Predictions for 2012 (UPDATED)

Okay, my first blog post for the New Year! I’ve decided to go out on a limb and make some predictions for events in the coming year. When I am wrong, you may gloat at my wrongness. I reserve the right to say, “it doesn’t matter.” So, with that, here we go:

  • Mitt Romney will win the Iowa Caucuses. Ron Paul will come in second, and Rick Santorum third, making Rick Santorum the default anti-Romney of the culture warriors of the Christian Right (and neoconservative warmongers everywhere) — a spot Santorum will hold until the end of the primaries.
  • Ron Paul will not win any primaries, but will place a respectable second in just about all of them. He will not be given any speaking time at the GOP convention.
  • Santorum may win the South Carolina primary. He will not win any other GOP primaries, and will place second only in a few. He will suspend his campaign for lack of funds sometime before the convention.
  • Mitt Romney will be the GOP nominee for president. He will choose Condoleezza Rice as his running mate.
  • That won’t matter. Barack Obama will be re-elected in November 327-211 electoral votes (I’m assuming Indiana, North Carolina and Nevada vote Republican again; otherwise, the map looks identical to 2008).
  • Democrats will narrow the GOP majority in the House but will not win enough seats for a majority. I’m not sure at this point whether the GOP will win control of the Senate.
  • Sometime in April, the Arab League will finally tire of the Syrian government’s refusal to live up to any of the myriad agreements with the opposition to stop killing people and will refer the matter to the UN Security Council. By May, after a round of UN demands, the Security Council will authorize a no-fly zone over Syria and the creation of safe havens. NATO (mainly Turkey, the US, France and Britain, as well as some US Gulf allies, such as Qatar, the UAE and possibly Saudi Arabia) will lead the military operations. The war against Syria to depose the Ba’ath government will last about 120 days, and will end with the toppling of the current Syrian government. Assad and his family, however, will have escape options Qaddafiy never had.
  • Iran and Hezbollah will bluster and even provide some covert support to the Syrian government (and in the case of the Al-Assad family, Iran will provide a place of exile), but in the end, neither will go to war to defend the regime in Damascus as both will determine their own survival depends on their not waging war.
  • In the case of Hezbollah, the end of the regime in Damascus will mean it’s end as a military power. Hezbollah will be disarmed at some point (not in 2012), with a portion of its fighting force pensioned off and the remanded folded into the Lebanese army. Hezbollah will accept this in exchange for a cementing of its role as the main representative of Lebanon’s Shia community in Lebanon’s politics and society.
  • In the case of Iran, the Islamic Republic’s leadership will decide that bolstering the emerging dictatorship of Nuri al-Maliki and the Iraqi Shia is more important to Iranian security than saving the Ba’ath regime in Syria. 
  • Israeli military forces will not participate in the UN war against Syria in any way, shape or form.
  • Republicans in the US won’t know how to oppose the UN-led war in Syria. They will want to oppose it because it’s something Barack Obama is doing, but then it will be the US bombing Syria, which is something most of them have wanted to do for a long, long time. Rick Santorum will eventually voice the most coherent GOP response: “Why stop at Syria? Bomb Iran too!” Outside of the neocon nationalists, this view won’t go over well.
  • But because of this, more people will take Ron Paul seriously. It will be too late for his campaign, however.
  • Democrats in the US won’t know how to deal with the UN-led war in Syria either. But they will generally back the Obama administration on the matter.
  • The war in Syria will have no significant effect on US domestic politics. It will be over several months before the general election, and will have no serious near-term economic, political or military consequences.
  • The Sunni government that will come to power in Syria following the ouster of the Ba’ath will be dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. It will make security guarantees to Syria’s Christian and Alawite communities that will largely be kept. That government will also become the base of support for a renewed Sunni opposition to the Shia government of Iraq.
  • For all the talk in both Washington and Tel Aviv, neither the US nor Israel will attack Iran in 2012. Enough comfort will be taken from the fact that Hezbollah is no longer a significant threat to anyone and that Tehran has lost its most important ally.
  • Hugo Chavez and Vladimir Putin will both face sustained Arab Spring-style protests and low-grade revolt following their (contested) re-elections.
  • The banking crisis in the EU will continue to limp along unresolved. Austerity will continue to bit hard in Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal, but none of those nations in the Eurozone will leave in 2012. Greece will leave the Eurozone, but not in 2012.
  • Another sustained round of Occupy Wall Street protests will hit the West beginning in late spring. These will be somewhere more violent, but largely because authorities are going to be less tolerant of protests than they were last year.
  • Charles will not become of king of Great Britain in 2012.
  • And the world will not end on December 21, 2012.
Well, that’s that. Let’s just see how prescient I am (or am not) in the coming weeks and months.

UPDATE: Ooops, there’s one predication I most definitely did want to make that I forgot about.

  • In late summer, the US Supreme Court will issue a 5-4 ruling striking down the portion of the Affordable Health Care Act that requires Americans to purchase health insurance. The majority will actually go one step farther in their opinion, striking down a 1942 court ruling, Wickard v. Filburn, that gives the U.S. government the constitutional ability to regulate certain kinds of economic activity.
(Okay, this last one may merely be wishful thinking on my part.)

The Confessional Nature of Anglo-American Nationalism

My last post, and much of the “controversy” (sic) over Barack Obama’s birth certificate, got me thinking about England’s “Glorious Revolution of 1688” and the nature of Anglo-American nationalism. As I recall, I think most of this comes from Benjamin Kaplan’s Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe.

For those not familiar (and I am not as familiar as I would like to be), the “Glorious Revolution of 1688” was the toppling of the Catholic Stuart dynasty and installation as King of England one William of Orange, a good Protestant Dutchman. In the Whig version of history, it was a non-violent uprising against the alleged injustices and usurpations of James II (the Stuarts themselves had been interrupted by the Civil War and Cromwell’s über-Protestant Protectorate), in which England as a mass (or at least the Protestant elite) rose as one and ousted the king without the head-chopping and bloodletting that had convulsed the country a half-century earlier. Kaplan’s not quite so sanguine about the matter — he notes that William was actually the leader of an invading army that was helped by most English elites.

What is interesting, however, is how willing England’s elites were to get rid of a more-or-less English monarch (the Stuarts were Scottish but related to the Tudors) and replace him with a Dutch prince who probably spoke no English whatsoever merely because of religion — William was protestant and James was Roman Catholic (who had produced a Catholic heir). Now, granted, there was more to this than that. The great struggle in England in the 17th century was over monarchical absolutism, with the Stuarts (beginning with James I) claiming to be absolute kings akin to Louis XIV of France while parliament was claiming absolute power. (Hint: Parliament wins.) But it is the religious component that fascinates me most.

There is a confessional aspect to Anglo-American nationalism. It is not enough merely to be born in a place, or to speak a language (though that helps; the English were paranoid about foreigners and language as far back as the 13th century). One must confess one’s national identity. A perfectly good English monarch is tossed overboard for being Catholic (and thus representing all things foreign and tyrannical) in favor of a foreign noble who, by being Protestant (and willing to defer to parliament), can confess the right national identity.

In a popular age, it is not enough merely to be born in the United States. One must confess one’s Americanness. And in the right way, too. I’ve long believed the United States is not so much a nation as it is a confessional church with a flag and an army. Our political discourse isn’t so much about ideas or even ideology (though we live in an ideological age), it is religious. It is about the exegesis of sacred documents (Constitution, Declaration of Independence, other significant foundational documents) and overt confession of what those documents are believed to mean. Because we don’t, as Americans, really share anything else. Not language. Not culture. All we have in common are governing principles. And that’s it.*

For many, Barack Obama isn’t a proper American because he doesn’t confess the right kind of Americanness. (Bill Clinton didn’t either.) His skin color and African heritage on his father’s side are a convenient proxy for this. Were he a Herman Cain or Congressman Alan West, confessing the same ideals they do, the right would not question his “Americanness” one bit even if he had been born in Kenya of a Muslim father. (For the left, it doesn’t matter where he comes from because he confesses, for them, the right kind of Americanness.) The political right, like many rightist religious groups in this country, is eager to impose its understanding of sacred doctrine on all and demand allegiance to that understanding by all. Failure to confess that understanding places one outside the confines of what it means to be a citizen and participate in the civic life of the nation. (Lutherans should be familiar with this use of the law to exclude.) For their part, the progressive left shows every desire to have its own confessional identity that will exclude some from participation in civic life. And it is doing so. There is law enough for all.

Because these two confessional camps are increasingly mutually exclusive and increasingly unwilling to allow opponents to “commune” (again, sorry for the religious language, but it is what I believe is happening) and participate in the sacramental aspects of the state, I believe conflict is coming. Because unlike in a church group, where people can walk away and start their own churches, the conflict here is over the state — the right and ability to rule others against their will. At some point, someone will decide the stakes are far too high to let the other side win. That way lies strife, war and dictatorship. Which I have long believed is coming to this country.


* This really should give pause to libertarians.

Obama’s Speech

I haven’t listened to a presidential speech in a while. I boycotted all of Bush Jong-Il’s speeches, and was right to do so, since listening to him simply made me angry. And up to last night’s speech on Libya, I had also ignored Barack Obama. When presidents talk, I just get angry. Last night was not much different.

Mostly it was twaddle and nonsense. Americans are not “reluctant” about using force, given the number of times we’ve gone to war since 1950 and the constant state of war since 1948. If anything, we are less reluctant about killing brown people now than we ever have been, merely because there is no other great power to threaten us if we go too far. Obama mentioned the Libyans who helped the pilot whose F-15 fighter-bomber crashed without also noting that the Marines who came to rescue the pilot fired upon those same Libyans and injured a number of them (and killed several, if I remember the reports right).

And of course there’s the idiocy of humanitarianism. I cannot even begin to express how foul and evil a justification this is for making war, the helping and bettering of others and the protection of the “innocent.” Obama stated as one justification for bombing Qaddafiy’s forces the fact that Muammar Qaddafiy used his air force to bomb civilians in cities who could not fight back. If this is a criteria for intervention, I wonder when the United States and its NATO allies will bomb Israel in defense of Gaza, which itself is regularly pounded from the air by Israeli fighter-bombers and whose people cannot adequately fight back or defend themselves against attack.

Oh, right. Never.

I have long had a disdain for much of the ethics of war in the West, with Just War Theory and all of that. I have been told I do not understand how these things work, and maybe that’s fair, but I don’t see the long, deliberative process at work that these processes of reasoning out when a government should go to war seem to require or mandate. All I see is justification after the fact, the decision to go to war first and then a self-righteous declaration that war is being fought allegedly not for our advantage, but to benefit of the people we are “helping.” George W. Bush could have given most of that speech, and it was completely in line with Obama’s intention to have America continue to dominate the world he set forth in the Nobel Peace Prize* (sic) speech. I also see essentialism at work, that the people making the decision to go to war are good people, the people they are fighting are bad people, and the people they are defending are innocent people — and it is always this way. There is never any reflection about the suffering our actions cause, and that we might not be the people we think we are, that the evil will so clearly see in others also resides in us, and is easily empowered by our self-obsession with our goodness and righteousness.

I also do not understand this focus on “innocence.” I remember from the time of the Bosnian War, meeting various Leftists in the United States and reading European Leftists who complained the Bosnian Muslims were not properly “innocent” because they (unlike European Jewry in the WWII) had the audacity to fight back, and thus were undeserving of help. Theologically, this makes utterly no sense, since in the Christian frame of ethics, none are innocent save Jesus Christ. “Innocence” should not be a requirement for assistance. But this also becomes self-serving, because we decide to justify our help by determining the people were are aiding (by bombing them) are “innocent” somehow and the people we don’t help are clearly guilty and deserve to be bombed by whoever isn’t us that’s bombing them. Again, this isn’t well-thought out prior reasoning, it’s after-the-fact justification. Always.

(Honest, I really do not understand this, and am convinced the desire to “save innocents” and inflict “justice upon the guilty” is really an excuse to exercise power, dominate others and inflict suffering upon people. I see no other reason for any of it. Helping them is only a cover for these things. If someone could explain this innocence thing, I’ll listen. I won’t be convinced, but I promise I’ll listen.)

And that last bit leads to another important point — every bleeding heart humanitarian has someone’s suffering they simply do not care about. Or are willing to empower and call righteous. (See Gaza.) So, in the end, their humanitarianism is completely situational and very selective. And they refuse to be called on this, since they are self-righteous — good people waging war to defend the innocent from evil. As an excuse to wage war, it is too noble, to attractive. It will lead, has already led, to far too much war, destruction, and domination.

Obama did touch upon the one real reason the West should act — because had Qaddafiy won two weeks ago (and if he still wins), refugees will flood not only Egypt and Tunisia, but Italy, Malta and Greece as well. Hundreds of thousands, probably more than a million. Qaddafiy would have been in charge of a broken, sanctioned, blockaded, impoverished country with few resources. Libyans would have suffered greatly under those sanctions, as Iraqis did in the 1990s. He would have had no reason to behave himself in Africa or elsewhere, and his connections with some of the world’s worst regimes would have been the only economic ties he would have been able to retain and strengthen. The material support Qaddafiy gave to Al Qaeda in Iraq beginning in 2007 would have continued, and probably also strengthened. (That many Iraqi veterans of the anti-US war in Iraq are now fighting Qaddafiy’s regime is proof that even dictators can face blowback.) Once Europe and the world more or less committed itself to supporting the rebels in their struggle to overthrow Qaddafiy, they were in.

And there is only on way this ends — with the death of most or all of the senior Libyan officials on the sanctions list of UN Security Council Resolution 1970.

I have the same argument for those who complain about the West’s “failure” to stop the Nazi efforts to exterminate European Jews in WWII: the only way to help them is to the bring the war to as quick an end as possible. You “protect” the civilians of Libya by waging a war that removes the threat as quickly as possible. That threat, as just about everyone has concluded, is Qaddafiy’s government. Obama and Nikolai Sarkozy do seem to understand that, and they do seem to be waging war toward that end (even if they are rather cagily or stupidly saying they aren’t).

So I don’t so much object to Obama’s actions as I do his language, which is dishonest, deceitful, self-righteous and self-serving in the extreme. And those words he did mean — all that crap about humanitarianism — are frightening and horrific. Because they promise war without end.


* Some people suggest Obama ought to return his Peace Prize. That isn’t fair. The Nobel committee was merely premature in giving him the award. Sitting American presidents who have won the prize — Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and Woodrow Wilson in 1919 — have always done so after they waged their wars of mass destruction and slaughter (Roosevelt the Philippines War, Wilson the Great War to End All Great Wars and Make the World Safe for Democracy and Reparations). The committee acted in haste. Obama needs at least one more war, and then he will be properly eligible for the Peace Prize.

Tom Friedman is Still an Idiot

How many Friedman Units ago did New York Times columnist (and amateur futurist) Tom Friedman declare that we were one Friedman Unit away from the greatest turning point in whatever it was Tom Friedman was focusing on at the time? One Friedman Unit away from making or breaking — or being made or breaked (sic) — in whatever it was we were doing?

I love Tom Friedman. Not because he is insightful. He wrote one brilliant book — From Beirut to Jerusalem — and then built a career on it. (Okay, it’s one more brilliant book than I’ve written.) He is the kind of person who spend too much time interviewing Indian CEOs in sparkling Bangalore buildings and thinking, because of this, he sees the future. A future in which our lunch is eaten by those hungrier and quicker than we. When we aren’t bashing them upside the head with two-by-fours to remind them who’s boss.

And when I read columns like the one he’s written today (2 March 2011), I get goosebumps and squeal to myself: I want to be ruled by competent, liberal technocrats too!

Okay, I don’t. Not ever. At least, no more than I suspect that any Egyptian or Bahraini or Yemeni or Libyan has woken up in the mornings since January 20, 2008, looked in the mirror, and compared himself to Barack Obama: “Hmmm, let’s see. He’s young. I’m young. He’s dark-skinned. I’m dark-skinned. His middle name is Hussein. My name is Hussein. His grandfather is a Muslim. My grandfather is a Muslim. He is president of the United States. And I’m an unemployed young Arab with no vote and no voice in my future.”

That comparison has to be one of the dumbest things I think I’ve ever seen in print. In a dumb world, that says a lot.

Obama the Neocon

Renegade historian Thaddeus Russell about Barack Obama in an interview in Reason, and why he became attracted to libertarianism:

It began with anti-imperialism. That’s what first caught my attention. Particularly during the Obama campaign, I felt like I was on a raft in a vast ocean. I was just the only person I knew in my whole world who felt that Obama was basically a neocon and just terribly reactionary in every single way. There’s not one thing I like about him. He represents every negative strain in American history that I write about.

I think what I like most about libertarians is that they are perpetually oppositional. They never merge their identities with the sovereign power. When speaking of the nation-state, they don’t say “we.”

It was Russell who edited Historians Against War, and it this reminding that got him expelled from the website. Because Democrats aren’t imperialist warmongers, you know. They espouse change we can believe in.

Not Quite Correct

Juan Cole says of Barack Obama:

He just seems to lack empathy with the little people and is unwilling to buck the rich and powerful, even though they all opposed his run for the presidency.

The first part of this is quite true. Obama is not very empathetic with “the little people” because he believes in, and is so thoroughly a product, of the American meritocracy. You can make it on your own, through effort and brilliance, to become a lawyer, a corporate CEO, president of the United States. Wealth and power are things one can earn, and with the relatively open nature of the American elite (to borrow from E. Digby Baltzell’s writings 50 years ago). Meritocracy — even the progressive American version — is somewhat cruel and heartless, since anyone can, in fact, achieve in the American system (look at Obama!), then no one has any excuses for not achieving.

The result sounds a lot like what I heard conservatives say growing up — if you don’t make, if you aren’t successful, then it’s your own damn fault. And that basically is what this meritocratic class says, the story it tells itself.

But it absolutely incorrect for Cole to say that the rich and powerful opposed Obama’s candidacy and his election. Obama is one of them! How could they oppose their own? If this were true, why did so many investment banks raise so much money for Obama’s campaign?

University of California $1,591,395
Goldman Sachs $994,795
Harvard University $854,747
Microsoft Corp $833,617
Google Inc $803,436
Citigroup Inc $701,290
JPMorgan Chase & Co $695,132
Time Warner $590,084
Sidley Austin LLP $588,598
Stanford University $586,557
National Amusements Inc $551,683
UBS AG $543,219
Wilmerhale Llp $542,618
Skadden, Arps et al $530,839
IBM Corp $528,822
Columbia University $528,302
Morgan Stanley $514,881
General Electric $499,130
US Government $494,820
Latham & Watkins $493,835

The truth is, Obama doesn’t care about the poor, the powerless, “the little people,” any more the George W. Bush did. And the policies and politics of his regime aren’t going to be any kinder.

This is What Happens When You Elect a Community Organizer President

Some fantastic nuggets in an essay by David Bromwich at the New York Review of Books on what the State of the Union speech says about how Barack Obama will likely govern over the next two (and possibly six) years. This is one of them:

A main inference from the State of the Union is that in 2011 and 2012, the president will not initiate. He will broker. Every policy recommendation will be supported and, so far as possible, clinched by the testimony of a panel of experts. There were signs of this pattern in the group of former secretaries of state, including Henry Kissinger and Colin Powell, whom the president brought in to endorse the START nuclear pact; in the generals who were called on to solidify support for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; and in Bill Clinton holding a presidential press briefing on the economy. Obama, on such occasions, serves as host and introducer; he leaves the podium to the experts. The idea is to overwhelm us with expertise. In this way, a president may lighten the burden of decision and control by easing the job of persuasion into other hands. Obama seems to believe that the result of being seen in that attitude will do nothing but good for his stature.

This may be what he learned as a community organizer, to let others do the heavy lifting. Indeed, Bromwich said Obama appears to be modeling himself expressly after Ronald Reagan, who was master of the feel-good, empty phrase. Along those lines, Bromwich also notes this:

Barack Obama, starting in 2002—the year he declared at a Chicago rally his opposition to the coming war against Iraq—had a keen eye on his political rise, but he had slender experience and a narrow focus disguised by inspirational special effects. In earlier years, he was protected by the Chicago Democratic machine; after 2004, he was shepherded by leaders of the Democratic party who disliked the Clintons or feared that Hillary Clinton could never win a presidential election. His apparent convictions—-on the environment, on the Middle East, on nuclear proliferation: matters of more concern to him than health care—were resonant and sincere but they had never been brought to a test. It turned out that few of his convictions were as strong as Obama thought they were. [Emphasis mine – CHF]

“It turned out that few of his convictions were as strong as Obama thought they were.” He never really had to defend or market his positions, never really had to convince others of what he believed. Was never really challenged and never really had to accomplish something in the face of adversity. As a leader.

I think there was the presumption that because Obama was a “community organizer” (I’m surrounded by people who aspire to be community organizers at a seminary which claims to train them, and I’m still not entirely sure what exactly that is), he was for justice and peace and whatever wonderful things came bundled with that. And that he would lead forcefully like that, though I don’t think forceful leading is part of what a community organizer is. He was a blank slate upon which a lot hope was projected. There were a lot of people hearing Obama and thinking he actually meant something (possibly even Obama himself), and I think it’s become clear he doesn’t really mean anything. Or, as Bromwich concludes:

Today no one can easily say who Barack Obama is or what he stands for; and the coming year is unlikely to offer many clues, since all the thoughts of Obama in 2011 appear to concern Obama in 2012. 

An Awkward Question About “Investment”

If, as President Obama said last night in his great speechy thingy, that “[t]wo years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again,” why then does the government need to invest in things like “biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology?” Why can’t these very profitable corporations do that themselves?

Just asking.

More (Mostly) Meaningless Words

I did not watch the State of the Union Address. I don’t recall how long I’ve been boycotting these — I think since the Bush Jong Il regime, when I no longer had to watch them as a part of my job — but it’s been a while. Barack Obama is merely the latest president who’s pronouncements I’ve tried hard to ignore.

I want to say they’re meaningless, presidential speeches, but I don’t quite think that. Bush Jong Il’s second inaugural was a majesterial declaration by the Bush regime that the United States seeks to liberate others by dominating them, a Bush take on Wilsonianism that really isn’t that different from Woodrow Wilson’s (given his racism). Presidential words mean a lot, but at the same time, they don’t mean very much. If you listened to Bush’s speeches on Israel and Palestine, for example, he sounded incredibly progressive — he used the word Palestine to describe a place and a nation, not just a people (I’m not sure any previous president had ever done so). But his words were completely disconnected from what his regime was actually accomplishing.

Obama is a particularly beguiling speaker, mostly because he speaks so easily and so well of hope and faith — a secular faith in America that at the same is laced heavily with religious and eschatological language. I’ve also come to the conclusion that Obama’s language is, more often than not, meaningless, largely because the disconnect from what he says and how he actually governs is so vast. Greater than it was under Bush or even Clinton. I think Obama may even be beguiled by his words because I’m not really he really knows what he means past the wonderful sounding words. In this, I am with Jacob Bronsthner when he wrote recently in the Christian Science Monitor:

[S]ince his inauguration, Obama’s methodological political theory has proved thin and sometimes incoherent. He will never support tax cuts for the rich, until he will. He criticizes Bush’s expansive view of presidential war powers, then adopts it. The list goes on.

It’s not that he breaks his policy promises more than other politicians. It’s not that he seeks compromise – a virtue. It’s not even that his policies are wrongheaded. It’s the fact that when he compromises, when he reaches policy conclusions, there’s no sense that it derives from anything other than ad hoc balancing.

There is no well of enduring principle upon which he seems to draw. Even if he’s a pragmatist, eschewing universal principles in favor of context-specific values and concerns, we still don’t know what those temporal values and concerns are, or why he believes in them. So far he’s the piecemeal president.

Bronsthner is convinced — and I think he’s right — that Obama doesn’t seem to really believe in anything. In fact, I’m fairly certain the point of his speeches (and Bush’s before him) are to make partisan supporters feel good about themselves. (Chris Hedges writes about this kind of in his latest essay.) “We are on the right side of good and truth and beauty and history,” supporters can say to themselves. And that is about all the words he speaks are worth.

Yet not all of Obama’s words are meaningless. As worthless as the Cairo speech was in actually producing any real “change” in how America did things in the Middle East, in April of 2007, Obama spoke before the Chicago Foreign Policy Council and outlined what would become his approach to foreign policy, talking about using the “full arsenal” of American power (and ingenuity) to confront “aggression” and maintain American military superiority. (I’ve just reread it, and for the most part, it is a speech Bush could have given.) This showed that Obama was not a peace candidate in any meaningful way, not willing to consider the possibility that the United States might be an ordinary nation, and I think that speech meant something. Those were not empty words, any more than Bush’s ersatz-Trotskyite missive in January 2005 was empty of meaning too.

Not all of the State of the Union was meaningless, as Robert Dreyfuss at The Nation notes:

He didn’t exactly trumpet American “exceptionalism,” and he didn’t proclaim America’s mission to remake the world, in so many words, but he inserted into his speech an odd phrase: “No one rival superpower is aligned against us.” Without saying so, he portrayed the United States, therefore, as the world’s lone superpower, an errant vision that reinforces the view of the neoconservatives and liberal interventionists that America has some vague responsibility for the rest of the world. “American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored,” he proclaimed. Really? Nowhere in his speech did Obama reflect on the necessary, humbling vision of the United States as a declining world power whose future depends on its reaching a series of accommodations with at least five or six other rising powers and regions.

But why else should expect different? In this, there is meaning. Obama’s world is still an America-centered, America-led, America-managed world for the benefit of America (again, dominating others in order to liberate them — more good progressive governance) so that more people can live in the abundance and freedom that America. And that is empire, the empire Obama remains committed to maintaining. Plain and simple.

Obama the Elitist

David Bromwich, writing in the London Review of Books (in the November issue; I just got around to reading this) about Barack Obama and particularly the president’s attachment to the very conventional economics of his advisors from world of investment banking:

Here the charge of elitism against Obama finds some basis in fact. He shares with his economic advisers the view that wealth is created by the banks and money firms from the top down: a healthy economy comes from money making money, not from people making things.

In this, Obama shares much with the clerisy as a people who do not understand where wealth comes from. This is both a liberal and conservative failing. The clerisy are by nature people who do not “make” money, who do not really create wealth (though through their work they may add to the wealth at large in a community or society), and so don’t really understand how it comes about.