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Monday, March 18, 2013

Absurdity Surging

Absurdity Surging

By Andrew Levine
Counter Punch
March 18, 2013

By the middle of March four years ago, we were deep into Barack
Obama’s first hundred days.

By then, even those of us who never expected much – because we
paid attention to his campaign, and because the shape of things to
come was evident from his very first appointments — were already

A Clintonite Restoration was underway; there would not even be
cosmetic changes.

Obamamania had a longer shelf life, but it too was beginning to
fade. By late summer, it was already turning rancid.

As term two gets underway, only the most deluded Democrats expect
anything good to come from the first hundred days, or from the next
three and three-quarters years.

Therefore the good news is that there will be less disappointment
this time around.

The bad news is that, although Obamamania is ancient history,
alarmingly many former Obamamaniacs are still in denial.

This is why there is not more outrage over Obama’s drone driven
state terrorism or his efforts to expand America’s perpetual war
regime, and why it took a Tea Party Senator, Rand Paul, to focus
public attention on the dangers Obama’s policies pose.

It is also why the public tolerates the impunity Obama accords too
big to charge, much less imprison, financial criminals, and why he
gets a pass on doing Wall Street’s bidding.

Muckety-mucks in the Justice Department, the Securities and
Exchange Commission, and at Treasury have much to answer
for too, but the buck stops just where Harry Truman said it did.

And it is why hardly anyone still cares that Obama protects Bush
era war criminals or that he continues their work.

A reason not to despair four years ago was that Obama had
announced his intention to close Guantanamo; a reason to despair
now is that Guantanamo is still going strong and that instead of
imprisoning people Bush-style, without due process, Obama just
has them killed.

On the flimsiest of national security pretexts, he undermines basic
rights and liberties, and treats international law with a scofflaw’s

And although he talks a good earful about “transparency,” he is
among its greatest enemies: witness Bradley Manning and some
half dozen others whom his administration has prosecuted, and
his on-going attack on WikiLeaks.

And yet liberals cut him slack.

They blame Republicans and persist in thinking that, despite it all,
Obama remains a “good guy.” Republicans excel at obstructionism;
Democrats are even better at deceiving themselves.

In all likelihood, it will soon get even worse.

The humanitarian interveners who are itching for another war in the
Middle East are already looking forward to a deepening quagmire in
Syria. Lebanon beckons them too; and of course there is always Iran.

On the home front, Obama seems more eager this Spring than ever
before to grand bargain progress away.

If Tea Party obstinacy slackens, Ronald Reagan will finally triumph
definitively over FDR and LBJ.

It will happen on Obama’s watch — if not quite at his instigation,
then with his far from reluctant acquiescence.

Then there is the Keystone XL pipeline decision in the offing, and
much more that cannot now be foreseen. Before long, we may well
look back on the first first hundred days as a Golden Age compared
to the hundred days currently in progress.

Four years ago, disappointment was in the air. Now absurdity is
with an intensity that is staggering.

That our politics reeks of absurdity is hardly news.

It has long been the Republicans’ stock-in-trade, and in our semi-
established duopoly party system, Republicans hold up half the sky.
The electoral scene a year ago was a case in point.

Mitt Romney became the GOP standard bearer because every one
of his opponents was an outright buffoon.

But it was only after each of them self-destructed that the lunatics
ceded control of the asylum long enough for GOP grandees to see to
it that their man would get the nod.

But their man still had a base to appease, and that based hated
Romney’s guts. He therefore had no choice but to join them with a
vengeance. A Republican “shellacking,” rivaling the one Democrats
took in 2010, was the inevitable result.

The almost equally inevitable result has been that at a policy level,
notwithstanding Democratic victories, the lunatics still call the shots.

This is because Democrats are ridiculous too; they too wallow
in absurdity. However, their ridiculousness is subtler and more
insidious. They are not buffoons; quite the contrary. They are
merely preposterously inept.

And so, as they muddle on, they err grievously; and then do
the same thing over and over again. The name for this is
insanity. But there is method to the madness.

Were it a deliberately adopted strategy, it would be a risky one.
The risk is that, if things go too far awry, Obama looks weak,
and Democrats seem not quite up to the tasks of governance.

That perception helped fuel Democratic losses in 2010.

But it can also yield electoral success. Because Republicans, Tea
Partiers especially, cannot resist the bait, the more likely outcome
is that, in stirring Democrats on and then blocking their every
move, they look idiotic and childish.

And so, in 2012, Obama didn’t need to run on his record or even
on his promises. Republicans handed him the prize he sought.

Obama couldn’t be bothered to campaign for House Democrats or
for Democrats at the state level, and he hogged all the money he
could get his hands on for his own campaign.

But his effect on Republicans, Tea Partiers especially, helped his
party too; Republican absurdists made Democrats look good.

They certainly helped them keep their base on board. And they
helped advance the Clintonized Democratic Party’s longstanding
goal of replacing Republicans as the favored flunkies of the ruling

What self-respecting plutocrat wants to leave the management
of global capitalism in the hands of idiots or children?

Was that Obama’s plan all along?

Liberals in denial insist Obama cares about policy issues, and
that he’s doing the best he (or anyone) can.

But the evidence suggests that what he cares about is his own
success; that, for him as for Vince Lombardi, the former coach
of the Green Bay Packers, winning isn’t the main thing, it’s the
only thing.

The evidence suggests it, but I’m not so sure that his insanity
is a strategic pose. Acquiescence, it seems, comes naturally to
him; susceptibility to “bipartisan” foolishness is in his genes.

In dealing with the Soviet Union, Richard Nixon is said to have
found it strategically useful sometimes to seem unhinged; Obama
is less guileful. He is smarter than Nixon certainly, or than
Henry Kissinger, but he lacks their “gift” for strategic thought.

But what he does is no less absurd on that account.

The existentialists found metaphysical absurdities liberating;
perhaps they are. But political absurdities are merely disabling.

They make a bad scene worse.

And so, with both Republicans and Democrats doing their part,
each in their own way, to make absurdity the new normal, our
political scene has taken a turn for the worse.

The more the situation is tolerated, the worse it gets. This is
why we are now on a downward trajectory.

And it is why the Bushes and the Clintons, the two most awful
families in our nation’s political history, won’t go away.

That the decrepit House of Bush and the Clinton wannabe dynasty
have spawned the two figures now billed as front-runners for 2016
is not merely ludicrous; it is emblematic of our current state of

This is a cause for concern; ludicrousness happens. It has happened

In saner days, nothing seemed more ludicrous than the thought of
Ronald Reagan in office. But it didn’t take long, once the rightwing
of the then still “moderate” Republican Party succeeded in floating
the idea, that that actor-huckster became President of the United

This led to what Obama, not disapprovingly, called “a transformative
presidency.” He was right too: we have had nothing but Reaganite
Presidents since.

And so, almost three and a half decades later, Obama is poised to
consummate the Reaganite vision.

Because, as a Democrat, he can bring the opposition along, he, like
Clinton before him, is a more effective, though less dedicated,
Reaganite than the villainous Gipper himself or than any Bush could
possibly be.

The idea that Bush and Clinton dynasties would still dominate
American politics is at least as ridiculous.

But unlike the early 1970s, when Reagan was a joke, the idea of a
President Jeb or Hillary is nowadays not just acceptable but almost
common sensical.

This shows how profoundly resistance to absurdity has worn down
in recent years.

It also shows how susceptible Americans are to dynastic temptations.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. At least a few dynastic episodes
in our history turned out not too badly, compared to the alternatives.

The Kennedys had, and still have their problems, and their hearts
have not always been in the right place. But the name does say
“liberal” and the perception does have a basis in fact. In today’s
world, this is not a bad thing.

The name also suggests noblesse oblige, a virtue that was once
esteemed and that is now practically extinct.

As for JFK, the wisest course is to frame no hypotheses. Who
can say what would have happened had he not been killed?

It is fair to say, however, that had RFK become President in 1968
instead of Richard Nixon or Ted Kennedy in 1980 instead of Reagan,
the world would now be a better place.

Kennedys have style; they are good-looking streetwise Irish pols with
social graces enough for any Boston Brahmin. For eight decades, they
have been as savvy as anyone in Washington and as glamorous as
Hollywood stars.

On the Brahmin side, in the nineteenth century, the Adams Family
didn’t do badly either with John and John Quincy. They even had
descendants of intellectual distinction – Henry and Brooks, most

Compare them to the Bushes.

Over only three generations, from Prescott to George W. and Jeb,
intelligence was bred out of them along with noblesse oblige. Any
semblance of competence at governance is gone as well.

And yet Jeb is testing the waters.

Conventional wisdom has it that, among the contenders appearing
before this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC),
he is the one “adult” in the room.

This means that, like Obama’s longed for Grand Bargain, he stands
a chance, if Tea Party obstinacy falters.

And, of course, Hillary Clinton has been an inexorable menace from
the day her husband entered the national political scene. There is
just no getting rid of that family.

They are even becoming an inter-generational threat.

Even Chelsea, the hedge funder, wants in. She will help judge
a Peterson Foundation contest designed to engage youth in
the importance of deficit cutting – in other words, she will
cheerlead for austerity.

The Peterson Foundation is the creation of Pete Peterson, the
bipartisan one per-center and inveterate (ruling) class warrior
who has been trying to undo New Deal and Great Society advances
for as long as anyone living can remember.

Of course, one could argue that Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton are
“qualified” to be President. Even if their accomplishments fall
short, at least they are properly credentialed.

Remember, though, that Jeb would be a nobody but for his family
connections, and that had First Lady Hillary not been Bill’s official
wife, she’d not have been parachuted into New York state to run
for the Senate in 2000, and her political career would never have
gotten off the ground.

Were we not swimming in a sea of absurdity, the legs up the
two of them benefit from would be political death warrants.

Have not the Bushes and the Clintons done enough harm already?

If guilt by association won’t save us, what about, in Jeb’s and
especially Hillary’s cases, outright complicity?

Obama’s penchant for spreading murder and mayhem, and his
pathological “centrism,” are far greater menaces, at least for
now; but, for sheer absurdity, nothing comes close to a political
scene with Bushes and Clintons still scuttling about.

Indeed, the very idea of a Bush-Clinton race in 2016, only eight
years after the worst President in the history of the United States
left office and sixteen years after we thought we’d seen the back
of the man who steered the Democratic Party to the right of where
Republicans used to be is an offense to political morality.

That this is what “moderate” Republican grandees and
mainstream Democratic Party liberals are now promoting
is not only disheartening; it is beyond ridiculous, the very
quintessence of absurdity.

Andrew Levine is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies,
the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge)
and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books
and articles in political philosophy.

1 comment:

  1. The bad news is that, although Obamamania is ancient history,
    alarmingly many former Obamamaniacs are still in denial.

    This is why there is not more outrage over Obama’s drone driven
    state terrorism or his efforts to expand America’s perpetual war
    regime, and why it took a Tea Party Senator, Rand Paul, to focus
    public attention on the dangers Obama’s policies pose.


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