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The Corporate State Wins Again

Posted on Apr 25, 2011

truthdig

By Chris Hedges

When did our democracy die? When did it irrevocably transform itself into a lifeless farce and absurd political theater? When did the press, labor, universities and the Democratic Party—which once made piecemeal and incremental reform possible—wither and atrophy? When did reform through electoral politics become a form of magical thinking? When did the dead hand of the corporate state become unassailable?
The body politic was mortally wounded during the long, slow strangulation of ideas and priorities during the Red Scare and the Cold War. Its bastard child, the war on terror, inherited the iconography and language of permanent war and fear. The battle against internal and external enemies became the excuse to funnel trillions in taxpayer funds and government resources to the war industry, curtail civil liberties and abandon social welfare. Skeptics, critics and dissenters were ridiculed and ignored. The FBI, Homeland Security and the CIA enforced ideological conformity. Debate over the expansion of empire became taboo. Secrecy, the anointing of specialized elites to run our affairs and the steady intrusion of the state into the private lives of citizens conditioned us to totalitarian practices. Sheldon Wolin points out in “Democracy Incorporated” that this configuration of corporate power, which he calls “inverted totalitarianism,” is not like “Mein Kampf” or “The Communist Manifesto,” the result of a premeditated plot. It grew, Wolin writes, from “a set of effects produced by actions or practices undertaken in ignorance of their lasting consequences.” 
Corporate capitalism—because it was trumpeted throughout the Cold War as a bulwark against communism—expanded with fewer and fewer government regulations and legal impediments. Capitalism was seen as an unalloyed good. It was not required to be socially responsible. Any impediment to its growth, whether in the form of trust-busting, union activity or regulation, was condemned as a step toward socialism and capitulation. Every corporation is a despotic fiefdom, a mini-dictatorship. And by the end Wal-Mart, Exxon Mobil and Goldman Sachs had grafted their totalitarian structures onto the state.
The Cold War also bequeathed to us the species of the neoliberal. The neoliberal enthusiastically embraces “national security” as the highest good.  The neoliberal—composed of the gullible and cynical careerists—parrots back the mantra of endless war and corporate capitalism as an inevitable form of human progress. Globalization, the neoliberal assures us, is the route to a worldwide utopia. Empire and war are vehicles for lofty human values. Greg Mortenson, the disgraced author of “Three Cups of Tea,” tapped into this formula. The deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents in Iraq or Afghanistan are ignored or dismissed as the cost of progress. We are bringing democracy to Iraq, liberating the women of Afghanistan, defying the evil clerics in Iran, ridding the world of terrorists and protecting Israel. Those who oppose us do not have legitimate grievances. They need to be educated. It is a fantasy. But to name our own evil is to be banished. 
We continue to talk about personalities—Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama—although the heads of state or elected officials in Congress have become largely irrelevant. Lobbyists write the bills. Lobbyists get them passed. Lobbyists make sure you get the money to be elected. And lobbyists employ you when you get out of office. Those who hold actual power are the tiny elite who manage the corporations. Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, in their book “Winner-Take-All Politics,” point out that the share of national income of the top 0.1 percent of Americans since 1974 has grown from 2.7 to 12.3 percent. One in six American workers may be without a job. Some 40 million Americans may live in poverty, with tens of millions more living in a category called “near poverty.” Six million people may be forced from their homes because of foreclosures and bank repossessions. But while the masses suffer, Goldman Sachs, one of the financial firms most responsible for the evaporation of $17 trillion in wages, savings and wealth of small investors and shareholders, is giddily handing out $17.5 billion in compensation to its managers, including $12.6 million to its CEO, Lloyd Blankfein.

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The Republicans shouldn’t be taken seriously anymore.

It seems obvious, but in order to be taken seriously, politicians have to be, you know, serious. Not just in terms of personality or behavior, but primarily in terms of policy and lawmaking. If a politician refuses to propose serious ideas and only pumps out nonsensical bumper-sticker sloganeering, fear-based histrionics or symbolic legislative measures that pander to kneejerk interest groups, then he or she ought to be summarily refused the privilege of our deference, respect and, especially, our vote.

Very few modern Republicans and conservatives qualify. They fail the seriousness test at almost every level — from the Republican leadership on down the line.

Take Eric Cantor, for example. The House Majority Leader. The second most powerful Republican in Washington. Whenever I write about Eric Cantor, I’m generally met with the reaction of crickets chirping. He’s not as well-known or as incendiary as Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck. But he’s exponentially more important, and so we have to pay attention to what he’s doing.

You might recall how Cantor, along with 228 House Republicans, permanently attached their names to proven scam-artist James O’Keefe by voting to de-fund NPR in reaction to O’Keefe’s latest sting video. Like all of O’Keefe’s work, the NPR video was selectively and deceptively edited to make it seem as though an NPR executive was expressing personal views about tea party Republicans. Within days of the release of the video, Eric Cantor publicly embraced O’Keefe and expressed outrage at the dubiously-attained videotape. In his public remarks, Cantor announced the effort to de-fund NPR. Later, the House successfully voted to codify the work of a known fraud.

Should Eric Cantor really be taken seriously? No way. And it gets worse.

Yesterday, Cantor announced a piece of legislation that might as well legalize hobbit marriage and cut the budget for time-traveling DeLoreans. It’s just that fantastical.

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Two weeks ago in this space, I wrote about how the Democrats appear to be totally incompetent at ballyhooing their own successes. And make no mistake, there have been numerous legislative triumphs over the last year.

Really. No, seriously. Stop laughing. There have been.

They rescued the economy. They set new emissions standards. They protected two million acres of national forest. They passed legislation to help unemployed Americans to afford COBRA health insurance. They expanded affordable health insurance for children. They passed historic hate crimes legislation. They passed the largest middle class tax cut in American history. They’re tantalizingly close to passing health care reform. All of this despite a record number of Republican filibusters by the crackpot minority party.

So I have to ask: H-H-Hello? Anyone home?

Two events this week have served to illustrate my point about the ongoing failure of the Democrats to self-promote.

The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 went into effect. Major Democratic triumph. At long last, some of the most predatory and nefarious scams orchestrated by one of the most predatory and nefarious industries have been officially banned. Of course the credit card companies will come up with new, cruel and unusual ways to screw us hard, but this was a major victory in the effort to reform the financial sector. No more random interest rate hikes. No retroactive rate hikes. Fair warning. Transparency.

But you’d never know it based upon the silence from Capitol Hill and the White House. It’s truly confounding. Where are the Democrats? They ought to be bumrushing everyone with a camera and a fake law library backdrop — thumping their chests about how this bill will make our lives just a little bit less complicated and costly. And holy hell, it was a totally bipartisan vote in the Senate, too. 90 to 5. The lawmakers who are scrambling to prove they’re “reaching across the aisle” and all that happy crappy glad-handing — all of the pandering to the voters who tell pollsters there’s too much partisan bickering, then turn around and vote along straight party lines — these Democrats ought to be the loudest and proudest of the bunch.

Hear that? Crickets chirping.

It gets worse.

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It seems like just yesterday that Republicans, wingnuts and teabaggers suffered a collective schizoid embolism over the passage and signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

One year ago today, the president signed the bill amidst protestations from Fox News, talk radio and Rick Santelli about how the “porkulus” spending bill wouldn’t work — how it wouldn’t stimulate economic growth or create jobs. It was called generational theft, socialism, communism, Nazism and any other -ism that could be quickly plucked from the glossary of Glenn Beck’s fifth grade social studies textbook.

Nearly all Republican members of Congress voted against it — the first shot in their “trash and cash” strategy whereby they screech about the evil stimulus and how it’s an unmitigated catastrophe, while also gleefully celebrating the incoming cash in their districts, scores of Republican lawmakers outright begging various cabinet-level agencies for stimulus grant money. In all, 111 members of Congress have engaged in this hypocrisy. One of many reasons why they’re consistent only in their unapologetic self-contradictions.

And, at the end of the day, they can get away with it because of annoyingly common misconceptions about the bill. Chief among these misconceptions is the mixing up of the stimulus and the bailout. A recent CNN poll shows that only 25 percent of Americans think the stimulus helped the middle class, while a majority think it helped bankers. Of course the stimulus had nothing to do with bankers.

CNN Polling Director Keating Holland: “It’s possible that the belief that the stimulus bill helped bankers and CEOs is due to the public confusing the stimulus bill with the various bailout bills that were passed at roughly the same time last year.”

So let’s clear this up.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is “the stimulus.” Those signs you see along the highway just before driving onto super-smooth new asphalt? That’s the stimulus. The recovery act. When you hear “stimulus,” it references this $787 billion spending bill, and it contains the following key provisions.

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In the 1998 midterms, Democrats actually gained seats. A rare thing for the president’s party to pick up congressional seats in a second midterm election. Nevertheless, the Democrats won the day and Republicans lost a net five seats.

Take a guess how the Republicans responded. Naturally, they freaked out like infants and demanded that the party shift to the center, you know, where it’s safe — abandoning their congressional agenda in lieu of safe, small beans policy. Then they waited for all of the Democrats to be seated before they moved any votes to the floor. You know, just to be fair.

Wait, no. That’s what the Democrats are doing in the aftermath of the Massachusetts special election.

The Republicans, in the days immediately after being “thumped” in the midterms, didn’t make pee-pee in their big boy pants. They didn’t freak out and reevaluate their agenda or crawl back to moderate Democrats for additional support.

The Republicans impeached the president.

Before anyone was sworn in, the Republican House of Representatives voted to impeach President William Jefferson Clinton on December 19, 1998.

Hey, Democrats. Do you like apples?

Now, I’m not suggesting that the Democrats should suddenly race around trying to quickly remove Republicans who have engaged in nefarious underpants parties. (I’m looking at you, John Ensign — who voted for impeachment, by the way.)

I’m just suggesting that the Democrats find their mysteriously vanishing spines, and right quick.

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I have an important message for Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the most visible Republicans on the national stage: Keep going! You’re doing great! If this was video, you would see me standing an applauding. Maybe holding up a lighter for an encore.

The Republican Party is shriveling faster than Rush Limbaugh on a flight home from the Dominican Republic.

While I believe America only benefits from a robust two-party system, the Republicans aren’t really filling their seats at the table. The insufferable centrist Democrats, for better or worse, are covering the power void in an unofficial interim capacity and it wouldn’t shock me if there was eventually a replacement party built up around the conservative Democrats and some of the center-right moderate Republicans.

Another theory for another time.

But it’s clear that there will either be a clean break in the current party dynamic, or the more moderate, reasonable faction of the Republican Party will begin to seriously assert itself against the wingnuts who are, simply put, cartoonish stereotypes of themselves.

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