I've been reading Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine off and on for several weeks, usually only reading it while commuting on BART, sometimes forgetting to bring it and reading the paper instead. Those of you who have read it know it is not a cheerful book. The globalization movement of the past four decades has happened in country after country often after great trauma occurs, sometimes natural disasters, sometimes violent coups, sometimes government edicts causing riots that are then viciously put down. It's not often brought up that the Tiananmen Square protests and subsequent massacres were brought about not because the Chinese were rebelling against decades of Marxist rule, but because the so-called Marxists ruling the country had decided to implement the ideas of Milton Friedman, and those economic changes had put huge numbers of people out of work, lowered wages of others and caused a rise in prices of food and other necessities. In so many countries, Friedman's beloved "freedom", the freedom of consumers to be consumers and the freedom of producers to be free of government regulation, cannot stand if workers are free to organize and ask for better treatment. During his lifetime, Friedman was in complete denial that the viciousness of the regimes that implemented his economic ideas had anything to do with those economic ideas. Even clever people can be immensely stupid when it serves their needs.
I have some optimism because I think the next few months and years are going to be like a slow motion train wreck for the economy, and it's the slow motion part that gives me hope. When there is a "crisis", bad laws get passed with little debate. The PATRIOT Act is a clear example of that in this country, and Klein's book gives many other examples both here in the States and around the world. But without crisis, many bad ideas can be shown to be bad ideas and fail to gain traction.
After the 2004 election, George W. Bush bravely claimed that he had political capital, though he had in fact won re-election by a historically slim margin in terms of percentage of popular and electoral vote. His great crusade was to save the Social Security system by privatizing it. He went around the country saying there was a crisis in Social Security. People really didn't buy that trouble that would appear in 2032 or 2046 was a crisis in 2005. More than that, the press did their job and asked experts on both sides of the questions, and it was the experts against Bush's plan that had the trump card. The changes he wanted to implement would NOT fix the problem he railed against. When armed with that question, even the experts who favored the plan had to concede that the system's troubles would not be solved by privatization.
Weeks into this crusade, the White House issued a decree. The new plan was not private Social Security accounts, but personal Social Security accounts. Any reporter using the term "private Social Security accounts" would be showing their blatant partisanship, though Bush and his spokespeople had used the term the day before. Some reporters asked "Would private personal accounts be okay?" No, the answer came back.
Bush, who lies that he governs from the gut and not by polls or focus groups, was clearly making a focus group tested change in course. The thing was, it was the idea itself and not the packaging of the idea that people didn't like. At the time, his personal popularity was over 40%. The polling for this idea was around 25%. Bush the Steadfast, Bush the Brave, Bush the Never Wavering, shut the hell up about this turd of a proposal. Long before Katrina hit and callous incompetence of the man and the men he surrounded himself with was made crystal clear, Bush could see how large his "base" truly was. About a quarter of the country would follow him, even when he was obviously wrong.
I'm optimistic because this base is not a monolith. A recent poll had Bush's popularity in the mid 20% range while the question "Are we heading in the right direction?" got a resounding 85% no vote in a Gallup Poll this month. This means there are people who support Bush who don't like the direction. What do they want? Forced public prayer meetings? Illegal immigrants crucified on telephone poles? I overstate their desires, but the rabidly authoritarian wing of American Christianity and the most vocal of the anti-immigration mob are not very happy with George W. Bush, and they like John Sidney McCain even less.
More than his trouble with his base, McCain bears a striking resemblance to the losers of the past few campaigns. He is a longtime Washington insider, like Bush the Elder, Dole, Gore and Kerry. Like Dole, he looks old and tired when put side by side with his opponent, and also like Dole, his humor, which is sometimes sharp, often looks nasty and petty. Like Dole again, wounds he received in service of his country make him look even older and more tired than his very advanced years should make him look.
Like Kerry, he has a rich bitch of a second wife. While being divorced is not the stigma it once was, having a trophy wife cuts both ways. He aggressively pursued his new wife Cindy about 30 years years ago, while still married to the woman who stayed faithful to him and raised their children while he was in a POW camp. His scummy behavior isn't as fresh or as public as that of Rudy Guiliani, but it's still scummy, and right wingers who believe in the sanctity of marriage may not be forgiving when this topic is put front and center.
I'm not blind to the faults of Obama or the Democrats in general. But the Republicans put up a lot of bluster in 2006, and they got their asses handed to them. Karl Rove boasted that he had the real numbers just before the 2006 mid-terms, and everything was fine. He lied, as usual. The bloom is off the Turd Blossom, and who but John Sidney McCain has decided to hire this clown? Rove's fifteen minutes are completely over, and Team McCain shows all the bright eyed competence of the crew of the Exxon Valdez.
We can win this election. Not Obama, not Clinton, we. We need to work and we need to organize and do everything we can to make a difference. No matter what happens in November, I won't be able to look at myself in the mirror if I stand by and do nothing in a time so clearly pivotal for our country and for the world.
Here endeth the lesson.
Disaster in Oklahoma
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