David Michael Green: Obama and Kagan from Politically Neutered Gen X
David Michael Green analyzes Obama AND Kagan in terms of what he calls “generational life experience and social and economic conditions.”
Green points out that the young people of the sixties flexed socially, morally, politically coming from a grounding of economic security. The result:
.. the Boomers were such a large generation that they sucked up a lot of opportunity in the economy for those who came after them. And in part, this happened because regressivism had begun its thirty year (and counting) successful project to undo the anomalous fairer wealth redistribution of the mid-twentieth century, which had scandalously produced a somewhat just economic system for the first time since the industrial revolution, if not ever.
Ergo, the follow-up generation to the boomers, according to Green don’t exhibit true ideological conservatism, but the “narrowest agenda of self” or a “peasant conservatism.” A “natural survival instinct.” Green sympathizes but this has left us as a nation vulnerable to their narcissism:
No generation I can think of has been handed a lousier deal by its parents and grandparents than Generation X (except Generation Y, of course), and none has responded to that as silently.
If Barack Obama isn't the epitome of this mentality, then Elena Kagan surely is. Nobody can figure out what she stands for, because she has been so careful never to stand for anything. Obama's really the same, although as a former candidate for the US Senate and the presidency, he's been obliged to make a few more vague noises about political positions than Kagan has or will in her confirmation process. In both cases, though, you can look long and hard - and ultimately in vain - for much of anything that resembles a political conviction. In the end, though, what both of these folks are really about is right there in front of you. They're about themselves. They are bloodless careerists.
So Green’s sad conclusion:
The upshot of all this is that America has been moving seriously rightward, at least concerning matters of political economy if not social policy, for a full generation or two now. Where once there was a right, now there is a rabid right. And where once there was a left, now there is a collection of apolitical careerists. Given the powerful ability of the right to tilt the playing field in every meaningful dimension, the policy options seemingly open to these would-be progressives when they gain office (which happens almost purely because of regressive over-extension, rather than on their own merits) are effectively, but not actually, proscribed to more of the same right-wing insanity that has brought this country so much grief and decline since the Hollywood Cowboy rode into town and borrowed insipid two-dimensional morality plays from the sets of B-movie lots and screened them as the cheap horror production known as American politics.
And, Green on the grotesque amorality of the right’s agenda:
…. The entire center of gravity of the Court (and the federal courts below it) has shifted dramatically rightward. Not only do regressives vehemently demand that Republican presidents nominate throaty young Troglodytes to fill any vacancy (as they did when they forced Bush to withdraw the Harriet Miers nomination), but this is in fact probably the single biggest reason that they fight so hard to win the presidency. Sure, they want some twisted pathological freak in the White House who will invade hapless third world countries, slash spending on the poor, keep the womenfolk in their place, and then piously attend church on Sunday (though both Reagan and W typically managed only the first three items on that agenda during any given week of their presidencies, but they faked their religiosity well enough that they were forgiven), but what they really want is somebody who will stick a Sam Alito on the Supreme Court for the next forty years.
As for the Dems:
Democrats, on the other hand, do what Democrats do best when it comes to making judicial appointments, or anything else for that matter. Which is to say just about nothing. This is why Kagan is so representative of Obama, and Obama is so representative of the politically neutered Generation X. Imagine somebody living through some of the most contentious debates of the last decades, and serving in some of the most prominent positions in and out of American government during that time, and leaving absolutely no paper trail whatsoever that indicates any politics of any sort. I'm sorry. Elena Kagan is not a socialist, she's a Kaganist. She's not a liberal, she's just a nil.
And so, as Stevens leaves and she fills his seat, the Court marches yet further rightward, with a weak apolitical centrist taking the place of a towering progressive. Meanwhile, Obama continues to do his part to aid in the complete repudiation of liberalism …
And more sad truth from Green (money quote of his from Rahm):
And nobody says much of nuthin' about it. Nobody holds Obama's feet to the fire like the right did to Bush with the Miers nomination. Can you imagine the conversations in the White House? Maybe some twenty-something rube staffer is dumb enough to say, "Hey, don't we need to appoint a progressive every once in a while to take care of our base?" To which everyone in the room bursts out laughing, and Rahm Emanuel responds: "#$@%& those stupid #@$^&-@#$#%'s. What are they gonna do? Send us #$^@ing email? Have a @#$%ing rally with fourteen aging hippies doing a sit-in at Harry Reid's office? $#@&$ ‘em, and the horses they rode in on. We answer to Wall Street, son."
So the short version of the story is that the aberration of partial economic justice and democracy that characterized the middle of the twentieth century is collapsing all around us. That implosion has now swallowed up both political parties.
And yet there is no left at all on the national horizon, apart from an occasional Bernie Sanders or Dennis Kucinich. Indeed, quite the opposite is the case. All energy is with the blind raging tea party mentality, which only seeks to vastly exacerbate the problem through some sort of vague libertarianism that will further unleash corporate dominance and further shred what little is left of a tattered social safety net in America.
You really have to hand it to the right. They understand mass psychology so much better than progressives do. They know that rationality is the first victim of fear, and that fear breeds upon itself, amplifying its own effects exponentially. They understand how fragile a thing is a thoughtful, sober and responsible democracy, and how readily undermined it can be for nefarious and hidden purposes.
And we on the left are left with the Obamas and the Kagans, willing to be paid off for passivity, without the moral imaginations or hearts to care and prevent America's in-progress (in Green’s words) “political and economic suicide.”