The State of the Plutocracy: The Kabuki President Addresses Sanders' Attack on Money in Politics (Pt 2)

(This article is continued from Part 1)

E. Obama's "Fix"

Panning back for a wider perspective on the specific deceptions about money in politics contained in Obama's SOTU speech quoted above, one sees Obama displacing attention from this central issue of the 2016 campaign. He buries the issue in a broader context of the need to "fix our politics," one of the four broad issue areas his speech addresses. For Obama, corruption is not the single important issue because, as Sanders says, "very little is going to be done" of value for average Americans until this issue is solved. For Obama it is only one of a group of several issues defining the broader abstraction he calls "fix[ing] our politics." Obama's "fix" relates more to personal style than criminal law enforcement.

Obama would shift our attention to some of these other issues where a fix may perhaps exist, even should they not exist - for Obama - with respect to corruption. He would have us relax our focus on the issue of plutocratic corruption for a different less contentious "fix" for "our politics." In Obama's shell game the pea is under a different shell than the one labeled "corruption." Or if the fix relies on solving all these problems at once, perhaps it is too complex a problem to expect any "real solution" any time soon.

Obama's "fix our politics" ideas involve voting rights, gerrymandering, and most important of all, the issue which took the greatest part of Obama's time in his discussion of democracy, and comprised perhaps the general overall theme of his SOTU: the partisan polarization that prevents "rational, constructive debates."

1. Rights.
After the offensive judicial supremacist decision of Chief Justice Roberts in Shelby County (2013) - which on the 50th anniversary of MLK's March on Washington shamelessly resorted to the lowest judicial excrescence of the racist antebellum Dred Scott case for its support - the issue of voting rights is both regrettably timely and highly legitimate. The Supreme Court's gutting of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County to promote primarily southern Republican white supremacy runs precisely parallel to the Court's gutting of anti-corruption laws to promote nationwide plutocracy. In the absence of plutocracy, which disenfranchises everyone but plutocrats, it would not be nearly as possible to revive Roberts' Jim Crow project for legally disenfranchising minorities. In a democracy, the response to Roberts would have been more like Abraham Lincoln's disparaging response to Roger Taney and Dred Scott, which relegated both to the trash heap of history without requiring any legal formalities.

Oligarchies are always built on some designated underclass, which in American history has always been defined racially. Minorities are the most effective voters against oligarchy, because they have to be. They are in turn prime targets for plutocratic disenfranchisement. One of the benefits of the U.S. two party system, which also has its drawbacks, is that it enormously empowers a minority willing and able to organize to swing its vote on the single issue of preserving democratic rights. This was how the 1960's civil rights movement obtained landmark democratic legislation before the curtain of plutocracy fell in 1976, thereby vitiating those same hard-won rights.

The right to vote in what amounts to a demonstration election can solve nothing on its own when the system itself is thoroughly corrupt, as it is now. Only democracy empowers the right to vote. Where elections survive in form, but there is no democracy because it has been corrupted, voters must first join to solve the paramount issue of plutocratic corruption, as the Sanders campaign is doing. It was due to loss of voting power over several decades and not loss of voting rights, that - even prior to Shelby County - civil rights had already suffered serious decline. This decline was evidenced in the legal impunity of Trayvon Martin's and other racist killers and a long line of cases like Parents Involved v. Seattle (2007) (which "undermines Brown [v. Board]'s promise" by ruling school integration unconstitutional).

This explains the paradox of rapid deterioration of civil rights during the presidency of Barack Obama. The cause is Obama's service to plutocracy. This is understood by authentic civil rights leaders like Cornel West who stand ethically above the personal rewards to be gained from the scam of lip-serving civil rights while facilitating plutocracy.

2. Re-districting.
Gerrymandering has an easy legislative fix, drawing congressional district boundaries at the national level by neutral algorithm. But in a corrupt environment that fix will not be administered. Gerrymandering is not as important a barrier to democracy as denial of voting rights since voters can effectively still prevail within either cracked or packed gerrymandered districts by organizing for swing issue voting or to contest primaries. In Obama's hands, gerrymandering makes for more of a diversionary verbal whipping post than an authentic cause of political dysfunction. Besides, gerrymandering offers an excuse only for the House, not the Senate, much less the Presidency, whereas all three are systemically corrupted by plutocracy.

3. Kabuki polarization.
Far more important, indeed central, to Obama's propaganda objectives is his broader appeal to the high Kabuki drama of partisan polarization. This drama is often performed as a plaintive plea for bipartisanship. In the performance of this ritualized diversionary "problem," the purpose of the pretense is to disguise the duopoly which rules jointly for plutocrats. The duopoly regularly gets together to do Wall Street's bidding under Obama's leadership, such as in his annual Christmastime "Obomnibus" felony fests.

The cover story acted out on the Kabuki stage is that the parties are deadlocked in mortal combat. This appearance is conveyed by highlighting those issues that Wall Street does not particularly care about (e.g., gender, identity, religion), is divided on (e.g. immigration), or on which it prefers the status quo (e.g. money in politics). Partisan polarization is the "problem" which is "solved" whenever the two parties periodically dissolve their deadlock pose to join together in happily serving plutocracy whatever it wants.

At those times you are supposed to be pleased that at least the adolescents are no longer fighting, even if they did just gang up to steal your wallet.

To Bernie Sanders, this supposed "problem" is actually "a mythology" disguising "the real issue ... that Congress is owned by big money." Mark Leibovich's entertaining and non-partisan peek behind the Kabuki curtain of the corrupt capital exploded this favorite myth of our Kabuki president. His book This Town (2013) exposed the secret that the "city, far from being hopelessly divided, is in fact hopelessly interconnected" in its embrace of corruption. "Everyone ultimately is playing for the same team," for whom "everyone [is] playing a role, performing a show" as "hollowed-out Kabuki players." Leibovich explains: "Washington becomes a determinedly bipartisan team when there is money to be made." "The biggest shift in Washington over the last forty or so years has been the arrival of Big Money and politics as an industry." Business has been especially good under Obama for "the wielders of political power gained not by votes but by money." "Over the last dozen years," Leibovich writes, "corporate America (much of it Wall Street) has tripled the amount of money it has spent on lobbying and public affairs consulting in D.C."

Obama's (apparently) highminded encouragement of "bonds of trust" (among thieves) and "willingness to compromise" (when dividing the boodle) constituted a grand Kabuki turn. By making such highminded sounding pleas, the Kabuki performance denies the deeper unity of purpose and bipartisan service to plutocracy that Obama regularly leads. The city's Kabuki theater business is designed to obscure, in this manner, the fact enduringly exposed by Leibovich of the Kabuki gang's essential unity in systemic corruption. Meanwhile the drama keeps the seats filled, and eyes diverted from reality.

Obama plays the romantic lead for the capital's Kabuki performers, the forlorn suitor of love and harmony regularly bemoaning the partisan polarization myth, which was the headlined villain of the SOTU. He appeals to us "not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans first, ...voices of" - he says it twice for emphasis in his soaring conclusion -"unconditional love." Obama promises Kabuki love for sacrificing democracy.

This essential propaganda meme sustains the politics of plutocracy with its divide and conquer strategy. Every Kabuki performance of, or complaint about, polarized partisanship imparts verisimilitude to the myth. The public's political energies are intended to be entirely absorbed within the Kabuki drama lest they get real and some day overturn the ruling plutocracy holding the puppet strings. The bipartisan Kabuki theater purveys an illusion of choice in a rigged system where none of significance is in fact on offer, except to those who pay. The SOTU deployed this strategy in full force to divert the electorate from the single question to which Sanders and the public are now reverting after two generations of distraction: whether the country should remain a plutocracy or finally unite to restore its democracy. It cannot be both.

Only apologists for rule by plutocrats, like Obama, espouse the diversionary theory that partisan polarization is an independent factor that needs an independent "fix" by having everyone just behave better. Bipartisan unconditional love is the romantic lead's melodramatic plea. As George Carlin warned: "'Bipartisan' usually means that a larger-than-usual deception is being carried out." When Obama gets gooey about "a better politics," its best to hold on to your wallet. He's covering up another Obomnibus.

F. "the system is rigged"

Obama takes this propaganda meme one step further to defend plutocrats from the direct attack by those who would restore democracy. Although aimed at Republicans on its surface, Obama's concern about the loss of democratic civility "if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic" is also clearly aimed at those seriously working against the continued overthrow of democracy by systemic corruption.

Plutocracy is unpatriotic. Corrupting government by buying off elected representatives violates the Declaration of Independence's insistence upon the "consent of the governed," the principle for which patriots fought and which they then implemented in their Constitution. That the oligarchic opponents of democracy are unpatriotic was the principle political theme of the early generations of post-Revolutionary Americans, until that theme was contested and reconfigured within the political cauldron of abolition, secession and reconstruction and finally silenced in the Gilded Age that followed.

To execute his pivot from criticizing Republican primary candidates, for which Paul Ryan in turn criticized him, to "persuad[ing] ... Bernie Sanders to stay the Obama course - during the campaign and beyond," Obama flips his criticism of fascist-leaning and polarizing Republican primary candidates to attack Sanders. In his triangulating bipartisan fashion, Obama turns stage left to attach his Kabuki criticism of polarization to those who are fighting the historical 2016 campaign to reclaim the country from the plutocracy that Obama serves.

Directly following his Kabuki dramatization of the perils and incivility of partisan polarization, Obama charges: "And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn't matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest. Too many Americans feel that way right now." (emphasis added)

Where to begin unpacking the deceptions? "Some" indefinite, implicitly questionable "special interest?" Obama pretends he is not intimately familiar with numerous special interests which corruptly operate the plutocracy through him and others. "Too many Americans" for what purpose? You can never have "too many" citizens informed about threats to democracy. This is like complaining that Paul Revere made too much noise.

Obama's whole formulation of this sentence reverses the direction of causality. It is the overthrow of democracy by plutocracy that causes how "the average person feels" about it, not the opposite. It has been scientifically established that "ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States.... Both parties have to a large degree embraced a set of policies that reflect the needs, preferences and interests of the well to do." This was not caused by citizens feeling that this fact is true, but by the money in politics that Obama takes, defends, and increasingly legalizes.

Obama deliberately directs his criticism literally at the feelings of the average American, rather than at the reality that causes and justifies those feelings. He places this criticism immediately following the context of his complaints about extreme partisan polarization. From his precise choice of words and context, Obama certainly seems to be advocating that Americans should not "feel" the way they do, because their feelings are a result of the evil influence of polarization. The blame for those (allegedly false) feelings logically falls on highly partisan Democrats from whom the plutocratic centrist Obama recoils.

Obama implies, without exactly saying, that he thinks that what "too many Americans feel" is wrong, and uncivil, and in fact dangerous to democracy. It takes a master like Obama to suggest, albeit couched in deniable ambiguity, that it is undemocratic to use democratic elections to regain democracy from plutocrats who have corrupted it for their own greedy ends.

Worse than the authoritarian attacks on Muslims and Mexicans, anti-science rants, hate radio and so forth, the behavior to be avoided "most of all," in Obama's world, is to recognize the scientific truth, and to pronounce it, that in the current plutocracy the average person's voice does not matter on issues already bought by plutocrats and that, as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have each said, the political system is rigged in favor of the rich by the legalization of political corruption. Is Obama really not only denying the existence of the palpable plutocracy he serves, by labeling it just a feeling, but also actually implying that fighting against the plutocracy, as Sanders is doing, causes "democracy [to] break... down" because of the feelings it arouses?

Obama reduces plutocracy to an unjustified feeling induced in average people by polarizing campaign assertions no more real than those Donald Trump makes about his Kenyan birth. Such a truly Orwellian proposition is designed to define the battle lines where Obama will protect from Sanders' attack his principal legacy of considerably increasing the level of plutocratic corruption. Obama wins the Kabuki theater gold medal by making plutocracy just an illusion, on his stage.


G. The counterfeit

To repeat, Obama makes this statement criticizing how average Americans feel about the plutocracy in which they live in a deniable form. Take it out of its context, photoshop out the word "feel" or explain it away as an intended synonym for "know" and someone could defend the statement as maybe a lament, rather than a criticism. The indignant press spokesperson would reply: "Poor word usage, possibly. The President apologizes if his meaning was misunderstood." But Obama makes his point less ambiguous when his script spins immediately from this apparent attack on Sanders to cover three propaganda memes at once. This is an even more daring medal-winning triple axel. Watch its separate elements in slow motion.

Obama says next, "It's one of the few regrets of my presidency -- that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better. I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I'll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office."

1. Sanders shmrancors.
This statement doubles down on the immediately preceding (arguably ambiguous, in the hands of a good propaganda clean-up crew) accusation against those anti-plutocrats, those "too many Americans," who are implicitly misled by Sanders into understanding the plutocratic government that Obama leads. Obama bookends their allegedly misguided feelings by associating those feelings not just with his previous examples of polarization but also this immediately following reference to "rancor and suspicion between the parties." Implying mutually opposing rancors emphasizes the switch from addressing solely Republican examples of anti-democratic extremism to include Democrats in Obama's Kabukoid polarization myth, which "has gotten worse" under Obama.

Polarization needed to get "worse" in Obama's Kabuki theater precisely because it had to cover up much larger favors for plutocrats than any prior Democrat had given, including Bill Clinton, since at least Woodrow Wilson. The Democrat who's made it "worse" is not a Clinton. Obama's culprit is not even a Democrat, except for purposes of contesting their nomination as required by the creaking electoral mechanics of an ailing two party run-off process. But Hillary Clinton is definitely innocent of rancor, being just as tight with plutocrats as Obama is.

If Obama had different intentions than criticizing Sanders, then before moving on from the previous statement about Americans' feelings, and instead of immediately reverting to the subject of mutually polarizing rancors, Obama should have affirmed the irrefutable and intolerable cause of and reality behind the average American feelings he described. He should have proposed, promised to lead, an effective "real solution" for overturning a corrupt plutocracy where the opinions of ordinary voters do not count but money does. This is the very heart of the matter in 2016. Obama adroitly cuts this heart out of the picture. He wraps it up and incorporates it into his Kabuki drama of polarization. Feelings, not real world corruption, is the problem that needs a fix. On Obama's Kabuki stage Sanders' revolution against plutocratic corruption is just more evidence of the Kabuki "problem" of polarization to be solved.

Instead of an expected follow-up phrase or two to clarify his ungainly reference to the key problem, Obama thus nails down his recharacterization of the central issue of American politics as a problem of partisan polarization. "One of the few regrets" Obama expresses is not that the overthrow of democracy by plutocracy became more entrenched on his watch but that misled feelings about an illusory plutocracy causes partisan polarization that might inflict damage on democracy. Somehow if we, namely Sanders, would all just calm down and mind our manners, democracy would fix itself without impolite rancor toward Obama's plutocrat friends by re-criminalizing their spending of money on our politics. After all, let's just get used to the fact there is no "existing ... real solution" anyway so we might as well just relax and accept Obama's world of illusions. He promises us his highest quality Kabuki performance "so long as I hold this office."

2. The hapless president.
While your head is still spinning from this pivot to accuse Sanders of rancor, Obama's statement then turns off again in an entirely different direction. He subtly plays off liberals' favorite excuse for Obama's consistent betrayals of his "beliefs" and promises. He is hapless, means well, tries hard "to be better," but is just not quite up to the job. Nice guys finish last and all that. Of course the standard he self-deprecatingly does not meet is one he imputes to the two greatest presidents, thereby leaving plenty of room below them in the standings for his legacy to score quite high enough. After playing out a similar role of deception, Woodrow Wilson still scores in the sub-great range among many historians on the basis of his supposed intentions.

Obama's comparison does arrogantly claim, at a deeper level, that he is playing in the same league as Lincoln and Roosevelt. His game is just not quite "gifted" enough to get the job done, though he is still trying. But actually he is not even playing in the same league of Lincoln and Roosevelt. He never started the job of restoring democracy that he was expected to lead after the broad revulsion from the imperial warmongerer, torturer and eavesdropper, Bush II, swept Obama into office in 2008.

These references to the greatest presidents also responds to a criticism that is known to have reached Obama. Obama's most powerful critics like Cornel West and Cynthia McKinney (who had the prescience to run against Obama in 2008) complain that Obama campaigned as a Lincoln or Roosevelt but gave us another neoliberal like Clinton. Obama's defense is to change the subject to his not having the "gifts" of Lincoln and Roosevelt, a tacit denial of the charge of being an impostor. This at the same time evokes Obama's usual exculpatory cover story of being benign, but somewhat ineffectual when it comes to supporting progressive popular reform. This is his defense against the entirely different grounds for West's criticism, which is not about his gifts.

The "gifts" Obama refers to are those of the Kabuki stage, where the performer pretends to resolve the Kabuki "problem" of partisan polarization by serving the plutocrats' bipartisan agenda. It is a devious distortion of history to imply that the "gifts" of Lincoln and F.D. Roosevelt consisted of being better actors than Obama at pretending to "bridge the divide" of fake partisan polarization on the Kabuki stage. Obama's last SOTU should secure for him history's judgment that he was our greatest Kabuki president. "It's not even close," in his own words, definitely not close in the case of Lincoln or Roosevelt, or for that matter Martin Luther King who Obama also invokes, The oligarchs hated them all, unto Civil War, assassination or military coup. By contrast, Obama's destiny as the greatest Kabuki president is surely a plutocratic sinecure.

Both Lincoln and Roosevelt, who said they were opposed to the interests of slave power oligarchs or economic royalist plutocrats, fought and won historic victories against these anti-democratic forces. Though some criticized them for not going far enough in important details of their policies, what they did accomplish constituted essential advances for democracy of world-historic dimension. The integrity of their achievements being consistent with their words, not the gifts they possessed for Kabuki bipartisanship, made them our greatest presidents. John Quincy Adams was perhaps the most legitimately gifted president, but the single term of his presidency is largely forgotten because it lacked such achievement. Obama is too smart not to understand his distortion of history in claiming that continuing regard for Lincoln and Roosevelt rests on their gifts for Kabuki. Democracy and Kabuki are two different leagues.

3. Counterfeit gifts.
The American people in 2008 enthusiastically disagreed with this assessment of Obama's "gifts" as being in any way deficient. As his popularity declines, rarely are his "gifts" the subject of criticism. Americans powerfully judged that he did indeed have the "gifts" required to do the job of a Lincoln or Roosevelt. The times required those gifts after Bush II's village idiot moral religiosity (accepted in revulsion from Bill Clinton's clever depravity) turned out even worse than Buchanan and Hoover by starting the stupidest, most meaningless, criminal, counterproductive and downright evil war in U.S. history, while simultaneously generating economic and fiscal disaster.

What Americans misjudged about Obama, which his statement is designed to disguise behind feigned modesty about deficient Kabuki "gifts" as the source of his deficiency, was their assumption that Obama would also have integrity, in addition to his obvious gifts of charm, poise, eloquence and intelligence. After supporting Obama in 2008, West now describes him as a "counterfeit" who "posed as if he was a kind of Lincoln."

Talent for counterfeiting is a well-remunerated gift of its own, on the political Kabuki stage as in the real theater. But Americans did not anticipate that Obama would be a world class political fraud in the loyal service of Wall Street, while he also restored an image of dignity, graciousness and charm in his conduct of the office. After the embarrassingly puerile Bush II, this conduct provided a token consolation. It has won begrudging tolerance for his misrepresentation of his future conduct on virtually all matters of importance to plutocrats. Even though some, like McKinney, saw through it, voters can be excused their mistaken assumption about Obama's integrity, since there had never been, except possibly Wilson, such a fraud elected to the presidency who did the direct opposite of nearly everything of importance that he promised, and to the last continued talking up personal "beliefs" that were directly contradicted by his contemporaneous deeds.

Obama campaigned against the way Washington does business, the nation's biggest problem. But his most historic advances have been made on behalf of the militarized plutocracy that he campaigned against. The difference between him and the greatest presidents is therefore not his considerable "gifts," as he deceptively and purposefully suggests, but his lack of integrity in leveling with the people about the purpose for which he intended to and does use those gifts. This is the reason he failed to fulfill the role history offered him as the man of the hour that the nation needed and happily chose in a time of severe crisis. Instead he served as the man the plutocracy needed and financed to profit from the crisis notwithstanding an aroused public. Woodrow Wilson is the only president who survived such a switch in roles with sufficient reputation remaining in tact to have a legacy still worth debating. It's a small niche for which Obama is aiming.

Obama thus himself defines the decisive issue in the 2016 campaign which his SOTU was actually about. Bernie Sanders exudes authenticity and integrity. Cornel West and those who agree with his view of Obama are prioritizing those qualities for 2016. Even if they do come in an uncharismatically crusty package with few other demonstrable "gifts" included, "only Bernie has authenticity and integrity," according to West's formal endorsement. It is enough that this man of the hour has the requisite experience and capacity to run a winning campaign for the restoration of democracy. He does not claim, nor do his supporters expect him to possess any measure of, the specific Kabuki "gifts" of bipartisanship that Obama praises. Resolving the fake partisan polarization by leading enormously lucrative plundering raids on the public commons to enrich plutocrats is not the skill that Sanders is offering.

Sanders' polarization lies along an entirely different political axis than the fake one that Obama occupies. Sanders says, "in the Congress, it's not the Republicans and Democrats hate each other. That's a mythology from the media. The real issue is that Congress is owned by big money and refuses to do what the American people want them to do." Sanders' struggle is real, Obama's is fake. It requires no gifts of a Kabuki president to lead the country back to democracy. It requires uncompromising opposition to its current feculent plutocracy.

* Versions of this article originally appeared in Counterpunch and Nation of Change