By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
They say that elections do matter, and that there are real differences between Republican and Democratic presidents. But backing up the view to 30 years, that difference looks a lot more like continuity, both at home and in America's global empire.
Is This Barack Obama's 2nd Term or Bill Clinton's 3rd Term, or Ronald Regan's 9th?
By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
The answer is yes to all three. Ronald Reagan hasn't darkened the White House door in decades. But his policy objectives have been what every president, Democrat and Republican have pursued relentlessly ever since. Barack Obama is only the latest and most successful of Reagan's disciples.
Like the present era, the Reagan presidency marked a series of decisive rightward turns for US empire at home and abroad.
Reagan's invasion of Grenada, along with his bloody contra wars in Central America and southern Africa signaled the renewal of on and off the books of US military interventions when and wherever the logic of empire suggested, and regardless of namby-pamby concerns of human rights, domestic or international law. But if being a Republican means you can be a naked imperialist at home as well as abroad, being a Democrat like Barack Obama means making sufficiently ambiguous noises war and empire to enable corporate media and your own campaign to manufacture a false narrative of actual and substantive difference between Democrats and Republicans.
The first president Bush invaded Panama, and landed US troops in Somalia, a supposed “humanitarian” intervention. Bill Clinton massively increased the shipment of US military hardware and training to more than 50 of Africa's 54 nations, fueling the conflict in Congo which has taken 7 million lives to date. That's continuity of purpose and of policy.
In Barack Obama's case all he had to say was that he wasn't necessarily against wars, just against what he called “stupid wars.” Corporate media and “liberal” shills morphed that lone statement into a false narrative that Barack Obama opposed the war in Iraq, making him an instantly viable presidential candidate at a time when the American people overwhelmingly opposed that war. Once in office, Barack Obama strove mightily to abrogate the Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq which would have allowed US forces to remain there indefinitely. But when the Iraqi puppet government, faced with a near revolt on the part of what remained of Iraqi civil society, dared not do his bidding, insisting that uniformed US troops (but not the American and multinational mercenaries we pay to remain there) stick to the withdrawal timetable agreed upon under Bush, liberal shills and corporate media hailed the withdrawal from Iraq as Obama's “victory.”
Barack Obama doubled down on the invasion and occupation of large areas of Afghanistan, and increased the size of the army and marines, which in fact he pledged to do during his presidential campaign. Presidential candidate Obama promised to end secret imprisonment and torture. The best one can say about President Obama on this score is that he seems to prefer murderous and indiscriminate drone attacks, in many cases, over the Bush policy of international kidnapping secret imprisonment and torture. The Obama administration's reliance on drones combined with US penetration of the African continent, means that a Democratic, ostensibly “antiwar” president has been able to openly deploy US troops to every part of that continent in support of its drive to control the oil, water, and other resources there.
The objectives President Obama's Africa policies fulfill today were put down on paper by the Bush administration, pursued by Bill Clinton before that, and still earlier pursued by Ronald Reagan, when it funded murderous contra armies of UNITA in Angola and RENAMO in Mozambque. It was UNITA and RENAMO's campaigns, assisted by the apartheid regimes of Israel and South Africa that pioneered the genocidal use of child soldiers. Today, cruise missile liberals hail the Obama administration's use of pit bull puppet regimes like Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, all of which shot their way into power with child soldiers, to invade Somalia and Congo, sometimes ostensibly to go after other bad actors on the grounds that they are using child soldiers.
If either George Bush, or if Ronald Reagan had openly deployed US troops to Africa on anything like the scale President Obama has, black America would be up in arms. They wanted to. They couldn't. It seems that now, by giving us a black president, the empire can get just about whatever it wants.
It works the same way at home. Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush would have liked to tamper with social security, but dared not. All Reagan could do was tell welfare queen jokes, and despite Reagan's open disdain of organized labor, NAFTA was a distant wet dream of corporations and billionaires. The first president Bush proposed NAFTA but could never get it through Congress. It took a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who marshaled a minority of Democrats in Congress to vote with Republicans both to pass NAFTA and to eliminate welfare. It was Bill Clinton who publicly embraced Republican myths about balancing the US budget, while allowing liberals to imagine he would deliver a “peace dividend.” The second president Bush openly trumpeted right wing lies about the solvency of social security and the (lies which Barack Obama happily repeats to this day) and tried more than once to privatize it. Again, that's continuity across administrations and parties.
True to form, Obama picked the ball up where his predecessors left it and has run relentlessly righward ever since. Barack Obama uses the language of the elites when he calls social security, Medicaid and Medicare and other federal benefits “entitlements” and asserts that their growth must be trimmed. He championed the formation of a deficit reduction commission chaired by Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, both advocates of privatizing social security and drastic cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and federal benefits and tried to fast-track their recommendation through Congress. Fortunately that recommendation never came.
Just last week, Obama offered as his opening position in negotiations with Republicans, the chaining of social security and all other federal benefits to the consumer price index --- a monstrous betrayal that will reduce social security benefits by as much as $100 monthly by a decade from now. It wasn't anything he had been cornered into by Republicans. It was the point from which Barack Obama decided to start. That's continuity. Only a Republican president, like Richard Nixon, could go to China in the 1970s. Only a black Democrat can break his promises to labor on championing a card check law, refute his commitments to a just and fair media with network neutrality, and do nothing to roll back the prison state which has engulfed black and brown youth. Only a black Democrat could deport more Latinos than all the last three Republicans together, in his first term alone.
In the game of advancing the interests of the American people, it seems, Democrats and Republicans are not mutual opponents. They are a tag team, each one pushing the ball further and further down the field in the wrong direction. It's still winter in America, and the dead hand of Ronald Reagan still guides this nation, decades after his exit from the White House. Welcome to the 9th term of Ronald Reagan, in the person of Democrat Barack Hussein Obama.
One could also argue, since we are in the grips of the greatest depression, although we don't call them that any more, since the 1930s, and Obama's economic policies bear more in common to Herbert Hoover than to Franklin Roosevelt, that we're living through Herbert Hoover's third term as well. But we'll save that for another day.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and lives and works near Marietta GA. He is a state committee member of the GA Green Partyand can be reached via this site's contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.