Theatrics

In October of 2008, Team Obama was given Ad Age’s Marketer of the Year Award. Obama’s campaign beat out Apple, Zappos, Nike and everyone else. The McCain camp finished 6th. Previous winners include Reagan (for whom Obama has expressed great admiration) and Perot. Politics is show business. Talking points make up the script.

I recently saw a headline about Marco Rubio likening Obama to a “left-wing 3rd world leader.” I’m tempted to suggest Rubio is overacting. I, mean, really, the White House is like Goldman Sachs Headquarters. With the likes of Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers advising Obama, you’ll excuse me if I have a difficult time likening Obama to, say, Hugo Chavez. But is Rubio’s overacting transparent to even half of the US population? It occurs to me that tens of millions of audience members don’t realize they’re watching political theater. Suffice it to say, there are a lot of true believers.

Obama does not represent either a problem or a solution. He is merely an actor, an award-winning actor. Team Obama is a brand not unlike Apple or Nike. Still, in spite of the millions in bribes that come from big banks and other stars of Wall Street, the cult of personality has people convinced that it makes a world of difference who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in DC (as if those bribes have no strings attached, and the POTUS is free to govern in good conscience). In the face of massive deregulation and absurdly low tax rates for the wealthy, right wing talking points about government takeovers and socialism persist. But we do not have government-owned corporations. We have corporate-owned government. In 1976, Peter Jay interviewed Noam Chomsky, and they had the following exchange:

JAY: It’s clear that the fundamental idea of anarchism is the primacy of the individual — not necessarily in isolation, but with other individuals — and the fulfillment of his freedom. This in a sense looks awfully like the founding ideas of the United States of America. What is it about the American experience which has made freedom as used in that tradition become a suspect and indeed a tainted phrase in the minds of anarchists and libertarian socialist thinkers like yourself?

CHOMSKY: Let me just say I don’t really regard myself as an anarchist thinker. I’m a derivative fellow traveler [of anarchism], let’s say. Anarchist thinkers have constantly referred to the American experience and to the ideal of Jeffersonian democracy very very favorably. You know, Jefferson’s concept that the best government is the government that governs least, or Thoreau’s addition to that, that the best government is the one that doesn’t govern at all, is one that’s often repeated by anarchist thinkers through modern times.

However, the ideal of Jeffersonian democracy — putting aside the fact that it was a slave society — developed in an essentially pre-capitalist system, that is, in a society in which there was no monopolistic control, there were no significant centers of private power. In fact, it’s striking to go back and read today some of the classic libertarian texts. If one reads, say, Wilhelm von Humboldt’s critique of the state of 1792 [English language version: The Limits of State Action (Cambridge University Press, 1969)], a significant classic libertarian text that certainly inspired Mill, one finds that he doesn’t speak at all of the need to resist private concentration of power, rather he speaks of the need to resist the encroachment of coercive state power. And that is what one finds also in the early American tradition. But the reason is that that was the only kind of power there was. I mean, Humboldt takes for granted that individuals are roughly equivalent in their private power, and that the only real imbalance of power lies in the centralized authoritarian state, and individual freedom had to be sustained against its intrusion — the State or the Church. That’s what he feels one must resist.

Now, when he speaks, for example, of the need for control of one’s creative life, when he decries the alienation of labor that arises from coercion or even instruction or guidance in one’s work, he’s giving an anti-statist or anti-theocratic ideology. But the same principles apply very well to the capitalist industrial society that emerged later. And I would think that Humboldt, had he been consistent, would have ended up being a libertarian socialist.

Private power was certainly not evenly distributed in the US in the late 18th century (white, male property owners ruled the roost). That point aside, it would seem many self-identified “conservatives,” as well as many right wing libertarians, fail to see that more than 2 centuries later the private concentration of power is what drives the state. The encroachment of coercive power takes place at the behest of big banks, big oil, big agri-business, the military-industrial complex, and so on. Is that not obvious? It is the inevitableness of hierarchy. Power corrupts. Right wing authoritarians, calling themselves “conservative,” don’t hide the fact that they appreciate the concentration of power (by the wealthy and by some supernatural sky daddy). Right wing libertarians, though more intellectual, are far more disingenuous. They speak of individual freedom and might even tell you they are against the concentration of private power. But what they are really advocating is what has been the status quo for decades now. The very things that result in the concentration of private power. So-called free trade, economic globalization, deunionization, cuts to social welfare, and so on.

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6 Responses to Theatrics

  1. Anita says:

    Thanks for another thought-provoking tome. Yes, indeed, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I think I learned that in high school Civics, a course that’s apparently not a part of the curriculum lately. Would like to think I’m wrong about that, but the proof’s in the pudding, and what with Texas (and who knows what other) public education banning critical thinking from their schools, little wonder citizens are so woefully lacking in knowledge about the way their government works. Or should work. There’s always been a big difference. Awhile back, a friend declared that only property owners should be allowed to vote, a rather startling suggestion IMHO. Once I processed what she was saying, I remarked that if that were the case, very-very few people would be qualified voters, since very-very few people actually own property. At least outright. Banks, mortgage holders, landlords, those who inherited land going back generations could possibly qualify, but think about those who are left in the dust: Renters, everyone whose house/farm/etc. is mortgaged, college students residing in dorms, multi-generational families sharing space because of financial difficulties, the list goes on–all would be excluded from the right to vote since–ta da!–they technically could not be considered property owners. When that 30-year-plus mortgage is finally paid off, barring all the pitfalls that could arise along the way (foreclosure comes to mind), then, deed in hand, the owner, if physically able, could at last have the right to vote? And would the right apply only to the name on the deed, leaving out a spouse who’d helped pay that mortgage? What about heirs? I did not wax so prosaic with my friend who expressed her notion that only property owners should have the right to vote, but did touch on the bottom line premise (to me anyhow) unfairness of such a restriction. I didn’t get into the 99%-1% rant lurking ever in my mind, ready to surface in a stream of words few want to endure–my restraint was admirable!–but I’m pleased to say that she at least gave lip service to what I said, conceding she agreed. Not sure if it lasted, but if nothing else, perhaps it gave her food for thought. At any rate, as you so forcefully demonstrate with your words, we can but try! Keep ’em coming!

    Anita

    • Kiefer says:

      The point is not who votes, because the voters are only voting for the best actor on their TV screen. They are just picking a handsome, smooth talking face for the corporations to hide behind and pull strings.

      • Kendra says:

        Very true–and a lot of those non-land owners choose the WRONG handsome, smooth-talking face, which is why some folks want to disenfranchise them from being able to vote. Without, of course, recognizing that Dems and Repubs are generally different sides of the same coin, so it really doesn’t matter.

  2. Anita says:

    Well, I don’t pretend to know the thinking of every person who exercises their right to vote, which I consider to be one of the most valued privileges we as American citizens have, but as for me, I’ve never cast a vote based on looks. If so, the first election I was eligible to vote (had to be 21 back in the day) I’d doubtless have gone for JFK. I was quite the right-winger then, and voted for Nixon, who as it turned out, in spite of his protestations to the contrary, was indeed a crook. Go figure!

    • Kendra says:

      You’re right, not everyone votes with the same motivation. I believe there have been studies done, though, that show looks have become very important in the media age.

  3. Anita says:

    Yes, that is unfortunately true. Looking back in time, I recall a radio preacher who was quite incensed during the 1960 campaign when he quoted a woman who said she was voting for JFK because he was “cute”. Unfortunately, he was also Catholic, which I’m guessing also upset the preacher man. (Sigh!) I’ve also read that Abe Lincoln’s looks were a turn-off for some. Was there an incident where a young girl told him he’d do better if he grew a beard? Hmmm…perhaps that’s one o’ those urban legends. Definitely a good thing we didn’t have 24/7 media coverage then!

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