History never repeats itself exactly. But it makes some pretty decent copies. As I write this on March 29, 2011, we are winding down to the end of the so-called “debt-limit crisis,” or the possible end, or the continuation of it, or what have you. Of course what is going on is not really about the debt-limit. It is about the future of the federal government in the United States and its appropriate role. As I wrote in my BuzzFlash@Truthout Commentary on Grover Norquist’s wet dream his 25-year campaign is focused only at the secondary level on taxation. It is primarily about his stated goal of “shrinking the federal government to the size of a bathtub and then drowning it in the bathtub,” or as he used to more simply state it: “starve the beast.”
The “beast” for Norquist is of course not the whole of federal functions. His “beast to be starved” does not include the support of the military-industrial complex, the so-called “drug war” and its off-spring the prison-industrial complex, financial support of the investment and banking industries when needed, and the subsidies for the extractive industries and corporate farming. It is, rather, national domestic spending on support of the elderly, the health care delivery system, education, infra-structure, and at the top of his enemies list, environmental and financial regulation.
This is what the current struggle is about. The GOP and its wholly-owned and most convenient subsidiary/front organization the “Tea Party,” serving solely the interest of their single master, the corporate power (a tiny oligarchy, leading their mass support by a clever combination of racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and political religiosity), are simply using the current so-called “debt crisis” as a means to force down the throat of the nation its view of what the Federal government should and should not be doing which it would be extremely unlikely to achieve through the legislative process. Of course no one over there ever reads the statement of purpose of the US Constitution, the Preamble. But that’s another story (see my BF Commentary on it at http://blog.buzzflash.com/jonas/185).
Of course President Obama, if he were an old-line Democratic President like FDR, or Harry Truman, or JFK, or LBJ before he was swallowed up his perceived need to polish his “anti-Communist” credentials and expand the War on Vietnam, or even if he were Dwight David Eisenhower, who firmly believed that the New Deal was settled policy and need only to be buffed around the edges, would have made the issue very plain, would have clearly laid it before the nation, would have said something like:
“No, I am not going to let the Republicans and the corporate power they represent crucify the nation on a cross of falsehoods. Yes we do need to cut spending, reduce and eventually eliminate the deficit, and begin paying down the national debt, if for no other reason than that we are currently drowning in interest payment obligations. And we do need to raise taxes, primarily on the rich and the large corporations, to help us do that. We don’t need to ‘shrink government,’ both eliminating vital functions in education, health, the environment, our infra-structure, and the public services that we depend upon every day to keep our nation humming, and creating additional large numbers of the unemployed. We need to remember that the highest rates of economic growth in our nation were achieved when taxes on the wealthy and the large corporations were at their highest levels, yes during the Eisenhower Administration in the 1950s.” And so on and so forth. Many readers of the publications in which my commentaries and many others like them appear could write the speech as well as we can, or better.
But Obama is doing nothing of the kind. Obama is playing the Republicans’ game. And in so doing he is serving the interests of the corporate power, with slightly different rhetoric, just as they are. But since Obama has been a Democratic Leadership Council front man since the beginning (http://www.buzzflash.com/articles/jonas/091), with slightly different rhetoric from time-to-time (and yes, I was taken in by it too on occasion during the campaign and the early months of his Presidency) it should come as no surprise. But what is his total disinterest and that of most of the leadership of the Democratic Party in fighting the corporate power leading to? In my view we are hurtling down the corridors of history towards the Second US Civil War.
Sad days for our country, but believe me, sadder days are coming, due to the public actions of the Obama/Boehner Coalition and the private actions of the corporate power that stands behind them. Barack Obama, meet James Buchanan. Citizens United, meet Dred Scott. The corporate power, meet the slave power (a tiny oligarchy like the Corporate power, but able to lead their mass support through the use of racism alone). The Charleston Batteries firing on Fort Sumter, meet the Christian Air Force dropping nuclear weapons on “the sanctums of wickedness.” The first Civil War, meet the Second.
James Buchanan, among other things, was likely the first gay President of the United States. A life-long bachelor, he was accompanied in the White House for part of his Presidency by a long-time, also single, male friend. Given the level of homophobia in our country, actively promoted and used for political purposes by the Republicans, he was likely the last gay President for quite some time to come. Much more importantly, he was a Northern (Pennsylvania) Democrat who attempted to stave off the impending violent struggle over the expansion of slavery westward by giving in to the slave power at every turn. Barack Obama is of course the first US African-American President. Given the level of anti-black/Hispanic/Muslim/you-name-it racism in our country, actively promoted and used by the Republicans for political purposes, he is likely to be the last African-American President for some time to come. More importantly, he was a Northern, so-called “liberal,” who attempted at every turn to appease the corporate power, by doing so creating, rather than diminishing, just as the appeaser Buchanan had done 150 years before, the very real possibility of a second Civil War.
In the Dred Scott decision of 1857, the Southern-dominated Supreme Court went way beyond the issue that was before them: could a former slave sue to protect his rights. They could have simply said, no, he couldn’t because as a slave, former or not, under the Constitution which Michele Bachmann has apparently never read even though she graduated from law school, he “didn’t have standing.” (Perhaps I am being unfair here. Perhaps she read it, but just couldn’t understand its plain meaning in re slavery and slaves.) And they could have let it go at that. But they went way beyond that to, among other things, declare unconstitutional the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which Thomas Jefferson had called “the firebell in the night warning of future bloody conflict,” which banned slavery in the Territories above a certain geographic parallel. The slave power desperately wanted to expand slavery to as many of the future states as possible, not so much because slave-power would be of much real use out there, but because the breeding of slaves and an expanding internal market for them would vastly increase their profits above what growing cotton could bring them.
And so the Citizens United decision, the product of a far right-wing dominated Supreme Court went way beyond what it might have. It might merely have maintained the fiction, created by the railroad lawyers who dominated the Court in the 1880s , that corporations are “people” and as such could contribute money directly to political campaigns, with limits on those contributions imposed by Congress as they are on real people. But they went beyond that saying that their contributions, if they appeared (ho, ho, ho) to be “issue-oriented,” could be a) unlimited, b) made at any time during a campaign, and c) (here’s the real kicker) could be made anonymously. Just as the Dred Scott decision vastly expanded the interests and powers of the slave power, so did the Citizens United decision vastly expand the interests and power of the corporate power. At least in the 1860 election, the slave power had a clear opponent. The then newly-minted Republican Party ran on a platform of limiting the expansion of slavery in the territories while making it clear that they had no designs on slavery in the existing states. Of course, Lincoln won and well before he was inaugurated the slave power went to war. This is where the analogy comes to a grinding halt (so far).
Right now there is no national political force, with effective national political leadership, to oppose the corporate power. Whether or not Obama is re-elected (and the Republicans may well prefer to have him remain in the White House, see my previous Commentary, “The GOP’s Presidential Dilemma” [http://blog.buzzflash.com/node/12863]), the corporate power is firmly in control of the organs of the state. And will remain so for quite some time. But someday, the obvious outcomes of their policies will have weighed heavily enough upon enough Americans that somehow or the other a revolt will start, whether at the ballot box (unlikely, because of the Republican thorough control of that institution through voter suppression and voting fraud) or elsewhere. Then we may well see the modern equivalent of South Carolina’s attack on the federal Fort Sumter, although played out by a much more powerful force, let’s say the “Christian air force” now coming out of the US Air Force Academy (http://www.truth-out.org/air-force-cites-new-testament-ex-nazi-train-officers-ethics-launching-nuclear-weapons/1311776738), whose leadership might well for openers decide to, let’s say, “nuke” such “sanctums of wickedness” as, say, New York City.
What such Second Civil War scenarios might look like in more detail I will get to in a future commentary or two. In the meantime, be afraid; be very afraid.
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 Truthout/BuzzFlash (http://www.truth-out.org/, http://www.buzzflash.com), Dr. Jonas is also Managing Editor and a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Senior Columnist for The Greanville POST; a Contributor to Op-Ed News.com; a Contributor to TheHarderStuff newsletter; and a Contributor to The Planetary Movement.