'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, January 25, 2010

Structural Adjustment (Part 1) 

President Obama will call for a three-year freeze in spending on many domestic programs, and for increases no greater than inflation after that, an initiative intended to signal his seriousness about cutting the budget deficit, administration officials said Monday.

The officials said the proposal would be a major component both of Mr. Obama’s State of the Union speech on Wednesday and the budget that he will send to Congress next Monday for the fiscal year 2011 that begins in October.

The freeze would cover the agencies and programs for which Congress allocates specific budgets each year, from air traffic control and farm subsidies to education, nutrition and national parks.

But it would exempt the Pentagon, foreign aid, Veterans Administration and homeland security budgets, as well as the entitlement programs that make up the biggest and fastest-growing part of the federal budget: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

For anyone surprised by this decision, may I humbly suggest that you read my previous posts here and here and here. The contours of Obama's utopian vision of the future are now coming sharply into focus. His intention is to transform the US into a country in which the populace is taxed almost exclusively to finance the activities of financial speculation and militarism, while reserving a pool of readily available patronage through law enforcement and surveillance expenditures. With the passage of time, the social democracy of the period between the 1930s and 1970s, imperfect as it was, will take on the hue of idyllic fantasy, something that future generations will consider implausible.

One can only marvel at Obama's perverse audaciousness, his historic election by a progressive, center-left, coalition, and then his prompt implementation of an economic program centered around bailing out transnational financial institutions and deficit reduction, all the while increasing the scope of US military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia. Obama, it seems, has a profound contempt for the docility of the American electorate, believing it to be an irreversible characteristic. Hence, his alignment with the global ambitions of finance capital and the military industrial complex.

I guess we shouldn't be shocked, because, beyond the level of policy, where he revealed himself, if you made the effort to pay attention to what he really said, Obama displayed a visceral distate for the necessity of engaging the public during his presidential campaign. Many of his events were large, impersonal mass rallies, marked by the latest reiteration of his stump speech. He considered the rough and tumble of charge and countercharge, and the residue of populism that remains in the electoral process, as being beneath him. If people were excited by Obama, one cannot say that Obama was excited by them. He had the sort of ambivalent relationship with his public that marked the concert tours of Bob Dylan in the mid-1960s. By contrast, Hillary Clinton seemed to genuinely enjoy her contact with the public as the campaign proceeded towards its conclusion (which, need I say, shouldn't be taken as an endorsement of the mendacity that came with it).

Nothing has happened since Obama became President to alter his cynical, elitist perspective about Americans. He is so distant from the public, and indeed, even the Congress, that his pronouncements have an oracular quality. Congressional representatives and Senators vainly beseech him to get more involved in the process. As during the campaign, his references to the economic distress of millions of Americans are perfunctory. One suspects that he considers it an irritance to have to address the subject at all, as it distracts attention from his real ambition, to reconstruct the US into a perfected neoliberal model for the rest of the world to emulate. He's not about to let the messiness of real life get in the way.

UPDATE: Oh, my goodness, how did I miss this?

It is the growth in the so-called entitlement programs — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — that is the major factor behind projections of unsustainably high deficits, because of rapidly rising health costs and an aging population.

But one administration official said that limiting the much smaller discretionary domestic budget would have symbolic value. That spending includes lawmakers’ earmarks for parochial projects, and only when the public believes such perceived waste is being wrung out will they be willing to consider reductions in popular entitlement programs, the official said.

"By helping to create a new atmosphere of fiscal discipline, it can actually also feed into debates over other components of the budget,” the official said, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity.

And my friends argued that I was too cynical when I said that the White House wants to get rid of the Democratic majority in Congress so that it cut Medicare and Social Security.

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