First-term throwback: President Obama pauses during a visit to the Israeli city of Sderot in 2008. Shutterstock
The New York Times published a front-page story on Sept. 22 titled “U.S. Ramping Up Major Renewal In Nuclear Arms” followed by two subtitles: “Obstacle to Obama Vow” and “Billed as Path to Disarm, Buildup Could Have Opposite Effect.”
At crucial junctures, at least the better bourgeois newspapers are obliged to pay closer attention to reality. As reporters William J. Broad and David E. Sanger wrote:
KANSAS CITY, Mo.—A sprawling new plant here in a former soybean field makes the mechanical guts of America’s atomic warheads. Bigger than the Pentagon, full of futuristic gear and thousands of workers, the plant, dedicated last month, modernizes the weapons that the United States can fire from missiles, bombers and submarines.
It is part of a nationwide wave of atomic revitalization that includes plans for a new generation of weapon carriers. A recent federal study put the collective price tag, over the next three decades, at up to a trillion dollars.
This expansion comes under a president who campaigned for ‘a nuclear-free world’ and made disarmament a main goal of American defense policy.
Barack Obama never had a truly independent policy for peace. If we say that Obama was constrained by a renewed collision of imperial spheres of interest, we are telling only the convenient half of a half-truth. A crucial piece of information must be added to the geopolitical puzzle: namely, that Obama does not just adapt to circumstances, but he is a commander in chief who is an agent of war and empire.
Under our system of “representative democracy,” he does not need to wave his arms and shout from balconies like a dictator from the previous century. This huckster of hope and change keeps his cool and serves the corporate state with conviction. Whether giving a commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy or accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama is the kind of “progressive” who gives progress a bad name.
Surely, he was sorely beleaguered by rabid Republicans. We must distinguish, however, between partisan faction fights and deeper “bipartisan unity,” especially in the realm of “free markets.” The mobility of capital across all borders requires the option of “exporting democracy” through the overthrow of other governments, and even through bombing campaigns.
An armed theocratic movement such as Islamic State is an objective danger. How did that movement gain such strength and so fast? If we pay attention to only the nightly broadcast news, such a movement has a recent and bloody dawn. Every event that might ground Islamic State in a longer span of time and in the global web of empire is officially banished over the prehistoric horizon. Yet the militants of Islamic State do not just use knives to behead hostages. They also use the weapons and hardware left behind by Western imperial adventures. Even to discuss Islamic State in the same breath as the Jewish state is a political heresy that cannot pass the lips of, for example, NBC anchor Brian Williams, who is devoted to dogs, generals and astronauts.
To be quite clear here, a comparison between the Jewish state and the Islamic State can never be an equation. But the colonial project of state Zionism does involve the creation of a Palestinian ghetto, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his colleagues then subject to bombing campaigns that are much more lethal and efficient than any Palestinian rockets. A recent 100 to 0 Senate vote in favor of Israeli “self-defense” was a unanimous imperial vote of confidence for “the only democracy in the Middle East.”
Not one vote of conscience, not one voice of dissent? No, not one. Not even from Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren or Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, the two darlings of “progressive” Democrats. Both Warren and Sanders repeated the hasbara formulas, and in this manner imperialism becomes a genuine progressive disease.
North American imperialists embraced South African colonialism once upon a time, and in the year 2014 they still embrace all the Israeli redesigns of apartheid. Yet prophetic Jews round the world, including within Israel, are raising an urgent warning. The pluralism that once existed within the Zionist movement must be acknowledged—certainly the cultural Zionism of Ahad Ha’am and the binational hopes of Judah Magnes had nothing in common with the program of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, nor with the policies of former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Netanyahu.
Yet the project of state Zionism was a colonial venture from the very beginning, even before 1948, and all the years since the Six-Day War in 1967 have only strengthened the grip of Israeli settlers upon Palestinian land. State Zionism is ruling out the possibility of “a two-state solution” by creating a de facto one-state solution, meaning one colonial power in full control of the shrinking borders and strangled population of the Palestinian ghetto. The leading career politicians of the Democratic Party, including Obama and the Clintons, officially lament the loss of civilian lives—and then extend the hand of imperial solidarity.
Yes, Obama has been hounded in the crudest way by Republicans, and some of their rhetoric is recycled from the open sewer of ultranationalism. That much, surely, cannot be surprising. In response to his partisan capitalist opponents, Obama has met the enemy at home with only an equal and opposite defense of capitalism beyond borders. A close reading of the article in The New York Times will even underscore how far Obama moved to the right in order to find “bipartisan unity” with Republicans. During a period of punishing recession and job losses, at least Obama and his Republican colleagues can claim they are creating more jobs in the industries of war and armaments. As the Times article notes, “The administration has told the Pentagon to plan for 12 new missile submarines, up to 100 new bombers and 400 land-based missiles.”
“Progressive” illusions will die hard among some members of the Democratic Party. We can fully expect that some new coalition of the juvenile and the senile will embrace Hillary Clinton if she runs the race for commander in chief. Their reasons, or rather their slogans, never change. But at this late date in history, every big policy speech by a career Democrat needs only one title: “The Lesser of Two Evils.” That sly slogan long ago became a rolling fog to obscure bipartisan collaboration in the corporate state.
The capitalist parties reduce labor unions into arms of management, and then their candidates give “populist” speeches as required. Under Bill Clinton’s administration, the deregulation of the banking and financial system was by no means a demonic plot by Republicans. No, deregulation was the marriage contract Clinton himself designed for bipartisan partnership. In those years, Hillary Clinton made a special project of turning health care reform into another “private-public partnership.” When Physicians for a National Health Program co-founder Dr. David Himmelstein tried making the case for a single-payer health care system, she said, “David, tell me something interesting.”
Even in Obama’s “signature” piece of legislation, the Affordable Care Act (which even MoveOn.org now calls Obamacare), the president did not stray far from Clintonian priorities. He told the lieutenants of the Democratic Party to take a single-payer plan “off the table” once again during the congressional hearings on health care reform, and so health care activists such as PNHP’s Dr. Margaret Flowers were arrested for speaking out.
Many Americans now have some form of health insurance for the first time, as any critic of Obamacare must duly acknowledge. But the “progressive” defenders of Obamacare fail to acknowledge that this reform was also a bonanza for private health insurance companies. Indeed, the lawyers and lobbyists who are hired to turn public health care into niche markets are busier than ever.
Although health care costs per capita are very high in the United States, health care outcomes rank below those countries that achieved basic social democracy in public health. Rather than expanding Medicare for all (which was the real basis for a single-payer plan), the two-track system of Medicare and Medicaid is preserved, but with sharper class divisions. Increasing bureaucracy, soaring costs, and opportunities for profiteers are consequences of putting profits before patients. Again.
The Democrats and Republicans keep each other in business. They also keep this country mired in endless wars. Capitalism is a climate disaster, yet the corporate parties remain committed to strip-mining the planet and turning the oceans into public toilets. Obama is, economically, a loyal member of the Clintonistas. As a campaigner for the White House, he beat Hillary by mastering the thoroughly Clintonian game of triangulation. As for the Great Game of Empire, Obama’s policy had been less aggressively militarist than Hillary Clinton’s, but even that distinction is vanishing day by day.
Independent political action by workers and citizens is difficult without at the same time waging a battle for truly public communication. There are moments when the big TV networks and media companies can be shamed into public service, but they are usually content to feature faction fights between corporate politicians. One hundred years after the World War I, we are witnessing a new collision between imperial spheres of interest.
A class-conscious peace movement must wage an open political battle against the capitalist parties, or the next huckster of hope and change may well be Hillary Clinton. Many readers of this article will have their own list of urgent issues in ranked order, and independent political action may not rank high for some of you. The great danger of leaving politics to professional politicians, however, is that democracy dies at the roots, and the toxic fruits of the corporate state remain war and empire. The city of Detroit is proof that the working class did not invent class war, but the city of Seattle is proof that a socialist can still win a seat on a city council.
In every midterm election and in every presidential election, the public is subjected to organized lying. If the choice is between a Reaganaut and a Clintonista, or between the party of Retrogrades and the party of Deadbeats, don’t be too sure you can vote by rote for the lesser of two evils. For all the gridlock and faction fighting in Washington, Congress remains the front office of the ruling class. Each of us can make a few decent promises for the sake of sanity and self-respect. If partisan politics is one of your favorite spectator sports, ask yourself: Why? Call up a dozen neighbors and hold a house meeting. Or stand up at the next photo-op for a career politician and tell him or her to earn an honest living. If they are truly public servants, then we should expect better than CEOs of a corporation.
Ending the corporate state begins with you, and you and you. And with me, and my friends and my comrades. We can have “the two-party system” or we can have democracy in this country, but we cannot have both. If the corporate parties succeed in shutting down fair debates and shutting out socialist candidates, then we, the people, still have the choice to march on our polling places on Election Day in open protest against a capitalist Congress. We can have clean air and water, or we can be sleepwalkers on a poisoned planet. We can have a class-conscious struggle for peace, or we can have a new nuclear arms race. Capitalism is a global system even the ruling classes do not completely control, and that is why our advanced productive forces also make possible a nuclear Armageddon. Only the great majority of workers can wage a class-conscious struggle for democracy at home, and if necessary, a global strike for peace across national borders.