It is written that the future is written but that none can read the handwriting in which it is written. However, it is clear that barring the usual miracle (Joe Biden being revealed as a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party, John McCain flying to Caracas to arrange shipments of free oil to all Americans), Barack Obama will, this coming November, be elected President of the United States by the minority of Americans who bother to heed the orders of the American ruling class.
Why say that?
There are certain signs. Firstly, Obama is way ahead in the propaganda stakes. This is a dead giveaway of who the ruling class likes. The propaganda always favoured George W Bush, just as they favoured Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, that two-headed British efreet. So, the ruling class does not dislike McCain — he has not been smeared in any way — but it obviously feels that for its own purposes, Obama is preferable.
This is not obviously related to anything special in Obama’s policy proposals, because Obama’s policy proposals are nothing special. Get out of Iraq at some stage, stoke up the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan and continue alienating a large chunk of the world while gently schmoozing with Europe — that’s about it. What makes it more attractive than McCain’s plan to stoke up all the wars, start some new ones, and alienate absolutely everybody? Nothing much; a dime’s worth of difference, as Ralph Nader would say. On domestic policy there isn’t even that much. Admittedly Obama has announced his intention to raise taxes for the rich, which sounds great until you remember that a) he won’t do it, and b) the rich don’t pay their taxes anyway, raised or lowered.
So why is Obama going to win so undeservedly?
The problem is that while the ruling class got approximately what they wanted from George W Bush, they did so at a tremendous price. The greed and corruption which accompanied the massive transfers of wealth from poor to rich, and the gigantic expansion of the aggressive military-police complex enabled by 9/11 which did away with all that ridiculous bumf about freedom and democracy, was a bit of an embarrassment. There has been no mass public protest — the most catastrophic thing about the George W Bush years has been the failure of the American left to make any capital out of it — but some have noticed just how bad things are getting, and in turn have noticed how much this badness was founded on the badness of precious regimes, especially Clinton’s.
This means that at the moment there is the possibility that the left could become resurgent — not a great likelihood, but a possibility. The dismal performance of the Democratic Party might lead some to turn their backs on it and consider establishing an actual opposition party — and the ruling class doesn’t want that. There is plenty of scope for that, with the dismal state of affairs, the unpopularity of the current government and the feeble but still existing nit-picking of a few semi-intellectuals like Naomi Klein and Thomas Frank.
So, in short, what is needed is to throw the Democrats a bone to enliven them and encourage people to support them in lieu of a real opposition, and also to allow gullible people (nearly everybody) to think that they have driven the bad guys out and brought change and blah blah blah. After all, since there is no real sign that Obama will actually change anything important, the illusion of change is no threat to anybody. On the contrary, the absence of real change will disillusion any observant person who gullibly voted for Obama; meanwhile, the illusion of change, and the reality of losing some important posts for a few years, will serve to revitalise the Republican Party, the actual party supported most strongly by the American ruling class.
Arthur Silber wrote an interesting essay, “It’s Called The Ruling Class Because It Rules”, a declaration of Papal Catholicity which was important because many Americans believe that the people rule America, and also believe that those chocolate eggs in the living-room were left by a cute bunny, and the fifty cents under the pillow was left by a fairy. However, Silber is wrong. The ruling class, in America as elsewhere, does not rule. The ruling class is much too fragmented to rule. The ruling class does not get together in a formerly smoke-filled but now probably eco-friendly room, in order to decide how they will dominate the country. They don’t get together at all; as individuals, they dislike each other and betray each other when they can. The ruling class is in charge, as a class, but it sustains itself in power by being a gigantic amoeba, like the movie The Blob, which flobbers and billows more or less in the direction it thinks it wants to go (though directed by more primitive factors than brains), devouring what it can eat and smashing what it cannot and scaring the bejeesus out of the hero and heroine. The amazing thing is that anything is left standing. This is the irresistible force which has chosen Obama.
Of course there is more to it than the political matter of heading off the possibility of an alternative to themselves arising. The United States is in a hell of a mess. It is difficult to judge how bad it is, but Americans are more unpopular throughout the world, among everybody except the ruling classes, than they have been since the end of the Cold War, and probably before then. That in itself is not very good, but the Americans have also alienated one of the three minor world powers — Russia — and don’t enjoy brilliant relations with the two others — Brazil and India. Meanwhile, all three powers enjoy excellent relations with China, which the Americans rightly see as their competitor for global domination and which is virtually the anti-America, having built itself up by its own efforts in much the way America did before it decided to become an international gangster instead. In short, global politics look trickier than they have for decades, and unlike the situation during the Cold War, the general public in America’s NATO allies dislike the Americans intensely; their governments’ toadying to America is one of the most unpopular things about them.
That wouldn’t be so bad, if it weren’t that America’s two big sticks, the military and the economy, are both failing her.
This is the problem which Americans are aware of and yet not aware of. They are proud of their military, which in the 1960s and 1970s fought North and South Vietnam to a standstill while simultaneously building up enormous might in Europe and promoting massive satellite states like Israel and Iran. In the 1980s they decided to fight tiny states like Grenada and Panama, which went down like ninepins, and then Iraq, which they defeated (well, they mostly shot its military in the back after it surrendered and retreated under the impression that America would respect the armistice, but still, power is power).
But things have not been so good lately. They started a war in Afghanistan which they have no idea how to finish. They have managed to turn the anti-American war in Iraq into a civil war by stirring up religious and ethnic hostility, but that hasn’t made the country any more governable. Poor old Ethiopia, which occupied Somalia under the impression that American support would make the conquest easy and free up troops to threaten Eritrea, has been sitting in Somalia for two years in a steadily weakening position. The military coup in Venezuela and the more ludicrous one in Equatorial Guinea failed. Even satellites like Israel and Georgia are getting bloody noses when they flounder into Lebanon or South Ossetia. All the rubbish about the “revolution in military affairs” has turned out to be just that; America needs troops on the ground and friends it can trust, and it has precious few of either, partly because it spends so much money on high-tech equipment which either doesn’t work at all or isn’t suited for the jobs which need to be done.
The trouble is, all this stuff costs a lot, and building bases costs a lot, especially when you outsource the building to companies who are chums of the government and therefore can charge what they like — and America doesn’t have the money any more.
It used to have. In a sense, it still does have. It’s the biggest economy in the world and nobody should forget that. But it did away with its manufacturing industry assuming that it didn’t need one because its service industries would pay for everything. Manufacturing was supposed to go to easily controllable countries like Mexico, but instead it went mostly to Asia. Now America runs a massive trade deficit. Admittedly it pays for its imports in dollars, which keeps the currency stable (which is also why it is nervous of the Euro and the Chinese currencies. You might ask where it gets those dollars from; the answer is portfolio investment, mostly by the Asian countries; hence the Asians are paying America to buy their products. That will work well so long as the Asians do not run short of money and call in their loans to America. If they do that, America will not be able to pay for its imports, and unfortunately, since America does not manufacture the goods that it needs, it will then be in trouble. (Since Asia has been hit hard by the recent banking crisis, this may be on the horizon.)
A trade deficit is a problem because if you default people won’t sell to you, but it’s one which many poor countries have had to live with. What is remarkable is that America has also been facing a gigantic budget deficit. It ran up huge deficits for no obvious reason in the 1980s (well, the reason was to keep the rich happy) and then the President who tried to do something about this, George H W Bush, was run out of office because he modestly raised taxes. Clinton raised them some more, and actually reduced the deficits considerably (to nominal surpluses, although there was some smoke and mirrors in that) but almost the moment Bush’s son came into power, back things went into deficit and the national debt skyrocketed. “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter”, said one of Bush II’s advisers.
The trouble is that deficits matter under some circumstances. Bush II has kept interest rates low, so servicing the national debt is easy even though it is alarmingly high. However, interest rates are starting to rise in an attempt to protect the currency (the weaker the dollar is, relative to other currencies, the greater the danger that some of America’s foreign spending might end up costed in euroes or whatever). Also, with increasing commodity costs, inflation is up, and the traditional remedy for that is increasing interest rates (it doesn’t work very well). If there is ever a problem with America’s foreign portfolio investment, there will be a need to increase the interest rates even more, in a desperate attempt to attract investment for the sake of the interest earned on it. But the higher the interest rates go, the higher the cost of servicing the interest on the national debt.
Eventually America would have to start slashing public spending. Unfortunately, they have been doing that for the last decade, and their social and physical infrastructure is in a bad way, so they actually need to spend more money, which they haven’t got. And there is the cost of trying to make themselves independent of foreign oil (fat chance, boys) and the ever-growing cost of the bad weather arising from the global warming which America has done so much to promote — the hurricanes in the Gulf, the tornadoes in the Midwest, the wildfires and, perhaps, the melting Alaskan permafrost.
All this is what awaits lucky little Barack. A good thing he probably doesn’t know it. But the American ruling class does, and is gambling on the strong likelihood that he will fail to solve any of the problems. A 60% chance that he will be a one-term President; 30% chance that he will get out of his first term unscathed, and 10% that he is deposed before completing his first term. Write those odds down. It will be interesting to see how far it comes true.