I use “fascism” here not as a cliché, but as an historical-structural formation principally rooted in the mature stage of capitalism, in which business-government interpenetration (what the Japanese political scientist Masao Maryuma called the “close-embrace” system) has created hierarchical social classes of wide differences in wealth and power, the militarization of social values and geopolitical strategy, and a faux ideology of classlessness to instill loyalty for the social order among working people. In fact, each of these factors is already present to a high degree in America–superbly disguised however by the rhetoric of liberalism, as in Mr. Obama’s presidency.
This said, my provocative hypothesis (only slightly tongue-in-cheek) is that in the coming election Romney is preferable to Obama. Why? In broad terms, we see varying degrees of sophistication in the mad dash across the finish line (i.e., fascism proper, midway between nascent and full-blown), with Romney and Republicans representing plebeian fascism, and Obama and Democrats a sophisticated corporatist form. Everything charged against Romney may be true, from Social Darwinist beliefs and gut-militarism to cultural intolerance and xenophobia, and perhaps even more so for the party as a whole, though that is a moot point–an overt negation, on all grounds,of what we mean by democracy. (Not that America has honored or achieved that state of political-economic development through most of its history!) To pursue the candidacy of Romney involves one in a societal nightmare of unrestrained wealth (and the perks that go with it, from horribly skewed taxation policy to categorical setbacks to unions, wage rates, and an antilabor climate) and severe cuts in the social safety net. All this is known, predictable, transparent–part of my argument for viewing Romney as preferable to Obama. Clearly, Trotsky in popularized form is in the back of my mind.
By contrast, Obama is unassailable, enjoying the protective cloak of the state secrets doctrine (which, also as the National Security State, he invokes constantly), the liberal glossing on all policy matters, thanks to the extremely able spinmeisters Axelrod and Rhodes, and an adoring, submissive, uncritical base, in deep denial and for whatever reasons unwilling to examine the administration’s record. That record confirms the long-term political, economic, and moral bankruptcy of the Democratic party, whose differentiating character setting it apart from the Republicans lies in the magnitude of skilled evasion and/or deception surrounding policies which themselves replicate the central elements in those of their opponents.
Republicans sincerely criticize Obama because they are too ignorant to recognize, in their rush to antigovernment rhetoric, that he takes the same position as they smoothed out to please a base at best composed of pretend-radicalism and, equally, to ward off criticism from those who desperately want to believe his earlier promises. This comes down to political theater at its cruelest.
The list of actual betrayal is long and virtually covering his public policy without exception. (A good start can be found in the critical essays in Hopeless, a true icebreaker for the uninformed prepared to listen.) Let me select several obvious examples. 1) Health care, in which Obama savaged the single-payer system, thus preparing the way for the same on the public option, meanwhile silencing, or rather, delegitimating all dissident voices, at the same time as exempting health insurers from antitrust prosecution and favoring Big Pharma; 2) Civil liberties, a good litmus test of democratic governance, in which Obama’s Department of Justice argued against granting habeas corpus rights to detainees, invoked the Espionage Act against whistleblowers, carried surveillance beyond that of previous administrations, with the National Security Agency one of the culprits practicing the black magic of eavesdropping, while renditions and “black holes” continue and even agencies like FDA spy on its employees; 3) militarism, from which foreign policy, including trade policy, cannot be excluded, in which the drone–as Obama’s signature weapon–terrorizes whole populations reeking destruction from the skies, naval power displayed from the South China Sea to the Mediterranean, a whole new generation of nuclear weapons in the pipeline (exempt from potential budgetary sequestration), a military budget itself second to none, and what appears to be a permanent state of war; 4) the omissions, which by their absence speak volumes about the purposes and policies of his administration, in which job creation and foreclosures have not been addressed, climate change, wholly disappeared, gun control, nonexistent, poverty never, never mentioned, and business and banking regulation the compounding of phoniness on phoniness, not unexpected considering Obama’s belief in deregulation and bringing in the Clinton-Rubin crowd of free marketeers.
How much more or worse damage can Romney and the Republicans do? They might fuss about same-sex marriage and contraception, while Obama, in his Pacific-first geopolitical vision and concrete strategy, wants to encircle China, and press for an economic agenda promoting further corporate-wealth concentration. If Republicans come across as Taliban on cultural issues, Democrats almost surreptitiously advance the financialization of the total economy, with the consequent distortions introduced–loss of manufacturing, increasing wealth concentration, and capitalism’s Achilles heel, underconsumption. Why Romney? Because his transparency as a Neanderthal may, just may, bring people into the streets, while under Obama passivity and false consciousness appear almost irreversible. I for one will stay home. The lesser-of-two-evils argument is morally obtuse, and dangerous, the first, because it means complicity with policies ultimately destructive, the second, because it induces an undeserved self-righteousness which next time around would yield further compromise. If the people are gulled and lulled into the acceptance of mock-democracy, courtesy of Goldman Sachs and waterboarding apologist Brennan, with Obama presiding over the bread-and-circuses routine, heaven help us.
Norman Pollack is a Harvard Ph.D. and the author of “The Populist Response to Industrial America” (Harvard) and “The Just Polity” (Illinois), Guggenheim Fellow, and professor of history emeritus, Michigan State University.