19 October 2008

Count no Chickens

John Maxwell
Sunday, October 19, 2008


Barring some transcendental upheaval, some unforeseeable catastrophe or the kind of unconscionable 'October Surprise' to which the US Republican party is so addicted, John McCain has almost no chance of being elected president of the United States. This is despite one of the nastiest, most dishonourable election campaigns ever conducted anywhere.

Months ago, during the Democratic Party primaries, I predicted in this column that this would be the dirtiest election campaign in American history. It was worse than that - dirtier than any election campaign I have ever heard of.

John McCain, unfortunately, has never heard of David Coore's first law of holes: when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

Instead, he recruited battalions of assistant diggers and welcomed the contributions of hundreds if not thousands more eager volunteers with the result that, approaching the end of his final election campaign, he has lost electoral support, public respect, his own honour and the prospect of enjoying in in public admiration and goodwill in his sunset years.

I know the exact moment when I realised that McCain had lost the election. It was during the second debate with Obama and I was watching, as I always do, the little meter at the bottom of the TV screen which reflects the feelings of a specially selected group of uncommitted viewers. I soon realised that while there were clearly favourable and adverse reactions to Obama, for McCain the meter mostly remained flat.

I thought this was a little odd and wondered if the meter wasn't working, because I expected some reaction when McCain said something I thought they may have disliked. But no, the meter flatlined for most of his time. The uncommitted had effectively tuned him out.


I am writing this column before the final debate, but I don't expect it to be any different from the others. There will be some reaction when McCain makes some particularly outrageous statement, but as far as real content is concerned I am expecting the meter to flatline for most of McCain's arguments.

This is a pity, because the world deserves to hear serious argument from aspiring leaders of "the free world". We're not going to get it for two reasons: one is John McCain's formidable inadequacies; the other is the structure of the US political system. The American president is effectively an elected king. Some, like Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) considered it important to enjoy the "consent of the governed". Others, most notably Nixon and Bush/Cheney, consider the governed to be an inconvenient nuisance to be ignored whenever practicable.

Constitutionally, the president is as carefully segregated as possible from party. The parties are hobbled by the carefully engineered disconnect between the hoi polloi - in the House of Representatives - elected every two years, and the Senate, elected in tranches - one-third every two years - so that popular feeling, enthusiasms and indignations, are as diluted as possible and the status quo is massively immobile.

Even presidents elected by landslides like Johnson, Reagan and Clinton, find it extremely difficult to promulgate the mandates they appeared to have been given by the body politic and to fulfil the promises they made.

Only a president with very long coat-tails may find sufficient support among his party/coalition to implement anything that resembles what the people want.

Between the will and the deed are the inertia of long-serving conservatives and some notable boobies in both parties on the one hand, and on the other, the millionaire journalists who claim to represent the public interest.

Media monopolies chain them to conservative positions, manacled by ephemeral privilege based on an irrefrangible sense of obligation to their masters. This may be why the US media, almost alone in the world, played pied piper for George Bush in Iraq and for Alan Greenspan in his dour pavane to economic and financial disaster. It may be why some areas of blatant and obscene injustice get such short shrift in the US press: the continuing torture of the Palestinians, the subjection and rape of Haiti, the economic and social exploitation of Africa and Latin America, and the continuing injustice of the Iraq war are mainly publicised only in the blogs, the flourishing outhouses of the American press.

In such a ménage, any presidential candidate would be cutting his own throat were he not to promise eternal fealty to Israel; the idea that he might talk to Iran or Cuba without preconditions is as bizarre as the idea of Lyndon Johnson recognising China.

China was recognised, by Nixon of all people, and - even more bizarre - the American banking system is even now being nationalised by George Bush and the former chairman of Goldman Sachs.

Nothing, they say, happens before its time.

Barack Obama has proven that he can organise, build coalitions and mobilise masses of people. If he becomes president the question is whether he will be able to organise himself and the United States out of the abyss into which they have been plunged by imperial capitalism.

The British, followed by the Europeans and finally the Americans, have recognised that social institutions that are as massively integral to civilised life as the banks cannot be allowed to operate their own planet. That is why they have nationalised the banking system - or the most important parts - and why the taxpayers across the Atlantic will have representation on the controlling boards of the financial institutions.

But even as the United States has surrendered its right to elect the head of the World Bank, the multilateral financial institutions still stand as a massive roadblock between the public and those who are technically accountable for the management of our financial affairs. These institutional usurers will continue to say, with straight faces, that countries like Jamaica which have never defaulted are less worthy of credit than Bear Stearns, for example, or Donald Trump.


Mr McCain speaks about greed and cupidity, apparently completely unaware that while we have greed and cupidity always with us, we do not need to carry around the parasitic weight of greedy and irresponsible moneychangers who produce nothing but propaganda on behalf of their class. The next few years, particularly in Britain and Europe, will demonstrate that it is possible to manage gargantuan economies and intricate trading arrangements without the necessity of creating billionaires out of bookkeepers.

At the same time, in the case of the Europeans, with more democratic systems of government - at least more responsive to the popular will -important segments of the power structure will once again be in the hands of the people's representatives. The state, which is us, has paid - coming and going - for the extravagances of our bookkeepers. Now that we have real equity in the system itself, the question is whether and why we would again be crazy enough to surrender the commanding heights of the economy to hysterical gangs of pirates, gamblers, sociopaths and common criminals.

In the United States the intent is that when the delinquent and incompetent elements of the system have been restored to financial health and good hygiene, they will again be privatised. Some Americans regard Franklin Delano Roosevelt - a real American aristocrat - as a Communist, because he believed that great wealth did not confer sainthood. He thought that the world should be a rational place, run on behalf of everybody.

He was not a leveller, not the sort of person who Bustamante alleged would cut pigs and goats in half to fulfil some insane idea of egalitarianism. He was not even a democratic socialist or even close to it. He believed in capitalism, which he thought was a civilised system which could take care of all and provide good living for many if the essential rules were enforced.

But he died (10 years younger than John McCain is now) at the apex of his achievements, just before the end of the Second World War, and people less wise than he allowed, and some aided and abetted, the parasitic and strangulatory growth of what Eisenhower called the military industrial complex and its efflorescence, Imperial Capitalism. This increasing cohabitation between the military and finance capital is the centre of the system which has now demonstrated so graphically, its moral, ecological, political, economic and military failure. In its febrile greed and acquisitiveness it bribed and blackmailed its workers and customers to expect irrational and unrealistic living standards based entirely on the ravaging of natural resources and the ruthless exploitation of subject peoples. These injustices require in turn, or are said to require, enormous parasitic military and industrial establishments essentially meant to keep the natives in their places, whether in Moscow, Havana, Milwaukee or Kingston. To protect the primacy of the United States, the neo-cons conjured up a dream of total domination - American lebensraum in a world denominated by the principles of the 'Bell Curve' and dominated by the essential wickedness of Ayn Rand and her philosophy of self - über alles.

It worked for Alan Greenspan and fortified the animal spirits of his disciples in Goldman Sachs and similar joints. It cannot work for the rest of us, because if we are all to live according to those principles we would require the resources of three planets just like this one.

As Imperial Capitalism attempts to rework itself into its former positions of absolute power it will have to accomplish this with our cooperation.

Especially if Barack Obama becomes president of the United States it will become increasingly clear to the majority of us that we have the solutions in our own heads and the means in our own hands.

As we watch the process and begin to take a more active part in it, we will begin to understand the enormity of our own servitude and the need, in the worlds of Norman Manley, to 'dis-enthrall ourselves'.

To be enthralled is not only to be seized by rapturous adoration, it is also to be enslaved, to abandon freedom and liberty in favour of self-administered lobotomy - to be infatuated with death.

Walk good!

Copyright©2008 John Maxwell

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