Is Who Becomes the Next President All That Matters?
BERLIN, MAY 13, 2008 -- I know. I know. How this is the most important election in history, and why the next occupant of the White House will not only be answering the red phone at 3 a.m. but possibly be saving these not always United States from the decline that even Time magazine has announced the country is facing.
Yet, as I travel outside the country, I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t help but feel, or is it fear, that this logic leaves out some rather important considerations.
Like the fact that the United States cannot unilaterally impose its will on the world anymore as our dollar falls and our credibility falls with it. Even a strategy of negotiation as opposed to confrontation is not a recipe for success because in a multipolar world, other countries and power blocs like the Russians, the Chinese, the EU, the Persian Gulf and OPEC have their own interests. They will listen to our proposals but may reject them if they are at variance with their own needs.
We just donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have the power to impose our will even as we still suffer from Ã¢â‚¬Å“the USA is No. 1Ã¢â‚¬Â syndrome and think that we can kick ass and take names if anyone stands in our way.
Whoever becomes president may not have the power he or she assumes goes with the office. (In fact, after the fact, in their memoirs, most presidents complain they often felt powerless, besieged by lobbyists, party factions and reticent bureaucrats at every turn. They see themselves constrained by institutional obstacles at every turn.)
In many ways, Mao was right, the occupant of the oval office is a paper tiger.
In this new world, if we want others to do our bidding, we canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t threaten to obliterate them or strut around like Mighty Mouse when so many in the world see us as the Mouse that Roared.
So many of our problems today are global and shared by others. Globalization has assured that. We are all impacted by global threats like climate change, escalating food prices, world hunger, endemic poverty and pandemic disease that the White House canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t wave a magic wand to cure. Sadly, most Americans are not educated about these issues, and the press downplays them.
Even when we cause problems, like the mortgage collapse, markets worldwide feel the pain in an internationally entangled financial system where we are dependent on monies from China. Meanwhile, others invest in the United States to keep their own profits up and compete with our companies on our home ground.
Sure, we are a militarily powerful but apparently not powerful or smart enough to subdue Iraq or Afghanistan after five years. Our warriors on terror have yet to capture Bin Laden or even neutralize the Taliban. The truth is the Democratic candidates donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think they can tell the military what to do and so have withdrawal plans that will take years. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the reality.
The military industrial complex often has a mind of its own
And so does Wall Street, which wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t take marching orders from any president. Both Clinton and Bush turned to Goldman Sachs to run the Treasury, and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not clear if their former execs were ambassadors to The Street or from the Street. Financial power trumps political power in a country dominated by a corporate system.
Who can impose an excess profits tax on Big Oil? Who will dare?
In fact, look at the credit crisis. It started with the mortgage meltdown of August 2007. At least one million families have lost their homes. Another two and half million are threatened. The New York Times reports that even their storage spaces are now being auctioned off, because many folks canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t afford the monthly charges. The Onion jokes that a family burned their stimulus check because they canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t afford heat.
The TimesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ business columnist, Gretchen Morgenson, notes that in all these months of obvious economic calamity, nothing meaningful has been done by our government to help people in need, writing, Ã¢â‚¬Å“As the great American credit crash continues to reverberate, we still have nothing that resembles an intelligent and comprehensive plan for dealing with mass foreclosures and the economic consequences associated with the debacle.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Why? There is an ideological clash of course. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s obvious. An administration that has foreclosed on the American Dream cares as much about our homeowners as it did about the victims of Katrina.
But beyond that, they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know what to do; they have no Ã¢â‚¬Å“fix.Ã¢â‚¬Â There may not be one. We are dealing not with a political debate but a structural crisis of American capitalism in an era of waning empire. We can throw money at these problems as we probably should, but they are all intricate and subject to pressure politics. When the Senate run by Democrats tried to bring relief to distressed homeowners, their final bill was shameful with more giveaways to home builders and lenders than mortgagees.
So, letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s temper our expectations about what the candidate of our choice can actually get done in a system of many checks but very few balances. The presidency is a bully pulpit. The president can lead, but Congress need not follow. Sure, change is needed, and badly, but the changes being proposed -- like a summertime tax break at the pump wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t do much about the deeper energy crisis. Many of the proposals being debated are tinkering with deeply flawed policies. They aim to bail the water out of the Titanic while it is sinking
Unfortunately, our scandal-obsessed Ã¢â‚¬Å“gotchaÃ¢â‚¬Â media is useless in explaining or investigating these deeper problems. Its focus us only on the horse race. Cable news is increasingly a pundit-heavy distraction machine, where opinionizing has replaced reporting, and, yes, still a weapon of mass deception, as one film I made years ago argued.
Please think about this, and whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not being covered. Sorry to rain on the parade as the primaries roll on and the excitement builds like in a sports event.
Who is the next president matters, matters deeply, but is that all that matters?