Friday, August 20, 2010

Re: Eric Alterman on the dim prospects for a progressive Presidency (2)

The Aug 30/Sept 6 issue of The Nation devotes a lot of space to an essay by Eric Alterman, Kabuki Democracy: Why a Progressive Presidency Is Impossible, for Now, article 07/07/2010. As I said in my first post on it, Alterman's piece is focused on the particular problems for the prospects of a progressive Presidency. In commenting on the piece, I'm not going to try to insert "oh but there's this to like" points every other paragraph.

Alterman is addressing a problem that has been analyzed for decades by more fundamental critics, such as those associated with the Frankfurt School of political thought: how democracy can beome, in Alterman's words, "a kind of Kabuki exercise; it resembles a democratic process at great distance but mocks its genuine intentions in substance." This is ironic, because Alterman is hardly an admirer of what Herbert Marcuse called "the Great Refusal," his umbrella term for the protests of "the Sixties." Alterman has even argued that antiwar protests in the 1960s prolonged the war, an absurdity on the level with the notion that civil rights protests prolonged legal segregation.

But in this article, he lays out carefully some of the barriers to even practical, popular reforms that we've seen dramatically in play these past two years. There's the neoliberal ideology of deregulation, whose effects in producing the BP disaster in the Gulf Mexico he explains. There is the asymmetry in the aggressiveness of the two parties in pursuing their goals, defined by a quote he gives from Dave Roberts: "Congressional Republicans exercise far more party discipline, are far more extreme ideologically, and are far more willing to twist and abuse procedure than are Congressional Democrats."

Those procedures include Senate rules like the filibuster and individual "holds" on legislation, which strengthened the unrepresentative nature of the Senate enshrined in the Constitution itself. Then there is the enormous power of lobbies and wealthy campaign contributors, "the current system of legalized graft," Alterman calls it. Jerry Brown in his 1992 campaign for President talked about the campaign financing system as legalized bribery, a position which seemed very unrespectable and extreme to the pundit conventional wisdom of the day.

And he does a good job in this article of describing how these problems played out in practice in recent Congressional fights over health care reform, climate legislation, and financial reform. He quotes economist William Black on the final version of financial reform Obama signed into law:

The fundamental problem with the financial reform bill is that it would not have prevented the current crisis and it will not prevent future crises because it does not address the reason the world is suffering recurrent, intensifying crises. A witches' brew of deregulation, desupervision, regulatory black holes and perverse executive and professional compensation has created an intensely criminogenic environment that produces epidemics of accounting control fraud that hyper-inflate financial bubbles and cause economic crises. The bill continues the unlawful, unprincipled and dangerous policy of allowing systemically dangerous institutions (SDIs) to play by special rules even when they are insolvent. Indeed, the bill makes a variety of accounting control fraud lawful. [my emphasis]
Alterman's description of the clout of lobbyists reinforces again the -seriousness of the Republican Supreme Court's decision in the Citizen United case, allowing corporations to engage in every more legal bribery of candidates and legislators.

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