Sunday, December 20, 2009

The old shell game: act two

"If the climate was a bank the US would already have saved it." Hugo Chávez in Copenhagen
David Seaton's News Links
When it is possible for Hugo Chávez to deftly sum up the United States administration in one short and witty phrase, things are not going well.

I went to the movies last night with a European -- whose identity I shall protect -- who like most progressive Europeans has been completly besotted by Barack Obama for months and months and has given me no end of flack for my own lack of enthusiasm for "The One".

Right before the feature started they put on the trailer of Michael Moore's new film, "Capitalism - a Love Story" and in it, George W. Bush suddenly appeared, horrible smirk and all, and I was amazed to hear this person exclaim, "I miss Bush!"... There was no time then to ask why, but a couple of hours later, out in the street, I got the chance:  "You miss BUSH? Why do you miss BUSH?"

"Well", this person shamefacedly said, "it's hard to explain, it came over me all of a sudden, I hadn't seen him since he left the White House, and there he was  on the screen and it was just like when he was president, I knew exactly who he was and more importantly I knew exactly who I am and with Obama I don't." I thought that was as good a definition of the situation right now as any I am likely to get.

My theory is that my friend's confusion was exactly what the meteoric rise of Barack Obama was all about: a political version of the old shell game.

Bush's problem was that it was always much too clear under which shell the pea was lurking and too many people were catching on to the game. What was needed was to substitute a tied tongue for a silver one. It worked like a charm at first, but now the natives are restless.

As Bush himself said, "Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again".

Frank Rich of the New York Times doesn't cut to the bone as playfully as Hugo Chávez, but he hits pretty hard with this phrase:
"Though the American left and right don’t agree on much, they are both now coalescing around the suspicion that Obama’s brilliant presidential campaign was as hollow as Tiger’s public image." Frank Rich - NYT
Maybe the roughest of all is Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone:
What's taken place in the year since Obama won the presidency has turned out to be one of the most dramatic political about-faces in our history.
What I find amazing is the surprise.

Rolling all this around in my mind, I suddenly remembered a wonderful advertisement I saw quite a few years ago. I wish I had cut it out and saved it, but quoting from memory, it went more or less like this. The ad appeared in the soft-core porn mag, Hustler, and it was for pills, creams and lotions guaranteed to enhance sexual pleasure and performance. At the bottom of the ad in big, bold letters it said, "These products are genuine placebos".

Assessing the havoc that Bush had wreaked upon America's power and prestige and the rather awkward questions so many Americans were driven to ask by his bumbling and fumbling, it seems clear that the good and the great who decide this sort of thing realized in their wisdom that what America needed was a "genuine placebo" and that Barack Obama was just what the doctor ordered.

It is obvious to me, that when he proclaimed "a change we can believe in", either Barack Obama was trying to fool everybody or that he was fooling himself, but most probably it was a combination of both.

However, somewhere, some people, knew exactly what they were doing and what was going on. Matt Taibbi's article in Rolling Stone is probably the clearest, easiest read, road map of what it was all about and who these people are.

H.L. Mencken proclaimed that "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public" and a movie producer once said that "when the American public walks its knuckles drag on the ground." The desire to simultaneously fool and be fooled, which is universally human, is especially pronounced in Americans... Think Madoff and Madoff victims, some of them thought to be America's shrewdest  people...I repeat, what surprises me is the surprise.

Maybe it's my age, the Spanish say that the devil knows more because of his age than because he is the devil, maybe it's that, but as my readers know, I never expected anything else. The United States is a "regime" if ever there was one, and thick-skinned, solid, interlocked and long lived oligarchical regimes like America's die hard.

I was a close observer of both the Portuguese "carnation" revolution and the Spanish transition from Franco to democracy and both were near run things, with a lot of unfinished business til this day and many explosive situations still hanging fire.

Anyone that believes that such an old and established, battle-hardened system of privilege  as America's can be changed only by a mass of enthusiasts voting one day and then going home and waiting for it to happen by itself is just like the person who is sitting at home waiting eagerly for FEDEX to bring them their "genuine placebos".

I think my friend was groping toward an important truth, to wit: the Bush presidency was a lovely "teaching moment". There was an excitement in learning, as my friend said, "who he was and who I am".

Some of those who came out for Barack Obama will be made cynical by what is happening now, but others -- hopefully a critical mass -- will be made serious, on reflection. The first conclusion they should come to is that until the American people themselves become the biggest of all lobbies and pursue their interests with the same concentration as Wall Street, the Insurance lobby, AIPAC and the NRA do, there will never be any change that we or anybody else can believe in.

That simple, that difficult. DS


Kurz said...

Interesting... much as I would like to blame Copenhagen on Obama, if he had accepted anything more ambitious Congress would've voted it down, as with Kyoto.

PS: Chávez stole that phrase from Ecologistas en Acción.

Anonymous said...

That's what progressives get for being naive, simple Simons. If they were such fools in this area, wouldn't they be equally foolish in other areas?

Since your blogs only push an outdated left-wing view I doubt you'll post this, but do progressives know how handle anything besides pissing into the wind? Especially the American Left?

Once again, the American people are the most powerful lobby in this country, and their "collective action" is directed against every dinosaur policy you and your kind (see Matt Taibbi or "El Presidente") believe in. That's your real problem here. Even a knuckle-dragging redneck could have figured this out by now. What's your excuse? These dinosaur ideas, however, will most likely die before you do. The handwriting is on the wall, not just in this country, but in Europe as well. You can blame it on corporate straw men or "entrenched interests", but then, how are you different from Obama?

The truth, both simple and difficult, is Obama's presidency has done nothing but set the stage for the rise of an American Thatcher. I'll leave it to your poetic mind to figure that last part out.

Don't be an intellectual coward and post an unedited token right-wing nutjob point of view to go along with the left-wing crackpots you regularly post on here. Fox News is more balanced! And for the record, I hate Murdoch.


Kurz said...

...I'm starting to miss Bush too.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Setting the stage for an "American Thatcher"??? We haven't had anything but "Thatchers" since Ronnie took office.

forensic economist said...

On naivete and the abysmal quality of the Amerian news media:

Obama did not lie to anybody. If anyone bothers to read his speeches or autobiographies, he was clearly a centrist. He was quoted by Forbes during his campaign as saying "the business of America is still business." So all those who thought he was "The One" were projecting their hopes on him and not using their eyes. Likewise all those who thought he was "that one" or worse "uppity" were projecting their fears. Did you know that his current popularity among whites is <40% and among non-whites is >90%?

I get my news from various internet sites, from NPR, from various magazines,trade and otherwise, including the Economist. Most Americans get their news from TV. My wife has the TV on in the morning to Good Morning America. Instead of a discussion of the health care debate we have been hearing all about Tiger Woods. Before that was Baloon Boy (don't ask).

I take the local newspaper, the Hearst family owned San Francisco Chronicle. Yes, that Hearst, made famous by Citizen Kane. Most of the front page today told me that "Restaurants Turn Table on Conventional Dining"; another front page article discussed "Mall Santa Right Jolly About His Seasonal Work." The only substantive front page article discusses earmarks tacked on to the defense funding bill. It turns out that four billion dollars was added for various projects such as $1.6 million being spent to help Children's Hospital Oakland get their records into electronic format. The gist of the article was that Democrats are pork barrel spending.

In other words, the media doesn't really report the news while telling us more than we need to know about celebrities. Most newspapers tend to have a right wing slant.

However, most Americans do not look further than this. We get the media we ask for.

oldfatherwilliam said...

Almost no need to invent strawmen here, folks. We have Adam the Merciless, Despiser of Fools. Makes this old man nostalgic for Marvel Comics villains.

Stephanie said...

"Obama did not lie to anybody. If anyone bothers to read his speeches or autobiographies, he was clearly a centrist. He was quoted by Forbes during his campaign as saying "the business of America is still business." So all those who thought he was "The One" were projecting their hopes on him and not using their eyes."

I suppose you couldn’t nail Obama for perjury in court, but he certainly did not go out of his way to disillusion those who thought he represented a genuine alternative to Clinton-style hawkishness and centrism and indeed he encouraged such notions, although not in so many words. From the beginning he cast himself as the candidate of change, and the clear subtext for lefty Democrats was change not only from Bush but from the previous Democratic administration.

There are indeed a number of Obama's followers who are now saying, by way of discrediting the vocally disappointed as hopelessly naive, that they knew all along he was nothing more than a bloodless centrist technocrat, but some of them were singing quite a different tune during election season.

Of course, some of us always regarded him as little more than Bill Bradley with a suntan but I for one would have been happy to dine on crow should it be called for. So far, that hasn’t been necessary. But that doesn’t keep me from having some sympathy for the people who donated and licked envelopes and went door to door proselytizing for Obama and are now realizing they may have purchased the proverbial pig in a poke.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

I had sympathy for the Obamites avant la lettre it was obvious to me that it was a classic American "sale". Now I am finding some reason for optimism. Eight years of Bush with an Obama chaser may actually create some consciousness in this age of the Internet, and consciousness is the only hope.

Forensic economist said...

On being black in America - from Ralph Ellison's the Invisible Man - the protagonist is given advice as to how to get along -

"Overcome ’em with yesses,
undermine ’em with grins,
agree ’em to death and destruction,
let ’em swoller you till they vomit
or bust wide open."

Times have changed since this was written in 1948, but Obama has mastered "agree 'em to death". He put "Change" on his posters but not in his platform. He will be perceived as having won a tremendous victory over the Republicans while actually increasing health industry profits.