Monday, January 9, 2012

Waiting for Gorbachev

Here are some entries from Wikipedia for the last rulers of the Soviet regime. Note the underlined parts. I will explain the significance in a moment…

Leonid Brezhnev
(1906–1982) 8 April 1966 – 10 November 1982 At first there was no clear leader of the collective leadership with Brezhnev and Premier Alexei Kosygin ruling as equals. However, by the 1970s Brezhnev's influence exceeded that of Kosygin's and he was able to retain this support by avoiding any radical reforms. The powers and functions of the General Secretary were limited by the collective leadership during Brezhnev's tenure.

Yuri Andropov
(1914–1984) 12 November 1982 – 9 February 1984 He was seen as the most likely candidate for the General Secretary when it became known he had been the chairman of the committee in charge of arranging, managing and preparing Brezhnev's funeral. Andropov was obliged by protocol to rule the country in the same way Brezhnev had before he died.

Konstantin Chernenko
(1911–1985) 13 February 1984 – 10 March 1985 Chernenko was 72 years old when elected to the post of General Secretary and in rapidly failing health. Chernenko was also obliged by protocol, as Yuri Andropov had been, to rule the country in the same way Brezhnev had.

They were obliged by protocol to rule the country in the same way their predecessor had. Get it now? Barack Obama is obliged by protocol to rule the country in the same way his predecessor had. The same will be said of whoever replaces him, whenever that happens. Ours is less of a government than a system, with interlocking institutions and its own internal logic. It is just like the Soviet system-it runs on its own inertia and momentum. Thus it is out of the hands of any one person, or even group of people. It is self-preserving, and who sits at the head of it makes very little difference. And this is why whichever party occupies the White House, it makes very little difference, just as swapping one old man for another made very little difference in the FSU. The forces in play now are much larger than this petty election. I don’t remember elections in the Soviet Union getting much attention (yes, they had them). Neither is much attention given to elections in China (yes, they have them, too). Mubarak usually won handily with 90 percent of the vote. As the saying goes, if elections actually changed anything, they would be illegal. The president is a figurehead designed to run a system. He has very little real impact.

I remember hearing a story about an Italian scholar who got up at a conference and said to an American speaker who was lecturing on the Soviet Union, “don’t you see, Obama is your Gorbachev!” The Italian journalist was wrong, of course, Obama is not our Gorbechev, he’s more like our Yuri Andropov. We are still waiting for our Gorbachev – the man who will oversee a downscaling and a dismantling of unsustainable systems, who will take us where we are going anyway in an orderly manner, as James Kunstler so often describes.

I think there is a perception among many that Ron Paul is our Gorbachev. This is because he does advocate a downscaling of our state and empire. He certainly could be, it’s true, but I doubt the system will allow him to be elected. I doubt had Gorbachev’s ultimate actions been known, he would have been allowed in his position either. But, we can’t be certain – when a system is in its death throes, its immune systems do tend to weaken. I think we’re still waiting for our Gorbachev. One day, he will arrive.

Here’s Ran Prieur (emphasis mine):
It is said that Obama is wearing a mask, being a deceiver, as if he carefully pretended to be a progressive activist for a quarter of a century because a time traveler from the future told him that would get him elected president in 2008 so he could pursue his secret right wing globalist agenda. "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" -- but it's hard to imagine two presidents more different than Obama and Bush. The fact that the country is moving the same direction under each of them should tell us something else: the president is not the boss. Obama has never worn a mask -- Obama is the mask, and not a very good one. It has never been more obvious that America is an ossified dying empire with a suicidal inertia that no leader or movement can stop. If Sarah Palin, Dennis Kucinich, or Carrot Top were president, the system that the president pretends to run would still be bailing out banks and insurance companies, escalating wars, hiding atrocities, and generally chugging along to its ruin.

What would happen if you swapped out the bank executives, the generals, the billionaires? Nothing. It doesn't matter who you plug into the role of dog catcher -- the dog catcher still has to catch dogs, and every role in a domination system must channel domination. Ultimately there is no boss. At the top of the pyramid sits the logic of the pyramid itself. And that logic is basically a big fire that consumes everything and finally burns out.
Here's Matt Taibbi:
It takes an awful lot to rob the presidential race of this elemental appeal. But this year’s race has lost that buzz. In fact, this 2012 race may be the most meaningless national election campaign we’ve ever had. If the presidential race normally captivates the public as a dramatic and angry ideological battle pitting one impassioned half of society against the other, this year’s race feels like something else entirely.

In the wake of the Tea Party, the Occupy movement, and a dozen or more episodes of real rebellion on the streets, in the legislatures of cities and towns, and in state and federal courthouses, this presidential race now feels like a banal bureaucratic sideshow to the real event – the real event being a looming confrontation between huge masses of disaffected citizens on both sides of the aisle, and a corrupt and increasingly ideologically bankrupt political establishment, represented in large part by the two parties dominating this race. If that sounds like a glib take on a free election system that allows the public to choose whichever candidate it likes best without any censorship or overt state interference, so be it. But the ugly reality, as Dylan Ratigan continually points out, is that the candidate who raises the most money wins an astonishing 94% of the time in America.

That damning statistic just confirms what everyone who spends any time on the campaign trail knows, which is that the presidential race is not at all about ideas, but entirely about raising money. The auctioned election process is designed to reduce the field to two candidates who will each receive hundreds of millions of dollars apiece from the same pool of donors.

Those numbers tell us that both parties rely upon the same core of major donors among the top law firms, the Wall Street companies, and business leaders – basically, the 1%. Those one-percenters always give generously to both parties and both presidential candidates, although they sometimes will hedge their bets significantly when they think one side or the other has a lopsided chance at victory. That’s clearly what happened in 2008, when Wall Street correctly called Obama as a 2-1 (or maybe a 7-3) favorite to beat McCain.

The 1% donors are remarkably tolerant. They’ll give to just about anyone who polls well, provided they fall within certain parameters. What they won’t do is give to anyone who is even a remote threat to make significant structural changes, i.e. a Dennis Kucinich, an Elizabeth Warren, or a Ron Paul (hell will freeze over before Wall Street gives heavily to a candidate in favor of abolishing their piggy bank, the Fed). So basically what that means is that voters are free to choose anyone they want, provided it isn’t Dennis Kucinich, or Ron Paul, or some other such unacceptable personage.

The reason 2012 feels so empty now is that voters on both sides of the aisle are not just tired of this state of affairs, they are disgusted by it. They want a chance to choose their own leaders and they want full control over policy, not just a partial say. There are a few challenges to this state of affairs within the electoral process – as much as I disagree with Paul about many things, I do think his campaign is a real outlet for these complaints – but everyone knows that in the end, once the primaries are finished, we’re going to be left with one 1%-approved stooge taking on another.

Iowa: The Meaningless Sideshow Begins (Rolling Stone)
And they even get it across the pond:
While we’re all going doolally over which malignant Republican replicant is the least tragically flawed – a process which will be stretched over the course of six glorious months – the culture wars are still being fought just under the radar.

The fact is, this beauty pageant of machine politics is a total red herring, and a dangerous one at that. None of this historic field of jokers, morons and shills could ever get close to unseating Obama. They’re either too mad to win over the country, or they’re having to pretend to be so mad that they won’t be able to win over the country. See, to win the primaries, they’re having to appeal to the Republican base – a base that has veered painfully hard to the right in the last few decades – using a rightwing narrative of such repugnance that they’ve toxified themselves in the eyes of America’s sane majority.

It once suited the GOP to indulge the fears, prejudices and ignorances of its base. It made delightful political sense; they could chip away at the Democrats and Clinton and Obama with any kind of poison they picked when they were a minority in government. There was practically no lie or obfuscation that the base would not lap up, scoring cheap political point after cheap political point. But eventually the lies got so big and so persuasive that the narrative ran away from the establishment string-pullers, and the lunatics (in the shape of the Tea Party) took over the asylum. Now GOP bigwigs are in thrall to their own monster, forced to pay visible lip-service to the insanity they themselves fermented in the name of political expedience.

But here’s the thing: that doesn’t matter. The presidential election is a sideshow. The office of the president is not this all-powerful bully pulpit it’s cracked up to be. The US government is designed to stymie itself, packed as it is with checks and balances. Obama can’t get much of substance done on his own; he has no control over the budget or passage of bills, and precious little over the states. He couldn’t reshape the US into a leftist paradise if he even wanted to.

Which, I hasten to add, he does not. He is not the agent of hope, change and social democracy we all thought. Politically, he’s a hipper David Cameron: he loves financial services and slight regulation, and doesn’t really care about the significant trappings of the welfare state that we decadent pinko Euros thought he did. In any case, he’s as good as powerless, unwilling to act where he could, and unable to act where he wanted. He’s a figurehead, and that’s it.

The real battlegrounds in US politics are lower than the presidency – in Congress and in the states. And while the country may not like the GOP narrative at the top level, in the state houses and in Washington, the rightist agenda still goes great guns.

The states turned alarmingly red during the 2010 elections, and they continue to throb an ominous shade of crimson. There are 29 Republican governors and 20 Democrats, and the former are all pursuing radical right-wing agendas, nigh-on unchecked. Even a governor as unpopular as Scott Walker, who is currently in the throes of a historically unprecedented recall election for his union busting attempts, still clings fairly handily to power.

The fact that these red governors, and their red state assemblies, are still in power shows that the right is not losing the argument on the ground, no matter how wacky their marquee guys may be. They still get voted in and they are still empowered to enact all manner of destructively ideological far-right policies.

These Republican primaries are a sideshow – and so is the presidential election(The Independent UK)
The Downward Spiral makes a similar point:

...Are we all in agreement that the Communist Party had a monopoly on power and Soviet elections were a complete sham in which the outcome was guaranteed ahead of time? Okay, then ponder for a moment the results of the last U.S. presidential election and the major moves that President Obama has made since taking office, contrasting them with the likely actions of his defeated opponent had he won.

Considering the publicly stated viewpoints of Senator John McCain, would he have acted any differently on the Afghanistan surge? Would he have declined to participate in the Libyan bombing campaign? Would he have not enacted some kind of stimulus program early in his tenure to stave off the financial crisis given that President Bush pushed through a stimulus bill during his first year in office? Would he have closed Guantanamo and put an end to the excesses of the national security state? Would he have opposed the bailouts of Wall Street and the big banks even though he voted for them in the Senate?

The answer to all of those questions is, of course not.
But, but, but...what about gay marriage, or abortion or the Pledge of Allegiance? Certainly McCain differs from Obama on those issues.

So what if he does? Do you really think any of those issues matter one whit to the likes of Goldman Sachs Chairman Lloyd Blankfein? Blankfein doesn’t give a damn if two lesbians can say their sacred vows, or whether that scared teenager has access to a family planning clinic or whether kids unfortunate enough to have to attend the shitty New York City school system say “under God” while holding their hands over their hearts in the morning. After all, his kids go to elite private schools and if his daughter should happen to get in trouble he can send her to some first class, discreet facility to get her fixed right up— no muss, no fuss.

Social issues are merely a distraction to keep the plebes fighting with one another so they won’t notice that the likes of Lloyd Blankfein are stealing their country right out from under them. The dynamic usually works something like this. Step 1: Some wingnut commentator says something outrageous, or some far right Republican Congressman introduces an outlandish piece of legislation that has no chance of ever passing. Step 2: Mainstream liberals and progressives get themselves all in a huff about it—maybe Jon Stewart lampoons the originator on The Daily Show or Keith Olbermann does a Special Comment about it. Step 3: The overwrought liberal and progressive reaction causes an equal and opposite supportive reaction on Fox News and right wing talk radio. Step 4: Both sides send out fundraising letters citing the issue and imploring their supporters not to let the other side “win.” Step 5: Rinse and repeat.

Meanwhile, Blankfein and his Wall Street buddies quietly keep writing huge campaign checks to candidates of both parties so that none of them will oppose their agenda, which is continued government support for big business, war and empire. Republican or Democrat, it doesn’t matter whom you choose. The result is the same either way. Given his deplorable record and how many times he has thumbed his nose at his own base, how do you think Obama is going appeal to liberals and progressives this time around? By scaring them with the specter of President Palin or President Bachmann, of course. It’s all he has got left going for him at this point.

That’s the way it is in the American political system these days. If you don’t play ball with the big money boys, you’ll never be able to position yourself to stand a chance at being elected to national office, and the corporate owned and thoroughly corrupted mainstream media will never take your candidacy seriously. Just ask Ralph Nader or Dennis Kucinich.

In essence, this system of vetting candidates works very similarly to how the old Communist Party apparatchiks used to do it. Perhaps it’s even worse than that, given that the last guy the Soviets picked at least TRIED to reform the system before it all fell apart on him. You can accurately call Obama a lot of things, but reformer is not among them.
What if we held an election and no one showed up? So you see, I'm not going to be paying much attention between now and November, no matter how much the media says I'm supposed to care about the "horse race". I haven't placed bets on any horse.

BONUS
Still not convinced? Click Here.

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