An incorrigible system

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. You can comment here or there.

I’m in a really weird place right now.

I actually have the opportunity to put a dent in the pile of reading that I’ve been accumulating for years—books I’ve had to go ahead and shelve unread because with a cat around, they’d just get toppled.

I just finished reading Hacker and Pierson’s Winner-Take-All Politics.1 They never did get to the point Stiglitz had made that poorly managed economic globalization undermines democracy by enabling very wealthy corporations to play countries off against each other for the most favorable labor market and regulatory conditions.2

Though Hacker and Pierson point out how Democrats have adopted winner-take-all politics, that they have had to in order to raise the campaign funds needed to advertise on television, and that opposition to corporation-friendly policies has withered, they assume—without adequate explanation—that there remains a significant difference between Democrats and Republicans.

With that in mind, I sat down with one of the older books on my reading pile, Impeach the President: The Case Against Bush and Cheney.3 It will be a reminder of the anger progressives felt against the Bush administration, whose corruption, ineptitude, and lawlessness were legion. Writing in their preface, Dennis Loo and Peter Phillips document Bush’s lie about domestic spying and then write, “It does not end there—nothing about this administration ‘ends there.'”4

What we see a few years down the road is that it wasn’t just that administration. Instead, nothing about this government “ends there.” Hacker and Pierson use the—to put it mildly—watering down of the Obama agenda to show just how difficult overcoming entrenched financial interests will be, as if that were the only problem or even a significant portion of the problem. Loo and Phillips have a long list of crimes on which they would indict Bush and Cheney:

  1. Stealing the White House in 2000 and 2004 through outright voter fraud.

  2. Lying to the American people and deliberately misleading Congress in order to launch an unprovoked war of aggression upon Iraq.

  3. Authorizing and directing the torture of thousands of captives, leading to death, extreme pain, disfigurements, and psychological trauma. Hiding prisoners from the International Committtee of the Red Cross by deliberately failing to record them as detainees and conducting the rendition of hundreds of prisoners to “black sites” known for their routine torture of prisoners. Indefinitely detaining people and suspending habeas corpus rights.

  4. Ordering free fire zones and authorizing the use of antipersonnel weaapons in dense urban setting in Iraq, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians—war crimes under international law.

  5. Usurping the American people’s right to know the truth about governmental actions through the systematic use of propaganda and disinformation.

  6. Building an imperial presidency by issuing signing statements to laws passed by Congress that negate congressional intent. Hiding government decisions from public and congressional view through subverting the Freedom of Information Act. Illegally spying on millions of Americans without court authorization and lying about it for years.

  7. Undermining New Orleans’ capacity to withstand a hurricane, allowing New Orleans’ destruction by Katrina, and failing to come to victims’ aid in a timely fashion, leading to thousands of Americans dead or missing.

  8. Denying global warming, disregarding Peak Oil, and placing oil-industry profits over the long-term survival of the human race and the viability of the planet.

  9. Violating the constitutional principle of separation of church and state through the interlinking of theocratic ideologies in the decision-making process of the U.S. government.

  10. Failing to attempt to prevent the 9/11 attacks, despite a wealth of very specific evidence of a pending terrorist attack upon New York, and the World Trade Center in particular. Using this failure as a rationale for preemptive attacks on other countries and for the suspension of Americans’ fundamental civil liberties and our right to privacy.

  11. Promotion of U.S. global dominance of the world and the building and use of illegal weapons of mass destruction.

  12. Overthrowing Haiti’s democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and installing a highly repressive regime.5

We might quibble about some of these charges—I’m guessing that Loo and Phillips have assembled powerful essays in support of these points—but as a country under a successor administration elected on the dual promises of “hope” and “change,” it can only be astonishing to see how many of these criminal policies—to which mainstream Democrats offered at most token resistance during the Bush administration even after taking control of Congress following the 2006 elections—have been continued, enhanced, and extended even as they bear their poisonous fruit. And when Hacker and Pierson talk about taking on winner-take-all politics, it becomes clear that they have severely underestimated the enormity of the task.

Not that Hacker and Pierson thought that the task they propose would be easy; on the contrary, but as political scientists they limit their range of possible solutions to those that operate within a hopelessly corrupt system.

And anyone who pretends that “reforming” the U.S. political system from within is possible is in fact complicit in its crimes. The goal here cannot be achieved through elections, petitions, or activist organizations. This is a system that can only be overthrown.

Unfortunately, it is much more likely that the right will do this than the left, that they will do so violently, and that the result will be even more fascist than what we already have.

  • 1. Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010).
  • 2. Joseph E. Stiglitz, Making Globalization Work (New York: W. W. Norton, 2007).
  • 3. Dennis Loo and Peter Phillips, eds., Impeach the President: The Case Against Bush and Cheney (New York: Seven Stories, 2006).
  • 4. Loo and Phillips, Impeach the President, p. xv
  • 5. Loo and Phillips, Impeach the President, pp. xi-xii.

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