Sunday, September 21, 2008


Obama as “The Maskmaker”

by Larry Geller

As the country teeters on the brink of economic disaster, I read that McCain as president would bring more of the same and Obama would deliver us from the grip of depression. But Obama is from the Chicago School of economics, dedicated not to saving us but for growing corporate power and profit at our expense.

So how is he to “save” us? After the election he is supposed to rip off the mask he wears to win votes, and the true liberal is to be revealed.

Fat chance. I was reminded of the late Marcel Marceau’s famous piece, “The Maskmaker,” and how the mask can take over:

Marcel Marceu in The Maskmaker

In "The Maskmaker," Marceau molds one tragic and one comic face out of thin air. Trying on his creations, the mask maker alternates between the two. Switching masks at a breathtaking speed in this virtuoso contortion exercise, the comic mask gets stuck. He cannot remove it. He becomes increasingly frustrated and eventually desperate. His body expresses frustration, anger, despair, yet his face remains a haunting grin. Ultimately the comic mask is dislodged, revealing a shattered, terrified artist behind. [Misha Aster, A Face for the Ages]

Obama may just keep the mask, because it is actually his true face. Alexander Cockburn reminded me today, in his article on Counterpunch, Is This the Stake Through Neoliberalism's Heart? It Should Be, But ..., that Obama has raised more money from Wall Street than has McCain. Obama will be their man, you can count on it.

Cockburn is also thinking mask:

If Obama becomes president what advisors will he recruit? Will he keep Rubin at his side along with his passel of Chicago School economists? His left supporters hope that he has a secret plan under wraps, that a populist T-shirt lies under the decorous mask of bipartisanship. I doubt it. Caution and respectability seem integral to Obama’s political persona. His core political task has been to assure the big-money funders of his campaign that as concerns maintenance of the present system his are a safe pair of hands. “Secret plan” theorists have some notion of “the real Obama” ripping off his mask on Inauguration Day. It doesn’t work like that. The political system is designed to ensure that the mask becomes the man.

Over the past quarter century the US manufacturing economy went offshore. Lately the so-called New Economy of the “Information Age” has been moving offshore too. Free trade has left millions without decent jobs or prospects of ever getting one above the $15 an hour tier.

Below a thin upper crust of the richest people in the history of the planet there’s the rest of America which in varying degrees of desperation, can barely get by. Millions are so close to the edge an extra 25 cents a gallon of fuel is a household budget-breaker.

Wages have stagnated. Decade after decade the bargaining power of workers has dwindled. We’ve had the macabre spectacle of American=based workers ordered to train their overseas replacements before being fired.

Bipartisan ruses like the Clinton-inspired exclusion of energy and food costs from the measures of “core inflation” ensure that social security payments don’t keep up with real inflation, which – if you take in the soaring costs of groceries and fuel for heat and transport – is double the official rate, the same way real employment – now officially just above 6 per cent – is actually around 12 per cent.

The system is in dire crisis, nowhere more balefully manifest that in present and scheduled Pentagon spending, barely mentioned in these days of crisis. Stick it to the imprudent home buyers, not to the arms manufacturers and their gigantic pigsty, seeping its sewage across the planet.

Certainly Obama must be elected if we are to have positive change. But his election alone won’t be enough. It may take demonstrations, popular pressure, and who knows what, to get him to perform. If he brings his current corral of advisors with him to the White House, the electorate may end up like Marceau’s character, shattered and terrified  in the end—because our hero turns out not to be wearing a mask after all. It’s the real Obama that we see today. We’re stuck with what we think is a mask.

So step one is to get through the November election with a positive future still an option, and step two, still undefined, will be to wring that positive future out of the present improbability.



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