Photo: The White House on flickr
Persuading those in power to limit their power via “consensus” doesn’t work. Both the legal system and the horse-trading politics of “consensus” have failed.How do you get “consensus” in politics? You horse-trade. You give everybody something they want. You cut everyone into the deal. That passes for “consensus” in politics: divide the swag.
If you want to understand President Obama’s failure as a leader, ask (as my friend G.F.B. did) where did he learn politics? In Chicago. Big-city politics boils down to getting the ward bosses, ethnic-neighbourhood leaders, Chamber of Commerce and public unions together and making them all happy with concessions, give-aways or some other slice of swag so they all agree to to support some minor policy tweak of the Status Quo.
Any constituency left out of the swag distribution squeals like a stuck pig and kills the “consensus.”
This “making sausage” consensus is passed off as “the only way to get anything passed,” but the truth is that it’s the politics of failure: nothing meaningful can possibly get done in the politics of “consensus” because 95% of any useful reform must be traded away to get everyone willingly on board.
What you end up with after all the horse-trading “consensus” is 2,319-page monstrosities of self-defeating complexity like the “Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act” or the 2,074-page healthcare bill. I have addressed these simulacra “reforms” many times:
What If We’re Beyond Mere Policy Tweaks? (February 6, 2012)
America Is Just Going Through the Motions (November 19, 2010)
The theory is that tiny baby-steps of hopelessly complex (and thus hopelessly corrupt) “reform” that everyone has been bought off to accept will eventually restore equilibrium to a political and financial system heading for a cliff.
In this view, President Obama had to trade away this to Big Pharma and that to Big Banking and so on, in order “to get the bill passed.” This bribery-based “consensus building” is the politics of failure. Those engorging themselves at the trough of Federal swag and power are the very forces that need corraling, yet they are the same forces that must be persuaded with give-aways and concessions to agree to limit their own power and revenue stream.
Dodd-Frank and Obamacare are two examples of what you get with this sort of politics of failure: the underlying problems have not been addressed or solved, they’ve been made more intractable.
Those feeding at the trough of swag and power will never willingly agree to limit their share of the tax revenues and power. Big-city horse-trading works when a mayor needs to get everyone in power to agree to a new subway line; there are billions of dollars in “free” construction money to give away, so there’s plenty of swag to distribute to buy agreement.
Limiting power and shrinking budgets cannot be accomplished with big-city type “consensus.” Nobody “agrees” to their power and budget being slashed or their power base and revenue stream demolished. That sort of structural reform can only be accomplished by those in power losing to the will of the people: either fix what’s broken or we’ll vote the whole lot of you out next election.
This kind of national revulsion at the “consensus reforms” of the Status Quo does occur from time to time, and the political Status Quo is thrown out en masse.
American jurisprudence may also have a hand in the politics of failure. 25 out of the 43 presidents (Grover Cleveland served twice) have been lawyers, and so having a law degree (or self-educated, in the case of Andrew Jackson) does not in itself qualify or disqualify a candidate for the presidency.
But as “it depends on your definition of it” Bill Clinton proved, a law background colours one’s understanding of ethics and power. What is just and right has lost all meaning in a system based on “getting the best deal possible for your client” regardless of guilt or justice. “Justice” has devolved to persuading a jury or judge that your client is blameless or justified, and “guilt” is now a PR pantomime of rationalizations slicked down with a blatantly insincere and hurried apology to the injured parties.
Indeed, we can understand President Obama’s signing of the National defence Authorization Act (NDAA) as the perfection of the current legalist mindset: claim authority over a wide range of action and limit any legal constraints on that range of action.
Indefinite Detention, Endless Worldwide War and the 2012 National defence Authorization Act (www.aclu.org)
Welcome to the United States of Orwell, Part 1: Our One Last Chance to Preserve the Bill of Rights (March 26, 2012)
Obama’s legalist power-grab mindset is also clearly revealed in his Orwellian Executive Order National defence Resources Preparedness. Welcome to the United States of Orwell, Part 3: We had to Destroy Democracy in Order to Save It (March 28, 2012).
Once again we see the President’s clear legal intent: claim unconstrained authority over the entire infrastructure and populace of the U.S. so his future “freedom of action” is unlimited by legal constraints. Read the Executive Order yourself if you doubt this:National defence Resources Preparedness.(www.whitehouse.gov)
The politics of horse-trading power-player “consensus” fits perfectly with a legalist mindset that places a premium on “getting the best deal possible” and claiming wide authority via Executive Order. Has the legal mindset poisoned politics, or has power politics poisoned our understanding of the law, ethics and justice?
Perhaps both law and politics have drunk from the poisoned chalice, and President Obama’s abysmal failure as a leader and his vast power-grabs via Executive Order are the result of gulping the poison twice: once as a lawyer, and again as a politician.
Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change (print $25)
(Kindle eBook $9.95)
Read the Introduction (2,600 words) and Chapter One (7,600 words) for free. We are like passengers on the Titanic 10 minutes after its fatal encounter with the iceberg: though our financial system seems unsinkable, its reliance on debt and financialization has already doomed it.We cannot know when the Central State and financial system will destabilize, we only know they will destabilize. We cannot know which of the State’s fast-rising debts and obligations will be renounced; we only know they will be renounced in one fashion or another.
The process of the unsustainable collapsing and a new, more sustainable model emerging is called revolution, and it combines cultural, technological, financial and political elements in a dynamic flux.History is not fixed; it is in our hands. We cannot await a remote future transition to transform our lives. Revolution begins with our internal understanding and reaches fruition in our coherently directed daily actions in the lived-in world.
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