Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Barack Obama: Authoritarian Populist

In the 1920s and early 30s, Huey Long was the King of Louisiana. The actual elected offices he held - Public Service Commissioner, Governor and Senator - were mere formalities. Long ruled Louisiana with absolute power.

He rigged his share of elections, but once in power he really didn't have to - he got all the votes he needed by bribing people. Not with money or jobs (though he used those, too), but with populism.

The Kingfish was for the little guy, and he proved it with lots of laws, policies and programs that started to lift Louisiana out of its 18th-century mudhole and alleviate some of the worst of its poverty.

But the price Louisianans paid for a small improvement in their standard of living was losing the liberty to hold their benefactor accountable. Their votes had put him in position to grab so much power they couldn't get rid of him.

An assassin put an end to the career that might have taken the Kingfish to the White House, so the question of whether Long was a genuine American Fascist or simply the most powerful Populist in American history remains unresolved.

Today, however, we have before us the spectacle of a political debate in which self-proclaimed "liberals" and "progressives" are defending Barack Obama's profoundly un-American and un-Constitutional vote to dismantle the Fourth Amendment. They defend Obama on the grounds that - wait for it - he's a Populist.

Well, of course he is. That's the way - the only way - a Democratic candidate gets elected president.

But today, by voting to gut the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, Barack Obama proved himself an authoritarian willing to do whatever it takes to gain and hold power.

Don't get me wrong. I'm voting for Obama in November and encourage everyone else to do so, too. But let's elect him our 44th President with our eyes wide open about his Authoritarian Populism.

Obama has taken strong progessive stands on issues dear to Democratic and Liberal hearts, including:

  • Come out against the California gay marriage amendment
  • Promoted details of a tax plan which would cut taxes for the working poor and middle class by thousands of dollars each, while massively increasing taxes on the wealthy
  • Condemned bad trade deals, enough to raise the ire of the news pages of the Wall Street Journal (which under Murdoch are morphing into as rightwing as the old editorial pages) which characterized his stance as "likely to rile allies."
  • And just yesterday called for overhaul of the 2005 bankruptcy bill and denounced McCain for his support of the bill and the banking industry "at the expense of hardworking Americans."

But not since Franklin Delano Roosevelt sent thousands of American citizens to prison camps for the crime of choosing their ancestors poorly has a Democratic presidential candidate so blatantly attacked the Constitutional rights of American citizens.

As Glenn Greenwald put it in just the latest of his many superb and passionate posts on the FISA abomination:

Today, the Democratic-led Senate ignored those protests, acted to protect the single most flagrant act of Bush lawbreaking of the last seven years, eviscerated the core Fourth Amendment prohibition of surveillance without warrants, gave an extraordinary and extraordinarily corrupt gift to an extremely powerful corporate lobby, and cemented the proposition that the rule of law does not apply to the Washington Establishment.

I still hold out hope that Obama is playing a very deep game and will tack back to the true American majority after he is elected.

But as the Kingfish discovered, authoritarian power is, in the end, incompatible with American Democracy.

Cross-posted at Blue in the Bluegrass.