After being told that Senator Kennedy was endorsing Obama, instead of Hillary, Bill Clinton called Teddy and said (we’re paraphrasing): What the hell are you doing Teddy?!? Six months ago he’d have been bringing us coffee.
Predictably Clinton was accused of being a bigot but given his history the charge didn’t stick. The question was ignored and the issue morphed into the wilderness of mirrors that makes up an election.
What he meant though was, why would someone endorse a candidate with no machinery in place, little to no legislative history, and above all, no favors to call in because having been in the senate for only 18 months, no one owed Obama a damn thing.
But of course, that’s exactly where the answer begins to emerge – with no record to speak of, with no one to whom he owed anything, Obama was perfect.
Had he endorsed Hillary, Teddy would have been pushed aside. The Clinton’s network of friends, contacts, and enemies creates its own parallel universe in which every action, every gesture becomes a meta narrative as drawn by Escher.
Beyond that of course there is the story about control of the Senate. With seniority, Kennedy should have been leader of the chamber but, confronted by the next two senior members, Schumer and Durbin who promised that any two of them would block the third, they all were forced to agree to accept Harry Reid, the minor man from a minor state.
Blocked from being the de facto shadow president in the event of a democratic victory in the presidential election, Kennedy found an avenue towards becoming…the shadow president.
Obama gave a glimpse into this at Kennedy’s funeral. Speaking of his first days in the Senate and his awe at Kennedy’s ability to get a deal through the thicket of opposition, despite long odds, Obama told how he asked Kennedy just how he had managed. I’ll tell you about it some day, Obama said Kennedy told him, and let the anecdote fade into the mist of his eulogy.
But it was of course a tell; that unintended reveal that shows the cards you’re holding. Of course Kennedy showed him. That story was about a dozen things and only one of them was what Obama was in theory, talking about at the funeral.
Kennedy did indeed show him how he managed and how things in general, were managed. It was also about the deal they would make. Kennedy would endorse Obama and drape him in the illusionary mantle of his brothers – the secular saints and martyrs of the liberal dream.
To endorse Hillary would have forced Kennedy into a secondary role and with the demographics shifting to the point where healthcare might finally have a chance to move from theory to legislation, – however imperfect and flawed – Kennedy wanted to cement his legacy. Supporting the Clintons would have meant he would get a pen from the signing ceremony but with Obama he would sign his name in the official narrative and would have been the other president – finally achieving some measure of national recognition close to his brothers.
There was an item in The New Yorker or The Times (honestly at this point, who can tell the difference) during the campaign in which two women in Manhattan were riding the bus and one had a burrito about which she said, sarcastically: Barack says my burrito will be better.
The joke, such as it was, had about it a sense of cynicism derived from the recognition among some that Obama’s optimism was well crafted – like a good commercial and, about as believable. And that was the key – all you had to do was believe, and you would be able to fly.
This optimism, devoid of substance but thick with filler and potential, was again on display during his swing through Europe. Speaking to a crowd of American college students he took questions and was asked what he would do about corruption in Africa and other third world kleptocracies.
He responded enthusiastically, a talk show host engaged with his audience – I’m going to tell them they have to clean up their act, he said, and the kids, about as well informed as junkies deciding whether or not to use the closest needle, roared their approval. Finally, they had a candidate who would tell the truth and was like them, young and knew who Jay Z was and when asked about what was on his ipod (he’s got an ipod!) were impressed because his music was their music or at least close enough to endure. In telling contrast we offer this – as someone young The Ink knew back then said about Hillary – god, she’s just so old…
There was something quintessentially Reaganesque about that moment in Europe; the enthusiasm, the optimism, the utterly shallow mantras of simplistic morality and the assertion of a perceived moral superiority and ignoring the extent to which America is complicit in the corruption the students were upset about. And of course ignoring the extent to which the students themselves were complicit every time they paid their taxes or used their ipods – manufactured by Chinese slaves.
That Reaganesque Chauncey Gardner quality in Obama surfaced again, when shortly into his first term Obama was asked to speak about the situation in regards to Congressional veteran and man who resembles a part-time Batman villain, Charlie Rangel, who was caught up in allegations of fraud. Obama, clearly repeating bullet points that had been cobbled together for him at the last minute, made a canned statement that had all the authenticity of a blow-up doll. A rookie mistake in tone, and a lack of experience, his supporters would say. And they would be right. But that’s not the point of the story. What we mean instead is that the similarities to Reagan are more significant than one might assume. And indeed, some of his biggest and most ardent supporters have been quite blunt about that similarity. Why shouldn’t we have our very own Reagan they said. And of course, no one would seriously say Reagan was as smart as Obama – except for the politburo of Republicans who think Dr. Strangelove is not a satire but a how-to manual.
Of course the pols and the members of the media commentariat would say you campaign in poetry and govern in prose. You capture the voter’s imagination but the system has its requirements, and no one wants to know what goes into making a sausage or crafting a bill.
And again, they’re not wrong; the system must be fed. It’s similar to why liberals, despite their affinity for his work and his vision, can’t use Springsteen songs for their campaign themes – no one wants to vote for The Darkness on the Edge of Town or The River and the party that talks about the working class while giving Wall Street a jaw shattering blow job, can’t play songs that remind them that voting for the Democrats is voting against their own self-interest – unless you’re a wealthy liberal in which case, Obama and Clinton are just what you want. Or as the dowager of the system, Nancy Pelosi put it when asked about universal healthcare – It’s never going to happen. We’re capitalists; get used to it.
So on the one hand, you speak about the dream and on the other you make deals that may or may not cost millions of people their jobs, or their lives. You couch it in terms of necessity, pragmatism, and the steely nerve required to see what is called, the big picture. This is usually a formulation that says – yes, for example, China is a ruthless dictatorship that has a militant disregard for civil liberties but…jobs, and avoiding wars take precedence over parochial questions about morality.
Which ends up costing jobs and causing wars and is therefore, immoral. Or it threatens war(s) which upends the economy thus costing jobs while, like a pyramid balanced on its point, funnels money to the few at the expense of the many and the base be damned.
The contemporary origin of this system of how we are told the world works is the (possibly apocryphal) story of Churchill and the German attack on Coventry.
Told by his staff that, having broken the German code, they were aware of the Luftwaffe’s plan to launch a devastating raid on Coventry, Churchill was placed on the horns of a dilemma. The raid would result in thousands of casualties. Churchill could have ordered an evacuation and saved lives but, that would alert the Germans to the breach of their codes and in the long run it would cost far more lives than would be lost in the attack on Coventry.
The issue here is not that the parable is wrong in its implications. It is not wrong that the nature of leadership requires adjustments to a constantly shifting landscape in which, often, sacrifices must be made.
What is at stake here is that when dealing with anyone else exhibiting this behavior we would, rightly call them a sociopath or a psychopath. And of course it begs the question – that is, is human nature such that we are condemned for eternity to rely upon sociopaths who see the so called big picture and if that is not true why must we endure their leadership which consistently creates situations where we must choose between bad and worse rather than good or bad?
For a group of people who claim to be so fucking smart and so much more capable of seeing the so called big picture their track record is, frankly, abysmal. Really nothing but crisis, misadventures, genocide, catastrophes and endless wars followed by economic meltdowns and even when successful it’s always an example of avoiding disasters brought by their attempts to maintain power. Or, to borrow a phrase, these are the people who eventually get around to doing what’s right, after having exhausted all the other possibilities.
They would say, of course, in their own defense that, the very nature of the big picture is that while things have been or are currently bad, they could be so much worse that only they are equipped to keep us safe; the keep the dogs of war from our doorsteps school of politics. Better to kill off a few hundred thousand Arabs, or to make a fortune off the sweat and backs of a few million Chinese slaves instead of…what exactly?
At the start of her campaign, Hillary drove off on her big adventure in a small van (a charming PR stunt in which the van was later dumped in favor of a proper bus) while Born to Run blasted from the speakers.
But there you have it…yes, we get it, Born to Run…for President, except of course that’s not what the song is about and as everyone knows, it is about the very alienated dessicated post-industrial shit storm that the neo-liberals and the neo-fascist corporatists have created.
When Reagan tried to appropriate Springsteen’s Born in The USA, he and the attempted theft fell flat. Hillary got a pass because the media were lazy, and complicit and because she meant well even though, it was as cynical a gesture as Reagan’s and as reflective of the corruption inherent in the system.
That is, it was either thoughtless and reflected a tin ear for the truth, or an imperious disregard for the truth – though it does not prove a cause and effect linking that pratfall to losing the election. The election was lost because of mysogony and because it was stolen and because James Comey has a marble in his head that from time to time rolls into the wrong slot and because choosing Born to Run without appreciating its truth, or choosing it because you know the truth but don’t care, reflects an inability to empathize and worse still, like Pelosi, what it really says is – we’re capitalists; get used to it! But, we’re nicer about it then the other guys and if you would just listen to our very reasonable 100 point plan, in this eighteen volume study I’ve written you’ll see that Capitalism with a fresh coat of paint really can work for everyone. Put all of that together and you can still win the election and still have it stolen from you.
More than one thing, even contradictory things, can be true at the same time. That is a complicated idea and far beyond the binary simplicity of the media, and certainly beyond the truth to expediency ratio meter of most politicians.
It is also a problem for many commentators who, one would think, should know better. For example, while taking rhetorical target practice at the Clintons, Christopher Hitchens, in full sharpshooter mode, displayed either a sublime ignorance (which seems highly unlikely) or a deliberate mendacity when he sniffed that Bill Clinton had immorally campaigned to the right of George H. Bush by accusing him of being soft on Cuba. This, said Hitch, was analogous to JFK, moving to the right of Eisenhower and Nixon by inventing the Missile Gap, when in truth, the gap was in the other direction with the U.S. having more nuclear missiles than the Soviets. Hitchens did not bother to mention that had Clinton campaigned to the left of Bush he would have come in third behind H. Bush and Trump’s slightly smarter but no less unhinged doppelganger, Ross Perot.
Beyond that, absent from the short, British and nasty sage, was any opinion on how exactly the election was to be won in the absence of politics. (no doubt had the host asked he’d have answered but it misses the point)
In other words we are not out of sympathy with the pols but we are fast running out of options and the need for leadership, genuine, and by definition, radical leadership is urgent.
What is at stake is the surrender of a vast swath of the world that is condemned to a state of being expendable plebs and what follows from that is clearly, the survival of humanity – such as it is, in the face of environmental genocide.
And so, back to Obama.
It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap…
But no, Obama, bright, seemingly well read, surveyed the history of America generally and the history of the government specifically and concluded – sign me up!
It’s not just the paltry 18 months in the senate and the idea that there is something inherently arrogant about going from that to running for president (old joke: what does every senator see when they look in the mirror? The next president…) it’s that there was, is, something inherently, essentially, pathologically naive about it. That is, Adlai Stevenson said – Anyone who wants the job should be automatically disqualified.
Laugh as much as you like, dismiss it as a charming and somewhat witty historical amuse bouche but really what are we to say about people, anyone, conservative or liberal, who looks at this contraption, this creaky, shooting off sparks and dropping bolts mess of a contraption, soaked in blood, wheezing the toxic fumes of lies, and torture, and genocide, and says, yes, that’s where I want to be! And: I will be different. I will prevail. I will change things…
Of course there are two predictable answers. First, they will say think of all the good that has been done; think of the indispensable nation…Europe was saved… men went to the moon…polio was cured…slavery was ended…
Except History is not cherry-picking it is a continuum and you don’t get to say, well we did this or that and we won and we were good and that’s that. Of course they do say that and they try to cram this propaganda down everyone’s throats but the facts are that there’s a mountain of shit behind each of those stories – behind saving Europe for example there’s the nasty fact that pretty much every government of the era was perfectly willing to do business with the Nazis and watch as they rounded up the Jews and Homosexuals and the leftists (and of course the Jewish Homosexual leftists) and the Gypsies and the infirm, just so long as they didn’t bother anyone else. Sure Poland and the Czechs because, you know, fuck them who cares. But any more than that and it’s a problem. The Saving Private Ryan, Greatest Generation mantra makes for nice myth making but it’s all so much more ugly than that and one really is better off remembering Terry Gilliam’s comment about the difference between Spielberg and Kubrick – Kubrick, he said, gives you questions. Spielberg gives you answers.
He gives you World War 2 in an afternoon, and then The Holocaust about which Kubrick said the problem with Schindler’s List is that it is about success and The Holocaust is about failure and then he gives you Lincoln and all together it’s presented as if History has been resolved and yet there are more people in slavery now than during Lincoln’s time and more importantly it’s not that America outlawed slavery…it’s that we outsourced the plantations to China.
And secondly they will say, apropos of Coventry, the alternative would be far worse…so, shut the fuck up and get on the bus..or get thrown under it.
This cynicism, this No Exit, sophistry, was nowhere more on display in our time, then when Obama morphed into America’s very own Neville Chamberlain and said of the torture conducted by the C.I.A.: Yeah, we tortured some folks…but…you have to remember the situation…9/11…9/11…9/11…9/11…
And besides, the Czechs are a people far away and about whom we know little…and one could have added – care about even less…
The frothing, dismissive response here from the establishment would be to say – are you comparing the C.I.A. to the Nazis!!!
Saving Private Ryan! 9/11! Saving Private Ryan! 9/11! 9/11! 9/11!
But, if the brown shirt fits…
And that’s just it. At what point do we say about their legacy of ashes, enough is enough.
How many mountains of skulls can you leave on every continent before we say – you have a problem and: we need to talk about the government…
How many fascists can you support before we call you a fascist?
How many secret torture programs, or secret experiments where you dose people with syphilis, or LSD or radiation, how many black sites and episodes of enhanced interrogation and rendition before we say, you sound like a bunch of Nazis?
How many third world, or even first world, gangsterocracies can you support with weapons and economic favors before you say…you sound like a bunch of amoral genocidal psychopathic feckless thugs?
A few months before he left office The New York Review of Books (or perhaps it was the London Review…) reprinted a letter Obama had written to a friend while he was at Harvard. The letter concerned some of the finer points connected to an understanding of T.S.Eliot.
The article was a sort of valedictorian and wistful love letter to the soon to be departed leader of the free world because rightly, the NYRoB was at pains to point out that having a literate president was preferable to having a barely functional illiterate malignant troll with his twitchy and oddly small fingers on the button.
And of course that’s true.
But these things are never quite so tidy as one would want, and the letter betrayed exactly what was and is not so much wrong with the man as what is so clearly not right about him and by extension what is so increasingly worrisome about the perilous state in which we find ourselves.
About Eliot, Obama wrote, with the satisfied tone of an upperclassman who is headed to law school and won’t ever again have to bother with that midwestern High Church of England goon – Eliot’s ambivalence is on display…
It’s the sort of thing they teach you in literature classes and it has as much to do with the subject as an anatomy book has to do with seduction. The truth is Eliot’s ambivalence was on display when he couldn’t decide if the papal seal should go at the front of his underwear or the back.
But they don’t talk that way at Harvard. And politicians who are intellectual dilatants don’t either. Because they believe in the system. They believe in the moral arc of the universe. They believe…if you believe hard enough…that we can fly.
Later, the she wolf of The New York Times Book Review, Michiko Kakutani had at the great man and reported that when he was at an emotional low ebb, he was inclined to reread a particular line from V.S.Naipaul regarding the impossibility of change – the absence of change in people, in history. In other words, in moments of despair, he was afraid that the universe did not bend towards justice, however slowly, but was often bent.
Among a certain class of people the idea that the president of the United States has even a passing familiarity with Eliot, and Naipaul, and is troubled by reality to the point where he consults writers is cause for celebration. It is the fantasy of the noble, wise, just warrior king and it is a dream as old as the dirt. The same sense of kinship is held out for Bill Clinton when he talks about Dave Brubeck or drops quotes from Faulkner or Hemingway into a speech and together, they reach back through the American mist to the Kennedys. JFK, after all invited Hemingway to his inaugural – he was too ill to attend – and Bobby when asked who his favorite philosopher was said – brace yourself – Albert Camus.
It is to weep…
Especially when you consider the current occupant of the Highest Office in the Land is a foaming at the mouth barbarian and mentally unbalanced imbecile who is one bad day away from a torchlight ceremony in a field or a stadium with a bonfire for books.
And yet, here’s the thing. People will concede any number of accolades to JFK while also pointing out his hideous warts. The Cuban Missile Crisis and World War averted but a mobbed up father straight out of a trinity of Greek tragedy, Dubliners and Mario Puzo. The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty but mistresses who were also mobbed up, and working for the KGB and drugs, coups, and The Bay of Pigs.
Yes, it’s a mixed bag but…
But take a look at the full video of Obama’s presser when he said – yeah we tortured some folks. Consider the folksy dismissive tone and use of folks – not human beings but folks –and then watch as he pivots from joking about questions about his birthday to talking about torture. As if it’s normal. They will say, grown-ups compartmentalize. And we say yes, that’s true and compartmentalizing is one word for it. The other is…being a sociopath.
And then ask yourself what it means to have the president say yes a crime was committed – torture – but my response, my response on behalf of the country, is going to amount to nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
But, his defenders will say, think of all the good things he did…
But…the sand is nearly at the bottom of the hour glass.
Chamberlain was motivated to give Hitler what he wanted for two reasons. First he could not forget the fields of mud and the fields of corpses that the last war had deposited across Europe. England had lost nearly 1 million men. The total numbers for all combatants weigh in at nearly 40 million and then, in a repeat of the Middle Ages there came the Flu Pandemic and another 20 million dead. Revolutions in Russia, Turkey, Germany and the crackup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire all left the man with a profound case of the jitters and shakes.
And then there’s the second reason. Chamberlain was either a closeted fascist or indifferent to Hitler’s fascism just so long as it didn’t bother England. Even if that meant ignoring people like Oswald Mosley and his Blue Shirts or the members of the Royal family who thought teaching the future QE 2 how to give the Nazi salute was a grand idea.
Obama’s problem, his dilemma, was not so very different. A genuine inquiry into the shadows would reveal any number of ugly facts. As we’ve mentioned in regards to the Warren Committee Report on the murder of President Kennedy you couldn’t very well investigate people who were on the government’s payroll without investigating the government.
And that’s the whole point of state secrets, conspiracies, and coups. As they say, keep your friends close and your enemies closer and…the first rule of any conspiracy…is to kill the conspirators. Or ignore them and let them retire and enjoy their pensions. Or their lucrative book deals and fat speaking fees.
Because if you investigate them and you find they’re guilty of crimes like, torture, then you have to put them on trial
But then there’s this:
And part of the answer to this must surely be that we do indeed remember 9/11 but we must wrest control of its meaning, of its narrative from those who engage in crimes that they claim are justified and those who act like cowards and claim they are keeping their eyes on…the big picture…and tell us that when we remember 9/11 we should not – as Obama put it – be too sanctimonious in retrospect…
He’s right. Why wait. Let’s be fucking sanctimonious right now, you equivocating weak-kneed vacillating liberal…