I've been thinking about how to respond to the Booman Tribune's response to some of my more recent notes on Greenwald. The post pivots on a point, responding to the shocked, shocking idea that media is a part of the apparatuses of state authority and government control:
But that is precisely wrong. Joe Klein was playing the exact same role during the Clinton administration, only against the government. If Klein has hidden masters, they aren't 'the government'.Americans obscure the authoritarian tendencies of our own state largely by swallowing a lot of bullshit about totalitarianism and absolutism. The basis of Western Democratic exceptionalism, which is at its height in the US, is an exceedingly banal idea of "real" autocracies as having no set or system of competing interest in government. It imagines autocratic governments of all types as uniform, unitary, and enduring, despite all evidence to the contrary: that autocratic regimes tend toward instability; that they feature frequent coups; that jockeying ministries, scheming generals, and court intrigues of all shapes and varieties flourish like mushrooms in the dark; that there are just as many aspirant Big Men in a military dictatorship as there are candidates in the August before a primary--and often more.
The genius of the American system is rooted in the fact that the Founders were Rome groupies to the man. By aping Roman forms they created a remarkable and sophisticated form of self-maintaining timocracy that was in its time, as much as the Roman Republic at its political height, a model of political equity, though by no means egalitarian. But by the same token, they adopted a form of government that was organically suited to the transition from an agrarian society to an ascendant and urbanizing commercial and mercantile major power to an actual, physical, far-flung, commercial and territorial empire that, at its height, had no terrestrial peer. I don't intend to overburden the analogy, for there are a thousand other points where these histories diverge. Nevertheless, the surest similarity between the old Rome and the self-consciously new Rome is that they originated as republics and ended up as empires with remnant republican pretensions.
An often unappreciated fact of imperial Roman history is that there never was a Roman emporer. Each succeeding ruler or rulers claimed a range of titles, honors, and powers, some ruling nearly absolutely, others ruling in very complicated and ad hoc arrangements with powerful families, private armies, provincial governors, the equivalents of administrative agencies, etc. Succession was never hereditary in the sense of the later dynastic tradition in Europe, and each new administration represented a unique organization of authorities within a symbolic set of durable institutions.
It's important to educate people about BOTH features of corporate news. Yes, there is an inherent bias in favor of whatever the government says, especially on matters of foreign policy and national (even internal) security. This is combined in an unhealthy way with an unreflective (Hugo Chavez is Hitler) pro-corporate bias. We should expect nothing but self-serving crap from Bigfoot corporate reporters when they report on these areas. People need to know that.This is an argument contrary to Booman's thesis, even though he doesn't realize it. The "inherent bias . . . on matters of foreign policy and national (even internal) security" is not a subfeature or symptom of a collection of "charlatans . . . serving as inept sidekicks in a faux left/right debate." Rather, the latter is symptomatic of the former: maintaining an ongoing but essentially meaningless antipathy between "right" and "left" engages that slice of the population that thinks of itself as "political"--the "blogosphere," case in point--in an endless, casuistrical argument over matters that are largely irrelevant to the actual operations of the American empire. Not to put too fine a point on it, but whether or not fags can marry or social security is or is not in crisis, our oil is still under their sand.
But, they also need to know that there are charlatans out there that are playing a role as members of the left, yet are really just serving as inept sidekicks in a faux left/right debate.
Bill Clinton, rightly or wrongly, was percieved by a powerful segment of what Didion calls the "permanent political class" as a usurper, and was dealt with accordingly. He was neither the first nor the last "pretender to the throne." It isn't without reason that the phrase "palace coup" retains currency. The chauvinism, the legalism, the obscurantism, the piety, the concern with "effective governance," and even the petty "he came into this place, and it was not his place, and he trashed it"--all of these are features of a ruling class seeking to regulate itself, of one party to power jockeying against another party to power. Inevitably the pamphleteers take sides, and most took the side of the "movement" and not of the Clintons. Does that make them propagandists against the government?
Looking objectively at the tenure of Bill Clinton, what is most remarkable, especially in the present atmosphere that judges George W. Bush as deeply aberrant, is the continuity of policy in the very military and economic practices in which Bush is supposed to be such an outlier. The system of State Capital functioned much as it does now; Clinton's policy toward Iraq and the Middle East was entirely continuous with both Bush Sr. and Bush Jr--if you look at the deeds, rather than the rhetoric, it's a stunningly clean bridge between the two. "Terrorism" and the necessity of extralegal solutions, harsher penalties, military options were current then as now. Acts of imperial policing were dressed up as essentially humanitarian actions. The domestic security apparatus grew swiftly and dangerously. Clinton didn't mess with harsh drug-war persecution; he was famously "law and order"; his administration oversaw the routinization of military tactics in law enforcement and openly questioned the continued validity of posse comitatus prohibitions on such uses of force.
The government isn't solely the man in the White House. All presidents are powerful these days, some more than others, but their power is nevertheless circumscribed by a set of institutions--military, civilian, and economic--which function to reinforce and perpetuate American imperial aims. Those aims are not "partisan." They don't reside within any one particular instution, party, or faction, but they are the bedrock operating assumptions of every member of the permanent political class. The ruling class. They are the essential, fundamental, unswerving premises from which that class operates. They are the beliefs that we call "America exceptionalism," or that undergird all the newspeak about "multispectrum military supremancy." They are the premises that make a "rising China" a reason for concern. They rest on a singular American teleology that posits our rise to great power status as the necessary forward progress of history and our maintenance of total primacy over the rest of the world as the central reason for our being. These premises are never discussed or debated; they're the givens of the empire.
Joe Klein--we'll come back to the example--has written quite unflatteringly about George W. Bush as well. If his put-downs lacked the personal animus that motivated his hatred of Bill Clinton, then that is a matter of personality but not of substance. He is a member of a privileged class that has some say over the faceman for America, and like anyone given that sort of power, he exercises it, especially when he can excercise it from within the safety of a "movement" and of his peers. But you will not find him questioning the percieved imperatives for the maintenance of American power. Instead, you will find him on the news speculating that it may just be time to drop a nuclear bomb on Iran.