Michelle’s ostentatious trip to Europe underscores the huge chasm between leaders and led in this pretentious “democracy”.
PATRICE GREANVILLE | [print_link]
PHOTO: Michelle Obama deplaning in Spain.
Billing itself as the best democracy the world has ever seen (it’s actually, quite literally, the best democracy that money can buy), the system continues to show a cynical disregard for the demands of the masses.
• Most Americans want an end to constant war.
They get more war.
• Most Americans would want to see the bankster class kicked out of government, in jail or worse, and their casinos properly regulated (or eliminated) but what they get to see is more of this class at the highest levels dictating policy, and robbing the public treasury (in broad daylight) to the tune of trillions of dollars;
• By a large plurality, Americans wanted to see BP and its ilk handled with aplomb, the corporate masters put in their places, and the environment finally protected. What they got is more largesse for the corporations (including BP which now stands to get the US taxpayer to foot a big chunk of the bill for its crimes in the Gulf), more hot air from the White House and the political class, and a continuation of business as usual. Apparently, the greatest manmade ecological disaster in the history of this heavily abused planet has made no permanent impression on the country’s leadership (and media), as Obama is already getting ready to allow BP to drill offshore in the Arctic. The only delays we may get to see in connection with this decision have more to do with the recency of the Gulf of Mexico ecocide, and the reluctance (cowardice) of Democrats to risk having another monster blowup in an area widely perceived to be even more fragile and difficult to work in than the Gulf. So the calculus, as usual, is not about the fate of earth, or us, but the political survival of the Democratic illusion.
Americans are normally (and, regrettably, with much justification) accused of being world-class ignoramuses and patsies when it comes to politics; their passivity (think of the brave Greeks and the much maligned French) and “forgiveness” by now legendary in the face of continuous effrontery by the plutocracy and its henchmen, but this must be said in their defense: despite all these vices, the undeniable defeatism and cowardice evidenced in so many quarters (some of this no doubt deliberately abetted by the powers that be through their omnipresent propaganda and escapism system), Americans when given half a chance show that they are way ahead of their so-called leaders. Consider:
• Already back in 1975 the WSJ warned its audience that Americans 3 to 1 were in favor of a universal health system. This precious capital was eventually squandered and betrayed by Hillary Clinton and more recently Obama;
• Barring media frenzies over some supposed threat, again almost 65% of all Americans would welcome a drastic reduction in military expenditures;
• Religion—amid what appears to be an advancing blob of hyper-religiosity—is actually retreating, as the nation is becoming more secular. Atheists, never too popular in America, have surprisingly expanded their beachhead over the last two decades. And many more people declare themselves agnostic;
• By a margin of 2 to 1 Americans remain solidly against the notion of privatizing social security and other “income net” programs.
There are many other indicators pointing in the same direction.
So the marvel is not so much that almost half of the American citizenry is comprised of card-carrying idiots and lunatics ready and aggressively willing to shoot themselves in the foot, but that despite a nonstop torrent of misinformation and apologia for the royalist corporate status quo and the questionable values it feeds upon, more than half of all Americans remain stoutly progressive and enlightened in their views.
The Obamas: tone deaf or plain dumb?
Which brings us to the riddle of the First Couple. They say that there’s no greater fool than s/he who believes his own press. Apparently the Obamas—the recipients of a preposterous amount of adulation by the regular courtiers and kingmakers—have drank too much of the poisoned chalice. That, of course, would assume they were tangibly better before their ascension to the American throne, a contention I refute, but even so, where’s the smarts in playing the coy populistoid card they used to such advantage?
All rightwing/Republican cricitism of Obama you can toss it in the rubbish heap (self-serving dept.), where it belongs, but there’s a legitimate critique from the left, which remains largely muted.
This is not the place to recite again the long list of substantive betrayals and inept maneuvers by Obama and his handpicked operatives, a list that by now includes just about every important facet of the nation’s destiny, from healthcare to peace, jobs, and a new economic brueprint in accord with the environment, but to remark on the relative superficialities that give the man away. Like questions of style and timing. Isn’t Obama aware that in less than 2 years he has become a leading contender for the world’s demagogy championship? The gap between his rhetoric and deed now routinely exceeds the Grand Canyon, and all signs point toward further expansion. Since his academic accomplishments —while not exceptional—are indisputable, this is clearly an indication that the man suffers from a huge blind spot, one likely to originate in hubris, perhaps, or just plain nerdism, or an improbable combination of the two, as most nerds tend to be rather insecure. More perilously, this suggests a marked atrophy in his political alarm mechanism.
The handling of the Gulf crisis (and the Bankster crisis before that) illustrated some of these peculiarities. Like a man painting by numbers, he said and did all the requisite things, including the castigations of evildoers, well enunciated proclamations of being in control, at the helm of the ship of state, yada yada, but there was a robotic, cold quality to the whole exercise, as if his heart was not really in it, which probably wasn’t.
Sensing blood, the Right accused him of a lack of passion. This may be unfair, but it is true that Barack Obama would rather be seen as priggishly professorial or fully presidentialese rather than emotional. There’s a troublesome aesthetic dysmorphia here. Accordingly, throughout the Gulf of Mexico tragedy he showed little credible passion about the issues at hand. This is more than sad because the martyrdom of the Gulf was a great occasion to truly galvanize the masses behind a program of authentic renewal and independence in questions of energy and corporate control. Massive, non-exportable employment gains could be easily envisioned from a sturdily-financed program of federal investment in alternative energy solutions, not just some token funds to generate talking points.
Sure, the criminal Republicans would have been an obstacle to any policy of genuine clean energy self-sufficiency, but that’s to be expected. As declared shills for the reigning plutocrats, they are not interested in what benefits the nation as a whole. Their political motions are solely designed to bolster the short-term gains of their masters, and to line their own pockets. Fine. But the opportunity was there, writ large, for a leader to grab the moment and run with it. What did our putatively smart supreme leader do? Like Lincoln’s vain Gen, McLellan, with enormous odds in his favor, he ran from the fight. So he blew it. The moment may have passed. Today we are smoothly edging back to the dirty business as usual.
Middlebrow passions—an oxymoron?
Before leaving the question of whether or not Obama is a “passionate” man, or if he ought to be, we should pause for a moment to inquire how the straitjacket of conventionality may have flattened his feeble attempts at liberating himself from a presidential etiquette grounded in Mrs. Post’s platitudes.
In this official “middle class nation” (no American politician these days will be caught dead defending the working class, but that’s another story) the “safely conventional” to which most media and politicians subscribe and pretend to serve is something of a martinet when it comes to dependable mediocrity. It enforces it with ferocity.
Since this nation came to life in the 18th century, a growing lore of unexamined beliefs has begun to define and anticipate the workings of the American mind, which is by now solidly and unapologetically “middlebrow”. One such belief posits the ludicrous notion that true intellectuals—well, let’s say, true thinkers—are by nature devoid or above passion. This is as laughable as the implicit wisdom of the monosyllabic Western hero.
I’m not talking here about heavy-duty philosophical questions, although they do naturally exist in this realm, but of lighter stuff, stuff which nonetheless seems to weigh unduly in the hearts and minds of those insufficiently sure of themselves, folks of the Obama variety I suspect.
That Obama may have erred in choosing to act like a prig on almost every official function is borne out by a long cultural and political record with countless examples in which intellect and passion joined to deliver victory and acclaim.
Engaged, passionate intellectuals are in the forefront of British, French, and German politico-intellectual history, an unbroken heritage dating back millennia, to the Greco-Roman cradle of modern civilization, and beginning with, among others, Julius Caesar himself. Even the most cursory review yields a rich crop, here at random: Erasmus, Voltaire, Thomas More, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Goethe, Stendhal, Jean Jaurés, Victor Hugo, Zola, Nietsche, Camus, Sartre, Disraeli, Marx, Engels—all famous for their passionate beliefs and even legendary rages. Closer to home, we find, with ease, people like Teddy Roosevelt, much underrated as an intellect, along with of course Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, and Franklin, all of whom could be and were fiery when the occasion called for such displays. Thomas Paine, to whom we owe so much, was also well known for his outspoken ways, and so was Lincoln, who, while not given much to raising his voice, could dominate an audience by the sheer force of his convictions.
Well, so much for Barack Obama. I guess he just doesn’t get it. Stay tuned for further bulletins as more avoidable crises engulf the nation.
Michele’s faux pas?
But if Obama is himself politically tone deaf, don’t presidential wives, according to middlebrow convention, have the sagacity to spot such defects and cover them up through timely advice? Not if you’re Michel Obama, apparently.
The poisoned tongues of the Republican “opposition” have been wagging silly about Michelle’s summer escapade to Europe, sans mari, accusing the First Lady of all manner of insensitivity. Considering the utterly polluted source of such complaints, as applies to her husband’s own faux pas, it’s easy to disregard if not the substance the honesty of such proclamations. But, try as we might, something in this five-day vacation doesn’t sit well with the remnants of our tattered democratic faith. (We’re using small “d”, folks.)
While it’s unlikely that this trip by Michelle O will be as widely and maliciously commented as Evita’s own pilgrimage to the old country —a trip marred by the British Queen’s quiet rebuff—the excesses offer some embarrassing parallels. With the nation still mired in the Great Recession, with the sting of the Great Bankster Robbery and pseudo reforms still fresh in our memory, and with stubborn unemployment and underemployment, the timing is awful and indefensible, especially for a couple enjoying power as VIPs in a party that still claims to represent the masses. In that sense, the booking of 60 rooms in one of the poshest hotels in Spain, the hobnobbing with royals in their palaces, and the inclusion, at taxpayer expense, of a grotesquely overblown entourage, is simply lacking in elementary sensibility, not to mention political self-preservation. So how do we account for such blatant displays of “tone-deafism”?
Existence determines ideology
Accurate social and historical understanding is something more than science and a little bit short of art, but in that rarified realm of political sociology Marx and Engels, the perennially slandered prophets of scientific socialism, brooke few equals. Both men believed that existence (read: class) largely conformed a person’s ideology, and I think they were right. Leaving aside the glorious perks of current office, the Obamas are professional American upper middle class, millionaires to boot, and therefore far removed from the travails of the average working class American piecing an existence on less than $40 K net a year for a family of four. In terms of sensibility, they have much more in common (as do the Clintons et al) with their Republican political “opponents” than with their own party’s rank and file. The priorities and “urgencies” of ordinary Americans have little resonance among such folks, a fact that should be obvious by now to even the most obtuse of true believers.
By dint of true and profound sensitivity —and a superior social and political empathetic imagination—some privileged people can overcome such existential blinders. Marx and Engels themselves came from privileged backgrounds. Zhou Enlai, Mao’s dependable ally, sprang from a well established Chinese family of scholars and high bureaucrats. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, both issued from the well-to-do landowning/upper class of Latin America. But all these people were authentic revolutionaries. The Obamas are clearly not cut from such cloth. They can pretend to really care. But, as mediocrities, they can never climb out of their existential trench.
PATRICE GREANVILLE is The Greanville Post’s founding editor, and Editor in Chief of Cyrano’s Journal Online.