The last week in January proved to be eventful. First, President Obama gave a State of the Union address on Tuesday that set a new standard of empty rhetoric and low customer satisfaction. Most notable for skirting any important issues of the day, the address left both left and right uncomfortably disturbed by its lack of red meat.

Perhaps in looking for a signal of surrender to the right, conservative pundit, Peggy Noonan, called it “unserious,” “mushy,” and “barely relevant.” These non-ideological descriptions could equally serve the left.

Of course that was the point of the speech; the image crafters around Barack Obama are now engaged in a re-election campaign and that is exactly the porridge that best serves a sitting President.

For those on the right, it would be naïve to believe that Obama would come over to their side publicly, antagonizing the traditional Democratic base. Otherwise, there would be no political space for the AFL-CIO head, Richard Trumka, to praise Obama as “heading in the right direction.” Obama will appease his potential corporate contributors with deeds and not words.

For those on the left who remain expectant that Obama will break away from his corporate tether, call for a renewed commitment to progressivism, and propose even a weak anti-corporate, pro-people program, one can only prescribe new medication and a history lesson.

Many in our left – level-headed folks with an understanding of the two-party charade – expected to see an exposure of Obama’s perfidy in embracing debt hysteria and chopping essential public services. But eight years of Bill Clinton slipperiness should have taught that a clever elected official never shows his hand in public statements. And Barack Obama is certainly clever.

Putting aside naïve expectations, the real Obama message is that elections are serious business. Far too serious to engage in the posturing that feeds the punditry. Instead, a far-off election in 2012 calls exactly for a speech like the one Obama gave on Tuesday night, a speech that reaches the clouds in airy rhetoric referencing common sacrifice, noble goals and moving anecdotes. Its genius lies in placing seduction over substance.

Beyond the noise of the media gasbags, beyond the shallow electoral rhetoric, a different message has been delivered. Knowing corporate Republicans have gotten it.

The dry conservative wit Ben Stein spoke on CBS news (1-23-11) with only a touch of frivolity:

But wait a minute! Isn’t there someone out there who is Obama’s equal in oratory, charisma, and ability to draw votes who could run as a Republican?

Why, yes there is. Barack Obama himself.


Think about it: Since the election of 2010, he is clearly moving in the direction of the Republican Party. He has completely signed on to the Republican position on tax cuts and kicking the deficit can down the road.

In a more serious vein, the retired University of Chicago colleague of conservative icon Milton Friedman, Robert Z. Aliber, opined in a interview (1-28-11):

Not only is Obama serious about reducing our trade deficit with China, but he is also reviewing onerous business regulations. He hired big, bad banker Bill Daley as his chief of staff; he put cost-cutting General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE – News) Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt in charge of a "jobs committee;" and he even invited Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS – News) Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein, Wall Street’s prince of darkness, to the White House when Chinese President Hu Jintao was in town.

"There’s no need for the Republicans to put up a candidate in 2012," Aliber added. "The Republican candidate is President Obama."

Of course these reliable conservative voices are not advocating that Obama run for the Republican endorsement. Instead, they are affirming that corporate power is perfectly happy with an Obama second term. They are signaling that behind the curtain of tea-bagger histrionics, media antics, and poll-driven faux populism, core corporate Republicans would live happily with Obama at the executive helm. Having passed the test of corporate fealty, the President presents a more reliable, focused option over the theatrics of Palin and the other Republicans of dubious distinction and unproven corporate worthiness.

For Republicans, the 2012 Presidential campaign presents a problem: With a growing strength in Congress, they risk a setback comparable to the Barry Goldwater debacle – a quixotic campaign dominated by the crackpot right – if they sign on with Sarah Palin or her ilk.

Expect the corporate coffers to flow generously and overwhelmingly to Obama with only token support for the Republican outliers. If the Republican primaries produce a more centrist Republican, a more dedicated corporate type, he or she will likely fare poorly against a well funded incumbent. But the conservative Republican establishment seems pretty comfortable with such an outcome.

Of even more potential importance, the uprisings in the Middle East may well usher in changes that seriously challenge the stability of US imperialism. In the post-war period, the US has sought to establish a gendarmerie in the Middle East from friendly client states. In place of the traditional imperialist colonial structures, US policy shifted to establishing reliable and militarily powerful overseer states that would guarantee US economic domination while concealing the deep structure of neo-colonialism. For decades, Israel and Iran, under the Shah, performed this function in return for massive US aid, largely in the form of the most sophisticated US military weaponry.

For Israel, the deal guaranteed military advantage over any other Middle Eastern country. For the Shah, the compact funded a massive security apparatus against domestic opposition as well.

With the deposing of the Shah, the US lost its reliable partner, replacing it with Egypt. Now the second largest recipient of US aid in the Middle East, Egypt is responsible for containing Arab outrage with Israel and guaranteeing safe oil shipment through the Suez Canal and the Sumed pipeline.

But the successful uprising against the corrupt, reactionary government of Tunisia has inspired the Egyptian masses to rise as well against the brutal government of Mubarak. As this is written, his regime hangs by a thread. While events are confusing and fast moving, several points are apparent:

●The uprising seems to be popular, secular, broad-based and fueled by poverty, increasing food prices, and unemployment. Opposition seems to cut across classes.

●Mubarak has demonstrated no reliable base of support beyond his security services. Despite warm, close relations with its US counterparts, the military has yet to take strong action against the activists, even, in some reported cases, showing rank-and-file sympathy for the demonstrators.

●Slogans appear largely limited to the removal of Mubarak, often identifying him with the US and Israel, but with little to suggest a conscious program or unified leadership. Theocratic themes have been noticeably absent.

●The best gauge of the character of the revolt remains the US reaction: Confusion seems to have seized the US government caught between preserving a “democratic,” “human rights” image and defending its interests in Egypt and the guarantee of stability that Mubarak brought. Press Secretary Gibbs suggested that the US might withdraw aid; Secretary of State Clinton stated that there was no threat to do so. Government Officials call for “reform,” “change” and “peace,” but Clinton has assured the press that they have not sought Mubarak’s departure. Obama spoke to Mubarak, but only adding to the impression of diplomatic confusion.

●The US contingency plan in case of Mubarak’s departure seems to be based on the quick ascendancy of Mohamed El Baradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. While reviled by the Bush administration for his opposition to the Iraq invasion, he has apparently developed warm relations with the Obama Administration, according to The Wall Street Journal.

That same WSJ (11-29/30-11) issue notes that he has little connection to the uprising and even less credibility with the Egyptian masses. Nevertheless, El Baradei has returned to Egypt and insinuated himself into the role of opposition spokesperson – doing so with a remarkable speed, strongly suggestive of the assistance of US and possibly Egyptian security services. Counter-factually, the capitalist press has sought to portray the Johnny-come-lately ElBaradei and the previously stand-offish Muslim Brotherhood as the leadership of the movement.

Given the panic occupying US officials, the hitherto manageable stability of the Middle East seems to be in jeopardy. The outcome is far from decided, but certainly the risings are threatening to imperial domination of the region and promising for the national democratic processes that were far from completed in the region after the Second World War.

Time will tell if the US and its allies will be able to quell the risings or turn them to their own advantage, but the rising masses in the region deserve our solidarity.

An eventful week, indeed.

February 1, 2010