Michael Gurstein on 16 Dec 2000 15:11:38 -0000

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

[Nettime-bold] America's Sucker-in-Chief

> The Financial Times      Thursday December 14 , 2000   
> America's Sucker-in-Chief
>  by Thomas Frank
>  After a decade choked with fake populisms - presidents munching Big 
> Macs, national leaders emoting at town hall meetings, chief executives 
> listening to focus groups and online chat rooms, and every billionaire the 
> object of his own grass-roots movement - it finally came down to this: an 
> election in which the power and righteousness of the common people 
> were everywhere celebrated and in which only the power and 
> righteousness and almighty millions of the corporation mattered. 
>  Formally, of course, there were important differences in the way the 
> two candidates tried to talk the language of the working class. Al Gore 
> made a half-hearted effort to summon up the blue-collar fire that was 
> once the Democrats' most reliable weapon. His efforts, though, were 
> compromised both by his obvious unfamiliarity with the concerns of 
> working families and, more glaringly, by his own record. 
>  Bill Clinton had used the same workerist language back in 1992; 
> within three years his administration had joined in the Republican war on 
> the New Deal, deregulating here, privatising there, abolishing welfare and 
> allowing antitrust enforcement to go so slack that the greatest wave of 
> mergers and conglomerations in the nation's history was soon under way. 
> Mr Gore's sheepish, late-blooming populism was, in other words, more 
> than a little hamstrung by his lengthy and conspicuous service on behalf 
> of the nation's financial elite. 
>  George W. Bush's populism, meanwhile, suffered from no such 
> contradictions. An utterly unrepentant son of privilege, he embraced a 
> novel and purely American vision of the class struggle, a market populism 
> according to which it is one's attunement to the needs of business that 
> signals one's sympathy for the working man. 
>  Market populism is an idea that one encounters everywhere in the US 
> these days. In understanding markets as democracies far more vital than 
> our formal electoral system, market populism hails internet billionaires as 
> hierarchy-smashing revolutionaries; it portrays stock markets as 
> parliaments and small investors as militant sans-culottes; it understands 
> corporate raiders as activists and chief executives as tribunes of the 
> people; it interprets every hit film, every popular TV show, every best-
> seller as a transparent expression of the general will. 
>  For George W. Bush, the charmingly illiterate offspring of the oil 
> industry, market populism is an idea so natural that it requires little 
> explanation. Completely untroubled in his faith that the perspective of his 
> class is also the perspective of the common people, he instinctively 
> believes that capitalists stand united with workers in righteous battle 
> against a mutual enemy, the taxing, regulating, profit-reducing know-it-alls
> of what he reviles, simply, as "government". 
>  Market populism is not primarily a product of political thought. It is, 
> rather, a populism constructed largely by business itself - through 
> advertising, management theory, the literature of the bull market - and 
> this is why Mr Bush's campaign so frequently sounded like a 
> advertisement for an investment company or the latest best-selling 
> demand that the Dow Jones ascend immediately to 36,000. 
>  But this was an election decided on issues of attitude and personal 
> bearing and that was where Mr Bush's market populism was at its most 
> effective. Americans were encouraged to support the Bush heir's claim to 
> the throne not so much because of his specific policies but because of his 
> "humility", because his struggle was said to be identical with that of the 
> nobodies in their battle with the intellectual elites - the people who 
> obnoxiously try to bend the world to their will without going through the 
> good offices of the market. 
>  Stop to think about Mr Bush's market populism for more than a few 
> seconds and you realise it is delusional stuff, a deliberate effort to 
> humanise the real masters of the world we live in. These are the same 
> truly arrogant corporations that have polarised the distribution of US 
> wealth to a degree unknown in our lifetimes, that would pay workers 
> nothing and dump toxic sludge freely if they could get away with it and 
> that also happen to have bankrolled both candidates' campaigns. 
>  In this climate of pervasive dishonesty, what seems to have made the 
> difference was sincerity. Mr Gore mouthed the honest language of 
> workerist populism when he had no right to do so; Mr Bush spoke a 
> degraded language of corporate populism that he seemed to believe 
> without hesitation. 
>  There is something about the man that makes him a perfect specimen 
> of the age. While Al Gore was a technocrat, everyone knows that the real 
> credit for the great bull market goes to simple, uncomplicated believers 
> like Mr Bush, the ones who faithfully swallowed the TV commercials, who 
> bought at the top, who gaped at the internet just as they were told to do. 
> This is an age of faith in the US - the more guileless the better - and in 
> George W. Bush, America has found itself a sucker-in-chief.  
> The writer is editor of The Baffler magazine 

Nettime-bold mailing list