May 22, 2013
Zombie Politics: Dangerous Authoritarianism or Shrinking Democracy - Part II
Posted on May 4, 2012
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
Determining for certain whether we are in the midst of a new authoritarianism under the leadership of Barack Obama is difficult, but one thing is clear: any new form of authoritarianism that emerges in the current time will be much more powerful and complex in its beliefs, mechanisms of power, and modes of control than the alleged idealism of one man or one administration. The popular belief, especially after McCain’s defeat, was that the country had made a break with its morally transgressive and reactionary past and that Obama signified not just hope but political redemption. Such views ignored both the systemic and powerfully organized financial and economic forces at work in American society while vastly overestimating the power of any one individual or isolated group to challenge and transform them. Even as the current economic meltdown revealed the destructive and distinctive class character of the financial crisis, the idea that the crisis was rooted in systemic causes that far exceeded a few bailouts was lost even on liberal economists such as Paul Krugman, Jeffrey Sachs, and Joseph Stiglitz.
Within such economic analyses and narratives of political redemption, the primacy of hope and “critical exuberance” took precedence over the reality of established corporate power, ideological interests, and the influence of the military-industrial complex. As Judith Butler warned soon after Obama’s victory, “Obama is, after all, hardly a leftist, regardless of the attributions of ‘socialism’ proffered by his conservative opponents. In what ways will his actions be constrained by party politics, economic interests, and state power; in what ways have they been compromised already? If we seek through this presidency to overcome a sense of dissonance, then we will have jettisoned critical politics in favor of an exuberance whose phantasmatic dimensions will prove consequential.” In retrospect, Butler’s comments have proven prescient, and the hope that accompanied Obama’s election has now been tempered by not simply despair but in many quarters outright and legitimate anger.
If Bush’s presidency represented an exceptional anti-democratic moment, it would seem logical that the Obama administration would have examined, condemned, and dismantled policies and practices at odds with the ideals of an aspiring democracy. Unfortunately, such has not been the case under Obama, at least up to this point in his administration. Within the past few years, Obama has moved decidedly to the right, and in doing so has extended some of the worst elements of the counter-terrorism policies of the Bush administration. He has endorsed the use of military commissions, argued for the use of indefinite detention with no charges or legal recourse for Afghan prisoners, extended the USA Patriot Act, continued two wars while expanding the war in Afghanistan, and largely reproduced Bush’s market-driven approach to school reform. As Noam Chomsky points out, Obama has done nothing to alter the power and triumph of financial liberalization in the past thirty years. He bailed out banks and financial investment institutions at the expense of the 26.3 million Americans who are either unemployed or do not have full-time jobs along with the millions who have lost their homes. His chief economic and foreign policy advisors—Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, and Robert Gates—represent a continuation of a military and big business orientation that is central to the ideologies and power relations of a undemocratic and increasingly bankrupt economic and political system. While claiming to enact policies designed to reduce the federal deficit, Obama plans to cut many crucial domestic programs while increasing military spending, the intelligence budget, and foreign military aid. Obama has requested a defense budget for 2011 of $708 billion, in addition to calling for $33 billion to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This budget is almost as large as the rest of the entire world’s defense spending combined. Roger Hodge provides a useful summary of Obama’s failings, extending from the perversion of the rule of law to the authoritarian claim of “sovereign immunity.” He writes:
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