Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sorry, "Feel the Bern" Fans: President Sanders Won't Change Anything

Fans of Obama learned the hard way that hope and change are quietly dumped the moment you enter the Imperial Presidency.
The appeal of Bernie Sanders is clear even to those who don't "feel the Bern": maybe, just maybe something will actually change in Washington.Fans of The Donald have the same hope.
A vote for Hillary is a vote for the status quo--for fake-sincerity speeches fine-tuned by the latest polls, for simulacra reforms that leave Wall Street and the rest of the Empire untouched, and for the astonishing hypocrisy of a visionless politico who amassed a vast fortune on the coattails of her aging-Lothario hubby attempting to fan the flames of class warfare.
As tempting as it is to hope that an outsider president such as Bernie or the Donald might change the trajectory of the Empire, this is a vain and futile hope.
This is partly the result of the limited domestic powers of the Imperial President and partly the result of the momentum of the Empire and the pressure that will be brought to bear on anyone, insider or outsider, who attempts to change the course of the ship of state.
Get money out of politics? The president is powerless. Congress passes the laws, and the Supreme Court shreds any attempt to limit political contributions. Any bill that does pass has loopholes big enough for truckloads of cash to breeze through.
How about taxing the rich? Well, for starters, the wealthy already pay most of the federal income taxes: According to the Congressional Budget Office, the top 1% paid 39% of the personal income taxes in 2010 while earning 15% of the before-tax income, and the top 20% paid 93% of the federal income taxes in 2010 while earning 52% of before-tax income. So the rich are already taxed heavily, and those that aren't bought a loophole from Congress that no president can close.
Tax codes can't be changed at the whim of the President; Congress passes tax laws, and yes, contribution-loving Congress is open for business when it comes to buying tax breaks.
How about changing U.S. foreign policy? Long before he is sworn in, President-elect Sanders will get the treatment: the lives saved by all those drone strikes, the risks of upsetting our many allies, our many treaty commitments, the dangers of appearing weak in these critical times, the enormous value of the intelligence gleaned by the NSA and the rest of the National Security State, and of course the famous nuclear launch capability that rests with the president.
Don't hold it against Bernie or anyone else when they cave under this pressure.The president is a figurehead, a PR spectacle with limited powers to change the course of the state or nation. Yes, Bernie could end various undeclared wars, but the pressure to maintain drone strikes (and everything else we don't even know about) will be unremitting.
Whatever the president proposes domestically is just that--a proposal. Congress has to approve programs, budgets, tax codes and the rest of it, and what's left after all the pork-barrel additions, lobbying and campaign contribution buy-ins? Should anything untoward actually get passed (don't hold your breath), the Supreme Court strikes down anything that threatens the status quo.
Other than glad-handing and managing whatever undeclared wars he's been let in on, President Sanders won't change anything important because he can't change anything important. Neither can any other president.
Political theater is just that--theater. Fans of Obama learned the hard way that hope and change are quietly dumped the moment you enter the Imperial Presidency.

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