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Michael Brenner

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And Now, the Loser Is...

Posted: 08/08/2012 10:50 am

The election campaign sputters and stumbles toward November. "Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," in Shakespeare's words. Or so it seems. Epochal crises at home and abroad shadow our lives, yet the contenders neither inform nor elucidate their meaning, much less speak in coherent terms about how they would address them. We are bombarded with hackneyed phrases, crude images and non-stop pandering. The media only amplify and transmit in rapid fire fashion this confused and confusing static. Uncertainty abounds -- who will win the White House, who will dominate Capitol Hill and what they will do once they get there. Still, we can make one judgment with confidence. Progressives will be the sure losers -- along with their hopes for a return to a humane society and responsive government. Even bigger losers will be those whose suffer from the national flight from commitment to collective well-being and collective responsibility. They are the usual casualties: those who depend on public services, the poor and not quite poor, the children, and the insecure who lack the buffer of wealth and privilege. Then there are the unusual casualties: the constitutional protection of civil liberties that are being shredded, and our self respect as a country and a people no longer honored by respect from others in the world.

Why so dire a pronouncement? In simple terms, the 30% or so of the citizenry who will be adversely affected and/or care about these things have been effectively disenfranchised. Neither presidential candidate speaks for them; neither sees their welfare as his priority. Indeed, it is hard to avoid the sad conclusion that the lives of the once fabled common man have become little more than an afterthought to our political movers and shakers. As for the congressional candidates, we are confronted with an equally harsh reality. The Republicans are fully in thrall to a radical cum reactionary movement which joins a "know-nothing" nativism to the project of the one percent and their allies to confirm America as a plutocracy de jure as well as de facto.

As for the Democrats, they have so diluted their historical philosophy, have so distanced themselves from their natural constituency, have so cavalierly made themselves hostage to the benevolence of big money as to cease acting as a counterforce to the willful, aggressively self confident Republicans.

Exhibit no. 1: Nancy Pelosi and a number of her colleagues -- Charles Schumer and Bob Casey, among others -- are vociferously arguing that recision of the Bush tax cuts should exclude anyone earning between $250,000 and a million. The latter figure is 20X the median family income. For them, these friends, neighbors and contributors are now the needy "middle class" of campaign oratory. No surprise, therefore, that the odds heavily favor the Republicans consolidating their gains in the House and likely taking the Senate, too. Democrats, having abandoned any idea of engaging the enemy except tactically at the most superficial level, are complicit in extending the lease on power of persons and ideas who reflect the attitude and interests of a distinct minority of Americans -- leaving aside their antic behavior and nastiness.

What of Barack Obama? There's the rub. Horrific images of a Romney presidency have blurred the failings and regressions of the man who, four years ago, embodied hope -- at least for those who paid little attention to what he actually wrote, said or had done earlier in his career. The record is clear, starkly clear. Obama is a sort of 'moderate' Republican of an earlier vintage who has turned his back on the people who elected him. In many spheres -- education, civil liberties, deregulation or the environment -- he is well to the right of those old-style 'moderate' Republicans. He has spent the past four years currying favor with the business establishment, deferring to the defense-intelligence complex, and -- above all -- abandoning the Democrats' bedrock Social Security and Medicare legacy programs. It was Barack Obama who appointed an extra-constitutional commission under the dual leadership of men vocal in their dedication to cutting the heart out of those landmark achievements of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. It was he who last summer offered them as sacrifice in a one-sided deal with the Republican congressional leadership in exchange for a mess of cold porridge. It is he who perpetuates myths about their impending insolvency so that trust monies can continue to be siphoned off to pay for other items in the general budget.

The same can be said about his handling of the financial crisis. So called financial reform legislation is no more than a hodge-podge of half measures already neutered by Obama's own executive appointees. Financial scandal follows financial scandal -- growing in magnitude, in recklessness, and in lawlessness. The Libor interest rate rigging is rooted in what look to be systematic violations of the law. Yet it is Obama's Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, and his appointed Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke, who were complicit in and accessories to them. The entire matter is swept under the rug as an inconvenient distraction from an electoral strategy that jumps from sound bite to sound bite. Then, there is arbitrary grant of immunity to the financial institutions that committed serial felonies in robo signing house foreclosures documents. Then, there is the president's refusal to remove Mr. Edward De Marco, the civil servant who as acting head of the Federal Housing Financial Authority has given himself the unjustified power to block implementation of rules designed to help underwater home owners. The list is very long.

Observing the two slapdash campaigns of Romney and Obama is like watching an Olympic badminton match between China and South Korea in the round-robin stage. Both seem intent on losing. Romney says and does ridiculous things on a daily basis; Obama then flails away at his opponent for being too absurdly foolish to imagine in the Oval Office. The latter has no theme, no narrative, no conception of what the times and country need -- and no overarching bridge to the Congressional campaigns.

Cry, my beloved country -- especially if you're a progressive.