Tuesday, September 16, 2008

McCain uses "populist" rhetoric to gloss over his rightwing record and policies

by Norman Markowitz

After talking like Herbert Hoover for weeks, saying that the "economy was sound in its fundamentals" (Hoover' said that the "economy is fundamentally sound" in the midst of the greatest depression in modern history) McCain awoke to the collapse of Lehman Brothers,a collapsing Merrill Lynch being taken over by the Bank of America, and AIG going into crisis. He then announced that "Wall Street has betrayed us."

This sounded a little like William Jennings Bryan in 1896, minus the "ye shall not impress upon the brow of labor a crown of thorns, ye shall not crucify mankind upon a a cross of gold" rhetoric, with its evangelical overtones (he would let Palin take care of that).

Not that I am comparing McCain to Bryan. He after all was running on a progressive platform for the time, verbally sympathetic to urban labor and offering debt ridden farmers relief through currency expansion("free silver") He also said in that famous speech "the farmer is as much a businessman as the man who places his bet on the stock exchange" so he was at leas much more consistent in his opposition to Wall Street brokers and bankers, for whom the Republicans have been the preferred party since at least the 1880s, than McCain.

McCain also entered in his own way into the realm of political philosophy by saying that Wall Street was guilty of breaking the "social contract." What did McCain mean by that. Not quite what the French Philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau did when he developed the concept in the 19th century. The "social contract," McCain contended was between "capitalism and the people."

Now since PA is a journal of Marxist thought, we should say something about this. I would say that it is a statement which would bring a sarcastic smile to the lips of such diverse figures as Karl Marx and Adam Smith, V.I Lenin and Milton Friedman. There is not now nor has there ever been a "social contract" between "capitalism and the people" although capitalism is based on contracts to produce and distribute goods and services between capitalists themselves and most of all between capitalists and workers. These contracts are always based on attempted private profit maximization, within or on the fringes of the law. Also, the concept of a social contract in the thinking of Jean Jacques Rousseau (the 18th century French philosopher from whom the term comes) and earlier for that matter in the thinking of John Locke (who didn't use the term but whose influence on British and U.S. thinking was very great) was about the relationship of government to the people, about what constituted legitimate political authority, its limits and purposes.

As the European Union has developed in recent decades, labor and left influences have played a role in crafting a "Charter of Fundamental Social Rights" which include employment rights, health care rights, social protections for the elderly and disabled, "improvement of living and working conditions," "freedom of association and collective bargaining," along with equal treatment of men and women, even "vocational education. " Given his and their recorc, I would surmise that kind of Social Charter or Contract is the last thing in the world that either McCain or his party would even recognize, much less support.

So if McCain's statement has nothing to do with classic "social contract" philosophy or modern social rights policy, what is he talking about? I don't know and I don't really think he does either. He is talking about investigating "greed and corruption" on Wall Street. So was the Hearst Press a hundred years ago and every headline seeking politician before and after McCain has called for a Commission to "investigate" such "greed and corruption" This reminds me a little of Louis, the police prefect in the classic film, Casablanca, announcing that he was shocked that there was gambling on the premises as he called upon a surbordinate to make sure and pick up his winnings!

I would tell McCain that what we and maybe even he needs is a Commission to investigate the policies of the Reagan and subsequent administrations which led to the deregulation of energy and banking and literally broke down the separation and restrictions on banking and brokerage activities that New Deal policies instituted in the 1930s. It is rightwing government that has turned the stock market into a great casino for the banks once more, created the fantasy of a nation of internet stock market speculators, turned large sections of the population into a modern day equivalent of "sharecroppers" with credit cards, struggling to emerge from debts they accrue so that they can have housing, transportation, education, even food and clothing, a debt cycle that gets deeper and deeper as those who were called in the 19th century the "money kings" speculate with their lives.

The press is saying that McCain is "talking tough" about the crisis. I would say that he is merely posturing, and in a way that no one should believe. If McCain is serious, let him repudiate the Reagan-Bush policies that provide the context for the crisis. But the chances of him doing that are about as good as the chances of Bush endorsing the Employee Free Choice Act or a single payer national health program.

This escalating crisis of finance capital has the possibility of triggering a major global depression. It is evidence that an economic policy which breaks with the last thirty years of U.S. history is necessary and necessary asap--that is a policy which begins to focus the IMF and the World Bank away from its neo-liberal pursuit of free markets toward repairing social infrastructures, restricting speculation, and regulating capital flows internationally and a domestic policy which at the very least revives regulation and also moves back to Keynesian fiscal policies to increase mass purchasing power as against the present policy of encouraging "growth" through concentration, speculation, and debt. With Senator Obama, we have a decent chance to move in that direction. With McCain we can only expect that a bad situation will become worse.

This crisis further highlights the need to defeat both the McCain-Palin ticket and Republicans at all levels.