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Works and Days

What We Are Learning About the Era of Obama

August 30th, 2009 - 6:10 pm

Means and Ends in the Age of Obama

One of the stranger things about this eerie first eight months of the Obama administration is how brazenly its supporters have been about the noble ends justifying the disreputable means.

Taxes for Thee

Take taxes. I thought the mantra was that the Bush tax cuts — equal percentages of cuts to all involved, an even greater number of households excused from the tax rolls altogether — were supposed to be cruel and proof of conservative selfishness.

Candidate Obama once in an interview seemed to agree that greater revenue ensued for the federal treasury, but he felt that such benefits were not worth the empowerment of so many to become so wealthy. In other words, higher taxes were good for those who make money — and avoiding or cutting them was unpatriotic and greedy.

We now witness Rep. Charles Rangel, who not only somehow on a congressman’s salary compiled hundreds of thousands in cash in various accounts, but also seems to have skipped out on almost every conceivable tax on such lucre. We know the tired story of Treasury Secretary Geithner, who not only skipped his FICA taxes, but pocketed the cash allowances allotted precisely for them. Whether a Chris Dodd or Tom Daschle, the story is the same — insider perks from low interest mortgages to free limousine service were never reported and never taxed.

There are two ways of making sense of this paradox. One, such liberals assume that their cosmic humanitarianism and brotherly egalitarianism exempt them from following mere mortal laws (e.g., as in “We are so divine on the important stuff that we deserve a pass on  small, insignificant matters”.) And two, in order to enact state planning, and superimpose an overarching government plan onto our own messy agendas, we must bow to a technocracy.

These gifted souls are like Plato’s Guardians —Übermenschen, trained at places like Harvard Law School, with government service at the Fed, years at this or that Cabinet post, or tenure in Congress under their belts, veterans of brief university postings. We are blessed with Geithners, Daschles, Obamas and others, and so can hardly demand they be bothered with minutiae like taxes, or following bureaucratic regulations governing gifts, whether Tony Rezko’s land deals or Friends of Angelo loan perks.

My Grass Roots, Your Astro-turfing

Examine also community organizing. The craft was caricatured by Rudy Giuliani at the Republican Convention as a sort of non-productive, busy-bodying, a dressed-up version of being paid to give out someone else’s money to someone arbitrarily deemed more deserving.

Be that as it may, the Obama mystique was wrapped up within such grassroots organizing and supposedly selfless public service. (Remember Michelle Obama’s referencing of how Barack could have been a cutthroat rich lawyer (I doubt that, since success in corporate law is not easy), but instead chose to go to Chicago to toil in the fields of the poor (alongside Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers)?)

But suddenly we are seeing a much more genuine form of community organizing. The team parties and town halls are not union-bussed in affairs. There are no federally-subsidized ACORN-like printed posters. Most are spontaneous protestors and dissidents, who don’t want to give up their private health care plans or endanger their Medicare privileges.

For this defiance they have been dubbed Neanderthals, mobs, unpatriotic, Nazis, and brown shirts. Community organizing and popular protest has gone from being seen as 1960s romance during the Bush years to sinister 1930s-like agitation in Italy and Germany. But the only thing that has changed is that now the community organizers are the establishment, and they don’t like being community organized. So once again, like raising taxes, we see that protest was always only a means to an ends, not an intrinsically necessary form of popular outrage.

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