Dorothy and the Occupiers vs. the Wizard of Ozbama and the Power Behind the Curtain

Chicago, IL. November 4, 2011.   Published on ZNet on November 4, 2011. In L. Frank Baum’s famous turn-of-the-20th-century children’s novel and Populist allegory The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the youthful heroine Dorothy is informed that “who the real Oz is, no living person can tell.” One of his powers is that “he can take on any form he wishes.” Oz is meant to symbolize the President of the United States. In Baum’ novel, he represented the great fake-populist Democratic Party orator William Jennings Bryan, who ran for president in the name of the inflationary and debt-reducing free coinage of silver and end to the Gold Standard in 1896 and 1900. Bryan has apparently won the White House in Baum’s fantasy. ‘Oz’ is short for ounce, the means of weighing both gold and silver. 

Sent to the distant Land of Oz from her Great Plains home by a Kansas tornado, Dorothy enters by landing on the Wicked Witch of the East, symbol of the reigning Eastern banking class (Wall Street). The crash is fatal for the witch, making Dorothy an instant heroine to the Munchkins, the down-trodden and debt-ridden poor. 

The Good Witch of the North, representing Northern workers and farmers, tells Dorothy to seek out the Wizard of Oz for help in getting back home and gives her a pair of silver slippers. The slippers protect her on the yellow-brick road (representing the bankers’ gold standard) as she heads towards the Emerald City, representing Washington DC. 

Dorothy enters the throne room seeking the powerful One’s assistance in getting back home (to Kansas). She arrives with some friends she’s made along the way: the heartless and squeaky Tin Man (symbol of the dehumanized industrial working class and the rusting of factories amidst the global capitalist depression of the 1890s), the brainless Scarecrow (signifying the oppressed and debt-plagued farmers, who do not understand how they lost their farms to the banks, even though they work hard to grow the food to feed a great and growing nation), and the cowardly Lion, meant to represent the politicians of Congress, who have the power but lack the courage to represent the people against the bankers. 

The Wizard appears to each in a different form. He tells the initially awestruck foursome that he is unwilling to help them without a quid pro quo. “I never grant favors without some return,” he proclaims. He sends them off with a mission: do something for him if they expect benefits from the master.

Dorothy and her comrades return after pleasing the Wizard (they think) by killing the Wicked Witch of the West, representing the bankers of the American West. (The deed is done with water, symbolizing of the rain craved by drought-plagued Plains farmers desperate to keep their rapacious creditors at bay). But Oz keeps them waiting and puts them off, raising suspicions among his hopeful supplicants. By accident, Dorothy sees behind the wizard’s curtain and beholds a little old man manipulating sound and image machines to create the illusion of magical strength. “Far from a mighty magician,” writes historian Quentin Taylor, “‘Oz, the Terrible’ is [shown to be] merely a ‘humbug,’ a wizened old man whose ‘power’ is achieved through elaborate acts of deception. The Wizard is simply a manipulative politician who appears to the people in one form, but works behind the scenes to achieve his true ends.” Baum’s manipulative, shape-shifting wizard represented “the protean politicians of the era, especially the presidents of the Gilded Age. Given the even division of Democrats and Republicans, and the razor-thin majorities of most presidential elections, candidates rarely took clear stands on the issues. As a result, voters often had difficulty in determining what the candidates stood for.”[1] 

It’s left to Dorothy to find her own way home, with a little help from the good Witch of the South, who tells her to click her silver slippers twice. 

The Violin Behind Ozbama’s Curtain: the Dark Cloud of the Hidden Primary 

Think if you will of Barack Obama as a younger (middle-aged), more charismatic, and obviously darker-toned version of Oz and the largely youthful occupiers of Wall Street and their many imitators across the country as older (primarily young adult) and more urbanized versions of Dorothy. Ascending to the U.S. presidency in a period when the American electorate is closely divided between Republicans and Democrats, candidate Obama was (like his Democratic presidential predecessor Bill Clinton) a master at appearing to be different things to different people. It’s not for nothing that he was selected by Association of National Advertisers (ANA) as the “Marketer of the Year” on the eve of the 2008 presidential election. When he spoke to antiwar voters, environmentalists, and union members, “brand Obama” stood for social justice, livable ecology, fair trade, peace, labor law reform, financial regulation, concern with the failures of capitalism, and change from the bottom up. The highlighted sections of the future president’s resume included “Community Organizer,” inner city South Side (Chicago) minority legislator, and “early opponent of the Iraq War.”  

Things were different when Obama addressed the rich and powerful. Speaking to the Business Roundtable, the Council on Foreign Relations, and on the big donors and lobbyists’ cocktail circuit, the brand stood for conservative, business friendly “realism,” free trade, the genius of capitalism, empire, and a rare capacity to ride and manage aroused popular expectations in accord with a deep respect for existing dominant domestic and global hierarchies and doctrines. The sections of his resume highlighted for these audiences included Harvard Law, a degree in international relations at Columbia, and years of serving big business and working with Republicans in the Ivy League, Mayor Daley’s Chicago, the infamously money-corrupted Illinois capital (Springfield, IL), and in Baum’s “Emerald City” (Washington D.C.). Candidate/brand Obama had one folder of left- and populist-sounding speeches and personas for excited progressives and working class people in Madison, Wisconsin or Cleveland, Ohio. He had a very different folder for the arenas of corporate and imperial power. 

Of course, the different groups a serious presidential candidate (and president) must please in the U.S. electoral regime are not at all equal. As the left historian Laurence Shoup noted in February of 2008, the officially “electable” candidates are vetted in advance through “the hidden primary of the ruling class.” By prior Establishment selection, all of the “viable” presidential contenders are closely tied to corporate and military-imperial authority. They run safely within the narrow ideological and policy parameters set by those who rule behind the scenes to make sure that the privileged continue to be the leading beneficiaries of the American system. In its presidential as in its other elections, U.S. “democracy” is “at best” a “guided one; at its worst it is a corrupt farce, amounting to manipulation, with the larger population projects of propaganda in a controlled and trivialized electoral process. It is an illusion,” Shoup claimed – correctly in my opinion – “that real change can ever come from electing a different ruling class-sponsored candidate.”[2]

Obama and his handlers are far from stupid. Understanding these basic “Marxist” facts quite well, they have governed in accord with what Latin American political observers used to call “the violin model: hold power with the left hand, and play the music with your right.”[3] Obama campaigned and gained office with populace-pleasing progressive-sounding rhetoric and then governed in standard service to existing dominant corporate and military institutions. Its straight out of what Christopher Hitchens once called “the essence of American politics….the manipulation of populism by elitism.”[4] 

The political Wizards of Washington do not themselves pull the levers and push the buttons behind the curtain. The 1 Percent and its hired political hands do. As the great American philosopher John Dewey noted sixteen years after Baum’s novel, “politics is the shadow cast on [U.S.] society by big business.” As Noam Chomsky recently noted, “Since the 1970s, [Dewey’s] shadow has become a dark cloud enveloping society and the political system. Corporate power, by now largely financial capital, has reached the point that both political organizations, which now barely resemble traditional parties, are far to the right of the population on the major issues under debate.”[5] 

Cowardly Lions Hoping to Coast on Others’ Courage  

The left-handed but right-leaning Wizard of Ozbama has recently ramped up the populist-sounding  rhetoric, seeking to rally the Democrats’ all-too dispirited and demobilized “progressive base” for the 2012 face-off against (it would appear with appear with the deadly water that wicked Teapublican witches and warlocks Michelle Bachman, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain have poured on themselves and each other) Mitt Romney. This was happening even before Dorothy et al. landed in Zucotti Park at the instigation of some clever Canadian and left anarchist Munchkins. 

Smart Democratic magicians calibrate their messages differently over time as well as place and audience. They put more emphasis on progressive-sounding language and outward plutocrat-bashing the closer they get to elections, when they face the task of briefly mobilizing working class citizens in a country where the majority is angry that the top 1 percent owns more than a third of the nation’s wealth and a probably larger share of its elected officials. So the president is now channeling Bill Clinton’s ability to “feel [our] pain” – and that of the occupiers – as he simultaneously works to keep the big campaign money milk flowing from the masters of the hidden primary (who supported him in record-setting numbers in 2008). “I think people are frustrated and the protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works,” Obama said recently. “The protests you’re seeing are the same conversations people are having in the living rooms and kitchens all across America” says his top campaign strategist David Plouffe: “We intend to make [anger at big financial institutions] one of the central elements of the campaign next year.”  

The White House wizards naturally hope to garner electoral advantage from the current youth-led populist upsurge within and beyond Manhattan. So do a broader collection of corporate-whipped Democratic Party Cowardly Lions. “For a Democratic Party dispirited by its president’s sliding approval ratings,” The Wall Street Journal reported three weeks ago, “the new energy [of the occupation movement] has been greeted as a tonic comparable to what Republican congressional leaders tapped in the tea party movement – and are now finding it difficult to harness… In the anti-Wall Street marches, Democrats see an avenue to bring the anger back to their side.” (WSJ, October 7, 2011, A1). Vice President Joe Biden, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other top Democrats have all offered glowing words of sympathy. So have the chiefs of the nation’s leading labor unions, critical players in the marshaling of working votes for the Democratic Party. Closer to the ground, Democratic front groups like MoveOn and Van Jones’ “Rebuild the Dream” project are working hard to infiltrate and co-opt the occupation movement for partisan purposes. 

Promises Kept and Betrayed 

Many among Dorothy and her fellow homeland Occupiers were (it appears from recent survey data) once enthusiastic and expectant Obama supporters. They sought to play by the rules of the American game, working hard, going to school, taking college student loans, and voting for Hope and Change (Obama as Bryan) in big candidate-centered elections (1896, 2008) only to find themselves lost in a financial and economic tornado of debt and weak or non-existent employment chances in a time of epic capitalist recession (1890s, 2008-11) and western and southern drought. They landed on the stage of history on the heads of the great eastern financial barons (Baum’s Wicked Witch of the East) in Manhattan’s financial district (Zucotti Park)  Their arrival has been applauded by millions of working and middle class Munchkins across the land, who might not be able to occupy but who feel enslaved by the wealth and power of the parasitic investor and creditor class, which crashed the economy, mired the nation in toxic debt, and convinced the politicians they own to bail them out with the taxpayers’ money even as a record-setting 46 millions now live (and die) without adequate assistance below the Emerald City’s notoriously inadequate poverty level. 

Dorothy and her crew returned to Oz thinking they had earned the magician’s assistance after slaying the Wicked Witch of West. Three years ago, many of the current occupiers helped Ozbama slay the Wicked Republican Party Witch (whose presidential ticket included a dangerous she-demon from the Alaskan frontier) on the magical Gold(man Sachs)- paved path to the Emerald City’s top job. They did so in the name of progressive “change from the bottom up.” They sought a transformation of the usual money-soaked rules of the game imposed by the hidden senate of wealth and the endless military empire. They were struck by the buoyant youth and charisma of the new wizard-in-waiting and proud to elect the nation’s first non-white president – an African American with a technically Muslim name to boot. 

What did they get for their votes and electoral activism? What did the great and powerful, silver-tongued Ozbama give them as a reward for their efforts? Nothing, or next to it, behind the smoke and mirrors. Consistent with the “deeply conservative” arch-“conciliator”[6] Obama’s longstanding fake-pragmatist, pseudo-progressive “business liberalism,”[7]  the “Obama, Inc.”[8] administration has been a great monument to the old French saying plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose (the more things change the more they stay the same). With its monumental bailout of hyper-opulent financial overlords, its refusal to nationalize and cut down the parasitic too-big (too powerful)-to-fail financial institutions that have paralyzed the economy, its passage of a health reform bill that only the big insurance and drug companies could love (consistent with Rahm Emmanuel’s advice to the president: “ignore the progressives”), its cutting of an auto bailout deal that rewards capital flight, its undermining of serious global carbon emission reduction at Copenhagen, its refusal to advance serious public works programs (green or otherwise), its disregarding of promises to labor and other popular constituencies, and various other betrayals of its “progressive base” (the other side of the coin of promises kept to its corporate sponsors) too numerous to mention here,[9] the Ozbama White House has demonstrated the power of Shoup’s “hidden primary” with special vengeance. 

The wizard’s violin performance has given Dorothy et al. what liberal commentator Bill Greider calls “a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t. They [have] watched Washington run to rescue the very financial interests that caused the catastrophe. They [have] learned that government has plenty of money to spend when the right people want it.”[10]  There’s lots of protection and money for the top 1 percent that owns more than a third of the nation’s wealth and a probably larger share of the nation’s elected officials. The “right people” do not include the nation’s 25 million unemployed, the 46 million officially poor or the (I hope your are sitting down dear reader) 1 in 15 Americans who now live (as was reported this week) in “extreme poverty” – at less than half the federal government’s miserly poverty measure.[11] That would be at less than $11,157 for a family of four. 

The reactionary and elite-manufactured debt-ceiling crisis of July and August 2011 was the last straw for many. Here we had most of the population believing — with good reason during a continuing vicious “human recession” beneath a “statistical recovery” — that the nation’s leading problem was mass unemployment, that the government’s top priority should be job creation, not deficit reduction, that the rich have too much wealth and power and that the best way to reduce the deficit (insofar as that matters) is to tax the filthy rich. None of that majority sentiment was remotely represented in Washington during the debt-ceiling fiasco, which ended with Obama yet again “surrendering” to the right and the business class by agreeing to a deal that cut social spending without any tax increases for the wealthy or their corporations. It was all about complete defiance of the citizenry (identical with government in standard democratic theory) in accord with the wishes of the economic elite, the unelected dictatorship of money – the “ 1 Percent” that has taken the risk out of democracy and annexed the nation’s political and policy processes and more. It was just so absurd

Less Than Zero

Absurd – like the remarkable fact related by Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) yesterday (I am writing on Friday November 4, 2011): 30 leading publicly trade U.S. companies (including General Electric, Boeing, and Wells Fargo) pay no taxes.  Some of these lucky corporations like Wells Fargo, pay less than zero – they get tax money back. The New York Times reports today: “A comprehensive study released on Thursday found that 280 of the biggest publicly traded American companies faced federal income tax bills equal to 18.5 percent of their profits during the last three years — little more than half the official corporate rate of 35 percent and lower than their competitors in many industrialized countries.”[12] By contrast, most working Americans pay taxes at more than 30 percent of their incomes with payroll taxes included. In reporting the CTJ study, CNN Money offered a bit of depressing commentary:

‎”Despite the general consensus that something must be done, lawmakers are not likely to tackle the issue anytime soon. It’s possible that the congressional super committee, now trying to find a way to cut the deficit, will make reform recommendations.”

“But don’t count on too much action. The political atmosphere on Capitol Hill has prevented movement on many fiscal and tax issues in recent months.”

“Daniel Shaviro, a tax professor at New York University School of Law, said he doesn’t anticipate big changes in the corporate tax code, at least in the near term.”

” ‘ There is widespread sympathy for lowering the corporate rates,’ Shaviro said. ‘But I I tend to doubt it happens anytime soon. ‘ “[13] 

Translation: majority public opinion, indeed even public consensus, is irrelevant in the U.S. where the dark cloud of big money undermines democracy regardless of which of the two business parties hold nominal power in the bankers’ Emerald City. 

“Our Votes Are Meaningless” 

It has all gone largely as predicted by myself and few other Left commentators who never had progressive expectations of Obama. And yet I wanted Obama to win the 2008 election for what might seem like a strange reason: I thought there was radical potential in U.S. voters and citizens, especially younger ones, experiencing life under a Democratic administration instead of George W. Bush and one of his GOP successors. I wanted Americans to come into more direct and visible contact with the bipartisan nature of the U.S. imperial and business system and to confront the gap between their rising and ridden expectations and the harsh reality of persistent top-down corporate, financial and military rule with Democrats at the nominal helm of the ship of state. I wanted them to be subjected to the reality that (in Marxist writer Doug Henwood’s words) “everything still pretty much sucks” when Democrats hold the top political offices – that the basic institutional reality stays the same. As the antiwar activist, author, and essayist Stan Goff put it on Facebook last year, “I’m glad Obama was elected. Otherwise, people would blame the war on McCain and the Republicans and continue with the delusion that elections can be our salvation.”  The age of Obama would, I hoped, be a very teachable moment for leftists with a taste for direct action and social movements beneath and beyond the big money, big media, and candidate-focused election spectacles our masters call democracy. 

Some of that ironic and dialectical sort of hope is bearing fruit with OWS. A recent systematic survey of the OWS protestors in New York City’s Zucotti Park by Fordham University political scientist Costas Panagopoulos and a team of 15 interviewers found that many of the activists are “disgruntled Democrats.” Sixty percent of those surveyed said they voted for Obama in 2008, and about three-quarters now disapprove of Mr. Obama’s presidential performance. A quarter now say they are Democrats, but 39 percent do not identify with any political party. Eleven percent identified call themselves socialists and 11 percent said they were members of the Green Party.[14] A different poll (a survey of 1,619 respondents polled through the Web site conducted by another academician determined that 69 percent of the Occupation movement’s supporters consider themselves “Independents.” 

But polling on party identification may miss a key and bigger point. Among the many ways in which Occupy is NOT “the tea party of the left” (a common media narrative) is that it is largely outside and hostile to major party politics. The Age of Ozbama has educated occupiers not merely on the limits of the current President and the Democrats. It has demonstrated the deeper limits of a narrow money-soaked and corporate-managed political culture focused on candidates, elections, and politicians. It just isn’t about Obama at the end of the day, of course. Listen to Zucotti Park protesters quoted in a recent report on WNYC radio: 

‘In contrast [to the Tea Party]t, at the Wall Street protests in New York, there’s been little focus on turning widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo into results at the polls.’

‘ “The cold fact that everybody’s here is that people are aware that our votes are meaningless. It’s a whole charade because it’s the lobbyists that count,” said Kenny Ladd, a construction worker from Staten Island.’

‘ He still counts himself as an Obama supporter, but he said the president didn’t really have a chance when money and corporate power reign in Washington.’

‘ “Once you join the mechanism, you’re part of the machinery,” Ladd said. “He came in with noble ideas until the reality of politics landed on his head.”

‘That was also the take of Elizabeth Starcevic, a retired CUNY professor who came to the protests after an afternoon union meeting this week.’

‘ “I think this is a bigger picture. I think this is an intention by the youth to say it doesn’t matter who’s in charge. There has to be a fair shake,” she said.’

‘That wasn’t the case three years ago, when young activists were certain it mattered who was in charge, and they worked for candidate Obama.’

‘New Yorker Alyssa Vinnik, now 26, was one of them. She knocked on doors for the campaign in Pennsylvania and Brooklyn, but is not sure she’d be great at it this time around.’ 

‘ “I felt very, very convinced in 2008, and think it would be a little bit harder to do that for other people who are skeptical because I feel a little skeptical myself,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a harder sell.”

‘Wall Street protester Heather Long, 18, is among the unconvinced.’

‘ “I’m neither here nor there on Obama,” she said.’

‘Long drove up to the protests from Jacksonville, Florida. She’s in a freshman in college, the first in her family to go – and she’s felt the brunt of the bad economy close up close. Her dad works construction, and was unemployed for a four year stretch.’

‘ “It was very hard,” she said. “We went through a lot of times where the banks were trying to foreclose. We never had cable, we never had internet. We never had home phone service. Because we couldn’t afford to pay those bills. It just wasn’t an option.” ‘

‘And while Long says she’s excited to vote for the first time, she doesn’t have much hope that a single election will change much.’

‘So many find themselves at Occupy Wall Street, demonstrating for something bigger – more abstract – than electoral wins that could alter the balance of power in Washington.’[15] 

As the OWS “kids” get it that American “democracy” is no less crippled by the dark cloud of high finance (the still all-too living Wicked Witch of the East) and corporate rule when Democrats hold nominal power than when Republicans rule the Emerald City, they are taking the fight beneath the ruling business parties and candidates to the economic root of social, environmental, and political decay. They know in their bones that, to quote the late and great radical American historian Howard Zinn, “it’s not about who’s sitting in the White House” (or the governors’ mansion or the congressional or state-legislative or city council office) at the end of the day. It’s about “who’s sitting in,” marching, demonstrating, occupying, and (last but not least) organizing on a day-to-day basis beneath and beyond the personality-focused election spectacles big money and big media stage for us every 2 and 4 years, telling us “that’s politics” – the only politics that matters. They speak for and as citizens, not politicians, knowing very well that (with very rare exceptions) those in the latter category will always surrender their integrity in the name of “realism.”  Young progressives get it like never before that, as Zinn’s longtime friend and ally Noam Chomsky explained two presidential spectacles ago: 

“The U.S. presidential race, impassioned almost to the point of hysteria, hardly represents healthy democratic impulses.”  

“Americans are encouraged to vote, but not to participate more meaningfully in the political arena. Essentially the election is yet another method of marginalizing the population. A huge propaganda campaign is mounted to get people to focus on these personalized quadrennial extravaganzas and to think, ‘That’s politics.’  But it isn’t. It’s only a small part of politics…”

 “The urgent task for those who want to shift policy in progressive direction – often in close conformity to majority opinion – is to grow and become strong enough so that that they can’t be ignored by centers of power. Forces for change that have come up from the grass roots and shaken the society to its foundations include the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the peace movement, the women’s movement and others, cultivated by steady, dedicated work at all levels, everyday, not just once every four years…” 

“So in the election, sensible choices have to be made. But they are secondary to serious political action. The main task is to create a genuinely responsive democratic culture, and that effort goes on before and after electoral extravaganzas, whatever their outcome.” [16]  

“It Harkened Back to Nazi Germany” 

The lesson that the Democratic Party is very much a part of the nation’s financial and corporate authoritarianism problem is being further driven home by the repression meted against protestors by mayors and police in cities like Seattle, Chicago, Boston, and, last not at all least (see below) Oakland, California. The local urban political machines responsible for this repression are run by Democrats, after all. In his new role as corporate Chicago’s top political dog, Obama’s former chief of staff and good friend Rahm Emmanuel has repeatedly harassed and arrested those who dare to camp out against the rich and powerful. Many right-wing Republican office-holders would strongly approve of the following horror ordered by Oakland’s female, Asian-American, and Democratic Mayor Jean Quan. Here is an account from a security guard who observed the Oakland Police Department’s chilling late-night assault on one hundred peaceful occupiers last October 25th:

“I witnessed the raid on the Occupation Oakland, at a little bit after 4:30 in the morning, and it was it was terrifying to see this because, I mean, there were just so many policeman… the numbers were incredible. And they lined up almost like in a phalanx, on the street, and then they moved in….”

“There were helicopters flying about and with high beams on the camps. So, you know, the beams were moving across every which way. Young people were waiting at the entrance to the camp; they were prepared to be arrested.”

“…the police did make an announcement over the horn to disperse in a very frightening manner, of course. But the part that was just so appalling was when they moved in, before moving in they shot these, what I, I couldn’t tell from a distance, I thought they were smoke bombs, later on I found out that it was tear gas.”

“Now there were young people in these camps and children, infants in a lot of the tents and this was just, seemed like this was completely out of whack with the situation.  These people had demonstrated that their intent was peaceful for the entire two weeks that they were at the camp.”

“So they shot the tear gas into the middle of the camp, and at the time, there were dumpsters lined up in front, at the entrance, on the corner because the occupiers were trying to conform to the new regulations that the city of Oakland had given to them. So they were trying to get rid of a lot of junk, in the common area.”

“So the police moved those dumpsters to the side and then they moved to the next stage of taking the barricades and kicking them down. And then they moved in and the first thing they hit was the information tent, and they just started just tearing everything down. And then they just progressively moved further and further in, and you saw all the people in the middle ground, young people moving every which way, right and left, and you could hear all the voices.”

“… Make no doubt about it, this was a military type operation, the way they moved in. It harkened back to old footage I had seen of Nazi Germany where you know you had the Nazis, the SS going in and picking up innocent people. It had that tenor. And even the helicopters, and the lights, and the loud speaker, all those were all intended to create panic and terror for the people inside, and it was totally uncalled for….It was something like out of a Star Wars movie except instead of being in white they were all in black. You know they were all in riot gear, you know with the visors, they looked like automatons, that they just moved in, in a line…They had these vehicles that looked like armored boxes, black, special riot vehicles….the thing that stays in my minds eye is in the middle ground with the lights from the helicopters, the police moving in and just stomping on these tents, and moving in one layer, after another, moving in deeper and deeper,” [17]

An Empty Bribe?

As wicked warlock storm-troopers clear city parks of citizens who dare to claim a small of the nation’s remaining public space from the 1 percent, Obama is trying to appear like a good and grateful Wizard for college students who might be tempted to join Dorothy and her friends. Under a recent student loan action announced to 4000 young adults at Metropolitan State College in Denver, Colorado, college graduates can consolidate government-backed, privately issued student loans and government-issued loans into one federal loan, qualifying for a half-percent interest rate reduction. In addition, Obama will accelerate to 2012 a loan payment relief program that was to start in 2014. Under that program, borrowers could cap loan payments at 10 percent of their discretionary income and have loan forgiveness.

Big deal! WYNC’s Anna Sale finds that “many Occupy Wall Street protesters see the president’s move as trying to harness their energy without doing enough to change the system.” Like many OWSers who share part of a national student loan debt close to $1 trillion, Zuccotti Park protester Gil Torres doesn’t  think Obama’s proposals will have anything but a marginal significance. “It’s really frustrating to see how something that supposed to, in the language of helping us, is not actually doing anything,” says occupier Jason Ahmadi. “The people have these real concerns and mobilized to look for real answers, and they make changes that have the language of solving the problem, but actually don’t do anything.”

Out of Silver Slippers

William Jennings Bryan, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama have run out of silver slippers to pass out to Dorothy and her comrades. Properly enough given the pivotal role of globally inspired left anarchists in the sparking of the new populist movement and its radically democratic structures, Occupy is skeptical about the utility of electoral politics under currently existing societal arrangements. It is sparking a move into serious and adult political action. Its participants have seen behind the curtain. As one recently told me: “Look you can do what you think you need to do in the voting booth. That takes about, what, three minutes? The big stuff – the shit that really matters to us – is what you want to commit to day in and day out before and after that. Democracy is a long struggle and it’s every day. The 1 percent is shaping policy and destroying the planet and buying politicians and controlling universities and censoring and shaping information and the media 24/7. Time to fight the real power all the day.”  

Mike Check! And watch out for the silvery batons of the big city police, under the command of Democratic mayors.  

Paul Street is the author of numerous books, including Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Paradigm, 2004), The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010), and Crashing the Tea Party (Paradigm Publishers, 2011, co-authored with Anthony DiMaggio).  


[1] Quentin Taylor, “Money and Politics in the Land of Oz,” The Independent Review (Winter 2005) at 

[2] Laurence H. Shoup, “The Presidential Election 2008,” Z Magazine (February 2008), p. 31. 

[3] William Greider, “Obama Asked Us to Speak but Is He Listening?” Washington Post, March 22, 2009. 

[4] Christopher Hitchens, No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family (New York: Verso, 1999), 17-18. “That elite is most successful,” Hitchens wrote in his 1999 study of the Bill Clinton presidency, “which can claim the heartiest allegiance of the fickle crowd; can present itself as most ‘in touch’ with popular concerns; can anticipate the tides and pulses of public opinion; can, in short, be the least apparently ‘elitist.’ It’s no great distance from Huey Long’s robust cry of ‘Every man a king’ to the insipid ‘inclusiveness’ of [Bill Clinton’s slogan] ‘Putting People First,’ but the smarter elite managers have learned in the interlude that solid, measurable pledges have to be distinguished by a “reserve” tag that earmarks them for the bankrollers and backers.”

[5] Noam Chomsky, “American Decline: Causes and Consequences,” al akhbar (August 24, 2011), read at

[6] I owe this description to  Larissa MacFarquhar, “The Conciliator: Where is Barack Obama Coming From?, The New Yorker (May 7, 2007). According to MacFarquhar, after extensive research (including interview with then candidate Obama:  “In his view of history, in his respect for tradition, in his skepticism that the world can be changed any way but very, very slowly, Obama is deeply conservative.” For a many sided portrait of that conservatism in the candidate’s pre-presidential career through the early spring of 2008, see my book Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Paradigm, 2008). 

[7] Kevin Baker, “Barack Hoover Obama: The Best and the Brightest Blow It Again,” Harper’s (July 2009). Like the Republican U.S. president Herbert Hoover (1929–1933), Baker argued, “Barack Obama is a man attempting to realize a stirring new vision of his society without cutting himself free from the dogmas of the past—without accepting the inevitable conflict.” Furthermore: “just as Herbert Hoover came to internalize the ‘business progressivism’ of his era as a welcome alternative to the futile, counterproductive conflicts of an earlier time, so has Obama internalized what might be called Clinton’s ‘business liberalism’ as an alternative to useless battles from another time—battles that liberals, in any case, tended to lose….Clinton’s business liberalism, however, is a chimera, every bit as much a capitulation to powerful and selfish interests as was Hoover’s 1920s progressivism. [It] espous[es] a ‘pragmatism’ that is not really pragmatism at all, just surrender to the usual corporate interests [emphasis added]. The common thread running through all of Obama’s major proposals right now is that they are labyrinthine solutions designed mainly to avoid conflict [with big business].Barack Obama is moving prudently, carefully, reasonably toward disaster.” 

[8] Ken Silverstein, “Barack Obama, Inc.: The Birth of a Washington Machine,” Harper’s (November 2006). 

[9] For a many sided portrait of these betrayals through February 2010, see Paul Street, The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010). 

[10] William Greider, “Obama Asked Us to Speak but Is He Listening?” Washington Post, March 22, 2009. 

[11] Ashley Portero, “U.S. Poverty Data: 1 in 15 Live in Extreme Poverty – a Record,” International Business Times (November 4, 2011) at 

[12] David Kocieniewski, “Biggest Public Firms Paid Little Tax,” New York Times, November 4, 2011 at 

[13] Charles Riley, “Many Companies Pay No Income Taxes, Study Finds,”’ CNNMoney (November 3,  2011), read at 

[14] Marjorie Connely. “Occupy Protestors Down On Obama, Survey Finds,”  New York Times, October 28, 2011.

[15] Anna Sale, “Unlike Tea Party, Wall Street Protests Ignore Electoral Politics,” WNYC Radio (October 7, 2011O at 

[16] Noam Chomsky, Interventions (San Francisco: City, Lights, 2007), 99.

[17] Dennis Bernstein,  “What The Cops Really Did in Oakland,” Counterpunch (November 2, 2011) at

Facebook Comments
By | 2011-11-05T14:36:50+00:00 November 5th, 2011|Articles|