“We Will NOT Apologize for Our Way of Life”

Set thine house in order
-  2 Kings, chapter 20, verse
The Obama administration makes a very big point of claiming to be above and beyond "ideology." It’s all about the "pragmatic" goal of "getting things done" with no particular "ideological" axe to grind.
"Ideological" approaches and divisions are from the dysfunctional bad old days, before the new president wiped the slate clean and started History anew.
Like his previous famous speeches [1], however, Barack Obama’s somewhat leaden Inaugural Address last Tuesday was chock full of, well, ideology.  It was loaded with customary bourgeois, nationalist and imperial canon and colored by the power elite’s standard crackpot history, suggesting that The One is another ruling class politician. 
Let’s take a closer look at Obama’s latest grand oration.


Obama started by thanking ex-President George W. Bush "for his service to our nation." I doubt there was any way for Obama to avoid this, but the fact remains that George Bush II was and remains an especially egregious arch-offender. He viciously exploited 9/11 to greatly further the upward concentration of wealth and power and to shred civil liberties at home and abroad.  He launched a monumentally illegal and immoral war of aggression on thoroughly false and concocted pretexts. 

It is a great disgrace that the Congress in which Obama served did not act on their constitutional duty to have impeached and removed Bush and Dick Cheney for crimes against humanity, international law, and U.S. law.


Obama’s expressed reluctance to investigate and prosecute the Bush administration’s transgressions is applauded by dominant media as an example of his desire to "heal the nation" and "look forward, not backwards." But it does not bode well for his responsible utilization of the imperial presidency’s awesome powers.  At the same time, meaningful healing and reconciliation require acknowledgement of – and real consequences for – terrible crimes.



In times of crisis, Obama said, "America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents."


Not really. A vast literature and empirical record shows that "our" founders and their documents were quite explicitly authoritarian.  They were harshly classist (as well as racist and sexist) on the whole, deeply convinced (in accord with the dominant bourgeois-republican ideology of their time) that the poor and property-less majority posed grave threats to civilized order and good government.  The early American Republic ‘s well-propertied architects (many of whom were slave owners) believed that, as John Jay put it, the people who own the country should run it.  They set up an elaborate constitutional mechanism to keep popular governance and the "rabble" (the majority of the citizenry) at bay.  Real democracy was the Founding Fathers’ worst nightmare.


Peoples’ movements – the labor movement, the abolitionist movement, the farmers’ movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and the peace movement, for example – subsequently enriched, expanded and (really) created American democracy from the bottom up.




"That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood," Obama said. "Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred."


Where’s the "war?" It’s in Iraq , Afghanistan , and (most recently) Gaza. And it’s a very one-sided imperial and U.S.-imposed affair. Its main victims are civilian Arabs, Pashtuns, and (more broadly) Muslims who have done nothing to the American people.


It’s not over here. "At war" Americans aren’t dodging IEDS and sniper fire and F-16s and Blackhawk Attack Helicopters on their way to work, school, and shopping center. They haven’t been displaced from their homes like millions of Iraqis. They have been encouraged to carry on with private lives of work, family, entertainment, and mass consumerism while U.S. military masters conduct wars of occupation without meaningful popular consultation.


Just a small and disproportionately working-class share of the U.S. population provides soldiers for the nation’s bloody colonial wars through the "All Volunteer" Armed Forces. If the U.S. government tried to make military "service" mandatory for young adults across the socioeconomic spectrum it would encounter considerable popular resistance.


The "far-reaching network of [Islamic] violence and hatred" is largely a U.S. creation.  It is critically fueled (and was in fact originally financed) by the United States’longstanding petro-imperial presence in the oil-rich Middle East – a presence that is intimately related back to the mass consumerism that induces Americans to devour global resources on a spectacular scale. As far as much of the world – the Muslim world especially – is concerned (with good reason), the U.S. military (replete with more than 730 bases located across more than 130 countries) constitutes the planet’s leading "far-reaching network of violence and hatred."



 "Our economy is badly weakened," Obama said, "a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age."


This statement evades the special agency and culpability of the financial elite. Of course all citizens should work to create "a new [economic] age."  But it shades into vicious victim-blaming to suggest that the country’s broadf populace shares equal responsibility with the investor class for the nation’s dire economic straits. The U.S. working- and lower-class majority possesses less than negligible power when it comes to the the direction, of "our [corporate-managed state-capitalist] economy," in which the top 1 percent owns 40 percent of the wealth and 57 percent of all claims on wealth.



"Homes have been lost;" Obama whined on Tuesday, "jobs shed; businesses shuttered."


Has the "progressive" and highly educated and intelligent young president (recently praised by left-liberal journalist John Nichols for "know[ing] not just the rough outlines of the left-labor-liberal-progressive agenda, but the specifics") [2] studied the history and nature of the profits system — of the so-called "free market capitalism" he repeatedly aligned himself with during the presidential campaign and in his 2006 campaign book "The Audacity of Hope?"


If he has then surely he knows that capitalism does all this and more (worse) over and over again. It sheds and shreds jobs, people, communities, livable ecology, and democracy by its very essence, militantly opposed to human need and social health. It’s the nature of the beast.




"Our health care," Obama added, "is too costly." But whose health care, exactly, is too dear? America’s 2.5 million millionaires and the rest of the nation’s rich easily afford the best medical services ever while more than 47 million Americans lack basic medical coverage and hundreds of millions struggle with (yes) overly expensive (and often inadequate) care.


The deeper problems are that "our health care" is too corporate, too private, too commodified, and too unequal.  It is absurdly allotted primarily through the job market, making it a major contributor to both unemployment and overwork. It is placed under the cost-fueling control of bloated private insurance companies Obama to whom has pledged a powerful "seat at the table" of "health care reform."


High quality health care can and should be provided for free to all on an equal basis by the government. Reflecting his deep corporate captivity, Obama refuses to advance the most effective democratic and cost-saving health care solution: single-payer national insurance.




"On this day," Obama said last Tuesday, "we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord."


Citizens beware! The elevation of "unity" over "conflict and discord" is rife with authoritarian meaning.  Democracy brings "conflict and discord." Those who believe in popular and participatory governance should hardly welcome neo-Bonapartist rulers who claim to rise above supposedly harmful "ideological" and partisan divisions to abolish "discord and conflict," inducing (ex-) citizens to close their mouths and minds.  


"On this day," the new president elaborated, "we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics." 


More democratic danger here. Obama did not specify precisely what he meant by "recriminations" and "worn out dogmas."  Still, we can safely conclude from his past rhetorical record that he includes "radical" and "Marxist" notions of a core conflict between the working and lower-class Many on one hand and the rich and powerful Few (his leading sponsors) on the other. And that’s a problem, for democracy disappears when that supposedly "worn out" conflict is removed from the spectrum of acceptable debate.




"In reaffirming the greatness of our nation," Obama said, "we understand that greatness is never a given."  But what is so "great" about our nation? We are 4 percent of the world’s population but consume a quarter of the planet’s resources, with disastrous environmental consequences at home and abroad. "We": 


* have the most unequal distribution of wealth in the industrialized world.

* were founded and grew largely on a basis of genocide and mass enslavement, terrible crimes with deep prices we continue to deny and cloak.

* lead the world in terms of mass incarceration, disproportionately imposed like so much else that is bad in American life on blacks and Latinos.

* afflict African-Americans with a national median-household wealth-gap of seven black cents on the white dollar and with numerous interrelated forms of institutional racism even as the nation celebrates Obama’s election as a symbol of its transcendence of racial bigotry.

* account for nearly half the world’s military spending, a great drag on our social and spiritual health. 


And "we" seem chillingly incapable of acknowledging our crimes past and present. Even the "antiwar" and great liberal hope Obama, for example, will not admit that the invasion of Iraq was criminal and immoral or that it has led to the deaths of more than a million Iraqis. He has never criticized the occupation as anything worse than a "dumb war," a "strategic blunder."  Last year (in Janesville Wisconsin) he even campaigned on the notion that the U.S. was spending too much money helping Iraq instead of the U.S. [3]


Consistent with his claim (to CNN’s Candy Crowley last summer) that the U.S. should NOT apologize for its crimes (since the U.S. is obviously what he called "a force for good in the world"), moreover, Obama has refused to call even the Vietnam War  – the vicious U.S. assault that ended 2-3 million Indochinese lives between 1962 and 1975 – anything worse than a "mistake." He even argued (in the foreign policy chapter of "The Audacity of Hope") that "the greatest casualty of that [Vietnam] war was the bond of trust between the American people and their government" (p.287) — as if the deaths of millions of Indochinese and 58,000 U.S. GIs were secondary and as if popular American skepticism towards the designs of the U.S. foreign policy establishment isn’t a sign of democratic health.


There is an intimate relationship between America ‘s failure to admit its transgressions abroad and its denial of savage disparities and oppressions at home. U.S. political culture’s doctrinal faith in the United States ‘ "exceptional" magnificence feeds American’s inability to acknowledge its criminality on the global stage. 


Like imperial presidents of the past, Obama cannot let go of the standard and dangerous national-narcissist mantra: "We are Good, We are Great." 



Midway through his speech, Obama announced an interesting perspective on the great prior sacrifices that produced "the greatness of our nation."  According to the new president:


"Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. …It has as been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things – some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom."


"For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life."


"For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth."


"For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh."


"Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction."


Here Obama strangely wove the savage racial oppression of slavery ("endured the lash of the whip") together with European immigration, American frontier settlement (involving the genocidal removal and slaughter of millions of indigenous people – a detail he omits), industrial labor exploitation ("toiled in the sweatshops"),  the American Revolution ("Concord"), the Civil War ("Gettysburg"), World War II ("Normandy"), and the U.S-colonial War on Vietnam (the battle of Khe Sanh took place in illegally invaded South Vietnam in 1968) as part of a patriotic storyline wherein hard-working patriots pulled together across divisions of race, class, and party to selflessly create liberty and abundance for future generations of their fellow Americans.


This is sheer Orwellian nonsense. It falsely imposes a retrospectively virtuous tale of shared national "service" and commonality back on the pervasive possessive-individualist selfishness, rampant imperial hubris and savage racism and classism behind the founding and often murderous settlement (conquest) of the country, the brutal exploitation of slaves and garment workers, and the rapacious execution of a bloody and expansionist foreign policy. Are we really supposed to honor the ferocious high-tech Superpower assault on the peasant nation of Vietnam – an imperial onslaught that significantly undermined U.S. economic strength by the way – as some sort of noble moment (along with two and half centuries of black chattel slavery) in the selfless creation of contemporary "prosperity" through the ruggedly righteous labor of anonymous toilers embodying the spirit of the Protestant Work Ethic? [4] 



"What the cynics fail to understand," Obama claimed, "is that the ground has shifted beneath them – that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works – whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified."

Here our new President approached but fell short of a real insight. Beneath the battle between so-called "free market" and supposedly anti-government (laissez-faire) "conservatives" on the right and more "pro-government" liberals and progressives on the left lay a deeper conflict between those who want the state to work for the privileged Few and those who want it work for the common good of the working- and lower-class Many.


Today as in previous periods of American state capitalism, nobody’s actually against government per se. It’s not just about "good government" (a "government that works"). The real question is whose class interest government is going to serve.


But then this is a supposedly "ideological" point raised mainly by people who hold what the "realistic" corporate-neoliberal Obama team considers a "stale" perspective, full of the tired old "recrimination" that lay at the heart of "outworn" class-struggle "dogma."


 "Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill," Obama proclaimed.


Many good Americans beg to differ.  I, for one, agree with the left U.S. economist and visionary Mike Albert, who speaks for many progressives’ observations and experience when he notes that:


" ‘ Markets are a no-confidence vote on the social capacities of the human species’….markets  mobilize our creative capacities largely by arranging for other people to threaten our livelihoods and by bribing us with the lure of luxury beyond what others have and beyond what we know we deserve.  They feed the worst forms of individualism and egoism.  And to top off their anti-social agenda, markets munificently reward those who are the most cut-throat and adept at taking advantage of their fellow citizens, and penalize those who insist on pursuing the golden rule…Mutual concern, empathy, and solidarity have little or no usefulness in market economies, so they atrophy." [5]


I also agree with Laurence Shoup, who observed last summer that Obama’s campaign trail declarations of "love" for the market "failed 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 added, "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…." [6]


The market’s "goodness" – along with the virtue of the market’s tyrannical Frankenstein creation The Corporation – must be "a question before us."


"As for our common defense" the new head of the American Empire proclaimed Tuesday,.."Our founding fathers’ ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.  And so to all the other people and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and children who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more."


Obama left it to "ideological" others to point out that America follows in the footsteps of past global powers by covering its imperial ambitions and agendas with flowery claims of special benevolent and idealistic credentials and intent. Be that as it may, the U.S. is widely perceived – with good reason – as an enemy of the peace and dignity (and democracy and justice) sought by billions,   including the Iraqis (victims of a murderous U.S. occupation Obama has depicted as an expression of America’s excessively "good intentions"), the Afghan people (victims of repeated U.S. civilian slaughters for which Obama says the U.S. should NOT  apologize), and the  Palestinians (on whose fate President-elect Obama was deafeningly and damningly silent). Do the children and families of Gaza and of Afghan villages (the latter are on the wrong end of what Obama considers Bush II’s "good" and "proper" war) "we" have unapologetically pulverized in the name of freedom "seek a future of peace and dignity?"


"Ready to lead once more"?  The avowed Christian Obama (who said Tuesday that the U.S. must "lead" through "the force of our example") might want to take a closer look at the imperial "homeland." Reflecting on its rising U.S. unemployment, poverty (destitution for some), desperation, incarceration, madness, and inequality, he could consult "Scripture’s" (his term) call to "Set thine house in order" (2 Kings, chapter 20, verse 1) before talking so boldly about America "leading" others.


The repair of broken societies and the fixing of failed states begin at home.




Claiming that "we are the keepers" of earlier U.S. policymakers’ "legacy" of "prudent" "humility and restraint," Obama  said that "We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan….We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."


Here Obama proclaimed his buy-in with the false and bankrupt notion that Islamic terrorists assaulted the U.S. because of their hatred for " America ‘s" supposedly democratic "way of life," NOT because of the United States ‘ provocative imperial conduct in the Middle East [7]