Failed Empire

Chronicling the collapse of a failed society

an interview with Lawrence Goodwyn

Lawrence Goodwyn is a prominent historian and professor emeritus of history at Duke University.  His writing has been quoted extensively by progressive heroes ranging from Howard Zinn to Bill Moyers.  Alternet has posted a fascinating and highly enlightening interview with Goodwyn in which he offers some much needed historical perspective on the Obama administration and the upcoming election.

Goodwyn is decidedly more upbeat on Obama’s caliber than I have been thus far.  To me, Obama has always seemed like a fairly vacuous politician, and his actions in office to date have done little to distinguish him from the seemingly unending line of corporatist presidents our nation has been subjected to.  During the campaign he offered nothing more than hollow platitudes, and when questioned about issues as urgent as the Iraq war he refused to commit to withdrawing troops by 2013.  His performance during the drive for “health care” (that is, health insurance) reform was woeful and drastically right-of-center, as he failed to push for a public option and spent far too much time pandering to the insurance industry.

I would like to hope that Goodwyn’s characterization of Obama as a generally good-willed person learning the ropes of politics in DC is an accurate one – that Obama is trying to do the best he can, but is failing due to a warped and corrupted political process and the influence of a corporate-controlled mainstream media.  I would like to believe this, but so far I simply have no reason to do so.

On to Goodwyn’s interview.  Some highlights:

On bankers:

“For all my accumulated indignation over a half-century of unwanted experience, I now must admit that I underestimated the capacity for sheer greed that drives American banking. The evidence is compelling that a great many people within the financial community acknowledge no limits because they have a seriously atrophied loyalty to American society as a whole. I speak here of the cornerstone of the American democratic experiment itself: the sense that a majority of us have had — have always had — that we are in this thing together.

Bankers are not with the rest of us on this. Perhaps they never have been. All exceptions freely conceded, but the general reality still holds: they are killing the promise of this republic.”

On the 2010 election cycle:

“The entire country is now experiencing the GOP’s nationwide cover-up in the form of a suffocating blanket of television commercials that warps recent history along the following trajectory of sequential deceptions: 1) Obama promised jobs but thanks to his stimulus program and all his new taxes, unemployment has hit record levels. 2) Your congressman has voted consistently with Nancy Pelosi to raise the debt ceiling that enables this mammoth debt at the very time we need jobs. 3) We therefore must end wasteful spending and save America. Repeat and repeat and repeat in the rhythms achieved by the most expensive off-year political campaign ever. This is the hopeless politics of Herbert Hoover. It is just as hopeless as economic prescription because simply enough, it is a promise to do nothing.

But it is also a new form of internal American political propaganda, anonymous in origin, corporate-financed, and delivered with blanketing determination to every corner of the nation. In size and in substance it is a campaign of deception that is without comparison since the creation of the republic. It is a direct result of the most radical single judicial decision in American history, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United offering some 10 months ago in the 5 to 4 vote of the Roberts Court. Long-term, it probably dooms the Republican Party by yoking the GOP to a permanent defense of financial deregulation and the liberation of central banks from a connecting relationship to the surrounding national economy. It says goodbye to the unemployed millions. It says goodbye to ‘we’re in this thing together.'”

On Obama:

For me, Barack Obama remains a president for the ages. Larger than FDR. Larger, by far, than Teddy Roosevelt. And larger than Jefferson. He has infinite patience, far beyond his years, patience almost beyond imagining — as he powerfully demonstrated during the 2008 campaign…

We saw then that when Obama moved, he was capable of moving with great skill: his speech on race in America at Freedom Hall, Philadelphia instantly took its place alongside the Gettysburg Address. It probably will take some time before this appraisal becomes the settled wisdom of American culture but that such a day will materialize I have absolutely no doubt.”

On the upcoming Republican victory:

“The day after the coming Republican victory of 2010, the propagandists of the most expensive experiment in mass manipulation in American history will be celebrating their corporate-bought windfall. Fox News will hail the triumph of traditional values

The day after that, GOP functionaries will notice that the strong young couple residing in the White House has survived the hurricane and is ready to return to work with undiminished resolve. The GOP will also learn that the Democratic Party, its exasperation thoroughly expended, has set about to renew itself. It is a very big party that is determined to get bigger.”

One can only hope that Goodwyn’s optimism proves well-founded.


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