Outrage and Hope
By Leslie Gerber
In the middle of the Bush Administration, my late friend Marty Laforse, a retired history professor, gave a talk at the Woodstock Library about parallels between the United States in the mid-2000s and the Weimar Republic of post-World War I Germany. At the time I had no trouble recognizing the truth of what Marty was pointing out. American democracy was indeed in peril, and for reasons similar to those which killed German democracy.
The Weimar Republic was a place of intense creativity, producing such great art as “The Threepenny Opera” and the caricatures of George Grosz. Yet it carried within itself the seeds of its own destruction, failing to deal with the (perhaps impossible) task of giving its citizens good work and good life overall. When an angry ranting man came along to reinforce the population’s impression of itself as victimized, and to blame scapegoats for the problems, the people of the great culture and history of Germany elected him to lead the country. That’s something we tend to forget: that Adolf Hitler took power in a free and fair election.
Like many Americans, I was naive and ill-informed enough to regard the Bush Administration as some kind of anomaly. Seeing the huge debts it ran up in the pursuit of its hideous goals, fueled by the same kind of fearmongering Hitler used so effectively, I thought that people like Bush and Cheney were simply bad Republicans who were fooling the party faithful into thinking that they were followers of Reagan’s policies. Not that I liked Reagan, whom I consider a major villain in American history, mostly for his espousal of the victim culture and his expertise in denial of uncomfortable realities, like the huge debt his administration was running up. (Gloria Steinem pointed out in a talk I heard that Reagan was raised in an alcoholic family and was practiced in denial by the time he became an adult.)
So, the election of Barack Obama seemed to me like an event that was going to set the country moving in a better direction, and that even the Republican Party would straighten out and go back to its pro-business work without attempting to destroy our political system altogether.
I was wrong in all respects, especially that Bush and Cheney and their cadre were bad Republicans. They weren’t. They were fair representatives of the new Republican party. I realized this gradually while watching Republican activities during the first year of the Obama Administration. Then a friend recommended to me the book Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party by Max Blumenthal. This horrifying book details the way radicals with huge amounts of money have taken over the Republican Party and sent it in new directions. I consider it essential to understanding our current political situation.
Nobody will be surprised to hear that I am greatly disappointed in Obama. I really had hopes for this guy. Not only was he intelligent, well spoken, charismatic, and apparently progressive, but he was marginally a friend of the family. My daughter Jaida, during her years in Hawaii, worked in the same department at the University of Hawaii as Obama’s sister Maya, and they became close friends. Before he became a senator, Barack used to visit Maya every Christmas, and Jaida met him several times and thought very highly of him as a person.
Still, money is power in this country. I don’t know whether Obama has been bought or whether he has simply been stymied by those more powerful. I still imagine the guy could stand up in front of his country and say, “My friends, our American democracy is in peril from the domination of money. We need to regain control of our political system.” And tell us how to do it.
But are we going to get something like that from the man who turned down the best chance we’ve ever had to remove money from national politics? Remember that John McCain, a villain and a jerk in most respects, offered to run a publically financed “clean elections” campaign in 2007, and Obama turned him down. Even before the election, Obama refused the opportunity to set a precedent that could have changed the course of American history. He was right that he could raise lots more money than McCain. But does anyone doubt that he would have won anyway, even if they had identical amounts of money to spend? I don’t.
Recently I’ve been telling people that I expect to outlive American democracy. I’m only 67, and my father died just before his 95th birthday. Are we still going to be a democracy in 30 years? In 10? Not if things keep going the way they are now. Our domination of national policy by business interests and the concentration of so much wealth in so few hands are leading us more towards a fascist oligarchy. (And I use “fascist” in its classic sense, not just as a epithet.)
The Occupy Wall Street protesters, and the movement they seem to be inspiring, might change our direction the way the protesters in Egypt did. I’m not counting on it. But I’m fascinated to see that movement developing, and to the best of my ability, I’m joining it.
Meanwhile, here’s my poetic view of our political system, as I saw it in the middle of 2010:
The poor die here in the streets
and are quickly paved over.
Their bodies may not be allowed to disrupt
the flow of money through the gutters.
Money! it’s all that counts here.
You all must know–don’t you?–that this politics shit
is just a shadow play
to divert attention away
from the flow of money.
Black and white,
woman and man,
we grab onto
as much as we can.
Dollar bills are too trivial, too bulky,
too easy to find and follow.
We deal in billions here, my friends!
Have you ever seen a billion dollar bills?
Of course not. Your eyes
can’t reach that far.
But our money, the real stuff, has no physical body.
It’s electronic, ethereal, almost spiritual.
Every once in a while, one of the news fools
finds out something about the money, or our fun.
Next thing you know, she’s got her own show
on Fox Noise, and the story goes to sleep.
Our fun, yes: money buys us:
little boys with tight pulsating assholes;
tight young women who drool at the sight
of rich fat old men; finest Afghan leather
bondage straps; and doctors
who can cure anything we pick up.
This is what we dreamed of in our teens.
Everything we ever wanted, only better.
No limits. None. This country generates
trillions of useless dollars. Why waste any
on so-called citizens who don’t have the brains
to steal it for themselves?
Better we should spend it
making sure they know
whom to vote for.
What’s really fun is watching movies
about how bad we are.
People go to see them. Get mad. Seethe.
Foam at the mouth, drool on the floor
where their saliva is soaked up
by the crushed remains
of industrial popcorn. Meanwhile,
guess who owns the movie studio,
the distributors. the theaters.
Who rakes in the admission price.
Who fucks the starlets.
The guy who invented the machine
that wraps fake cheese slices in cellophane
just gave a million dollars to my campaign.
Our Supreme Court said it was OK.
Gonna ask him for a million more.