Thursday, January 28, 2010

HOWARD ZINN (1922 - 2010) ON OBAMA

Howard Zinn died of a heart attack yesterday — the same day (perhaps during) Obama's first State of the Union address. If not the final word on the paralytic state of the administration certainly his last word. But Zinn didn't expect much in the first place. Here. A brief comment on Obama's first year in office published in The Nation a couple weeks ago:

I've been searching hard for a highlight. The only thing that comes close is some of Obama's rhetoric; I don't see any kind of a highlight in his actions and policies.

As far as disappointments, I wasn't terribly disappointed because I didn't expect that much. I expected him to be a traditional Democratic president. On foreign policy, that's hardly any different from a Republican—as nationalist, expansionist, imperial and warlike. So in that sense, there's no expectation and no disappointment. On domestic policy, traditionally Democratic presidents are more reformist, closer to the labor movement, more willing to pass legislation on behalf of ordinary people—and that's been true of Obama. But Democratic reforms have also been limited, cautious. Obama's no exception. On healthcare, for example, he starts out with a compromise, and when you start out with a compromise, you end with a compromise of a compromise, which is where we are now.

I thought that in the area of constitutional rights he would be better than he has been. That's the greatest disappointment, because Obama went to Harvard Law School and is presumably dedicated to constitutional rights. But he becomes president, and he's not making any significant step away from Bush policies. Sure, he keeps talking about closing Guantánamo, but he still treats the prisoners there as "suspected terrorists." They have not been tried and have not been found guilty. So when Obama proposes taking people out of Guantánamo and putting them into other prisons, he's not advancing the cause of constitutional rights very far. And then he's gone into court arguing for preventive detention, and he's continued the policy of sending suspects to countries where they very well may be tortured.

I think people are dazzled by Obama's rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president—which means, in our time, a dangerous president—unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction.


Like Jimmy Carter with a fierce exterior. A sort of speedbump on the way to something else. (recall here Paul Volcker — engineer of the so-called Volcker Shock crucial to the success of neoliberal economic policy in the US — was Chairmen of the Federal Reserve first under Carter and then Reagan; and FUCKING GET THIS YO: Volcker is NOW chairman of the newly remodeled Economic Recovery Advisory Board under Obama. He's an Obama man. Or Obama's a Volcker man. Some ASTOUNDING shit. Volcking bullshit.

In A Brief History of Neoliberalism (the book went not through one but two printings in 2009) Paul Volcker is one of the first names David Harvey drops. First on page one. Then page two. Etc. Paul Samuleson died a few weeks back. Remember him? 1970 Nobel Prize in Economics (thermodynamics + economics). His nephew Larry Summers served as chief economist of the World Bank in 1991, Secretary of the Treasury under Clinton and is now director of the National Economic Council. The distance between MIT (neo-Keynesian) and Chicago (Friedman Franken Von Hayek) is slim.

I'm not sure he developed it much further, but Zinn extended the method of the British Marxist historians (Christopher Hill, E.P. Thompson, Dorothy Thompson, Rodney Hilton, Hobsbawm &c) to an American context. An important accomplishment. As a social historian Zinn's work attended to the economic — to the culturally determinate character of economic antagonisms.

Pound, "History and Ignorance" (1935): "History that omits economics will not eternally be accepted as anything but a farce or a fake."

Zinn writing eight years ago, in 2002 (Terrorism and War). Apropos:

The current recession has already had a very direct effect on a number of people, but this fact has been buried by the enormous attention paid to the war. As news coverage of the war recedes, though, the impact of the economic recession is going to become more and more obvious, and this will have an important result in the public's growing disaffection with the Bush administration, and maybe even disaffection with the Democratic Party, which has played such a pitifully obsequious role in this whole affair.