(my column for November 2010)

As I write, it’s just a couple of days after the 2010 midterm elections, so I have to ask: Is everyone OK? Did you survive? Have you recovered? The past months have been a series of constant mindnumbing assaults on our senses and our sensibilities – culminating, of course, in what can accurately be termed a “rout” of the ruling Democrats. Not quite a “bloodbath” or “massacre” or “tsunami,” by any means – the Democrats retained their Senate majority, after all – but a massive defeat nonetheless.

That rout was accomplished by a combination of forces, including unaccountable (in both senses of the word) sums of money, the shrill 24-hour propaganda drumbeat of FOX News and right-wing radio, and the grassroots eruption (or perhaps cynical corporate creation) of the “Tea Party” movement.

President Obama’s conciliatory style, his attempts to truly govern from the center and be a President of all the people, didn’t help his cause. By refusing to push for more far-reaching health care and financial reforms, refusing to permit criminal investigations of the Bush Regime, and appearing to be in the thrall of Wall Street, he let the progressive enthusiasm that swept him into office die away. (Ironically enough, he may find some House Republicans eager to pursue the kind of investigations – against Obama, that is – that Obama was so reluctant to pursue against the Bushies.)

But this result was also no surprise. It’s commonplace, as you know, for the President’s party to lose ground in the midterms. Indeed, given the size and intensity of the anti-Obama effort, the real news might be that the Republican victory wasn’t even larger than it was. And the cycles of politics suggest that the Democrats will recover, just as the Republicans have recovered from the repudiations they so deservedly endured in 2006 and 2008.

Moreover, there is no reason to think that the divided government of the next two years will have any more success in dealing with our problems than the hegemonic rule the Democrats have had for the last couple of years, or that the Republicans had before that. This is because there are some things on which the ruling class generally agrees as a whole, certain basic assumptions that they are unwilling to question, certain underlying conditions that they are unwilling to change – and those are exactly the factors that lie at the heart of our troubles.

One of those factors can be summed up in a single word, the word that was left practically unspoken throughout this whole miserable spectacle that we have just endured:


So far as I am aware, in no campaign was the question of our military involvements in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the world even mentioned as a major issue. Few if any major-party candidates called for reductions in military spending, or even for closer investigation of fraud, corruption, or abuse in military contracts. (Greens and Libertarians, of course, are another matter.)

Waynepeace recently screened the documentary RETHINK AFGHANISTAN (which you can watch online at One of the points made in this documentary concerns the outlandish amount of money that has been used in the military efforts in Afghanistan, and what we could be getting for that money instead – such as health care, housing, education. Another is that these outlays have in fact been largely counterproductive. Well, let me qualify that – “counterproductive” if you assume that the point of our involvement is to stabilize Afghanistan. If, however, you start from the assumption that the point is to actually fulfill the neocon dream of “permanent war,” to create a conflict in which we can never definitively win or from which we can never completely withdraw, then such tactics as drone strikes make perfect sense. Permanent war, after all, requires a permanent supply of enemies – and every attack that causes collateral damage and the deaths of innocent civilians provides another fresh batch of potential insurgents and terrorists.

The economic effects of military spending have rarely been questioned – which is ironic. After all, it’s one reason why, as the man said, “the rent is too DAMN high!”



  1. I allow myself to answer in spite of not being an American.
    I do so as an avid follower of American politics, an Israeli facing similar problems and the fact that a lack of knowledge does not prevent most of us expressing an opinion.
    So here I go:
    I have been fascinated by the healthy debate that you hold. Like us you tend to see your warts and not the inherent grace.
    You have been discussing, albeit raucously, who is responsible for welfare and health? The individual or the state? Both opponents hi light the shortcomings of the others argument to further their own. Big government spending and waste as opposed to callousness and indifference.
    Then the paradoxes crept in. Quite big ones too. The man leading the emotive cause of ‘ goodness and fairness’, President Obama, did so in an extremely cerebral way. Where as the more logical argument and cerebral fiscal arguments were presented emotionally and viscerally. Add to this the non religious became humane and loving and the religious were seemingly callous and selfish.
    All this was then compounded by bungling. The process of enactment was deeply flawed. A way to unite was spurned because of non partisan political considerations. The obvious way forward was incrementally and fiscally. By this I mean that service delivery had to be rationalized and made more efficient. By refusing to take on Lawyers and reduce the crippling ‘medico-legal’ aspects and similarly by refusing to tackle head on ‘generics’ Obama and Pelosi threw away trump cards. Perhaps the most damming aspect was what you refused to see the basic issue in real terms. Third party payment has to be managed. In the private sector of health financial considerations are made by the patient. Both fair and legitimate. You buy optimal therapy. So it is and should be in third party payment. But the adjudicator of what is optimal are the Health Authorities [Government] and the regulators who oversee implication. This is an enormous change. The decision context and processes are very different.
    Is America ready for this?
    I think not. Not because of some US impediment but because even those who live with the system do not realize fully the implications and find it hard to balance ‘fiscality’ and ’empowerment’. Emotions run high and non sense prevails. Personal medicine becomes community medicine.
    The US is tackling head on issues where others will have to follow. The US is evolving a system of evaluating and judging State intervention. It is legitimate that human rights and social justice have to be seen at the level of the individual. In this field you have led the world and have much to be proud of.
    But in acceptance of State intervention it is legitimate and healthy to ask the questions that you asked about war. It is essential that the representatives have to be transparent about priorities and costs. Every service provider must be done effectively and efficiently including fiscal considerations. For too long we in Israel are seeing State provided services as a fiefdom of the supplier. The service devoted to and manipulated by those who give and not dedicated to those who receive. The services must be run ‘as if ‘ they were in the private sector. And they are not.
    As the US tackles these issues in a democratic fashion including transparency and freedom of speech you are yet again leading the world.
    In spite of your many malaises that you are encumbered by there are still many who look to you with admiration and expectation.


  2. Well stated and well-written, Skip. Thank you.


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