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Thursday, January 30, 2014

State of the Union: A Bankrupt Ruling Class Talking To Itself

State of the Union: A Bankrupt Ruling Class Talking To Itself

By Bill Van Auken
WSWS.org
January 30, 2014

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech was a cynical
propaganda piece, filled with fraudulent claims and promises that
no one, least of all his audience at the US Capitol, believes in the
slightest.

The annual address has long since become an ossified ritual, a
kind of national pep rally into which social and political reality
seldom intrudes.

With Obama’s speech Tuesday night one had more than ever the
sense of the president as chief representative of the financial
aristocracy that rules America, speaking to a house filled with
millionaire congress members and bought-and-paid-for
representatives of big business.

It has more and more come to resemble a political echo chamber,
in which the ruling establishment celebrates and talks to itself in
utter indifference to the needs and concerns of the country’s
working people, the overwhelming majority of the population.

In the run-up to the speech, the media had worked to build up
expectations with wild predictions that Obama would use it to
launch war on social inequality or, as the Washington Post put
it, a “sustained assault on Republicans over a populist economic
agenda.”

The day after, the old adage, “the mountain labored and brought
forth a mouse” came to mind.

According to some accounts, Obama’s speechwriters were
instructed to tone down references to social inequality and
emphasize the concept of “opportunity” the old Horatio Alger
myth that with perseverance anyone can become a millionaire.

This was combined with a reassurance to the Wall Street criminals
that “Americans understand that some people will earn more than
others, and we don’t resent those who, by virtue of their efforts,
achieve incredible success.”

On Wednesday, the New York Times published an editorial entitled
“The Diminished State of the Union,” and the Washington Post’s
was headlined “Obama’s muted call.”

There was no denying that the days of the “audacity of hope”
are long gone.

Among the exceptions to this reaction was that of the official
trade union apparatus.

Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO tweeted at the
end of the State of the Union speech, “Best #SOTU to date for
@BarackObama. All the right points to lift up middle class but
one: collective bargaining.”

Trumka was in the gallery Tuesday night and was shown on national
television beaming with joy as Obama congratulated one of his wife
Michelle’s “guests” all of them used as political props for the
president’s phony rhetoric a pizza parlor owner who had raised the
salary of his employee from minimum wage to $10 an hour.

No doubt Trumka sees this as good for business, salivating over
the prospect of benevolent employers allowing him to collect
union dues from such workers, pushing their take home pay back
toward the old minimum.

Obama’s move to require federal contractors to pay a minimum
wage of $10.10 to employees under new or renewed contracts,
not existing ones, was promoted as the boldest of his initiatives.

Expected to affect around 250,000 workers, a tiny handful of
the nearly 50 million Americans classified as “working poor”
while still leaving them poor, the proposal is the clearest
proof that no section of the ruling establishment has any
intention of addressing the scourges of inequality, poverty,
and mass unemployment.

The reality is that, if the minimum wage had risen apace with the
compensation of America’s CEOs, the top 1 percent, the poorest
paid worker in the US would now be making more than $33 an hour.

If it just kept pace with the increase in productivity, it would be
over $22.

The speech included the obligatory reference to the state of the
union being “strong” along with an assertion that 2014 can become
“a breakthrough year for America.”

Who does he think he is kidding?

Poll after poll shows that some two-thirds of the population believe
the economy is anything but strong, with their well-being declining,
the phony indicators cited by Obama notwithstanding.

A poll conducted at the end of last month found that over half the
population is being forced to reduce their spending, and fully 36
percent are cutting back on food and medicine.

One of the few true statements Obama included in his speech was
the observation that “corporate profits and stock prices have rarely
been higher, and those at the top have never done better.”

That the president felt compelled to note in the same breath the
stagnation of wages, deepening inequality and continuing
unemployment is an expression of the growing unease within the
ruling establishment that the present conditions are unsustainable
and must give rise, sooner rather than later, to social upheavals.

The charity Oxfam issued a report just last week noting that the
world’s richest 85 individuals have amassed more wealth than the
poorest 3.5 billion.

In the United States, the most unequal of all the advanced
capitalist countries, the 20 wealthiest people possess as
much wealth as the poorest 150 million.

Under Obama’s presidency, the top 1 percent has monopolized 95
percent of the growth in income, while the bottom 90 percent of
the population has only been further impoverished.

To cast the hodgepodge of micro-initiatives and empty promises
cobbled together in Obama’s speech as an attempt to confront
these staggering levels of inequality would be ludicrous.

More substantive preparations are being made to deal with the
political consequences of unprecedented social inequality through
the buildup of a totalitarian police state apparatus, parts of which
have been exposed in Edward Snowden’s revelations of massive
domestics spying by the National Security Agency.

Preparations are being made to counter a challenge from below.

In the final analysis, Obama’s fifth State of the Union address
has exposed his presidency as a politically spent force.

He will be remembered first as a president who was able to exploit
illusions in his phony promises of change to carry out the biggest
swindle in history, the Wall Street bailout, which has seen the
transfer of trillions of dollars in social wealth from the majority of
the population to the banks and the super rich.

Secondly, his legacy will be the buildup of a police state and the
shredding of the most basic democratic and constitutional rights.

Obama’s attempt at this late date, in the run-up to the 2014
midterm elections, to cast himself and the Democratic Party
as the champions of the poor and crusaders against social
inequality will be embraced only by a thin and privileged layer
that includes the trade union officialdom and the pseudo left
elements whose personal fortunes are bound up with the fate
of the Democrats.

Today’s malignant levels of social inequality are inextricably
bound up with the capitalist profit system and the unceasing
growth of financial parasitism to which it has given rise.

The struggle against it can be mounted only by the working class.

It must mobilize its independent strength in an offensive aimed at
impounding the ill-gotten fortunes of the Wall Street and corporate
oligarchs and reorganizing society on socialist foundations to meet
the social needs of the vast majority rather than the profit interests
of the few.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/01/30/pers-j30.html

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