By David Michael Green
Lee Atwater, (see right) George Bush I’s political tricks advisor, spinning CBS Bob Schieffer (easy). A reactionary hick from South Carolina, where his ilk remains in plentiful supply, he supposedly repented for his deeds in his deathbed, at a relatively early age.
THESE GUYS ARE GOOD. They understand the necessity of remaking the world when the actual one we live in would never dream of embracing their destructive initiatives. These guys could not only sell ice to Eskimoes, they could peddle dirt to an ant colony. They could market garbage at the county dump. They could sell crap to the local sewer district.
We know this, because they do it all the time. The entire regressive agenda is based on lies, most of them both whopping in scale and utterly transparent to any remotely sentient human being. How, then, has it succeeded so well these last thirty years? There are many answers to that question, including, especially, the collapse in confidence of alternative ideologies, the wholesale, marked-down-today-only, outright purchase of the Democratic Party by corporate interests, and the stunning derogation of duty by the mainstream media. But one key answer involves the work of these masters at the marketing of deceit.
And one of their greatest achievements has been to pick up the whole ideological playing field and move it about a thousand miles to the right. This is what I mean by remaking reality. They’ve created a whole new normal. And in this new normal, anything to the left of Dick Cheney is liberal, if not far left. And that, of course, includes the hated Barack Obama sitting like some squatter in their White House.
As it happens, I hate Barack Obama, too. And my reasons for doing so are piling up fast. But I would never mistake him for a liberal. And that, in fact, is one of the things I most despise about this disastrous fool of a president. I couldn’t possibly care less what happens to him, other than hoping for fate to return the favor after all he’s done (and, especially, failed to do) to the country he promised to rescue. But I do care about progressivism (or liberalism, if one prefers – I typically avoid that term now that the Atwaters and Luntzs have turned it into something slightly less hated than pedophilia), and I’m furious that this pathetic president and his horrid little whorehouse of a political party, who are about as liberal as George W. Bush was, are taking down the political ideas I care about with their own sinking ship.
By not refuting the false accusations that he is a liberal or even a socialist, and by running an abysmal presidency, Obama has done as much as the scum on the right in service to wrecking a set of ideas that are not only noble and correct, but are desperately needed now by a country imploding under the weight of the regressive politics which has been ascendant for thirty years now. Worst of all – and quite by design – Americans are forgetting what any sort of progressive politics would even actually look like. Orwell understood the significance of this phenomenon so well he made it the existential nightmare of his protagonist, Winston Smith. All Winston wanted to do was to hold onto some sense of a tangible reality. O’Brien, his torturer, showed him what happens when power not only wants to win battles, but better yet end them forever by eliminating the very opposing ideas people might embrace.
In that spirit, it’s well to remember what a progressive America might actually look like, and how different that is from the botched abortion of bogus liberalism that is supposed to be Democratic Party policy today.
Let’s start with what the Democrats – who, after all, control the government – should have started with: the economy. People are miserable and frightened today because they have so much job insecurity. The so-called liberals in Washington provided them with a ‘jobs summit’ as a remedy. And then there was that amazing stimulus bill that was one-third tax cut sop for Republicans (who still wouldn’t vote for it), mostly otherwise pork barrel legislation for the benefit of members of Congress, and still too small anyhow to do much good. The right has been apoplectic ever since, calling it the socialist takeover of America. Hell, it wasn’t even remotely liberal. A real progressive solution would have been big, and would have involved government spending to stimulate the economy and create jobs, either directly on the government payroll, or through incentives to the private sector. In reality, the Democratic plan has failed to revive the economy – not because it was progressive but, quite the contrary, because it wasn’t remotely so.
The same is true with respect to what got us into this mess. Conservative catechism teaches that regulation is evil. Like Satan. And Saddam. Real progressives understand that it is entirely necessary. Take it away and greedy pigs masquerading as human beings will sell their own children for a buck, discounting them on a volume deal if you buy the whole brood. Even after the experience of the Great Depression, regressive predators couldn’t satiate their greed enough, so they dismantled the regulatory structure of the mid-twentieth century that had brought prosperity to so many Americans. That old system was real liberalism, ladies and gentlemen. Calling what Obama or Bill Clinton have done by that name is an insult to the intelligence of people everywhere (even in America, where it is so scarce). Clinton was absolutely no less a friend to corporate America than Ronald Reagan, and Obama has made zero serious attempt to outlaw the very practices that got us into the economic nightmare we’re digging out from now, while simultaneously rescuing the Wall Street pigs from the destructive fruits of their own greed. That’s liberal? Who messed with my dictionary while I was napping?
The same is true of government spending. Obama is now proposing cuts to federal spending, a pretty unliberal thing to do. He wants all those cuts to come from the domestic side, and none at all from an astonishingly bloated military budget that dwarfs the combined total of every other country in the world. A real progressive would spend money on people, not on more weapons crack to feed the ‘defense’ contractors’ insatiable addictions. Now Obama is pushing his ‘bipartisan’ deficit-cutting commission, to be led by Erskine Bowles, a Clinton hack, and Alan Simpson, a Reagan-era regressive whack job. Guess how that’s gonna turn out?
Look at what supposedly constitutes ‘socialized medicine’ for another great example of the total disconnect between rhetoric and reality that regressive mythmakers have so successfully fabricated. The Democratic plan is a complete exercise in idiocy for one reason and one reason only. It twists itself into pretzel-like contortions in order to avoid confronting the simple basic problem at the core of the country’s health care woes: the useless and parasitic private insurance industry inserted between the public and their health care delivery. These racketeers provide absolutely no value added whatsoever, but suck up one-third of every dollar spent on health care. What a coincidence that we spend about exactly that much more per capita than any other country in the world, and still die younger. A progressive plan would do what almost every other developed country has successfully done for decades, and simply nationalize health care. What the supposedly liberal/socialist Democrats are doing instead is proposing to massively expand the great insurance scam by forcing thirty or forty million Americans to buy insurance from these profiteers or get fined for failing to do so. Sorry. That’s about as liberal as the electric chair. And about as health-inducing too.
Energy policy provides another great example. Big Daddy Liberal in the White House is running around the country nowadays flacking for nuclear power, proposing billions in federal loan guarantees to underwrite a dangerous technology that is not even economically feasible without government assistance. Jackson Browne must be spinning in his grave, and he’s not even dead yet. If nuclear power is the liberal answer to energy questions, then Sarah Palin is a giant of political philosophy. But since Palin, The Great Defender Against Rampaging Ruskies, couldn’t tell Putin from pet food, non-zombies amongst us can also agree that a liberal energy policy would look a lot more like a giant national effort to develop alternative fuel sources than the reinvigoration of the one kind of energy production liberals absolutely hate the most.
The question of civil liberties provides another spot-on example. Remember how the elder Bush won office by trashing his hapless opponent as a card-carrying member of the ACLU? Well, this White House has made almost no serious departures from the human rights horrors promulgated by Junior Bush. Obama says we don’t torture. Guess what? So did Bush. Obama says he wants to close Guantánamo, but hasn’t. Guess what? So did the Cowboy Caligula. Obama has also kept and in some cases extended a plethora of the Texas Torquemada’s policies, ranging from indefinite detention to rendition for sub-contracted torture to state secrets to executive authority and beyond. For all this – which is nearly identical to the little shop of horrors that Cheney ran – Obama’s ‘liberal’ national security policies are being regularly trashed by regressives as left-wing capitulation to terrorists, not least by the monster himself, Dick “Dick” Cheney. You have to be insane to think this is liberalism. I guarantee you they’re not popping champagne corks in the ACLU offices across the country in celebration of the new respect-for-civil-liberties sheriff come to town.
It’s true that Obama and the Democrats have talked about ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. That’s pretty impressive, eh? They’re so liberal that they’re now, er, coming up right behind Colin Powell, Bob Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Now there’s a crop o’ radical lefties for you. You could organize a pretty good Maoist revolutionary cell with that lot, I’ll tell ya. And, of course, the emphasis remains on the term “talked about”. That’s all he’s done so far. Obama also talked about closing Gitmo. In fact, he promised us he would do it in a year. Didn’t happen. He talked about bringing new transparency to Washington, especially in the health care negotiations. Didn’t happen. He talked about leaning on the Israelis to stop building settlements in the West Bank. They just built more and he did nothing. Are you getting the picture here? Obama talking about civil rights for gays literally puts him on the same moral and ideological plane as Dick Cheney, who – because his daughter is a lesbian – actually has similar politics on this issue as the current president. Do I need to mention that Ol’ Dick is not the most liberal fellow to be found in America?
But speaking of liberals, do you remember them ever clamoring for more war? Remember back in the Nam days. Weren’t the liberals on the side of ending the war? Remember in 2003. Weren’t liberals trying to block the Bush thugs from invading Iraq? This president has massively escalated the American military presence in Afghanistan, while also significantly increasing the use of drone missile attacks in Pakistan. Maybe I need to lay off the Boone’s Farm for a little while, ‘cause I’m feeling kinda confused. I always thought the liberals were the anti-war crowd.
We could go on and on here, folks. The current Democratic government in Washington bears no resemblance whatsoever to liberalism. We know this, because we know what a real progressive government would actually do. It would spend a pile of money to create jobs and stimulate the economy. It would regulate economic actors so that they served the public interest or were instead promptly disappeared. It would create a universal, publicly-funded, national health care plan. It would launch a major initiative to create a new alternative energy industry. It would resurrect the Bill of Rights and restore human rights to the American legal system. It would act immediately to guarantee that all people were subject to equal treatment, regardless of their sexual orientation. It would be searching for political solutions to the conflict in Afghanistan and bringing troops home, rather than escalating the war.
This is what real liberalism would look like in America today, and this is not remotely comparable to what the so-called liberals in Washington are actually doing. None of it is, let alone all of it.
It’s really quite amazing. First, because of how regressive Obama has turned out to be. In all honesty, I cannot think of a single serious policy or action by this president that could be genuinely called liberal, with perhaps the possible exception of reversing the Republican clamp-down on stem cell research and on overseas abortion counseling (yet he’s also been simultaneously selling out abortion rights at home in legislating the health care debacle). I mean it. Obama may be a stylistic breath of fresh air after Bush (but, then, a rotting corpse would be, too) – but substantively, he’s little short of W’s third term. In fact, Bush was even more progressive than Obama if you compare their two signature health care initiatives. One of those two guys came up with a plan to massively increase government-provided benefits to the public. (Shhh! That’s called socialism.) Guess, what? It wasn’t Obama.
But what’s really amazing is how Obama is broadly perceived as being a liberal. This is just yet another framing victory by the right, and one of stunning proportions. By erroneously tagging Obunkster with the bleeding-heart liberal moniker, they manage to simultaneously tear him down, make liberalism unpalatable to the public, and shift the center of political gravity so far starboard that even a right-wing president like Obummer and his band of Democratic merry men become unacceptable because they are insufficiently regressive.
Like I said, you have to admire these guys for their craft. You know. Just like you have to admire the Holocaust for its good ol’ German efficiency.
Meanwhile, though, it’s scary that America has so little in the way of a real progressive option in our politics.
It’s scary that those politicians who are today widely considered to be liberal are in fact mostly deeply regressive.
And it’s scary that we keep following the same right-wing prescriptions, decade in and decade out, even though they have done nothing but wreck the planet, wreck the country, and wreck the lives of individual Americans.
But what is really scary is that we are now losing the capacity to even contemplate what a progressive set of politics would look like. These ideas are now so marginalized that people increasingly can’t even conceive of them anymore.
Orwell would be horrified. Comrade O’Brien would be very proud indeed.
When DAVID MICHAEL GREEN is not ranting about politics, he’s (by self-admission) busy poisoning the minds of America’s next generation of leaders, as an associate professor of Political Science at Hofstra University, located in Hempstead, New York. His website, THE REGRESSIVE ANTIDOTE archives his political essays.