One of the core missions of the Democratic Party is to perform overclass tasks that, due to the branding/false product differentiation requirements of the bipartisan marketing effort that is politics in the market-totalitarian United States, the Republican wing of the junta cannot accomplish when playing the leading role.
Inspired by Stepin Fetchit Obama's especially proud and diligent work in this direction this past weekend, I thought I might take a look at what he's also accomplished in the wider realm of public opinion at this time of especially obvious need for new kinds and heightened levels of public enterprise.
The basis for doing so is a comparison of 2008 results and 2010 results along a series of topics as measured by the General Social Survey. This survey, which generally affirms (with the important exceptions of crime/jail, welfare, foreign aid spending) the Chomskian thesis that the U.S. public is substantially to the left of its supposed representatives, asks people whether they think their government is spending "too much," "about right," or "too little" on various sorts of projects.
Zerobama, who at crucial moments in his own award-winning "campaign" in 2008 suggested he was studying books about FDR, is, of course, a Democrat elected to preside over by far the most serious economic implosion since corporate capitalism's Second Great Depression in the 1930s.
So, shall we SMBIVAns take a quick look at what Obummer has done to the public mind on the topic of public enterprise?
Here are the percentage-point changes in the U.S. public's view of government spending by topic area, from 2008 to 2010, per the latest GSS:
Improving and Protecting the Environment
percentage saying "too little" being spent: -7.2 percentage saying "too much" being spent: +2.0
On reflection, it's really very unfair to these two distinguished entertainers to compare their imaginative and poetic performance with the recent "debt ceiling" palookafest, which didn't provide
a moment's fun during its endless tedious run(*), or show the slightest sign of originality on the part of any of the hundreds of windy but stolid bores participating in it.
I'll leave it to the house economists here to tell us what effect, if any, we can expect from this big ball o' nuthin'. To my amateur eye, it appears that the mountains have travailed and didn't even give birth to a mouse -- or a stillborn gnat, for that matter.
There's a really hilarious graphic in the New York Times, showing the idiotically elaborate series of snares and pitfalls that the two "parties" have written into this "deal" for each other's amusement. The damn thing looks like nothing so much as one of those hopscotch games you used to see chalked on the sidewalk, back when kids were still allowed out of doors, and permitted to play without wearing a helmet. Of course, anything Congress enacts on a Monday it can repeal on Tuesday, so all this amounts to a lot less, even, than shadowboxing.
Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Adam Green said: “This deal will kill our economy and is an attack on middle-class families. It asks nothing of the rich, will reduce middle-class jobs, and lines up Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid for cuts.
(How do you like the name of that organization, by the way? Doesn't that squeeze in every shibboleth in the book?)
How do you "kill" a dead "economy"? Of course the "deal" doesn't do anything to revive "the economy" -- whatever that might be. But who thought for a minute it would? It's like getting furious with a rhino because he's not a bunny. Has anybody at all, on either side of the Congressional open sewer -- er, aisle -- or in the Administration, seriously proposed any concrete steps that would actually put people back to work and raise the wage? Of course not. Nobody wants to do that -- except us poor wagelings, for whom that is the only tendril of "the economy" that matters, and rightly so. But none of the Momias in the congressional ring were working for us. And the fact that "deficit reduction" was the rubric under which it was unanimously agreed to file the issue shows that as clearly as anything could.
As for Social Security and Medicare -- it seems pretty clear that those are sacrosanct, at least for the foreseeable future. Yes, of course, everybody, Republicrat and Demolican alike, wants austerity; but the preference is to lay it on the shoulders of the young. Us geezers mostly vote -- with a few notable exceptions, like your humble correspondent here.
* * * * *
I have had occasion, for the last couple of weeks, to spend a fair number of my waking hours in a room where there is a TV continually tuned to CNN. It's quite horrible. Wolf Blitzburger, or whatever his name is, looks increasingly like some carven idol from a Polynesian island where the plastic arts have not been much cultivated. There are a half-dozen mesomorphic guys wearing boxy suits so tight that the overall effect is of something inflated with a bicycle pump. And then there are the sharp-chinned, kitten-faced, anorexic commentatrices.
They're all furiously pissed-off, all the time, and they went over -- and over! -- every meaningless twist and turn in this "debt ceiling" mock-epic with the obsessive fervor of trainspotters.
No wonder so many Americans seem both deeply confused and filled with obscure resentment. It seems clear that this curdled, acidic, ineluctable Muzak must be designed to produce exactly
those two effects.
My CNN-soaked room was full of good-hearted liberals, who of course responded exactly as expected: Oh those terrible Republicans, those frightening Teabaggers, etc. Some of the bolder ones suggested that Obama and his fellow-jackasses were perhaps being a little "weak".
It got so tedious, even for the liberals, though, that I felt I was making some progress with my
two daily observations:
1) None of this is news, and none of it is interesting.
2) If you want to hang on to whatever shreds of cognitive ability you have left, do not, at
all costs, watch TV "news" programs. They exist to interest you in things that don't matter,
and distract you from those that do.
(*) Like what Cats might have been if Tony Kushner had written the book.
The dog-star rages! Nay, 'tis past a doubt,
All Bedlam, or Parnassus, is let out.
The dog star certainly rages; but neither my own particular Bedlam nor Parnassus seems to be letting itself out, much. Obie's pathetic bus tour, and the corresponding mad gabble of the
Other Team -- who, really, apart from our earnest friend Matty Woodchuck, could possibly take any interest in this sad squalid stuff? And I'm too late to say anything not already said about the unruly sansculottes of dear old England, last week -- though let the record show I approve of them, strongly.
Of course all the conversation I heard there on the subject, from Cockneys
and Oxonians alike, ran on the same depressing much-worn rails:
In their lives there's something lacking!
What they need's a damn good whacking!
This gave me much matter for reflection. It occurred to me that one
of the great rites of social solidarity is the exchange of platitudes. It doesn't
matter how 'educated' you are, or how free-thinking you think you are. Confronted
with any problematic or anxious-making phenomenon, folks generally seem to respond
with soft cooing noises, couched in terms borrowed from some more or less respectable
media outlet's most recent obiter-dicta.
Only a very bloody-minded cranky oddball would abstain from this mutual
backscratching. Unfortunately, that would be me.
For a bloody-minded cranky oddball, it's illuminating to spend a week and a half
at close quarters, in pleasant surroundings, with a bunch of people one likes and admires; people with whom one shares the benign common purpose of music-making. Couldn't ask for better, right? And indeed one couldn't.
Yet one can't share the platitudes. An awkward uncomfortable business.
This all raises a couple of questions: one personal, the other more general. The personal one is probably obvious enough. The more general one is this: how on earth does it happen that people ever drop the platitudes and start thinking another way?
The fortification of platitude, when one encounters it at first hand and close quarters, seems chthonic, immemorial, infrangible, marmoreal, adamantine. There's no crevice in its smooth stony polished surface into which a tendril of doubt might hope to insert itself.
And yet -- History Tells Us, in her usual uninflected unsympathetic brazen-throated way, that it does happen; in momento, in ictu oculi.
We are told again and again that we are living through a debt crisis,
and that we all have to share the burden and tighten our belts. All,
that is, except the (very) rich. The idea of taxing them more is
taboo... What should the poor do? ....
As with the car burnings in the Paris banlieues in 2005, the UK
rioters had no message to deliver.... This is why it is difficult to
conceive of the UK rioters in Marxist terms, as an instance of the
emergence of the revolutionary subject; they fit much better the
Hegelian notion of the ‘rabble’ .... This was zero-degree protest, a violent
action demanding nothing....
The protesters, though underprivileged and de facto socially excluded,
weren’t living on the edge of starvation. People in much worse
material straits, let alone conditions of physical and ideological
oppression, have been able to organise themselves into political
forces with clear agendas....
Alain Badiou has argued that we live in a social space which is
increasingly experienced as ‘worldless’: in such a space, the only
form protest can take is meaningless violence. Perhaps this is one of
the main dangers of capitalism: although by virtue of being global it
encompasses the whole world, it sustains a ‘worldless’ ideological
constellation in which people are deprived of their ways of locating
Locating meaning? Ideological constellation? Worldless? Drivel like this
is the sort of thing that helped drive me out of the lit-crit-biz decades
But more important than Dr Z's penchant for portentous pomo rodomontade
is, of course, his shallow and thoroughly bourgeois dismissal of the English
I've always felt -- ever since the Watts riots of the early 60s -- that
the response to such events is a pons asinorum, an infallible indicator
of one's fundamental outlook. Are you going to stand in some sense with
the 'rabble', or find some reason to disapprove of them? Z. has chosen
the latter. Though he couches his objections in "left" phraseology,
telling off the Brit urban mob for not being Bolshie enough, it comes to the same
thing as the fear and loathing the shopkeeper or schoolteacher or middle manager
express with phrases like "burning down their own neighborhoods" and
"what do they expect to achieve?" And good Lord, the man even waves
the great liberal palladion of raising taxes on the rich. Now there's a hardened
Marxist cadre for you. Peace, bread, land, and a carefully calibrated progressive tax structure.
Raise high the red flag!
Rationality is overrated. You can tie yourself in some sad knots
with it. Not that Zizek's post-whateverist word-salad has much
to do with rationality in any positive sense of the term, but it does
exhibit a certain mimicry of connected discourse that might lead a
gullible reader to believe that he was observing rationality -- personified
by a Mitteleuropaisch academic carpetbagger -- pondering
irrationality, as played by the worldless chaverie of England.
In any case, irrationality is underrated -- or at least, the
irrationality of the mob is underrated; and even the irrationality
of the elites is preferable to their rationality. True, no Lenin
emerged visibly from the London looters. But if Bolshevism is the
engine of revolution, then irrational bloody-mindedness like theirs
is the fuel it runs on.
Let's have more riots, I say, and less hollow blether about
'worldlessness'. Oh, and more car-burning too. Lots and lots of car-burning,
and the sooner the better.
Non amo te, Sabidi, nec possum dicere quare;
Hoc tantum possum dicere, non amo te.
Englished by Tom Brown:
I do not love thee, Doctor Fell;
The reason why I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well:
I do not love thee, Doctor Fell.
The original Doctor Fell was an interesting character --
a much more interesting character than Slavoj Zizek, though an arch-royalist and
a high-Church Tory to the bone.
He's been on my mind a bit since I recently spent a few days
at his old stompin' grounds.
The dearth of policy options in the Bank of America insolvency is entirely a matter of choice. The liberal capitalist prescription (notional, but whatever) is a forced bankruptcy, wiped out shareholders, haircuts for bondholders, dismissal of the management, forced disgorgement of their ill-gotten gains, reorganization and re-privatization. Now of course that's not going to happen, and it wouldn't fix what's wrong with the system even if it did. But that is a policy option and it's one that would have plenty of popular support.
Warren Buffett as "lender of last resort" is a joke. The banksters received $1.2 trillion from the Fed, on top of the toxic asset creditor bonanza and their fully subsidized looting spree; all at public expense. Buffett is making a huge, immediate profit at no risk. He's not lending. He's cashing in. No wonder he doesn't mind paying a bit more tax. It's a great investment.
The Economist came within a fraction of an employee of recanting its own, proprietary, Lump of Labor Fallacy. It was saved from empirical data by noting that some countries don't play by the rules they'd like them to play by.
Another aspect of elite ethnography is the absolute detestation for anything that hints at agency, unless it's the blameworthy agency of people who are reluctant to be harvested.
When I was a young lefty, the ideal form of public debt, sometimes called national debt, was explained to me as labor contributed, today, in excess of immediate compensation, with deferred compensation down the line. In other words, it's not a threatening obligation. It's an investment. That's a simplification, but it makes a lot more sense than deficit terrorists' death-dealing Debt Bomb of Doom scenarios and the lazy Micawberisms of the sensible liberals.