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Wednesday, November 7, 2012


As I continue to reflect on last night's election results, one thought that keeps returning is this:  A small number of very rich men threw a good deal of their money into the race, and bought virtually nothing with it.  I do not think one can point to a single state that went Republican because of the floods of dark money, nor a single senate race whose outcome was determined by these attempts to buy results.

These men are very rich, and they can easily afford the money they gave to various superpacs, but they are not, I would imagine, philanthropists or compulsive gamblers [even Sheldon Adelson seems not to be a gambler, even though his many billions are derived from a world-wide chain of gambling casinos.]  I have to wonder:  the next time Karl Rove approaches them for the odd million or two, are they going to open their wallets, or will they decide that that is not a very prudent use of their money?  They did not get rich, we can assume, by throwing good money after bad.

The cost effectiveness of their expenditures may have been greater in House races.  I simply do not know.  But it is striking how little they got for their money.

One reason, by the bye, is that America is a very wealthy country, overall, for all that the wealth is very unequally distributed, and a couple of billion dollars every four years is really not a great deal to spend on a presidential election.  The Obama campaign demonstrated that there is more than enough money in the hands of those to the left to fund a campaign very nicely without relying heavily on a handful of billionaires.

A second thought, or perhaps it would be better to call it a puzzlement.  Barack Obama has now run three highly visibly national political campaigns:  the campaign for the Democratic nomination in 2008 and two presidential races.  You may not like Obama,  Fair enough.  You may consider him a Kenyan socialist, or a Muslim bent upon imposing sharia law on an unsuspecting America, or a mediocre student who was foisted on the Harvard Law review by affirmative action.  Again, fair enough.  But how could anyone who is not blind imagine that he is an ineffective or incompetent campaigner?  His three campaigns have been far and away the most technically proficient operations ever mounted in modern American politics.  And yet it has been an article of faith on the extreme right that Obama is a bumbling amateur incapable of doing anything more than making a rabble-rousing speech.  It would be easy to suppose that this bizarre misperception is merely the expression of barely concealed racism, but I have a feeling something else is at work.  What it is, however, I do not know.


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Chris said...

Professor Wolff,
With all due respect, this is bar none the worst post I've ever read by you. At least, presuming everything you just said was not complete satire, or sarcasm.

Obama's cabinet has had a non-stop revolving door policy with wall street. Obama specifically watered down the Consumer Protection Agency and moved it into the Fed to prevent anything too "radical" from taking place.

Under Obama's watch, wall street was showered in .000001$ interest loans, 90% guarantees, bailouts galore, etc. The rich even retained the Bush tax cuts of before. He also made sure no one in wall street was prosecuted or even heavily investigated. The private insurance companies also received about 30,000-35,0000 new guaranteed customers for their moribund health care insurance.

Goldman occupies more positions of power within his administration than ever before.

So when you say a bunch of rich donors didn't get they want, I have to imagine you've been sleeping for four years. I highly suggest you take a second look at who funded Obama's campaign, and you'll see more similarities than differences between him and Romney's donors.

Long before the people voted, those with money vetted which of the two candidates would best represent them from either party. After that point, no matter who wins, it's a victory for those who did the actual vetting.

Finally, when you say "the left" can fund a campaign, and then go on to refer to people who support Obama as "the left," I highly suggest you disenfranchise yourself from "the left." Obama is moderate republican of the late 80s variety. His platform is fairly identical to Bob Dole. As the spectrum moves to the right, those of us that refuse to move along with it, should remain "the left," you centrist need to stop lumping us with you. As Cornel West and Noam Chomsky would accurately point out, Obama is just one branch of the capitalist business party, not a member of the left. For a supposed anarchist/marxist, I'm ill to see you identify with this president.

If wall street, and those with money had actually LOST last night, a third party candidate would have won.

LFC said...

Pr. Wolff wrote "to the left," which is a relative phrase, implying to the left of something, in this case to the left of the Repubs. Which is a reasonable description of most Obama supporters.

Jerry Fresia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jerry Fresia said...

Leaving aside the question of who's "left," I think Chris has a point. I would add this: Obama is likely to push for a "debt-cutting agreement whereby the GOP agrees to some very modest tax increases on the rich in exchange for substantial cuts to entitlement programs such as social security and Medicare, the crown legislative jewels of American liberalism." [Greenwald:] Also when one considers the huge demographic problem the Republicans face - one that threatens to resurrect some version of Keynesianism - I would say that the current crop of "surplus getters" have spent their money wisely. What else, but their ability to buy the framing of issues, would compel virtually the entire American commentariat and our very bright President to link social security cuts with deficit reduction. Indeed, given the utter speciousness of that equation, I would say that this particular framing is a singular achievement. I also don't believe that serious money considers Obama an incompetent campaigner. It is precisely in virtue of his competence (think also of his winning the Advertising Age's marketer of the year for 2008 and the Nobel Peace Prize not long afterwards)that the more bigoted elements of the ruling class have felt compelled to trot out the tried and true strategy of the racist smear in tandem with the bold faced lie. Too bad, as one of the wing nuts lamented, they are running out of messed up angry white guys.

Chris said...

"The Obama campaign demonstrated that there is more than enough money in the hands of those to the left to fund a campaign very nicely without relying heavily on a handful of billionaires."

I don't think he meant the relative left. As in, Romney is to the left of James Inhofe, so he's part of that campaign funding Wolff was mentioning....Or Romney is to the left of Alen West, therefore again this is the left's victory (had Romney won).

Chris said...

What those of the "left" actually consider:

male said...

Chris: there is no need for you to condescendingly link to posts that you think exemplify "What those of the 'left' actually consider". If you had any made any attempt at all to read what Wolff has written on this blog over the past few years, you would realize that he has been a great exemplary of the left himself (and, unlike all these pessimistic pundits who I have been linked to these past few days, has managed to be so even when election angst is not prompting their actions). From all this commotion you would think that the evilest thing that anybody has ever done is express joy at the defeat of Romney. And although I know that I am posting in the house of a Kant scholar, from a consequentialist point of view, the defeat of Romney is a thing very much worth celebrating--I don't know what kind of massive privilege you would need to have to make this untrue, but it seems rather common among internet pundits!

Chris said...

I've been reading Wolff's blog for 3 years. I've been commenting on Wolff's blog for 3 years, and he even let me guest post once when I was harshly critical of his support for Obama's invasion of Libya. I contested that Obama has given the war powers act unprecedented powers, that even if one thinks it's okay for Obama is invade Libya, they ought to be concerned about the new powers the executive branch holds for any future administrations.

This same argument holds up for countless other issues. So when you say to me that we should all be genuflecting in the streets that Romney lost I'm flabbergasted.

Bush never assassinated American citizens (let alone 3 of them). He never used the espionage act to persecute more whistle blowers than all past presidents combined. He never approved indefinite detention for american citizens. He didn't torture Bradley Manning. He didn't redefine all males in a predator strike zone as enemy combatants (that way when actual civilians die it's legally "okay"). He did not expand the war powers act like Obama did, to be essentially "I invade where I want, when I want, independent of approval." Bush never came up with a roving Kill Matrix (as Glenn Greenwald has detailed), that is warrentless, without oversight, and contains American citizens.

Obama did do all these things. As Jeremy Scahill says: "he out cheneyed the cheneys."

So we have two issues to face up to, if we're going to be intellectually honest.

1. Obama has implemented policies that are WORSE than Republicans, and it's not a priori certain a McCain or Romney presidency in 2008 would have implemented these.

2. Even if you're one of these religious zealots who believes Obama can do NO wrong, and you trust him to kill the right people, at the right time, you have to acknowledge that by garnering this power to the executive branch, on an unprecedented level, all future presidents, which you may not trust (i.e., the next Republican, since you're partisan), has access to these EVIL powers OBAMA IMPLEMENTED.

In the three years I've been reading Wolff's blog I've NEVER seen him comment on anything I just mentioned.

Obama is your deity. He can do no wrong, only right. When at the end of the day he's done worse than Republicans on many issues, and better on some. Thus the difference between the two parties is less stark than is their similarities. Obama's victory remains a victory for wall street, the prison industrial complex, the military industrial complex, big pharma, big oil, the Halliburton of the world, the hydrofrackers of the world, those in the CIA and Wall Street who ought to be prosecuted, etc, etc, etc.

Wake up people...If you think this is a victory, you've already lost.

Jerry Fresia said...

I think this is an important discussion and I hope the Professor would help to sort things out in a new blog. I agree with Chris on his take on Obama and his take on liberals whose love of Obama seems to dampen their critical insights: it is a freaking murderous capitalist empire after all with certain structural imperatives. Am I missing something here? What I would ask Chris is this: do you think the election results were a victory, not because of Obama, but in spite of Obama? The push back (against the right) was across the board. My guess is that Obama et al are nervous about the uprising too. I can’t forget Rahm’s lovely phrase that liberal activists are “fucking retards.” And I would add that I think the 2010 success of the Tea Party had a whole lot to do with the “left’s” disappointment with Obama’s defense of privatized health care.

The first test will be Obamas’ willingness to accept the right’s deficit argument and trade away SS benefits. Given all the structural limitations, both political and economic, I’m interested in what the Professor has to say about strategy.

LFC said...

You say Bush never approved indefinite detention for US citizens. Have you ever heard of Jose Padilla? Bush only relented in that case when the courts forced him to.

You have no sense of the relative: better and worse; only the absolute. Obama is *not* a socialist. We know that. He's not a member of the Green Party. He's not on the leftmost point of his own party. He's not the late Michael Harrington, not Jill Stein, not Sherrod Brown, not Dennis Kucinich. This is obvious. That doesn't mean there's no difference btw Obama and Romney.

If Wolff wants to express on his blog some relief over the fact that Obama won, I don't think that is so awful. He's not endorsing drone strikes, he's not endorsing the military-industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex, Wall St, etc. Or saying Obama is God.

Chris said...

LFC, you bring up a minor quibble to one point, in a list of points. Obama too has reacted in court against cases that try to rebuke his policy of indefinite detention. So at best, he's on PAR with Bush on one issue, and worse on a number of others.

Is this laudable? Is this victory?

Chris said...

The push back against the right, on a popular level, was pretty damn small as far as I can tell. Sure there was a great electoral college push back, but since REAL change comes from below, and on a popular level, the vote was like a 1% difference. So no, I don't think this is a victory for the left, or anyone, except those identical funders of both campaigns.

Jerry Fresia said...

I disagree Chris. The unprecedented victory by gays and lesbians, the massive rejection of evangelical sensibilities on choice, the historical electoral advance of women, the embrace of bank regulation and Warren in MA, the sane acceptance of marijuana possession, the thrashing of some of the more extreme Tea Baggers - all of this represents a huge civilizing election that advances the life chances of millions of people. True, it was an election only and thus only a first big step. But it may have been the most significant bottom up expression of democracy in decades. Clearly the population is far to the left of most of the office holders. The question becomes, how can we sustain this momentum and hold those in power accountable?

Chris said...

Well I do agree with you that the population is to the left of both parties. Which is interesting, becuase poll after poll suggest people really don't support the Republicans, nor the Democrats, when it comes to surveys on policy, yet they keep electing both parties, which stand remarkably to the right of them.

These victories for marijuana, and homosexual issues, are of course, good advancements, but let's not over embellish here, they were narrow and isolated. I mean hell Oregon didn't even legalize marijuana, what happened there!?

Jim said...

I wonder if I might attempt to bring a bit of perspective to this conversation. While Chris’s factual statements are indeed correct, I think we have to remind ourselves of the framework within which we are operating – or rather, within which we are confined. The United States of America was founded as a Republic with a more or less unregulated free market capitalist economy. A significant portion of that economy was based on slave labor. The only citizens who were initially afforded the voting franchise were landed “gentlemen.” After the formal abolition of slavery, the United States maintained the more or less unregulated free market capitalist economy while simultaneously maintaining a state of racial apartheid within the society as a whole. Limited implementation of market regulation as well as workers rights was secured through tooth and nail hard-fought gains by the labor movement (helped along by the free market collapse of 1929). Since 1981, the modest gains that had been made in market regulation and labor reform have been steadily and systematically eroded in a deliberate strategy by pro-free market elements to return to a pre-1929 state of affairs. Predictably, these actions culminated in the market crash of 2008, thereby ensuring the election of a democrat to the office of President – just as it had in 1932. In our more recent case, the democrat who was elected just happened to be African-American – the first African-American elected to the office since the founding. The point of providing this potted history of the US is to contextualize the framework within which Obama must operate. We all know that political reform does not happen overnight, nor does it happen by leaps and bounds. The forces that reform struggles against are immense. It is important to keep in mind that the republican candidate, Mitt Romney, did not even provide lip-service to reform, but consistently advocated the continued erosion of economic regulation and worker gains. While Obama’s reforms have indeed been minimal, they are nonetheless a positive alternative to what the republican candidate had to offer. Now, with regard to foreign policy (“Kill Lists” and such), I can’t think of one US president going back to James Monroe that has offered a humanitarian foreign policy. It is in the nature of how the US government has evolved and situated itself in the world. Although a president can act to ameliorate some foreign policy effects, he or she is again going up against vast countervailing forces. This comment is not meant to serve as an apology for Obama, rather, it is meant to highlight the constraints within which a US president must operate regardless of his or her political or moral orientation. While those constraints are part formal and structural, they are also historical. Of course Obama is no deity or saint – to think so is absurd. That reality in no way diminishes my immense relief that Romney lost the election.

Chris said...

Jim I'm in complete agreement, and I'm not trying to talk anyone out of having voted for Obama. But I think there's a big difference between doing what Daniel Ellsberg did, and what I see on this blog...
The former said I don't support Obama, he's ruining civil liberties left and right, but you should still vote for him, just recognizing he's mostly evil.

I "get" the whole, we need to vote for him so we don't have Romney, tactic. I didn't participate in it, because I have my own disagreements there, but I still understand the argument. But that's a far cry from pretending Obama is a "good" choice, a "good" man, and someone we should "support."