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State of the Union, the real progressive reply

Apr 8th, 2017 | By | Category: Features, Lead Article

Washington is certainly different now, at least around 1600. Yet despite the iconoclasm, the deconstruction, the incompetence; there is a constancy in the tune which we hear. EJ has taken the opportunity to re-post an article that originally appeared some time ago, the day after President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address.  As you watch what is transpiring now, consider if the message sounds familiar.  A bonus song inspired by the state of the union address is included at the end of this article.

The president had his say. The republicans responded. The tea folks responded. The talking heads responded. Now it’s time for the iconoclast’s response.

There are significant differences in party ideologies and there are significant differences among the political elite. However, with respect to the major and most important ideological positions, differences are imperceptible. What are these ideological constants?

The first arm of this ideology is that the needs of large scale accumulated capital are always given the first priority. In the past, this was big industry. More recently, it has become the finance sector (with the continuing participation of big industry). Not surprisingly, this is the very nature and essence of the modern liberal state, or perhaps more descriptively, the modern bourgeois state. Such a position is not without its justification, since the wealth and well-being of the nation is in the hands of big capital. There is some truth in “too big to fail”, at least in the short run. However, there are some serious and enduring pitfalls in designing the state to serve the needs of accumulated capital. For starters, their needs are not the same as our needs and their well-being is not the same as ours. Because of their power in defining life, intentionally or not, the behavior of big capital imposes serious frames and parameters on our options, our capabilities, our possibilities, our ways of thinking, and our life-chances. Consequently, any position by the state that supports a political economy dominated by big capital is, in the long-run, detrimental to our collective well-being. All policies supported by all parties and by all policy makers (save a few) do exactly this. In response to growing inequality, the president offered many policies and reforms intended to increase the human capital for those possessing little. He did not address the root of the problem: the increasing monopolization of capital and the social structure which it spawns. If reform was his intention, it was defined by the conservative ideology of leaving big capital intact. What makes this ideology so pervasive and intransigent is that policy makers have come to believe the hegemonic narrative that justifies it, and consequently, may not have deceptive intentions in its embrace.

The second arm of this shared ideology is that American intervention in world affairs should always be an option and often acted upon. This arm of the ideology is motivated by the tenets of American exceptionalism, the desire to spread neoliberal economies to the developing and dependent world, and the protection of trade in a neoliberal economic world. In many ways, these policy positions and activities are straight from the dominant American narrative, albeit a hegemonic one. Those in charge have and will continue to justify international interventions (both violent and non-violent) by invoking fair-play, human freedom, the abolition of tyranny, and international security; albeit, the true underlying motivation is the protection of the channels on which the international neoliberal economy functions. In its most fundamental sense, this second arm of the shared ideology has been developed to support the first. What makes this ideology so pervasive and intransigent is that policy makers have come to believe the narrative that justifies it, and as such, they may not have deceptive intentions in its embrace.

So, almost categorically, the political elites embrace the two arms of the ideology above, one domestic and one international. We discuss and debate, sometimes violently, policies that fit within them but never outside of them. Over the years, I have heard the political elites, the talking heads, the advocates, and everyone else discuss a variety of political positions and policy options; but all I hear is a restatement of the two arms of the ideology described above. Listening to the State of the Union I heard the same thing. In an effort to describe what I heard, I woke up this morning and wrote down this song:

We are the best,
Make no mistake.
No other can compare,
I fear they are just a fake.

The world is your oyster,
If you are up to snuff.
Come to the promised land
Even though it may be tough.

It’s all about human capital,
Leave the rest in place.
The model is good,
Only change it a trace.

We can change the world,
But must be discrete.
We will beat our chest,
But let no one know of our cheat.

Can we be fooled?
Should it be retooled?
I guess not says you,
When old wine in new bottles will do.

God bless America and
God bless you.

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  1. Many of the sentiments in the this post have been more articulately discussed in the latest Harper’s (March) magazine. The article is by Adolph Reed, Jr and is entitled, “Nothing Left: the long slow surrender of American liberals.” Included in that article is the following quotation, ” (Obama’s)…commitments to an imperialist foreign policy and Wall Street have only more tightly sealed the American left’s coffin by nailing it shut from the inside.” This a must read for mainstream Democrats who consider themselves progressive. The article is in the printed magazine and for those that have access to a subscription, the article can be found online at: http://harpers.org/archive/2014/03/nothing-left-2/

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