Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books
Friends with Benefits
Liberal incredulity at Charles Koch’s (Koch Bros.) recent (soft) endorsement of Hillary Clinton — assertions that is was either a non-sequitur or a ploy to discredit her, was to dismiss the endorsement without answering the question: what about Mrs. Clinton’s policies, or those of any other establishment Democrat for that matter, could inheritance babies, oil and gas industry magnates and long-term supporters of the radical Right like Mr. Koch possibly object to? Mr. Koch was simply saying out loud what anyone paying attention to American politics in recent decades already knows: the Democratic Party is the Party of Wall Street and of corporate America.
To the political inconvenience of said establishment Democrats, including Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Koch’s endorsement has content behind it. His charge (link above) is that establishment Democrats have the softer touch needed in present circumstance to sell Conservative policies like deregulation of industry and fiscal austerity. As Bill Clinton, whose policies Mr. Koch preferred to those of George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have demonstrated— it is socially liberal Democrats who have been the better proponents of Wall Street’s neo-capitalist takeover precisely because they accomplish with stealth economic policies what Republicans attempt more straightforwardly through politics.
In support of Mr. Koch’s assertions are secret documents leaked last week by Greenpeace on the TTIP (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) ‘trade’ agreement that illustrate the Democrat’s strategy of publicly supporting environmental and labor regulations while undermining them through ‘trade’ deals that give the power to regulate to multi-national corporations. The mechanisms for doing so, ISDS (Investor State Dispute Settlement) provisions and their variants in these ‘trade’ agreements, limit state regulations in the public interest by forcing states to pay corporations for phantom ‘lost profits’ due to regulation. That Charles Koch personally benefits from these policies while Democratic Party loyalists pay for them illustrates who Democrats really answer to.
Weakened at Bernie’s
The Democratic Party’s efforts to install Mrs. Clinton as its nominee would be premature, bordering on pathological, had Bernie Sanders not signaled his willingness to bow out based on Mrs. Clinton’s demonstrated ability to garner less than 9% of the eligible votes (read on). Registered Democrats represent 31% of registered voters and 17% of eligible voters. Bernie Sanders has the support of approximately 50% of registered Democrats which leaves support for Hillary Clinton at 16% of registered voters and less than 9% of eligible voters (54% of eligible voters voted in the 2012 election). Contrary to the assertions of Democratic Party functionaries, it isn’t at all clear at this stage that Mrs. Clinton could be elected dog catcher, let alone President.
The tactic of posing Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy as fait accompli via a rigged delegate count is to claim impermeability for the Democratic political establishment. In those historical moments when elections settle political matters this strategy ‘works’ to the extent that it de-legitimizes resistance. But with only a bit more than half of eligible voters voting in recent elections and well over half of those that do voting for ‘outsider’ candidates, claims of impermeability look a lot like the delusion of class privilege seen through a filter of self-sequestration. In terms of basic self-preservation for the ruling class, Bernie Sanders’ election would be the pressure-relief valve that might save the Washington establishment from itself.
This written, the electoral system in the U.S. works from the premise of political legitimacy to offer a choice between candidate A or B. Popular support for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump doesn’t reduce to this ‘consumer choice’ theory of politics. Electing Mr. Sanders to better ‘manage’ the system of state-capitalism would quickly make visible a degree of systemic ossification that is unlikely to be resolved through electoral politics. The choice between the ‘incremental change’ of Democratic establishment fantasy and system change is of type, not degree. As Charles Koch’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton suggests, Mrs. Clinton’s role is to keep the unwashed masses in their place, not to affect substantive political ‘change.’
A Peasant Day in the Neighborhood
Viewed through the Liberal silos of ‘politics’ and ‘economics’ the Democratic establishment’s support for (and from) Wall Street is pragmatic, if distasteful from a public relations perspective, economic policy. Wall Street is a part of the economy (goes the logic), the economy benefits us all, and therefore ‘helping’ Wall Street benefits us all. The received ‘political’ wisdom is that Wall Street’s money ‘influences’ politics through funding political campaigns like Hillary Clinton’s. What hasn’t yet filtered into public understanding is that Wall Street’s existence is political— it is the premiere state-capitalist institution through its ability to exert political influence by its control over the financial economy. This was well-covered territory in Lenin’s The State and Revolution a century ago.
The ‘Washington Consensus’ that supports Wall Street, a/k/a the Democratic Party’s real platform, sees it as necessary imperial appendage, as the financial ‘carrot’ always held a few inches in front of the ‘stick’ of American militarism that supports corporate plunder. It is this neo-imperialist frame that unites neo-liberalism with neo-conservativism, the Western tendency toward muscular militarism, in the Democratic establishment ethos. Seen through this lens, Democrat Barack Obama’s decision to fully restore Wall Street from its near self-immolation in 2009 was a political act. It ties directly to his support for ISDS provisions in the ‘free-trade’ agreements he is pushing (link above).
When Hillary Clinton promises to ‘get tough on Wall Street’ her working premise is that Wall Street is necessary to this imperial project— most likely a different role than many of her supporters imagine for it. What was made evident in the housing boom and bust of the early-mid-2000s is that ‘we,’ the 99% on the outside of Washington’s imperial divide, are easy prey for Wall Street. Left unsaid is that the Democratic establishment’s ‘free-trade’ deals that Mrs. Clinton will ‘reluctantly’ support should she be elected are intended to hand regulatory powers over to the very same Wall Street that Mrs. Clinton is promising to ‘get tough’ on.
History Gets an Enema
Historical turning points are notoriously difficult to see as they unfold, partly because outcomes aren’t yet determined and partly because their significance is specific to the social forces that create them. To venture a view, the developed West, and particularly the U.S., is at a moment of historical inflection the direction of which will determine the broad social context in which people live their lives (or not) for decades to come. As was the case with the social possibilities unleashed and notable political failures of the late 1960s, an entrenched and now deeply dysfunctional political and economic establishment will fill any turn toward reflection and accommodation with more of the same.
Another term for universal health care coverage, high-quality public education, guaranteed jobs that pay a living wage and income security in old age is ‘civilization.’ The contortions of the (Charles) Kochian ‘maker / taker’ shit-logic that Hillary Clinton and her Liberal economists put themselves through to conclude that ‘we can’t afford civilization for the rest of you’ well-illustrates whose interests they serve. Insipid nonsense like economic ‘models’ that demonstrate that the universal healthcare, public education and living wages offered by other developed nations are Left-wing fantasies are declarations of class war launched by the Liberal class against the working classes and the poor.
Terms like ‘income inequality’ apply the illusion of natural distribution to the wholly predictable consequences of the class war launched in the 1970s by the well-funded radical Right (Charles Koch) in collusion with Liberal economists as the memory of the last domestic capitalist catastrophe— the Great Depression, faded from memory. In capitalist theory inequality of outcomes is the entire point because in that theory people earn in proportion to their economic contribution. That capitalism is more precisely a system of welfare for the rich was well understood by the New Deal Democrats of the 1940s and 1950s. And to be clear, with the bailouts and trade deals they support as evidence, it is well understood by plutocrat-loving establishment Democrats in the present. Assuring that this welfare for the rich continues is why Charles Koch hearts Hillary Clinton.
Looking Past the Bern
Bernie Sanders’ willingness to play by rules determined by ‘the graveyard of social movements,’ the Democratic Party, is more of the same anti-politics that has spelled defeat for the American Left since the 1960s. Hillary Clinton isn’t a centrist variant on the program that Mr. Sanders’ supporters find compelling, she is its antithesis. The sad irony is that Mr. Sanders’ capitulation is apparently based on the rigged delegate count, not on the popular will. Fear of being the ‘spoiler’ who elected Donald Trump requires ignoring that everything that comes from the Washington political establishment is bullshit anyway— it was Jimmy Carter’s turn hard-Right (see Paul Volcker and the ‘monetarist experiment’) that lost him re-election against Ronald Reagan in 1980, not a move to the Left as Democrat lore has it.
Part of Donald Trump’s appeal, for those to whom he has appeal, is that he is willing to take the Republican establishment down in flames rather than accede to its dictates. Were this inclination used to promote the political program of his supporters, rather than the prerogative of privilege applied to Mr. Trump’s personal ambition, it might be admirable. From the Washington political establishment’s perspective it is most certainly irresponsible. The question back for both Democrats and Republicans is: how responsible is it to put forward an ossified political order as the only choice in the face of its four decades of conspicuous political and economic failures? Hillary Clinton is the candidate of this failure— just ask Charles Koch.
Graphic: The Guillotine! A device capitalists should love, an ‘efficient’ machine for dispatching the Ancien Regime in the French Revolution. Hillary Clinton should love it also— it was sold as the ‘humanitarian’ method of separating former heads of state from their heads. It was a crucial part of the ‘Change You Can Believe In’ political campaign of 1789. Source: http://europeanhistory.about.com.
The Democratic Party will no doubt stumble on regardless of the outcome of the coming election. What Hillary Clinton’s candidacy helps clarify is its true nature as a reactionary force that poses itself as the Party of the powerless to better promote the interests of the powerful. By running as a Democrat Bernie Sanders consciously joined forces with those determined to crush any real Left political movement. For those democratic socialists who aren’t ready to roll over, Philadelphia can be hot and humid in the summer. Wear loose clothing and drink plenty of water. Should the Philadelphia Police Department decide to distribute free tear gas, be generous and ask yourselves: what would Hillary do?