Wilkerson on GOP Convention

By lambert strether

For those who just have to have a shot of horse race politics, here’s RNN’s Paul Jay interviewing Lawrence Wilkerson about the recently concluded RNCon (and I use that abbreviation for a reason… ).

More at The Real News

I picked out a few of the more remarkable statements from the transcript, statements that seem remarkable to me, given that the interviewer and interviewee are quite well-connected. One can only guess what people higher up on the food chain are really thinking.

* * *

JAY: “It’s really the weaknesses of the Obama administration that opened this up. There’s such confusion amongst people now about how to get out of the crisis.” …

WILKERSON: There is. … Those things [like FISA] are—they’re a usurpation of your constitutional rights. And they’re going to go on and on and on. And the Justice Department for President Obama seems to be reveling in pursuing these things.

[Remarkable in that both men seem to describe, without naming it, a crisis of legitimacy, a change in the constitutional order. Remarkable also in that Obama is cast as both “weak” (by Jay) and yet “reveling” (Wilkerson) in usurping rights, and therefore strong. And remarkable that neither picks up on the contradiction. –lambert]

* * *

WILKERSON: It is a mystery, unless we’re looking at polls being influenced by the fact that advertisement, TV, media, everybody else wants to continue to make money off both these campaigns, and so they have to constantly pitch them as being roughly equal, which I do think plays a factor. We could be looking at 60/40 and we wouldn’t know it because it’d be reported as 51/49.

JAY: …[T]here’s such a profound economic interest on the part of the television networks … to make sure this is a horse race—the more a horse race it is, the more money they make.

[We’ve got a legitimacy crisis not just for elections, but for polling (and, no doubt, the gathering of any sort of statistic, whether corporate or official). Though, again, Wilkerson and Jay don’t crystallize the idea in that form. –lambert]

* * *

I’m sure, readers, that there are other remarkable contradictions that you can find in this transcript. Clearly, we live in a very interesting historical moment! And if you like, consider this an open thread on our legacy parties and their discontents. Have at it!

NOTE * Lawrence Wilkerson [genuflects] was Colin Powell’s chief of staff, which is still a reason for some to give him deference. That said, Wilkerson is by no means the worst of ’em in official Washington.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. LucyLulu

    “You’ll be lucky to see 50% turnout.”

    NC is one of the swing states. It’s already been decided, according to the media, that NC will go to Romney. The campaign pundits have narrowed the number of swing states down now. The TV ads have been pulled. Why bother turning out to vote in NC?

    It appears it will all come down to Ohio. That will be easy. Only one state will need to hold elections.

    1. Art Eclectic

      I completely agree, the media will decide who wins and how close the election is. They will keep it tight so that those advertising dollars are flowing right up until the bitter end.

      Can’t be leaving any money on the table, this bonus round only comes around every 4 years, you know….

      Ohio is starting to look like a done deal, early reports are that Obama is leading is early voting. So, I think the media has already called it – but they will still manage to make it a “maybe” state right to the end.

      My armchair analysis is that it isn’t as tight a race as the media is making it out. I think the obvious power of the extreme right has turned off just enough independents that a tipping point has been reached – the GOP won’t win another national election until they jettison the religious fundamentalists that have become a liability with younger voters.

      I could still be wrong, but demographics are not in favor of the current policy trajectory of the GOP.

      1. Crazy Horse

        Aren’t you forgetting that when little bush carried Ohio to cement his second term the results were determined by Diebold?

        If Jimmy Carter had been overseeing an election in some Central American banana republic and observed that the official results and exit polling differed by 10%, the election would have been labeled fraudulent. But no, not in the great state of Ohio.

        Voting in america is transparently fraudulent at two levels. Not only is the circus a manufactured contest between two parties that are identical at every functional level, but the actual winner is selected by fraudulent methods of vote counting.

        1. Susan the other

          I think in some places they tried hard to prevent exit polling. Our campaigns and elections used to be a disgrace. Now they are just a carnival.

        2. Lambert Strether Post author

          I was live blogging election night in 2004, back in the day, when I still thought “More and better Democrats” was the answer, and that we could help them “grow a spine” by supporting them. Happy, innocent days. Anyhow, this is what I remember about OH 2004:

          1. Big voter suppression in terms of not having enough machines in D districts so there were long lines;

          2. Shenanigains in both Lucus and Cuyahoga counties (including one incident where the Republicans locked the building where the votes were being counted, claiming, which was later shown to be false, that DHS had told them the building was under threat). Robert Kennedy has a fine article on OH 2004 in Rolling Stone.

          3. When I went to bed, very early in the morning, word from the Kerry Camp was that they would challenge the result.

          4. When I got up, the Kerry camp had accepted the result. The beauty part is that they’d already raised money for a challenge.

          So, just as in FL 2000, we have the Democrats, at the end of the day, enabling and complicit in election fraud. (Al Gore gavelling the Congressional Black Caucus into silence when Congress reconvened after the 2000 “election” is an image that stays with me. “Look forward and not back.”

          * * *

          I’m giving a little detail, as best I remember it, because it’s true only as an approximation that “Diebold” stole the election. Electronic voting machines were only part of the story, and they weren’t necessarily Diebold’s (though IIRC the local R’s in Lucas County did select the e-voting vendor).

          The bottom line is that OH 2004 was stolen at particular times by particulur people at particular locations. Other people on this thread have stressed the narrowness by which this “election” may be decided: A few precincts in a few districts in a few states. And, perhaps (no doubt?) by a few operatives in one or two buildings, or one technician, flown in by executive jet or private plane, with the hardware and software for a “man in the middle” attack).

          The detail on the ground matters. You gotta know the territory. People who’s memory is better than mine, please chime in….

      2. Lambert Strether Post author

        From the Barcalounger:

        I’m using a model something like this, and it’s a good thing to formalize, so I will:

        1. The 1% (Powers That Be (Ruling Class)) manage a portfolio of options in the process of electoral politics.

        2. Different factions of the 1% have shares in different options.

        3. By “option” I mean candidate + candidate’s political base.

        4. By “candidate’s political base” I mean not mere voters but consultants, intellectuals, activists, celebrities, camp followers, family, service providers of all sorts, etc. Essentially synonymous with a Rolodex or, these days, a proprietary database.

        5. All “serious” options are acceptable to all factions of the 1%.

        6. Only one option will “win,” in the sense of taking office, but all options win in the sense of continuing to play. (Lewis Carroll calls this a “caucus race”: “EVERYBODY has won, and all must have prizes.” See Stoller on hedging.)

        7. Tropes are created and exploited by factional operatives, but are not owned by them. For example, Obama’s base adopted anti-Clinton tropes created by the lowest forms of swamp-dwelling conservative grifters during the Lewinsky matter.

        So there are some degrees of freedom caused by:

        1. Conflict between factions in the 1%

        2. Candidate skills + cohesiveness/effectiveness of the base

        3. Other systemic but not electoral players, especially the press. For example, the working press is clearly pushing for Obama in exactly the same way that they pushed for Bush.

        4. “Events, dear boy, events.”

        A model like this leaves plenty of room for agency, treats outcomes as circumscribed but not fore-ordained, and doesn’t regard any part of the system as monolithic

  2. Clive

    Tangentially (that’s probably a posh word for “off topic”) but my reaction to the RNN feature and Lambert’s comments is to think of what increasingly observe in my — admittedly quite limited — interaction with what I would term the next generation. I.e. people in their very early twenties.

    While I wasn’t there at the time and so can only speculate, the sense I get from that group is something akin to what might have been prevalent in the 1960’s. Which is a dissatisfaction (that’s much too small a description of it) about not just certain key areas of who society is organised and who is doing the organising but an incipient rejection of the entire foundation. I wish I could either verify or dump this guesswork. Unfortunately, most of the debate is happening amongst younger ‘boomers and the middle aged… that is… erm… at the risk of being hounded, the typical readership of NC and the sort of viewer of RNN.

    If (a huge if I know) I’m right then it’s a game-changer. Without not simply tacit support for the current status quo but active engagement the whole paradigm is at risk. It doesn’t matter what the 1% do or don’t do. Without a method of perpetuating it via younger people who are inevitably, unavoidably part of the 99% it is simply not going to last. It becomes a question of how it all unravels and when — not if.

    ‘course, I could be completely wrong. The upcoming younger population may well be looking at how things are today, how their parents are living, what their likely prospects are, what their children’s possible future will be and thinking to themselves “oh, that’s okay, we’ll have some of that too…”. But i don’t know…

    1. JTFaraday

      I’ll probably get in trouble with someone or other for saying this, but I think that after a particular demographic segment of the baby boom generation kicked up a largely superficial fuss, it settled down in more or less its entirety into the welfare state capitalist status quo that another segment of that generation was engaged in undermining.

      It seems to me that the general guiding principle of that status quo is that people take out of society based on a measure of how productive they’ve been. In addition to salaries and social capital, this is (allegedly) how things like social security, defined benefit and defined contribution pension plans, even whether or not you have health insurance, are thought to work.

      It seems to me that this measure–how productive you are is reflected in what you get to take out of the system– which was always biased against certain kinds of labor anyway (like almost anything women did and still do) is now pretty much broke, and has been breaking since they started naming subsequent generations XYZ etc.

      But it also seems to me that the issue is not just that these various pools of resources from which people draw are being drained, blocked, denied but that “productivity” itself is in crisis. It seems to me that most US employees, most working people have been redefined as a drain on the bare financial structures of all sorts of organizations, most notably, but not exclusively, global corporations and the public sector.

      We could call this the welfare state capitalist “social contract.” That social contract is breaking down, and while the Republican Party claims that their aim is to ensure the continuance of that contract, their own actions and the actions of their moneyed constituencies speak much louder.

      Down the road young people are going to have to decide what they want to do about that, and it cuts very close to how Americans think they are to live, how their spend their time on a daily basis.

      But again, it’s not just the money, etc that’s in crisis. It’s the definition of productivity that is thought to correspond with what people get out of the system that is broke.

      1. Clive

        That is so true JT. Let me illustrate with an example. Where I work, the department has outsourced and offshored about 50% of the tasks performed. The on-payroll headcount has fallen by about the same proportion initially but the offshore headcount is double that of the previous onshore headcount doing the same labour. Their costs are 1/3 of the onshore labour so — at least on the face of it — that reduces costs. But now it turns out that in order to manage twice the offshore resource pool, the retained onshore personnel have become the bottleneck. The enterprise is rather baffled and the knee-jerk reaction is along the lines of “ah-ha, that means the onshore resources are insufficiently efficient (or unproductive)”.

        Au contraire. We’re absolutely flippin’ productive matey boy — you try managing an offshore team with language issues, cultural differences, high turnover and skimpy subject matter expertise. Cheap doesn’t equal productive.

        Hey-presto, a text-book case of the law of unintended consequences. Your “investment” (in letting go onshore experienced resources and attempting to up skill inexpensive offshore resources) did not, despite what you thought Mr. 1%-er actually increase overall productivity. Aggregate, it reduced it.

        So the corporation is between a rock and hard place. They can try to reduce the onshore headcount further by moving the management of the offshore resources offshore. But higher up the value chain you go, the nearer you get to the 1% — and they aren’t about to offshore themselves. They are stepping back from that one. Or the can try to screw the offshore labour rate down — but you can’t get blood out of a turnip (at least, not that much blood). So now what ?

        Would be really nice wouldn’t to wake up in 10 years time (like what happened in an episode of South Park) to see how this one turns out…

        1. Matt L

          Au contraire,

          Ultimately the 1% will feast upon itself and cannibalize it down to the .9% … .8% … until there is only .1 %

          They are already off-shoring legal, finance, and engineering. Then it will turn to VP’s and ultimately CEO’s when boards get the idea that they can hire a CEO from Singapore or Indonesia for 50% of the salary and lose nothing in management capabilities.

          It’s probably still a decade away before the management that has already been off-shored gains the experience to make the jump to the C-Level Penthouse.

          But it will come …..

  3. Middle Seaman

    This cannot be true! People like Wilkinson don’t exist anymore. We are used to corporate media with rich pundits, hater on the right and the left. Wilkinson seems to be a real conservative as defined by the non-existent Encyclopedia Britannica.

    Especially liked the raping Kochs and the oppressor Obama. Notice that Romney was hardly mentioned; after all he is just a rich nobody.

  4. michael hudson

    Two comments.
    First, re Obama being “weak” and also vastly strengthening the royal power of the presidency. No real contradiction here: Obama is a lawyer for his constituency, his campaign contributors. He is acting on behalf of the neocons and Wall Street in creating oligarchic power to take over government, and imperial power abroad. Oligarchies like factotums for presidents. That’s why they overthrew the kings in Rome. They accused Superbus of the rape of Lucretia, only so that they could rape all Roman society by preventing any royal power able to check their own takings of land and reduce the population to debt bondage.
    Re Ohio, the vicious and scurrilous lies of opportunist Marcie Kaptor (“darling of the liberals) antagonized Dennis Kucinich’s supporters in Cleveland, so when massive computer fraud steals Ohio’s election for the Republicans, don’t expect all that much indignation. (A replay of Gore 2000)

    1. Martin Finnucane

      re. your first comment: my understanding is that the tyrannical form of government was popular in its inception. That is, the classical hellenic tyrant was a kind of popular party strong man, a proto-Hugo Chavez. Tyranny was not necessarily opposed to democracy so much as to oligarchy. And, of course, the accounts of the Tarquins are more in the nature of folk tales rather than authentic history. So perhaps the late regency of Rome was a latinized tyranny (in the hellenic sense), later made out to be something more despicable. And when the Tea Party types yap about Obama the tyrant, they are way off the mark.

    2. Susan the other

      Elections will come down to stings and double stings. The Rs will steal the election but before it can be counted it will be heisted by the Ds. Thanks Diebold.

    3. Lambert Strether Post author

      The contradiction, which perhaps I did not make clear, is between Jay and Wilkerson, even though they don’t recognize it.

      In reality, there’s no contradiction, as you point out. I have never accepted the “Obama is weak” trope, beloved of Obama apologists everywhere; I think Obama is not only strong, but doing exactly what he believes in.

      1. Because

        Obama did have a huge infrastructural overhaul plan in the December of 2008 that was shot down by Capital in January 2009.

        It was one of the reasons the final “stimulus” package came about the way it did and Obama ran to health care and ended up with a half-written bill. He should have gone into his bunker demanding the multi-trillion dollar program on infrastructure or as they say “go to hell”, but weak emasculated men do that.

        Capital impeded every move he tried to make by the summer of 2010 he just gave up.

        Hence, he was weak in many instances. He let capital push him around. The anti-FDR, but FDR had Joe Kennedy at his side to deflect the DuPonts and their joke “ALL” movement to try and overthrow him. Obama really had nobody. So he went with the flow to get reelected.

        That also tells you why Obama didn’t make the Volcker Rule the replacement for Steagall like he promised in 09 as well.

        The guy is very weak.

      2. TK421

        I think Obama is strongly doing what he believes in, and strong in maintaining that course…but people (and nations) who lash out blindly are weak, not strong. A *strong* leader would pull us out of our wars in the Middle East, instead of blowing up more or less random people in hopes of being perceived as strong.

    4. Kim Kaufman

      re “Remarkable also in that Obama is cast as both “weak” (by Jay) and yet “reveling” (Wilkerson) in usurping rights, and therefore strong.

      I recall Wilderson expressing the same kind of outrage – “reveling” in usurping rights – as he did towards Cheney and Bush (and especially towards Cheney as he seemed to really wield a lot more power over Powell). In other words, he thinks Obama is just as bad as Bush and Cheney on the issues. I think he’s a Republican who voted for Obama. Can’t imagine who he’ll vote for this year. We’re all pretty much left with no choice.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        Well, there is Jill Stein (Green) and, to be fair, Gary Johnson (libertarian). So the choices are not as circumscribed as the legacy parties would have us believe. For myself, I regard voting for evil as throwing my vote away, though others may differ…

    5. neo-realist

      If Obama is all about serving the Oligarchy, who better to steal the election for than a faithful servant who can best implement the increasing oppression (with a velvet glove touch, so as to best forestall opposition, particularly from liberals) and to help keep the Oval Office chair open for Jeb in 2016–a lord of the oligarchy if there ever was one.

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