Psychiatrists will attest that it is during emotional depression that great strides can be made in radical alteration of behavior and philosophy. Trauma, in other words, can be a great teacher. Everything is stirred-up, topsy-turvy, and thus can rise to the surface and become manifest and workable. In such a tumultuous time, clinical depression can be, and must be, dealt with creatively.
I suspect much is similarly true with great upheavals in the body economic and body politic. One is no longer in a safe, solid groove. The ingredients are there for some extraordinarily inventive and spontaneous activity and thought. (A digressive example: My wife says that some of her favorite moments in the kitchen are when, for one reason or another, she has to put together a full dinner quickly with nothing else but what’s in the fridge and pantry. No time to shop, no recipes, just creative meldings and the culinary imagination.)
I’m not suggesting we should consciously try to create recessions and economic depressions to get ourselves into that ultra-creative mode, only that when we are in those states of flux, we open ourselves to the possibility of progressive transformational opportunities. See it as a variation of "shock doctrine" but from the left, this time used for purposes of expanding peace and justice.
The U.S., indeed much of the world, is in such a trauma mode right now, and it’s going to get worse, much worse, before it gets even worse, and then it will start to level off and then get better. When? Everyone’s speculating. My guess is a minimum of three years before we start to see some consistent light at the end of the economic-meltdown tunnel.
A WHOLE LOT OF PAIN
Why so long? A whole lot of hurt has to work its way through the system. That takes time, and is derived from a whole mess of strands: the housing bubble bursting with even more foreclosures and bankruptcies still to come, the bundling of toxic debt instruments and selling them all over the globe, the lack of available credit, industry after industry downsizing, massive and growing unemployment — in other words, a perfect, cascading storm of economic awfulness, helped along by a greedy conservative philosophy that the CheneyBush Administration used to justify the removal of virtually all regulation and oversight from the financial system. The result, of course, was to permit, nay encourage, all sorts of shady schemes that eventually blew up in the faces of anyone in the vicinity.
As I’ve written previously, the warning signs for the coming financial tsunami were pointed out more than a year ago by Administration officials, economists, and independent analysts on the internet. But nothing was done. I suspect the Bushites were trying to postpone having to admit and deal with the enormity of the problem, at least until after Inauguration Day, so that the catastrophe could be blamed on the new president since it all fell apart on his watch.
The new President would have to spend every waking hour and all resources on the economic disaster, leaving nothing available for new programs. The result would be the wrecking of any popular momentum and increasing his chances for failure, thus making it easier for the GOP to climb back into the electoral driving seat in 2010 and 2012.
In this light, as we prepare to move into a new calendar dear, it might be useful to examine where we are as a nation and where we might be going.
OBAMA DECISIONS ARE KEY
Virtually everything depends on President Obama’s official moves after January 20, 2009. If, as president, he chooses to govern mainly from the middle and middle-right, as his appointments would seem to indicate, he will have squandered his opportunity to effect the positive, major, systemic reforms that the country requires. BandAids are useless when the arterial bleeding is so massive.
For example, Treasury Secretary Paulson, with Congressional approval, has created in the government’s financial-bailout program a legalized system of organized looting of the public coffers that may wind up costing several trillions (!) of dollars, all this with no effective oversight. And with loopholes for outrageous executive bonuses big enough to drive trucks through. In short, the giant banking and financial institutions are picking the treasury clean and doing precious little about helping out ordinary homeowners and small-business owners by freeing up the credit system.
If Obama were to leave those programs and administrative personnel in place, even temporarily, he would signal that the American public, and the recessionary global economy, can expect little of the major change he promised, just more of the same with a different face. That would be an instant recipe for a quick slide into another Great Depression, much like the U.S. and world experienced in the 1930s.
There’s no guarantee we’re not headed that way anyway. The perfect-storm ingredients are still heading us toward a full-scale Depression over the next few years. But if certain actions are quickly taken now, it’s still possible to mitigate the intensity of that scenario and its resulting suffering for so many. Don’t expect any help from the current administration in its final months. Bush has disappeared into a delusional fantasy world of his "positive legacy," and is taking no action other than to permit the organized theft of the treasury to continue essentially unchecked.
NO FREE RIDE THIS TIME
Based on President-Elect Obama’s recent statements, it’s likely that he and his economic advisors foresee a desperate future unless they act boldly and swiftly. And so they are, as I write this and as you read this, working like crazy to step in on Day One with their massive infrastructure-works programs and other momentum-changing plans. If President Obama does indeed act quickly and confidently on his economic recovery plans, he will bring some calm and hope to a nation, a world, terrified of the ramifications of an American and a global Depression.
But even under the best of circumstances, he clearly is not going to get a free ride forward. He may not even be permitted to enjoy a brief "honeymoon."
The Republicans, devoid of a program that is acceptable to the majority of Americans, have returned to the only thing they know how to do, a position recently propounded by Karl Rove and his minions in Congress and the mass-media: try to tarnish Obama’s reputation and obstruct any positive developments and momentum initiated by the Democrats. (So far, that strategy seems not to be working, as Obama overwhelmingly is given high marks for his behavior in the transition period.)
OBSTRUCTION AS POLICY
GOP leadership in the House and Senate apparently refuse to learn the lesson of the November election, when the voters — except in the Plains states and in a segment of the Old Confederacy in the Deep South — clearly rejected their presidential standard-bearer and their party in favor of Obama and mostly middle-left Democrats in Congress. With crazy logic, and with a straight face, they claim that Obama, who took the Electoral College vote by more than two-to-one and bested McCain by more than 9,000,000 popular votes, has "no mandate" but must rule from the center-right if he wants to get anything done. (Scarily, there are a good many Democrats who buy into that distorted view.)
The Republicans can’t do much effective damage in the House, where they are overwhelmed by the Democratic majority. So they will carry out their obstructionism in the Senate, since the Democrats can’t easily get the 60 votes required to end GOP filibusters. The first public act of obstructionism was, since they couldn’t bust the autoworkers unions, to deny a bailout loan to the Big Three carmakers.
Outright obstructionism is a daring strategy by the Republicans, since the overwhelming sentiment of Americans right now is for positive, major change. If the GOP continually blocks the changes desired by the citizenry, the odds increase that the voters may turn the Republicans into a permanent minority party in 2010.
THE PERMANENT CAMPAIGN
The Obama strategy to combat the Republican dead-enders is to use what worked in the campaign: build (or more correctly re-build) its popular mass movement of active supporters to lobby representatives and senators to approve policies being pushed by the Obama Administration. In other words, turn the volunteers who worked and gave money to the campaign into permanent foot soldiers in the neighborhoods, congressional districts, and states.
There is no guarantee that the same energy and passion that infused the Obama campaign at the grassroots will be there for the much harder, permanent work of lobbying and nitty-gritty political action. We’ll see how effectively the Obama campaign succeeds in this regard, probably starting out on the issue of reforming the dysfunctional health-care system.
Also yet to be seen is how much energy, time and money the progressive Democratic base will kick in. Many are extremely suspicious of Obama, given that he’s given progressives virtually nothing but the back of his hand in selecting his all-important foreign-policy and national-security teams.
And it’s not clear how transparent this new grassroots Obama campaign will be, and whether it will allow for democratic input from the bottom up to the top leadership, especially when local chapters disagree with an Obama policy proposal.
My guess is that the progressive base in the next few months will, as it should, be organizing itself as a lobby within the lobby being established by the Obama camp. Unless they make their voices heard in attempting to keep Obama from being sucked even further into the Beltway middle-right black hole, they realize they will have precious little influence on the major decisions that are about to be made with regard to America’s, and thus the world’s, future.
Happy New Year!