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Friday, August 22, 2014

The prospects for 2016

In just a few months I will have been writing these posts for ten years.  The turning point in the blog occurred on July 5, 2010, four years ago, when I argued for the first time that there would be no regeneracy in this crisis or fourth turning comparable to what happened under FDR during the New Deal and the Second World War.  I now feel this strongly than ever. Overseas anarchy continues to spread, and the United States continues to take on new enemies for almost random reasons that it cannot beat.  The only way that the United States or the west as a whole could now restore order to the Middle East, it seems to me, is by a renewal of traditional imperialism which they lack either the will or even the manpower to undertake.  (For the record, I would not favor it in any case.)  But the real danger is at home, where it seems to be increasingly likely that the Republican Party will control all three branches of government on January 21, 2017.  This is why.

Since the Republican take-over of the House of Representatives in 2010--which was clearly imminent when I wrote my critical post in July of that year--Barack Obama has been unable to accomplish anything significant other than to be re-elected.  He has given in to the Republicans on numerous budgetary issues, and would have given in even further if they had been willing to compromise.  He has not been able to cope with a series of crises in foreign policy, where he has never shown any particular talent or interest.  This past week the New York Times reported that Democrats in Congress, led by Harry Reid, are disgusted by his unwillingness to stand with them and fight the Republicans more actively on almost anything.  The story also said that the White House has concluded that presidential speeches on controversial topics do his popularity more harm than good.  In short, the political initiative remains with the Republicans, who have completely blocked immigration reform.  The Democratic Party is lagging in the fund-raising race for November and Nate Silver gives the Republicans the best chance (although by no means a certain chance) of taking over the Senate.

If the Republicans do take over the Senate, we can expect further paralysis, or worse, of the government.  Not only will Obama find it very difficult to make any appointments to the judicial or executive branches, but he will probably have to veto attempts to eliminate various parts of the federal government.  The possibility that he will be impeached and brought to trial like Bill Clinton certainly cannot be ruled out, even though he would never be convicted.  And even if the Democrats barely retain control of the Senate, he will not have any legacy other than the Affordable Care Act.  That act seems to have done a great deal of good--but Democratic candidates are too scared to mention it, much less run on it.  That is the world we are living in.

Democratic strategists, of course, are counting on demographics to keep the White House in 2016.  They think that Hillary Clinton, the almost certain candidate, can rely upon the same coalition of women, minorities, and gays that twice elected Barack Obama.  I am afraid that they are wrong, because I do not think that the same people will turn out in the same numbers for 69-year old Hillary Clinton, my exact contemporary.  I think she is equally likely to suffer because it looks as if she is going to run as a foreign policy hawk, perhaps to try to prevent the pro-Israeli lobby from defecting en masse to the Republicans.  I got a rude shock this week on my favorite facebook page, one devoted to discussions of Strauss and Howe, when one very bright Millennial declared that he would vote for Rand Paul against Hillary because he wouldn't vote for anyone associated with either of the last two administrations.  What made this particularly alarming, for a Democrat, is that this particularly Millennial is black. 

Although the economy continues very slowly to improve, the younger generation faces tremendous economic problems.  The Democratic Party has now lost any claim to be the party of economic reform and full employment.  Neither the Boom nor the X generations have produced a solid block of Democratic officeholders dedicated to the values of the New Deal, the New Frontier, and the Great Society.  That is why the House and Senate Democratic leaders both belong to the Silent generation, whose youngest members are turning 72 this year.  That is also the generation of Jerry Brown, the only Democratic Governor who has done anything very impressive lately.  Yes, young people favor women's rights and gay rights, but those battles, for the most part, appear to be won.   The ones I interact with on the web page see very little to choose from between the two parties.  There is a major choice to make, I think, but it has become a choice between moderate Republicans, known as Democrats, and very conservative Republicans. 

Yes, polls still show Hillary Clinton comfortably ahead of any of the major Republican possibilities.  She is not likely to face any serious opposition among Democrats that I can see.  But she will face a relentless media barrage, and the prestige of her party is likely to have sunk lower in the next eighteen months.  If the government is completely paralyzed, I am afraid that significant numbers of swing voters will be moved to vote Republican simply to give the other party a chance and end gridlock.  The Republicans, simply put, have gained ground steadily since 2008 because they seem to care so much more about their objectives than the Democrats do.  I do not see that changing in the next two years, and I think it may be enough to decide the next presidential election--much as  I hope it will not.


Unknown said...

Where is our hope?

Once again we have a post just blooming with thought-provoking lines, and the lines are not hopeful. I have been thinking the same thoughts more and more lately but I hoped I was wrong as people more informed than I would see hope where I see despair. I realize that I am in my final year(s) of my life but I leave grandchildren who I have hope will have a productive and engaging life. I am not sure what we are leaving them but the "hopeful" part is probably in vain.



Anonymous said...

A more cohesive – and pragmatic – approach to the world and especially the Middle East would involve repudiating the selective R2P “morality” of the neocons and the “liberal interventionists” along with distancing U.S. foreign policy from the influences of Israel and Saudi Arabia.

A“realist” strategy would call for Obama to work more consistently with former adversaries, most notably with Russia and Iran but also Syria in a regional approach toward defeating Islamic terrorism. The realignment would require cracking down on covert Saudi funding for the jihadists and demanding that Israel finally reach an equitable settlement with the Palestinians.The new strategy would mean seeking a practical (though far from perfect) political resolution of the Syrian conflict with President Assad continuing in power at least for the immediate future. The strategy would finalize an Iranian nuclear deal that would offer reasonable guarantees that the nuclear project will not produce a bomb and give Iran relief from punishing economic sanctions.

Another step would involve pressuring the Ukrainian government to reach a negotiated settlement with ethnic Russian rebels in the east and recognizing that Kiev needs positive relations with Russia as well as with the European Union. Resolution of that civil war also could help calm European financial markets and avert the possibility of a “triple-dip” European recession with blowback harm on the U.S. economy.

Unquote-great article-when you have cynical neocons and liberal human rights people, israel, saudis, etc. making policy for you haphazardly then you have a mess. Obama has noideology or basic concept. He is along for the ride. Since USA is split he follows schizophrenic policies internally as externally. Bush was at least consistently to the right.A realpolitik as a putin or george kennan , kennedy would follow hss an own idea put through against resistance of all groups through lobbying. This requires backbone, patienceno chance.

Bozon said...


Great post.

Re imperialism, I believe that we should not have embarked on a course away from it.

Now, and going forward, we are being forced, in my view, by so called friends and enemies alike,and by circumstances we overwhelmingly have created, Democrats and Republicans alike internally, to either re imperialize, or imperialize further, however one looks at it, or suffer further relative civilizational decline.

all the best

Steve Clark said...

Imperialism is not a policy; it is, and always has been, an inevitable and unavoidable characteristic of industrial production. It (US and Soviet imperialism) did manage to bring the world, generally, into one closed social, economic and ecological system. But an equitable system of global industrial production is (and would be) unsustainable (too many people, not enough fossil fuel and too much pollution), and, independent of human will, our mode of production is trying to leave industrialism behind in favor of a new, global service economy. Unfortunately, the interests of corporations and, especially, their control of key nation-states make that impossible.

The real question is how to transcend the power of states and their corporate manipulators. We need to launch and propel a viral campaign for corporate accountability, demanding that corporate commerce be tapped to back a generations-long program of investment in Civil Society/NGO social and ecological problem-solving aimed at achieving full employment worldwide. A model is presented at www.localglobalnexus.net.

Unknown said...

Whatever happened to the Weinberger/Powell doctrine? It set four conditions, slightly different in each case, for the use of military force. One of those was that the threat had to imperil vital US national interests. As US military power has grown more dominant, its use has become common for non-vital US interests. Military power is no longer the diplomats last arrow in the quiver. SEC STATE Albright set the stage for this when she asked what good is all this military power if you can't use it (paraphrasing here, of course).

The jihadists in the Middle East present less level of danger to the US than do earthquakes, lightning strikes and hurricanes - all are statistically insignificant. The same is so for Iranian nuclear capability, which would pose less of a threat, but a threat none-the-less, than a contained, nuclear N. Korea.

Jihadists represent a problem to the US similar in character to what the Barbary Pirates did and what the Somali pirates do today. The question is: how are these international criminals to be dealt with? Criminality is a societal problem. Muslim society, not Western society, must deal with it, and Muslim society will - eventually. Western powers turned the nations of Islam into countries divorced of unity, held within their borders by the heavy hands of dictators, now departed. What remains is a work in progress, the people struggling to knit a stable social fabric that holds within itself peace and prosperity. This may well take generations. The West can play a tertiary role as events unfold to bolster moderates, to save lives, and to use policing tactics, as well as surgical military actions, to protect from internal terrorist acts.

The desire for instant gratification, the harping for an immediate solution to the caldron of mischief that is the Middle East, is the enemy here. Patience with what is a social evolution in the Middle East, supported by the full weight of Western power used sparingly to nudge events in a favorable direction, are the counterparts. If, in the end, patience is not rewarded with acceptable conditions, there is always the might of the US military to effect corrections - used in accordance with the Weinberger/Powell doctrine.

In sum, there are valid reasons to criticize the Obama administration for its failure to produce domestic policies that benefit the country, but it seems from this perspective that current foreign policy in action is about right.