Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hebbadabbado?  (Satisfied Stratum of Centrist Commentators — People Well Pleased with Obama’s Record and Slapping Down Liberals Who Fault Obama’s Leadership)  It’s Not Just Fox News:  How Liberal Apologists Torpedoed Change/Made Democrats Safe for Wall Street (They Got What They Wanted?)

Paris Trumps Boston?

New issue of Charlie Hebdo sells out quickly


The words defending offensive speech and those defending the offensed are flying around the internets.

There are even some excellent arguments to be found among them.

Here are my picks.

Charlie Hebdo

Paul Craig Roberts
January 13, 2015

The Charlie Hebdo affair has many of the characteristics of a false flag operation. The attack on the cartoonists’ office was a disciplined professional attack of the kind associated with highly trained special forces; yet the suspects who were later corralled and killed seemed bumbling and unprofessional. It is like two different sets of people.
Usually Muslim terrorists are prepared to die in the attack; yet the two professionals who hit Charlie Hebdo were determined to escape and succeeded, an amazing feat. Their identity was allegedly established by the claim that they conveniently left for the authorities their ID in the getaway car. Such a mistake is inconsistent with the professionalism of the attack and reminds me of the undamaged passport found miraculously among the ruins of the two WTC towers that served to establish the identity of the alleged 9/11 hijackers.

It is a plausible inference that the ID left behind in the getaway car was the ID of the two Kouachi brothers, convenient patsies, later killed by police, and from whom we will never hear anything, and not the ID of the professionals who attacked Charlie Hebdo. An important fact that supports this inference is the report that the third suspect in the attack, Hamyd Mourad, the alleged driver of the getaway car, when seeing his name circulating on social media as a suspect realized the danger he was in and quickly turned himself into the police for protection against being murdered by security forces as a terrorist.

Hamyd Mourad says he has an iron-clad alibi. If so, this makes him the despoiler of a false flag attack. Authorities will have to say that despite being wrong about Mourad, they were right about the Kouachi brothers. Alternatively, Mourad could be coerced or tortured into some sort of confession that supports the official story.

The American and European media have ignored the fact that Mourad turned himself in for protection from being killed as a terrorist as he has an alibi. I googled Hamid Mourad and all I found (January 12) was the main US and European media reporting that the third suspect had turned himself in. The reason for his surrender was left out of the reports. The news was reported in a way that gave credence to the accusation that the suspect who turned himself in was part of the attack on Charlie Hebdo. Not a single US mainstream media source reported that the alleged suspect turned himself in because he has an ironclad alibi.

Some media merely reported Mourad’s surrender in a headline with no coverage in the report. The list that I googled includes the "Washington Post" (January 7 by Griff Witte and Anthony Faiola); "Die Welt" (Germany) “One suspect has turned himself in to police in connection with Wednesday’s massacre at the offices of Parisian satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo;” ABC News (January 7) “Youngest suspect in Charlie Hebdo Attack turns himself in;” CNN (January 8) “Citing sources, the "Agence France Presse" news agency reported that an 18-year-old suspect in the attack had surrendered to police.”

Another puzzle in the official story that remains unreported by the presstitute media is the alleged suicide of a high ranking member of the French Judicial Police who had an important role in the Charlie Hebdo investigation. For unknown reasons, Helric Fredou, a police official involved in the most important investigation of a lifetime, decided to kill himself in his police office on January 7 or January 8 (both dates are reported in the foreign media) in the middle of the night while writing his report on his investigation.

A google search as of 6pm EST January 13 turns up no mainstream US media report of this event. The alternative media reports it, as do some UK newspapers, but without suspicion or mention whether his report has disappeared. The official story is that Fredou was suffering from “depression” and “burnout,” but no evidence is provided.

Depression and burnout are the standard explanations of mysterious deaths that have unsettling implications.

Once again we see the US print and TV media serving as a ministry of propaganda for Washington. In place of investigation, the media repeats the government’s implausible story.

It behoves us all to think. Why would Muslims be more outraged by cartoons in a Paris magazine than by hundreds of thousands of Muslims killed by Washington and its French and NATO vassals in seven countries during the past 14 years?

If Muslims wanted to make a point of the cartoons, why not bring a hate crime charge or lawsuit? Imagine what would happen to a European magazine that dared to satirize Jews in the way Charlie Hebdo satirized Muslims. Indeed, in Europe people are imprisoned for investigating the holocaust without entirely confirming every aspect of it.

If a Muslim lawsuit was deep-sixed by French authorities, the Muslims would have made their point. Killing people merely contributes to the demonization of Muslims, a result that only serves Washington’s wars against Muslim countries.

If Muslims are responsible for the attack on Charlie Hebdo, what Muslim goal did they achieve? None whatsoever. Indeed, the attack attributed to Muslims has ended French and European sympathy and support for Palestine and European opposition to more US wars against Muslims. Just recently France had voted in the UN with Palestine against the US-Israeli position. This assertion of an independent French foreign policy was reinforced by the recent statement by the President of France that the economic sanctions against Russia should be terminated.

Clearly, France was showing too much foreign policy independence. The attack on Charlie Hebdo serves to cow France and place France back under Washington’s thumb.

Some will contend that Muslims are sufficiently stupid to shoot themselves in the head in this way. But how do we reconcile such alleged stupidity with the alleged Muslim 9/11 and Charlie Hebdo professional attacks?

If we believe the official story, the 9/11 attack on the US shows that 19 Muslims, largely Saudis, without any government or intelligence service support, outwitted not only all 16 US intelligence agencies, the National Security Council, Dick Cheney and all the neoconservatives in high positions throughout the US government, and airport security, but also the intelligence services of NATO and Israel’s Mossad.

How can such intelligent and capable people, who delivered the most humiliating blow in world history to an alleged Superpower with no difficulty whatsoever despite giving every indication of their intentions, possibly be so stupid as to shoot themselves in the head when they could have thrown France into turmoil with a mere lawsuit?

The Charlie Hebdo story simply doesn’t wash. If you believe it, you are no match for a Muslim.

Some who think that they are experts will say that a false flag attack in France would be impossible without the cooperation of French intelligence. To this I say that it is practically a certainty that the CIA has more control over French intelligence than does the President of France. Operation Gladio proves this. The largest part of the government of Italy was ignorant of the bombings conducted by the CIA and Italian Intelligence against European women and children and blamed on communists in order to diminish the communist vote in elections.

Americans are a pitifully misinformed people. All of history is a history of false flag operations. Yet Americans dismiss such proven operations as “conspiracy theories,” which merely proves that government has successfully brainwashed insouciant Americans and deprived them of the ability to recognize the truth.

Americans are the foremost among the captive nations.

Who will liberate them?

Dr. Roberts believes that Glenn Greenwald has a pretty good take on this nightmare scenario.

I agree.

In Solidarity With a Free Press: Some More Blasphemous Cartoons

Defending free speech and free press rights, which typically means defending the right to disseminate the very ideas society finds most repellent, has been one of my principal passions for the last 20 years:  previously as a lawyer and now as a journalist. So I consider it positive when large numbers of people loudly invoke this principle, as has been happening over the last 48 hours in response to the horrific attack on "Charlie Hebdo" in Paris.
Usually, defending free speech rights is much more of a lonely task. For instance, the day before the Paris murders, I wrote an article about multiple cases where Muslims are being prosecuted and even imprisoned by western governments for their online political speech – assaults that have provoked relatively little protest, including from those free speech champions who have been so vocal this week.
I’ve previously covered cases where Muslims were imprisoned for many years in the U.S. for things like translating and posting “extremist” videos to the internet, writing scholarly articles in defense of Palestinian groups and expressing harsh criticism of Israel, and even including a Hezbollah channel in a cable package.
That’s all well beyond the numerous cases of jobs being lost or careers destroyed for expressing criticism of Israel or (much more dangerously and rarely) Judaism. I’m hoping this week’s celebration of free speech values will generate widespread opposition to all of these long-standing and growing infringements of core political rights in the west, not just some.

Central to free speech activism has always been the distinction between defending the right to disseminate Idea X and agreeing with Idea X, one which only the most simple-minded among us are incapable of comprehending. One defends the right to express repellent ideas while being able to condemn the idea itself. There is no remote contradiction in that:  the ACLU vigorously defends the right of neo-Nazis to march through a community filled with Holocaust survivors in Skokie, Illinois, but does not join the march; they instead vocally condemn the targeted ideas as grotesque while defending the right to express them.
But this week’s defense of free speech rights was so spirited that it gave rise to a brand new principle: to defend free speech, one not only defends the right to disseminate the speech, but embraces the content of the speech itself. Numerous writers thus demanded:  to show “solidarity” with the murdered cartoonists, one should not merely condemn the attacks and defend the right of the cartoonists to publish, but should publish and even celebrate those cartoons. “The best response to Charlie Hebdo attack,” announced "Slate"'s editor Jacob Weisberg, “is to escalate blasphemous satire.”
Some of the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo were not just offensive but bigoted, such as the one mocking the African sex slaves of Boko Haram as welfare queens (left). Others went far beyond maligning violence by extremists acting in the name of Islam, or even merely depicting Mohammed with degrading imagery (above, right), and instead contained a stream of mockery toward Muslims generally, who in France are not remotely powerful but are largely a marginalized and targeted immigrant population.

But no matter. Their cartoons were noble and should be celebrated – not just on free speech grounds but for their content. In a column entitled “The Blasphemy We Need,” "The New York Times"' Ross Douthat argued that “the right to blaspheme (and otherwise give offense) is essential to the liberal order” and “that kind of blasphemy [that provokes violence] is precisely the kind that needs to be defended, because it’s the kind that clearly serves a free society’s greater good.” "New York Magazine"'s Jonathan Chait actually proclaimed that “one cannot defend the right [to blaspheme] without defending the practice.” "Vox"’s Matt Yglesias had a much more nuanced view but nonetheless concluded that “to blaspheme the Prophet transforms the publication of these cartoons from a pointless act to a courageous and even necessary one, while the observation that the world would do well without such provocations becomes a form of appeasement.”

To comport with this new principle for how one shows solidarity with free speech rights and a vibrant free press, we’re publishing some blasphemous and otherwise offensive cartoons about religion and their adherents:
And here are some not-remotely-blasphemous-or-bigoted yet very pointed and relevant cartoons by the brilliantly provocative Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff (reprinted with permission):

Is it time for me to be celebrated for my brave and noble defense of free speech rights? Have I struck a potent blow for political liberty and demonstrated solidarity with free journalism by publishing blasphemous cartoons? If, as Salman Rushdie said, it’s vital that all religions be subjected to “fearless disrespect,” have I done my part to uphold western values?

When I first began to see these demands to publish these anti-Muslim cartoons, the cynic in me thought perhaps this was really just about sanctioning some types of offensive speech against some religions and their adherents, while shielding more favored groups. In particular, the west has spent years bombing, invading and occupying Muslim countries and killing, torturing and lawlessly imprisoning innocent Muslims, and anti-Muslim speech has been a vital driver in sustaining support for those policies.

So it’s the opposite of surprising to see large numbers of westerners celebrating anti-Muslim cartoons - not on free speech grounds but due to approval of the content. Defending free speech is always easy when you like the content of the ideas being targeted, or aren’t part of (or actively dislike) the group being maligned.

Indeed, it is self-evident that if a writer who specialized in overtly anti-black or anti-Semitic screeds had been murdered for their ideas, there would be no widespread calls to republish their trash in “solidarity” with their free speech rights.

In fact, Douthat, Chait and Yglesias all took pains to expressly note that they were only calling for publication of such offensive ideas in the limited case where violence is threatened or perpetrated in response (by which they meant in practice, so far as I can tell:  anti-Islam speech). Douthat even used italics to emphasize how limited his defense of blasphemy was:  “that kind of blasphemy is precisely the kind that needs to be defended.”

One should acknowledge a valid point contained within the Douthat/Chait/Yglesias argument:  when media outlets refrain from publishing material out of fear (rather than a desire to avoid publishing gratuitously offensive material), as several of the west’s leading outlets admitted doing with these cartoons, that is genuinely troubling, an actual threat to a free press.

But there are all kinds of pernicious taboos in the west that result in self-censorship or compelled suppression of political ideas, from prosecution and imprisonment to career destruction: why is violence by Muslims the most menacing one? (I’m not here talking about the question of whether media outlets should publish the cartoons because they’re newsworthy; my focus is on the demand they be published positively, with approval, as “solidarity”).

When we originally discussed publishing this article to make these points, our intention was to commission two or three cartoonists to create cartoons that mock Judaism and malign sacred figures to Jews the way Charlie Hebdo did to Muslims.

But that idea was thwarted by the fact that no mainstream western cartoonist would dare put their name on an anti-Jewish cartoon, even if done for satire purposes, because doing so would instantly and permanently destroy their career, at least. Anti-Islam and anti-Muslim commentary (and cartoons) are a dime a dozen in western media outlets; the taboo that is at least as strong, if not more so, are anti-Jewish images and words.

Why aren’t Douthat, Chait, Yglesias and their like-minded free speech crusaders calling for publication of anti-Semitic material in solidarity, or as a means of standing up to this repression? Yes, it’s true that outlets like "The New York Times" will in rare instances publish such depictions, but only to document hateful bigotry and condemn it – not to publish it in “solidarity” or because it deserves a serious and respectful airing.

With all due respect to the great cartoonist Ann Telnaes, it is simply not the case that Charlie Hebdo “were equal opportunity offenders.” Like Bill Maher, Sam Harris and other anti-Islam obsessives, mocking Judaism, Jews and/or Israel is something they will rarely (if ever) do.

If forced, they can point to rare and isolated cases where they uttered some criticism of Judaism or Jews, but the vast bulk of their attacks are reserved for Islam and Muslims, not Judaism and Jews. Parody, free speech and secular atheism are the pretexts; anti-Muslim messaging is the primary goal and the outcome. And this messaging – this special affection for offensive anti-Islam speech – just so happens to coincide with, to feed, the militaristic foreign policy agenda of their governments and culture.

To see how true that is, consider the fact that Charlie Hebdo – the “equal opportunity” offenders and defenders of all types of offensive speech - fired one of their writers in 2009 for writing a sentence some said was anti-Semitic (the writer was then charged with a hate crime offense, and won a judgment against the magazine for unfair termination). Does that sound like “equal opportunity” offending?

Nor is it the case that threatening violence in response to offensive ideas is the exclusive province of extremists claiming to act in the name of Islam. Terrence McNally’s 1998 play “Corpus Christi,” depicting Jesus as gay, was repeatedly cancelled by theaters due to bomb threats. Larry Flynt was paralyzed by an evangelical white supremacist who objected to Hustler‘s pornographic depiction of inter-racial couples.

The Dixie Chicks were deluged with death threats and needed massive security after they publicly criticized George Bush for the Iraq War, which finally forced them to apologize out of fear. Violence spurred by Jewish and Christian fanaticism is legion, from abortion doctors being murdered to gay bars being bombed to a 45-year-old brutal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza due in part to the religious belief (common in both the U.S. and Israel) that God decreed they shall own all the land. And that’s all independent of the systematic state violence in the west sustained, at least in part, by religious sectarianism.

"The New York Times"' David Brooks today claims that anti-Christian bias is so widespread in America – which has never elected a non-Christian president – that “the University of Illinois fired a professor who taught the Roman Catholic view on homosexuality.” He forgot to mention that the very same university just terminated its tenure contract with Professor Steven Salaita over tweets he posted during the Israeli attack on Gaza that the university judged to be excessively vituperative of Jewish leaders, and that the journalist Chris Hedges was just disinvited to speak at the University of Pennsylvania for the Thought Crime of drawing similarities between Israel and ISIS.

That is a real taboo – a repressed idea – as powerful and absolute as any in the United States, so much so that Brooks won’t even acknowledge its existence. It’s certainly more of a taboo in the U.S. than criticizing Muslims and Islam, criticism which is so frequently heard in mainstream circlesincluding the U.S. Congress – that one barely notices it any more.

This underscores the key point:  there are all sorts of ways ideas and viewpoints are suppressed in the west. When those demanding publication of these anti-Islam cartoons start demanding the affirmative publication of those ideas as well, I’ll believe the sincerity of their very selective application of free speech principles.

One can defend free speech without having to publish, let alone embrace, the offensive ideas being targeted. But if that’s not the case, let’s have equal application of this new principle.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images; additional research was provided by Andrew Fishman)

Sunday, Jan 11, 2015

It’s Not Just Fox News: How Liberal Apologists Torpedoed Change, Helped Make the Democrats Safe for Wall Street

Center-left pundits have carried water for the president for six years. Their predictable excuses all ring hollow

It's not just Fox News: How liberal apologists torpedoed change, helped make the Democrats safe for Wall Street
(Credit: xavierarnau via iStock/Salon)

As the Obama administration enters its seventh year, let us examine one of the era’s greatest peculiarities:  That one of the most cherished rallying points of the president’s supporters is the idea of the president’s powerlessness.

Today, of course, the Democrats have completely lost control of Congress and it’s easy to make the case for the weakness of the White House. For example, when Frank Bruni sighed last Wednesday that presidents are merely “buoys on the tides of history,” not “mighty frigates parting the waters,” he scarcely made a ripple.

But the pundit fixation on Obama’s powerlessness goes back many years. Where it has always found its strongest expression is among a satisfied stratum of centrist commentators — people who are well pleased with the president’s record and who are determined to slap down liberals who find fault in Obama’s leadership.

The purveyors of this fascinating species of political disgust always depict the dispute in the same way, with hard-headed men of science (i.e., themselves) facing off against dizzy idealists who cluelessly rallied to Obama’s talk of hope and change back in 2008.

It is, in other words, a classic apologetic. The pundit, a clear-thinking, reality-based fellow (and yes, they are almost always fellows), knows that if you paid attention back in 2008 you understood that Obama wasn’t promising anything great. Plus, the president has delivered all kinds of subtle but awesome stuff that his soft-headed fans overlook. Besides, there are those awful racist Republicans. Good Christ! Would we rather have one of them in the Oval Office?

This theme has been so elaborately developed over the last few years that it would be possible to write a decent history of the Obama administration entirely in terms of the various apologetics deployed on its behalf, savoring all the different grades of literary style, noting all the catch phrases and in-jokes the pundits share with one another, enumerating all the clever put-downs they use to deride the unrealistic liberal masses.

As a preface to any such future history, let me outline here the main points of the genre.

The first and most obvious excuse for all things Obama is, of course, the Republicans. Given their extreme intransigence and their many loathsome views, the steel-minded pundits say, we left-of-center citizens need to stand behind the president in complete, airtight unity.

Criticism must not be permitted, lest our resolve be weakened and the hated Other prevail. In other lands, ideological enforcement of this kind is a task for a political party. But in the USA, where the Democratic president longs to achieve a Concert of K Street with the GOP, enforcing party discipline is a job for the punditry, and so I suggest we call this particular species of rationalization the MSNBC apologetic, after the network that is so famously reluctant to air any criticism of the president.

It consists, in brief, of demanding a kind of solidarity with Democratic leaders that those Democratic leaders themselves only rarely show for their own rank and file.

Another line of rationalization is to insist that, given the iron logic of the left/right continuum, Obama is the best that progressives can hope for. As Jonathan Alter once put it, in the course of one of his many assaults on progressive whining, Obama is “the most genuinely liberal president that the political culture of this country will probably allow.”

Maybe it’s true that the big stimulus package of 2009 wasn’t big enough, Alter acknowledges, but it was the absolute maximum our political system would permit. For other pundits, these conclusions are so obvious they scarcely require elaboration; instead, the writer in question can only shake his Beltway-hardened head in bewilderment that anyone could be to the left of Obama and his Dems.

My favorite example of this species of outrage, a 2010 column by former Clinton adviser Lanny Davis, not only sputters about the off-the-spectrum views of the administration’s critics but goes on to suggest that their soft-headedness provides Obama a target-rich environment in which to stage his own “Sister Souljah Moment.”

A more sophisticated line of rationalization is to find any liberal president utterly powerless before certain ideological trends. Instead of the Republican Party itself, the chief culprit here is the trends propelling the GOP ever rightward, which are depicted as being akin to forces of nature, impossible for any Democrat to contest. You have a determined media mogul or two, an ever-more reactionary white working class, an incorrigible South, etc.

A fourth form of apologetic emphasizes the well-known structural obstacles to presidential clout, meaning mainly the power of money, which is impossible to overestimate and which stands in opposition to just about every item on the progressive wish list.

There is a variation that emphasizes the insane backwardness of the U.S. Senate, which is not only tilted to favor sparsely populated areas but which confers enormous power on individual members. There are other pundits who focus on the gerrymandered districts that poison the House of Representatives and on the perennial Washington problem of the revolving door, which makes good and effective regulation difficult.

Obviously, some of these arguments have considerably more merit than others. The Republicans are genuinely bad, and it is true that they play the game in a different way than Democrats do. The structural obstacles to progressive change are also, indeed, enormous. Back in 2008, I myself wrote a book predicting that it would be difficult for liberals to do certain things in Washington thanks to the years of deliberate Republican sabotage and vandalism.

And there is no denying the power of money or the allure of the revolving door or the unrepresentativeness of the U. S. Senate. We all know these things.

Still, it’s hard to square the extreme fatalism implied in most of these apologetic exercises with the liberal tradition of a confident faith in the public sector. In their deepest recesses, all these wised-up alibis for Obama’s cautious and appeasement-minded approach to governance raise a bleak but unstated question:  If the obstacles to progress are really this insuperable — if the Washington game is really so completely and hermetically rigged that even a president is rendered mute and impassive by it — then why bother with the illusion that political change is possible at all?

One way in which certain pundits sidestep this paralyzing objection is to insist that, if you read the fine print, Obama never really promised to do awesome big things in the first place.

Therefore, expecting him to do awesome big things is a category error, as awesomeness simply wasn’t in his contract. This species of rationalization is so sweeping that one could use it to get George W. Bush himself off the hook.

And that, I suspect, is largely the point:  The main thing at stake here isn’t the reputation of the defended president at all, but rather the clear-eyed shrewdness of the pundit making the argument. Unlike the suckers who bought the Obama sales pitch back in ’08, he wasn’t fooled and, like all good courtiers of our new millennial Versailles, he knows never to take politicians seriously.

There’s another weird undercurrent in all this exasperated berating of the disenchanted true believers. It’s hard to overlook the way in which all these tough-minded people of the press, in seeking to beat back the idealists they so clearly despise, must fall back on arguments that are patently soft-headed themselves. All of them insist, for example, on a view of the presidency in which the office is pretty much impotent and the real power is always elsewhere, far away from the grand but empty stage-set at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The scheming state legislators gerrymandering our House districts; the swaggering senior senators from states boasting more cattle than voters; hell, even the punditocracy itself — all of them seem to possess an occult ability to outwit and hoodwink our maximum executive leader.

As a sort of corollary to this upended federalism, certain Obama apologists ascribe political superpowers to the conservative opposition. In their analyses, the Republicans often come off as evil geniuses, possessed of powers of ratiocination far beyond anything Democrats can muster. And just as the tirelessly cunning GOP represents the outer limit of political evil, so must it follow that the purity of the president’s own intentions must be taken for granted.

Hence the fanciful goal of this putatively tough-minded body of literature:  To get Obama personally off the hook for the events of the last few years, and to absolve the larger Democratic Party leadership while they’re at it.

But let this pass. When historians seek to explain the failures of the Obama years, they will likely focus on a glaringly obvious, and indeed still more hard-headed explanation that the apologists for Obama’s enfeeblement now overlook:  that perhaps Obama didn’t act forcefully to press a populist economic agenda because he didn’t want to. That maybe he didn’t do certain of the things his liberal supporters wanted him to do because he didn’t believe in them.

Think about Obama’s legacy in this context:  The most consequential issue facing Americans these days is the gradual reversion of their economy to a 19th-century pattern. In a matter of 30 years, talking about this transformation has gone from being the kind of thing you hear at union strike meetings to something that wins the National Book Award and that almost everyone recognizes to be true — I mean, even George W. Bush acknowledged the problem of growing inequality back in 2007.

Yet the current leadership of the Democratic Party has been unable either to reverse the trend or to make political capital out of it.

Now, let’s bring this grand, overarching issue of inequality down to specifics. The recent episode in which the ugly reality of our new Gilded Age manifested itself most clearly was the financial crisis and the investment-bank bailouts. Together, these made up the greatest economic and political debacle of our time, the perfect expression of everything that has been going wrong with this country for decades.

Yes, everything that is wrong with the USA in one episode, and still the Democrats couldn’t figure out how to handle it in a way that was much different from how those despicable Republicans handled it.

Not only did our Democratic administration leave Wall Street standing after Wall Street plunged the nation into a slump without parallel in most people’s lives — but our government allowed Wall Street to grow more concentrated and more powerful than ever.

Our government made it plain that there are to be no consequences for Wall Street’s misbehavior — that the bonuses will always flow, that the obvious fraudsters will never be prosecuted, that this one industry essentially stands above the law.

To say that Obama fumbled this most critical issue is to understate the matter pretty dramatically. More to the point is the great unasked question of why he fumbled it so dramatically. Again, let’s review the historical record as it actually exists — not as Obama’s apologists like to imagine it:

* It was fully within Obama’s power to react to the financial crisis in a more aggressive and appropriate way — i.e., laws were in place, there was ample precedent, he wasn’t forced to choose Tim Geithner to run the bailouts or Eric Holder to (not) prosecute the bankers or Ben Bernanke to serve another term at the Fed.

* It would have been good policy had Obama reacted to the financial crisis in a more aggressive and appropriate way — i.e., the economy would have recovered more quickly and the danger of a future crisis brought on by concentrated financial power would have been reduced.

* It would have been massively popular had Obama reacted to the financial crisis in a more aggressive and appropriate way. Everyone admits this, at least tacitly, even the architects of Obama’s bailout policies, who like to think of themselves as having resisted the public’s mindless baying for banker blood.

Acting aggressively might also have deflated the rampant false consciousness of the Tea Party movement and prevented the Republican reconquista of the House in 2010.

But Obama did the opposite. He did everything he could to “foam the runways” and never showed any real interest in taking on the big banks. Shall I recite the dolorous list one more time? The bailouts he failed to unwind or even to question. The bad regulators he didn’t fire. The AIG bonuses that his team defended. The cramdown he never pushed for. The receivership of the zombie banks that never happened. The FBI agents who were never shifted over to white-collar crime. The criminal referral programs at the regulatory agencies that were never restored. The executives of bailed-out banks who were never fired. The standing outrage of too-big-to-fail institutions that was never truly addressed. The top bankers who were never prosecuted for anything on the long, sordid list of apparent frauds.

Obama didn’t play this greatest-of-all issues the way he did because the white working class rose up to defend its friends in the investment banking community. He didn’t play it this way because forcing the Republicans to defend Wall Street would have been really bad politics. Nor did he do it the way he did because the presidency lacks sufficient power. In fact, everything I just mentioned “can be done by the president,” says noted former bank regulator Bill Black. “It just requires some will and some imagination and a lot of planning and determination.”

What I am suggesting, in other words, is that the financial crisis worked out the way it did in large part because Obama and his team wanted it to work out that way.

That is the simplest and most direct explanation. We scientific, hard-headed types are fond of structural explanations for what goes on in Washington, but far too often we are drawn to complicated, roundabout theories whose main virtue is that they get our heroes off the hook.

I propose instead that we turn our scrutiny on those heroes as well. Let us seek to explain the power of money over the Democrats as well as over conservatism. Let us examine the historical victory of a determined free-market faction in the Democratic Party over the larger organization. Let us ask what became of the social movements of the left and why their allies in Washington failed them when their crisis came.

A bit of blunt class analysis might also help. Let us take into account the Democratic Party’s transformation in recent decades into a dutiful servant of the professional class and its every whim and prejudice. Let us acknowledge the Democratic leaders’ embarrassing faith in meritocracy, their amazing trust in the good intentions and right opinions of their fellow professionals from banking, law, economics and journalism — and their generally dismissive attitude toward the views of working people.

While we’re at it, let us put the professional-class pundits under the microscope as well. After all, there is a term for the sort of myopia that allows someone to proclaim that their own political views are eminently practical if not natural and inevitable — and that the demands of the other guy are impossible dreams given the nature of the system and of reality itself.

The notion that Democrats might have agency is shocking, I know, since it means they bear some responsibility for our unhappy situation. However, once you acknowledge that it might be true, it occurs to you that this simple and direct explanation might also be the key to all kinds of Democratic betrayals and failures over the years, from the embrace of NAFTA to the abandonment of the Employee Free Choice Act.

Maybe these episodes weren’t failures at all. Maybe it’s time we confronted the possibility that these disasters unfolded the way they did because Democratic leaders wanted them to work out that way.

* * *

After this week, I am going on leave to write a book. I will be back to irritate you as always when it’s done.

Thomas Frank

Thomas Frank is a "Salon" politics and culture columnist. His many books include "What's The Matter With Kansas," "Pity the Billionaire" and "One Market Under God." He is the founding editor of "The Baffler" magazine.

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