So are we there yet? Some thoughts as they occur, probably to be consolidated in an omnibus post.
We begin where we are. Political science and philosophy lead to the same diagnosis: today’s America is a hybrid demotic-oligarchy. The hybrid qualifier? Existing institutions are deployed as both hammer and victim. Oligarchy, while increasingly bold, prefers to act through intermediaries. Economic difficulties may highlight oligarchical self-serving action. They still remain, good times or bad. But you already knew that.
All should know by 2011 oligarchy and the Movement are momentarily bed fellows. Koch money et al. funds the Movement. To agitate on tax cuts or issue X. The Movement remains distinct. Across history oligarchies typically are overthrown by authoritarianism. See, e.g. Venice, Genoa, Rome (and even Athens, which was never a republic but a democracy) Or your own example.
Oligarchical rule is never sustainable. It’s primarily extractive and self-interested nature leads to dissipation or opposition, usually chaotic or disorganized because political institutions have atrophied. Thus enters the Man on the White Horse to restore order. (Oligarchical money of course also famously funds Democrats).
Howard Fineman’s ‘we are watching slow rolling secession (from democratic pluralism)’ sums it up. He’s late to the realization; still a nice turn of phrase. We should be clear what this means. When societies reach this devolutionary point, there usually is no ‘re-set’. Things don’t just go ‘back to the way they were’ (see post on Audacity’s failure below).
Politics and society have changed. A by-product of Obama’s refusal to implement (and defend) roll-back of the 2001-2008 corrosion. We should adapt accordingly. For the post-Obama world.
Do Democrats want to challenge the game? Today’s circumstances demand a thorough intellectual re-boot. Secession from pluralism requires a new ideological response. Even if Dems must play the money game without reform. The hardest part? Just beginning it all. Democrats have paralyzed themselves with tropes like seeing a snapshot poll and muttering “America is center right anyway”. Forgetting *that’s* the result only after decades of almost totally unopposed Movement AgitProp. How far do Democrats really want to move the cheese?
History will record the brief American intoxication with the Obama Audacity Campaign a reckless gamble. Strategically, the Campaign had two components necessary for success. The first was to overwhelm and penetrate Republican/Movement ranks with the power of personality to seize control of American government in 2008. The second, assuming opponents’ psychological surrender, was to govern by verbosity, intention and situational accommodation via the existence of a wholly undefined ‘new politics’.
That Campaign failed. Its second phase rout fueled the seemingly impossible: Obama re-energized, strengthened and then mainstreamed the most radical Movement elements. From being mere marginalized ghosts gnawing on themselves in the shadows 3 years ago Obama planted their radicalism firmly in the center-most heart of American politics. It is a catastrophe of almost unimaginable proportions.
The Audacity Campaign’s core failure is that its second phase, successful control of government and validation through re-election, was non-sensical from the outset. The entire venture’s success would be possible only if its opponents agreed to cooperate, stand down and join the so-called ‘new politics’. Audacity meant Obama never controlled his victory conditions, nor his future (and the Nation’s).
The importance of this ‘new politics’ to the Audacity Campaign is almost always overlooked by political pundits. In phase two Obama did not intend to govern as a traditional political figure. But neither he (nor his advisors who asked for more crises) thought to ask why would political opponents so recently defeated cooperate in their further eclipse? Naturally no contingency plans laid out.
Despite their grousing about the administration during the Netroots Nation conference, liberal activists and bloggers are relatively happy with President Barack Obama’s performance.
A straw poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research showed that 80 percent either approve or strongly approve of the president more than a year before voters head to the polls to decide whether he deserves a second term.
And all the timebombs
They’re all dancing to the same song
In a world full of no one
I am a someone
I am a timebomb
An overly mannered, attempted droll reference to our torch-carrying friends in the Movement? Too lazy. Their er, tea bagging and now their subconscious projections via guns and swastikas a boring commonplace.
We resurrect this catchy pop tune because it seems to apply to all of us this August, beyond the Movement fringe. We sense a Nation in the lull before a storm. The latent potential for frustrated expression is not an exclusive trait of our brownshirted irrational Fox Lovers. (We will concede them the franchise on violence, ‘May Pole’-esque reverence for ‘big’ guns and Corporal homages). What strikes us this August is how many non-political acquaintances are openly expressing frustration over dashed expectations. These are the majority of Americans who demanded ‘change’ last Fall but don’t particularly care whether Laurence O’Donnell was chief of the Senate Finance Committee staff, what Wilkerson has to say (on anything), or whether John Dean thinks Pepsi’s new logo is worse than Watergate.
Our view remains that Obama’s best function historically is to stabilize the Republic after 8 years of Christian Socialist Authoritarian misrule. Ideally, he would need two terms to return governing to a non-radical, non-extra-legal meme basis. We do not see it in him actually to roll back the damage. That will be up to one later who can build on a stabilzed foundation with a clearer restorative purpose. We personally are not reacting in this post to all the Rightist August frenzy per se. It’s to be expected. Even a stabilizing caretaker simply counter-flooding watertight compartments in our ship to compensate for huge holes left by the Warlord would galvanize the Movement eventually. Cost of doing business. We just didn’t expect Obama or the Democrats to be so pitifully unprepared.
Why shouldn’t one expect some competency? We’ve debated here in our cozy little corner whether he took on too much at once, had no alternative, could have prioritized, etc. What can not be denied, we believe, is that it is imperative that he be seen as having done something well. At least one thing. We know of almost no one who trusts Geithner and Summers. If Liz Warren, our old acquaintance is skeptical, knowing how her mind works, we are too. We do not share the Obama team’s enthusiasm for war in Afghanistan or a prolonged presence in Iraq. We never understood why so much of the deficit should be for more Republican tax cuts in the pitifully small stimulus when the tax cuts got no Republican support anyway. One could go on. They did handle Swine Flu reasonably (the Biden-on-the-plane-thing merely loopy). But to be this clumsy over 1/7 of the economy after the bailouts?
Should he prove to be neither competent nor progressive it may well be the worst of all outcomes for those wary of the Counter-Enlightenment Will to Power: general disillusionment combined with a radically energized, irrational Movement raging for revenge. His first 8 months suggest a very good ordinary politician feeling his way through a learning curve. But these are not ordinary times. Our biggest disappointment beyond competency? Team Obama shows the Stiftung time and again that at the core they, like Reid, Pelosi and the rest, do not understand the regime they overthrew in Fall 2008 or the shards coalescing for a re-match.
The tissue of American commitment to civil society, civil liberties and liberal democracy has always been more gossamer thin than most suppose. Obama revealed as ordinary tactical pol with mixed competency facing a galvanized Movement? One wonders if the commitment withstands that challenge. Let’s hope Obama doesn’t put it to the test. For our sakes, we hope he succeeds. On at least one thing.
In that sense, we are all timebombs. Ticking, ticking timebombs.