When Barack Obama entered the White House in January 2009, millions of citizens across the United States believed it was a new dawn for the American political system. Obama promised a presidency that would tear up the rulebook when it came to party loyalty; campaign fundraising, corruption; and the petty issues of partisan politics. But he would soon learn that attempting to transform the money machine and vested interest groups that run Washington would be near impossible.
First released in September 2008, John R. MacArthur’s ‘You Can’t Be President: The Outrageous Barriers To Democracy in America’ is a book that openly criticizes Obama from the liberal left.
MacArthur argues that populist politicians with a strong democratic mandate are often sidelined in American politics by the ‘professional political class’, in favor of those candidates who have greater access to the cash donations of big businesses. In a new revised edition - to coincide with the 2012 American Presidential Election - MacArthur contends that Obama’s time in office has simply reinforced the status quo of the ‘political boss system’: which encourages multi-million dollar election campaigns, and the hostility of party establishments to outsider candidates.
John R. MacArthur is president and publisher of Harper’s Magazine, the oldest monthly magazine in the United States. He also writes a column for the Providence Journal, and Le Devoir, on various topics from politics to culture. MacArthur’s other books include ‘Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War’ (1992), and ‘The Selling of “Free Trade”: NAFTA, Washington and the Subversion of American Democracy’ (2000).
MacArthur serves on the board of directors of the Death Penalty Information Center and the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center. He also helped found Article 19: the International Center Against Censorship. He spoke to The Spectator about why he thinks ObamaCare is a step backwards for the American health system, why there is very little social mobility in the United States, and why Mitt Romney, if elected, could be dangerous.
How do you think Obama has represented the African-American community since he became President?
Obama knows that there are a lot of racists in America, so he doesn’t want to remind people that he is black. He is not talking to Jesse Jackson, and he is furious with Cornel West - a black Princeton professor, who just cannot hit Obama hard enough. But for the most part, black politicians keep their mouths shut, because they are afraid to be seen criticizing our first black president. So Obama does everything he can to ignore the complaints of the traditional democratic black power structure. He attended a privileged white private school in Honolulu. He doesn’t want to be identified with struggling black Americans.
In what sense?
Well an obvious issue is the American military service: which is increasingly a last resort to find work for poorly educated blacks, and also for whites and Latinos. The war in Afghanistan is being fought almost entirely by the working class of the United States. Another issue is the Minimum Wage Bill in Congress that Obama is currently ignoring. It demonstrates how little he cares about the working class in American society. The bill would raise the minimum wage to ten dollars an hour, which inflation adjusted, would put it just ahead of where it was in 1968. Obama will not comment on it, because he doesn’t want to offend the Business Committee or the Chamber of Commerce.
What about Obama’s healthcare reform, does that not help the poorer members of American society?
ObamaCare is a regression, because it reinforces the presence of the private insurance companies. A lot of the health insurance companies are betting on Obama to win this election because ObamaCare enriches them enormously. The plan took regulation of pharmaceuticals and drugs off the table at the very beginning.
For what reason?
Because Obama turned his health care plan over to a Senator from Montana, Max Baucus: the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, a guy who has been taking millions of dollars from the big pharmaceutical companies for years. ObamaCare is just an imitation of RomneyCare in Massachusetts: you oblige people to buy private health insurance on behalf of Max Baucus.
Does this explain why Obama allowed people like Timothy Geithner, and Larry Summers into his Administration, after their contribution to the financial crises in 2008?
There are two reasons why Obama brought back in Geithner and Summers. The first is - which he says in his book The Audacity of Hope - that he likes the investment banking community and corporate lawyers. The other reason is just practical politics: the Senate Finance Committee, and the Senate Banking Committee, both raise huge amounts of money from Wall Street. If you start trying to reform Wall Street, you upset the people who will give you money. The ultimate irony is that John McCain and Maria Cantwell, in 2009, proposed the restoration of The Glass Steagall Act of 1933 (which provided regulation and control in the banking sector), and Obama let it die in Committee. The Democrats could have easily passed it, there would have been overwhelming support for it, but Obama stopped it. You can assume this was from the urging of both Summers and Geithner, who are ideologically opposed to banking regulation There may be something temperamental in Obama that he is fundamentally just a compromiser.
In your book you also argue that American society is not - as is often mythologized - a classless society, why so?
America is more class ridden then any county in Europe, maybe more so than England. There is very little social mobility in America and there never has been. Most people remain in the class they were born in. People want to believe that in America, if you work hard you can get ahead. While it’s certainly true for some people, it doesn’t correlate with the popular mythology that is out there.
You also discuss the hubris of American exceptionalism, could you talk about this in more detail?
In America we are constantly congratulating ourselves on how idealistic we are as a nation. It’s comforting for Americans to say that we are superior to the rest of the world. That we are pure: part of this comes from the fact that America is still a Protestant country, and Jonathan Edwards, is still one of our founding fathers. Edwards was the one who talked about the city on the hill: looking down at the rest of the world, assuming moral superiority over the corrupt old world, the Indians and the Heathens. That idea has stayed with us.
Could you give an example of American exceptionalism in international diplomacy?
There was this extraordinary discussion I saw between Hillary Clinton and Shimon Peres, who was talking about how America has never fought a war for anything other than values. That kind of talk is just idiotic. What about the Mexican/ American war; which was a big land grab, the Spanish/ American war; which was probably at the height of American imperialism; Vietnam; Iraq? It’s just insane, but here you had the Israeli President, congratulating Hillary Clinton about how America is the most virtuous country in the world.
Do you agree with Noam Chomsky’s statement that the ‘American electoral system is a series of four-year dictatorships’?
No. I admire Chomsky, and I think he is a brilliant man, but he doesn’t pay much attention to the nuances, or the brutality of the political boss system. He sees it as ideological. I see it as a matter of internal party control. Once in a while you get guys like Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson, people that are very much within the Democratic Party, so a four year dictatorship is a vast oversimplification, because it doesn’t give the dissidents, or even the party regulars, like Johnson or Roosevelt, any credit.
If Mitt Romney does win the election in November, what kind of presidency can we expect from him?
Romney could be dangerous because he has a complex about his father. If people think that Romney is not a threat, consider George W. Bush’s father, who was by Republican standards, a liberal. George W. Bush saw his father lose in 1992 to Bill Clinton, and he drew a lesson from that: stay close to the reactionary right wing of the party, and don’t compromise with the liberals. George Romney was a progressive Republican, conservative fiscally, but socially liberal. He famously announced that he realized Vietnam was a disaster, but that the Pentagon - in the Johnson Administration - had brainwashed him. Mitt Romney saw his father driven out of the race in 1968. So beware, he may have a Daddy complex like George W. and lead us into disaster.
Who will win the election?
My biggest fear is that Obama will win big in the liberal states like California and New York. Win a huge popular majority, and then lose by a sliver in the swing states like Ohio and Florida.Tags: America, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Interviews, Mitt Romney, Non-fiction, Politics