We tend to think of presidents and presidential candidates as autonomous actors. They are not.
We'd like to believe that if we just elect the right person, someone with the right stuff, a reformer, a visionary, someone with a dream for America, that they will, by the sheer force of who they are, change the sad and tragic trajectory of our nation. They won't.
The presidency is both a shiny object and a heat sink. It distracts us from what's being done to us, and to others in our names, while taking the heat off of those doing it. The Presidential cult of personality is but the shiniest of a whole raft of shiny objects that keep we, the little people, distracted while the 'smart money' has their way with us.
Over the past couple of decades it has been possible to observe that:
- You don't have to win the election to become president.
- Presidents are above the law.
- Presidents rarely do what they say.
- A primary function of any president is to shore up and defend the Status Quo, no matter how odious it may be and no matter what promises have been made.
- The presidency has been thoroughly compromised and is now owned lock, stock and barrel by the Military Industrial Complex, Wall Street, Corporate America, et al.
- We are ruled by the richest and therefore most powerful people.
- Presidents do what they're told by those who have been mistakenly allowed to acquire ungodly wealth and power – and who, sadly, lack any and all mitigating qualities of leadership or humanity one would hope for: wisdom, responsibility, mercy, compassion, understanding, foresight, etc.
- Presidential candidates who get too close to the office in question and who do not signal a complete willingness to play ball with the war profiteers and gangster bankers in charge, get stopped one way or another. Just ask Howard Dean - or better yet, Al Gore (h/t Gooserock).
- Presidents belong to the empire, not the people.
The Obama administration is the proof of many of these observations. People voted for desperately needed change. Look what we got instead. This was the one candidate, in who knows how long, who seemed to get it – the need for change, the one candidate who might reasonably have been expected to deliver on that promise. It breaks my heart to say so (I know ppl will scream that's disingenuous, but it's true), but the reality was clear from early on in his first administration when he set about naming Bushites and Wall Street gangsters to his cabinet – that nothing major was going to change. Candidate Obama was all about change ("It's dangerous to keep doing what we're doing!"), President Obama was all about the Status Quo ("[We] must embrace the need for modest reforms.")
But none of this is new. This is the way it goes. The people have their say, sometimes that is honored (superficially at least) and then the 1% circle the wagons and get their guy to do their bidding. Everyone else can go pound sand. Let them eat speeches and empty gestures. Winning is purely symbolic. We, the people, lose - even when we win.
The problem is not with who is president at any given time, it's with the presidency itself. The office has been captured and is wholly owned by the Military Industrial Complex and Wall Street – in other words, the 1%. The transformation from presidential candidate to president involves knuckling under to these guys. It could hardly be more obvious.
Obama's Transformation from National Security Dove to Hawk Is the Norm: Presidents Are Captive to America's Imperial Power
In 2008, a massive groundswell of ordinary citizens swept Barack Obama into office. It was a proud victory for the little people: America's first president of color elected resoundingly by a people who rose to the promise of hope and change after eight long and hideous years of brutal rightwing madness. A people's president...finally!
So, why not go after the ones who wrecked our economy? Why not prosecute the blatant, in-your-face criminals that riddled the Bush administration starting from the very top? Why not reassure the international community that in the USA, the land of equality and justice for all, not even the president is above the law?
Not looking back means not looking at all. Ford pardons Nixon, the next thing you know presidents can do anything: trade missiles with enemies, lie the country into bogus wars, torture helpless prisoners to death, start secret wars for secret reasons, have secret interpretations of Constitution-shredding laws, target Bedouins for assassination from air-conditioned offices in Washington DC. Most people probably didn't fully appreciate Ford's contribution to the decline and fall of the empire. Forgive me if I'm not sure how to feel about it myself. Sometimes empires deserve to fall. I was hoping we'd avoid it, and hope still for a soft landing. But it's hard to be sympathetic with all that this empire has become.
It's been a long time since I felt there was anyone in the white house who was my friend...and I was mistaken then. It just could not be more obvious - we're on different teams. I'm on the side of the activists, the dissidents, the scientists, the disillusioned youth. I'm with the ones saying 'Whoa! That's no way to treat planets or people. Profit doesn't sanctify profiteers. And war sanctifies nothing but greed, hatred, meanness and cruelty. There has to be a better way for us all...and we'd best be about the business of finding it fast.'
Presidents serve the rich. Period. The Powers That Be no longer really care who we elect. Whoever takes office will do their bidding. The levers of power are well in hand. Their's.
It's sad but true. The presidential myth is just magical thinking.
Presidents can't save us. They don't belong to you or me. They belong to the ones murdering our planet and sealing our doom. And they must be stopped.
And now, your moment of Zinn.
“There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”
“Historically, the most terrible things - war, genocide, and slavery - have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience.”
“The power of a bold idea uttered publicly in defiance of dominant opinion cannot be easily measured. Those special people who speak out in such a way as to shake up not only the self-assurance of their enemies, but the complacency of their friends, are precious catalysts for change.”
“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”
“I was astonished, bewildered. This was America, a country where, whatever its faults, people could speak, write, assemble, demonstrate without fear. It was in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. We were a democracy...
But I knew it wasn't a dream; there was a painful lump on the side of my head...
The state and its police were not neutral referees in a society of contending interests. They were on the side of the rich and powerful. Free speech? Try it and the police will be there with their horses, their clubs, their guns, to stop you.
From that moment on, I was no longer a liberal, a believer in the self-correcting character of American democracy. I was a radical, believing that something fundamental was wrong in this country--not just the existence of poverty amidst great wealth, not just the horrible treatment of black people, but something rotten at the root. The situation required not just a new president or new laws, but an uprooting of the old order, the introduction of a new kind of society--cooperative, peaceful, egalitarian.”