Power is its own policy.
Recently a fire fight has broken out in the Democratic Party and the Progressive movement over Paul Krugman’s comment that Barak Obama’s support is beginning to look like a personality cult. It has always been a personality cult. I wrote that back in 2006 – that Obama’s support was a budding personality cult. That’s what was always ticket to the race, that he not only had unlimited self-love, but he allowed other people to bask in it.
We are now on the other side of that arc. Obama has successfully established a personality cult, and he is poised to take the democratic nomination, precisely because the ground has shifted under Hillary. The movement to let the “voters” decide the nomination is a chimera. The voters didn’t decide the structure of selecting delegates in the first place. Caucuses are undemocratic. Deals were cut.
At various times, if there had been a mythical national primary, Hillary would have won. But there was no such primary, and now, after the undemocratic process, she would probably lose such a primary. What’s created this firestorm however is something very simple: Hillary Clinton loathing. And people will hear nothing that is not aimed at toppling her. I am not shedding any tears for Her Royal Clintoness, because she lived by the Revolution, and she is dying by it.
Let me start from the background.
Power is the ability to multiply statements and actions by having others amplify the results. The first priority of power is dynamics of power. Not to maintain power, but the dynamics of power. Like chess, ever power dynamic has its rules, and those rules come before everything, even winning the game. That means that power is its own policy: there is a cone of acceptable actions that build a system of power, that protect the cascade downwards.
In 1991-1994 a Revolution occurred in American politics. That revolution was the final establishment of a representative plutocracy, where each party apparatus was controlled by an individual who controlled the flow of fundraising. The ultimate winners were Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich. This system was the logical result of a media age. Cults of personality in Democratic nations are not new. Hoover had one, FDR had one. Charles de Gaulle had one.
However it was Reagan who governed by cult of personality in America, and since then to be President was to have a cult of personality to stand by a leader regardless of failings and foibles. In the end impeachment of Bill Clinton was about destroying his cult of personality, more than even his Presidency. Gore grew a cult of personality. Kerry never could generate one. Edwards failed to generate one. Clark grew one and lost it. Dean grew one, but not far enough.
To be in media politics is to be a cult figure.
The Cult of Obama and the Cult of Clinton
Barak Obama entered the race betting everything on his cult of personality. I didn’t believe it would carry him to the nomination at the time, but clearly it has gotten him close. Obama’s entry into the race obliterated the chances of third tier candidates to break through. Obama feeds his cult of personality relentlessly and with every speech. Everything is about how wonderful we will be when “I am President.” Go back to his victory speech. Count the number of times he utters the phrase.
Clinton’s cult of personality is both on the wane, and never touched the internet in any meaningful way. Her Royal Clintoness was the creature of old politics. She never bothered to create an online presence, even though she hired some of the best internet minds out there.
This clash then looks as it does for a simple reason: Obama’s cult of personality is entrenched among the people who write, and it is waxing in strength. People support it, not because of Obama himself, because of what they hope to get if he prevails. Now, their wrong. Obama is as much a creature of the representative plutocracy, if not more so, as Hillary Clinton. They will find in the morning that the same back room machinations that Hillary used to try and pull Michigan and Florida’s delegates into her column, will be Barak Obamas. Counting only Primaries, and not Caucuses, and Obama looks much worse relative to Hillary. In a mythical national primary, he might still lose.
But in a larger and more important sense, he is winning, and may well have already won. This is because he represents in the minds of many some mythically more democratic mode. It is a lie. Obama is an old politics creature: he creates public approval, and sells this to those who need public approval to get what they want. One of those groups is the state level arm of the Democratic Party. You see, in over four years of being the front runner for 2008, Hillary was the front runner for 2008 in 2003, Hillary has not convinced anyone to vote for her that was not going to vote for her before. She started at 40%, she has stayed there basically. Candidates have dropped out, and some of their support has gone to her. But Obama started at 20%, and of the 30% of support that has ebbed from Gore, Edwards, Richardson, Dodd and others… Hillary has gotten about a quarter.
If you are a Democratic politician outside the Democratic core, this is disaster. Obama, by trying to appeal to moderates and centrists, stands a better chance of not upsetting your election or reÃ«lection chances. This is why the tilt is going farther and farther against Hillary. Let me underline this point as it shows up in the drive to not have the “super-delegates” decide the nominee. Super delegate represent entrenched and elected party interests, not party interests in states that are right now in Republican hands.
This means that Obama’s cult is not only more verbal and growing, it is better placed.
The Pwning of the Progressive Movement
The outrage over Obama then isn’t over cults of personality. Bill Clinton had one, Gore had one. Bush has held on by his. He may well be the first President to have his entire second term below 50% support. And most of it under 40%.
The outrage is that Obama’s cult represents to people the end of the Clintonian era in the party, when it seemed over and over again that initiatives were stopped because the Clintons decided how they would be triangulated into place to support Bill Clinton. This is not an empty view: Clinton made little effort to win back Congress. He made little effort to win over state houses and governorships. Under his Presidency, the rest of the Democratic Party was under pressure from one side of the country to the other. Reliably Democratic states, such as Massachusetts and New York, stayed under Republican Governors.
No system of governance with an executive will avoid having a cult of personality around the leader of some kind. That cult is what creates a corps who will enact power for the executive, and will protect the system by which the executive acts. The cult of personality grew around Lincoln in his time in the Presidency, it catapaulted Grant to high office. And this was when mass communications was the telegraph and the railroad carrying mail and newspapers.
In our present I find it impossible, in the end, to support HRC for the nomination. Her blunders in judgement are too many and too frequent to be an accident. When the large issues come up, she jumps the wrong way. HillaryCare was an accident. But in being a backer Iraq, she was her own boss. And Iraq is clearly the largest post-cold war strategic blunder. In this sense I back Obama by default, simply because I know that Hillary will blunder the next big decision. Something we cannot afford.
However, in that context there is now a struggle for what kind of Obama nomination and presidency there will be. The explosion over Krugman’s comments indicate that struggle is lost. We are going to be treated to a nice huge vat of “shut the fuck up” Obamism.
I just hope that the people now outraged over Krugman telling the truth, will remember this moment the next time that Obama tells the blogosphere to shut the fuck up, which he has done several times. He must, because as a representative plutocrat, he not only must create a loud noisy ball of people, he must have control over them, and will crush anyone who attempts to swim in that environment and direct it. He has promised his backers control over that ball, and anyone who moves it in another direction will be seen as a threat. He’s already done this, and therefore, I am sure he will do it again.
In 1994 I wrote in The Revolution Itself that we could expect the owners of streams of money to overshadow events. We have seen in the elapsed almost 15 years how, repeatedly, arguments over the cults of personality have overshadowed the issues. Bush occupies more ink than any of the much larger problems of our time. Now the fight over Clinton and Obama occupies more ink and more anger than the real problems the progressive movement has. Power is still its own policy, and we have cults of personality, precisely because people want a politics of personality, and not a politics of substance.
It is disappointing, but not unexpected.