I just saw “Inception” — a great, highly imaginative movie about the alternate reality of dreams. And so I got to thinking. Suppose the barons of the Fed and Wall Street had been able to do just a bit more of their behind-the-scenes legerdemain (which, we continue to find out, goes on all the time) and postpone the September 15, 2008 Lehman Brothers meltdown until, let’s say, November 7, 2008. That would have been a couple of days after the 2008 election and, funnily enough, on the Gregorian calendar the 91st anniversary of the Russian Revolution. As it happened, McCain had overtaken Obama in the polls by mid-September 2008, when the bankruptcy did occur, with the subsequent collapse of the real estate bubble, the subsequent collapse of the economy, the Paulson/Bush first bank bailout, and so forth and so on.
But if the collapse had not occurred then, if it had somehow been postponed until after the election, if McCain had maintained the momentum that he had had in mid-September, Obama’s best rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding, the aging cancer survivor might actually have become President. (And guess who would have been Vice-President.) And so, let’s look at a list of what might have happened in that alternate reality of a McCain Presidency, comparing it to what has really happened under the Obama Presidency. Has to be a big difference, no? After all, the (remaining) Obama supporters and the Democratic Leadership Council (http://www.dlc.org/) tell us so.
Consider, then, if McCain had been elected President:
1. The War of Afghanistan would have been expanded, with no firm withdrawal date set. Ooops. That’s not an alternate reality. Sorry.
2. The bank bailout would have happened, but with even fewer requirements set for the banks. That is an alternate reality.
3. General Motors and Chrysler would have been allowed to go bankrupt. That is an alternate reality.
4. There would have been no “health care reform” legislation. Instead we got something labeled “health care reform” legislation, which turned about to be something that will not, even when fully implemented way down the road, cover all Americans, and will not change the focus of the health care industry on power, prestige, and profits rather than on the health of the nation and all of its inhabitants, but will provide a huge government subsidy to the private health insurance industry while fixing up some its worst excesses around the edges, and is a bonanza for the high-profit drug companies. But it is an alternate reality, for under McCain/Palin it is likely that nothing at all would have happened.
5. The Minerals Management Service of the Department of the Interior would have been allowed to go on its love-the-oil-industry-let’s-not-do-anything-to-upset-it way and a huge BP Gusher Disaster would have occurred in the Gulf of Mexico. Ooops. That’s not an alternate reality. Sorry.
6. Guantanamo would have stayed open. Ooops. That’s not an alternate reality. Sorry.
7. “Don’t ask/don’t tell” would remain on the books until now. Ooops. That’s not an alternate reality. Sorry.
8. There would be no real progress on settling the Israel/Palestine Problem. Ooops. That’s not an alternate reality. Sorry.
9. Blackwater, the worst of the private intelligence/”security” companies, would still be getting Federal contracts. Ooops. That’s not an alternate reality. Sorry.
10. There would be a massive expansion of the private, super-secret, “intelligence” business. Ooops. That’s not an alternate reality. Sorry.
11. There would be a steady progression of the power of the NRA, riding roughshod over the true meaning of the Second Amendment where “well-regulated” is actually the central concept. Ooops. That’s not an alternate reality. Sorry.
12. The Right-Wing Scream Machine would be blaming the “Big Government Democrats” for everything that would be going wrong with the economy and everything else, totally ignoring the depredations of the Bush/Cheney regime which set up the whole current mess, with no coordinated, fact-based, strong language, aggressive response from the Democrats. Ooops. That’s not an alternate reality. Sorry.
13. With McCain’s mind starting to go and his grasp of reality and his previous positions on a wide variety of policy issues starting to go along with it, he would obviously be a one-term President. Sarah Palin (although much poorer than she is now) would be endorsing every far-right candidate in the 2010 Congressional elections she can find, and would be the odds-on favorite for the GOP nomination in 2012. Ooops. That’s not an alternate reality. Sorry.
14. There would possibly be some window-dressing “financial reform” package passed by Congress and signed into law, but for the most part Wall Street and the Big Banks would be continuing on their merry way, expanding the profit-making ability of finance capitalism to ever-higher levels while the rest of the economy sinks further into permanent de-industrialization with a massive army of the permanently unemployed. Ooops. That’s not an alternate reality. Sorry.
15. With Mitch McConnell firmly in charge of the Senate, the fractured Democratic majorities in both Houses of Congress would be unable to get any meaningful legislation passed, to even test McCain on his veto power. Ooops. On the “meaningful legislation” part, that’s not an alternate reality. Sorry.
16. The “illegal immigration problem” would remain on the table as a powerful political weapon for the GOP, with their number one goal being not to solve it but rather to maintain it precisely as it is: one of the best political dividers that they have come up within a long time. Ooops. That’s not an alternate reality. Sorry.
17. There would have been no New Deal type real “stimulus package” to start the reindustrialization of America and turn the economy around on a real basis. Ooops. That’s not an alternate reality. Sorry.
To say nothing of a lack of an energy policy, not dealing with global warming/climate change, not restoring the Fairness Doctrine for the airwaves, all of them, which just happen to be publicly owned, dealing with education reform by doing something rather than going after the teachers’ unions first, extending all or part of the Bush tax-cuts-for-the-rich, and so on and so forth.
So gee, what we have now is not really an alternate reality on most major policy issues. However, if we did have a McCain/Palin Presidency, there would indeed be one major alternate political reality. Many of us liberals and progressives would have been saying “oh my gosh, if only we had been able to elect Obama President. How different things would be. We would have had a real fighting Democratic President who recognized the difference between what Democrats really stand for and what the GOP stands for. We would be thinking that Obama really would have made a difference, that the “hopey/changey” stuff was more than what dreams are made of. And so on and so forth.
Thus we would have been faced with the reality of a McCain Presidency and we would have had the illusion that an Obama Presidency would have differed from it. Before he made “Inception,” the director, Christopher Nolan, made a movie about turn-of-the-last century illusionists called “The Prestige.” Yes, indeed, dreams and illusions. We now know the real Obama Presidency and how little it has accomplished that is of any substance. It’s an illusion and we have been dreaming. A la “The Prestige” and “Inception.”
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a Columnist for BuzzFlash, Dr. Jonas is also a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Senior Columnist for The Greanville POST; a Contributor to TheHarderStuff newsletter; a Contributor to The Planetary Movement; and a Contributing Columnist for the Project for the Old American Century, POAC.