font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>ntensity of the corporate and social-conservative assault on the U.S. populace is generally less severe under Democratic presidents than it is under Republicans. The bigger part of my argument has nothing to do with "lesser evilist" thinking and everything to do with exposing the corporate and imperial Democrats for what they really are. How are the recurrently Left and progressive-co-opting Democrats best revealed as another wing of the same plutocratic and imperial bird of pretty? Which is better for the development of serious, and lasting political action (grassroots, and non-co-opt-able citizen and workers' activism and organization) beyond the masters' quadrennial electoral extravaganzas—(A) radically regressive Republicans holding nominal power or (B) dismal dollar Democrats sitting atop the symbolic ship of state?
line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>So, at least, I have tended to argue, with the important qualification that voting is really a minor and short-lived matter (it takes about two minutes) compared to the far more important politics of building social movements at the grassroots. The late radical historian Howard Zinn put it very well in an essay on “The Election Madness” that took over the nation and indeed much of the (all-too Obama-mesmerized) left in 2008:
“‘I’m talking about a sense of proportion that gets lost in the election madness. Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes – the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth….‘But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice….‘ Let’s remember that even when there is a “better” candidate…that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore.”
font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>system and to confront the gap between their expectations of transformation and the harsh reality of persistent top-down corporate, financial and military rule with the "dismal Dems" at the outward helm of government. I wanted them to be subjected to the reality that, to quote the Marxist commentator Doug Henwood nearly four years ago, "everything still pretty much sucks" when Democrats hold the top political offices—that the basic underlying institutional realities of capitalist and imperial rule stay the same. As the antiwar activist, author, and essayist Stan Goff noted in 2009, "I'm glad Obama was elected. Otherwise, people would blame the war on McCain and the Republicans and continue with the delusion that elections can be our salvation." A key historical reference here is John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s presidency and the rise of the New Left in the 1960s. font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>
The Obama Bubble Pops
line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>“If there were a Republican president,” Michelle Goldberg writes in a recent essay on the rising number of young intellectuals who are exploring and embracing Marxism, “they might see hope in electing a Democrat. But Barack Obama already won, and it didn’t help.” As one such intellectual, Bhaskar Sunkara (editor of the popular left zine Jacobin), told Goldberg, “If you win something and you are disappointed with the results, in a way that’s more politicizing than just losing and losing and losing over again.”
line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>Still, there should be no doubt about the real and leading force behind Occupy and the uptick in left sentiments among young intellectuals. Like the broader left-progressive tilt of the Millennial generation more broadly ( 150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>you didn’t need to be Karl Marx to see that people were getting kicked out of their homes’….And privileged young people—particularly the kind of who are inclined to read and write essays about political theory—haven’t just been spectators to immiseration. Graduating with student debt loads that make them feel like indentured servants, they’ve had a far harder time than their predecessors finding decent jobs in academia, publishing, or even that old standby law and are thus denied the bourgeois emollients that have helped past generations of college radicals reconcile themselves to the status quo.”
Earned Income Tax Credit. (Not to mention Medicare and Social Security.).”
The Delaying and Repressive Power of “Hope”
10.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>Nobel Prize-winning liberal economist Joseph E. Stiglitz has written about what produced the Occupy rebellion and why that rebellion only came three long years after the onset of the Great Recession:
“That the young would rise up against the dictatorships of Tunisia and Egypt was understandable. The youth were tired of aging, sclerotic leaders who protected their own interests at the expense of the rest of society. They had no opportunity to call for change through democratic processes. But electoral democracy had also failed badly in Western democracies. U.S. president Barack Obama had promised ‘change you can believe in,’ but he subsequently delivered economic policies that, to many Americans, seemed like more of the same….Years after the breaking of the bubble, it became clear that our political system had failed. ..It was only then that protestors turned to the streets…..”
“The strength of faith in democratic processes, however, is remarkable. One interpretation for why it took so long for the Occupy Wall Street protests to emerge was that many hoped that the political process would ‘work’ to rein in the financial sector and redress the country’s economic problems. It was only when it was evident that they did not that protests became widespread. The strong voter turnout in 2008 (the highest since 1968) reflects the power of hope.”150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";background:white”>shining demonstration example of such naïveté was given in Wisconsin months before the Occupy rising: the all-too unchallenged way that labor officials and other Democratic elites dismantled the rank and file Wisconsin struggle as a social movement, turning the significant popular protest unleashed in early 2011 into a predictably unsuccessful electoral effort to recall Teapublican governor Scott Walker and replace him in the governor’s office with an uninspiring centrist Democrat [Tommy Barrett]. Sadly protesters pretty much followed their liberal “leaders” into electoral oblivion.) "Verdana","sans-serif";color:black”>“The polls…show, convincingly, that people blame the stubborn Republicans more than the Democrats for the adverse effects of the [October 2013 federal government shutdown and debt-ceiling crisis] on workers, public health, safety, consumer spending, recreational parks and government corporate contracts….[But] there is another story about how all this gridlock came to be, fronted by the question: ‘Why didn’t the Democrats landslide the cruelest, most ignorant, big-business-indentured Republican Party in its history during the 2010 and 2012 Congressional elections?’ ” "Verdana","sans-serif";color:black”>The main answer is that “Democrats are dialing for the same commercial campaign dollars, which beyond the baggage of quid pro quo money, detours the Party away from concentrating on their constituents’ needs.” Thus, there has been no real Democratic Party movement either on behalf of measures that are supported not just by the party’s “moribund” (Nader’s term) Progressive Caucus but also by the working class American majority: “upping the federal minimum wage, controlling corporate crime, reducing corporate welfare giveaways, reasserting full Medicare for all, diminishing a militaristic foreign policy and other policies…….So,” Nader notes, “when election time comes around, voters do not know what the Democrats stand for other than to save Social Security and Medicare from the Republicans.” "Verdana","sans-serif"”>For what is worth (quite little in a national “left” intellectual culture dominated by MSDNC/[MSNBC, the editorial pages of the New York Times, and multi-millionaire Democratic Party apologist Katrina vanden Heuvel), this is precisely what I warned about in my officially marginalized 2008 book Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics: a Democratic party and president that would fail to meaningfully fight for progressive goals and to take on either the corporate elites or the ever more radically regressive Republican Party, leaving much of the progressive base wondering why it should support Democrats and making it easier for the FOX News right (later to significantly overlap with the “the Tea Party”) to tap and misdirect popular anger in a harshly reactionary direction. The Democrats’ dull and dreary performance in accord with Wall Street’s wishes and even with possession of both houses of Congress as well as the presidency in 2009 and 2010 was no small factor behind the Republicans’ historic victories in the Congressional mid-term and state gubernatorial and legislative election of 2010  – a right-wing triumph that was critical to subsequent Republican gerrymandering (electoral redistricting takes place at the state level) and (highly racist and nativist) voter suppression successes. color:black”>The More Effective Evil? "Verdana","sans-serif";color:black”>How committed are the administration Democrats even to “sav[ing] Social Security and Medicare”? The “liberal” Obama White House remains determined to negotiate cuts to Social Security benefits, Medicare and other so-called entitlement programs. Obama’s budget blueprint, released last April, proposes slowing the growth of Social Security spending by advancing a “new measure of inflation” – the “chained CPI,” a fancy method for cutting seniors’ cost-of-living adjustments. The president has also “called for squeezing $370 billion from Medicare by raising some fees and premiums as well as making cuts to providers,” the Wall Street Journal reports. Adding in proposed cuts of $187 billion to Medicaid, left sociologist and commentator James Petras estimates that the “Grand Bargain” offered by the center-right Obama to his erstwhile opposition in the far right GOP in the summer of 2011 “will cause American workers to lose over $1.19 trillion dollars over the next 10 years, leading to a sharp decline in life expectancy, access to health care, living standards and quality of life.” "Verdana","sans-serif";color:black”>All of which raises the question: are the Democrats really even the “lesser evil” anymore? Demonstrating a sinister determination to repress internal dissent and advance the corporate, neoliberal, and imperial agendas in ways that seem more sophisticated and smart than those of the Republicans, the Democrats are remarkably effective when it comes to inducing liberals and progressives to acquiesce before the endless crimes of American empire and inequality. Imagine how much louder the official U.S. “left” (liberal and “progressive Democrats”) would have protested Edward Snowden’s surveillance revelations had they been made under a President McCain or a President Romney (a similar point could be made on drone warfare and numerous other points). In this and other ways (including the cloaking of the nation’s savagely persistent and deeply rooted societal racism), Obama, like Bill Clinton before him, has arguably been a more effective evil in the White House than his Republicans opponents would have been. color:black”>The Balance of Forces "Verdana","sans-serif";color:black”>Would if have been better for the “crazy” Tea Party Caucus to have prevailed over Big Business Democrats and Republicans in the latest debt-ceiling fiasco? Petras argues provocatively that: "Verdana","sans-serif";color:black”>“The principle and immediate beneficiaries of increasing the debt ceiling are the wealthy, bond-holders and the medium and long-term beneficiaries are the military-intelligence-empire-builders who can continue to secure over $700 billion in annual budget allocations….. Given the harsh terms, which accompany the Grand Bargain to raise the debt ceiling, it would be better if no agreement were reached. The financial elite is counting on the Grand Bargain to leverage their debt collection over the lives and welfare of hundreds of millions of Americans. It would be better to shake the pillars and pull down this Temple of Mammon (the Samson Solution) making them pay a price!”
line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>“True, in the short-run, the workers and middle class would also suffer from a default. But the discredit of the ruling political parties, the political elite and Wall Street, could lead to a new political alignment, which would fund social programs by, in David Stockman’s phrase, “soaking the rich” – raising corporate taxes by 50%, imposing a financial transaction tax of 5%, uncapping the social security tax and collecting taxes on overseas US multi-nationals’ profits. Additional billions would be saved by ending imperial wars, closing bases and canceling military contracts. Tax reform, imperial dismantlement and increased domestic investment in productive activity would generate domestic growth leading to a budget surplus, extending MEDICARE to all Americans, reducing the age of retirement to 62 and providing a living wage for all workers!”[24A]
share Petras’ faith that default would produce a progressive/left political realignment. Given the balance of class forces informed by the pathetic state of organization on the left (due in no small part to progressives’ overlong attachment to the Democratic Party), the crisis that would be produced by default seems more likely to deepen the drift toward a type of police state fascism in the U.S. today.
[email protected]) is the author of numerous books, including Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (2004), Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (2007), and They Rule: The 1 v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014).
1. The first and last time I ever voted in a contested state – one where there was any reasonably prior doubt which of the two major party presidential candidates would prevail.
2. Howard Zinn, “Election Madness,” The Progressive (March 2008).
3. Roger Hodge, The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism (New York: Harper, 2010), 8
4. Doug Henwood, “Would You like Change With That?” Left Business Observer, No. 117 (March 2008), quoted approvingly (and elaborated upon) in Paul Street, Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2008), 204 -5. The term “dismal Dems” belongs to Henwood.
5. Paul Street, “Dorothy and the Occupiers vs. The Wizard of Ozbama and the Power Behind the Curtain,” ZNet (November 5, 2011), http://www.zcomm.org/dorothy-and-the-occupiers-vs-the-wizard-of-ozbama-and-the-power-behind-the-curtain-by-paul-street.html; “The Legacy of Howard Zinn,” , November 2, 2010, at
7. Goldberg, “Crash Prompts.”
8 Peter Beinart, “The Rise of the New New Left,” Daily Beast (September 12, 2013), http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/09/12/the-rise-of-the-new-new-left.html
11. Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality, 345, n.4.
12. Paul Street, “North American Report;” Paul Street, “Wisconsin Lessons,” ZNet (June 8, 2011),http://www.zcomm.org/wisconsin-lessons-by-paul-street.html
13. Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, FBI Documents Reveal Secret Nationwide Occupy Monitoring, (December 22, 2012), www.jusiceoneline.org/commentary/fbi-files-ows.html?; Naomi Wolf, “Revealed : How the FBI Coordinated the Crackdown on Occupy,” The Guardian (December 29, 2012),
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/29/fbi-coordinated-crackdown-occupy; “The FBI vs. Occupy: Secret Docs Reveal ‘Counterterrorism’ Monitoring of OWS from Its Earliest Days,” Democracy Now! (air date December 27, 2012) at www.democracynow.org/2012/12/27/the_fbi_vs_occupy_secret_docs
14. Paul Street, “The 1% and the 47%,” ZNet (September 23, 2012), http://www.zcomm.org/the-1-and-the-47-by-paul-street.html; Paul Street, “The Plutocrats Keep Their Shirts,” Z Magazine (January 2013), http://www.zcomm.org/the-plutocrats-keep-their-shirts-by-paul-street.htm
15. The great liberal standard-bearer Paul Krugman takes particular delight in calling the GOP “crazy.” See Paul Krugman, “The Crazy Party,” New York Times, September 19, 2013; “Rebels Without a Clue,” New York Times, Sept. 30, 2013.
16. Paul Street and Anthony DiMaggio, Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2011); Anthony DiMaggio, The Rise of the Tea Party: Political Discontent and Corporate Media in the Age of Obama (New York: Monthly Review, 2011).
17. “Oct. 2013 Post-ABC Poll,” Washington Post, October 25, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/page/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2013/10/22/National-Politics/Polling/release_272.xml
18. Steven Hill, Fixing Elections: The Failure of America’s Winner Take All Politics (New York: Routledge, 2002), xii, 82, 89, 99, 105, 116, 228, 236, 292, 319, 322, 325.
19. Daniel Lazarre, Frozen Republic How the Constitution is Paralyzing Democracy (Manner Books, 1997).
20. Ralph Nader, “The Democrats Can’t Defend the Country From the Retrograde GOP,” Common Dreams (October 18, 2013), http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/10/18-8.
21. See Street, Barack Obama and the Future, 47-49, 58, 200-2. For subsequent elaboration and observations, see Paul Street and Anthony DiMaggio, Crashing The Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Paradigm, 2011), viii-x. 144-158.
22. Peter Nicholas and Colleen McCain Nelson, “Budget Discord Simmers On Left,” Wall Street Journal, October 21, 2013, A1, A4.
color:black;font-weight:normal”>Empire-Building, the Debt Ceiling, the Budget Deficit, and the Samson Solution,” Dissident Voice (October 17, 2013), http://dissidentvoice.org/2013/10/empire-building-the-debt-ceiling-the-budget-deficit-and-the-samson-solution/
24A. Petras. “Empire-Building.”
See Martin Luther King Jr., “A Testament of Hope” (1968), reproduced in Martin Luther King, Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. by James M. Washington (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1991), 315.