America is much less threatened by right-wing extremists than by the oligarchic rule of the two major political parties. The mainstream right, however, is wedded to the absurd notion that the Democrats are a party of the ‘left’ that is in authentic ideological competition with ‘conservative’ Republicans. Meanwhile, the orthodox left clings to the equally absurd belief that Barack Obama really means to reform the United States and redeem it from the sins of slavery, genocide against the Native Americans, and God knows what other crimes against humankind and nature.
I’ve been arguing this for years. Now, however, I might finally have a chance to be heard. Nearly two years before the Iowa caucuses, and three years ahead of the general election, the party bosses have been busy, brazenly arranging a presidential rematch between the Bush and Clinton clans so that no one else gets a chance to compete and no other political ideas or personalities receive serious consideration from the electorate.
Hillary Clinton has been anointed her party’s nominee by nearly everybody in the Democratic and media establishment. Even on the so-called left, where someone might be expected to do more than squeak their objection to dynastic rule, the Obama–besotted Nation magazine has conceded the inevitable, saying only that it would do its level best to introduce ‘fresh ideas’ into the 2016 presidential conversation. Heaven forbid anyone might think they were encouraging an insurgency like Eugene McCarthy’s in 1968 against Lyndon Johnson, or George McGovern’s in 1972 against Edmund Muskie, choice of the party leadership. ‘To be clear: this is not a “stop Hillary” exercise,’ declared the Nation. So what if Hillary supported the Iraq invasion? So what if she signed off on every piece of financial deregulation her reckless husband initiated as President in collaboration with the Republicans? So what if Bill Clinton’s current scam, the Clinton Global Initiative, is designed to shake down every sleazy potential contributor to a Hillary 2016 campaign?
Among the Republicans, Jeb Bush is easily leading the pack, since no one in the party can match his name recognition or fundraising appeal to Texas oilmen and Saudi royalty. It can come as no surprise that the Washington Post reports that ‘many of the Republican party’s most powerful financiers and insiders have begun a behind-the-scenes campaign to draft’ the second male spawn of the first President Bush. Never mind that his older brother, George, was a vicious fool who, backed by Jeb, caused the pointless deaths of hundreds of thousands and the waste of billions of dollars in Iraq.
Jeb is nevertheless said to be the ‘smart’ and ‘moderate’ Bush. So moderate that, as governor of Florida, in a calculated gesture designed to impress the Christian right, he ordered the ‘rescue’ of an effectively brain-dead woman whose husband had waited eight years before acting to remove her from life support. A genuine conservative wouldn’t have done such a thing, but there won’t be a genuine conservative running against Jeb, assuming the Republican establishment have their way.
Thus the pollsters have already begun handicapping the Bush-Clinton race. One of them, Rasmussen, has Clinton at 47 per cent to Bush’s 33 per cent, a statistic that is essentially meaningless, since the only competition that matters at this stage is the one to pile up commitments of campaign cash from plutocrats. Faced with this parody of democracy, the court journalists of official Washington yawn. In the ‘liberal’ corner, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times is simply bored, writing that the ‘prospect of another Clinton-Bush race makes us feel fatigued’. Aren’t ‘we’ also a little angry at seeing the beneficiaries of inherited or spousal privilege sucking up all the air in the public sphere?
Surely not, for Dowd and her ilk represent the permanent Washington that displays contempt for outsiders who try to circumvent the in-crowd. This was the fate of former Vermont governor Howard Dean, who in 2003 attempted to bypass the exclusive and elegant Georgetown salons that encouraged the 2004 presidential candidacy of the pathetic but party-approved John Kerry.
The male equivalent of Dowd in ‘conservative’ circles is the Washington Post columnist George Will, who with exquisite condescension has declared a Jeb candidacy ‘desirable’ so long as it doesn’t provoke ‘that excitable cohort’ of Tea Party rabble — ‘some with fawn-like eyes filled with hurt, others with sparks shooting from eyes narrowed like gun slits’ — into committing some terrible act of rebellion.
Why does almost no one protest about the suffocating stasis of American politics? Americans are not closet royalists, though the wish for kings may play a role (for example, in Kennedy worship). We are the victims of political party machines, now more than ever in collusion with big money. Party managers crave power, stability, and boodle, which is distributed, as it was in the 19th century, through patronage appointments and legislation favourable to special interests. Although there are some differences among candidates and between the two parties, they put aside their differences when boat rockers threaten to seize control. Insurgents are viewed as viruses to be destroyed.
In 2008, there was virtually no difference in the positions of Obama, promoted by the Chicago Democratic machine, and Hillary Clinton, supported by her husband’s personal machine. Obama could cite his one speech opposing the Iraq invasion. But the Obama-Clinton duel was little more than an intra-party factional fight fuelled by personal ambition. Obama’s votes in the US Senate were identical to Mrs Clinton’s in support of continued funding of Bush’s military folly. Both parties agree on the value of outsourcing jobs to Mexico and China — that is, the value of receiving in return big contributions from corporations, law firms and banks that benefit from ‘free trade’. Similarly, both Obama and Clinton pretended to criticise the North American Free Trade Agreement during the Ohio primary six years ago, and today they both support the Trans Pacific Partnership, which if approved is guaranteed to close more factories in the Rust Belt. In order to understand American politics, it is essential to know that Nafta was launched by President George H.W. Bush and rammed through Congress by President William Jefferson Clinton.
With manufacturing jobs leaving the country for cheap-labour locales and the economy still sluggish, it would make sense to raise the federal minimum wage. But Obama’s current rhetoric on the subject is merely hot air. When he had big majorities in both houses of Congress, he did almost nothing to help ordinary workers, but much to reward Wall Street and Goldman Sachs, his top corporate contributor in 2008. The last time the minimum wage was increased was during the administration of that notorious leftist George W. Bush. Meanwhile, Obama, Jeb Bush and Clinton go on about ‘immigration reform’, but not one of them will ever cross the restaurant and farm lobbies that love illegal Mexican labour, since it can’t unionise, can’t complain about working conditions, and is happy to toil for $3 an hour.
Then there’s ‘socialist’ Obamacare, which is merely a bigger version of Republican Mitt Romney’s healthcare plan in Massachusetts. Whatever its bureaucratic failings, Obamacare is marvellously efficient — from the standpoint of Democratic party functionaries — at transferring taxpayers’ money to private insurance companies (in the form of government-subsidised policies) that are happy to return the favour with donations to Democrats.
It is perhaps not a coincidence that the rigid, top-down political control of the electoral process coincides with the Commerce Department’s report that last year corporate profits, as a proportion of GDP, reached a record high — the highest since 1929 — while employee compensation fell to its lowest level, as a percentage of GDP, since 1948.
Perhaps the libertarian Senator Rand Paul will break through in the Republican primaries, or the Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown will challenge Clinton, just to liven things up. But politics in America isn’t supposed to be interesting — if it were, it might inspire more people to vote, which would be dangerous to America’s oligarchy.
John R. MacArthur is author of You Can’t Be President and publisher of Harper’s magazine.