I thought it would be good, just for a little perspective, to look at what a genuine and disgruntled lefty had to say about President Obama’s speech the other night, courtesy of today’s broadcast of NPR’s Morning Edition.
Chris Hedges is an award-winning, world-traveling journalist and war correspondent, who has written several books on topics ranging from a critique of pop-atheists to a critique of “fascistic” American fundamentalism to an experience-driven book on war. If you saw The Hurt Locker, then you saw the following quote, which opened the movie and is from Hedges’ book, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning:
The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.*
In short, if you are a fan of Ralph Nader, you will be a fan of Chris Hedges. For him, the entire liberal establishment has sold out to “status and privilege,” neglecting “justice and progress.” Nobody, it seems, is liberal enough for Hedges, but he particularly doesn’t like Barack Obama.
Here is just one sentence from a piece he wrote for Truthdig, a progressive website, titled, “Ralph Nader Was Right About Barack Obama“:
Obama lies as cravenly, if not as crudely, as George W. Bush.
Now, I remind you, that was from a progressive website.
In any case, Morning Edition‘s Steve Inskeep interviewed Hedges to get his reaction to the State of the Union speech:
It was clearly a speech meant to mollify Wall Street. It had a great deal of hypocrisy in it, condemning what he called the parade of lobbyists for rigging government just after he appointed the top Washington representative of JPMorgan Chase [William Daley] to be his new chief of staff…
One of the things that disturbed me most was this idea that somehow we are failing—the economy is failing—because of a lack of education. It was a failure of regulation. A failure of government control, which unleashed rapacious forms of human greed and fraud.
Inskeep asked him about Obama’s use of language regarding, “increasing the competitiveness of America“:
He quite consciously uses the language of the business community to indicate that he’s pro-business…[but]government is not a corporation. Government is not about competition. Government is about addressing the necessities of citizens: health, education, housing, security, jobs, living wages, protections so that people have clean and safe water and food. It’s not about business programs. And that of course is the ideology of the right wing: To not only make government serve corporations but essentially reduce government and cut citizens loose.
When Inskeep prompted Hedges about our debt and the need for a strong economy, including strong businesses, so that people can make money and pay taxes to support the kind of things Hedges mentions, he responds by acknowledging that obvious truth, but then says:
But who’s responsible for the debt peonage? It’s not those people working extra shifts in Wal-Mart…That’s the fault of Wall Street. They’re the people who ratcheted it up. They’re the people we had to bail out. It’s not the person working on the minimum wage job. But they’re the ones who are going to be made to suffer.
Hedges was asked to comment on something he wrote in his book, The Death of the Liberal Class, which suggested that the communists have “the right analysis of the economy” in the sense of “it’s the workers against the bosses” :
In that sense, we no longer speak in the language of class warfare. Everybody has become middle class. Although, of course, what we have done through the acceleration of NAFTA and the outsourcing of jobs is disempower or disenfranchise our working class. I’m not a Marxist and I’m not a communist and I’m not an anti-capitalist.
But there are different forms of capitalism. There is the penny capitalism in the farm town where I grew up, where farmers bring their products in and sell it. There’s the regional capitalism of the local factory owner, hardware store owner, who lives in the community, invests in the community, sits on the school board.
And then there’s corporate capitalism, which is something else. Corporate capitalism is supra-national; it has no loyalty to the nation state. It’s hollowed our country out from the inside. It’s a kind of global, neo-feudalism and it’s corporate capitalism that frightens me.
You can see that from a liberal perspective, Hedges certainly has made some good and powerful points.
But lacking any appreciation for the difficulty of getting things done in Washington these days, some leftists like Hedges and Nader—both good men—are willing to shoot their own soldiers for what they perceive as disloyalty to or improper fealty to leftist-liberal ideology. In that way they mirror the fanatics on the Right, who are trying to purge from the Republican Party any politician who doesn’t sound like Michele Bachmann.
The point of all this is that I can assent to much of what Chris Hedges believes, but I don’t have to accept his critique of the “traitorous” liberal establishment—some of whom have moved right—in general or his excessive criticism of President Obama in particular.
Many of us wish the President would articulate a much more robust liberalism than he does. But we have to face a truth: If he did so, he would not likely succeed in getting much done. And we have to acknowledge another truth: That despite his failure to always live up to our expectations, Obama is ultimately on our side.
I have argued that America is not a center-right country; it is a center-left country. Which is to say that America has accepted a brand of liberalism—Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid—that is also tempered by a sober realization that government can’t and shouldn’t control all possible outcomes; that government has its limitations.
And while I am glad there are people out there like Chris Hedges—who keep passion alive for liberal ideas—they do not control the debate these days.
* The full quote from the book is:
The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug, one I ingested for many years.