To Beat Trump, Clinton Resurrects Triangulation and the Politics of Fear

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The enduring cliche of the 2016 election is a comment by Trump that provokes outrage, rebukes, and the declaration, “He’s gone too far.” This happened the moment Trump declared his presidential bid by denigrating Mexicans, then when he attacked veterans, women, the disabled, Muslims, and the judiciary among others, and most recently with his vendetta against Khizr and Ghazala Khan.

Trump’s attack on the Khans seems curious as he had nothing to gain. The couple grabbed the moral high ground at the Democratic National Convention by pointedly telling Trump, “You have sacrificed nothing and no one,” in reference to the death of their son as a U.S. Army officer in Iraq in 2004.

The self-inflicted wounds are unlikely to cause Trump permanent harm, however. The New York Times found his attacks on military members and families mainly affected the opinion of undecided veterans, a sliver of voters. Trump also recovered after a similar racist tirade against a U.S.-born judge overseeing lawsuits against the defunct Trump University. Republicans inside the Beltway freaked out in private over Trump’s antics, but in public they are loathe to break with him when polls show 81 percent of the party supports him along with 41 percent of the public overall.

Moreover, Trump’s ranting about the Khans is consistent with his trickle-down revenge and nativism that’s congealed a white nationalist rebellion around him. It shows little sign of faltering. In battlegrounds like Ohio, North Carolina, and Iowa, Trump trails Clinton by less than 1 percent. And while Democrats have opened up new fronts in Arizona and Georgia, Trump lags by 6 percent or less in delegate-rich states such as Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Nevada.

Digging into local data in Ohio and Pennsylvania exposes the seismic shifts in public attitudes that Trump capitalized on. In Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County, a white working-class enclave Obama won by five points in 2012, Trump has a 23-point lead over Clinton. Ohio’s Mahoning and Trumbull counties are the heart of now-vanished “Little Steel” that Obama handily won in 2012 with more than 60 percent of the vote. But with voters flocking to him, Trump is poised to flip these former union strongholds. Even if many working-class whites are intoxicated by Trump’s racism, they are equally embittered by their declining economic fortunes under Obama.

These whites are America’s Brexit voters, battered workers distrustful of politicians, media, and business leaders who have hoodwinked them for decades about the benefits of globalization and empire, even if their anger is nursed on a diet of bigotry and bizarre conspiracies. So they shrug off Trump’s tantrums or spread slander such as Khan is an “al Qaeda double agent.” As some have told Telesur, they support Trump because they want him “to blow up the system.”

Trump’s allegiance to the Republican Party is limited to hijacking it for his outsized ego and ambitions. But he has a death grip on the wheel of the GOP and is blase about driving it off a cliff. Even in defeat Trump will emerge victorious with an army of aggrieved whites, a fundraising machine, and a megaphone to foment trouble. He is already spinning racially tinged yarns that if he loses it’s because the election is rigged. If Clinton triumphs as seems likely, the Trumpian hordes will treat her as delegitimized even before she assumes office.

Given elite antipathy toward Trump there is a danger of underestimating his chances. In July his campaign and the Republican National Committee hauled in $82 million, mostly in small contributions that indicate the depth and breadth of his support. Fine-tuned demographic analysis reveals up to 10 million more white voters over 45 who lack a college degree—Trump’s bedrock—than previously estimated nationwide. If Trump sticks within a point of Clinton in the polls, this subterranean force could tip the election his way, just like Brexit passed despite consistently trailing in surveys.

Hillary Clinton’s strategy is to revert to Clintonian form. In 1994, congressional Democrats were shellacked by Newt Gingrich’s mob of bigots, bomb-throwers, and conspiracists who established right-wing rule of the House that has lasted for all but four of the last 22 years. Bill Clinton responded with “triangulation,” treating unions and progressives as the left counterpart to the rabid right. He staked out the center with insipid initiatives like a “national conversation on race” and a push for school uniforms meant to distract from his anti-poor agenda that rivaled Reagan’s. Meanwhile, Clinton spent his second-term political capital on free trade, loosening banking and commodities regulations, and supercharging media monopolies.

Fast forward a couple of decades to the 2016 DNC. To their credit, Sanders and his rebellious supporters wrested concessions from the Democrats. But Hillary Clinton’s vague calls for raising Social Security benefits, a living wage, tuition-free college, and a jobs program for infrastructure served a purpose other than placating the left. Her proposals sugar-coated the triangulation at the DNC. Nods to social justice and Black Lives Matter were drowned out by bigwigs extolling patriotism, God, militarism, and American exceptionalism. Gen. John Allen said with Clinton as commander-in-chief, the United States would continue to be the “indispensable, transformational power in the world” with a military that would “defeat ISIS … defeat evil” while equipped with “the finest weapons, the greatest equipment.”

Likewise, the Democrats calculated they could insult their base by featuring Michael Bloomberg as a prime-time speaker with little backlash. As New York City mayor, Bloomberg bitterly fought attempts to end racist stop-and-frisk, had police spy on every mosquein a 100-mile radius, imposed big rent increases on millions, and attacked public schools, social programs, and unions with gusto. Bloomberg was only the first billionaire for Clinton, with Mark Cuban, Meg Whitman, and Warren Buffet trotted out after the convention.Whitman is doubly notable as Clinton had courted the right-wing tech executive and she was joined by other prominent Republicans in backing Clinton.

Then in an utterly cynical maneuver, Obama announced days after the DNC he would push the lame-duck Congress to pass the Trans Pacific Partnership this year. It showed the dishonesty of Clinton and her V.P. pick Tim Kaine in suddenly claiming they were opposed to the trade deal after consistently championing it.

New Deal liberals like Thomas Frank fret that Clinton’s right-wing swerves risk snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. But this is a misreading of history. The elite are aware that the Democrats are more capable managers of capitalist globalization, diplomacy, and war than the Republicans. It’s why Clinton is attracting a bipartisan cast of Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, the mainstream media, and the military and foreign policy establishment.

Clinton also has unions, feminists, and civil rights groups behind her. They serve as progressive window dressing and troops for swing-state trench warfare in return for a “seat at the table” but no real say. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told me at the DNC that organized labor is with Clinton because the Democratic agenda “is our agenda.” When I pressed Trumka about Clinton’s record of supporting nearly every free-trade deal that came before her, he responded, “I’m not worried at all, she’s against TPP” (before smacking me in the face with a cardboard sign).

Trumka is covering for Clinton, and misleading workers, because organized labor has no strategy other than clinging to the globalization express and begging for crumbs off the banquet table. The Democratic election strategy is to win the Rust Belt through micro-targeting of uncommitted whites, a massive canvassing and get-out-the-vote operation, deploying the good ol’ boy band of Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, and Kaine, and pounding Trump in the media from every imaginable angle—including harkening back a half-century to the infamous daisy ad to ring the alarm about Trump with the nuclear codes. Clinton is also counting on Trump to keep shooting himself in the foot, and he looks likely to oblige. Big business, celebrities, and Obama will throw their full weight behind Clinton. Democrats need to peel off only a small percentage of whites in the industrial Midwest to decisively defeat Trump.

Overall, Democrats are happy to paint white workers as irredeemably racist so they can reject working-class politics. If determined, Democrats could enact legal and regulatory changes that provide unions with the tools to rebuild the labor movement. But that would alienate the corporate constituency the Democratic Party belongs to and relies on for its core support. The logical path, then, for the Clintons, Obama, and the rest is to look to the right for votes.

The Democrats are seeking a historic triangulation by trying to occupy the center for a generation. They will then berate the left, telling them there is nowhere else to go, and watch the radical right flail around with guns and sinister ideas, damaging society but not elite power. The Democrats think they can deliver a fatal blow both to Trump and Trumpism with a blowout victory this election, while demographics takes care of any lingering threat. But this is a fantasy as Clinton’s right-wing policies will produce new white nationalist threats, as they did during the 1990s. And elements on the right are taking advantage of the Democrats’ disdain for workers by scheming on how to turn the GOP into “a (white) workers’ party.”

From this viewpoint, the left response is simple: it should do nothing to help Clinton, not even push people to vote for her in swing states. If Clinton can’t beat Trump with the combined might of capital and labor, then a tiny, disorganized, threadbare left is not going to make any difference. Instead, the left should affirm people’s right to decide if they want to vote and then whom to vote for, such as Jill Stein, Sanders, Vermin Supreme (my favorite), or Clinton. And it should denounce Clinton apologists working feverishly to bully or scare people into voting for her. Fear-based politics makes a mockery of any democratic claims.

Jill Stein will far outstrip her 2012 vote total of 469,000 as she harvests the anti-Clinton vote on the left. But her current polling average of 4 percent will shrink by election day, which is typical of third-party candidates. Stein serves a vital role by blasting Clinton for a “terrifying track record” on the economy, foreign policy, and climate change. She reminds voters Clinton is distinctly dangerous. But pouring energy into Stein’s bid replicates the mistake of prioritizing electoral politics above all else. Third-party presidential runs measure discontent that exists. They do little to build radical movements and often divert energy and resources from organizing. (Though local elections can create space and provide aid for movements.)

But there should also be no illusions about a Trump presidency. It would be open season for the police, state, and vigilantes on Black Lives Matter, Muslims, immigrants, Mexicans, and the left. Left forces would be on their heels, fighting limited defensive battles and grateful to survive, even in a weakened state. Whatever remains of Sanders political revolution would dry up and blow away.

But climbing on the Clinton train means muting criticism of her right-wing policies. It would hobble the left going into four years of more war, more free trade, more oil and gas drilling under Clinton. And that’s exactly what the Wall Street Democrats want.

The left should concentrate on what it does best: laying the groundwork for new movements such as the antiwar and global justice movements, Occupy Wall Street, union, immigrant, and low-wage worker organizing, and Black Lives Matter. Clinton has bankers and liberals, pundits and billionaires, hawks and Republicans all advocating for her. Someone needs to advocate for people.

Originally published by Telesur English.

Arun Gupta is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York and has written for publications including the Washington Post, the Nation, Salon, and the Guardian. He is the author of the upcoming “Bacon as a Weapon of Mass Destruction: A Junk-Food-Loving Chef’s Inquiry into Taste” (The New Press).

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/08/08/to-beat-trump-clinton-resurrects-triangulation-and-the-politics-of-fear/

Class Dismissed: Identity Politics to the Front of the Line

The Eggs in Clinton’s Political Basket and the Potential for Radical Transformation

Political discourse in America still takes place within the New Deal/Great Society (ND/GS) framework that dominated the political arena from the end of the Second World War up to the mid-seventies. The terms ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ were central within this settlement. Orthodox politicos who inform themselves through NPR and other mainstream venues occupy a static world. They do not think historically nor do they conceptualize major institutions, like capitalism, in developmental or evolutionary terms. Hence, most of your liberal friends have no idea what the term ‘neoliberalism’ means.

The Obsolescence of the Liberal-vs-Conservative Distinction

The typical American seems unaware that the political-economic arrangement in place for about thirty years after the Second World War, i.e. the legacy of the New Deal and Great  Society (ND/GS), has been repudiated by elites. While government social programs were virtually unknown before the Roosevelt administration, they came to be accepted  -albeit grudgingly by business-  as a permanent part of the political-economic landscape after the War. Americans took for granted government’s ongoing proliferation of programs intended to offer working people some protection from the depredations of the market, in the form of basic social programs like Social Security, unemployment insurance, food stamps, Medicare and Medicaid. Government also offered guarded support of labor unions with for-the-most-part enforcement of labor law. And, no less significant, there was an alphabet soup of regulatory agencies limiting the freedom of business to decide for itself how business was to be done. For the first time in the nation’s history, the class divide was somewhat narrowed. This is what postwar liberalism accomplished. (Europeans’ social wage during this period was far greater than what was offered Americans, but the vast U.S. majority knew virtually nothing of what was taking place in Europe, or anywhere else abroad for that matter.) Americans welcomed the U.S. “welfare state.” After all, it did make possible a degree of material security hitherto unknown to Americans. That ND/GS arrangement is now being dismantled.

The enthusiasts of the moribund postwar institutional framework were called “liberals.” Those who rejected this kind of government activity and hailed the efficiency and discipline of the “free” market were called “conservatives.”

Neoliberalism is No Part of the Liberal Hipoisie’s Political Cosmos

Much of what makes discursive interaction with mainstream Americans so persistently unproductive is the background assumption of orthodox thinking that the ND/GS institutional framework is still in effect. There is no recognition that what used to be called “postwar liberalism” is regarded by economic elites and the major Parties as, in Obama’s words in The Audacity of Hope, “the old-time religion.” The fetishism of the laissez-faire market is in the process of restoration; neoliberalism is now the order of the day. State reallocation of resources to labor independent of the price mechanism, i.e. the market, and regulation, are headed for the political graveyard. There is nothing left for liberals and conservatives to be liberal or conservative about.

The transition from postwar liberalism to neoliberalism began in the mid-1970s. The warning signs soon became unmistakable. Around 1975 union membership and power began a steep decline at the same time as the wage-productivity gap began rapidly to widen. With wages falling ever-farther behind productivity increases, inequality inexorably widened. With collective bargaining on the skids, the median wage began what was to become an unheard of forty-one year decline, with no end in sight. Inequality is now at a historic high and wages have never been lower since the Great Depression. It’s a different world from what many of us grew up in during the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s and the first half of the ‘70s. But you’d never know it talking politics with e.g. the Democratic faithful.

The Need to Propagate a New Political Cosmology

Political exchange between informed radicals and most Americans runs up against a seemingly insuperable obstacle. Two incompatible political-economic cosmologies and corresponding conceptual frameworks collide. It is as if Aristotle were to request of Newton that he clarify his conception of motion, or force, or mass. But, in order that Aristotle comprehend Newton’s response, Newton must employ the language and concepts of Aristotelian physics: prime matter, substantial form, final causality and the rest. Can’t be done. And in politics, there is not only conceptual incommensurability, but normative dissonance as well. The liberal conception of equality is quite different from the radically egalitarian notion.

This is no mere matter of “difference of opinion” or opposing beliefs. What separates genuine egalitarians and democrats from the mainstream goes much deeper. Political education is an essential part of organizing and movement building. It is not sufficient to expose people to more and different facts and “information.” That’s necessary, but not sufficient. It’s about a very different way of thinking about politics and economics, including that we inhabit a very different world, a different political universe, from what the mainstream political commentariat put across in every word they utter.

Identity Politics Obscures Neoliberalism and Class Politics

The Democrats are attempting to enshrine a post-ND/GS way of thinking about what’s most important politically. A salient demographic fact has enabled the Party to believe that its abandonment of political-economic and class issues like poverty, inequality and the support of unions will not affect their aspirations at the polls. The Party’s constituency is growing faster than the Republican Party’s. Minority populations, single women and immigrant groups are growing faster than the white male base of the Republican Party. Democrats conclude that no matter what, they have a permanent head start. That no Democratic presidential candidate since Walter Mondale has campaigned for full employment is not seen by the Party as a political liability. Even a faltering economy, a traditional kiss of death for presidential candidates, does not seem to have punished the Party. Obama was reelected in 2012 when the unemployment rate averaged 9 percent. Since an anemic recovery with rising unemployment was no obstacle to electoral success, the Democrats are convinced that need not address economic issues nor direct attention to the business interests which finance them. They need only address what they take to be their decisive constituencies.Enter identity politics as the predominant way of political thinking.

What has taken the place of class issues are so-called “social issues.” Identity politics is foregrounded among “liberal” elites. We find a perfect illustration of the explicit and unabashed use of identity politics to misdirect attention from economic and class issues in a Hillary Clinton campaign speech at a February rally in Henderson Nevada.

In what was both an attempt to undermine Sanders and a statement of Democratic priorities Clinton portrayed Sanders’s call to break up the big banks as emblematic of any claim that economic issues are central to Americans’ concerns. She plugged herself as “the only candidate who’ll take on every barrier to progress.” Economy-related class issues are not, it seems, related to such barriers.

“Not everything is about an economic theory, right?” Clinton asked her fans. There followed a series of rhetorical questions. The first contained a big lie and a screaming irrelevance:

“If we broke up the big banks tomorrow – and I will, if they deserve it, if they pose a systemic risk, I will – would that end racism?”  Not at all. Nor would it bring back the swing bands.

She continued: “Would that end sexism? Would that end discrimination against the LGBT community? Would that make people feel more welcoming to immigrants overnight?”

This kind of appeal may well contribute to a Clinton victory in November. But there is reason to believe that the strategy is on the verge of losing its effectiveness. I’m convinced that a strong case can be made that the established powers have provided, in the course of moving steadily away from ND/GS to neoliberalism, as-yet-unprocessed materials useful for making class issues once again meaningful to many Americans. It’s easy to forget that the political education I claimed to be essential to effective movement building appeals to peoples’ experience, and not only to good radical arguments and relevant factual information.

The majority of Americans have experienced, often brutally, the ongoing immiseration, the increasing material insecurity, imposed by neoliberal capitalism. And many are aware that these matters are almost entirely absent from mainstream discourse, and from the current electoral campaign. Neoliberalization requires the abolition of class issues from political debate. But with the decline of postwar liberalism, the retrenchment of social programs and the decline of union power, the class divide is now as conspicuous as it has been in the past 120 years. And it is growing. All this has been backgrounded in contemporary political discussion.

It has not been backgrounded in the experience of most Americans. As many commentators have noted, it is the frustration of struggling Americans, especially in the light of Obama’s mendacious 2008 campaign promises, none of which have been kept, that has generated the angry disappointment of Sanders’s and many of Trump’s enthusiasts. A Clinton presidency will magnify the exasperation. The preoccupation with Trump will have disappeared. Popular mistrust will be magnified and the black population might not be as forgiving of Clinton as they have been of Obama. Mounting overseas aggression and the continuing deterioration of most workers’ eco4nomic security could easily make her a one-term president. It is also likely to breed another maniacally authoritarian demagogue, possibly not as buffoonish as Trump. His or her appeal may well be more compelling than Trump’s after four years of Clinton. Historically, this is how fascism grows in the wake of capitalist crisis.

Should this scenario play out, I can foresee no alternative other than the counterweight of a movement better organized and more politically explicit than Occupy was, and savvy enough to seize the day and build on and magnify the potentially transformative disappointment and frustration that motivated the Sanders and some of the Trump crowd. The educational moment to induce people to a new way of thinking about politics will have been put in place. The irrelevance of the liberal-vs-conservative business will be more conspicuous than ever. The capture of the State by finance capital will be virtually undisguised. The fruitlessness of lesser-evil thinking could be made as legitimate a topic of discussion among very many Americans as socialism is now. Who would have imagined five years ago that it was remotely possible that socialism would become a feature of daily discourse? The undermining of lesser-evil thinking would be monumentally corrosive of the entire way of thinking that undergirds taking capitalism and the Party system for granted. The door would be open to questioning the kind of society that always offers a choice between unacceptables. We’ve never had an historical opportunity like this.

Alan Nasser is professor emeritus of Political Economy and Philosophy at The Evergreen State College. His website is:http://www.alannasser.org.  His book, United States of Emergency American Capitalism and Its Crises, will be published by Pluto Press early next year. If you would like to be notified when the book is released, please send a request to nassera@evergreen.edu

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/08/08/class-dismissed-identity-politics-to-the-front-of-the-line/

Listen, your party is the “neo” kind of liberal

Why do the Democrats always disappoint their most loyal supporters? Thomas Frank’s excellent book helps explains the party’s betraying ways, says Lance Selfa.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at the Democratic convention

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at the Democratic convention

THE NEW York Times headline on July 28 said it all: “After Lying Low, Deep-Pocketed Clinton Donors Return to the Fore.”

Nicholas Confessore and Amy Chozick’s article proceeded to document the myriad ways in which corporations, from the Wall Street firm Blackstone Group to for-profit college giant Apollo Education Group, peddled influence at fancy parties around Philadelphia during the Democratic National Convention.

Yes, that Democratic convention. The same one that featured dozens of speakers denouncing Wall Street and crushing student debt? Whose presidential nominee pledged to get big money out of elections?

Turns out that “it’s business as usual,” as Libby Watson of the Sunlight Foundation told the Times writers.

Author Thomas Frank wouldn’t be surprised by this latest glimpse of how the Democratic Party does business. His Listen, Liberal is an engaging and witty demolition of the party, especially its modern post-New Deal incarnation.

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THE DEMOCRATS don’t see it as a contradiction to issue election-year platitudes about supporting “working families” while courting millions from the “rocket scientist” financial engineers behind the Wall Street hedge funds or the self-styled “disrupters” who run for-profit educational corporations.

REVIEW: BOOKS

Thomas Frank, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?, Henry Holt and Co., 2016. 320 pages, $12.99. Find out more at ListenLiberal.com.

As the GEICO TV ad might say, “It’s what they do.”

To Frank, this provides much of the explanation for why the Obama presidency has been such a disappointment for those who believed in candidate Obama’s message of “hope and change” in 2008.

In 2008, the economy was melting down, taking free-market orthodoxy with it. The Democrats swept to power in Congress and the White House. If there was ever a time that the conditions were ripe for a bold reformist program–which would have been massively popular–this was it.

Yet it didn’t happen. Two years later, the Tea Party Republicans took back the House in the midterm elections, and the administration deepened its commitment to austerity and the search for a “grand bargain” for bipartisan support to cut Social Security and Medicare.

Frank rehearses the standard liberal excuses for Obama’s failures, quoting the president himself about how hard it is to get things done (“It’s hard to turn an ocean liner”). Frank then proceeds to knock these down, one by one.

He shows convincingly how, using only executive action, Obama could have unwound the Bush administration bailouts for the Wall Street bankers and pressed bankruptcy judges to reduce or wipe out the mortgage holders’ debt. At the very least, he could have refused to allow executives from the insurance giant AIG to collect their multimillion-dollar bonuses from the taxpayers’ dime.

Instead, Obama and his Treasury team of Ivy Leaguers on leave from Wall Street reassured the banksters that he was on their side. Frank reprises the critical scene from Ron Suskind’s 2010 book Confidence Men: A description of a high-level meeting that began with Obama warning Wall Street that “my administration is the only thing between you and pitchforks”–and ended with a relieved CEO telling Suskind that Obama “could have ordered us to do just about anything, and we would have rolled over. But he didn’t–he mostly wanted to help us out, to quell the mob.”

As Frank concludes:

Having put so much faith in his transformative potential, his followers need to come to terms with how non-transformative he has been. It wasn’t because the ocean liner would have been too hard to turn, or because those silly idealists were unrealistic; it was because [the administration] didn’t want to do those things.

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HOW DID the Democrats come to power amid the worst crisis since the Great Depression and basically operate according to the same-old-same-old model? In trying to explain this, Frank lands on an explanation that is inadequate–more on that below–despite the insights it offers.

To him, the Obama team, like Bill Clinton before him–and probably Hillary Clinton after–couldn’t conceive of a different course because they approached problems from their vantage point as wealthy, highly educated professionals.

Like the whiz kids on Wall Street or health care industry policy wonks, they appreciated complex solutions that balanced multiple interests while generally preserving the status quo. Think of Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank financial reform, whose enforcement regulations are still being written six years after its passage.

The roots of this worship of professional expertise and support for market-based policies, according to Frank, can be found in party operatives’ desire to build a new Democratic coalition to replace the New Deal coalition of the 1930s through the 1960s. From George McGovern’s early 1970s “new politics” to the Democratic Leadership Council’s “new Democrats” of the 1980s and 1990s, these figures sought to distance the party from organized labor in favor of the “new middle class” of credentialed professionals.

Voting statistics show that college graduates still tend to be Republican territory more than Democratic. But there’s little doubt that a middle-class ideology of “social liberalism and fiscal conservatism” reigns supreme in the Democratic Party today.

To show this in full bloom, Frank considers the state of Massachusetts and the city of Boston as exemplars. Both depend heavily on the “knowledge industries” of higher education, finance and health care. And both have been Democratic bastions for generations.

If the Democratic mayors of Boston and a Democratic-dominated statehouse hand out tax breaks to corporations, enact anti-labor pension “reforms,” and promote charter schools or amenities catering to middle-class professionals, it isn’t because Republicans forced them to. It’s because the Democrats actually believe this stuff, and profit from it.

In this “blue state model,” Frank writes:

Boston is the headquarters for two industries that are steadily bankrupting middle America: big learning and big medicine, both of them imposing costs that everyone else is basically required to pay and yet which increase at a pace far more rapid than wages or inflation. A thousand dollars a pill, thirty grand a semester: the debts that are gradually choking the life out of people where you live are what has made this city so very rich.

Left behind are places like Lynn, Massachusetts, a once thriving industrial town, now depopulated and deindustrialized–“engineered by Republicans and rationalized by Democrats,” Frank writes. Or Decatur, Illinois, which Frank revisits 20 years after he had reported on the “War Zone” labor battles that dramatized the death of the American dream for thousands of blue-collar unionized workers

In the mid-1990s, Frank writes:

Decatur was far away from Washington, and its problems made no impression that I could detect on Bill Clinton’s wise brain trust. The New Economy was dawning, creativity was triumphing, old industry was evaporating, and those fortunate enough to be among the ascendant were absolutely certain about the direction history was taking.

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AS WITH so much about the Democratic Party today, all this somehow works its way back to the Clintons.

Frank’s assessment of Bill Clinton’s two terms in office in the 1990s is a crucial antidote to the free-flowing Clinton nostalgia of 2016. Frank says that while he was writing the book:

I would periodically ask my liberal friends if they could recall the progressive laws he got passed, the high-minded policies he fought for–you know, the good things Bill Clinton got done while he was president. Why was it, I wondered, that we were supposed to think so highly of him– apart from his obvious personal affability, I mean? It proved difficult for my libs…

No one mentioned any great but hopeless Clintonian stands on principle; after all, this is the guy who once took a poll to decide where to go on vacation. His presidency was all about campaign donations, not personal bravery– he rented out the Lincoln Bedroom, for chrissake, and at the end of his time in office, he even appeared to sell a presidential pardon.

Frank concedes a few small positive efforts by Clinton: a small increase in taxes on the rich, a failed attempt at health care reform. But the biggest initiatives Clinton won were things that would have been considered Republican policies of an earlier era: the 1994 crime bill that put the “New Jim Crow” described by Michelle Alexander into overdrive; the destruction of the federal welfare system; free trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); and various forms of financial deregulation.

Frank notes that Clinton was conducting backdoor negotiations with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich on a scheme to privatize Social Security. That attempt collapsed during the impeachment battle connected to Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Frank’s crucial point is this. It took a Democrat–one skilled in the double-talk of “feeling the pain” of ordinary people and bolstering those “who work hard and play by the rules”–to push through a wish list of conservative policies that not even Ronald Reagan could win. As Frank writes:

What distinguishes the political order we live under now is a consensus, at least in the political mainstream, on certain economic questions–and what made that consensus happen was the capitulation of the Democrats. Republicans could denounce big government all they wanted, but it took a Democrat to declare that “the era of big government is over” and to make it stick. This was Bill Clinton’s historic achievement. Under his direction, as I wrote back then, the opposition “ceased to oppose.”

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MUCH OF what Frank writes will sound very familiar to regular readers of Socialist Worker. But for liberals who might know Frank from his What’s the Matter with Kansas? or The Wrecking Crew, Listen, Liberal might feel like a bucket of cold water. Especially for those who might be “ready for Hillary” in 2016.

For my money, the entire book is worth the price of the chapter “Liberal Gilt,” where Frank skewers the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and, by extension, what he calls the “liberal class’s virtue quest.”

At the center of this chapter is, of course, Hillary Clinton, whose public persona of “doing good” for “women and children” dissolves against a backdrop of her support for ending welfare in the 1990s and pushing poor women in developing countries into debt through “microcredit.”

As Secretary of State, Clinton marketed global entrepreneurship and the endless “war on terror” as crusades on behalf of women. Through “partnering” on these initiatives with the Clinton Foundation or the State Department, the likes of Walmart and Goldman Sachs can win praise for their social consciousness–or what Frank brilliantly describes as their “purchasing liberalism offsets”:

This is modern liberalism in action: an unregulated virtue-exchange in which representatives of one class of humanity ritually forgive the sins of another class, all of it convened and facilitated by a vast army of well-graduated American professionals, their reassuring expertise propped up by bogus social science, while the unfortunate objects of their high and noble compassion sink slowly back into a preindustrial state.

Frank weaves this analysis around an unforgettable eyewitness account of a Clinton Foundation celebration–held on the socialist holiday of International Women’s Day, no less! The event, at midtown Manhattan’s Best Buy (now Playstation) Theater, touted entrepreneurship for women in the global South. The Clintons, Melinda Gates, Hollywood stars, fashion magazine editors and Fortune 500 leaders came together for an afternoon of self-congratulation.

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YET FOR all that is spot-on in Frank’s critique of the Democrats, the book’s analysis is flawed on two interrelated points.

First, its theory of the Democrats as a party of educated professionals suffers from what might be called a crude class analysis.

When Marxists argue that the Democrats and Republicans are “capitalist” parties, we don’t mean that a cabal of capitalists acts as their puppet masters from behind the scenes. We mean that through various means–from political contributions to expert advice to control of the media–various capitalist interests assure that the mainstream political parties implement policies that allow the capitalist system to thrive and reproduce itself.

Scholars such as Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers have documented why we should understand shifts in the mainstream capitalist parties as shifts in blocs of capital rather than shifts in voting bases. Ferguson has even demonstrated how Obama’s support from Silicon Valley is linked to the administration’s care and nurturance of the surveillance state.

Frank doesn’t cite any of this analysis. Thus, in arguing that the Democrats’ current embrace of Silicon Valley neoliberalism is somehow a product of “well-graduated” Democrats’ fascination with “complexity,” “innovation” and “disruptive” app-driven services like Uber and AirBnB, Frank misses the close integration of the Democratic Party with the capitalist class.

The Democrats may have been capitalism’s B-Team over the last generation, but they’re not the Washington Generals, forever bested by the Harlem Globetrotters.

Second, understanding the Democrats as a party of Ivy League professionals–and not as one of the two big business parties in the U.S.–implies that it can be reclaimed as the “party of the people” or the party of the “working class,” as Frank believes it was in its New Deal heyday.

This characterization forgets that, in many ways, the Democrats were capitalism’s A-Team during that period. And if the Trumpization of the Republicans continues, the Democrats may end up as the first-stringers again. The 2016 Clinton campaign certainly hopes so.

Listen, Liberal is a great read for this election season. While Frank concludes that the state of affairs that brought us to Clinton against Trump “cannot go on,” he’s not sure where to go. Charting that course is a challenge the left faces today.

https://socialistworker.org/2016/08/04/your-party-is-the-neo-kind-of-liberal

The Republican Party is going to die

CLEVELAND — Avik Roy is a Republican’s Republican. A health care wonk and editor at Forbes, he has worked for three Republican presidential hopefuls — Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Marco Rubio. Much of his adult life has been dedicated to advancing the Republican Party and conservative ideals.

But when I caught up with Roy at a bar just outside the Republican convention, he said something I’ve never heard from an establishment conservative before: The Grand Old Party is going to die.

“I don’t think the Republican Party and the conservative movement are capable of reforming themselves in an incremental and gradual way,” he said. “There’s going to be a disruption.”

Roy isn’t happy about this: He believes it means the Democrats will dominate national American politics for some time. But he also believes the Republican Party has lost its right to govern, because it is driven by white nationalism rather than a true commitment to equality for all Americans.

“Until the conservative movement can stand up and live by that principle, it will not have the moral authority to lead the country,” he told me.

This is a standard assessment among liberals, but it is frankly shocking to hear from a prominent conservative thinker. Our conversation had the air of a confessional: of Roy admitting that he and his intellectual comrades had gone wrong, had failed, had sinned.

His history of conservatism was a Greek tragedy. It begins with a fatal error in 1964, survived on the willful self-delusion of people like Roy himself, and ended with Donald Trump.

“I think the conservative movement is fundamentally broken,” Roy tells me. “Trump is not a random act. This election is not a random act.”

The conservative movement’s founding error: Barry Goldwater

 (William Lovelace/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Barry Goldwater.

The conservative movement has something of a founding myth — Roy calls it an “origin story.”

In 1955, William F. Buckley created the intellectual architecture of modern conservatism by founding National Review, focusing on a free market, social conservatism, and a muscular foreign policy. Buckley’s ideals found purchase in the Republican Party in 1964, with the nomination of Barry Goldwater. While Goldwater lost the 1964 general election, his ideas eventually won out in the GOP, culminating in the Reagan Revolution of 1980.

Normally, Goldwater’s defeat is spun as a story of triumph: how the conservative movement eventually righted the ship of an unprincipled GOP. But according to Roy, it’s the first act of a tragedy.

“Goldwater’s nomination in 1964 was a historical disaster for the conservative movement,” Roy tells me, “because for the ensuing decades, it identified Democrats as the party of civil rights and Republicans as the party opposed to civil rights.”

Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He himself was not especially racist — he believed it was wrong, on free market grounds, for the federal government to force private businesses to desegregate. But this “principled” stance identified the GOP with the pro-segregation camp in everyone’s eyes, while the Democrats under Lyndon Johnson became the champions of anti-racism.

This had a double effect, Roy says. First, it forced black voters out of the GOP. Second, it invited in white racists who had previously been Democrats. Even though many Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act in Congress, the post-Goldwater party became the party of aggrieved whites.

“The fact is, today, the Republican coalition has inherited the people who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — the Southern Democrats who are now Republicans,” Roy says. “Conservatives and Republicans have not come to terms with that problem.”

Conservative intellectuals were blind to the truth about the GOP — hence Trump

The available evidence compiled by historians and political scientists suggests that 1964 really was a pivotal political moment, in exactly the way Roy describes.

Yet Republican intellectuals have long denied this, fabricating a revisionist history in which Republicans were and always have been the party of civil rights. In 2012, National Review ran a lengthy cover story arguing that the standard history recounted by Roy was “popular but indefensible.”

This revisionism, according to Roy, points to a much bigger conservative delusion: They cannot admit that their party’s voters are motivated far more by white identity politics than by conservative ideals.

“Conservative intellectuals, and conservative politicians, have been in kind of a bubble,” Roy says. “We’ve had this view that the voters were with us on conservatism — philosophical, economic conservatism. In reality, the gravitational center of the Republican Party is white nationalism.”

Conservative intellectuals, for the most part, are horrified by racism. When they talk about believing in individual rights and equality, they really mean it. Because the Republican Party is the vehicle through which their ideas can be implemented, they need to believe that the party isn’t racist.

So they deny the party’s racist history, that its post-1964 success was a direct result of attracting whites disillusioned by the Democrats’ embrace of civil rights. And they deny that to this day, Republican voters are driven more by white resentment than by a principled commitment to the free market and individual liberty.

“It’s the power of wishful thinking. None of us want to accept that opposition to civil rights is the legacy that we’ve inherited,” Roy says.

He expands on this idea: “It’s a common observation on the left, but it’s an observation that a lot of us on the right genuinely believed wasn’t true — which is that conservatism has become, and has been for some time, much more about white identity politics than it has been about conservative political philosophy. I think today, even now, a lot of conservatives have not come to terms with that problem.”

This, Roy believes, is where the conservative intellectual class went astray. By refusing to admit the truth about their own party, they were powerless to stop the forces that led to Donald Trump’s rise. They told themselves, over and over again, that Goldwater’s victory was a triumph.

But in reality, it created the conditions under which Trump could thrive. Trump’s politics of aggrieved white nationalism — labeling black people criminals, Latinos rapists, and Muslims terrorists — succeeded because the party’s voting base was made up of the people who once opposed civil rights.

“[Trump] tapped into something that was latent in the Republican Party and conservative movement — but a lot of people in the conservative movement didn’t notice,” Roy concludes, glumly.

For conservatism to live, the conservative movement has to die

 (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Cal)

A sign with one of the RNC’s most popular slogans.

Over beers, I ask Roy how he feels about all of this personally. His answer is very sad.

“When Marco [Rubio] lost, I went through the five stages of grief. It was tough. I had to spend some time thinking about what to do for the next several years of my life,” he says.

“I left a comforting and rewarding career as a biotech investor to do this kind of work. I did it because I felt it was important, and I care about the country. Maybe it’s cheesy to say that, but I really sincerely do,” he continues. “So then, okay, what do I do? Do I do the same things I’ve been doing for the last four years? To me, just to do that to collect a paycheck didn’t make a lot of sense.”

This soul-searching led Roy to an uncomfortable conclusion: The Republican Party, and the conservative movement that propped it up, is doomed.

Both are too wedded to the politics of white nationalism to change how they act, but that just isn’t a winning formula in a nation that’s increasingly black and brown. Either the Republican Party will eat itself or a new party will rise and overtake its voting share.

“Either the disruption will come from the Republican Party representing cranky old white people and a new right-of-center party emerging in its place, or a third party will emerge, à la the Republicans emerging from the Whigs in the [1850s],” Roy says.

The work of conservative intellectuals today, he argues, is to devise a new conservatism — a political vision that adheres to limited government principles but genuinely appeals to a more diverse America.

“I think it’s incredibly important to take stock,” he says, “and build a new conservative movement that is genuinely about individual liberty.”

I don’t know how this would work. I don’t think Roy knows either.

For the entire history of modern conservatism, its ideals have been wedded to and marred by white supremacism. That’s Roy’s own diagnosis, and I think it’s correct. As a result, we have literally no experience in America of a politically viable conservative movement unmoored from white supremacy.

I’ve read dozens of conservative intellectuals writing compellingly about non-racist conservative ideals. Writers like Andrew Sullivan, Ross Douthat, Reihan Salam, Michael Brendan Dougherty, and too many others to count have put forward visions of a conservative party quite different from the one we have.

But not one of these writers, smart as they are, has been able to explain what actual political constituency could bring about this pure conservatism in practice. The fact is that limited government conservatism is not especially appealing to nonwhite Americans, whereas liberalism and social democracy are. The only ones for whom conservatism is a natural fit are Roy’s “cranky old white people” — and they’re dying off.

Maybe Roy and company will be able to solve this problem. I hope they do. America needs a viable, intellectually serious right-of-center party.

Because we now know what the alternative looks like. It’s Donald Trump.

 


Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems

Financial meltdown, environmental disaster and even the rise of Donald Trump – neoliberalism has played its part in them all. Why has the left failed to come up with an alternative?

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher at the White House.
‘No alternative’ … Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher at the White House. Photograph: Rex Features

Imagine if the people of the Soviet Union had never heard of communism. The ideology that dominates our lives has, for most of us, no name. Mention it in conversation and you’ll be rewarded with a shrug. Even if your listeners have heard the term before, they will struggle to define it. Neoliberalism: do you know what it is?

Its anonymity is both a symptom and cause of its power. It has played a major role in a remarkable variety of crises: the financial meltdown of 2007‑8, the offshoring of wealth and power, of which the Panama Papers offer us merely a glimpse, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, the collapse of ecosystems, the rise of Donald Trump. But we respond to these crises as if they emerge in isolation, apparently unaware that they have all been either catalysed or exacerbated by the same coherent philosophy; a philosophy that has – or had – a name. What greater power can there be than to operate namelessly?

So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognise it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law, like Darwin’s theory of evolution. But the philosophy arose as a conscious attempt to reshape human life and shift the locus of power.

Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.

We internalise and reproduce its creeds. The rich persuade themselves that they acquired their wealth through merit, ignoring the advantages – such as education, inheritance and class – that may have helped to secure it. The poor begin to blame themselves for their failures, even when they can do little to change their circumstances.

Never mind structural unemployment: if you don’t have a job it’s because you are unenterprising. Never mind the impossible costs of housing: if your credit card is maxed out, you’re feckless and improvident. Never mind that your children no longer have a school playing field: if they get fat, it’s your fault. In a world governed by competition, those who fall behind become defined and self-defined as losers.

Among the results, as Paul Verhaeghe documents in his book What About Me? are epidemics of self-harm, eating disorders, depression, loneliness, performance anxiety and social phobia. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that Britain, in which neoliberal ideology has been most rigorously applied, is the loneliness capital of Europe. We are all neoliberals now.

***

The term neoliberalism was coined at a meeting in Paris in 1938. Among the delegates were two men who came to define the ideology, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. Both exiles from Austria, they saw social democracy, exemplified by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the gradual development of Britain’s welfare state, as manifestations of a collectivism that occupied the same spectrum as nazism and communism.

In The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944, Hayek argued that government planning, by crushing individualism, would lead inexorably to totalitarian control. Like Mises’s book Bureaucracy, The Road to Serfdom was widely read. It came to the attention of some very wealthy people, who saw in the philosophy an opportunity to free themselves from regulation and tax. When, in 1947, Hayek founded the first organisation that would spread the doctrine of neoliberalism – the Mont Pelerin Society – it was supported financially by millionaires and their foundations.

With their help, he began to create what Daniel Stedman Jones describes in Masters of the Universe as “a kind of neoliberal international”: a transatlantic network of academics, businessmen, journalists and activists. The movement’s rich backers funded a series of thinktanks which would refine and promote the ideology. Among them were the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Centre for Policy Studies and the Adam Smith Institute. They also financed academic positions and departments, particularly at the universities of Chicago and Virginia.

As it evolved, neoliberalism became more strident. Hayek’s view that governments should regulate competition to prevent monopolies from forming gave way – among American apostles such as Milton Friedman– to the belief that monopoly power could be seen as a reward for efficiency.

Something else happened during this transition: the movement lost its name. In 1951, Friedman was happy to describe himself as a neoliberal. But soon after that, the term began to disappear. Stranger still, even as the ideology became crisper and the movement more coherent, the lost name was not replaced by any common alternative.

At first, despite its lavish funding, neoliberalism remained at the margins. The postwar consensus was almost universal: John Maynard Keynes’s economic prescriptions were widely applied, full employment and the relief of poverty were common goals in the US and much of western Europe, top rates of tax were high and governments sought social outcomes without embarrassment, developing new public services and safety nets.

But in the 1970s, when Keynesian policies began to fall apart and economic crises struck on both sides of the Atlantic, neoliberal ideas began to enter the mainstream. As Friedman remarked, “when the time came that you had to change … there was an alternative ready there to be picked up”. With the help of sympathetic journalists and political advisers, elements of neoliberalism, especially its prescriptions for monetary policy, were adopted by Jimmy Carter’s administration in the US and Jim Callaghan’s government in Britain.

After Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan took power, the rest of the package soon followed: massive tax cuts for the rich, the crushing of trade unions, deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing and competition in public services. Through the IMF, the World Bank, the Maastricht treaty and the World Trade Organisation, neoliberal policies were imposed – often without democratic consent – on much of the world. Most remarkable was its adoption among parties that once belonged to the left: Labour and the Democrats, for example. As Stedman Jones notes, “it is hard to think of another utopia to have been as fully realised.”

***

It may seem strange that a doctrine promising choice and freedom should have been promoted with the slogan “there is no alternative”. But, as Hayek remarkedon a visit to Pinochet’s Chile – one of the first nations in which the programme was comprehensively applied – “my personal preference leans toward a liberal dictatorship rather than toward a democratic government devoid of liberalism”. The freedom that neoliberalism offers, which sounds so beguiling when expressed in general terms, turns out to mean freedom for the pike, not for the minnows.

Freedom from trade unions and collective bargaining means the freedom to suppress wages. Freedom from regulation means the freedom to poison rivers, endanger workers, charge iniquitous rates of interest and design exotic financial instruments. Freedom from tax means freedom from the distribution of wealth that lifts people out of poverty.

Naomi Klein documented that neoliberals advocated the use of crises to impose unpopular policies while people were distracted. 

As Naomi Klein documents in The Shock Doctrine, neoliberal theorists advocated the use of crises to impose unpopular policies while people were distracted: for example, in the aftermath of Pinochet’s coup, the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina, which Friedman described as “an opportunity to radically reform the educational system” in New Orleans.

Where neoliberal policies cannot be imposed domestically, they are imposed internationally, through trade treaties incorporating “investor-state dispute settlement”: offshore tribunals in which corporations can press for the removal of social and environmental protections. When parliaments have voted to restrict sales of cigarettes, protect water supplies from mining companies, freeze energy bills or prevent pharmaceutical firms from ripping off the state, corporations have sued, often successfully. Democracy is reduced to theatre.

Another paradox of neoliberalism is that universal competition relies upon universal quantification and comparison. The result is that workers, job-seekers and public services of every kind are subject to a pettifogging, stifling regime of assessment and monitoring, designed to identify the winners and punish the losers. The doctrine that Von Mises proposed would free us from the bureaucratic nightmare of central planning has instead created one.

Neoliberalism was not conceived as a self-serving racket, but it rapidly became one. Economic growth has been markedly slower in the neoliberal era (since 1980 in Britain and the US) than it was in the preceding decades; but not for the very rich. Inequality in the distribution of both income and wealth, after 60 years of decline, rose rapidly in this era, due to the smashing of trade unions, tax reductions, rising rents, privatisation and deregulation.

The privatisation or marketisation of public services such as energy, water, trains, health, education, roads and prisons has enabled corporations to set up tollbooths in front of essential assets and charge rent, either to citizens or to government, for their use. Rent is another term for unearned income. When you pay an inflated price for a train ticket, only part of the fare compensates the operators for the money they spend on fuel, wages, rolling stock and other outlays. The rest reflects the fact that they have you over a barrel.

In Mexico, Carlos Slim was granted control of almost all phone services and soon became the world’s richest man. 

Those who own and run the UK’s privatised or semi-privatised services make stupendous fortunes by investing little and charging much. In Russia and India, oligarchs acquired state assets through firesales. In Mexico, Carlos Slim was granted control of almost all landline and mobile phone services and soon became the world’s richest man.

Financialisation, as Andrew Sayer notes in Why We Can’t Afford the Rich, has had a similar impact. “Like rent,” he argues, “interest is … unearned income that accrues without any effort”. As the poor become poorer and the rich become richer, the rich acquire increasing control over another crucial asset: money. Interest payments, overwhelmingly, are a transfer of money from the poor to the rich. As property prices and the withdrawal of state funding load people with debt (think of the switch from student grants to student loans), the banks and their executives clean up.

Sayer argues that the past four decades have been characterised by a transfer of wealth not only from the poor to the rich, but within the ranks of the wealthy: from those who make their money by producing new goods or services to those who make their money by controlling existing assets and harvesting rent, interest or capital gains. Earned income has been supplanted by unearned income.

Neoliberal policies are everywhere beset by market failures. Not only are the banks too big to fail, but so are the corporations now charged with delivering public services. As Tony Judt pointed out in Ill Fares the Land, Hayek forgot that vital national services cannot be allowed to collapse, which means that competition cannot run its course. Business takes the profits, the state keeps the risk.

The greater the failure, the more extreme the ideology becomes. Governments use neoliberal crises as both excuse and opportunity to cut taxes, privatise remaining public services, rip holes in the social safety net, deregulate corporations and re-regulate citizens. The self-hating state now sinks its teeth into every organ of the public sector.

Perhaps the most dangerous impact of neoliberalism is not the economic crises it has caused, but the political crisis. As the domain of the state is reduced, our ability to change the course of our lives through voting also contracts. Instead, neoliberal theory asserts, people can exercise choice through spending. But some have more to spend than others: in the great consumer or shareholder democracy, votes are not equally distributed. The result is a disempowerment of the poor and middle. As parties of the right and former left adopt similar neoliberal policies, disempowerment turns to disenfranchisement. Large numbers of people have been shed from politics.

Chris Hedges remarks that “fascist movements build their base not from the politically active but the politically inactive, the ‘losers’ who feel, often correctly, they have no voice or role to play in the political establishment”. When political debate no longer speaks to us, people become responsive instead to slogans, symbols and sensation. To the admirers of Trump, for example, facts and arguments appear irrelevant.

Judt explained that when the thick mesh of interactions between people and the state has been reduced to nothing but authority and obedience, the only remaining force that binds us is state power. The totalitarianism Hayek feared is more likely to emerge when governments, having lost the moral authority that arises from the delivery of public services, are reduced to “cajoling, threatening and ultimately coercing people to obey them”.

***

Like communism, neoliberalism is the God that failed. But the zombie doctrine staggers on, and one of the reasons is its anonymity. Or rather, a cluster of anonymities.

The invisible doctrine of the invisible hand is promoted by invisible backers. Slowly, very slowly, we have begun to discover the names of a few of them. We find that the Institute of Economic Affairs, which has argued forcefully in the media against the further regulation of the tobacco industry, has been secretly funded by British American Tobacco since 1963. We discover that Charles and David Koch, two of the richest men in the world, founded the institute that set up the Tea Party movement. We find that Charles Koch, in establishing one of his thinktanks, noted that “in order to avoid undesirable criticism, how the organisation is controlled and directed should not be widely advertised”.

The words used by neoliberalism often conceal more than they elucidate. “The market” sounds like a natural system that might bear upon us equally, like gravity or atmospheric pressure. But it is fraught with power relations. What “the market wants” tends to mean what corporations and their bosses want. “Investment”, as Sayer notes, means two quite different things. One is the funding of productive and socially useful activities, the other is the purchase of existing assets to milk them for rent, interest, dividends and capital gains. Using the same word for different activities “camouflages the sources of wealth”, leading us to confuse wealth extraction with wealth creation.

A century ago, the nouveau riche were disparaged by those who had inherited their money. Entrepreneurs sought social acceptance by passing themselves off as rentiers. Today, the relationship has been reversed: the rentiers and inheritors style themselves entre preneurs. They claim to have earned their unearned income.

These anonymities and confusions mesh with the namelessness and placelessness of modern capitalism: the franchise model which ensures that workers do not know for whom they toil; the companies registered through a network of offshore secrecy regimes so complex that even the police cannot discover the beneficial owners; the tax arrangements that bamboozle governments; the financial products no one understands.

The anonymity of neoliberalism is fiercely guarded. Those who are influenced by Hayek, Mises and Friedman tend to reject the term, maintaining – with some justice – that it is used today only pejoratively. But they offer us no substitute. Some describe themselves as classical liberals or libertarians, but these descriptions are both misleading and curiously self-effacing, as they suggest that there is nothing novel about The Road to Serfdom, Bureaucracy or Friedman’s classic work, Capitalism and Freedom.

***

For all that, there is something admirable about the neoliberal project, at least in its early stages. It was a distinctive, innovative philosophy promoted by a coherent network of thinkers and activists with a clear plan of action. It was patient and persistent. The Road to Serfdom became the path to power.

Neoliberalism’s triumph also reflects the failure of the left. When laissez-faire economics led to catastrophe in 1929, Keynes devised a comprehensive economic theory to replace it. When Keynesian demand management hit the buffers in the 70s, there was an alternative ready. But when neoliberalism fell apart in 2008 there was … nothing. This is why the zombie walks. The left and centre have produced no new general framework of economic thought for 80 years.

Every invocation of Lord Keynes is an admission of failure. To propose Keynesian solutions to the crises of the 21st century is to ignore three obvious problems. It is hard to mobilise people around old ideas; the flaws exposed in the 70s have not gone away; and, most importantly, they have nothing to say about our gravest predicament: the environmental crisis. Keynesianism works by stimulating consumer demand to promote economic growth. Consumer demand and economic growth are the motors of environmental destruction.

What the history of both Keynesianism and neoliberalism show is that it’s not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed. For Labour, the Democrats and the wider left, the central task should be to develop an economic Apollo programme, a conscious attempt to design a new system, tailored to the demands of the 21st century.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/15/neoliberalism-ideology-problem-george-monbiot

The 1 Percent’s Useful Idiots

Posted on Jul 26, 2016

By Chris Hedges

  It’s official: Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Party’s nominee for president. (schroepfer / Flickr)

PHILADELPHIA—The parade of useful idiots, the bankrupt liberal class that long ago sold its soul to corporate power, is now led by Sen. Bernie Sanders. His final capitulation, symbolized by his pathetic motion to suspend the roll call, giving Hillary Clinton the Democratic nomination by acclamation, is an abject betrayal of millions of his supporters and his call for a political revolution.

No doubt the Democrats will continue to let Sanders be a member of the Democratic Caucus. No doubt the Democrats will continue to agree not to run a serious candidate against him in Vermont. No doubt Sanders will be given an ample platform and media opportunities to shill for Clinton and the corporate machine. No doubt he will remain a member of the political establishment.

Sanders squandered his most important historical moment. He had a chance, one chance, to take the energy, anger and momentum, walk out the doors of the Wells Fargo Center and into the streets to help build a third-party movement. His call to his delegates to face “reality” and support Clinton was an insulting repudiation of the reality his supporters, mostly young men and young women, had overcome by lifting him from an obscure candidate polling at 12 percent into a serious contender for the nomination. Sanders not only sold out his base, he mocked it. This was a spiritual wound, not a political one. For this he must ask forgiveness.

Whatever resistance happens will happen without him. Whatever political revolution happens will happen without him. Whatever hope we have for a sustainable future will happen without him. Sanders, who once lifted up the yearnings of millions, has become an impediment to change. He took his 30 pieces of silver and joined with a bankrupt liberal establishment on behalf of a candidate who is a tool of Wall Street, a proponent of endless war and an enemy of the working class.

Sanders, like all of the self-identified liberals who are whoring themselves out for the Democrats, will use fear as the primary reason to remain enslaved by the neoliberal assault. And, in return, the corporate state will allow him and the other useful idiots among the 1 percent to have their careers and construct pathetic monuments to themselves.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will be pushed through whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. The fracking industry, fossil fuel industry and animal agriculture industry will ravage the ecosystem whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. The predatory financial institutions on Wall Street will trash the economy and loot the U.S. Treasury on the way to another economic collapse whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. Poor, unarmed people of color will be gunned down in the streets of our cities whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. The system of neoslavery in our prisons, where we keep poor men and poor women of color in cages because we have taken from them the possibility of employment, education and dignity, will be maintained whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. Millions of undocumented people will be deported whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. Austerity programs will cut or abolish public services, further decay the infrastructure and curtail social programs whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. Money will replace the vote whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. And half the country, which now lives in poverty, will remain in misery whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton becomes president.

This is not speculation. We know this because there has been total continuity on every issue, from trade agreements to war to mass deportations, between the Bush administration and the administration of Barack Obama. The problem is not Donald Trump. The problem is capitalism. And this is the beast we are called to fight and slay. Until that is done, nothing of substance will change.

To reduce the political debate, as Sanders and others are doing, to political personalities is political infantilism. We have undergone a corporate coup. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will not reverse this coup. They, like Barack Obama, know where the centers of power lie. They serve these centers of power.

Change will come when we have the tenacity, as many Sanders delegates did, to refuse to cooperate, to say no, to no longer participate in the political charade. Change will come when we begin acts of sustained mass civil disobedience. Change will come when the fear the corporate state uses to paralyze us is used by us to paralyze the corporate state.

The Russian writer Alexander Herzen, speaking a century ago to a group of anarchists about how to overthrow the czar, reminded his listeners that it was not their job to save a dying system but to replace it: “We think we are the doctors. We are the disease.”

We are here not to reform the system. We are here to overthrow it. And that is the only possibility left to restore our democracy and save our planet. If we fail in this task, if this system of corporate capitalism and globalization is not dismantled, we are doomed. And this is the reality no one wants to speak about.

We will have to be in the political wilderness, perhaps for a decade. But a decade ago Syriza, the party now ruling Greece, was polling at only 4 percent. This is what the Green Party is polling today. We will not bring about systemic change in one or two election cycles. But we can begin to build a counterweight to the corporate state. We can begin to push back.

We must find the courage not to be afraid. We must find the courage to follow our conscience. We must find the courage to defy the corporate forces of death in order to affirm the forces of life.

This will not be easy. The corporate state—once its vast systems of indoctrination and propaganda do not work to keep us passive, once we are no longer afraid, once we make our own reality rather than accommodating ourselves to the reality imposed upon us—will employ more direct and coercive forms of control. The reign of terror, the revocation of civil liberties, the indiscriminate violence by the state will no longer be exercised only against poor people of color. The reality endured by our poor sisters and brothers of color, a reality we did not do enough to fight against, will become our own.

To allow the ideological forces of neoliberalism to crush our ideals and our values is to fall into a deadly cynicism and despair. To allow the consumer culture and the cult of the self, which lies at the heart of capitalism, to seduce us is to kill our souls. Happiness does not come with the accumulation of wealth. Happiness does not come from possessions or power. These are narcotics. They numb and kill all that is noble and good within us. Happiness comes when you reach out in solidarity to your neighbor, when you lend your hand to the stranger or the outcast, when you are willing to lose your life to save it. Happiness comes when you have the capacity to love.

Our span of life, in the vastness of the universe, is insignificant. I will be 60 soon. The arch of my own life is beginning to draw to a close. We all will die. How do we use the miracle of this flash of light that is called life?

Albert Camus wrote, “One of the only coherent philosophical positions is revolt. It is a constant confrontation between [human beings] and [their] obscurity. It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope. That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it.”

He said further, “A living [person] can be enslaved and reduced to the historic condition of an object. But if he [or she] dies in refusing to be enslaved, he [or she] reaffirms the existence of another kind of human nature which refuses to be classified as an object.”

There is only one way to rebel. You fight for all of the oppressed or none of the oppressed. You understand that there is no country. Our country is the earth. We are citizens of the world. Nationalism is a disease. It is a disease we must purge. As long as a Muslim family suffers in a refugee camp in Syria or an LGBT person suffers from the bigotry imposed by the Christian heretics in the Christian right, we all suffer.

There are desperate single mothers struggling to raise children on less than $10,000 a year in some Philadelphia neighborhoods. Many of these children go to bed hungry. There are unemployed workers desperate to find a job and restore their dignity. There are mentally ill and homeless we have abandoned to the streets. There are Iraqi and Afghan families living in terror, a terror we have inflicted on them, in the futile and endless wars waged to enrich the arms industry. There are men and women being tortured in our worldwide archipelago of secret detention centers. There are undocumented workers whose families we have ripped apart, separating children from parents, or imprisoned.

This is reality. It is the only reality that matters. It is a reality we must and will change. Because, as the great socialist Eugene V. Debs, who upon being sentenced in 1918 for violating the Sedition Act by defying the madness of World War I, said, “I recognized my kinship with all living beings. I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

Augustine wrote that hope has two beautiful daughters, anger and courage—anger at the way things are and the courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.

The fight will be hard and difficult. It will require love and self-sacrifice. It will require anger and courage. It is the greatest moral imperative before us. Those who do not defy the evil become its accomplice. We may not succeed. But we must be among those of whom future generations will say: They tried. They dared to dream. They dared to care. They dared to love. They enabled those who followed to press on in the struggle.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_1_percents_useful_idiots_20160726

Pentagon wants Clinton, racists want Trump — either way Wall St. wins

trump_clinton (1)In May 2015, weeks before Donald Trump declared his candidacy, he took a friendly phone call from his long-time golf buddy Bill Clinton. On the call, Clinton, according to the Washington Post, “encouraged Trump’s efforts to play a larger role in the Republican Party and offered his own views of the political landscape.” (Both sides admit to the call). Hillary Clinton had declared her own candidacy days earlier.

The Washington Post article continued, “People with knowledge of the call in both camps said it was one of many that Clinton and Trump have had over the years, whether about golf or donations to the Clinton Foundation.”

Indeed, federal records show the Trump family donated to Hillary Clinton in 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2007. He gave at least $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation. In Trump’s star-studded 2005 wedding, it was none other than Sen. Hillary Clinton who got the seat in the front row—ahead of Billy Joel, Katie Couric, Tony Bennett and all the rest of the celebrities.

They’re all friends. This is the truth that neither the Clinton or Trump teams will admit now that they are trading insults on a daily basis on the campaign trail. Trump brags about his assets that surpass $1 billion, while Clinton plays down her wealth to appear “relatable.” But they are of the same social class and they travel in the same elite circles. Bill and Hillary Clinton themselves have a net worth of $111 million—from a “career in public service.” The Trumps and Clintons call each other for advice. They party, socialize and golf together. They even use the exact same tax havens—Trump and Clinton have registered their private corporations at the same Delaware address, alongside  285,000 other corporate entities.

The candidates are not identical, of course. Trump’s brazen racism and sexism has given confidence to like-minded people nationwide to follow his example. His campaign has had the effect of throwing open the window to the smell of the country’s rotting bigotry—a stink that will not be easily removed even if he loses. If he were to turn his unconstitutional campaign promises into actual policies, they would amount to a virtual declaration of war against immigrant and Muslim communities.

On the other side, Clinton offers Black and Latino communities sweet phrases while ejecting and talking down to Black Lives Matter activists who dare bring up her real record as a politician. She was a champion of the militarization of the police, of mass incarceration policies, the gutting of welfare, and record-setting deportations.

Trump bears responsibility for dozens of racist assaults and hate crimes while mainstreaming a culture of bigotry that will undoubtedly lead to more. Clinton bears responsibility for a decades-long political assault on Black and Latino communities.

Many rightfully wonder if Trump’s reckless language and unchecked machismo would lead to new wars, including nuclear ones. But Clinton’s declared foreign policies are perhaps more dangerous. Her saber-rattling against Russia and for NATO expansion plans and aggressive interventionism in Syria, Ukraine and Libya follow the neoconservative playbook and constitute the most plausible real-life scenarios for World War III.

Before, during and after the Iraq war, Clinton marched in lockstep with the Bush administration. No wonder the whole Republican foreign policy establishment is backing her over Trump!

Domestically, Hillary Clinton has built a career around doing the bidding of Wall Street and even served “proudly” as a director for the low-wage corporate giant Walmart. A champion of the bank bailout, she and Bill Clinton received $153 million in speaking fees since 2000 for 51 speeches to banks. To this day, she has refused to release the transcripts from those speeches. She recently accepted the endorsement of Henry Paulson, onetime CEO of Goldman Sachs and secretary of the treasury during the Bush and Obama administrations. Before engineering the bank bailout, Paulson made hundreds of millions off of the toxic home loans that left millions of people in the U.S. without livelihoods or homes.

Trump embodies a whole class of sleazy landlords and developers, who buy favors and regulatory changes from politicians to make super-profits at the expense of poor and working-class tenants. So the choice is between Trump, a billionaire who buys out politicians, and Clinton, a politician in the employ of billionaires.

That’s the current state of American “democracy” in a nutshell: a pure sham, a rigged process dripping with corporate money to ensure the selection of an ultra-rich racist imperialist. Trump and Clinton each have higher unfavorable ratings than any presidential candidate in U.S. history. A recent tweet captured the sentiment of millions: “there must be a cheaper way to find the worst people in society.”

How to defeat Trump and the far-right

Since 1978, the cost of tuition has gone up 1,100 percent. Health care has gone up 600 percent. Food has gone up 240 percent and shelter has gone up 380 percent. Meanwhile, typical wages have just risen 10 percent and minimum wage workers have seen their wages plummet 5 percent. The wealth of average CEOs has gone up 937 percent.

The Democratic and Republican establishments have together engineered the country’s vast inequality with anti-worker trade deals, de-unionization, the deregulation of Wall Street and the elimination of social services. They have fed hatred of immigrants, attacked the Black community, and pitted workers against each other in election after election. This status quo, which Clinton represents, is what gave birth to the Trump phenomenon in the first place, and her presidency would also provide fertile ground for continued far-right organizing. Quite simply, supporting Clinton is not the way to beat back Trump.

To really defeat the far-right and Trump, it will take a movement against Wall Street—demanding health care, jobs, housing and education as guaranteed rights and standing up militantly against racism and xenophobia.

Into the elections—and beyond

Third-party candidates are growing in popularity. The Libertarian and Green party candidates polling higher than ever and the Party for Socialism and Liberation is seeing more national interest in socialist politics than in previous campaigns. But the corporate media is giving these candidates pitifully little media coverage and is expected to exclude them from the presidential debates. So the country is being told to pick between Donald Trump and the guest of honor at his most recent wedding.

Millions, we hope, will disobey these orders and reject the false choice between the widespread misery of the status quo and far-right chauvinism. In either case, regardless if Trump or Clinton wins, there is no question that the future will be one of even more intense struggle. It will be struggle for the working class in general, for all oppressed communities, as well as for the movements for peace and environmental justice.

https://www.liberationnews.org/pentagon-wants-clinton-racists-want-trump/

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