Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 9, 2012

Obama and the battered voter syndrome

Filed under: economics,financial crisis,Obama — louisproyect @ 8:23 pm

I can’t remember who made this analogy first (might have been me, for all I know) but truly committed Democratic Party liberal voters and spokespeople remind me of battered wives syndrome. No matter how many times they get smacked in the face, they will forgive their abuser.

On December sixth, Robert Reich had a political orgasm over Barack Obama’s speech at Osawatomie, Kansas where he pledged to carry out a program in the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting “new nationalism”:

The President’s speech today in Osawatomie, Kansas — where Teddy Roosevelt gave his “New Nationalism” speech in 1910 — is the most important economic speech of his presidency in terms of connecting the dots, laying out the reasons behind our economic and political crises, and asserting a willingness to take on the powerful and the privileged that have gamed the system to their advantage.

One might even wonder why Obama bothered to pretend that he was taking on the corporations when it now appears likely that he will coast to an easy victory. The Republican primary fiascoes and a slightly improving economy will be all that is necessary to get the faithful to pull the lever for more war, more nativism, more austerity and more catering to the one percent.

Obama’s January 25th State of the Union speech was in the same vein, filled with empty bombast about greed and other populist verbiage lapped up by the liberal opinionators, but this time referring implicitly to another Roosevelt:

Building this new energy future should be just one part of a broader agenda to repair America’s infrastructure. So much of America needs to be rebuilt. We’ve got crumbling roads and bridges; a power grid that wastes too much energy; an incomplete high-speed broadband network that prevents a small business owner in rural America from selling her products all over the world.

During the Great Depression, America built the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. After World War II, we connected our states with a system of highways. Democratic and Republican administrations invested in great projects that benefited everybody, from the workers who built them to the businesses that still use them today.

You must realize, of course, that words like “crumbling roads and bridges” and “Hoover Dam” are intended to induce people like Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow to salivate, just like Pavlov’s ringing bell. It doesn’t really matter if it is nothing but words. When you make $2 million per year, as Rachel Maddow does, you know what side your bread is buttered on.

Three days later it was revealed that Obama’s favorite reading material of the moment was Robert Kagan’s “The World America Made”, a neoconservative case for continued imperial domination. Of course, there is a certain consistency here with Osawatomie since Teddy Roosevelt was the prototypical imperialist leader. Notwithstanding Obama’s being buoyed by Kagan’s assurance that the U.S. will continue to rule the world, there are domestic implications of his book that go against liberal pieties. This would be expected, given Kagan’s long-standing sympathies for the neo-conservative movement. Citing Paul Kennedy, a noted “declinist”, Kagan felt that what worked in the 1980s might be a key to what might work in the future:

American businessmen and politicians “reacted strongly to the debate about ‘decline’ by taking action: cutting costs, making companies leaner and meaner, investing in newer technologies, promoting a communications revolution, trimming government deficits, all of which helped to produce significant year-on-year advances in productivity.” It is possible to imagine that Americans may rise to this latest economic challenge as well.

No wonder Obama is keen on Kagan’s book. Its obvious affinity with his own “leaner and meaner” administration cannot be overstated.

If anything, Obama’s deeds, as opposed to his words, have taken on an even more reactionary character since the Osawatomie speech, as a cursory review of the news will reveal. Frankly, it has been one crowning victory after another for a triumphalist bourgeoisie ever since the Osawatamie speech. And for all of the alarms being raised by the liberal punditry over the threat that Rick Santorum et al represent, there was plenty of evidence that Obama had more in common with Santorum than the average Democrat.

On February 7th Obama decided that he would rely on Super-PAC money just like the evil Republicans do. Jim Messina, his re-election campaign manager said, “We’re not going to fight this fight with one hand tied behind our back. With so much at stake, we can’t allow for two sets of rules. Democrats can’t be unilaterally disarmed.” Well, of course, we can’t allow that, can we?

Battered wife Robert Reich expressed his disappointment, while of course determined at the same time to back Obama in 2012:

It has been said there is no high ground in American politics since any politician who claims it is likely to be gunned down by those firing from the trenches. That’s how the Obama team justifies its decision to endorse a super PAC that can raise and spend unlimited sums for his campaign.

Baloney. Good ends don’t justify corrupt means.

Super-PAC’s came into existence after the Supreme Court decided in favor of Citizens United in January 2010, something that gave the Koch brothers et al the right to spend however much they wanted to influence elections. In July of that year Obama described what a blow that decision was to democracy:

Because of the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year in the Citizens United case, big corporations –- even foreign-controlled ones –- are now allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money on American elections.  They can buy millions of dollars worth of TV ads –- and worst of all, they don’t even have to reveal who’s actually paying for the ads.  Instead, a group can hide behind a name like “Citizens for a Better Future,” even if a more accurate name would be “Companies for Weaker Oversight.”  These shadow groups are already forming and building war chests of tens of millions of dollars to influence the fall elections.

Now, imagine the power this will give special interests over politicians.  Corporate lobbyists will be able to tell members of Congress if they don’t vote the right way, they will face an onslaught of negative ads in their next campaign.  And all too often, no one will actually know who’s really behind those ads.

As is always the case with Obama, words are cheap.

On February 22nd, Obama decided that the corporations needed a tax break, just another sign that even if Teddy Roosevelt was nothing but an imperialist pig Obama would not make the mistake of taking his anti-monopolist rhetoric too seriously. Once again, holding back his tears, Robert Reich broke the bad news to his Huffington Post readers:

The Obama administration is proposing to lower corporate taxes from the current 35 percent to 28 percent for most companies and to 25 percent for manufacturers.

The move is supposed to be “revenue neutral” — meaning the administration is also proposing to close assorted corporate tax loopholes to offset the lost revenues. One such loophole allows corporations to park their earnings overseas where taxes are lower.

Why isn’t the White House just proposing to close the loopholes without reducing overall corporate tax rates? That would generate more tax revenue that could be used for, say, public schools.

It’s not as if corporations are hurting. Quite the contrary.

Those of us who do not belong to the Obama cult understand what happened. The Osawatomie speech was just an early re-election speech, calculated to get the Robert Reich’s of the world to clap like trained seals.

If there’s anything more depressing than to see the UAW joining in the trained seal act, I don’t know what it is. On February 25th, they organized a rally for Obama as the New York Times reported:

As Mitt Romney prepared to deliver an economic address here on Friday declaring Mr. Obama’s three years in office a “failed presidency,” hundreds of union members gathered on the top level of a parking deck as a freezing drizzle fell.

“Thank you, President Obama!” shouted the union’s president, Bob King. He gripped a bullhorn as he exhorted the crowd, “Everyone!” They roared back, “Thank you, President Obama!”

It was the beginning of an effort by the U.A.W. and others in the labor movement to put their vast political organizations into motion behind Mr. Obama, testing their power in a difficult economy after years of declining membership. This is an election that both parties say could turn on their ability to win over working-class voters in the industrial Midwest, where battlegrounds like Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin could determine the outcome.

Of course, the membership will continue to decline as American auto jobs move to Mexico and elsewhere and those jobs that remain will continue to have lower wages and more costly benefits. That is how GM, Ford and Chrysler will remain “lean and mean” in keeping with Robert Kagan’s observation that is worth repeating:

American businessmen and politicians “reacted strongly to the debate about ‘decline’ by taking action: cutting costs, making companies leaner and meaner, investing in newer technologies, promoting a communications revolution, trimming government deficits, all of which helped to produce significant year-on-year advances in productivity.” It is possible to imagine that Americans may rise to this latest economic challenge as well.

Ironically it was a NY Times editorial writer who shared a last name with one of the auto industry’s corporate giants of yore (perhaps a coincidence, perhaps not) that saw through the UAW’s happy talk and revealed the true situation in Detroit on March 4th:

A Government Bailout Saved the Auto Industry, but the City of Detroit Was Left Behind

By David Firestone

Sometime soon, probably by the end of April, the city of Detroit is likely to run out of cash. Its revenues are falling and its expenses are growing. If that happens, paychecks will not be issued, doors of public buses and city agencies could be closed, and streetlights will be shut off in more neighborhoods.

Having lost so much — a quarter-million people in just a decade, its industrial base, its political clout — Detroit is now on the verge of losing control of its ability to make its own decisions. If it does not find a way to quickly stabilize its finances through spending cuts and union concessions, the state may appoint a manager to take over its budget from the mayor and the City Council.

No one, least of all the state, wants that to happen. In Michigan, emergency managers can break union contracts, fire city officials and sell off city assets. That has already begun in four other cities, all of them largely black, that the state has taken over in the last few years. Black officials and union leaders have charged that Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican elected in 2010, has an ideological and racial agenda, and taking over Detroit, which is 83 percent black, would only magnify the tension.

That’s the hard reality that Obama’s rhetoric cannot conceal. When Teddy Roosevelt made his speech back in 1910 the USA was a young lion, with a manufacturing base ready to take off. Cities like Detroit were the beneficiaries of a conjuncture that would last for about 60 years. When Japan and West Germany recovered from WWII devastation, the American auto sector and much of the rest of the manufacturing base began to lose market share. American industrial decline is irrevocable. The people who are stuffing Obama’s Super-PAC are predominantly from the financial sector that can care less about whether Detroit runs out of cash, or Greece for that matter.

In a household where a wife and children are being battered mercilessly, it is up to someone in the family to stand up to daddy and put him in his place even if it takes a bullet to the head—metaphorically speaking. That is the role of the left today in many respects, to stand up to the evil within our household and pave the way for a better tomorrow.


  1. An interesting analogy, although sadly enough, accurate. The safest bet this fall is that The Nation (magazine) will — once again, as it always has and always will, as long as it is run by comfortable New York middle-class liberals — endorse the Democrat, regardless of how thoroughly reactionary and hostile to the working class he has become.

    Comment by David — March 9, 2012 @ 9:51 pm

  2. I don’t put Reich in this category, but I believe that most American liberals actually agree with Obama’s policies. They are just too craven to admit it.

    Comment by Richard Estes — March 9, 2012 @ 11:16 pm

  3. I am not sure about this, Richard. Most liberals are appalled by what Obama has done on any number of issues. Just watch Keith Olbermann for instance. (As opposed obviously to craven apologists like Al Sharpton.) But they stick with him because the alternative is too terrible to consider. It’s a very old story going back to LBJ and Goldwater, the first and last time I voted for a Democrat.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 9, 2012 @ 11:20 pm

  4. I’d agree with Louis on this point — a lot of liberals are appalled by Obama. But their problem, one of their problems anyway, is that they’re afraid to unhitch their wagon from the Democratic Party and seek out choices and alternatives that force them to directly confront the problem of capitalism. Personally, I think we’re in for a hell of a year, because if the number of liberals and workers who are willing to deal with these larger issues reaches a tipping point (by way of Occupy, Pham Binh’s efforts, etc.) then watch out. American politics will never bee the same. The times are ripe.

    Comment by David — March 9, 2012 @ 11:32 pm

  5. The problem is that the American people on the whole have opted for a polyandrous system. The Republicans and Democrats as husbands are both wife beaters. If the American voter remains married to the two party system it will always seem reasonable to live with the Democratic husband. However, the obvious solution is to abandon the two husband system.

    Comment by ken — March 10, 2012 @ 2:03 am

  6. Perhaps, I exaggerate, but my comment is based upon my experience with liberals here in the Central Valley, nearby Davis, particularly. They cared a lot about social issues, choice and gay rights, but not so much about workers as they quietly benefitted from the neoliberalism of Reagan and Clinton. A lot of them disengaged from the interests of labor back then. The wars and the “war on terror” bother them, but not so much that they are induced to challenge the status quo. It is all so far away, after all. And some will let slip that a few excess Muslim deaths don’t bother them because they feel a little safer. Many are still in thrall to Zionism, and that also holds many of them back.

    But it is a unique sort of sample, many liberals in Davis and downtown Sacramento are tied to the state government, the universities and associated non-profits. Significantly, the congressional representatives here in the 1990s, Matsui and Fazio, played a prominent role in organizing support for Clinton in this state prior to the 1992 primaries. Until the 2008 catastrophe, many liberals here considered neoliberalism economically desirable for California because of the extent to which Silicon Valley and Hollywood amassed wealth as a result.

    Comment by Richard Estes — March 10, 2012 @ 5:26 am

  7. Playing devil’s advocate–what about those who feel there’s a significant difference in likely kills between a fascist like Obama and a Nazi like Rick Santorum?

    According to ABC, there are three hundred thousand storm troopers under arms in the so-called Sovereign Citizens alone. And they are not the only militia active in the US. Half a million effectives under arms is probably not too high a figure. Don’t quote some mild-mannered misdirection from a few of them and claim that they are harmless. They are too well-armed to be dismissed as bluffers.

    There are maybe twenty thousand Communists–probably useless in a fight–and God only knows how many Trotskyites, non-sectarian Marxists, and their affines–what, maybe five thousand, tops? Excluding the old has-beens like you and me, how many fighters does that leave? Plus, I should think, fewer than 100,000 effective Occupiers–perhaps a good many fewer, since they come and go like the spring rain. The smart ones are all pacifists and those willing to consider violcence–if the so-called Black Blockers are anything to go by–are all naive wimps or police provocateurs.

    There used to be about seventy self-anointed socialists in congress, none of them marxists and most of them likely to be killed long before they have a chance to show that much-overrated virtue, personal courage, supposing they have any.

    Then there’s the regular U.S. military. And the contractor schutzstaffeln of the former Blackwater and their many competitors, as well as Rahm Emanuel’s elite corps of anonymous, over-armed, and ruthless pigs.

    We have no army. They have several.

    Obama can’t let the Sovereign Syphilitics off the leash because they all want to kill him. Santorum is another story. (Anyone who doubts he will run for VP with Romney wasn’t watching when McCain created Sarah Palin).

    Well, this stick is bent far enough, but if you’re asking why people still consider voting for Obama, fear is a large part of the reason. And not primarily fear of Arabs, though they make a convenient target since nearly all white Americans hate them and want to exterminate them.

    Forget about the Obamaphiles–they are delusional. I think most of the Democrat voters are simply afraid not to vote Democrat. And they have reason to be afraid.

    At the very least, what does the left propose to do about this very large number of well-armed brown-and-blackshirts who spend their days and nights dreaming lustfully of rivers of blood and piles of tangled corpses?

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — March 10, 2012 @ 6:20 pm

  8. Sorry–Rahm Emanuel’s pigs obviously don’t belong in the anti-Obama camp. Do they offset the Stofrmfronters, the Sovereign Citizens, and the Minutemen? Well, they add their load to the fear caused by the latter, thus further intimidating the demicraps.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — March 10, 2012 @ 6:30 pm

  9. I’m a liberal, perhaps even a liberal-Democrat, but I called for an end to the Obama presidency in December 2010. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-greener/obama-must-step-aside—n_b_793439.html Not all liberals have “gone along” with Obama. I don’t care what the nature of the available alternative may be, I won’t vote for a second Obama-Biden term.

    Comment by Richard Greener — March 10, 2012 @ 11:07 pm

  10. Ken you are completely right. I’ve been arguing about the two party dictatorship for sometime now and I simply won’t vote for Obama because he’s the lesser evil against the Republican morons who think they have all the answers. What I dislike about Obama is his flip flopping on a military conflict with Iran and his caving in to Republican demands. He’s far from liberal, is a moderate slowly approaching conservative. Where are the independents with some fresh air that’s DESPERATELY needed?

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — March 11, 2012 @ 2:27 am

  11. The Dems will be careful not to “Take back the Congress”, insuring that nothing but bad comes out of that institution. This will give, and is even now giving, Obama cover for all his empty rhetoric. Hence no campaign from MoveOn and the rest of the DPL gerbils for a solid majority there. Dems always talk loudest when they are certain that none of what they talk about will come to pass. The cynicism is bottomless.

    There is one kernel of truth within all the empty rhetoric: U.S. infrastructure, physical and social, is, even when not in physical disrepair, generally backwards, the result of decades of imperialist seniorage. Why invest in the long term competitiveness of the U.S. economy on the world market when you can reap surplus profits abroad for free? Obama’s rhetoric here reflects a real beef from a sector of U.S. capital.

    Understood, Joe, but so long as the traditional conservative parties are intact – and in the U.S. that means both parties, given the peculiar parliamentary restrictions here – a fascist reign of terror will not be unleashed. It took the disaster of WW 1 to discredit the traditional parties ad open the gates to the reorganization of the mass of disgruntled war vets and impoverished middle class around the Nazis, a process that took 12 years in any case. A destablilization from external sources of that scale is not on the horizon, although some of the idiots running the country might manage to screw it up somehow.

    On that note, a peculiar alarm has been slowly rising with certain Democratic Party sectors over the state of the Republican Party, seen as an institution whose crazies have reached a saturation point where the Republicans are a less reliable partner in governance. This insures that the Democrats will do whatever it takes to keep the Repubs in the game, since the alternative in a system restricted to two parties will be a new party emerging to the left of the Democrats and a compacting of “traditional conservatism” (as distinct from the radical right) in the other party. The other alternative – an actual split of the Republicans and the appearance of a mass radical right party with the conservatives compacted “to the left” – will not likely happen as the radical right doesn’t swing enough weight under present “peaceful” conditions and are moreover a dying demographic of middle aged and older white men – and they know it.

    So, under present circumstances Emmanuels’ pigs, while of a different political stripe than the crypto-fascists, are on the front lines of repression. Otherwise, looking forward to the long term trend and not simply the present situation, the future looks bright for socialism.

    Comment by Matt — March 11, 2012 @ 5:15 am

  12. –American industrial decline is irrevocable. —

    Yet there will be attempts to reverse it with world war.

    Comment by purple — March 11, 2012 @ 5:55 am

  13. I have to disagree with Joe Vaughan’s pessimism, at least in the long term. Long term, the “liberal forces” have demographics on their side. The Republican Party has chosen to double down on the aging white voter. While these people may have a monopoly on crazy people with rifles, they do not have a monopoly on sheer numbers. The political situation may be so far gone at this point that the right doesn’t care, but someone in the Republican Party is going to have to wise up and say that you have to stop bashing Mexican immigrants, welfare queens, and homosexuals, because that’s going to be all the people who are left someday. Even the most conservative couples only want one or two kids, and that can’t possibly replace all of those elderly Tea Partiers who want to keep the government out of their Social Security. And the society that such reactionary politics creates won’t give many incentives to the young to defend the old social order, since it certainly won’t pay off for them as it did for their parents. In other words, what will be left to conserve won’t be appealing to the vast majority of people.

    That is not to say that victory for the progressive side is inevitable, as in how some Marxists thought that the working class would overpower the bourgeoisie in terms of numbers and organization (basically, the reason that the Second International fell). We may be headed towards a new apartheid where the minority rules everything from behind their gated communities, where universal suffrage becomes a joke, and where the ideological superstructure is made up of pure, bald-faced lies. We may already be there. But people always fight back. They don’t always win. If it were just up to self-proclaimed leftists and Marxists, we would be doomed. But it’s not. We haven’t seen the worst of it yet.

    Comment by The bald Mexican — March 11, 2012 @ 10:43 am

  14. Bald: I’m not necessarily a pessimist. Where did Occupy come from? But the huge numbers and homicidal sentiments of the armed right wing certainly do concern me. I think the left may have a habit of just wishing the monster away.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — March 12, 2012 @ 11:33 am

  15. […] of the Obama Administration/its policies whether or not that praise is deserved. But is an analogy to Battered Wives Syndrome entirely appropriate here either? …  And does it not, to an extent, belittle and make light […]

    Pingback by Battered Voter Syndrome? « Dianoilogos — March 12, 2012 @ 6:41 pm

  16. FYI, we made the analogy (commercial) back in 2000, originally for Harry Browne. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNMPvFZctIA

    Comment by Mark Hilgenberg — May 17, 2016 @ 10:52 pm

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