Mystery Series Part 5: The World’s Richest Banana Republic.

By Iris Vander Pluym, Perry Street Palace

Pseudodiscussions for a helpless public.


The “Mystery Series” Part 5 is the (long overdue) next post in my (long winded) response to a comment by Loyal Subject™ SJ, whose question basically boils down to this:  is there any merit to the “lesser-of-two-evils” argument in favor of voting for Democrats in the upcoming elections?  I promised I would let Loyal Readers guess the title for this interminable rant.  But screw you guys.  I’m just going to tell you what it is at the end of my next post.

A brief recap:

in Part 1: The RNC Platform, we looked at the Republican platform of 1956, and noted that it was more liberal—by far—than anything mainstream Democrats are proposing today.  In the intervening decades, both parties have drifted ever rightward.

In Part 2: Strategic Voting – Softball Edition, we discussed an argument made by Ted Glick that in states such as New York or Utah, where the outcome of the presidential election is all but certain, it would be a very good strategic development if Green Party candidates garnered a significant portion of the Democratic party vote.  Like a BB gun shot across the bow of a huge naval warship, Glick’s assumption is that such an outcome could pressure the Democratic Party leadership to seriously address liberal issues out of fear of losing elections.  I argued that while I like the idea, it would ultimately prove ineffective…if nobody actually loses an election.

In Part 3: Strategic Voting – Hardball Edition, I documented exactly how one specific liberal constituency — lesbian and gay Americans — got the Congress and the president to rescind “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and to stop defending the “Defense Of Marriage Act” in federal court.  Here is how they did it:  after helping to elect Democrats to majorities in both houses of Congress and the presidency in 2008, in the 2010 midterm elections the gay and lesbian vote going to Republicans doubled, to an astonishing 30%, and the Democrats lost the House.  But they sure sat up and took notice:  in the lame duck session before the Teabagger Brigades were sworn in, Congress repealed DADT and the Obama administration stopped pressing its appeals in support of DOMA.  Right-wing conservative voters use this tactic to great effect:  when Republican candidates are not up to snuff, they are perfectly willing to let them lose elections to the hated Democrats, with the result that the Republican party moves rightward.  Movement conservatives are in the business of playing a long game, looking at the bigger picture beyond the next two or four years.  Whatever you may think of their much-vaunted values, at least the wingnuts have principles on which they flat-out refuse to compromise.  Do Democrats?  (I’m joking, of course.  No, apparently they do not.)  At the end of Part 3, I said:

I will grant that the hardball option is fraught with significant risks: a Romney presidency and a Republican congress is obviously no laughing matter, and could prove especially deadly for Vagina-Americans, such as Your Humble Monarch here.

But you know what else is fraught with risk?  Enabling Democrats to keep doing exactly what they’ve been doing.  This includes, among other evils, shoring up the total corporate takeover of our democracy, and entrenching some of the very worst policies of the Bush administration with a bipartisan stamp of approval.  Actually, that the Democrats will continue to do so cannot even be accurately characterized as a “risk.”  It’s a certainty.

If you think it’s too late to deploy this tactic out of the (perfectly rational) fear that a Republican president and Congress will cause horrific damage to the country more quickly than Democrats will, ask yourself whether the timing is likely to be better four years from now.  Or eight.

Until the left plays hardball, the conservatives in both parties will continue to push the country right — off a cliff.

In Part 4: Make Him Do What?, I bored regaled readers with the well-worn parable about FDR as president in a meeting with labor leaders and Socialists that ends with him telling them, “I agree with you.  I want to do it.  Now make me do it.”  I provided a lengthy list of liberal fare that President Obama (or any Democrat) could have undertaken to earn my support, and noted that instead we have a Democratic president (and his party’s top leadership) acting against almost all of it.  I concluded Part 4 with a question:  How do we make him do it?

Which brings us to Part 5 of the series, and the answer to that question:


The End.


I kid.  But not about the answer to the question, only about shutting up.

There are many reasons we cannot make President Obama do much if anything on our lefty wish list, not the least of which is because he is just not very liberal.  That is, he genuinely buys into right-wing dogma like:  it is necessary and perfectly acceptable to cut Social Security and Medicare; that our imperial wars are awesome; that the Executive branch should be vested with radical and unaccountable power; that a “justice” system which does not subject political and financial elites to the rule of law while mercilessly locking up vast numbers of ordinary citizens for years or even decades is a splendid idea; and that private market solutions to problems like our disastrous health care system are preferable when they indisputably belong under the domain of the government morally, fiscally, or any other way one wishes to look at it.  (Well, unless one is a health insurance executive, of course).  To the many, many pundits and bloggers who insisted that the brilliant liberal, Barack Obama, was playing a long game of “11-dimensional chess,” or that the most powerful person in the world was somehow completely impotent to garner support for his liberal initiatives in Congress, I have one thing to say:  [Citation needed].  The jury has long been back with that verdict:  the president has proven himself quite capable of wrangling Congressional support when he wants it, and of acting alone when he decides he doesn’t need it.  And in nearly all of these cases, he has pursued an objectively conservative agenda.

Unfortunately, the FDR “Make me do it” parable is entirely inapplicable to our present situation because FDR already agreed with the labor leaders and Socialists with whom he had been working before his election to the presidency.  FDR was an extremely astute politician, and knew he would need their help in generating the political pressure necessary to accomplish the already agreed-upon initiatives.  This is manifestly not the case here, because Barack Obama does not want to do it.

He did not even want to end the Iraq War — the very pinnacle of lawlessness, lies, greed and evil at the rotted core of his predecessor’s foreign policy.

So.  Does anyone doubt that Democratic voters have completely absorbed the narrative that they must vote for Democrats — regardless of what they do once in power — because Republicans are allegedly so much worse?  Exhibit A:  consider this endorsement of Obama’s reelection by The Nation (The Nation!) and see if you can gag your way through the putrid stench of offal and point me to the many profound and meaningful differences between the presidential candidates, or indeed any reason to vote for Barack Obama other than “Republicans are marginally worse.”

Yes, my beloved Loyal Readers, we certainly find ourselves in quite the pickle.

And not to bum everybody out on a Monday, but it’s probably much worse than we think.  I have been frequently haunted by the former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson’s excellent 2009 piece in The Atlantic ever since I read it.  He likens the financial crisis, and the U.S. government’s response thereto, to those typical of emerging markets (Ukraine, Russia, Thailand, Indonesia, Argentina and elsewhere) — and only emerging markets:

Every crisis is different, of course…But I must tell you, to IMF officials, all of these crises looked depressingly similar…the economic solution is seldom very hard to work out.

Typically, these countries are in a desperate economic situation for one simple reason—the powerful elites within them overreached in good times and took too many risks. Emerging-market governments and their private-sector allies commonly form a tight-knit—and, most of the time, genteel—oligarchy, running the country rather like a profit-seeking company in which they are the controlling shareholders.

But inevitably, emerging-market oligarchs get carried away; they waste money and build massive business empires on a mountain of debt…The downward spiral that follows is remarkably steep…and conditions just get worse and worse…The government, in its race to stop the bleeding, will typically need to wipe out some of the national champions—now hemorrhaging cash—and usually restructure a banking system that’s gone badly out of balance. It will, in other words, need to squeeze at least some of its oligarchs.

Squeezing the oligarchs, though, is seldom the strategy of choice among emerging-market governments. Quite the contrary: at the outset of the crisis, the oligarchs are usually among the first to get extra help from the government, such as preferential access to foreign currency, or maybe a nice tax break, or—here’s a classic Kremlin bailout technique—the assumption of private debt obligations by the government. Under duress, generosity toward old friends takes many innovative forms. Meanwhile, needing to squeeze someone, most emerging-market governments look first to ordinary working folk—at least until the riots grow too large.

Does any of that sound familiar?  Ringy-dingy.  Any little bells?  Well, except for the large riots, of course.

From long years of experience, the IMF staff knows its program will succeed—stabilizing the economy and enabling growth—only if at least some of the powerful oligarchs who did so much to create the underlying problems take a hit. This is the problem of all emerging markets.

And it is an unprecedented problem for a mature economy of the size and scale of the United States.  We are, by far, the richest banana republic the world has ever seen.

Simon Johnson points to many interrelated factors that ultimately led to the crisis, and high on that list is ideology:  blind faith in free markets.  As with all rotted conservative tripe, evidence is entirely ignored in favor of counterfactual dogma that serves the status quo.  Thus we have a very serious problem when economic conservatism is the fundamentalist religion of both political parties.  Consider that conservative chestnut, deregulation:

[I]n just the past decade, a river of deregulatory policies that is, in hindsight, astonishing:

• insistence on free movement of capital across borders;

• the repeal of Depression-era regulations separating commercial and investment banking;

• a congressional ban on the regulation of credit-default swaps;

• major increases in the amount of leverage allowed to investment banks;

• a light (dare I say invisible?) hand at the Securities and Exchange Commission in its regulatory enforcement;

• an international agreement to allow banks to measure their own riskiness;

• and an intentional failure to update regulations so as to keep up with the tremendous pace of financial innovation.

But never mind all that.  The most important policy priorities in Washington are: (a) that financial and political elites never face any untoward consequences for massive corruption, collusion and crime; (b) that proposed financial “reforms” be watered down to the very weakest of tea; and (c) that ordinary citizens are further squeezed to make these pillars of society whole.  Multi-billion dollar raids on the U.S. Treasury are just not enough, people.  Nope.  What’s clearly in order are harsh austerity measures imposed upon working people by America’s Owners.  Things like…oh, I don’t know, cuts to Social Security?

October 3, 2012 presidential debate:

MR. LEHRER: Mr. President, do you see a major difference between the two of you on Social Security?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I suspect that on Social Security, we’ve got a somewhat similar position.

July 6, 2011 Washington Post, “In debt talks, Obama offers Social Security cuts”:

President Obama is pressing congressional leaders to consider a far-reaching debt-reduction plan that would force Democrats to accept major changes to Social Security and Medicare in exchange for Republican support for fresh tax revenue.
[h/t Glenn Greenwald]

2009, Senator Richard Durbin (Democrat of Illinois):

[The banks] “are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they, frankly, own the place.”

2005, the late, great George Carlin:

And now they’re comin’ for your SOCIAL SECURITY MONEY.  They want your fuckin’ retirement money. They want it BACK.  So they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street.  And you know something?  They’ll get it.  They’ll get it ALL from you sooner or later — ‘cuz they OWN this fuckin’ place.

Yawn.  I’m bored.  I wonder which candidate is the most game for an exciting war with Iran?


About Iris Vander Pluym

Iris Vander Pluym is an artist and activist in New York City (West Village). She is an unapologetic, godless, feminist liberal.

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