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FDL discusses The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism

Tony Wikrent's picture

I just finished reading through an excellent book discussion on FireDogLake that directly and explicitly addressed the questions of how to organize an alternative political movement to overcome the Democratic-Republican duopoly that currently dominates our political economy: FDL Book Salon Welcomes Roger D. Hodge, The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism.

eCAHNomics, who somehow spent 30 years on Wall Street without apparently losing his or her soul, posed the direct challenge to the moderator’s stated hope that “we still have a chance to topple the corporate empire.” (comment # 11)

How in the world to do that, or anything like it?

Perhaps you hadn’t noticed, but the third political party is on the right, not the left. That’s because they get all the $$ from the usual suspects & all the organizing talent. There is simply no way for the left to match any such effort.

The class war is over & the rich won.

To which the moderator, Christopher Ketcham replied:

I think Hodge frames class war very specifically in terms of killing corporate personhood, given that corporations are the vehicles of warfare by the very rich against the rest of America…and how to kill corporate persons is indeed a question. A constitutional convention to amend the law of the land so that corporate personhood is explicitly abolished?

Hodge agreed that tackling the issue of corporate personhood is key.

In another response, Hodge recommends Thomas Ferguson’s new book, Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems. which shows that FDR was able to implement the New Deal by building an investment bloc of corporations who supported his programs. Hodge then observes

The Democrats’ current investment coalition is dominated by the FIRE sector. That’s all you really needed to know to predict how Obama would govern.

This of course brings to mind the distinction Thorstein Veblen makes between industry and business. As economist Douglas W. MacKenzie explains in a November 2007 paper, Veblen examined the functional and cultural differences between financial and industrial institutions, contrasting the profit-driven process of financial capitalism, to the workmanship and science-driven machine process of industry. In general, once an industrial firm falls under the sway of “business managers” and financiers, its focus becomes one “of acquisition, not of production; of exploitation, not of serviceability”.

So, moderator Christopher Ketcham’s comment (# 129) is extremely important in taking a clear-eyed and hard-headed view of American political history:

Let’s talk a minute about Clinton and the Third Way he ushered in under the name of liberalism. Clinton was even worse than Reagan on the matter of industry deregulation, or, more precisely, in the way he allowed industry to drift into consolidation. DOJ anti-trust enforcement became a dead letter… under his administration massive consolidation occurred in telecommunications, media, oil, agribusiness, banking, and retail trade, with Clinton’s DOJ overseeing an estimated 70,000 mergers at a cumulative combined value of $6 trillion – more than the entire GDP of the country in 1992…

In the same service of an accurate view of American political history, it is essential to highlight two comments by Hodge, and warn that they can be dangerously misleading:

Roger D. Hodge November 13th, 2010 at 2:12 pm
In response to Christopher Ketcham @ 8
One of the most fascinating things about American history is the way it keeps repeating a basic pattern that was established in the 1790s: the conflict between Hamiltonian administration and Madisonian republicanism. The names change but the story stays the same. Hamilton self-consciously set out to create a financial oligarchy. Madison and Jefferson went into opposition. Now we have two Hamiltonian parties, both of which tend to the needs of the financial oligarchy

Roger D. Hodge November 13th, 2010 at 3:20 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 128
The opposition is that between the republican principle of self-governance and the Hamiltonian principle of oligarchy. You see it in the 1790s, in the Jacksonian era, with the populist movement, the progressive era, the New Deal, the Civil Rights movement, etc. That’s the pattern I was alluding to.

Unfortunately, the historical record is much more complicated, because the attempted secession of the Confederacy was based on the theory of Madisonian republicanism, with explicit attacks on the North for its “Hamiltonian principle of oligarchy.” Entire dissertations can be, and have been, written, on the following point: the fight between Jefferson and Madison on the one hand, and Hamilton on the other, also takes the form of the debate about enumerated powers versus implied powers of the federal government. The Tea Party today is quite clear and strident in demanding an adherence to a view of the federal government as being strictly limited to only those powers expressly written (enumerated) into the Constitution. The problem, of course, is that the “enumerated powers” interpretation of the Constitution leaves the federal government unable to actually function as a national government, as Hamilton argued in advising President Washington to sign the law chartering the First Bank of the United States.

It must be understood that the New Deal policies and programs – which represent, according to Sheldon Wolin, the highest stage of political freedom in our historical development – rest squarely on the implied powers interpretation. But at the same time, there is quite substantial evidence that Hamilton’s approach does favor the creation of oligarchy. It is such a complex and intractable issue, that Associate Justice Joseph Story, in his 1833 landmark study, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, began his consideration of Article I, Section 8 with this prescient warning:

WE have now arrived, in the course of our inquiries, at the eighth section of the first article of the constitution, which contains an enumeration of the principal powers of legislation confided to congress. A consideration of this most important subject will detain our attention for a considerable time; as well, because of the variety of topics, which it embraces, as of the controversies, and discussions, to which it has given rise. It has been, in the past time, it is in the present time, and it will probably in all future time, continue to be the debateable ground of the constitution, signalized, at once, by the victories, and the defeats of the same parties. Here; the advocates of state rights, and the friends of the Union will meet in hostile array. And here, those, who have lost power, will maintain long and arduous struggles to regain the public confidence, and those, who have secured power, will dispute every position, which may be assumed for attack, either of their policy, or their principles. Nor ought it at all to surprise us, if that, which has been true in the political history of other nations, shall be true in regard to our own; that the opposing parties shall occasionally be found to maintain the same system, when in power, which they have obstinately resisted, when out of power. Without supposing any insincerity or departure from principle in such cases, it will be easily imagined, that a very different course of reasoning will force itself on the minds of those, who are responsible for the measures of government, from that, which the ardour of opposition, and the jealousy of rivals, might well foster in those, who may desire to defeat, what they have no interest to approve.

Folks, that was written in 1833!

So, mastering this issue of enumerated powers versus implied powers is one of the requirements for the development of a revolutionary consciousness to address our current predicament.

Throughout the discussion on FireDogLake, I was sorely vexed that I had not been able to participate, and urge people to read Lawrence Goodwyn’ s The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America

A number of possible actions are discussed, including consumer boycotts, and the need for and possibility of shaping public opinion. Christopher Ketcham points out one emerging response:

a left-liberatarian — a kind of anarcho-capitalist — secessionist movement in Vermont (see:

Short of secession — which is unlikely — they hope to start a state-wide movement in answer to the capture of the two-party duopoly by FIRE and corporate America. They want to pass laws that outlaw usury, that severely curb the “freedoms” of corporate persons in their state, that abolish the power of money in elections. They want to establish a state bank, along the lines of the Bank of North Dakota, to keep credit and debt within Vermont. They want to bring home the national guard and implement state-wide tax revolts against support of our wars and the continuing enrichment of the military-industrial sector.

In summary, I believe Hodge is correct when he stated:

Boycotts, strikes, protests, etc. are all part of the toolkit. But first we have to bring public opinion along.

And to shape public opinion, we need to know more and be smarter than anyone else.

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Submitted by Hugh on

eCahn is wrong in that the left can compete with the right. The left has great organizational skills and resources. Firedoglake is one of many sites and groups that have this potential, but it not only doesn't use it, it seeks to squelch any move in that direction. I didn't read the discussion. I don't know if Hodge is advocating an alternative to the Democratic party or a movement, not actually at odds with it. FDL's management in general favors the second of these and is hostile to the first.

Tony Wikrent's picture
Submitted by Tony Wikrent on

the usual left versus right spectrum. Which, of course, eCahnomics did, and I did to some extent by quoting him or her. Always keep in mind what Stirling Newberry has written about three polar politics in America today.

What I would point out is that among American conservatives, there is a latent hostility to concentrated economic power. This impulse has thus far been successfully managed by elites by channeling the rage against the power of government, and burying the question of what, if anything, will stand as a bulwark against corporations and other economic powers in the absence of effective government? There is an intriguing area of mutual agreement across the traditionally accepted left versus right divide, which is an anger at and hostility to the regulatory capture of government by special interests and the consequent use of government power for the benefit and maintenance in power of those special interests. The big problem with conservatives and libertarians is their tenacious clinging to the British East India Company's anti-American theology of "free markets" and "free trade." In other words, their clinging to the idea that markets should be left unfettered by any government regulations.

There are two possible points of attack to begin destroying this conservatives and libertarians economic theology. First, is the historical fact that it was rejected at the founding of the American republic under the Constitution (which is why I bring up and use the term "British East India Company's anti-American theology." Again, the historical record quickly becomes cluttered by the contest between the Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian factions.

Second is the thundering condemnation of usury and the immoral use of wealth found in the basic Judeo-Christian texts. Simply put, it is impossible for anyone to actually accept the theology of "free markets" and "free trade" and actually be a good Christian or Jew. Michael Hudson, Jim Sleeper, and William Neil (Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Market) have done some wonderful writing on this issue. This is a wide-open field of cultural warfare in which the conservatives, libertarians, and conservatives should be easily smashed, but which is not exploited by progressives and the left because of their equally ridiculous clinging to the theology of anti-religiousness. There is no reason to shoot ourselves in the foot by simply forfeiting the religious debate to the foe.

Whether or not Firedoglake or DailyKos or any other site is now actively hostile to efforts of progressives and anti-corporatist to organize is not an issue, and should not be of more than slight concern (slight concern only to the extent that a site prohibits actual posting of material). For now, ant site on the internet is a useful tool for getting the message out, and the more eyeballs a site attracts, the more useful a tool it is. Remember that social change is a process: compare the debate and discussion today, such as what you and I are engaged in here, with what was taking place in, say, 2005. The financial collapse, and the subsequent rescue of the financial system, while the real economy was left to rot, has been one of those great historical pivot points which fundamentally alters a population's general consciousness. The failure of Obama and the Democratic Party is precisely located in their unwillingness to seize the shift in consciousness to effect fundamental reformation of a corrupted system and status quo.

It will not happen over night. It is a process. And no one will do it for us. We must seize the opportunity ourselves. We can seize the opportunity either with or without the benefit of knowing history and how we came to be here. If we proceed without a full historical consciousness, we greatly limit our chances for an acceptable outcome. If we expend the time and effort to learn and master these issues of history, we will ultimately triumph over any and all opposition foolish enough to stand in our way.

Submitted by lambert on

What we need.

Sometimes the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy!

Tony Wikrent's picture
Submitted by Tony Wikrent on

We should not care. Back in September 2008, when the world slipped over the abyss into the depression we are now in, Stirling Newberry wrote The Constitutional Moment Arrives, which includes one of my favorite lines from Newberry: "the American public . . . is not free to simply choose between which ever two alternatives arrive on their doorstep after labor day."

Here's the full quote. I provide it, because there is a lot of thought it should provoke.

The economic realization is that the assertion that government doesn't matter is wholly without merit. The various pseudo-arguments, such as the size of government relative to the economy, are errant nonsense, concocted on cocktail napkins as a way of selling pork to the American public. The word fraud is correct here, regardless of how many right wing hacks have places in the academy. This economic realization, builds into a different synthesis of micro- and macro- economics through the lens of strategy and turbulence, that is to say, meso- scale economics.

The political realization is the obvious consequence of this. If government matters, then the American public must both participate in that government, and it is not free to simply choose between which ever two alternatives arrive on their doorstep after labor day.

This means that there is a social realization. The United States cannot, if it wishes to remain a global power, spend trillions in pandering to the neurosis of at the fringe of sanity. Darwin denying genocidal thugs who drive pick up trucks, however much money Fox News makes selling them lies and lubricants, cannot, any longer be regarded as an immutable social wall. I know that politicians must be more diplomatic in saying this, but we really do need to understand that one cannot compromise with crazy.

First, of course, is my immediate point - the destruction of our political economy has reached a point where no one specific candidate or political party really makes that much of a difference. This is largely, but not entirely, a result of the teaching of false economic ideas for the past half century, as I and others have argued previously.

What will make a difference is a shift in the paradigm of thinking on political economy. That shift could occur among elites, but it appears highly unlikely. The shift therefore will probably occur among the general population, and lead to the creation, then ascendancy, of a new elite that embodies that new paradigm of thinking.

I may be mistaken, but my position is that the shift required is actually, ironically, a truly conservative one: namely, a return to an understanding of the concept of the general welfare and the common good, assisted by a resurrection by the Judeo-Christian gospel of social justice in opposition to the basically satanic gospels of individual salvation and Calvinistic pre-destination. (This irony is along the lines identified by Sam Tanenhouse, when he shows that modern American conservatism is actually unmoored from real American history, and hence a subversive ideology of radical change.)

The modern American conservatism that Tanenhouse shows to be an ideology of radical change, of course, the "crazy" that Newberry is referring to. The key point to make here, is that contrary to President Obama's and The Village's mantra of the need to compromise with the Tea Partied Republicans, we are now in a political geometry, just like in the late 1850s, where further compromise with conservatives will lead inevitably to either a dissolution of the republic, or civil war, or both. Our side is at a huge disadvantage here, because it is by nature opposed to the instruments of state power - the military and the espionage services - that are required for putting down insurrection and treason (here you can see, again, that one of the most revolutionary shifts of American history - freeing the slaves, and the overthrowing of the primacy of property rights which that act required - was, in actuality, a deeply conservative step of preserving the Union.

Focusing on any one person or any one party is a mistake at this point. The two-party system is beginning to collapse. The ability of the Tea Party to deny the nominations of long-term Republican incumbents is proof of that. We have the same power - witness Ned Lamont's defeat of Lieberman in 2006. The fact that the incumbents choose not to give up their positions of privilege because of mere electoral rebuke, but mounted "independent" campaigns (i.e., Lieberman, Crist, Murkowski, etc,) is merely the first of the death rattles of the two-party duopoly.

Change is coming, and it may be delayed, but never stopped.

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

That's my view. You can temporarily derail positive change, but never stop it permanently.

I also agree with your thought about a movement with the "social justice" wing of Judeo-Christian instigating/participation. As it should happen, I've been working on a controversial fictional novel that deals with that very subject. Or at least to spark more dialogue in that direction. The fight between Glen Beck and Jim Wallis, I think, is an important one and will start the disintegration of the Right's stranglehold on religion.

Submitted by Hugh on

History is important as in realizing that almost all of the organizational capability of the left has been co-opted and neutralized by the Democrats. The right needed the Koch brothers to bankroll the Tea Party. The left could have created an alternative of its own, on its own, but Democratic adjuncts like Moveon, kos, and FDL scotched those efforts. Instead they continue to back the kleptocracy. That's what it means to keep pushing this Democrat or that one, maintaining that differences exist between corporate Republicans and corporate Democrats, that we should all have gone and voted for creepy sellout Democrats so that creepy sellout Republicans wouldn't win.

We don't need to go back to Hamilton and Madison. Most of the disasters we face come from Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Obama.

Submitted by gob on

My training in history is nonexistent, and I'd be thankful to any historian willing to comment. I vaguely recall that in fact the American rebels were angry, not at "free" trade, but at the restraint of trade that was inhibiting the development of manufacturing in the American colonies. Does anyone have a citation?

Of course, this is only a detail in your very interesting discussion, for which I thank you.

Tony Wikrent's picture
Submitted by Tony Wikrent on

or, actually, the links therein: Adam Smith was a prostitute for slave traders.

You are correct in that the American revolutionaries were fighting against, among other things, the Board of Trade's heavy-handed restrictions on the development of manufacturing in the colonies. But recall that the original premise of free trade was that some areas were fitted by nature as suppliers of raw materials, while other areas had the human and capital resources that fitted them for manufactures.

And ask yourself this question. As the Americans embarked on actual sovereign development of their economy, largely within the framework of government encouragement laid out by Hamilton (today mostly misidentified as mercantilism), at what point did the British oligarchy reconcile itself to accepting the existence of the United States as an immutable fact of life? Why, for example, the War of 1812, which some Americans called at the time the Second War for Independence?

By the 1830s, the Americans had developed an identifiably different school of political economy from the British, called The American System. As the foremost economist of the U.S. in the 1850s, Henry Carey wrote:

Two systems are before the world;... One looks to increasing the necessity of commerce; the other to increasing the power to maintain it. One looks to underworking the Hindoo, and sinking the rest of the world to his level; the other to raising the standard of man throughout the world to our level. One looks to pauperism, ignorance, depopulation, and barbarism; the other to increasing wealth, comfort, intelligence, combination of action, and civilization. One looks towards universal war; the other towards universal peace. One is the English system; the other we may be proud to call the American system, for it is the only one ever devised the tendency of which was that of elevating while equalizing the condition of man throughout the world.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

1815-1914: The Neglected American School of Political Economy". It's fascinating. I stumbled across it quite by accident. I'm interested in anything Michael Hudson has to say. Could we get more exposure for this American School? They believed that high wages made a better society. They did not want the United States to be just an agricultural and mining colony to Britain like our admired Jefferson envisioned. We would have city states with manufacturing in the city and the surrounding country supplying the food and energy. This was much better, they thought, then the theory of depleting the earth and then moving continually West. Today 's "Think Local" and anti - sprawl movements are successors to this theory. I 've only just strayed the book, but this is what I've gathered so far. Very exciting.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

... need the citizenry to re-discover their inalienable rights.

Appreciated this quote especially:

that the opposing parties shall occasionally be found to maintain the same system, when in power, which they have obstinately resisted, when out of power.

It is really late in the game but every citizen has a duty to fight to escape his or her own infantilization by this amoral patriarchy. The Monsters of the Universe play hardball. It won't be easy, but we can do it. And we need to work together globally to help ourselves and others and for us to make amends to those in other countries who have been decimated by US might makes right imperialism covered up at home by hyped up jingoism or distracting masturbatory political gamesmanship and commentary. The government has become so amoral it is now turning on its own citizenry full throttle. No laws. No empathy. The neo-feudalism is global now, and we need to wake up and smell the serfdom.

Ian Welsh's picture
Submitted by Ian Welsh on

first bring public opinion along, you use those various things to help public opinion, but any analysis of power in the US that thinks public opinion is the most important thing is completely fucking clueless.