Forum Post: Empire Under Obama: Political Language and the "Mafia Principles" of International Relations
Posted 10 months ago on Oct. 8, 2013, 4:46 p.m. EST by LeoYo
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Empire Under Obama: Political Language and the "Mafia Principles" of International Relations
Tuesday, 08 October 2013 11:08 By Andrew Gavin Marshall, The Hampton Institute | News Analysis
Noam Chomsky | On Shutdown, Waning US Influence, Syrian Showdown
Tuesday, 08 October 2013 12:41 By Harrison Samphir, Truthout | Interview
Noam Chomsky gives his perspective on the US government shutdown, the Syrian civil war, capitalist reform in South America and more in a Truthout interview.
Noam Chomsky is one of the world's greatest living intellectuals. His work and achievements are well known - he is a foundational American linguist, professor emeritus at MIT for more than 60 years, undeviating political activist and commentator, and an ally of progressive movements around the world.
In this interview, Truthout spoke with the 84-year-old by telephone to discuss the current US government shutdown, tumultuous state of American politics, the Syrian Civil War and a wave of capitalist reform in South America.
Chomsky's latest works are Nuclear War and Environmental Catastrophe, with writer and multimedia artist Laray Polk, and On Western Terrorism: From Hiroshima to Drone Warfare, with novelist and filmmaker André Vltchek.
Harrison Samphir: Thank you for speaking with me today, Mr. Chomsky. I would like to begin with the recent federal government shutdown in the United States. Acknowledging that it has happened once before, how is this instance different, if at all? How does it speak to the unwillingness from above to institute meaningful reform - healthcare or otherwise - and respond to the desires of the majority of the population?
Noam Chomsky: Well, actually, there was pretty good commentary on it this morning [October 4] in The New York Times by Paul Krugman who basically makes the point, it's a narrow point, that the Republican Party among the public is a minority party. So for example, they do run the House of Representatives, they're a majority there, and it's the House that is essentially sending the government into shutdown and maybe default. But they won the majority of seats there because of various kinds of chicanery. They got a minority of the votes, but a majority of the seats, and they're using them to press forward an agenda which is extremely harmful to the public. The particular thing that they're focusing on is defunding the health-care system.
You're from Canada so you probably know, the United States is unique among the rich countries, developed countries, in not having some kind of a national health-care system. The US health-care system is a complete scandal. It's got twice the costs of comparable countries and some of the worst outcomes. And the reason is that it's largely privatized and unregulated. So ofcourse it's highly inefficient and costly. And what's called Obamacare is an effort to mildly change this, not change it as far as it should go or as much as the population wants it to go, but to make it a little better and a little more affordable. And the Republicans have picked that as the one thing that they want to hang on to to try to gain some political stand, so they have to destroy what they call Obamacare. This is now not all the Republicans, it's a wing of the Republican Party, which is called conservative but in fact is just deeply reactionary. It's correctly described as a "radical insurgency" by one of the leading conservative commentators, Norman Ornstein.
So there's a radical insurgency, which is a large part of the Republican base, which is willing to do anything, destroy the country, whatever, in order to get rid of this Affordable Care Act. That's the one thing that they're able to hang onto. If they can't get rid of that, they're going to have to tell their base, we've been lying to you for the last five years. So they're willing to go to almost any extent to do that. That's unusual, in fact I think it's unique in the history of modern parliamentary systems. And it's very dangerous for the country and for the world
HS: How do see the shutdown ending?
NC: Well the shutdown itself is bad but not devastating. The real danger will come up in a couple of weeks. There's legislation which is in fact routine - it's passed every year - which allows the government to borrow money, otherwise it can't function. If Congress does not approve this budget request, the government may have to default. That's never happened. And a default of the US government would not only be very harmful here, it would probably send the country back into deep recession, but it just might crash the international financial system. Now, maybe they'll find ways around it, but the financial system of the world depends very heavily on the credibility of the US Treasury Department. US Treasury securities are what's called "good as gold"; they're the basis of international finance, and if the government can't uphold them, if they become valueless, the effect on the international financial system could be quite severe. But in order to destroy a limited health-care law, the right-wing Republicans, the reactionary Republicans, are willing to do that.
Now there's a split in the US about how this will be resolved. The main point to look at is the split within the Republican Party. The Republican establishment, and Wall Street, and the bankers, and the corporate executives and so on, they don't want this. They don't want it at all. It's the part of the base that is mobilized that wants it. And they're finding it hard to control that base. There's a reason why they have a collection of near crazies as the base. Over the past 30 or 40 years, both political parties have drifted to the right. Same thing's happened in Canada, incidentally. This is all part of the whole neoliberal shift in the economy. But the parties have shifted to the right. Today's Democrats are pretty much what used to be called moderate Republicans a generation ago. And the Republicans went so far to the right that they just can't get votes. They've become a dedicated party of the very rich and the corporate sector. And you can't get votes that way. So they've been compelled to mobilize a base of voters and gone to elements of the country that have always been there but were kind of marginal to the political system, for example, religious extremists. The United States is off the international spectrum in religious extremism. I mean half of the population, roughly, thinks the world was created a couple thousand years ago. Two thirds of the country is expecting the second coming of Christ. They've also had to turn to nativists. The gun culture in the United States, which is out of control, is party fueled by people who think 'we've got to have our guns to protect ourselves.' Protect ourselves from whom? From the United Nations? From the federal government? From people from outer space?
There are big, extremely irrational parts of the society, and they have now been mobilized politically by the Republican establishment, hoping that these people could be an electoral base to keep them in power, but on the assumption that they'd be able to control them. And that's turning out not to be easy. You actually saw it in the last primaries if you were watching. The Republican Primaries were quite interesting. The establishment had its candidate, Romney, a kind of a Wall Street lawyer and investor, and they wanted him in. But the base didn't want him. And every time a candidate came up from the base, that is with popular support, the Republican establishment went into high gear to destroy them with massive propaganda attack ads and so on. It was one after another, each one crazier than the last. And the Republican establishment is afraid of them, they don't want them. So they were able to keep them under control and get their own candidate in. But they're losing control of the base, and that's a deep dilemma for the Republican Party.
Actually, I'm sorry to say it has some historical analogs. It's kind of reminiscent of what happened in Germany in the late Weimar years. German industrialists wanted to use the Nazis, who were a relatively small group, as a battering ram against the labour movement and the left. They thought they control them but it turns out they were wrong. They couldn't control them. I'm not saying that will happen here, it's quite a different set of circumstances, but something similar is taking place. The Republican establishment, the mainstream corporate financial wealth, is getting to a point where it can't control the base it's mobilized.