Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 12, 2012

The Rebranding of Barack Obama

Filed under: Obama — louisproyect @ 6:49 pm

In 2008 Barack Obama won Advertising Age’s Marketer of the Year award with 36.1 percent of the votes of the nation’s hucksters. Running against a tarnished brand B (McCain got 4.5 percent in the same competition), Obama was able to coast to victory with vaporous promises about change. Now, four years later, the advertising campaign for his re-election faces a number of obstacles, not the least of which is the depressed economy that is becoming harder to pin on the Bush administration.

On December 6th 2011, Obama gave a speech that many liberals hoped would serve as Brand Obama for 2012. Through its hailing of Teddy Roosevelt’s economic nationalism, it prompted Salon.com’s Steve Kornacki to write: “His embrace of defiant, populist messaging also represents a final, definitive break with the bipartisan-friendly political style that defined Obama’s rise to power and the first two-and-a-half years of his presidency.” That had a very short shelf-life, however, made even shorter by economic realities. After a brief period of relative optimism tied to the “green shoots” of recovery, the woes of the Great Recession continued into 2012 and forced the hucksters running Obama’s re-election campaign to hoist a new message up the flagpole and see if anyone would salute.

That new message amounted to undraping a 60 foot tall bronze statue of Obama as muscular Commander-in-Chief after the fashion of Reagan chopping wood or George W. Bush in a flight suit. If those precious swing voters, perceived as white and centrist, could not be assuaged by a non-existent recovery, then maybe they would vote for Obama since he was able to deliver on at least another element of Teddy Roosevelt’s record, namely his willingness to use the “big stick” against weaker nations.

The campaign kicked into high gear with a speech that the president gave on Memorial Day  a couple of weeks ago. It is filled with what the great Edmund Wilson called “patriotic gore”. This paragraph, in particular, sounds like it could have been lifted from the preview to a Rambo movie:

You persevered though some of the most brutal conditions ever faced by Americans in war. The suffocating heat. The drenching monsoon rains. An enemy that could come out of nowhere and vanish just as quickly. Some of the most intense urban combat in history, and battles for a single hill that could rage for weeks. Let it be said — in those hellholes like Briarpatch, and the Zoo and the Hanoi Hilton — our Vietnam POWs didn’t simply endure; you wrote one of the most extraordinary stories of bravery and integrity in the annals of military history.

Activist Jack A. Smith, an editor at the radical newsweekly The Guardian in the 1960s who soldiers on for the cause of peace in upstate N.Y., commented on Vietnam war revisionism in the Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter:

The Pentagon has just launched a multi-year national public relations campaign to justify, glorify and honor Washington’s catastrophic, aggressive and losing war against Vietnam — America’s most controversial and unpopular military conflict.

President Barack Obama opened the militarist event, which was overwhelmingly approved by Congress four years ago, during a speech at the Vietnam Wall on Memorial Day, May 28. The entire campaign, which will consist of tens of thousands of events over the next 13 years, is ostensibly intended to “finally honor” the U.S. troops who fought in Vietnam. The last troops were evacuated nearly 40 years ago.

One of the more disgusting passages in this altogether disgusting speech had to do with the peace movement’s alleged abuse of returning GI’s:

You were sometimes blamed for misdeeds of a few, when the honorable service of the many should have been praised. You came home and sometimes were denigrated, when you should have been celebrated. It was a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened. And that’s why here today we resolve that it will not happen again.

David Sirota, one of the nation’s more principled liberals and hence a trenchant critic of Obama, told Salon.com readers:

It’s undeniable that chronic underfunding of the Veterans Administration unduly harmed Vietnam-era soldiers. However, that lamentable failure was not what Obama was referring to. As the president who escalated the Vietnam-esque war in Afghanistan, he was making a larger argument. Deliberately parroting Rambo’s claim about “a quiet war against all the soldiers returning,” he was asserting that America, as a whole, spat on soldiers when they came home — even though there’s no proof that this happened on any mass scale.

In his exhaustive book titled “The Spitting Image,” Vietnam vet and Holy Cross professor Jerry Lembcke documents veterans who claim they were spat on by antiwar protestors, but he found no physical evidence (photographs, news reports, etc.) that these transgressions actually occurred. His findings are supported by surveys of his fellow Vietnam veterans as they came home.

Keep in mind that Obama’s speech sounds exactly like the kind of thing that John McCain would have written–a product of his captivity in Vietnam and his yahoo Republican Party politics. That this Ivy League “liberal” could spew out the same kind of rightwing bullshit, while in all likelihood knowing that it is bullshit, epitomizes the political impasse facing voters. You vote for someone enlightened and you end up with a Chuck Norris wannabe. It really doesn’t matter what you voted for, after all. The people who run the country have their own agenda and it doesn’t include you.

The day before Obama’s speech, Chris Hayes—a contributor to the Nation Magazine and one of the magazine’s more intelligent writers—mused about the word hero on his Saturday morning MSNBC show:

I feel… uncomfortable, about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism, you know, hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers, and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.

Despite the tentative and unguarded quality of his remarks, Hayes became the target of an orchestrated rightwing campaign that treated him as if he were Bill Maher telling his ABC television audience shortly after 9/11 that the men who flew jets into the WTC and Pentagon were not cowardly at all. The real cowards were in fact men who dispatched cruise missiles from the safety of their command posts thousands of miles away. Hayes did a Maoist style self-criticism and unlike Bill Maher, who preferred to gut it out, still has his job. You can be sure that if he intends to keep it, he will have to watch what he says. That is how our free country operates.

Just one day after this rancid speech, the N.Y. Times reported that Obama sends drones to against alleged enemies of America on the basis of a secret “kill list”. Written by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, it was widely perceived as part and parcel of the “big stick” rebranding. They wrote:

Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.

“He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go,” said Thomas E. Donilon, his national security adviser. “His view is that he’s responsible for the position of the United States in the world.” He added, “He’s determined to keep the tether pretty short.”

Nothing else in Mr. Obama’s first term has baffled liberal supporters and confounded conservative critics alike as his aggressive counterterrorism record. His actions have often remained inscrutable, obscured by awkward secrecy rules, polarized political commentary and the president’s own deep reserve.

In the immediate aftermath of the publication of the article, the White House has been clamoring for the arrest for espionage of those responsible for the leak about the “kill list”. Republicans imply that perhaps it is President himself who should be behind bars since it was fairly obvious that the article was meant, like the Memorial Day speech, to burnish his reputation as cold-blooded killer—something supposedly that endears him to swing voters. In Human Events, a rightwing magazine, long-time rightwing activist Gary Bauer called on his co-thinkers for their take on all this:

Many legislators see politics in the leaks. Rep. Peter King said, “It has to be for [Obama’s] reelection. They can deny it all they want. But it would require a suspension of disbelief to believe it’s not being done for political purposes.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said, “I don’t think you have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what is going on here. You’ve had three leaks of intelligence that paint the president as a strong leader.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told CBS, “This is the most highly classified information and it’s now been leaked by the administration at the highest levels at the White House and that’s not acceptable.”

As part of the rebranding exercise, “Sixty Minutes” ran a profile on Leon Panetta, Obama’s Secretary of Defense and former CIA director last Sunday night. Although I didn’t watch it, I can thank Glenn Greenwald for having taken a good dose of anti-nausea medicine and writing up a commentary  on “13 uninterrupted minutes of drooling propaganda: Leon Panetta, the tough-minded, patriotic renaissance man who kills Evil Men to protect us all, and does it all with a heart of gold.”

Scott Pelley, a bland and unctuous figure well suited to this kind of interview, was nailed to the wall alongside Panetta:

Much of the interview consisted of Pelley waxing admiringly over all the James-Bond-looking gadgets on Panetta’s plane, or what he called Panetta’s “flying command post” (just as Brian Williams, with boyish excitement, pointed out that the White House Situation Room even has a clock that always shows the time of whatever time zone in which the President is found!). Because Panetta’s plane is the venue from which the U.S. would launch a nuclear attack, it is called the “Doomsday Plane.” As the CBS camera surveyed all of the machinery on the Doomsday Plane with close-ups of the crisply uniformed soldiers operating it, Pelley unleashed my favorite lines:

The Doomsday Plane is laden with secret gear. We can’t show you most of it. It’s so heavy the Air Force re-fueled it twice in the night’s sky over the Atlantic.

It turned out the lightest thing on board: the heart of the man with a world of worry. Leon Panetta is rarely far from an eyelid-collapsing, eye-shaking belly laugh.

And to people around him, it’s reassuring: with lives at stake, he stays in touch with his humanity.

And where he came from.

Now, admittedly, this kind of garbage has been part of the Obama administration from the very beginning, but it has been escalated recently in order to increase his reelection odds. In an April poll conducted by the Washington Post, 47 percent of those polled viewed Obama as best for stopping terrorism, while only 40 percent gave the nod to Romney. By the same token, the opinion on “creating jobs” is not quite as favorable, with a 46 to 43 percent split. That being said, independents think Romney is better on economic issues, a problem for the reelection team. Maybe we can expect war on Iran to help swing them in the other direction.

In fact, that is pretty much what is happening now according to a June 1 N.Y. Times article titled “Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran” by David Sanger. Sanger is the author of a new book titled “Comfort and Conceal” on Obama’s foreign policy that this article gives you a flavor for. Sanger, like Pelley, is intent on flattering the war-makers, so much so that even Thomas Rick’s NY Times book review took exception to:

The virtue of this book — its foundation of White House sources who give the author insiders’ material like a transcript of Mr. Obama’s last telephone call with the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak — is also its weakness. That is, Mr. Sanger shows us the world through the eyes of Mr. Obama, Mr. Donilon and those around him. But he also tends to depict Washington and the world as they see it.

Sanger writes:

From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons, according to participants in the program.

Mr. Obama decided to accelerate the attacks — begun in the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games — even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed it to escape Iran’s Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet. Computer security experts who began studying the worm, which had been developed by the United States and Israel, gave it a name: Stuxnet.

At a tense meeting in the White House Situation Room within days of the worm’s “escape,” Mr. Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency at the time, Leon E. Panetta, considered whether America’s most ambitious attempt to slow the progress of Iran’s nuclear efforts had been fatally compromised.

Inquiring minds, of course, would also ask whether the U.S. was also involved with assassinations against Iran’s scientists as well. For those who believe that Israel is behind all of these attacks and dragging the U.S. behind it, it might be good that they get reminded that the U.S. is the dog and Israel merely the tail.

This is the same Obama who said that “the United States will respond to hostile acts in cyberspace as we would any other threat to our country”, namely through “military force”. In other words, might makes right, the guiding principle of Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency. This is the opening paragraph of Roosevelt’s “Winning of the West”:

During the past three centuries the spread of the English-speaking peoples in the world’s waste spaces has been not only the most striking feature in the world’s history, but also the event of all others most far reaching in its effects and its importance.

This is the true legacy of Roosevelt’s presidency that Barack Obama is helping to keep alive.


  1. It’s amazing how many liberals here in Northampton MA have both peace sign AND Obama stickers on their cars. Nevermind a critique of imperialism, they seem to lack even a basic awareness of the day to day workings of the US military around the world. Thanks for this post. It’s good to see Greenwald quoted in any context, and Roosevelt’s phrase “waste spaces” is new to me. Fascinating. MB

    Comment by MB — June 12, 2012 @ 9:37 pm

  2. Chris Hayes has never seemed particularly astute to me. He’ll be right on the Obama bandwagon come fall. A willing participant in the rebranding campaign.I doubt he’d starve without that MSNBC gig, So let’s not hold any pity parties because he felt it necesssary to apology for his heroes comments. MSNBC apparently didn’t even have to tell him to do so. And I don’t see why he should be cut slack just because he had a certain “wunderkind” of the left on his show (who, BTW, is now with In These Times, which is giving Hayes’ new book as a premium to contributors, which made me wonder if In These Times, the Nation, and MSNBC now have some common owners!).

    Comment by michael yates — June 13, 2012 @ 3:09 am

  3. President Obama’s chances of winning another term are quickly fading. Besides the bad economy and being out of touch with the struggles of the long-term unemployed, back to back scandals of national security leaks and the fast and furious debacle could end up being another Watergate. If the unlikely scenario plays out and he does win a second term, if the investigation leads to him or members of his administration, he could find himself facing impeachment. That is if AG Eric Holder can be trusted to investigate and he can’t. He’s a close friend of the President and is under investigation himself facing a Contempt Of Congress charge for violating a subpoena to turn over Fast and Furious documents, so how can we expect him to have respect for the law when it comes to the leaks? The President is opposed to a Special Prosecutor. That reason alone makes it look like he has something to hide. He had to have known because the leaks were very detailed and projected a tough guy image on foreign policy.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — June 13, 2012 @ 3:37 am

  4. The Obama administration gives new meaning to the corruption. Corruption, cover ups, morally bankrupt, abuses of power. The list goes on and on. These two scandals, the classified leaks and fast and furious, is a pattern ever since Obama took office, of the incompetentcy and law breaking conducted by members of Obama’s administration. Lives were put in danger and every American should be aware of the fact that this administration put every citizen in jeopardy. Remember that voters. This is Richard Nixon all over again. Keeping them honest is not their motto.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — June 13, 2012 @ 4:22 am

  5. Deborah Jeffries, how are your criticisms of Obama and his administration different from criticisms of them by the Republicans? Do you, a supposed leftist, think that the best way to oppose the reactionary, imperialist Obama administration is to mirror the criticisms of Obama coming from the ultra-right?

    Comment by Red Snapper — June 13, 2012 @ 8:35 am

  6. Worth watching in full: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aB5JHxEApfo

    Comment by Binh — June 13, 2012 @ 12:44 pm

  7. At present, it appears that the Obama administration has so justly angered a large number of its former supporters (never mind those who always saw through it) that the likeliest outcome of the November elections will be a Republican president and Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate. I don’t know about states and localities, since I live in Washington, DC, which is already a voiceless colony, but my guess is that the so-called Tea Party movement will march forward as if the intervening two years since the last election had never happened. This speaks volumes about the fraudulence of current so-called “democracy” but also highlights the profoundly addictive and destructive character of the biennial and quadrennial horse races.

    Whoever wins, this election is going to mean starvation and death for many of the elderly and the poor and true misery for the majority. If you think this isn’t possible, consider the fate of the Irish in the 19th century and before. We are going to become a colonized nation with a small number of masters and a vast number of junk people who would be better off dead, and for whom the twin spectres of starvation and imprisonment will be the principal realities of everyday life.

    But consider the reasonably likely consequences of a Republican sweep:

    – Elimination of Medicare
    – Elimination of Social Security
    – Removal of all remaining checks on the behavior of banks
    – Increase of the retirement age to 80 (overlaps with one and two above).
    – Reduction of the public work force by anywhere from ten to forty percent.
    – Corruption and graft at every level of the remaining public workforce.
    – Elimination of unemployment benefits (combined with a drastic increase in unemployment)
    – Further draconian “security” laws and extrajudicial imprisonments and executions.
    – Removal of all other checks on police power.
    – Vast increases in military spending combined with domestic deployment of regular troops, drones, etc. to “keep order.”
    – Economic collapse or (worse) a brief period of anemic relative “prosperity” that will seem to prove the republican “case”
    – Murder and systematic persecution of gays and other “deviants.”
    – A vast increase in incarceration for trivial crimes and the use of imprisoned slaves as a labor source for “free enterprise.”
    – Elimination of such “frills” as medical research at NIH.
    – Etc.

    War with Iran in this scenario might even be a good thing, since it would lead fairly quickly to clear defeat and collapse.But we needn’t assume that the Republicans–whose strategy over the past two years, given the antidemocratic nature of the United States, has been nothing short of brilliant–will be foolish enough to make that mistake a second time.

    Much of the groundwork for this calamity has been laid by the democrats over the years since F. Roosevelt, particularly by Clinton and Obama. Nevertheless, the Mutt and Jeff nature of the so-called political debate in this country renders it inevitable that after defeating the “socialist” Obama, the republicans will have to leap over both his and their own shadows to outdo his forays into oligarchic dictatorship. One wonders if even the pretense of an election will follow in two years’ time. If Obama miraculously survives the calamity of his own cocksure smugness, he will at least leap over his own shadow to appease his plutocratic masters even further.

    In 2010, the union-based One Nation initiative briefly attempted a reach-out to the rest of the Left. This failed, partly because union bureaucrats like Two-Face Trumka only wanted the rhetoric, not the reality of a people’s mass movement, but also because the germ of Occupy had not yet sprouted and the other Left, for all practical purposes existed only on the Internet. Jon Stewart’s idiotic rally for “sanity” expressed the petty-bourgeois smugness of the purported liberals, who gladly signed the death-warrant of the working classes on the theory that they themselves would all be OK in the long run.

    So the question is, what will the Left do since two years have gone by and there is no organizational structure in place to resist the coming tidal wave of tyranny? Occupy–in any case a movement primarily of the declasse petty bourgeoisie–has become a network of affinity groups effectively closed to outsiders, and the unions are prepared to commit seppuku to avoid joining the battle on behalf of the whole working class.

    It is useless to argue forever about correctness of line when there is no mass movement adequate to face the coming tide of repression. Those who have been so careful to keep their skirts out of the mud will find themselves buried in it unless the Left can pull some sort of mass movement together.

    A word about money and propaganda. It has become fashionable on the socialist Left to snort angrily that the Koch brothers’ money had no real effect on the Wisconsin democrat defeat (and therefore the defeat of the Wisconsin movement), and that the corruption of the unions and the democrats–as well as failure of leadership on the Left–is the sole cause.


    Edward Bernays, Jose Goebbels, and Stalin all knew a secret that we seem to have forgotten. Propaganda works. More money equals more propaganda. It’s as simple as that. In the absence of money, other means have to be found to get a message to the masses. This is an uphill fight, impossible without a unified agenda.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan. — June 13, 2012 @ 1:12 pm

  8. This has nothing to do with being right or left-winged. It is clearly a matter or what’s right and wrong. Obama has a major problem when his own party is turning on him. What angers me most about Obama is that he would sell me or any other American citizen down the river if it meant a victory in November. And we cannot expect a thorough investigation from AG Eric Holder since he himself faces jail next week if they vote for Contempt Of Congress. This government has several key members being investigated by prosecutors and you’re asking me why I’m criticizing this administration? Obama and crew have let power go to their heads repeating the similar mistakes that led to Nixon’s downfall (cover-ups). A corrupt syndicate is what the Obama administration is and they use executive privilege to protect their crimes from being scrutinized. Yes I feel the need to speak out about how ethically devoid they are.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — June 13, 2012 @ 4:23 pm

  9. […] Louis Proyect on Brand Obama and all that hopey-changey imperialism. […]

    Pingback by Stuff to fire you up: Perpetual fundraising edition | Wasatch Socialist Party — June 13, 2012 @ 4:59 pm

  10. Deborah Jeffries, l wasn’t asking you why you are criticizing this administration. I was asking why you were criticizing it over issues that the extreme right wing will happily criticize it for. If you were to criticize it over issues relating to class oppression and imperialism, I would encourage you in that regard.

    Jeffries writes:
    “What angers me most about Obama is that he would sell me or any other American citizen down the river if it meant a victory in November.”

    I could say, “What angers me most about social patriots like Deborah Jeffries is that they would sell the majority of humanity down the river if it meant making life better for the 5% of the human population that has United States citizenship.” Before I say that, though, I want to give Ms. Jeffries a chance to clarify what may have been a careless statement. So I will ask:

    Deborah Jeffries, are you really more concerned about how the chief executive of the United States Empire treats citizens of that Empire than about how he treats the rest of the human species?

    Comment by Red Snapper — June 13, 2012 @ 7:14 pm

  11. To counter the ruling-class campaign to rehabilitate its criminal war against Vietnam by ‘honoring’ Vietnam veterans, it’s essential to propagate knowledge of anti-war resistance among U.S. soldiers in or returned from Vietnam, including mutinies, fraggings and other militant forms of resistance. The most useful single item is the 2005 documentary:

    Sir! No Sir! – The Suppressed Story of the GI Movement to End the War in Vietnam

    It is widely available as a DVD and on the Web. Some links:

    I also recommend the novel, Bring the War Home! by Barry S. Willdorf. (ISBN 097130260X or 978-0971302600). Willdorf was defense attorney for over 100 anti-war GI’s from 1970 to the end of the war, so his fiction is based on a lot of fact.

    Comment by Red Snapper — June 13, 2012 @ 10:23 pm

  12. I am somewhat sympathetic to Ms. Jeffries in general, but cold to her moralism in this instance–“not a matter of right/left but right/wrong.” It sounds too much like a number of neoliberal and liberal pacifist dead-ends that always peter out after their exponents feel satisfied with the moral superiority of their positions.

    This line is especially popular with Glenn Greenwald, who for all his occasional flirtation with mild socialists is a doctrinaire Ron Paul libertarian at heart–and perhaps a knowing shill for the Koch brothers. But liberals, especially liberal pacifists, indulge in it too.

    Not that this attitude differs much in the long run from the attitude of many on the socialist Left who are concerned about correctness of line to the exclusion of effective political practice.

    I am mystified, however, at Red Snapper’s apparent desire to see American workers punished for the sins of imperialism. Do U.S. workers have no legitimate interests that a leader could defend? Is it really wrong to criticise a leader of a country for betraying the people of that country, whomever else he may be traducing?

    Surely the greatest gift the Left could give the victims of imperialism is a revolution here. And how can this come about if you are offering the American worker nothing but hellfire (or is it death en masse?) for the sins of his country?

    If RedSnapper is not a United Statesian, the attitude is more understandable, though I don’t see how s[he} can expect it to get any traction with the U.S. masses. People do not generally make revolutions seriously calling for their own annihilation.

    If RS] is a United Statesian, then her/his anti-Jeffries attitude is nothing but made-in-the-U.S.A. petty-bourgeois moralism turned inside out, and is therefore practically speaking the same thing, since it precludes effective political action while indulging fruitlessly in a kind of self-centered superior posturing not too different from the posturing of self-anointed Satanists or snake-handlers.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — June 13, 2012 @ 11:03 pm

  13. For reasons that I can’t figure out, my reference to the amazon.com listing of the film, Sir! No Sir! got expanded into something including much of the contents of that amazon.com page. If Louis has the ability to do so, I would request that he delete that one part of my comment, which is one line of what I posted but six lines of page source as generated by, presumably, the WordPress software. Anyone who wants to find amazon’s listing can search on amazon for the film’s amazon ID, B000IB0DE4.

    Or if Louis wants, he can delete the whole comment and I can re-post it without the problem line. (You can also, Louis, delete this comment as well, as it’s technical, not politically substantive.)

    BTW, It would be rather nice if wordpress allowed one to preview one’s comment before posting it, so that this kind of thing, as well as mistakes made by the poster, could be avoided.

    Comment by Red Snapper — June 13, 2012 @ 11:04 pm

  14. Snapper, for future reference, if you eliminate the http:// part of the amazon.com url, you should have no problem. I used http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000IB0DE4 with no problem.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 13, 2012 @ 11:35 pm

  15. I should add that when I dropped the http://, it is automatically put back in by WordPress but just as a clickable link not a stupid preview.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 13, 2012 @ 11:36 pm

  16. Joe Vaughan writes:

    I am mystified, however, at Red Snapper’s apparent desire to see American workers punished for the sins of imperialism. Do U.S. workers have no legitimate interests that a leader could defend? Is it really wrong to criticise a leader of a country for betraying the people of that country, whomever else he may be traducing?

    (1) I have no “desire to see American workers punished for the sins of imperialism.” However, I also have no desire to defend the ability of at least the better-off sections of the U.S. working class to keep on consuming at a rate that has only been made possible by the global resource transfers that have been the essence of imperialism.
    (2) I can’t imagine any “legitimate interests” of U.S. workers being defended by a leader who is, at the same time, defending the interests of United Statesians against the rest of humanity. And, yes, it is wrong for an internationalist to criticize a ‘leader’ in a manner that reinforces the idea that the lives and well-being of the citizens of the world’s major imperialist power are more important than the lives and well-being of the rest of humanity.

    JV again:

    Surely the greatest gift the Left could give the victims of imperialism is a revolution here. And how can this come about if you are offering the American worker nothing but hellfire (or is it death en masse?) for the sins of his country?

    The chance of a genuine internationalist revolution in the U.S. in the foreseeable future is, IMO, miniscule. A “national socialist” revolution is more likely, though, I hope, not probable. What may be possible is a splitting of the U.S. population so that a large portion of it, particularly immigrants and other oppressed minorities, acts in solidarity with global anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist struggles and makes it possible for revolutions in other parts of the world to succeed and sustain themselves against the hostility of U.S. imperialism.

    BTW, I am not going to comment on whether or not I am a ‘United Statesian’, since I don’t think socialists, communists or anarchists should have different political positions depending on their country of origin or residence, keeping in mind, nevertheless, that one’s primary practical responsibility in an imperialist country is to oppose one’s own ruling class.

    Comment by Red Snapper — June 13, 2012 @ 11:59 pm

  17. What concerns me most is having our President jeopardize the safety of all American citizens for two reasons: 1. To prove to America that he’s tough on foreign policy and the war on terror 2. To get campaign contributions and support from the Israeli community by leaking the Iran stuxnet info. Having AG Eric Holder in charge of the investigation is amusing. His integrity has been called into question so do you really think this is objective without conflict of interest? Holder might be jailed next week. What concerns me most is that we have a government that has no ethical standards. Keeping them honest is my motto. I guess the people who were out to get poor little President Nixon were moralists too?

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — June 14, 2012 @ 12:25 am

  18. “What concerns me most is having our President jeopardize the safety of all American citizens for two reasons . . . . ”

    Obama is killing Pakistanis, Yemenis and Afghans every day. He is a much greater danger to them than anyone in this country.l

    Comment by Richard Estes — June 14, 2012 @ 1:25 am

  19. That’s right Richard and we (the public) have the illegal release of classified information to prove it. The President doesn’t care because he has secret service, my question is who will protect us if we are attacked because of deliberate national security leaks? Forgive me if it sounds selfish, but the administration shouldn’t put any of us in harms way for political advancement.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — June 14, 2012 @ 3:57 am

  20. Red Snapper:

    “The chance of a genuine internationalist revolution in the U.S. in the foreseeable future is, IMO, miniscule.” Many of us harbor such doubts. My own fear is that the U.S. will subside into Turkish-empire-style sick-man-hood, thus leaving an imperialist bone in the world’s throat for decades, perhaps centuries. In this scenario, tellingly, the immiseration of the U.S. worker–and the flat-out demise of the so-called Constitution—are soon complete, and the U.S. 99% are themselves the colonial playthings and victims of the rich. This process is not likely to take long.

    If you are a US-ian, it seems to me that your position is quite frankly both disingenuous and counter-revolutionary. At the very least it overlooks the rapid internal colonization of the U.S. 99% by the 1%.

    If you are not a US-ian, your hatred of the United States may (depending on the real reason for it) be just, but is clouding your judgment.

    If you “don’t think socialist, communists or anarchists should have different political positions depending on their country,” how is it that the only political action you defend in the United States is that of immigrants and oppressed minorities acting on behalf of precisely such revolutions?” Your “internationalism” is nothing but a discord of nationalisms. Which revolutions do you support, anyway? Which ones are genuinely “internationalist”? Egypt, Tunisia, Libya? Venezuela, Bolivia? Those revolutions are so far both highly nationalist in certain ways, arguably tainted by imperialism, and one would think highly imperfect by the standards of an idealist like you. China, North Korea, Cuba? Only Cuba in that group has any sort of claim. I assume you are an opponent of Syriza in Greece. That would mean supporting a form of electoral politics that could be adapted by a united Left in the United States.

    On the other hand, many people who interpret anti-imperialism as you do are fans of nationalistic tyrants and betrayers of their people like the late Qaddafi. It suffices for such people that the traitor in question should be arguably anti-imperialist or the victim of imperialism (as if a murderer could not murder another murderer). Are you one of those?

    In any case, as I understand it, revolutionaries operate within the concrete material circumstances of place and time. That is what they have to work with. Without this, how could there be any revolutionary practice? In that sense, every true revolutionary must have a “different position depending on .. country.” This is nothing but dialectical thinking, which you don’t seem to understand, preferring melodrama.

    As far as the United States itself is concerned, you advocate the destruction of the ruling class without any benefit to the working class except revenge and whatever good may befall workers in other countries. In fact, your use of the term “oppressed minorities” seems to substitute minority status for membership in the working classes, whose existence as such in this country you come perilously close to denying.

    You simply exclude the mainstream of the U.S. working class from participation in your revolution except in the case where they are also “oppressed minorities” or immigrants. In doing so, if you are to be taken seriously, you necessarily condemn them to vanish from the pages of history.

    That is what I meant when I said you advocate punishment of U.S. workers.

    Your denial that you advocate this simply proves your inability to grasp the necessary consequences of your thinking–or a fundamental lack of honesty.

    Revolution of, by, and for minorities–as such and exclusively, which is what you seem to be proposing–is assuredly not what Lenin meant when he asserted that revolution would spread to the advanced capitalist countries from “backward” countries like Russia. (I overlook the question about Russia’s eligibility, in your eyes, for revolution, since Lenin’s Russia was certainly one of the most ruthless imperial powers that the modern world has ever seen, and Lenin’s party prevailed because of mass support in Petrograd–the then capital–among workers and soldiers who were largely Great Russians.)

    Ms. Jeffries is criticising Obama for having betrayed (“endangered”) the people of the United States. You rebuke her because, as you put it, “I can’t imagine any ‘legitimate interests’ of U.S. workers being defended by a leader who is, at the same time, defending the interests of United Statesians against the rest of humanity.” But you are putting words in Ms. Jeffries’ mouth. She is criticising Obama because he has, as she sees it, endangered the U.S. people. Her saying this does not in and of itself necessarily entail support for a leader such as you describe, only the notion that the US people–I would say the workers, but might just as well say the 99%–have legitimate interests such that a bad leader can endanger them. How can you deny that Obama and the republicans have endangered the working class in this country–or assert that such an accusation cannot validly be made while imperialism exists? No revolution that has ever happened is as pure as what you pretentiously seem to be requiring.

    You not only reject drone wars and all the well-known crimes and injustices, you reject the notion that the 99% in this country have any legitimate interests at all unless they are immigrants or members of “oppressed minorities.’ That is your real objection to what Ms. Jeffries said, not the illogical straw effigy that you keep dragging in to confuse the issue.

    I wonder–if Ms. Jeffries turns out to be an immigrant or a member of an oppressed minority, will you lift the cherem under which you have placed her?

    Ms. Jeffries is a concerned citizen who as far as I can tell is not guilty of anything but having a characteristic US-ian point of view–a view characterized by very large tendentious assumptions surrounding the Jeffersonian view of apodictic morality–which she is at least willing to challenge by participating in these discussions. As you can see, she’s no fan of mine; nevertheless, I think it pointless bullying to denounce her in the disingenuous and self-serving manner you employ, especially when your own position, despite your assertion of global omniscience, is as questionable as it obviously is.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan. — June 14, 2012 @ 3:58 am

  21. PS. I don’t believe as I wound up saying that Venezuela and Bolivia are “tainted by imperialism. Bad sentence. They are however nationalist. In any case, it’s appropriate to ask what the true internationalist revolutions are that Snapper is defending.

    Ms. Jeffries does argue that Obama’s approach to war with Iran endangers the USians. Her past posts, as I recall, have been more on economic endangerment, and I did overlook this. However, it is certainly true that the working population in the U.S. are endangered by war fever and militarism. It’s crazy to twist that into some sort of call for stronger defense of the empire when it is obviously a statement of opposition to what Chomsky calls “perpetual war” and the social agenda that requires it.

    It all comes down to Snapper’s contempt for the U.S. proletariat and his obvious belief that they have no interests worth defending and, except for immigrants and minorities, actually ought to be endangered.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan. — June 14, 2012 @ 4:22 am

  22. PPS: “Lenin’s Russia.” Should have said something like “the Russia to which Lenin returned in 1917” or the “Russia of Lenin’s birth”–I did not mean “Russia under Lenin,” though it certainly sounds that way.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan. — June 14, 2012 @ 4:38 am

  23. They can yammer about Vietnam all they want but the facts don’t change, tbe brave American soldier got his ass kicked.

    Comment by purple — June 14, 2012 @ 5:04 am

  24. Joe Vaughan I think your assessment of my comments has been more than fair. I don’t expect any poster to agree with everything I say 100% as no two people will always be in agreement on any topic of discussion. I do think you understand where I’m coming from. My criticisms of Obama come from no political direction, rather it comes from my disgust of the dishonesty from the President and his administration. How can we expect AG Eric Holder to objectively investigate the leaks when Holder himself will likely be jailed next week if he doesn’t turn over 63,000 pages of documents in the fast and furious scandal? My point is we have a President who’s being investigated by a close friend (Holder) and that friend may be jailed next week because of his refusal to comply with a subpoena. There is a very BIG problem here folks. It goes way beyond a conflict of interest.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — June 14, 2012 @ 4:40 pm

  25. “I’m mystified, however, at Red Snapper’s apparent desire to see American workers punished for the sins of imperialism.”

    I’m not. 90% of “United Statesians” have been screwing the rest of the world full-time for 75 years. The 90% include segments of the immigrant and minority communities. The 90% has been complicit if passive and too dumb to get a good cut of the 1%’s takings. They will line up for the next war with Iran, Pakistan or whoever. So is the rest of the world supposed to admire this 90% because some of them work? Where Red Snapper was born or resides is immaterial. There is something called Internationalism. There’s a song we used to sing about it. I hope Joe Vaughn isn’t appealing to our patriotism, the last refuge of something or other.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — June 15, 2012 @ 3:07 pm

  26. Peter Byrne or whatever the fuck you’re calling yourself today:

    As I said–and as you prove–you and Red Snapper (who is pretty obviously you judging by your ‘I’m not’ slipup) want to punish 90% of what are commonly miscallled “Americans.” Thank you for making this clear.

    Internationalism is for the workers of all countries, including the united states. Period.

    You are an enemy of the working class and of true revolution anywhere in the world and you are perpetrating a despicable fraud.

    How grateful one is that you are all talk and no walk.

    You’ll never do anything but bitch.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan. — June 15, 2012 @ 11:23 pm

  27. PS: If there are two of you, this applies to both of you.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan. — June 15, 2012 @ 11:24 pm

  28. Dear Joe Vaughan:

    Put away your paranoia. I sign only my own name. I don’t know Red Snapper from red herring, but his or her internationalism is more real than your D.C. brand. Do you think that a farmer in Waziristan who loses a child to a drone missile is consoled to know that the workers on the drone assembly line belong to a union? On the other hand he would willingly sell a kidney to one of those workers. On the proceeds he could live three or four years and reach the local median age of forty. That’s solidarity.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — June 16, 2012 @ 11:13 am

  29. Dear Byrne: Since when is there any important difference between a Burned Peter and a Red Snapper?

    In any case your bourgeois ultra-leftism constitutes a convenient excuse for doing little but talk while denouncing those who seek a basis for a mass Left movement in this country.

    The “90%” of “Americans” you and your fellow phallus wish to eliminate are roughly 270,000,000 human beings. Your sentencing these people to non-existence would be monstrous if it were not plainly cuckoo.

    It would not surprise me to find that you (or both of you, if there are in fact two) are in the employ of the very imperium you affect to despise so much.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — June 16, 2012 @ 2:36 pm

  30. So you’ve found me a job with Imperium, Inc. Good. Could you now continue this paranoid fantasy and get my first salary check off to me? Every little bit helps to pay the rent.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — June 16, 2012 @ 4:17 pm

  31. You should be able to afford the rent in Waziristan. What are you doing anywhere else?

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — June 17, 2012 @ 7:14 pm

  32. I have no time at the moment to bother with Joe Vaughan’s reality-deficient rants. But I do want to clarify that I have never posted anywhere under the name “Peter Byrne”. And, for the record, back in November, long before I started posting as Red Snapper, I posted a few times here as “Old Red”.

    I hope, BTW, that none of my comments here, under any handle, will be quoted as authority 150 years from now by any faction of Snapperists.

    Comment by Old Red Snapper — June 17, 2012 @ 11:16 pm

  33. Red Snapper: Anyone who advocates the destruction of two hundred seventy million “Americans” in the interests of revolutions as yet unborn has no business calling others “reality deficient.”

    You are neither morally nor intellectually qualified to comment on anything I say.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — June 18, 2012 @ 12:16 pm

  34. Actually, strike that last sentence. As far as I’m concerned, you may snap your whipper as much as you like. Where would the world be without comic relief?

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — June 18, 2012 @ 12:43 pm

  35. Joe Vaughan: Is your use of the phrase “bourgeois ultra left” part of your comic relief? It’s nonsensical. If you are going to bring the 270 million to revolutionary boiling point, start by talking sense.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — June 18, 2012 @ 5:17 pm

  36. I quote from an article on marxists.org against so-called “new communism” in Canada. There are literally hundreds of sources for similar quotations from many places on the Left:

    “The counterrevolutionary character of ultraleft ideology derives from its class roots. These roots are petty-bourgeois, predominantly of an intellectualist stamp. Ultraleftists’ disaffection with the status quo is, by and large, personal. Rebellion, with a dramatic flair, has been their style since their proliferation on this continent in the 1960’s.

    As petty-bourgeois pseudo-intellectuals, ultraleftists always like to hear themselves talk; they spin new “theories” just to flatter their own vanity and to impress each other.”

    Following loosely on Lenin, this is an absolutely standard definition of ultra-leftism, from a socialist perspective, as an essentially bourgeois phenomenon (well, petty bourgeois, which in this case makes no difference.)

    The fact that you don’t understand this undercuts everything you say. Some Red you are. Of course the shoe fits you as if it had been custom-made.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — June 18, 2012 @ 8:14 pm

  37. Of course, in the unlikely event you have some pedantic point to make about Lenin’s famous pamphlet–i.e., that your lefter-than-left position is not “ultra-left” because you are not a supporter of Anton Pannekoek and council communism or equivalent or some such nonsense, I will have to refer you to Binh or Lars Lih or someone else better versed in the history of Bolshevism than I am.

    I sincerely doubt that this is the case however.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — June 18, 2012 @ 8:33 pm

  38. Joe Vaughan @33:

    Red Snapper: Anyone who advocates the destruction of two hundred seventy million “Americans” in the interests of revolutions as yet unborn has no business calling others “reality deficient.”

    Joe, if you can show where I’ve written anything that can reasonably be interpreted as advocating the destruction of even a few million “Americans” of any class, I’ll retract my assertion that your rants are “reality-deficient”. In fact, while I believe that destroying the ability of U.S. imperialism to continue to dominate and devastate the world and kill tens of millions of people every year through malnutrition, etc., would be worth a civil war in which a few million USians might die, I certainly don’t think that most of those deaths would be something to be desired. If, hypothetically, all those deaths were to be of fervent U.S. patriots, especially of those who were privileged, and not just brain-dirtied plebians, I wouldn’t see it as a great loss to the planet. But, in this regard, my attitude is far less callous, and more discriminating, than that of most leftists during World War II, who didn’t oppose, and often celebrated, the mass murder of ordinary German and Japanese people — people who had far less practical ability to oppose their ruling classes’ crimes than USians have now and have had in the past.

    Comment by Red Snapper — June 18, 2012 @ 10:52 pm

  39. “The chance of a genuine internationalist revolution in the U.S. in the foreseeable future is, IMO, miniscule [sic]. A ‘national socialist’ revolution is more likely, though, I hope, not probable. What may be possible is a splitting of the U.S. population so that a large portion of it, particularly immigrants and other oppressed minorities, acts in solidarity with global anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist struggles and makes it possible for revolutions in other parts of the world to succeed.”

    You have clearly confined your support to “immigrants and other oppressed minorities” and as a practical matter are in favor only of “revolutions in other parts of the world.” What form the actions of immigrants and the oppressed (whoever fits that bill in your eyes) could possibly take “in solidarity” with these “revolutions in other parts of the world “–of which, when challenged, you fail to name a single instance–is impossible to imagine. Statements of support and blogging pro or con this or that detail surely don’t suffice. Militant action is required.

    We are speaking of something in on the order of at least two hundred seventy odd million non-ruling-class inhabitants of the United States (allowing 1% at the top and 9% as their incorrigible handmaidens). When you extract the minorities that you fail to identify, you still have well in excess of two hundred million people. What do you imagine will happen to them if as you suggest they can only be the targets of “genuine” revolution as you define it and not revolutionaries themselves? When you say that, you are inescapably advocating their destruction by the revolutionary actions that you do advocate. They cannot be bystanders. Revolutions seek to destroy those who stand in their way. It’s the nature of revolutions.

    Let me put this another way. If you see in the 90% (let’s say) onlyeither the possibility of “national socialist” revolution or no revolution at all–which amounts to saying that the vast majority of “Americans” are Nazis at heart, but probably unable to make a Nazi revolution–how can you not advocate their destruction?

    If the numbers boggle your mind, I suggest the flaw is in your outlook, not in the people of the U.S. or in me.

    You don’t see any worthwhile potential at all in, for example, people like Ms. Jeffries, whose political consciousness from a hard Left point of view is certainly undeveloped to say the least, but who is nonetheless drawn to the Left even without quite being able to explain why.

    This is what I am quite understandably–as you now tacitly admit–calling your “ultra-leftism.” You represent yourself as redder than red when in reality you put everything off on unspecified others in unspecified locations whose success or failure you can do little or nothing to guarantee or, really, to assist in any important way. Whatever is near at hand you reject in a tone of angry superiority as not Red enough for you. Most convenient.

    It’s my belief that only with a mainstream mass Left movement in the United States (and for that matter the other so-called “advanced” countries) can the workers (or the 99%) complete or make way for a permanent world social change. Such a possibility is what I believe Proyect is trying to explore–with what success I can’t venture to say right now–but you explicitly reject it.

    In doing so, you are cutting yourself off at the knees. The more you flail away, the shorter you get.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — June 19, 2012 @ 4:20 am

  40. Joe Vaughan saviour of the millions (U.S.)! Brilliant! Talk about comic relief.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — June 19, 2012 @ 11:23 am

  41. Thanks for proving that you have nothing to say.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — June 19, 2012 @ 12:00 pm

  42. Did you think I’d enter into a “Who’s redder than who” shouting match with you including out of context quotations from “the founders”? Save it for after suppertime in your retirement home.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — June 19, 2012 @ 3:12 pm

  43. See my response to your previous comment.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — June 19, 2012 @ 5:09 pm

  44. […] Louis Proyect on Brand Obama and all that hopey-changey imperialism. […]

    Pingback by Stuff to fire you up: Perpetual fundraising edition | Socialist Agenda — November 22, 2012 @ 4:58 am

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