‘A week’s a lifetime in . . . ‘ and all that. But since January 2009 Obama’s rhetorical excess, stolid, workmanlike management and an objective external environment fracturing in fractal splendor presage a pre-revolutionary moment. How fitting that with all the ambient moral depravity AIG is the potential catalyst.
Dear Reader you know our AIG schtick. We worked with the president of a major AIG component company (it is organized on the Chinese trading house model) and his General Counsel. We’d take the Shuttle up to LaGuardia with their lawyer (he represented the President and First Lady across cable TV a decade ago every day) after meeting with Cheney’s son-in-law (in turn, General Counsel at OMB (and a nice guy, actually)). In the City we’d all discuss how the House would do X, AIG would deliver the Chamber on Y, OVP would get Z, Greenberg would pocket billions and if pleased beyond that invite people to join him on his private golf course. That was Zeus deigning to take villagers to his Mons Olympus private spa with ‘happy finish.’
Blah, blah, blah. We’ve also written erratically here and at STSOZ 1.0 that Microsoft might be the most mendacious corporate culture we’ve dealt with at CXO/VP level. Or AIG. Or a certain defense contractor. It’s always among those three, though. Even after Grassley’s cri de coeur beseeching AIG executive seppuku we still think it’s a close call. Startling upon reflection to reach that conclusion to be candid.
So AIG and all that. But the tectonic movements that generate political explosions ripping apart the Old Order are actually understood in the traditional framework of American political science (i.e., not the current Borders/B. Daltons manifestation). There are clinically observable, distinct tectonic shifts that appear across modern revolutions up through 1917 and even 1989-1991: (a) dashed generational expectations; (b) shattered social contracts; (c) social, cultural and intellectual leadership malfeasance; (d) fiscal calamity; (e) manifestly incompetent government; and (f) a public bungling of state coercive power (military, judicial, etc.).
The WaPo tells us that L’Affaire AIG – gasp- ‘saps Obama’s (note still not demoted yet to Boy King) political capital. The horror! We also pay the WaPo to tell us that the anger in America is ‘populist’ (and thus down market).
Based on our thumbnail tectonic outline above stolen liberally from the more nuanced classic J. Davies When Men Revolt and Why (Free Press, 1971) the Stiftung discerns tectonic shifts, plates moving off inertia. Three are obvious – fiscal calamity, shattered social contract (Wall Street/consumerist American self image) and complete elite failure to articulate the moment — the real significance of Jon Stewart taking down CNBC et al. What remain in play are dashed expectations, government incompetence, and the penultimate step, a failed demonstration of State coercive power in any particular arena, judicial, paramilitary, etc.
Obama is what keeps these three in check for the moment. He will eventually lose on dashed expectations no matter what. Boomers, Millennials and the rest have not internalized the gap between their vacant life expectations and reality. Obama teeters on the incompetence issue. Geithner is merely a poster child for the meme, the stalking horse. Still could go either way but the Administration needs to act and be seen acting fast. Failed State coercive power is almost always the last domino so we can pick events on the horizon to watch.
Obama appeared on the scene in a way too early to allow revolutionary zeitgeist to form. We were on the cusp of it under the Warlord but Obama’s promise of competence and Change tamped it back. How tragic if he were to end up being the transitional figure, the Herald for the Next Act.
Readers here know our love for and commitment to liberal democracy. And also our long standing concern that its veneer is not as deep or durable as we may wish it to be. But just know this is the template or prism by which we watch the various meme wars of such and such day. And we are rooting definitely for the President and all of us to succeed.