November 05, 2008

Ave Divus Obama, Morituri Te Salutant


The Empire has a new Emperor. It's a handsomer face than we got used to in recent times, the son of a punter from a faraway province, deep in the lands of the barbarians. And a smarter Emperor as well. It's been a while since we had an Emperor who can read and understand the title above. You know things are going badly for the empire when they feel the need to have an intelligent barbarian with an apoplectic middle name run it. In sunnier times, the courtiers prefer a dull non-entity from a good family on the throne. Let the boy emperor play with his toy soldiers and not interfere with the banquets. But the wine and the song, like the seasons, all have gone. It is time for a new sobriety, a new reality based governance, and with it a new, sober, emperor. Where the id was, there the ego be. Where malapropism was, oration be. In -- sobriety, responsibilty, reality, work, earnest, somber tones, saving accounts, Toyota Prius, ants. Out -- carefree, fantasy, party, flashy colors, mischief, apres moi le deluge, Porsche 911, NASDAQ, crickets.

The new Emperor, may the augurs smile on his imperium, is not an oilman. If nothing else, this alone will reduce the heating and transport bills for millions or families across the world. But he is a fighter. And he pledges to defend Pax Americana with all his "yes we can" determination. So let all the malcontents, all those who see opportunity in the Empire's misfortunes, take heed. The Empire is down but not out. Gone may be the days when a million died so that Halliburton and Exxon Mobile could make a tidy profit. The new Emperor is likely to kill as many people as the old one did. But he will spill blood to preserve the empire, not to run it down for the cronies. And the nobility of the cause will make all the difference for the conscience of many a courtier put off by the war in Iraq. When we say sobriety will replace drunkedness, let nobody think that we mean gving away what belongs to the Empire (and what, after all, doesn't belong to the Empire?)

Americans are ready for the new sobriety. Credit card debt is plummeting and with it the appetite for conspicuous consumption. "Sex and the City" is on its way to becoming a period film, representing the shopoholism of this fin-du-siecle the way the Titanic symbolized the excesses of the previous one. Obama is in tune with change. The emperor's triumph speech echoes John F. Kennedy's famous call for public mindedness and sacrifice. But there is a class inflection to this call that remains carefully unsaid. The sacrifice that is required now of Americans is the sacrifice of the cleaning workers who come after the party ends, to scrub vomit off the floor and trash the used condoms. There are mountains of debts to be paid. The party has been binging on stolen and borrowed booze. Obama is set to provide the foundation for the ideology of this clean-up, that is, the infusion of general deprivation and belt-tightening with a collective moral purpose, a spirit of self-flagellation designed to deflect attention from the real distribution of pain. Those who partied hardest are planning to sacrifice the least. One need only look at the finance wizards advising the Emperor to see the direction that is most likely being plotted. There is Larry Summers, who brought gangster capitalism to Russia, plunging the country into a real Great Depression, and in the process causing more excess deaths than Bush did in Iraq. And there is Paul Volcker, who twenty seven years ago administered a milder version of the Shock Therapy to both U.S. workers and to the global South, destroying their bargaining power and leading to the generation long wages stagnation on which Wall-Street feasted for two great decades. Volcker is particularly worshiped by the Right as the embodiment of capitalist moralism, namely, the delusional belief that markets create a moral order based on 'market discipline,' that rewards work and sacrifice and punishes free-riding. The presence of these names on the new Emperor's team gives a very disturbing undertone to what Obama means when he speaks about sacrifice.


Ave Divus Obama, Morituri Te Salutant


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