Sunday, June 7, 2015

Campaign 2016: When Bribery Meets Coercion

*Updated below

More than a year before the actual election, presidential politics and personalities have supplanted all else in what we love to call our Great National Narrative. The big plot twist this time around is how the hoi polloi have discovered, much to our great chagrin, that our democracy has suddenly turned into an oligarchy while we were glued to Dancing With the Stars. Political dynasties and big money have supplanted untold hordes of poor but deserving and qualified candidates aspiring to higher office. It's all the fault of that Supreme Court and its hideous Citizens United ruling. The Republicans are crazy and corrupt, and the Democrats are just plain corrupt.

Say what?

We've never had a true representative democracy in this country. Long before the Supreme Court decreed that money is speech, the oligarchy has ruled. It was decreed by design when a very tiny group of 18th century plantation owners and aristocrats and lawyers broke ranks with their fellow elites in the British Empire and cobbled together a constitution, which even they allowed was probably only a temporary fix to an out-and-out monarchy.

The reason that we're noticing the inbred corruption especially hard this campaign season is because for the first time in a long time, not one but two crazy-rich political families -- the Bushes and the Clintons --  are the current front-runners (at least according to the pundit and journalistic class which serves them.) But wealth in and of itself isn't bad. Nor are dynasties. Witness the Adamses and the Roosevelts, who by and large were at least semi-decent plutocrats despite their various racist and imperialistic proclivities. Where was the populist outrage during their heydays?

Although Hillary Clinton is oh-so delicately tip-toeing around class war semantics, she is certainly not lambasting the "malefactors of great wealth" as T.R. did, nor "welcoming their hatred" as did FDR. She is not even admitting that the permanent ruling class, or oligarchy, is running the show and always has done. She doesn't need to change or even acknowledge the status quo, even though Bernie Sanders keeps inconveniently nudging her in that direction. That may be because she is still merely nouveau-rich and hasn't yet developed the good aristocratic sense to keep her excess money under wraps instead of complaining how broke she recently was, and instead of Hubby whining about charging the oligarchs for his fondling of them because he has "bills to pay." (And they have Bill to pay.)

Maybe by the time granddaughter Charlotte is old enough to run for office, she'll have done an Adams Family pivot. Maybe, like Brooks Adams, great-grandson of John and grandson of John Quincy, she will publicly rail against unbridled capitalism and call for a revolution. Maybe, unlike Grandma and Grandpa Clinton, she will realize that extreme wealth inequality is just as dangerous to the rich as it is to the poor.

Brooks Adams, who was considered something of a Marxist crackpot by his First Gilded Age peers a century ago, presaged Bernie Sanders when he wrote in The Theory of Social Revolutions, "Roosevelt's offense in the eyes of the capitalistic class was not what he had actually done, for he had done nothing seriously to injure them. The crime they resented was the assertion of the principle of equality before the law, for equality before the law signified the end of privilege to operate beyond the range of law."

He added, "Sooner or later almost every successive ruling class has had this dilemma in one of its innumerable forms presented to them, and few have had the genius to compromise while compromise was possible.... the privileged classes seldom have the intelligence to protect themselves by adaptation when nature turns against them, and up to the present moment (1913) the old privileged class in the United States has shown little promise of being an exception to the rule."

Brooks Adams

It is just this insatiable, pathological hunger for sovereignty by the rich that is encompassed in the impending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and related coups d'etat operating under the guise of free trade deals.

Are you holding your breath for somebody -- anybody -- to go on TV and call the current claque of godzillionaire Waltons, Kochs, Adelsons, Bloombergs and Pritzkers as dumb as a bucket of rocks? Me neither. Even Bernie Sanders, bless his socialist heart, has been way too polite and politically correct to dare insult the pathocrats by each of their names. At least, as of today. Maybe his mind can be changed about that.

Since the political-media complex still likes to pretend that we live in a functioning democracy, the main dilemma facing the ruling class, as Brooks Adams saw it, is whether to coerce or to bribe the powerless majority. Under a de facto permanent campaign season, they can now do both simultaneously. Hillary Clinton by self-interested necessity is in full bribery mode, calling for, among other treats for the masses, radical voting rights reform and the automatic inclusion of every citizen on the rolls. With record non-participation of eligible voters in the 2014 midterms, it is beginning to dawn on the politicians that without this participation, our government can claim neither legitimacy nor credibility. There is no consent of the governed, so let's toss the poor the privilege of choosing which corrupt politician they'd prefer to service the rich, and then call it a populist victory.

The corporate Democrats and Republicans running for office are going the bribery route, while the corporate Democrats and Republicans currently holding office are going the coercion route. The security state spies on all our communications. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world, maintain nearly a thousand military bases around the globe and spend the highest percentage of our GDP on vicious aggression. Despite the fact that polled majorities favor single payer health care, the insurance predators are alive and well and feasting on our misery. The looming TPP, meanwhile, is at the top of this year's plutocratic Christmas wish list, even going so far as to embrace Malaysian slave trade as a means for them become richer and more powerful. And all of this is being plotted by Barack Obama & Co. while the salivating potential slave-owners headquartered in the USA have plummeted their own country of origin to close to dead last in nearly every measurement of social well-being. And our Democratic president still stupidly and Reaganistically insists that his now-abandoned  austerity crusade and deficit reduction, post-economic meltdown, were net positive things for the economy. (Has anybody ever asked Obama if he voted for Reagan? He would have been just old enough.)

"The so-called Great Society bribed," wrote another prescient scribe named Gore Vidal several decades ago. "Today coercion is very much in the air."

We gasp. We choke. And then we revolt.

* Update, 6/8. I should have added that bribery and coercion work not just against the voters, but against the members of a politician's own party. The AP  mentions in passing, in a largely stenographic piece, that Barack Obama effectively bribed four Democratic congress critters for their Yea votes giving him secretive fast-track authority to ram though the various "trade" deals benefiting the hyper-rich. He gave  them free luxury rides on Air Force One to the G-7 meeting at a luxurious Bavarian Alps spa that was once aptly the site for a group of artistic Nazi sympathizers to get together to unwind and schmooze. There was also a lot of apt sausage-making and the usual fear-mongering, with one state aggression-funded think tank honcho (Richard Fontaine of the CNAS) urging passage of more riches for the rich, because China might win "the race" otherwise. As far as Fast Track for Obama is concerned, the AP takes dictation writes,
While the Senate already has sided with Obama, the House is another matter. Just 18 Democrats have expressed support publicly, and that is short of what the White House is believed to need in order to supplement affirmative GOP votes.
Four of those lawmakers traveled with Obama to Germany: Reps. Gerry Connolly of Virginia, Jim Himes of Connecticut, Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas and Mike Quigley of Illinois. Their invitation appeared aimed both at rewarding lawmakers backing one of Obama's priorities and showing G-7 leaders that he is getting some Democrats to join the effort.
OK... make that bribing and coercing the citizens, bribing and coercing the politicians, and bribing and coercing the rest of the free world. The Hegemon's desperation is showing. 


Alan MacDonald said...

Bernie, need not name the pathocrats individually, Karen, but only adequately diagnose and publicly 'out' their scam by its proper name as the Cancer of Empire of all Maladies. BTW, Gore's book would not have been so clear or popular, with the popular progressive herd if he had misnomed it "Oligarchy".

As Zygmunt Bauman hauntingly puts it, “In the case of an ailing social order, the absence of an adequate diagnosis…is a crucial, perhaps decisive, part of the disease.”

Berman, Morris. 2011. "Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire"

Pearl said...

Karen: your comment to Krugman who talks in circles, makes the truth abundantly clear. One has to reread his column(s)several times to try and penetrate the walls of economic linguistics he presents which impresses neither good economists or those of us who live with the simple truths.
What is sad is that he has the information if properly spelled out to influence change for the better but I am beginning to wonder if he really cares enough to get out of his limited elitist box and give us a clear picture like you do.
The fact that you receive such support from the readers indicates their appreciation for your clear deciphering of facts which he basically avoids to give us.
He is not an admirable man nor economist while the NYTimes avoids highlighting some of the honest ones appearing in the progressive press.
If those of us who follow political/economic events have trouble understanding his jargon, how do average citizens learn anything from his columns?
And there is also once again his defence of Obamacare which exposes his basic weaknesses.

Karen Garcia said...


I think Bernie's railing against only generic oligarchs needlessly takes the bite out of his message. (although to his credit he mentions the Kochs every chance he gets. But why stop with the Kochs? Additionally, I cringe whenever he prefaces a remark with "I like and respect Hillary Clinton.")

But like I said in my post, it is early days yet. There is still plenty of time for him to go down the entire list of the Forbes 400, beginning with "good plutocrat" Bill Gates and his efforts to privatize education and essentially supplant sane tax policy with voluntary greed-washing philanthrocapitalism.

I agree that "oligarchy" will probably not resonate with the casual voter. It sounds too much like a brand of soft insipid margarine that gets stuck in your throat. It just makes you want to garch. I really love your descriptor "Cancer of All Maladies." People will absolutely get the cancer metaphor.


I just happened to wake up in the middle of the night, so took my rare moment of nocturnal alertness to post a comment to Krugman. He did sort of respond to it in a blog-post this morning, but not to my satisfaction. He cherry-picked a few statistics, never defined "progress," and still stands by his claim that inequality and a bad economy is not a cause and effect thing. I just don't get him. What has he to gain by his defense of centrist Democrats like Obama is anyone's guess.

Bruce said...

Next Up: Destitutinal Duarchy, $3 Billary!