By ALEXANDER COCKBURN
Nov. 7, 2008
The first trumpet blast of change ushers in Rahm Emanuel as Obamas chief of staff and gate keeper. This is the man who arranges his schedule, staffs out the agenda, includes, excludes. Its certainly as sinister an appointment as, say, Carters installation of arch cold-warrior Zbigniev Brzezinski as his National Security Advisor at the dawn of his change is here administration in 1977.
Emanuel, as Ralph Nader points out in my interview with him below, represents the worst of the Clinton years. His profile as regards Israel is explored well on this site by lawyer John Whitbeck. Hes a former Israeli citizen, who volunteered to serve in Israel in 1991 and who made brisk millions in Wall Street. He is a super-Likudnik hawk, whose father was in the fascist Irgun in the late Forties, responsible for cold-blooded massacres of Palestinians. Dads unreconstructed ethnic outlook has been memorably embodied in his recent remark to the Maariv newspaper that "Obviously he [Rahm] will influence the president to be pro-Israel Why wouldn't he be [influential]? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to clean the floors of the White House."
Working in the Clinton White House, Emanuel helped push through NAFTA, the crime bill, the balanced budget and welfare reform. He favored the war in Iraq, and when he was chairing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006 he made great efforts to knock out antiwar Democratic candidates. On this site in October and November, 2006, John Walsh documented both the efforts and Emanuels role in losing the Democrats seats they would otherwise have won.
In 2006 Emanuel had just published a book with Bruce Reed called The Plan: Big Ideas for America, with one section focused on the war on terror. Emanuel and Reed wrote, We need to fortify the military's thin green line around the world by adding to the U.S. Special Forces and the Marines, and by expanding the U.S. army by 100,000 more troops. Finally we must protect our homeland and civil liberties by creating a new domestic counterterrorism force like Britain's MI5. Recall that Obama has been calling throughout his recent campaign for an addition of 92,000 to the US Army and US Marine Corps.
Emanuel and Reed had fond words for the mad-dog Peter Beinart, neocon warrior theoretician for the Democrats, roosting Marty Peretz's The New Republic, and author of The Good Fight where Beinart explained why a tough new national security policy is as essential to the future of of progressive politics as a united front against totalitarianism and communism was to the New Deal and the Great Society. Emanuel and Reed also commended Anne-Marie Slaughter's proposal for "a new division of labor in which the United Nations takes on economic and social assistance and an expanded NATO takes over the burden of collective security." In other words, let NATO shoot the natives and the UN clean the floors.
Walsh took a hard look at the 2006 Democratic primary race between Christine Cegelis and Tammy Duckworth in Illinois's 6th CD, a Republican District, which had elected the disgusting Henry Hyde from time immemorial. In 2004 Cegelis, who iwas only mildly antiwar, ran as the Democrat with a grass roots campaign and polled a remarkable 44 per cent in her first run. It was not too long before Hyde decided to retire, and the field seemed to be open for Cegelis in the November poll, in 2006.
Enter Rahm Emanuel, who promptly dug up a pro-war candidate, Tammy Duckworth. Although she had both her legs blown off in Iraq, she remained committed to "staying the course" in Iraq. Duckworth had no political experience and did not live in the 6th District. Emanuel raised a million dollars for her and brought in Joe Lieberman, Barak Obama, John Kerry, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton to support her. Despite all this help and with the Cegelis campaign virtually penniless, Duckworth barely managed to eke out a primary victory by a measly four percentage points.
To win the House, the Dems had to win 15 seats from the Republicans. Walsh identified 22 candidates hand picked by Emanuel to run in open districts or districts with Republican incumbents. Of these, nine adopted a US must win in Iraq position and only one of Rahm's candidates was for prompt withdrawal from Iraq.
Then, after the election, Walsh assessed Rahms supposed brilliance in winning back the House. Looking at all 22 candidates hand-picked by Rahm, Walsh wrote, we find that 13 were defeated [including Duckworth], and only 8 won! And remember that this was the year of the Democratic tsunami and that Rahm's favorites were handsomely financed by the DCCC. The Dems have picked up 28 seats so far, maybe more. So out of that 28, Rahm's choices accounted for 8! Since the Dems only needed 15 seats to win the House, Rahm's efforts were completely unnecessary. Had the campaign rested on Rahm's choices, there would have been only 8 or 9 new seats, and the Dems would have lost. In fact, Rahm's efforts were probably counterproductive for the Dems since the great majority of voters were antiwar and they were voting primarily on the issue of the war (60 per cent according to CNN). But Rahm's candidates were not antiwar.
Talking to Nader about the Campaign, on November 5.
AC: In 2000,you drew nearly 10,000 people to a speech in Portland, Oregon. This year you got barely 2,000 in in the whole of Multnomah County where Portland lies, perhaps the most progressive county in the nation. Is this a sign of the withering of the progressive ggleft or the dead end of independent political campaigns?
Nader: Its a sign of the swoon in the voting booth by people who told pollsters that they were going to vote for me at a level of 4 to 7 million; that is, 6 per cent nationally in the summer and 3 per cent the day before the election, according to CNN. In Washington DC district Obama got 94 per cent. I said to people, how many years have you known me? And they answered, its a historic occasion. I wanted to be part of history. The real issue in this campaign is the voters. These are people who knew all about Obamas flipflops, his support for offshore drilling, for FISA, his role as the number one corporate cadidate.
When you in prison and youre told you cant get out and to chose between TB and cancer youll chose. Its beyond politics, its psychology. This is what happens when were trapped in the winner take all closed system, watching tv.
The pattern is: Progressive politics for three years, and in the fourth year it renews itself with heavy doses of regressive politics and charges forward again.
I thought wed get two to three millon votes. We had a huge internet presence.
AC: How many votes did you get? This year and in the last two campaigns?
Probably 700,000. In 2000 it was 2.8 million. In 2004, 450,000. But those figures dont tell the story. In New York this time for example it was almost impossible to find me on the ballot.
AC What about you calling him an Uncle Tom on Fox?
Nader: On Fox I said that as the first African American president we wish him well. The question is, will he be Uncle Sam for the people or Uncle Tom for the giant corporations which are driving America into the ground. Fox cut it off after corporations.
He is less vulnerable to criticism and harder to criticize because of his race. When I said he was talking White Mans talk, the PC people got really upset.
It doesnt matter that he sides with destruction of the Palestinians, and sides with the embargo. It doesnt matter that he turns his back on 100 million people and wont even campaign in minority areas. It doesnt matter than he wants a bigger military budget, and an imperial foreign policy supporting various adventures of the Bush administration. It doesnt matter that hes for the death penalty ,which is targeted at minorities. But if you say one thing that isnt PC, you get their attention. I tell college audiences, a gender, racial or ethnic slur gets you upset, reality doesnt get you upset.
Can Obama speak truth to the white power structure? Theres every indication he doesnt want to. For example, in February he stiffed the State of the Black Union annual meeting in New Orleans. Hes a very accommodating personality.
AC: Ralph, Why do you think Ron Paul was able to excite younger voters and you weren't?
Nader: Ron Paul? Theres the novelty aspect. It was his first try. He hasnt been losing. He gets the hard core people focused on the gold standard, and abolishing the federal reserve. The Get government off our back, rock-ribbed Goldwater people. He says the things mainstream Republicans cant.
AC: Are the Republicans down for the count for a while?
Nader: Any time theres a terrorist attack theyre back in business. Enough people will soon forget what Bush and Co actually did. At the moment conservatives have been subjected to Obamas shock and awe, but they still have all these social issues. As a candidate Obama dodged the Gay Marriage Ban ballot, but theyll throw the social issues at him. The Republican inventory is intact: tax and spend, over regulation, plus all these social issues.
AC Does Palin have a future?
AC: How about the liberals and the left now?
Nader: The real crisis is the self-destruction of the liberal progressive community. Its got nowhere to go, other than to renew its three out of four year cycle of criticism of the Democrats. Theyve nowhere to go because theyve made no demands. Hes been a candid right-center Democrat and theyve given him a free ride. No demands. From Labor? No demands. He gave them a sop on the card check. He campaigned for two years, promised blacks nothing, Latinos nothing, womens groups nothing, labor nothing. Contrast the lack of demands on the liberal progressive side to what the Limbaugh crowd exacted from McCain.
AC: You think Michael Moore could have made some demands in return for his support?
Nader: Moore knows were his bread is buttered. Hes seen what the Hollywood set and the others did to me.
AC: How do you see the next phase playing out?
Nader: Obama faces three crises: wars overseas, economic collapse and the deficit. They cant use fiscal policy very much, so hes going to be strapped by things like Medicare.
Hes got along on general rhetoric, but now each decision will shake some section of the liberal constituency.
They need to launch a comprehensive program dealing with poverty, low income housing, corruption and extortion in the ghettoes, and doubling the minimum wage to compensate for inflation.
They need to address the right of labor to form trade unions without coming up against the steel wall of Taft Hartley
Health insurance? Hell extend tax supports which will give the insurance companies more business. He should deal with drug prices, but thats a battle he wont undertake.
Hows he going to deal with the auto companies which are in deep trouble? Take the proposed GM-Chrysler merger hich makes no sense and will mean lay-offs for 90,000 workers. If people dont want the cars then the sacrifices and subsidies are to no avail.
The only way this guy can ever get his head above water is if he is courageous. What hes basically doing so far is giving the Clinton crowd a second chance. Rahm Emanuel? Hes the worst of Clinton. Spokesman for Wall Street, Israel, globalization.
Second: demilitarize foreign policy, establishing the international stability that flows from our becoming a respectful but energetic humanitarian superpower, confronting world issues like drinking water and infectious diseases.
He has to reverse course on Afghanistan. As Ashraf Ghani former finance minister for Karzai has said, the approach to Afghanistan should be the need for justice, the fundamental basis of all public order.
Third, hes got to develop economic policy for the greatest good for the greatest number. Public works not bailout. Put money where it matters.
Hes got to say to the rich and powerful, you have to give up your greed. It should be a two-track presidency, dealing with issues day to day, and strengthening the fiber of democratic society. Thats partly a matter of shareholder authority, worker-owned pension funds, which is a third of Wall Street. If every such fund was given the authority to control what they own, it wd be over. Look at all institutional shareholderd in Fannies. Their holdings are worth one per cent of what they were and these were the second safest investments after Treasuries! Believe in first principles: what you own, you control. If you screw up youre free to sink -- the first and second principles of capitalism.
Im going to write Obama a letter in the next month saying,
what you have to do is a pre-State of the union where you lay out exactly where
the Bush Administration has left America, in category after category, so you
will not be hung with it. In the pre-state of the union, Obama should say, This
is the mess
Second, Obama has to cut the sequence of war crimes and high crimes and misdeameanours. If not, hell become a war criminal himself within a month. Shut down Guantanamo with strict directives, no torture. If he continue his policies, then hell become a war criminal. If you going to restore the rule of law, you have got to draw the line between what youre going to do and what you refuse to inherit. Then its a real fresh start.
Obamas a guy whos got away with a ten minute speech for two years. He won too easily. He didnt have to respond to the liberal constituencies. Hes really had it very easy, because he had an easy act to challenge and an easy act to follow ,
AC: How do you feel about your run?
Nade: Im happy I ran, because the alternative is total surrender. I carried the banner to 50 states. I surprised myself. Look at the abolitionist Liberty Party in the mid-19th century. It didnt get a tenth of one per cent. Did you think those people wasted their vote? We were quite successful this time in beating back ballot access barriers , in Arizona and Ohio. Its like the early stages of fighting Jim Crow laws.
AC: The history of third parties over the past thirty years is not very encouraging.
Nader: Were advancing majoritarian programs and the majority voters are trapped into the two party choice This is what happens. Obama sank public funding. Not only did he betray the principle and therefore shattered his credibility. In so outdoing he way outraised McCain. I read the trade literature. Not one of these industries -- banking, insurance, automotive, oil, agribusiness, international trade is worried. Theyre all totally calm. The corporate state moves on.
Corporate power has unique characteristics. It is perfectly willing and able to corrupt, regardless of sexual or ethnic preference. It offers equal opportunities to be corrupted or coopted . Thats why its very difficult for the civil community, which is affected by principles, nuances, honest disagreements, to confront the monistically commercial corporations. No one says the big debate inside Exxon is whether to go more for oil or solar. Thats why every religion in the world, in their scriptures, issues a warning not to give too much power to the merchant class. The commercial instinct is relentless, consistent, limitless in achieving its goal. It will run rough-shod to destroy, co-opt or dilute civic and spiritual values that stand in its way.