momentous events in the news, a good share of which
puzzle me, it seemed appropriate to contact Shallow
Throat for some insights into what may be going on. We
talked the other day in a quiet booth at a Bethesda
ST: I've missed
our chats. Where you been? Aren't you and your liberal
cohorts happy with the new, feisty Obama, willing to
call out the Republicans by name, more eager to mix it
up with his opposition?
BW: Yes, of
course. However, Obama ran as a transformational
president, but once in power he backed off making any
consequential structural changes; he was content to
nibble around the edges of power but not confront power,
way too eager to compromise way too early. He lost
nearly three years of possible movement forward before
he looked at the electoral calendar and decided it as
now time to alter his approach. So today we're presented
once again with Obama in full campaign mode, with tough
rhetoric and promises of action he would probably never
take. He's certainly better than McCain would have been,
and stands heads and shoulders above the current crowd
of clownish numbskulls running for the Republican
candidacy, but we expected, and Obama promised, much
ST: So you
liberals woke up to how the game is played in
Washington, and that Obama is a politician -- surprise!
He's a centrist pragmatist and always has been; he has
no desire to initiate truly radical change.
You do realize,
don't you, that the Republican Party, decided early on
that their sole mission is to destroy Obama and his
initiatives. In their desire to retake the White House,
they created conditions that would have stymied any
Democratic president, let alone one presented with a
Great Recession/Depression that is wrecking the economy
and social structure of this country. Cut the man some
BW: We did, for
far too long; we're not in the political alterations
business anymore -- no more cutting-of-slack. We need
action, not just incremental nibbling away at the forces
of power but really getting into a serious remake of the
rotting and corrupted structures that underlie our
economic, social and political lives. Yes, the
Republicans are engaged in reprehensible tactics,
willing to bring down the economy, for example, just to
score electoral points. But we can't ignore how
complicit Obama and the Democratic legislators in
general have been in moving America to this awful point.
THE OCCUPY MOVEMENT
ST: Let me take a
wild guess: You support the Occupy folks. If Obama is
unable or unwilling to transform the system from the
inside, you and your buddies will do it from the
outside? Get real, Bernie. To crib from Stalin, how many
troop divisions do you have behind you? Americans, you
may have noticed, are not all that taken with actual
revolution, though many throw that term around loosely.
And yes I realize that what's in the works is a
structural/social revolution, not a violent one.
BW: The Occupy
movement and its allies may not be ready to storm the
barricades with pitchforks, but as some in the Tea Party
and now in the Occupy movement have demonstrated, the
anger and frustration out there is immense and deep.
Those in this movement are eager to search for ways to
confront the power-wielders and get some significant
There is a
potential tipping point if that rage and desire for real
change can be channeled properly. Who knows? There might
be some clever way to bring elements within the Tea
Party faction together with their counterrparts in the
Occupy movement, starting with their shared anger at the
banks and bailouts. Can you imagine the impact if such a
potential alliance could be forged, even if on a small
ST: Those are
mighty big "ifs." The Occupy movement seems to have very
little organization or clear sense of direction, and
their fuzzy goals offer little outreach to Middle
Americans -- which is the substrata of American society
that can possibly lean on the power-wielders to change
Plus, the longer
Occupy's actions continue as they are -- encampments,
marches, demos, allowing their anarchist component to
smash windows, not dealing with infiltrators and
provocateurs and so on -- they open themselves to losing
momentum and to being co-opted by traditional and more
organized elements in society, including Democratic
politicians. It happened during the revolutionary days
in "The Sixties," and it's beginning to look familiar
BW: You could be
right, but I don't think so. It's equally possible that
the situation is so desperate right now in the country
-- one in 15 citizens below poverty level, nearly 20
millions out of work, the growing economic inequality,
the disappearance of the American Dream, the growing
strength of greed-obsessed individuals and corporations,
etc. -- that this nascent "revolution" may actually
generate a genuine, diverse and long-lasting Movement
for radical systemic change.
ST: What you've
got now is a roiling sense of anger and frustration.
Whether that soup is marinating anything that will
emerge later is still a question mark. As long as the
powers-that-be can paint the Occupy folks as marginal
"hippies" and youthful malcontents, your side is losing.
might be different if it's clear that hundreds of
thousands, nay millions, of ordinary Americans stand
behind them, march with them, and if various affinity
and actions groups can emerge from the Occupy movement,
especially during this winter, when going out or
encamping may not be so enticing. This is the way to a
tipping point. Right now, it's mostly theatre. Important
in laying the groundwork for changes in public opinion,
but really mostly theatre.
KEEPING THE MOMENTUM BUILDING
BW: I think you're
wrong. As one deeply engaged in turning this country
around in "The Sixties," I realize how things can go
wrong: internal infighting, splintering around different
issues, conflicting egos and ambitions, provocateurs and
infiltrators causing havoc and giving the powers-that-be
excuses for harsh police action, etc. etc.
But these moments
in history don't come along often; if we want to keep
today's revolutionary momentum building, we must join in
and support those who are leading the way -- however
imperfectly and chaotically perhaps, but nevertheless
stirring up the embers of determined citizen action.
We both sat there in silence for awhile, sipping our
beers and thinking what had been said (and left unsaid).
Then I moved to another topic.
BW: I'm guessing that you would really like to get back
into the inner circles of government rather than being a
consultant on the outside. If the GOP were to take the
White House next year, would you serve if asked?
THE GOP CANDIDATES
ST: Not a
realistic scenario. I don't think the Republicans have a
chance, given their current farm-league group of
candidates. What a crop! Ignorants, scoundrels,
ideological cretins. But if Obama, say, were to revert
back to his spineless persona, it might be a different
ballgame. For example, if he were to support hacking
away at Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, with no
major tax increases, as the Gang of 12 commission is
seriously considering. Or if he were to authorize the
controversial Keystone tar-sands pipeline from Canada
through the heartland in the Midwest, endangering the
huge aquifer there. He's already backed away from
enforcing key EPA regulations.
So, hand in hand
with huge numbers of Democratic defections (seniors,
students, activists, minorities, environmentalists,
etc.), and with the suppress-and-steal-the-vote
maneuvers currently being organized by the Republicans
in 18 key states, a GOP victory in 2012 remains
possible, if not likely.
BW: On the other
hand, it's not outside the realm of possibility that
Obama, beholden to the traditional power-and-money
sources, might do all of those awful things. What would
thoroughly alienated his base, Obama might then suddenly
look even more vulnerable in electoral terms. It's not
likely, but it's possible, that there could be a
groundswell to support a late Democratic challenger in
the primary. (Hillary? Bernie Sanders? Russ Feingold?).
Or that Chris Christie or Michael Bloomberg might change
their minds and jump into the GOP race, who knows? I
don't believe any of this will happen, but the
political/economic situation is so fluid right now in
the U.S., in Europe, in the Middle East, that nothing
can be ruled out.
Sorry to call this
to a close, but I've got to run. Feel free, per usual,
to get these observations into the political
conversation. Let's see what happens. And let's do this
again in a few months.
And with that, Shallow Throat exited the tavern, leaving
me energized but also weighed down by the enormity of
the job ahead of us.
**To read earlier conversations with the Shallow Throat
character, go to:
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international
relations, was an activist/journalist in "The '60s." He
has taught at universities in California and Washington,
worked as a writer/editor for the San Francisco
Chronicle for two decades, and currently serves as
co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org).