Labor and U.S. Politics

Chamber of Commerce Obamanomics

By Glen Ford

Obamanomics is much more an art than a science; a con man’s play, a liar’s game, a supremely cynical hustle. Actually, the scam is rather transparent and, by now, nauseatingly predictable—so much so that only those afflicted with an obsessive compulsion to suspend all disbelief when it comes to Obama are fooled. Unfortunately, there are still millions of such willfully bamboozled “marks” around, too many of whom belong to the very classes most victimized by Obamanomics.

Certainly, the rich beneficiaries of Obama’s shallow yet artful con know exactly what he’s up to. The top cats of corporate America are intimately familiar with talented, political thespians that strut the stages of corporate forums with peacock displays of their high offices and supposedly commensurate clout, only to more effectively kiss the collective, seated asses of corporate power.

The First Black President is no exception. In fact, he’s exceptionally good at puckering up for the moneyed mob while dropping a few phrases of empathy for the suckers in his “base.”

“Even as we make America the best place on earth to do business, businesses also have a responsibility to America,” said Obama, this week, at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters, just a block or so from the White House. “As we work with you to make America a better place to do business, I’m hoping that you are all thinking about what you can do for America.”

Yes, by all means, keep hope alive, despite all evidence to the contrary. But how do you propose that the rich make their contribution to the national project?

“Ultimately, winning the future is not just about what the government can do to help you succeed,” said the president. “It’s about what you can do to help America succeed.”

With that shameless bit of JFK mimicry, Obama proceeded to the business at hand: his gift list for corporate America. There was no corresponding tally of corporate obligations, just pure tribute to the victors in the class war: lower corporate tax rates; removal of federal regulations that act as irritating speed bumps on the highway to ever increasing profits; more “free trade”/jobs export agreements; increased government spending for research and development (R&D) that will ultimately be exploited for corporate gain, and “a bigger, permanent tax credit” for R&D that corporations undertake on their own; a new, 100 percent credit for capital investments, to coax out some of the $2 trillion cash that corporations are withholding from productive investment in the economy. All gain, no pain.

Pain is for the weak, those people who, says Obama, switching to his feeling-the-pain face, “see a widening chasm of wealth and opportunity in this country, and they wonder if the American Dream is slipping away.” They are right to wonder, because their president has nothing substantive to offer them but more pain:

“That’s why I’ve proposed that we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years, which would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and bring this spending down to the lowest share of our economy since Eisenhower was president.”

With this, Obama endorses the core corporate agenda that predates Eisenhower—indeed, predates both Roosevelts, Franklin and Theodore. Public intervention, he affirms, is what ails the U.S. economy. Shrinking the public sector is an absolute good, an economic and moral imperative.

This is a deeply conservative individual—if he has any principles, at all. The president is eager to move the bar even further rightward, with some help from his Republican partners.

“Now, it’s not going to be enough. We’re going to have to do more. Because the driving force on our deficits are entitlements spending. And that’s going to require both parties to work together, because those are some tough problems that we’re going to have to solve.”

Social Security is not, of course, a part of the deficit—but in Obama’s and the U.S. Chamber’s shared worldview, social spending is, if not an inherent evil, an unhealthy luxury that has become unaffordable, bad for business.

Obama asks only that his corporate audience look into their hearts and find some sympathy for their fellow citizens. “Ask yourselves what you can do to hire American workers, to support the American economy, and to invest in this nation.” That is, if it’s convenient. But no worry, it’s just a thought for you to consider after you’ve digested all these goodies I’ve brought.

The sop for the rest of America is offered indirectly, in the form of educational measures that will make U.S. business more “competitive” and “infrastructural investments” of “tax dollars that leverage private capital, and with projects determined not by politics, but by what’s best for our economy.”

Both schemes are designed to further weaken the public sphere and deepen corporate social and economic hegemony. His education thrust is to deploy federal dollars to force charterization—privatization—of public schools, even as the overall impact of shrinking federal spending forces states and counties, which pay the vast bulk of the educational bill, to lay off teachers and strip down curricula. By “infrastructural investments” Obama refers to his proposed “infrastructure bank,” which would subsidize corporate investments with federal monies for large projects chosen by private developers (read Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms)—which is what he means by “projects determined not by politics, but by what’s best for our economy.”

Immediately following his pilgrimage to the Chamber of Corporate Horrors, Obama put out word that he would propose stopgap legislation to help states avoid or delay having to raise taxes to pay the Great Recession’s mass unemployment insurance bills. Yet his total—and ideologically-based—capitulation to the Right’s “Starve the Beast” mantra guarantees a growing cascade of state budget crises and resultant collapse of public services and employment at the state and local level. Obama’s Republican partners hope to hasten the process of massive public sector bankruptcies in order to destroy forever the infrastructure of public intervention in ongoing corporatization of society.

The president’s groveling performance at the Chamber shows him, once again, to be a corporate facilitator who doesn’t even bother to polish up his old con game. All he now offers to the Democratic Party’s “base” is the “statistical lie” that a paltry 36,000 net increase in jobs can somehow cut the jobless rate from 9.4 to 9.0 percent.

And, oh yes, as Obama told a Black reporter after just 100 days in office, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Twenty-two months later, nearly everyone except his Chamber of Commerce crowd is sinking or has sunk.

Black Agenda Report, February 9, 2011