve every problem. For example, I think the impact of parents and communities is at least as significant as the amount of money that’s put into education.’”
MacFarquhar found that Obama’s “deep conservatism” was why “Republicans continue to find him congenial, especially those who opposed the 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.10
This, in turn, is also consistent with readily available campaign finance data showing that Obama set new presidential election fundraising records in tapping the business-dominated wealth primary, coasting to victory with $1 million in contributions from Goldman Sachs, $834,0000 from Microsoft, and $15 million overall from the securities and investment sector.
It is a far cry from the reigning media narrative pitting the right wing and transparently business-backed big money Republican Party against supposedly left Democrats and their purportedly progressive standard-bearer Barack Obama. (An influential story line: by April of last year more than half [52%] of Americans [and 92% of American Tea Party supporters] surveyed by CBS and the New York Times told pollsters that they agreed with the following statement: “Barack Obama's policies are moving the country more toward socialism.” When asked to place Obama on an ideological spectrum from right to left, a significant plurality [31%] of those polled absurdly identified him with the leftmost category [“very liberal”] provided by the pollsters and just 10% identified Obama more accurately as “conservative.”)11
Why Some Truth Gets Through
Along with numerous other progressive critics of the American corporate and imperial state, I am on record with the judgment that the nation’s ruling communications, educational, and political organizations are institutionally mandated to carry out the propagandistic manipulation of the majority populace in service to the unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money, privilege, and empire. These institutions are fundamentally about what Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman called (using Walter Lippmann’s term) “manufacturing consent” – about “taking the risk out of democracy” (Alex Carey) in a nation where massively concentrated wealth, corporate consolidation, and Superpower militarism stand in lethal, potentially totalitarian juxtaposition to Western traditions of free speech, popular governance, and national sovereignty.
So how and why does some seemingly dangerous truth make its way into and through those institutions? Part of it is certainly that some oddly courageous and honest people inside dominant institutions retain a dogged commitment to truth and accurate information over and against authoritarian dictates and propagandistic imperatives. Sadly, however, such people are the exception and not the rule. They do not generally enjoy long or comfortable careers in establishment institutions.
There are less inspiring explanations – reasons that have to do not with courage, but with mechanisms and realities that drain information of its radical potential – for how some of the truth can slip through. News can be rendered unthreatening to power when it is presented without reasonable sociopolitical context and when it is delivered to “media consumers” with no connection to relevant social and political hierarchies. And information that might seem threatening to elites can be made safe for established hierarchies when the difficulty of accessing the full factual story is too high for ordinary people and when it is communicated only or primarily between and among elites.
Facts are one thing; how you “frame” and explain them is another. The nightly evening big city news is full of stories about violent crime in the black urban ghetto. It says nothing about the endemic and persistent institutional racism – e.g. anti-black employment discrimination, racist housing discrimination, persistent de facto school segregation, and objectively racist criminal justice practices from surveillance and arrest through sentencing and incarceration – that produce black violence and crime by concentrating poverty and joblessness related forms of misery in the nation’s persistently hyper-segregated black ghetto communities. Absent that obvious and logical context and framing, the relentless drumbeat of ghetto crime stories feeds white racism and heavily radicalized white suburban fears of the inner city as sites of moral decay and uncontrollable violence. It’s not unlike how the Arab and Muslim worlds have long been portrayed in dominant “mainstream” media: constant scary images of “anti-American” violence without any reasonable treatment of the U.S. policies – above all U.S. sponsorship of despotic regimes in the Middle East and North Africa – that create Arab and Muslim alienation from the self-proclaimed homeland and headquarters of global freedom and democracy (the United States).
The Business Week cover story that I found useful in making a “Marxist” argument on class warfare was naturally devoid of the context I provided to my industrial relations students. It had nothing to say about the corporate sector’s role in creating inequality from the top down by smashing unions, sending jobs to lower-wage counties, undermining and taking over the nation’s labor law, passing “free trade” legislation that eased capital flight and union-busting, and otherwise assaulting working and lower class Americans in pursuit of higher profits. And, of course, it did not relate those practices to the capitalist system, which makes recurrent top down class warfare nothing less than an institutional mandate for companies wishing to survive and thrive. Business Week’s suggesting findings on rising inequality came without any reasonable context, leaving readers free to reflexively assume that the disparities it reported reflected nothing more than the standard bourgeois claim that the market rewards those who “work hard and smart” and punishes those who do not.
When I went on WLS radio in 2005, my appearance came with a proviso: I was invited to report race inequality data but would offer no commentary on why this inequality existed. Once I spit out the terrible facts, the talk show host turned me off and went to the phones to listen to how the audience wanted to interpret them. None of the predominantly white and male callers-in questioned a single one of my terrible facts. They did, however, hasten to argue that those facts were essentially a result of black laziness, black cultural failure, and related big government welfare programs imposed by dastardly liberals and leftists. The callers were firmly convinced that racism was over as a meaningful barrier to black advancement and black-white racial equality in “color blind” America and in Illinois, where a black man (Barack Obama) had recently proved (as far as many whites were concerned) the “over-ness” of racism by getting elected to the U.S. Senate.
Not content merely to document racial inequality, my study had been dedicated also to explaining that inequality as the natural reflection of the underlying institutional and “neoliberal racism” that lived on beneath the cover provided by the success of certain bourgeois blacks like Oprah Winfrey, Colin Powell, and Barack Obama. The people who heard me speak on WLS got none of that essential framing from me. It was not allowed. My radio appearance may have helped give Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s supposed shining global city of (whitewashed) success a bit of a black eye on racial matters, but white supremacist understandings escaped my radio experience completely unscathed.
Degree of Data Access Difficulty
Another way to explain how and why a lot of seemingly solid and good information can break through the doctrinal and ideological filters is to realize that accessing some of the most damning evidence involves a level of work that few citizens can be expected to undertake. Campaign finance data is a case in point. It is easier today than it has ever been before to track federal politicians’ campaign contributions, thanks in part to the Center for Responsive Politics’ “Open Secrets” Web site (http://www.opensecrets.org/). Still, doing the really deep work of showing exactly which special capitalist (and other) interests and configurations are backing which politicians and why over and across election cycles is often exhausting and detailed work, particularly at the state and local levels. Its not the sort of activity that most people are going to have the stomach and time for, which is why the ruling class seems content to let campaign finance data be investing be something of an “open secret” – though it should be noted that the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision gives corporations a dangerous new level of anonymity when it comes to election funding.
The point extends to other issue areas. How many ordinary and working Americans have the time, energy, predisposition, and ability to take on the at least part time job that is mastering the details and deconstructing the rhetoric involved in the making of U.S. health care, trade, environmental, labor, and/or foreign policy? To track down and tear apart candidate Obama’s (or candidate Clinton’s or candidate Edwards’ and so on) speeches to the Council on Foreign Relations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the like? Most citizens lack the resources (including free time, an often underestimated democracy asset) and/or interest and/or skill for such undertakings. This is something that a Democratic presidential candidate’s handlers know well when they sell their prospective office-holder to primary voters as an antiwar champion and/or a populist hero – this even as the candidate pledges allegiance to imperial values and the wealthy Few when appealing to the foreign policy and business establishments. Elites don’t have to worry all that much about occasional fishes of truth slipping to the surface when there are so few fishermen and fisherwomen with the necessary equipment and connections to real them in, clean them and cook them up in a pleasantly digestible way for an audience that can make it to a dining table dedicated to serving the accurate and properly contextualized information that an informed citizenry – an essential ingredient of democracy – requires.
“Two ‘Functions’ in a ‘Democracy’”
Last but not least, it should be noted (in a related, overlapping point) that significant portions of American communications and information content are not designed or meant for a mass market including the majority working class citizenry. Much of that content is safely targeted to system-loyal business, professional, managerial and “coordinator class” elites, who require a significant measure of accurate, fantasy-free information in order to adequately conduct their tasks of advancing the bottom line and controlling the population. There are at least two very different levels of communications and discourse in America’s corporate-managed democracy. One such level is for the common “rabble,” the non-affluent majority, which must be conditioned to leave important matters of state and society to their business and professional class “betters” and is thus best kept in a state of childish puzzlement, ignorance, and whimsy. That’s most of us. The other level is for “the responsible” folks, with credentials for comfort and rule conferred by capital, property, elite training and educational certification. These two levels are nicely suggested in Noam Chomsky’s paraphrasing of the leading 20th century U.S. “public intellectual” Lippmann’s perverted, inverted-Stalinist understanding of “democracy”:
"Now there are two ‘functions’ in a democracy: The specialized class, the responsible men, carry out the executive function, which means they do the thinking and planning and understand the common interests. Then, there is the bewildered herd, and they have a function in democracy too. Their function in a democracy [,Lippmann said,] is to be ‘spectators,’ not participants in action. But they have more of a function than that, because it's a democracy. Occasionally they are allowed to lend their weight to one or another member of the specialized class. In other words, they're allowed to say, ‘We want you to be our leader’ or ‘We want you to be our leader.’ That's because it's a democracy and not a totalitarian state. That's called an election. But once they've lent their weight to one or another member of the specialized class they're supposed to sink back and become spectators of action, but not participants. That's in a properly functioning democracy."16
The people in “the specialized class” cannot be consigned to the uninformed fantasy world created for “the bewildered herd.” They are too strategically placed to be kept completely out of the loop of reality. They cannot effectively perform their roles without a significant degree of accurate information. The readers of Business Week (and of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times) are predominantly business and professional people, of course. It might have been ideologically recommended for big business in the 1990s to promote the “rising tide lifts all boats” mantra of the dominant Western growth ideology as they shifted more and more decent jobs abroad and attacked wage and benefit levels, social programs, and progressive taxation at home. But it would not have been functional for the corporate sector for its marketers and production planners to inaccurately believe that there was a giant and growing middle class and upper-middle class market out there when in fact the U.S. consumer market is sharply polarizing along economic and class lines. Sales, manufacturing, and inventory plans need to be properly coordinated in accord with really existing class disparities (whatever their cause) or money will be lost and capita de-valued in the fruitless pursuit of markets that don’t exist.
Certain sections of the state-capitalist elite – chiefly the big eco-exterminist oil and coal companies – might find it useful to invest heavily in a public relations campaign that calls into question the scientific consensus that human generated carbon emissions are heating the planet in ways that directly threaten human survival. But it is possible to fund abundant evidence on the real carbon-climate story in the masters’ communications system because other elites (including the owners and managers of insurance, real estate and financial companies, civil engineers and urban and regional planners) have to live in the real world when it comes to climate mutation’s multiple impacts. Many of “the responsible men” can’t afford to live in a science-free fantasy world when it comes to anthropogenic climate change and other key ecological rifts.
Foreign policy formulators and makers may wish to stick with the “they hate us for our freedom” line when it comes to selling their oil-besotted imperial ambitions and actions to “the bewildered herd” (the citizenry, which “naively” opposes imperialism and militarism), but they will be more effective in advancing their global agenda if they understand the very different reality of Arab and Muslim opinion reported by the DSB’s 2004 report. That reality-based but highly specialized report was intended for strictly elite readership; it was not meant for the rabble. I only know about it seven years later because I have the atypical combination of time, energy and willingness to comb through and track down obscure sources cited in specialized monographs on Western policy in the Middle East. (Michael Scheurer and his publisher may have broken the rules a bit by trying to reach a mass market with a critique of the “they hate us for our freedom” line. That may be why he felt compelled to publish Imperial Hubris as “Anonymous.” Still, his idiosyncratic book was not really crafted for the broad populace and seemed - consistent with its sub-title, bemoaning the fact that “the west” was “losing the war on terror” – aimed primarily at foreign policymakers, who needed, in Scheurer’s view, a better understanding of their Islamist-insurgent enemy in order to more effectively defeat it.)
It’s one thing for FOX News reptiles like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity or the Paleolithic editorial page of the Wall Street Journal to claim that Barack Obama is a Marxist or some other version of a radical left socialist. And it might be useful for the business elite’s bottom line to scream “big government” intrusion and even “socialism” in response to every real or (more common) perceived regulatory move or slight on the part of a Democratic administration in nominal power. Aggressive militarists might see the logic in claiming that Obama is soft on terrorism and opposed to the aggressive and unilateral exercise of American military power. It’s all very much like many college basketball coaches’ habit of perpetually yelling at the referees in the hope of influencing as many calls as possible in their direction.
But the real reporting in elite media outposts like the New York Times and the WSJ’s often high-quality news pages is often much better, reflecting the advisability of elites knowing that Obama serves the business class and the empire quite well indeed. Corporate profits have skyrocketed and imperial adventurism has more than survived under Obama, after all, even as tens of millions of ordinary Americans U.S. struggle with insecurity and existential nothingness under the rule of a soulless, ecologically lethal profits system. Do the “responsible men” really want to undermine the populace-disabling sweet spot the rich and powerful are currently enjoying by replacing the empire’s new clothes (Obama) with a de-stabilizing Tea Party freak like Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich or Michelle Bachman? If Scott Walker is any example, such people in executive power are likely to stir up the rabble in ways that sophisticated Democratic officer-holders like Obama do not. The ruling class doesn’t really want what the recently fired proto-fascist Glenn Beck (who called the president “a Marxist-Lenninist”) has to offer at the end of the day. At the very least, it’s important for responsible capitalists, coordinators, managers, professionals, and elections investors to know that the real and conservative Obama has nothing to do with the propagandistic right wing image of the “radical” president. The real story on the president’s state-capitalist and imperial essence is therefore relayed in elite venues in ways that can seem useful for the occasional dissident fisherman who infiltrates elite discourse and tries (against no small odds!) to report and serve back to the people in the hope of putting some risk back on the rotting table of American democracy.
Paul Street’s next book (co-authored with Anthony DiMaggio) is Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Paradigm, 2011). Street can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 John Bonifaz, “Losing Our Vote in the Wealth Primary” (1995) at http://archive.fairvote.org/reports/1995/chp6/bonifaz.html
2 Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication (September 2004) at http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:eIvRlazdBREJ:www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/reports/ADA428770.pdf+DEFENSE+SCIENCE+BOARD+AND+september+2004+and+in+other+words,+they+do+not+hate+us+for+our+values,+but+because+of+our+policies&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESgWvi1gPvsYWzkkh7Tam3Zy6-bp1eN6CXpw8wuknVlmgsDm8e6oyPDgR9XrYEHdcBBDEhpV7nTdvu0wv46GPPOtLEO17ihvSH1s_6RlA6nAn_HMDBOl8vccyj4dInqQdYAMLHdt&sig=AHIEtbSv5VVizXBNlIrH1kWhKJyYkXjCyg
3 The quote marks are meant to indicate that U.S. foreign policy is routinely made in defiance of majority U.S. public opinion on how the United States should behave in global affairs.
4 Full report: Paul Street, Still Separate, Unequal: Race, Place, Policy and the State of Black Chicago (Chicago, IL: Chicago Urban League, 2005).
5 See Leonard Steinhorn and Barbara Diggs-Brown, By the Color Of Our Skin: the Illusion of Integration and the Reality of Race (New York, NY: Penguin, 1999); Michael Brown et al., Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color-Blind Society (Berkeley, CA: University of California-Berkeley Press, 2003);
Sheryl Cashin, The Failures of Integration: How Race and Class Are Undermining the American Dream (New York, NY: Public Affairs, 2004), Henry A. Giroux, The Abandoned Generation: Democracy Beyond the Culture of Fear (New York, NY: Palgrave-MacMillan, 2003), pp. 1-70; Henry A. Giroux, The Terror of Neoliberalism: Authoritarianism and the Eclipse of Democracy (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004), pp. 1-53; Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: New Press, 2010); Tim Wise, Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity (San Francisco: City Lights, 2010).
6 Barack Obama, “Renewing American Leadership,” Foreign Affairs (July/August 2007). “Our vital interests” harkened back to another Democratic imperialist’s “Carter Doctrine,” which updated the Monroe Doctrine for the global petro-capitalist era to include the Persian Gulf region in the United States’ inviolable sphere of special interest and unilateral action. They are a code phrase for other nations' oil, located primarily in the Middle East.
7 For an I think fairly exhaustive and early record of candidate Obama’s imperial credentials, values, and behavior, see Paul Street, Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Paradigm, 2008), 123-163.
8 Jonathan Weisman, “Obama Sits Out State Fights,” Wall Street Journal, February 24, 2011, A4; Jackie Calmes, “Less Drama in White House After Staff Changes,” New York Times, March 3, 2011 at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/04/us/politics/04staff.html?_r=3
9 Floyd Norris, “U.S. Teaches Carmakers Capitalism,” New York Times, November 20, 2009.
10 Larissa MacFarquhar, “The Conciliator: Where is Barack Obama Coming From?” The New Yorker (May 7, 2007).
11 CBS/New York Times, “Polling the Tea Party: Who They Are and What They Believe,” New York Times, April 14, 2010, atwww.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/04/14/us/politics/20100414-tea-party-poll-graphic.html#tab=4.
12 Alex Carey, “The Orwell Diversion,” pp. 133-139 in Carey, Taking the Risk Out of Democracy” Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty (University of Illinois Press, 1997).
13 For brilliant, richly informed reflections on this, see Steve Macek, Urban Nightmares: The Media, the Right, and the Moral Panic Over the City (University of Minnesota Press, 2006).
14 Paul Street, Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (Rowman&Littlefield, 2007), 47-54.
15 Street, Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics, 133-136 on the selling of Obama as an antiwar candidate in Iowa in 2007.
16 Noam Chomsky, Media Control (Seven Stories, 2002), 16.
17 Bill McKibben, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (Times Books, 2010), 47-101.
18 I found it mentioned (without citation) in David Gardner’s Last Chance: The Middle East in Balance (London: I.B. Taurus and Co, 2010), cited in Noam Chomsky, Hope and Prospects (Chicago: Haymarket, 2010).