There is a French saying: “le plus le change, le plus le meme chose” (the more it changes, the more it is the same). This is the Republican agenda. McCain admitted, he knows very little about the economy, and avoids discussing economic issues. At the same time, he tells the voters he will fix the economy, even appoint a “9/11 Commission,” to investigate the meltdown at Wall Street? Creating a “commission” to investigate a problem is the same as postponing action because he has no solution, or the problem is to big to deal with. Being a leader of a superpower, with credibility and respect around the world, requires a leader to have the ability to prevent a problem or respond quickly to forestall worse consequences. The alternative is to rely only on military might, even win the battle but loose the war, and be the most hated country in the world. McCain will do just that, just like Bush. Sarah Palin is just another Bush, with lipstick. McCain would deal with economic collapse after it runs its course, and a “9/11 Commission complete its findings and the public debate(!) alternative courses of action. “Minervaʼs owl [Hegel commented] begins to fly when the dusk is falling” (when it is too late). McCain cannot fix it, now or later, because he is fixated on a market solution. He calls himself a “deregulator,” a “market fundamentalist” who will let the market will do its job.
That is exactly what the market did. It did its job. When the ʽbig suitsʼ at Wall Street run out of manipulations and ran away like bandits with millions of dollars in their pockets and let the little people hold the empty bags, the federal government came in to rescue the financial institutions, with taxpayer money. This made McCain angry. With his hand raised and cutting into the air, he located the cause: corporate greed. This only pointed to the real problem, McCain himself. Was it a senior moment or just ignorance? To a market ideologue, greed is the underlying principle of capitalism. The greed for money, Freud commented, makes all the other instincts move. Market fundamentalists believe that humans (all humans) are greedy, selfish, and competitive–all the time. “Life [Thomas Hobbes suggested] is solitary, brutish, and short. When you play the stock market or buy a lotto ticket, you are taking a chance, gambling. Wall Street is a gambling casino! When you roll the dice, there are winners and losers.
These social and economic activities are extensions of human nature. They are also natural, since Adam was a little boy. They are not like the leftists who believe that everything is part of the historical process, with a beginning and an end. That includes the planet earth and the universe. They are all, as Heraclitus said, in a state of flux. Hence, capitalism is not forever, neither is the social formation which follows capitalism. To McCain, whether he knows it or not, his notion of market capitalism has been and will be forever. It is through this false “ideal” in his head, that he understands the world, and offers solutions to real economic and social problems affecting people all over the globe, including the United States. We read in the newspapers daily: the Russians need a free market to be a democracy. The Chinese need free markets to have a democracy and civil liberties. The Islamic world will be free, if they allow free markets to thrive. We need to teach them the ideas of Adam Smith. That is why McCain repeats the same words, offers the same analysis and solutions, no matter what the question is and the country in question. It is a simplistic ideology, for simple-minded people. Outside this box, and the surge in Iraq and his captivity in Hanoi, McCain offers nothing to the voters.
In this sense, the ʽcompassionateʼ conservativism of Bush or the ʽcaringʼ conservativism of McCain make no sense. That is why it was missing in practice over the last eight years. I do not expect any ʽcaringʼ programs from McCain. These slogans have a tendency to disappear, until someone reminds Bush or McCain, and then the words are inserted into the speech, without making any sense or being connected to the conversation. We are conditioned to believe that when Wall Street is doing well, greed is good. When Wall Street is having a meltdown, greed is bad? This is the McCain world.
On the role of the government, Thoreau caught the spirit of the American culture:
The best government, is the one which does the least.” Of course, to imagine that such a government exists, which ʽdoes nothingʼ or ʽvery littleʼ, is to believe in angels. Bush, in his eight years, he did a lot, for the wealthy few: tax breaks for the top 1 or 2 percent of the population; defense contracts for the military-industrial complex; no bid contracts with the oil cartels and the military sub-contractors in Iraq or Afghanistan; hiring like-minded people and firing liberal democrats in the legal system, and torturing ʽaccused” prisoners of war without trials; and frequent reminders and scare tactics on the buses and trains on the war against terrorism, to name a few. The national deficit will be more than $10 trillions when Bush will leave the White House. Where did this money go? Bush was not a “do nothing President to those who have no money and no power. Our freedoms were curtailed, through spying on us; we can wave the flag and play the national anthem, to be patriotic; we are reminded that God is there for us, when in need; we paid all our taxes, to the penny; the government recruits our sons and daughters for the military, to fight in wars to protect the American Empire and the interests of the oil cartel, and feed our addiction to oil–blood for oil; and we are reminded day and night of 9/11 and the war on terrorism! So, Bush was never a “do-nothing” president. He did a lot of good for the wealthy and did a lot of “hurt” (to borrow Sarah Palinʼs word) for the masses, many without jobs, without health insurance, education, and benefits.
This, my friends, is the free market ideology in practice, not as a pie in the sky. McCain is a prisoner of this ideology. He can afford to be. Its lineage can be traced back to Bush II, Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, Milton Friedman, and the Chicago and Austrian schools of economics, and as far back to Adam Smith and his Wealth of Nations (1776), which book these ideologues/apostles never read or, if they did, got out of it what suited them. At least, Adam Smith had a moral foundation to his philosophy: the wellbeing of the entire society; a role for the government; and harsh criticism of the alienation and monotony of modern labor. Adam Smith assumed that competition would lead to quality in material production and lower prices through mass production, thereby benefiting the people. That is why his Wealth of Nations was understood then to be an attack on the monopolies of the time, which cornered the market. The historical reality turned out to be different from what existed in Adam Smithʼs head. (Continued next time).
**** George Gregoriou, Professor Emeritus
Critical Theory and Geopolitics, Political Science Dept.
The Wm Paterson University, Wayne, New Jersey