Lose touch? Lose your head.

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

The story of the end of the recession has become the story of how a president, merely six weeks before midterm elections that are nearly unanimously expected to be disastrous for his party, has finally had to listen, sort of.

Though the stock market rose sharply, economists reacted harshly to the announcement by the National Bureau of Economic Research. But the announcement itself is actually pretty hard to argue with: by the statistical criteria the NBER uses, the recession did indeed end. So all of that fuss is really about how we mark off recessions.

The real fuss appeared when Obama showed up for a town hall meeting—that he even deigned to meet the public seems remarkable given how tone-deaf this White House has been to a rising crescendo of voices—where Velma Hart delivered a very quotable, and widely quoted, wake-up call to a president who has disparaged the very voters he needs, including the moderates he supposedly triangulates towards.

Hart said,

I am a chief financial officer for a veterans service organisation, AmVets, here in Washington. I’m also a mother, I’m a wife, I’m an American veteran, and I’m one of your middle-class Americans. And quite frankly, I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for – and deeply disappointed with where we are right now.

I have been told that I voted for a man who said he was going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class. I’m one of those people, and I’m waiting, sir. I’m waiting. I don’t feel it yet. And I thought, while it wouldn’t be in great measure, I would feel it in some small measure.

I have two children in private school. And the financial recession has taken an enormous toll on my family. My husband and I joked for years that we thought we were well beyond the hot dogs and beans era of our lives. But quite frankly, it’s starting to knock on our door and ring true that that might be where we’re headed again.

And quite frankly, Mr President, I need you to answer this honestly, is this my new reality?

But Obama ultimately stuck to his line, saying in Philadelphia, “This is not some academic exercise. Don’t compare us to the Almighty; compare us to the alternative.” As if one could honestly say he has distinguished himself from that alternative.

It was left for Jesse Jackson—and we know we’re in trouble when he has to say it—to pronounce that “What [Obama] hears in the staff meeting and what he heard in the town hall are two different things.”

The hard truth is that the answer to Hart’s question is that hard times are her—and our—”new reality.” As Robert Reich explains,

The problem is consumers, who are 70 percent of the economy. They can’t and won’t buy enough to turn the economy around. Most don’t qualify for more credit given how much they already owe (or have already defaulted on).

Without consumers, businesses have no reason to borrow more. Except to speculate by buying back their own stock and doing mergers and acquisitions, which is exactly what they’re doing.

Ultimately, even if fiscal and monetary policy weren’t deadlocked, we’d still face the same conundrum. Say the White House and Ben Bernanke got everything they wanted to boost the economy. At some point these boosts would have to end. The economy would have to be able to run on its own.

But it can’t run on its own because consumers have reached the end of their ropes.

After three decades of flat wages during which almost all the gains of growth have gone to the very top, the middle class no longer has the buying power to keep the economy going. It can’t send more spouses into paid work, can’t work more hours, can’t borrow any more. All the coping mechanisms are exhausted.

In short, multinational corporations have already extracted pretty much all the wealth from consumers—notice yet again how we never call them citizens—they can get and are hanging around only to try to collect what they think they’re still owed. What Reich still doesn’t get to is what I wrote back in June:

Reich says, “We have to get to the core problem: a middle class that doesn’t have the dough to buy the goods and services the economy is capable of producing.” But any who have viewed Adam Curtis’s “The Century of the Self” (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4) series (broadcast on BBC channel 4 in 2002) know that our social evolution into a consumer society is the consequence of a conscious decision by elites who, according to Curtis, justified it as a means of taming what they feared in the deeper natures of mass populations. It was a self-serving choice that also relieved economic elites’ fears of a shortage of demand for their overproduction.

So an historic understanding of our present woes is that this is not a problem of underconsumption but of overproduction and of an economic system that relies upon consumption of that overproduction.

But as the policymaking rift from reality has progressed, it becomes clear that something has to give, even if the elite are so wrapped up in their own self-righteousness that they fail to realize their necks could quite literally be on the line. Velma Hart spoke for tens of millions of people. As loathsome as they may be, the Tea Partiers speak for tens of millions more. And according to my arithmetic with Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, there are at least twenty million often-marginalized people who should have jobs but don’t and many more subsisting on less than a living wage, whose denial of a basic human right, the right to be able to earn a decent living, means the elite don’t even consider them human.

One thing’s for sure: there’s a critical mass in all those tens of millions of people. I don’t know how it coalesces or what happens or even when it happens. But the longer it takes, the more likely it will be violent.

Race and the privileging of corporations: the perversion of progressivism in the Obama era

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

There is absolutely no sign that reality is making any impression whatsoever within the Beltway. Here is Bob Herbert in the New York Times summing up the crisis more efficiently than I can:

The American economy is on its knees and the suffering has reached historic levels. Nearly 44 million people were living in poverty last year, which is more than 14 percent of the population. That is an increase of 4 million over the previous year, the highest percentage in 15 years, and the highest number in more than a half-century of record-keeping. Millions more are teetering on the edge, poised to fall into poverty.

More than a quarter of all blacks and a similar percentage of Hispanics are poor. More than 15 million children are poor.

The movers and shakers, including most of the mainstream media, have paid precious little attention to this wide-scale economic disaster.

Meanwhile, the middle class, hobbled for years with the stagnant incomes that accompany extreme employment insecurity, is now in retreat. Joblessness, home foreclosures, personal bankruptcy — pick your poison. Median family incomes were 5 percent lower in 2009 than they were a decade earlier. The Harvard economist Lawrence Katz told The Times, “This is the first time in memory that an entire decade has produced essentially no economic growth for the typical American household.”

Here is Barack Obama, speaking at a $30,000-per-plate fundraiser:

[A]fter being in this job for two years, I have never been more optimistic about America. I am optimistic partly because we did some really tough things that aren’t always popular but were the right things to do. … Democrats, just congenitally, tend to get — to see the glass as half empty. (Laughter.) If we get an historic health care bill passed — oh, well, the public option wasn’t there. If you get the financial reform bill passed — then, well, I don’t know about this particularly derivatives rule, I’m not sure that I’m satisfied with that. And gosh, we haven’t yet brought about world peace and — (laughter.) I thought that was going to happen quicker. (Laughter.) You know who you are. (Laughter.) We have had the most productive, progressive legislative session in at least a generation.

The problem isn’t just inside the Beltway. A couple months ago, Herbert wrote:

The hustlers and high rollers at Wall Street’s gaming tables are starting to feel lucky again.

Hiring is beginning to pick up in the very sector that led the country to the edge of a depression. An article on the front page of The Times on Sunday noted that this turnaround “underscores the remarkable recovery of the biggest banks and brokerage firms since Washington rescued them in the fall of 2008, and follows the huge rebound in profits for members of the New York Stock Exchange, which totaled $61.4 billion in 2009, the most ever.”

The hustlers and high rollers are always there to skim the cream, no matter what’s happening in the real world of ordinary American families.

But as Glenn Greenwald explains,

So, just as Robert Gibbs before him explained [see here] (albeit more harshly), if you’re one of those people dissatisfied with large parts of the Obama presidency, that’s only because you have something wrong with the way you think (you need drug testing/you “congenitally see the glass as half empty”), and because you are saddled with extremely unrealistic, child-like expectations (you’re angry that the Pentagon hasn’t closed yet/bitter that Obama “hasn’t yet brought about world peace: ‘I thought that was going to happen quicker’ (Laughter.)”). In other words, you’re just a petulant, unreasonable, unrealistic, fringe child who doesn’t appreciate the greatness and generosity he’s given you (h/t Jane Hamsher).

Here’s Firedoglake’s Jane Hamsher:

Yeah, we know who we are. We’re the people who supported Bill Halter’s primary challenge of Blanche Lincoln, the woman Obama campaigned for. Who only included that derivatives rule in the financial reform bill because she was afraid of losing to Halter.

We’re the people who fought for a year and a half to pass Audit the Fed, which Obama, the Fed, the Treasury and the banks all lobbied against and worked hard to weaken. It passed the Senate 94-0, and Chris Hayes called it “the single greatest act of bipartisanship since Obama took office” on MSNBC. It was part of the financial reg bill, which is the “only popular Democratic act” since the 2008 election, per Gallup.

Now here’s Zach Carter writing about Obama’s speech on BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill:

This response to BP’s malfeasance might be forgivable had it been Obama’s first capitulation in the name of political expediency—environmental disaster or no, he could credibly claim to be withholding political capital for other endeavors. But we’ve already watched Obama give away critical provisions on the economic stimulus package, health care reform, Wall Street reform, climate change and even subsequent legislative efforts to create jobs (he is now, timidly and belatedly trying to make the case for a jobs bill in small forums). There is no longer any reason to make excuses for him. Time and again, this president has simply refused to fight for any controversial legislative act.

So the corporations—even those that have caused the worst suffering in the United States since the Great Depression—are doing great and Obama thinks “we have had the most productive, progressive legislative session in at least a generation.”

In all of this, it is time for a discussion of race. I know it seems marginally relevant, even if people of color are disproportionately affected by the new depression. Early this year, I wrote,

In my Masters and undergraduate programs, I took a number of classes from Robert Terrell, a professor at CSU East Bay I retain enormous respect for. I’m more radical than he is, but he provided me with the information that led me to where I am. I owe him a lot.

Having looked at all Terrell presented, and being thereby duly horrified, I came to be surprised by his attitude. As just an example, he came to the conclusion that Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, “is a really nice lady.” He described politics as “the art of the possible” and retained a faith in the ability of the system to reform itself.

I was more skeptical. But Terrell perceived gradual progress in the simple fact he was permitted to teach. Because of his race, he believed, he would not have been permitted that in the 1960s.

Terrell has more recently accused me of being reluctant to speak about race. In fact, that’s not true. But it’s possible to suggest I do not speak of race in the way that Terrell would like me to. About a year ago, I wrote,

President Barack Obama’s post-racialism is reaching absurd proportions. In an interview, former President Jimmy Carter said, “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African American.”

Carter’s remarks are reasonable. One would have to dig pretty deep and reach pretty far to otherwise explain the sheer venom behind the birther movement which keeps resurrecting itself under new pseudonyms to go along with new excuses for bizarre and frankly dangerous behavior. Even Bill Cosby, whom I criticize harshly for blaming impoverished Blacks for their own condition, agrees (and sounds pretty reasonable in the process).

It isn’t like Obama doesn’t know there’s racism in the country. He admitted as much when first asked about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. . . .

But what’s really troubling is that they apparently expect to maintain credibility while issuing these denials [that race motivates opposition to the Obama presidency]. This is not the first time, by a rather long shot. Obama backed off on his entirely reasonable initial statement about the Gates arrest. After a masterful speech that still denied the significance of Reverend Jim Wright’s remarks, he repudiated his former pastor, of whom he had initially said he could “no more disown . . . than . . . my white grandmother.”

It’s starting to look seriously delusional. Perhaps even pathological. Obama’s been lying so much he doesn’t even see what surely the entire rest of the world must see. He’s been in office for less than eight months. He ran on a platform of “change,” but his term looks more and more like Bush’s third.

In that posting, I noted a tendency for upper and middle class Blacks to adopt a mythology of opportunity, which I more fully explain here, to blame poor Blacks for their misfortune. Of course, it isn’t just well-off Blacks who do this; it’s just all the more striking when it comes from the likes of Bill Cosby, Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and Michael Steele. And I’ve struggled to understand it. After all, they, of all people, should know better.

I’m presently reading an autobiography of Cornel West, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud (New York: SmileyBooks, 2009). And in the first chapter I was struck by how he claims to “acknowledge . . . human struggle and suffering” and to “mak[e] pain and sorrow [his] constant companions” (p. 5) while spending all his time flying all around the world visiting his dearly beloved relations and thoroughly enjoying his life. In subsequent chapters, it becomes clear that he did indeed encounter a fairly vicious racism that still predominated in the 1960s and that his family had an experience of it from before.

I’m still reading the book and I’m inclined to give West the benefit of some doubt. The man hung with the Black Panthers and though he objects to their criticism of Christianity, I think that by and large, he gets it.

But West reveals how Blacks who lived through the brutality of the 1960s and before might feel an exclusive entitlement to claims of racism and suffering. As Obama himself said,

I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners — an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters.

Obama is actually a little younger than myself, but such an attitude might explain how he can dismiss his former pastor’s remarks on race relations as

a profoundly distorted view of this country — a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America . . .

And a man who can ignore the ongoing suffering of so many people in his own race will surely ignore it in the broader population. Even as he acknowledged historic and continuing discrimination and as he acknowledged the economic injustice in this country, he also said,

What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

Obama sees anger at racial injustice as stemming from the past, and echoing Bill Cosby, said,

That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change.

Obama in fact used a speech praised for confronting persistent racism to blame the victims. And when his former pastor, Reverend Jim Wright, insisted on talking about people who continue to suffer, Obama repudiated him.

I suppose it is understandable that those who have endured the long years of Democratic Party capitulation to the right and of neoconservative ascendance might grasp at any straws for hope and change, particularly when manifest in a man who draws credibility as a member of a long-oppressed race. But in so doing, white progressives have revealed their own racism and classism, expecting that despite the examples of so many upper and middle class Blacks, that Barack Obama would identify with the poor.

I remember once speaking of racism in the Southern states of the Old Confederacy and having an African American reproach me. Racism is everywhere, she said, and at least in the South, they have had to confront it. She was right, in a great many more ways than I suspect even she realized.

Yes Norman, elections are a waste of time

Note: Dead links in the original post have been deleted from this version.

Norman Solomon has just posted a blog entry on the Huffington Post criticizing those who have decided not to vote this November. There’s no way to do it justice with a partial quote, so here’s the whole thing:

A pithy idea — now going around in some progressive circles — is that elections are a waste of time.

The idea can be catchy. It all depends on some tacit assumptions.

For instance: elections are a waste of time if you figure the U.S. government is so far gone that it can’t get much worse.

Elections are a waste of time if you’ve given up on grassroots organizing to sway voters before they cast ballots.

Elections are a waste of time if you think there’s not much difference on the Supreme Court between Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, or Sonia Sotomayor and Samuel Alito.

Elections are a waste of time if you’re so disgusted with Speaker Pelosi that you wouldn’t lift a finger to prevent Speaker Boehner.

Elections are a waste of time if you don’t see much value in reducing — even slightly — the extent of injustice and deprivation imposed on vulnerable people.

Or, if you see the organizing of protests, community groups, unions and the like as “either/or” in relation to working for the election of better candidates.

Or, if you think the goal of those who struggled and suffered for the right to vote — seeing the ballot as an essential component of democracy — is outdated and rendered moot by present-day frustrations and outrages.

Elections are a waste of time if you think corporate power has grown so immense that state power has become irrelevant.

Or, if you still believe it was smart when some of us progressives figured we had no stake in efforts to defeat Ronald Reagan in 1980 or George W. Bush in 2000.

Or, if you think it doesn’t much matter whether Californians elect to make possible Senator Carly Fiorina and Governor Meg Whitman, or whether Wisconsin voters remove Russ Feingold from the Senate.

Or, if you’d just as soon bypass any plausible path for electing more genuine progressives like Dennis Kucinich or Barbara Lee to government positions.

Or, if you see the raising of political awareness as an alternative to — rather than intertwined with — the building of progressive electoral power to challenge corporate power.

Elections are a waste of time if you don’t realize or care that the powerful forces behind Wall Street and the warfare state are thrilled if progressives retreat from electoral battles.

Elections are a waste of time if you conclude — due to chronic suppression of electoral democracy — that the ideal of electoral democracy should be discarded rather than pursued.

Elections are a waste of time if you think progressives should opt out of electoral struggles for government power, leaving it to uncontested dominance by the heartless and the spineless.

You’ll notice there’s an argument he doesn’t really deal with. Simply put, we’ve tried that. At this point, we’re no longer merely looking at voter participation as legitimating a sham but a definition attributed to Albert Einstein:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Firedoglake’s jeffroby points out (but please do read the whole post, originally here) that:

(1) Obama could end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as commander-in-chief, in practice if not through legislation. But his Justice Department is defending it against a REPUBLICAN challenge.

(2) Obama didn’t have to cut a pre-election deal with the healthcare industry precluding bargaining over drug prices, imports from Canada, and a public option.

(3) Obama could close Guantanamo as commander-in-chief.

(4) Obama could renounce George Bush’s claim on dictatorial presidential powers, including assassination of American citizens, rather than extending them.

(5) Obama could order his Justice Department to prosecute Bush era war criminals.

(6) Obama could end the war in Afghanistan as commander-in-chief, ending the slaughter of wedding parties.

(7) Obama could use his powers to make recess appointments to give progressives such as Dawn Johnsen a foothold in his administration.

(8) Obama could end the Catfood Commission he insisted on after it was REJECTED by Congress.

(9) Obama could simply veto any extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich, rather than pointedly refusing to promise to do.

(10) Obama could use the bully pulpit for so many causes, rather than cower in front of a Congress that has 59 senators.

My fingers grow weary, but others could add to this list.

At this point, it should be painfully obvious that voting for Democrats or Republicans means support for Republican policies. And voting for Republicans might at least mean they won’t seek power through a coup, a possibility which was arguably realized in passage of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), and which I’ve worried about here, here, here, here, and here.

To vote Republican out of fear of a coup reifies the coup. To vote Democratic enables Democrats to continue to take progressive votes for granted. If one must vote, therefore, the only acceptable choice is a third party, such as (in California) the Peace and Freedom Party or the Green Party. It is essential to not further legitimate the two-party system or an electoral system corrupted by corporations where corporate media determine which candidates are “credible.”

“You don’t understand”

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

One day, while I was still in my Master’s program, I somehow—and I don’t remember how—wound up in an on line conversation with someone whom I think was in England. We were comparing notes on post-modernists and we shared an experience of being told in class, “You don’t understand.”

The script goes something like this. A professor will say something that, to put it mildly, invites challenge. It somehow doesn’t make sense or seems completely off the wall. A student (often myself) questions the assertion. The professor responds, “You don’t understand,” or something along similar lines. Crucially, the blame for misunderstanding or lack of understanding is shifted onto the student, the student is silenced, and the professor is immunized from having to explain.

The practice was so pervasive in my Master’s program that I labeled it “intellectual bullying,” a term I’ve seen used similarly in other contexts. It doesn’t really work. Some of us were teaching freshman level classes ourselves; we recognized what was going on, and sometimes we would meet in the office we shared (conveniently just across the hall from the classroom) and either close the door so we could burst out laughing or just shake our heads. That program came under and remains under direct control of the Dean’s office.

But most graduate students are just plain better at brown-nosing than I am. We just carry on, because the goal is the degree. And you don’t get any extra letters after your name for in-class arguments with the professor. Still, it’s something you hope to leave behind.

For the most part I have. My present program is a clear step up and the professors are generally far superior. But this semester, the “You don’t understand” response has returned. Not precisely in those words, but along those lines.

I can’t offer details. A rule in the on line classrooms, like with Las Vegas, is that what happens on Caucus stays on Caucus.

But it’s a reminder that academia is ferociously hierarchical. Even when it pretends not to be.

Avarice and Bigotry: A crusade unmasked

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

We, in the imperial sense of we, seem to have reached a contradiction.

A war “on terror” principally but not admittedly against Muslims has been unmasked for the latter-day crusade that it is. And elites see maintaining the fiction that this is not a crusade as crucial to their imperial ambitions in south Asia.

Islamophobia first entered my consciousness in the 1970s, but our present predicament appears to date to 1968, when as Thaddeus Russell writes:

The history of Israel and its relationship with the U.S. is infinitely complex, but there’s one damning fact that’s ignored as often as The Question: There was not a single act of Arab terrorism against Americans before 1968, when the U.S. became the chief supplier of military equipment and economic aid to Israel. In light of this fact, it’s difficult to credibly sustain the argument that Arab terrorism is spawned by Islam’s alleged promotion of violence and antipathy toward American culture or by a “natural” Arab anti-Semitism. It also suggests that no matter what policies Israel enacts to protect itself—even a withdrawal from the occupied territories or a two-state “solution”—it must be a perpetual wartime state.

Russell refers to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy:

The killing came shortly after President Lyndon Johnson declared that the U.S. would become Israel’s major sponsor, and Kennedy announced that if elected president he would supply Israel with whatever weapons it needed so that the Jewish state “can protect itself” against its Arab neighbors.

In reversing a Truman administration decision, Johnson privileged Israel’s much smaller population against tens of millions of Muslims. It was, as Truman’s cabinet recognized, a choice for endless war, a crusade in which Israel can only prevail with the blessings of a power far superior even to the United States.

I deplore Islamophobia, but as hateful as a small-time pastor’s threat to burn copies of the Quran on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks may be, I can only be grateful that we as a people are now compelled to confront the fact that while elites may persecute their crusade out of avarice, they exploit—even as some condemn—a bigotry against Muslims prevalent in the U.S. population.

Unfortunately, none of this points to a rational or peaceful resolution. Progressive antiwar activists are too easily put on the defensive by the reputed misogyny of Islam even as they swim against the tide of the misogyny of our own culture. In addition, climate change—for which the West and, principally, the United States are largely to blame—appears to threaten freshwater supplies and food [in]security in south Asia; this can only aggravate and widen the conflict while undermining an already unpopular alliance with Pakistan, which was arguably entered into only under duress.

If burning copies of the Quran is a bad idea, this crusade against Islam is very much a more terrible one. But Barack Obama chose to escalate the war in Afghanistan, to escalate the rhetoric for potential war on Iran, and to expand secret wars on other Muslim countries.

In the end, this is just one more element exposing the rift from reality which besets what passes for policymaking in this country and another factor in the inevitable breakup of the nation.

It will be a tremendous irony that given the cost of these wars to the U.S. economy, that Osama bin Laden will, with only some exaggeration, be able to claim to have defeated the empire. Of course, lots of other Islamists will be able to make the same claim. But as former ABC News Nightline anchor Ted Koppel wrote,

The goal of any organized terrorist attack is to goad a vastly more powerful enemy into an excessive response. And over the past nine years, the United States has blundered into the 9/11 snare with one overreaction after another. Bin Laden deserves to be the object of our hostility, national anguish and contempt, and he deserves to be taken seriously as a canny tactician. But much of what he has achieved we have done, and continue to do, to ourselves.

Why divorce when you can instead disintegrate in the most painful way possible?

It was Labor Day, still, as I began to write this. I had felt speechless and dumbfounded for much of the day. It was a day to remember and honor workers who have borne the brunt of economic “adjustments” that have continued since the 1970s. And yet, I was able to go to a coffee shop I enjoy, buy paper for my printer, and do some grocery shopping.

For many workers, this was just another day of labor.

Unions had been in trouble for quite some time when, not quite thirty years ago, Ronald Reagan took the inaugural oath. Associated with corruption and organized crime and cast as yet one more leech in workers’ wallets, the unions had lost a propaganda battle, which enabled Reagan to fire striking air traffic control workers with impunity. And it was a death knell for more than just the labor union movement. Read more

Apocalypse and the one-party system

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

My thoughts are drifting back to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (New York: Anchor, 1998), the story of an extremist fundamentalist Christian country, the Republic of Gilead, in which many women are no longer able to bear children, and those that are are–on the flimsiest pretexts–enslaved to produce children for couples that can’t. In Chapter 41, Atwood has her protagonist begin to tell the story of how the United States became that country, and when I first read this story, her account seemed entirely too plausible.

I think that most progressives would agree that, as president, George W. Bush was far more evil than Barack Obama. But it is on the latter’s watch that as a country, we have become a fascist country, propelled by fear and hatred, and that we have become a police state.

Certainly the economy has something to do with it. And that the Democratic Party has contemptibly failed to take action. As one college student told the New York Times, “Right now it seems like Republicans just care a lot more than Democrats.”

And all the Democratic Party apologists do in response is recite a mantra that it took years to get us into this mess and it will take us years to get out. But they didn’t say that when the banks needed to be bailed out. They only say this when people need help who can’t afford to be unemployed and whose homes are at risk. The banks are wildly profitable again, untamed by financial so-called reform.

The Democrats have demonstrated that they do not deserve to govern, and voters now seem set to return the House and, possibly, the Senate to Republicans whose political strategy appeared not so long ago not to be an electoral strategy but a coup strategy.

I am remembering someone who warned me that fascists would not come to power in this country at the point of a gun, but, if at all, as with the Nazis in Germany of the 1930s, through the ballot box. Right now, I’m thinking she’s right. And it was less than a year ago that I wrote,

If Gene Lyons is right, and there’s a good chance he is, a majority of the U.S. public recognizes much of the recent health care insanity for what it is. And while some of the furor is self-inflicted, it is pretty obvious that a lot of this is more about racism than health care.

So I’m trying to envision a scenario where Republican politicians who may exploit idiocy without necessarily being idiots themselves see an advantage in doing this. That they may fatally cripple Obama’s presidency is certainly a factor. But how does it work to do this if Republicans make themselves look worse?

It works if Republicans have reached a similar conclusion to the Center for American Progress that their long-term electoral hopes are dim. It works if Republicans want a vocal and potentially violent enough faction to frighten a majority already suffering a profound dissonance between their experience and their beliefs about the U.S. into acquiescence. It works when Democrats undermine their own mandate and preserve the status quo by doing everything possible to appease Republicans. It works if Republicans are moving towards a fascist future.

The racism I recognized then is now resurgent against Mexican migrants and against Muslims. People in this country are desperate for scapegoats. Scott Sernau, in Worlds Apart: Social Inequalities in a Global Economy, 2nd Edition, (Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge, 2006) was referring to the 1970s when he wrote,

At the same time, the loss of industrial jobs and declining incomes for the working class created new fears of competition and struggles between workers. Working-class whites felt abandoned by the loss of the progressive New Deal agenda. In particular, they directed their anger and frustration at welfare programs, which they believed rewarded people for not working, and at affirmative action programs, which they feared would limit their own opportunities (Faludi 1991). (p. 320)

It’s as true now as it was then. And it is also true that as much as the Democrats have moved to the right, to the extent that I no longer believed there was a significant difference between them and the Republicans, that the Republicans have nonetheless been more successful in persuading working-class whites to vote against their own interests.

But it is now hard to say that a vote for Democrats is a vote for working-class interests. Or for any interests other than those of the very rich. It is now possible to say that if we are to be governed by Republicans who label themselves as Democrats, we might as well vote for the real thing.

It was only last November that I wrote,

Events this year [2009] now force me to the realization that there is a difference between the two parties–which I have been referring to as factions to underline their similarity. Simply put, the Republicans now predominate only in the South. Their expression of their desire for power no longer entails electoral success. If we are to assume that they still seek power (and the alternative seems incomprehensible), then we must conclude that Republicans seek power through an uprising–presumably violent or through the threat of violence.

Even as the difference between Democrats and Republicans now appears to have been an illusion, the contest this November seems not to be between the two parties but between Republicans, including those who masquerade as Democrats, and the Tea Party.

Pundits are tracking and arguing over former Alaska Governor and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s success in endorsing candidates (see here, here, here, and here, just from a quick Google search). Given Palin’s apocalyptic version of Christianity, I suppose it’s little wonder that Margaret Atwood’s novel comes to mind.