Tikkun Magazine, November/December 2010
Obama: The Fear of Assassination and What You Can Do About It
by John Perkins
"Change has come to America." -- President Obama, November 2008
President Barack Obama has occupied the Oval Office for more than one and a half years. The passing of the baton from a conservative Republican to a liberal Democrat raised high hopes among people longing for change, people who dreamt of an America that walks its talk of "government of, for, and by the people," deals compassionately with the world's downtrodden, and offers a model for a sustainable and just society. As those hopes meet the reality of an escalated war in Afghanistan, oil spills, corporate bailouts, CEO pay raises at corporations with the highest layoff rates, a depressed and declining middle class, and the drama of the last election, many are left wondering what happened to the promise made during that campaign.
Why has President Obama let us down? How come he lied to us? Why has he not kept his campaign promises? These are questions I frequently hear from people who attend my speeches and book signings.
There are several geopolitical facts that help formulate the answer:
1. Nations have become almost irrelevant, and the U.S. presidency has been severely weakened. It's naive to think that a new president is in a position to reverse the trend of the last decades of profit-making from war and to escape the stranglehold corporate lobbyists hold on our body politic.
2. The form of capitalism espoused by Milton Friedman and embraced by President Ronald Reagan and every president since -- what I call "predatory capitalism" -- is based on the single goal that the only responsibility of business is to maximize profits, regardless of the social and environmental costs. Replacing the more compassionate economic theories promoted by John Maynard Keynes, it has now become the global model.
3. We have entered a time of realignment not unlike that when city-states joined together to form nations. Except this time it is global. The emerging rulers are corporate CEOs, members of the corporatocracy.
4. Democrats and Republicans alike, as well as the mainstream media, fall under the thumb of the corporatocracy.
5. Then there is another fact -- one none of us likes to contemplate, but that is a major factor in contemporary U.S. politics: President Obama fears assassination.
Like huge clouds swirling around the globe, multinational conglomerates reach every continent, country, and village. They are restricted neither by national borders nor by any particular sets of laws. Although many are headquartered in the United States and call upon the U.S. military to protect their interests, they feel no sense of loyalty to any one country. They form partnerships with China and Taiwan, with Israel and Arab nations, with Brazil, Indonesia, and Congo -- with anyone who possesses resources or offers markets they covet. As we have seen with Halliburton, they think nothing of relocating to places like Dubai whenever that seems to serve their greed-driven interests.
The leaders of these corporations -- members of the corporatocracy -- have tentacles that stretch far and wide. They hire a vast army of lobbyists who influence every major politician in Washington and other capitals (more than 30,000 of them patrol the corridors of D.C. alone). They own the mainstream media -- either outright or through their advertising budgets. Increasingly, they control the U.S. military, and their privatized armies are now replacing government soldiers in war zones such as Afghanistan.
As James Douglass writes in this issue of Tikkun, President Dwight Eisenhower warned America about the "military-industrial complex" but left it to his successor, President John F. Kennedy to take it on, to his ultimate demise. The only modern president whose campaign was financed primarily by his family, Kennedy was not beholden to corporate money and was not afraid to confront big business. It is easy to understand why the corporatocracy wanted to get rid of him -- and also to set him up as a warning for future presidents.
Robert Kennedy shared his brother's passions and also an awareness of what had transpired behind the scenes at the White House. He was determined to follow in his brother's footsteps. He too was assassinated.
Martin Luther King Jr. defied the FBI, the CIA, and the corporatocracy. He was assassinated.
Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon played it safe. They collaborated. And they survived, although doing so cost them both the confidence of the American voter -- and therefore the presidency.
Jimmy Carter was handpicked by the corporatocracy. Knowing that President Gerald Ford would not be elected in his own right and that a Democrat would win the White House, a Democrat was selected who would not pose a threat and probably only last a single term. Carter complied on both counts.
President Reagan, President George H. W. Bush, and President George W. Bush were all three card-carrying members of the corporatocracy. They not only collaborated, they also did everything in their powers to strengthen the military, intelligence, and business communities. Combined, the two Bushes initiated two wars in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, invaded Panama, and expanded U.S. business-fed military operations around the globe.
President Clinton was severely beaten down during his first term when he tried to reform health care and the educational system. After that, he complied with corporatocracy wishes (most notably when the Telecommunications Act was passed and Glass-Steagall was rescinded). However, as Clinton's term drew to a close, it appeared that he might go rogue, that as a private citizen he might turn against some of the policies his administration had supported. Times had changed since the days when JFK could openly flaunt his love affairs with Marilyn Monroe and other celebrities and the only way to take him out was with a bullet. By the close of the twentieth century, a new sense of morality pervaded, and Clinton's assassin came in the form of impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky nonsense. Character assassination had become a viable alternative to murder.
So, I have to say I was not surprised that when we voted for change in the last presidential election, when we took the White House out of the hands of a conservative Republican and handed it over to a liberal Democrat, not a whole lot changed -- at least not in the big picture of global power. Today, Gitmo still holds political prisoners, Wall Street executives make out like the bandits they are, and mercenary killers like Blackwater founder Eric Prince escape prosecution by legally fleeing to places like Dubai. Meanwhile, whistleblowers such as Wikileaks founder Julian Assange are threatened with prosecution, even as the perpetrators of the crimes disclosed are praised.
Perhaps no one should be surprised when a nation that obsesses over reality shows that have nothing to do with reality finds itself with a president who appears on The View but will not answer direct questions about when the troops will be brought home or how he will reduce the influence of the corporatocracy in Washington.
So what is the real change since Obama's election? The biggest change is that we the people have cast off our blinders. We have lost our innocence, and our questions about why Obama hasn't kept his promises have swirled around the 2010 elections.
I am so relieved every time a caller on a radio show or a member of one of the audiences where I am speaking raises questions about Obama. Why? Because I get to elaborate on the good news.
The Good News
For the first time in history this new global system -- which amounts to a unique and clandestine form of empire -- has been created not by military force, but through the sale of goods and services. The marketplace is democratic, once we decide to see it as such. It is the ultimate polling booth. Corporations exist only because we vote for them in their stores, at the malls, and over the Internet, or through our tax dollars.
It is up to us to decide which companies will succeed and which ones will fail.
Politicians will not change the world. They are beholden to big corporations that finance their campaigns and give them jobs when they leave office. And, if that is not enough, they fear assassination.
We the people hold the power.
We can now connect with one another at the speed of a click, a mobile text, or a tweet. We can mobilize through technology that puts us closer to one another than we've ever been before. We can use all these new media tools not for profit-making but for our very real and attainable goal of attaining justice for all.
We must stop believing that electoral politics is the only outlet for our vigilance and activism. We have only to look at our elected leaders to see how they disappoint us by not passing the health care legislation we truly need, by not protecting the environment, and by bailing out the rich while taxing the poor.
About 150 years ago, we as a nation voted for Abraham Lincoln, and then we fought the Civil War to get rid of slavery. Later our women picketed Woodrow Wilson over women's suffrage everywhere he went; they would not allow him to send troops into WWI to defend democracy in Europe until women participated in democracy in the United States. We held teach-ins for Richard Nixon to educate him and the country on the travesty that had become the Vietnam War. We won those struggles, because we the people forced our leaders to change. In recent decades, we forced corporations to stop supporting apartheid in South Africa, as well as to clean up polluted rivers, do away with ozone layer destroying aerosols, open their doors wider to minorities, and remove trans fats and antibiotics from our foods.
Today, we the people are called upon to speak again. The corporatocracy is driven by a single goal -- to maximize profits, regardless of the social and environmental costs. We must convince it to change that goal. It is essential that we each walk our talk, that we commit to buying only from companies that are socially and environmentally responsible -- and to sending emails to the ones we patronize and the ones we don't, explaining our actions. At the same time, we need to send a clear message that we expect our leaders to lead us out of a fear-based, war-machined economy into one that produces things that enhance life: sustainable energy; equipment that cleans up polluted soil, air, and water around the globe; methods whereby hungry people can grow, store, and distribute organic, local foods; and social systems with health and educational systems that create a world our children will want to inherit.
When we impact bottom lines, we change stock prices and attract the attention of boards of directors. Those boards influence the decisions made in the halls of legislatures.
Some people believe that electing a third-party candidate would provide a solution. The real problem, they feel, has to do with the similarities between the Democrats and Republicans and the fact that they are both so closely linked to the corporatocracy. I agree that a strong third party would benefit our nation, but it is naive to think that a president from such a party would not be subject to the pressures Obama faces, including the fear of assassination. Once in the Oval Office -- if not before -- he or she would be read the Riot Act.
It is both unfair and unrealistic to look to any president, including the current one, to change the world. We are the ones who will have to do it. I lay out a detailed plan of action on what we can do in my latest book, Hoodwinked. We must force those in control to adopt a new goal for the people of our planet: creating a sustainable, just, and peaceful world for all who live on this special space station we call home.
Perhaps President Obama's greatest gift to us will be that he taught us a lesson in democracy. He is vulnerable but we are not. We the people must take charge and be the change. We cannot expect a president to change the world. It is up to each of us to do that.
John Perkins is former chief economist at a major international consulting firm and bestselling author of many books, including Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Subscribe to his newsletter at http://www.johnperkins.org/ or follow his tweets at @economic_hitman. Editorial input for this article was provided by Nettie Hartsock.
Source Citation: Perkins, John. 2010. Obama: The Fear of Assassination and What You Can Do About It. Tikkun 25(6): 21