Obama uses the partisan polarization myth to defend plutocracy from the Sanders' revolution. On the central issue of 2016 Obama offers propagandist deception and diversion as excuses for his inability over seven years to advance any strategy for restoration of democracy.
Instead Obama argues that partisan polarization, not corrupt plutocracy, is the problem. So Sanders should just tone it down. The SOTU confirms that the country's demand for authenticity and integrity in 2016 is a reaction to Obama, who Clinton choses to embrace, but Sanders has no choice but to reject.
The promotional build up to President Obama's January 12, 2016, State of the Union speech promised something completely different from his previous performances. But the WP noted it was not "structured quite as imaginatively as advertised." One might say, "Of course. It's Obama." The propagandist in chief's deed is typically the opposite of his word. But in a way the difference of this SOTU was its perfect similarity to everything that has gone before, structured for the purposes of the occasion. This SOTU was unlike others. It was more directly about the state of the plutocracy now under challenge from Bernie Sanders than about the State of a Union that has been replaced.
This SOTU presented the complete text of the propaganda memes by which, throughout his presidency, Obama has disguised that, although he campaigned in 2008 and pretended ever since to do the opposite, he has served as a loyal "puppet of corporate plutocrats," as Cornel West puts it. Propaganda is Obama's art form, and his performance of the propagandist art is world class.
Obama gave this final full dress performance of his art in the midst of a campaign where the state of plutocracy is the central issue. Sanders opened, closed, and regularly hammered the January 17 debate with his key point: "Very little is going to be done to transform our economy and to create the kind of middle class we need unless we end a corrupt campaign finance system which is undermining American democracy." Obama's SOTU defending plutocracy against Bernie Sanders' historic campaign to restore democracy required his art form's Olympian equivalent of triple axel leaps and flying spins.
Obama's likely valedictory mission, once freed from the constant reality-check of his contrary deeds, will involve use of his art to seize the eloquent high ground on issues important to the country. He will use his rhetorical gifts to lead people still gullible enough to believe him, after eight years of evidence to the contrary, away from any realistic solutions for those issues. His final SOTU served as an audition for, preview of, and transition to Obama's new role in the lucrative plutocrat-funded, non-profit industrial complex such as sustains the Clintons' standard of living.
Obama "promise[s] that, a little over a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I will be right there with you as a citizen." He even lists the constituencies, the "voices," which he will target for misleading. Obama's soaring SOTU refrains beginning "I see it in," appropriated America's Shakespeare of democracy Martin Luther King's epochal first person visions of a democratic future, and even an echo of the promised land MLK foresaw there. Obama's dystopic dream for his continued service to plutocracy envisions as his target constituencies, workers, students, teachers, ex-cons, protesters for justice, and seniors. But he will not be severing his triangulated Clintonesque lifeline to the bosses, business owners, and "cops" (as metaphor for the MIC) that he also mentions. The latter will enrich him at least as well as it has the Clintons. After all, as one economist writes, Obama is the president who cut government workers, slashed the budget and otherwise worked "to suffocate the economy in order to reward the thieving vipers on Wall Street." Having saved virtually their whole bankrupt industry from the compelling need for its nationalization, which would have been necessary to avoid a predictable repeat financial crisis, considerable reward is to be expected.
To caution against his future role in the controlled opposition that Obama inevitably will assume and to appreciate a master propagandist performing at the very top of his game, it is worth closely parsing Obama's response to what Bernie Sanders has made the central issue of 2016, the key to the power of plutocracy: corrupt money in politics.
To do so is to study the most important propaganda memes of our time as served up by a master.
A. The issue of plutocracy
The Sanders campaign has focussed attention on the single paramount issue that faces the country. His electoral "revolution" against an oligarchy of the "billionaire class," i.e, a plutocracy, defines what the historic 2016 campaign is about, and explains why Sanders is currently winning that campaign.
Sanders is, on domestic issues, running against Obama's status quo record and his extension of plutocratic power. Obama's single SOTU paragraph that promotes a specific legislative program spoke for his quintessentially plutocratic "Obama legacy" Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which Sanders resolutely opposes. Obama authoritatively conveyed to Congress the command directly from their mutual bosses: "approve this agreement." In response, the "voices" of those workers, students, teachers, ex-cons, protesters for justice, and seniors who all stand to lose from this agreement will need to instead approve Bernie Sanders.
Obama concluded his speech by evoking half of his now-derided 2008 campaign slogan, "I believe in change." Plutocrats understand that, if true, such a belief would be like others professed by Obama. It does not affect his actions as president, unless the desired "change" is to deceptively tighten the grip of plutocracy under the guise of loosening it. Obama falsely advertises TPP to "protect workers and the environment," for example, though it will do the opposite.
The 2016 SOTU deflects attention from the central goal of Sanders' campaign, while aiming a subtle, almost subliminal, criticism at it. Obama discusses subsidiary policies on which only plutocratic ends can be achieved, until that one goal of getting corrupt money out of politics is accomplished, as Sanders seeks to do. Obama preceded his discussion of democracy by packing various issues of this nature under three broadly themed rubrics of the economy, technology, and foreign affairs.
On the fourth theme, democracy, we see the reason for this new broad-themed packaging for his speech. Under that fourth rubric he sandwiches the paramount issue of money in politics between two other issues, and wraps them all in a third. Obama paints their surface with a veneer of anodyne good government exhortations for citizens to vote and participate in politics. But most important, at the heart of it all he recites the same propaganda memes that Obama and the corrupt politicians who the SOTU formally addressed have used for two generations to cover up their failure to repair and stop the continuing damage they have inflicted upon, by corrupting, the former American democracy.
B. "money in our politics"
It would have been too obvious had Obama entirely ignored any mention of the one goal that defines the 2016 election. The propagandist art of the controlled opposition gatekeeper requires that he first adopt the opposition's goal before subverting it. So Obama did actually pronounce the words, as he has several times in the past, before quickly moving away to strategic deceptions about achieving the stated goal: "I believe we've got to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can't bankroll our elections." So do most Americans. But Obama is the president who has raised the most "money in our politics" ever from those interests who "bankroll our elections." More important is what Obama has done in exchange for that money. It only requires lifting the curtain of his propaganda to see that Obama's actions have been the exact opposite of what he claims to "believe" along with most Americans.
Obama's deeds prove that whatever he may claim to "believe" is irrelevant. The callow and duly reviled George W, by signing BCRA (McCain-Feingold) in 2002 and leaving the destruction of anti-corruption laws to the Supreme Court, produced far more action consistent with Obama's professed belief than has Obama. The constant refrain about Obama being "worse than Bush" holds true on this central issue of money in politics, as it does on many others. One report on the issue documents Obama's "Legacy of Inaction" that "belies his talk." The reality is much worse than just inaction.
A year ago in his 2014 "Obomnibus" appropriations bill, for the first time in history a President of the United States signed a law that increased by 10 times the amount of private money that can be legally given to political parties. The money will be given by those families and interests whose influence on politics Obama said "I believe we've got to reduce." At the same time Obama gave those interests who would be paying much larger sums to the two corrupt parties an enormous Christmas gift from which they could easily finance their kickbacks for the politicians who signed the card.
Obamabots would defend him by saying that this was just one of those odious but necessary political compromises forced on Obama by Republicans. This favorite propaganda ploy of Obama's is refuted, as usual, with minimal effort by scratching just beneath the slick surface.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi blasted Obama at the time, complaining she was "enormously disappointed that the White House feels that the only way they can get a bill is to go along with .... privatizing the gain and nationalizing the risk" for Wall Street while also signing on "to practically unlimited contributions to political campaigns just at a time when we are trying for reform to reduce the role of ... money and increase the voice of the American people." Obama's 2014 CRomnibus would, Pelosi says, "give donors the opportunity to spend endless money, undermining the confidence the American people have in our political system, at the same time ... as we say to Wall Street, you can engage in risky activity with your derivatives and the FDIC will ensure your action." Her effort to organize votes to stop it was undercut by Obama's announcement that he would not veto this horrendous CRomnibus. It was his bill.
Obama struck forcefully again for plutocracy with 2015's appropriations. It was not even a month before his SOTU statement about his contrary belief that he lobbied for and signed, on December 18, the sequel to the previous years' CRomnibus. This "Obomnibus II" assured the increased influence of those same "hidden interests" that Obama would claim on January 12 to "believe" should have their influence "reduce[d]." Not allowing any such token belief to actually affect his conduct, Obama's new law assured that the "influence of money" could legally remain "hidden."
"Obomnibus II" contained three separate provisions that stripped executive branch powers to require disclosure of the "hidden" or "dark money" which has corrupted the enormous federal procurement process specifically, as well as politics more generally. Members of Congress and activists had formally asked Obama to use his power, not lose it. After these provisions appeared in early drafts of the appropriations bill the NY Times joined the call, urging: "The president has no time to waste" in ordering disclosure under existing law. Obama neither used his powers, nor resisted the provisions revoking them.
Quite the contrary. This year Obama admitted his ownership and thanked Republicans for their cooperation with him. He opened his State of the Union speech by giving a nod to his closest colleagues in service of plutocracy by "appreciat[ing] the constructive approach" of Speaker Paul Ryan and the Republican leadership in helping him pass his "Obomnibus II." They helped him open new vistas for corruption by formally legalizing and institutionalizing the influence of unaccountable dark money in American politics.
The Supreme Court, a favorite excuse, did not this time prevent Obama from doing the right thing and ordering disclosure. Even its most infamous Citizens United decision permitted use of this power. Obama, since 2010, had merely refused to exercise his recognized powers to outlaw the anonymous "hidden" investments in politics that Citizens United had otherwise, perhaps unwittingly, legalized. Even after being formally instructed by reformers that "reforms need your active leadership" and criticized by them for his "absence of leadership and action" on the issue, Obama still left his now-revoked powers unused. Keeping those powers would only have encouraged activists to ratchet up their complaints about Obama's refusal to use them. So he axed them.
So much for the sincerity of Obama's alleged beliefs. Stating such beliefs is a common device he uses to cover his actual deeds. This tactic lies at the core of many of Obama's propaganda efforts. He knows he can get free support for his vague and unredeemed statements of what he "believes," provided the plutocratic mass media, and liberal allies, will ignore what he actually does for plutocrats while publicizing his contrary but irrelevant beliefs.
But there was much more than hypocrisy in our Kabuki president's SOTU performance.
C. "pass muster"
In the next sentence after the one about beliefs quoted above, Obama seems to promise or at least refer to action: "And if our existing approach to campaign finance reform can't pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution, because it's a problem." Multiple important deceptions are embedded in this statement that belie any notion of action.
1. No strategy. By his use of the first person plural possessive "our," this statement implies that there exists a strategy that Obama shares. In fact there is no currently "existing approach to campaign finance reform." Obama has not so much as whispered in public any reform except to deny, delay and divert attention away from any possibly effective strategy. What does exist therefore are deliberate diversions from effective campaign finance reform strategy, diversions which have no conceivable chance of being adopted and/or of being effective if they were. It is deception to call any of these an "approach to campaign finance reform." And Obama has taken no action on any of them.
These diversions have been mused upon by Obama, at best. They do not even rise to the level of a talking point, much less an idea that would prompt any action on his part. They have been promoted by Democrats, like Hillary Clinton and their professional activist allies to avoid the danger of reducing the power of their plutocratic sponsors by pursuit of effective strategy.
The most futile "existing approach" is the soundbite proposal for "a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United," which decision is only a part of the problem, or, even worse, to abolish "corporate personhood," which is no part of the problem at all. Enthusiasm for this diversion waned after an amendment abjectly failed to get through the Democratic Senate in 2014 just before the Democrats lost nine seats. A majority of the virtually unanimous Democrats who supported the amendment showed their true allegiance to plutocracy by voting at the end of that year for the historic "Obomnibus I" provisions which made corruption much worse than before.
That the Senate Democrats' proposed constitutional amendment, even if adopted, would not have blocked Obama's order of magnitude increase in corruption of parties demonstrated the ineffectiveness of an amendment to prevent increased corruption, let along cause any actual positive change. This caused the activist cartel on the issue to give what they formerly had advertised as the "most promising" approach, amendment, a quiet burial under their substitute grab-bag of piecemeal reform proposals that are equally unsuited for ending systemic corruption.
One "existing approach" of this nature is the Democrats' Disclose Act, for requiring disclosure of corporate dark money. This law was not needed if Obama had simply exercised his existing presidential powers to require disclosure where it counted, in federal procurement. Obama cannot claim to share this "approach." The Disclose Act, on which the parties remain polarized, was and is a diversion from and excuse for Obama's resistance to any action on this issue that would depart from the plutocrat agenda he serves. Many plutocrats prefer to bribe in private.
The politicians' favorite "existing approach" involves them taking taxpayers' money. In 2011 the Supreme Court foreclosed public funding that would match that of privately funded candidates. As Harvard constitutional law professor Charles Fried explains, the Supreme Court "declared unconstitutional the only way that states and the federal government might make public financing of elections at all attractive to candidates." Without matching, candidates in the pocket of plutocrats can always outspend those who take public money. That normally includes the 95% of incumbents who are routinely reelected notwithstanding their extraordinary unpopularity as a group because they have policies rather than promises to sell to the plutocracy that funds them. By having taxpayers finance the losing campaigns, this hobbled public funding "reform" would produce fewer uncontested elections, making elections appear less undemocratic. But the reform of appearances is not "real reform."
2. No opposition. Amendment of the Constitution, about which Obama once feebly mused, does not have to "pass muster in the courts." Disclosure, which carries no impact where political corruption is already legal and therefore systemic, has for generations been specifically and repeatedly approved by the Supreme Court. There is no opposition from "the courts" preventing that non-reform from "pass[ing] muster." It has also had no effect on the deepening corruption of politics after systemic corruption was legalized by Buckley.
Nor does the Court take any issue with existing public funding approaches that comply with the Court's ruling that made public funding of politicians ineffective, but would still give subsidies that tend to counterproductively increase the cost of campaigns without altering their plutocratic outcomes.
The trouble with all these approaches is that they are useless, or counterproductive, which is precisely why they are advocated by corrupt politicians and also "pass muster in the courts" of plutocracy. None of these piecemeal reforms provide any "real solutions."
3. False hypothetical. What does not "pass muster in the courts" is not any currently "existing approach to campaign finance reform," since no authentic approach does exist, certainly not anything emanating from President Obama's office. It is the prior effective approaches going back as far as Teddy Roosevelt a century ago that the Supreme Court has overturned. Obama knows there is no hypothetical "if" about any actually effective or previously "existing approach to campaign finance reform ... pass[ing] muster in the courts." Since Buckley (1976), the Supreme Court has repeatedly struck down, for its own invented reasons, laws and precedent that might in any way restrain the triumph of plutocracy over democracy. Since 2006, the Roberts Court has aggressively advanced its plutocracy project without opposition.
Former constitutional law instructor Obama knows full well that there is no "if" involved in the matter. The Supreme Court will continue to strike down any effective restraint on plutocracy as long as the President and Congress continue to allow them to do so. Signal accomplishments of Lincoln and Roosevelt, who Obama falsely evoked as role models in his SOTU, resulted from their hard-won opposition to comparably harmful and illegitimate Supreme Court judicial supremacy, respectively, in Dred Scott and its Lochner-era jurisprudence.
The judicial supremacist rules for continued political corruption are all in place. The Roberts Court averages each year about one sweeping defense of money in politics, which incorporates their latest broad creative changes to the Constitution as needed for the purpose of further legalizing, entrenching and broadening the power of plutocracy. It makes no difference to the judicial supremacist majority that leading First Amendment scholars consider their product to be "pervasively confused," "misguided," and "frightful," "arid legalisms to blind us," and that the Court "fundamentally misunderstands the First Amendment" so as to justify "wresting authority from democratic institutions in virtually any circumstance." See Dean of Yale Law School, Robert C. Post, Citizens Divided: Campaign Finance Reform and the Constitution (2014) 45, 65, 67, 74, 86, 94.
Unlike Lincoln and Roosevelt, Obama has not even attempted to restrain the Court, let alone succeed as they did. His two Supreme Court appointees reflect this failure. Bush II's two appointees, Roberts and Alito, were known to be extreme plutocratic judicial supremacists. Obama's two appointees are not nearly as reliable votes on the opposite side, and have been worse on the issue of money in politics than the two Republicans they replaced. In 2015 both joined Chief Justice Roberts, and abandoned Justice Ginsburg's long-term opposition in dissent, to approve the Court's policy of legalizing the corruption of elected judges.
4. Avoidance. The false-hypothetical-about-certainties technique is frequently used by Obama to pass the buck or to delay fashioning, adopting and pursuing any potentially effective strategy on the subject of money in politics. Obama used two such blatantly false hypotheticals in a row in his above-mentioned feeble musing about a "need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn't revisit it). Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight on the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change."
After seven years in office, that "process" has definitively failed, and every Roberts' "revisit" to the issue has been decidedly for the worse. The "spotlight" is glaring. But Obama still fails to inform us what his hypothetical "change" should be, and where that anticipated "pressure" went. In his two Obomnibuses he certainly flicked away any such "pressure" without breaking a sweat. Now he demonstrates the absence of both by advising the nation that, depending upon yet another false hypothetical, some unspecific "we," which diffuses responsibility away from himself, "need to work together," which he has been told by reformers is not going to happen without his leadership on the issue, which is completely lacking. Finally, his ultimate goal is still not to implement and enforce an effective strategy for change, but only "to find a real solution."
Why cannot former instructor Obama not drop all these diversionary false contingencies, and tell us specifically what is his "real solution" for the nation's greatest problem of political corruption? A former constitutional lawyer who has been pitched incessantly by reformers on a variety of possible reforms, he should be capable of choosing some of theirs or creating one of his own. That is what his favorite president Teddy Roosevelt, who was never an instructor of law, did under similar circumstances in his final annual message to Congress over a century ago. It would have been appropriate for Obama to have paid tribute to TR with his own ideas about how to "prevent the political domination of money," as TR advocated
There is nothing new or contingent about the systemic corruption of U.S. politics then or now. Obama was elected to deal with this issue. But he quickly re-interpreted his job description as expanding the power of plutocrats, and not in any way limiting their power as his voters had expected. SOTU advanced more excuses for offering nothing but deceptive words about the problem of plutocracy.
D. "a real solution, because it's a problem"
These four considerations lead to the question of strategy that Obama's SOTU, like all his previous statements on the issue, is artfully crafted to avoid: how to effectively rein in a Supreme Court majority which is operating outside of its constitutionally separate judicial powers from systematically overturning, on spurious grounds, any anti-corruption legislation that might interfere with the continued plutocratic control of United States politics.
Obama serves plutocracy by pretending that the problem, beyond his capacity and therefore assigned to others, in some hypothetical future, is "to find a real solution." By this he implies none exists right now and that it will take an uncertain number of years, more than the seven he has had, for someone else to "find a real solution."
If the former constitutional law instructor would simply open the Constitution he would find a couple of solutions right there in Article III and Amendment Eleven. A Supreme Court majority that violates the constitutionally mandated separation of powers can be stopped by the Exceptions Clause of Article III, which permits the stripping of jurisdiction from the Supreme Court for any reason. This power is especially applicable when necessary to prevent the judiciary from deciding political questions that fall outside its limited judicial powers. Congress exercised this power to deter the Court's political overthrow of Reconstruction. It should be used again to deter the Court's political overthrow of democracy.
The Eleventh Amendment stripped jurisdiction from the Court to interfere with the sovereign interests of states in preserving their republican form of government. States control elections. The Court should be required to comply with the Constitution by not overturning state anti-corruption laws. But Congress and Obama have not even tried.
The former law instructor should also know that it takes no constitutional action at all for each house of Congress to adopt effective conflict of interest recusal rules that would prohibit any member from acting on any matter in connection with which payment or benefit of any kind has been received or is expected. It is a scandal that such rules are not strengthened to apply to special interest campaign contributions, and robustly enforced.
After ticking off his three classic propaganda memes - 1) that there currently exists no "real solution" for plutocracy, 2) that to "find a real solution" for systemic political corruption is someone else's problem in a galaxy far away from Obama who has done nothing but swat away or ignore any suggestion that he should provide leadership on the issue in the manner of prior great presidents, and 3) his "pass muster" concept, that the judicial supremacist Court must be deferred to in military fashion rather than resisted in democratic fashion - Obama celebrates completion of this triple axel by going for comic relief. He off-handedly presents an insider's white lie for a bonding moment among fellow crooks. His quip: "And most of you don't like raising money. I know. I've done it."
All politicians operating the corrupt U.S. political system occupy the power apex of the inhabited universe because they are the best at raising money and also at pretending that it is just a nuisance element of their job that does not really affect what they do anyway, chuckle, chuckle. In fact their fundraising involves the greater part of their job and talent, which is selling public policy to private investors and rationalizing or lying to voters as necessary to disguise the facts about their routine sacrifice of national interests as their end of the deal. An essential part of their lie is that there is no "real solution" for their own political corruption. The obvious solution, prison for them and the judges who protect them, is not one they can be expected to talk about voluntarily.
(to be continued)