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Kick It Like Roosevelt

The October 2 "One Nation" demonstration in Washington DC is a plea for government job creation in the face of mass unemployment and human pain. FDR's creation of 4 million jobs within 4 months is an example of responsive government. Roosevelt saw himself confronted with the protest "of the old enemies of peace," corporate and financial monopolies and war profiteers.

By Albert Scharenberg

[This article published in: Blatter fur internationale und deutsche Politik 8/2010 is translated from the German on the Internet,  link to www.blaetter.de.]

Firstly, it was supposedly only a leak that dropped oil into the Gulf of Mexico after the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform. Everything was under control, the BP corporation declared. This was a gigantic lie, as was clear days, weeks and months later. The data on how much oil had run out was corrected downwards again and again. BP was unable to seal the drill hole.

The pressure on the US president increases. With every day the drill hole is unsealed, Barack Obama threatens to suffer the fate of the pelicans on the Gulf and sink deeper and deeper in the sticky sludge. The White House fears the loss of its democratic majority in both houses of Congress in the November congressional elections.

The oil pollution shows how massively the Obama administration underrated the three decades of neoliberalism under republican hegemony. In George W. Bush's term in office when the oil industry had its authority or point-man, the former Halliburton manager and vice-president Dick Cheney at the center of American power, the legal regulations were undermined again and again and the state monitoring agencies filed with lackeys of the oil industry - until the rules only existed on paper.

The oil conglomerates could do as they pleased. BP's actions at Deepwater Horizon demonstrated this. In literally every step of the drilling, the corporation preferred its own profit over security standards, the cheaper and more dangerous solutions to protection of the environment and its own workers.

The catastrophe also reveals Obama's partial responsibility. Given the Wild West manner in which deregulated corporations operated, his government had to act early on with greater determination. However Interior Secretary Ken Salazar allowed corporations to continue as under republican auspices instead of immediately tackling re-regulation. [1]


Oil pollution proves to be a lesson about consequences when the state withdraws from its responsibility and gives a free hand to corporations. The criminal dismantling of state monitoring responsibilities is by no means restricted to the oil branch. The anarchism of markets governs in economic- and employment policy and in the health- and banking systems.

The3 erosion of law occurs. The state deregulation of the oil branch fits in well in the chain of infringements of law by the Bush administration. We need only remember the illegal prison in Guantanamo, the surveillance of citizens without concrete suspicion and the systematic exemption of the politically responsible for serious legal offenses of the US government at home and abroad. There also can be no talk of an equal treatment of businesses and citizens before the law. While citizens are punished in a draconian way for comparatively harmless infractions, politics and the judiciary, above all the Supreme Court - dominated by republicans - reduce penalties for businesses and the persons culpable more and more. [2]

The sinking of Deepwater Horizon stands para pro toto for the republican policy of legal offenses and laissez faire. It points to two central misjudgments of the president: firstly Obama on account of his own corporate-friendly attitude underestimated the stubbornness with which businesses defend their freedoms.

Secondly, Obama still seems to believe a settlement is possible with the Republican Party. After the breakdowns of the Bush era, Obama's tactic of reaching out to the opposition was continued as a viable approach. However this tactic failed in the resolute obstruction policy of the republicans in Congress, in their commitment to the policies of the Bush era and their continuous march to the right.


This "march to the right" is encouraged by the formation of an extra-parliamentary movement, the so-called Tea Party united by a single goal: chasing Obama from office as fast as possible. The movement was started right after his assumption of office. Since then their activists campaign against the president with increasingly shrill tones - financially supported by big business, ideologically fueled by Rupert Murdoch's rightwing and politically promoted by the Republican Party. [3] The Tea Partyists of the US rightwing succeeded where the American left failed: in pressuring the president with an extra-parliamentary mass movement.

The Tea Party provides the rank-and-file for the republican policy of laissez faire. Their basic attitude is summarized by the statement of Rand Paul, the latest hero of the Tea Party and candidate for the Senate in Kentucky, on oil pollution. The son of Ron Paul, a competitor for the 2008 Republican presidential candidacy, decried all criticism of BP as absolutely un-American. He went so far as to say such "accidents simply happen now and then" - a perfect exculpation of BP and Bush and an invitation to repeat the systematic profit-driven mess. Paul's colleague, Sharron Angle, the republican candidate for the Senate from Nevada, and also supported by the Tea Party, urges privatizing the energy- and environmental agencies. Sarah Palin, 2008 Republican candidate for vice-president, even blamed "radical environmentalists" for the oil spill.

The rightwing-libertarian credo of the Tea Party is strictly limited to the defense of an extreme unlimited individualism including the "freedom of corporations." Its followers see the only task of the state in ensuring individual freedom. Every program that goes beyond this, especially concerning social rights, is categorically rejected.

The movement follows a radical delegitimation-strategy against the democratically elected president (unlike Bush in 2000) and relies on conspiracy theories - like Obama was not born in the US and therefore is an illegitimate president ("birthers") which nearly two-thirds of republican supporters regard as possible.

Glenn Beck, chief ideologue of the movement on Fox News, hallucinates that a "state cult" and a conspiracy against freedom that seeks to completely expropriate, disarm and subjugate citizens have existed in the United States for 100 years. Beck also propagates the "Piven-Cloward strategy" - named after two sociologists - which "proved" that a leftist conspiracy sought to take over the country for decades - and now reaches its goal with the new "socialist" president. [4]

Some even see the US - after Roosevelt's New Deal and Johnson's Great Society - already in a "Third Reich" with Obama's "socialist" health care reform. These are phantasies at the radical rightwing edge of society that the Obama administration plans the imposition of martial law and stockpiles ten thousand guillotines to kill patriotic dissidents, that the 1995 attacks in Oklahoma City and in New York and Washington 2001 were allegedly the work of the federal government, that the Federal Reserve is entangled in a conspiracy that will rob Americans of their prosperity and that Obama is secretly building concentration camps everywhere in the country. [5]


This paranoia could become a genuine threat when no longer limited to scattered splinter groups on the rightwing fringe but advance3s far into the middle of society through the Tea Party movement. The extra-parliamentary protest is by no means a movement of the disadvantaged. On the contrary, recent polls indicate that its supporters are whites with above-average incomes, comparatively good education and mainly part of older generations. [6] In short, the resistance of the privileged forms here.

Sociologically the rightwing mass movement in the first place is a symptom of the threatened descent and of outward and inward fears resulting from that threatened descent. In foreign policy, Americans see themselves confronted with the incipient loss of power of their country in the world arena. While Obama strategically seeks to moderate this decline despite the Afghanistan war, many citizens are deeply penetrated by the American mission consciousness. Therefore in contradiction to their basic ideological attitude, they demand an uncompromising attitude and a "strong state" in foreign and military policy.

This global loss of hegemonial power corresponds with the decreasing dominance of the white majority in the cou9ntry. As a result of the demographic development, whites will become a minority in the long term. This sparks off anxieties among many for whom the first black president of the land is an ideal projection surface. [7]

It is no accident that 73 percent of Tea Party followers agree with the statement: "If blacks work hard, they will succeed like whites." 52 percent think a big thing is made of the specific problems of Afro-Americans. A quarter even believes Obama's policy favors poor b lacks at the expense of the white middle class.

The racist tradition of the US is manifest in this discomfort or feeling of unease of privileged white persons toward the first black president. The movement obviously has a hard time going beyond the old "Dixie" tradition. [8] Many recollections of the old school racism surface - at the latest when Rand Paul criticized the 1964 Civil Rights Law with the argument that the state should not order businesses to serve blacks.

Despite an abundance of documented evidence, Tea Party activists persistently deny that racism is a motive of their protests. Their front-line men like Glenn Beck simply turn the tables. Beck claims Obama is racist, not the movement. He stands in the tradition of Martin Luther King while the first black president works on building a "slave state." Note well, the "new slaves" will be the plagued taxpayers.


The support of large parts of the business community makes the Tea Party movement politically dangerous. Capital joining forces with the privileged cannot be surprising. All financial burdens are merged together.

On the side of corporations, central branches profited massively from the deregulation policy of the Bush administration. They don't want the erratic nature of their actions infringed, an historical trademark of US capital [9] - as demonstrated in the massive and successful lobby work against health care reform and recently against the law on financial market regulation.

This change of mood in the business world leads important branches and the traditional republican oil industry to reshuffle their party contributions this year - above all banks, insurances and pharmaceutical companies. Although they usually prefer the party of the president, the lion's share of their big donations now goes to the oppositional republicans. [10]

This opposition of powerful corporations suggests a strong parallel between Barack Obama and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Broad parts of the business world also opposed President Roosevelt with stubborn rejection and hatred considering his ambitious policy of a New Deal.

Roosevelt did not make the mistake of extending his hand to his adversaries after they already knocked him down. Instead Roosevelt took the offensive on October 31, 1936 in a speech at Madison Square Garden and named horse and rider. He saw himself confronted with the protest "of the old enemies of peace" - "corporate- and financial monopolies, speculation, unscrupulous banks, class antagonism, particularism and war profiteers." These view "the government of the United States as a mere appendage of their own businesses." Roosevelt did not back away but picked up the gauntlet: "They are unanimous in their hatred of me - and I welcome their hatred."

Obama faces that kind of decision. Well-meaning commentators have long advised countering the attacks from the rightwing by naming the alternative crystal-clear - de- or re-regulation - instead of lulling the public to sleep with offers to dialogue with republicans.

Obama is not Roosevelt. The political relative strengths or hierarchy of power is much less favorable compared to the decade called the red thirties. Still the president faces a comparable challenge today like his famous predecessor in 1936. If he passes like Roosevelt from a concession- to a confrontation course, he could trigger a similar process. To be sure, Obama must leap over his shadow and go further than he likes. With view to the necessary confrontation with part of the business community, if he misses this change, the republicans threaten to win the congressional elections and limit his possibilities even more. Then it could be too late for a liberating blow.


[1] Vgl. Tim Dickenson, The Spill, The Scandal, and The President, in: „Rolling Stone", 24.6.2010.
[2] Christopher Hayes, BP: Beyond Punishment, in: „The Nation", 28.6.2010.
[3] Vgl. Albert Scharenberg, Ein Jahr Obama. Die USA zwischen Reformpolitik und rechtem Propagandafeldzug, in: „Blätter", 11/2009, S. 47-56, hier S. 52 ff.
[4] Vgl. Greg Grandin, Glenn Beck, American Historian Laureate, in: TomDispatch.com, 13.5.2010;
Jonathan Raban, At the Tea Party, in: „The New York Review of Books", 5/2010, S. 4-9.
[5] Vgl. „Intelligence Report", 138 (Sommer 2010).
[6] Vgl. CBS/NYT Poll, 14.4.2010, www.cbsnews.com.
[7] Vgl. Albert Scharenberg, Black President, in: „Blätter", 12/2008, S. 65-69.
[8] Vgl. Frank Rich, Welcome to Confederate History Month, in: „New York Times", 18.4.2010.
[9] Vgl. Albert Scharenberg, Rassismus in der US-Arbeiterbewegung. Entwicklungslinien von 1865 bis 1915, Hamburg und Berlin 1993.
[10] Angaben der Federal Election Commission; vgl. „Washington Post", 22.5.2010.

VIDEO: Franklin Delano Roosevelt's March 4, 1933 Inauguration address:
Wikipedia on the New Deal:

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