Mike Davis was on Against The Grain last Wednesday and he did a brilliant interview. He spoke at length about the economy, about the insane right-wing anti-immigrant sentiments in Southern California, and of course how this all relates to the environment.
On this election eve I find myself remembering one part of the interview in particular, in which Davis described many Obama supporters as a sort of “cargo cult“, or group of people who believe that something will happen that they have absolutely no objective reason to think could come to pass.
What he means is that people are hoping Obama is a sort of liberal “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, a person who cannot reveal his true agenda or beliefs at the moment, but once becoming president will be free to enact the progressive or even radical changes that they desire.
I have not seen a shred of evidence to make me believe that without serious changes in the political climate, Obama will not due the bidding of his masters. The wars will be continued and the economy will continue to be handled by neoliberals who will allow thousands of homes be foreclosed upon and let the financial sector off the hook as best they can.
But as Davis points out in an amazing essay called Can Obama See The Grand Canyon?, we can’t expect a New New Deal because this is 2008 and not 1932:
First, we can’t rely on the Great Depression as analog to the current crisis, nor upon the New Deal as the template for its solution. Certainly, there is a great deal of déjà vu in the frantic attempts to quiet panic and reassure the public that the worst has passed. Many of Paulson’s statements, indeed, could have been directly plagiarized from Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, and both presidential campaigns are frantically cribbing heroic rhetoric from the early New Deal. But just as the business press has been insisting for years, this is not the Old American Economy, but an entirely new-fangled contraption built from outsourced parts and supercharged by instantaneous world markets in everything from dollars and defaults to hog bellies and disaster futures.
Second, Obama won’t inherit Roosevelt’s ultimate situational advantage — having emergent tools of state intervention and demand management (later to be called “Keynesianism”) empowered by an epochal uprising of industrial workers in the world’s most productive factories.
If you’ve been watching the sad parade of economic gurus on McNeil-Lehrer, you know that the intellectual shelves in Washington are now almost bare. Neither major party retains more than a few enigmatic shards of policy traditions different from the neo-liberal consensus on trade and privatization. Indeed, posturing pseudo-populists aside, it is unclear whether anyone inside the Beltway, including Obama’s economic advisors, can think clearly beyond the indoctrinated mindset of Goldman Sachs, the source of the two most prominent secretaries of the treasury over the last decade.
If his analysis sounds like a bucket of cold water thrown onto an enthusiastic moment, I’d urge you not to look at it that way.
Instead take it as a frankly realistic if grim assessment of the work we have in front of us. As mentioned above, we need a dramatic re-arrangement of the political reality on the ground or nothing will change for the better, and it is our immediate job to do just that.