The most widely proliferated truism of American patriotism is that the the two-party system is a beacon of democracy. Surely, our system is better than that of Iran, where presidential candidates must be approved by a religious council, or perhaps that of Venezuela, where the partly state-owned media disseminates propaganda in each election.
Democrats and Republicans are widely different, it seems, at least that is what their hyper-partisan bickering would imply. Bill Clinton must have been an unabashed liberal, otherwise why would the Republicans despise him so much?
But the reality is that Republican and Democrat presidents have followed the same agenda for half a century. The idea that American governance alternates as a sort of give-and-take between liberalism and conservatism is nothing more than a fantasy. I do not discount that there may be serious and significant differences between democrat and republican individuals, many of them Congressman, or perhaps state legislatures. But at the top of the pyramid, where the power to set agendas resides, there is only the Agenda.
It is fascinating how Bill Clinton began his presidential campaign with playing a Saxophone on live television, talking about his foray into Marijuana (although he claimed to have never inhaled), reminiscing about his protest of the Vietnam war, and ended up with perhaps the most reactionary (meaning maintaining the status quo) administration of any president in modern history. And Obama entered the stage as a candidate of change, only to accelerate political elite hegemony faster than any predecessor.
The scope of this article will mostly cover the period from Reagan to present, with a special emphasis on the Clinton and Obama administrations, and will address issue by issue how Democratic and Republican presidents have set the same course on a wide variety of important issues.
At the end of Reagan's administration, the incarceration rate was 247 per 100,000 citizens. The demand for prison space had been steadily increasing since the War on Drugs began. Under George H.W. Bush the incarceration rate had increased to 332 per 100,000. It is a common misconception that it is Republicans have the more punitive crime policies. Under Clinton, the incarceration rate skyrocketing to 476 per 100,000 over the next 8 years. The Clinton administration gave 30 billion dollars to states to fund their prisons, and under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act added 100,000 new police officers. The bill was written by current Vice President Joe Biden. The act also expanded the death penalty to fall under 60 more offenses, including drug trafficking, and eliminated funding for inmate education.
Private prisons flourished under Clinton. The ACLU in 2011 published a fascinating review of the private prison system you can read here. Since 1990, the private prison population has increased by 1600%. The number of private prison systems actually peaked in the year 2000 with 153 facilities.
The policy that began under Reagan and has been flourishing through both Bushes, Clinton and Obama, can only be referred to as 'mass incarceration'. As of 2013, the United States holds more prisoners than any other country in the world, including China, as well as a larger percentage of prisoners per population than any other country. For an even more sobering comparison, consider that the United States has more people imprisoned today than Stalin had under his archipelago of gulags.
On the campaign trail, Bill Clinton made this promise: “I expect to review our arms sales policy and to take it up with the other major arms sellers of the world as a part of a long-term effort to reduce the proliferation of weapons.”
And then, in some astounding turn of events (or predictable, for those who have been watching closely), United States arms sales doubled in Clinton's first year in office alone.
In 2006, the United Nations convened in order to create a 'comprehensive, legally binding instrument establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.' The United States was the only country to vote against the measure.In 2008, Obama signaled that he would change the course from the Bush administration and take steps to limit arms sales internationally. And just like 2 decades earlier, United States arms sales tripledin 2011 By 2012, Obama had ended negotiations on the treaty. Is it any surprise, considering Obama received more campaign donations from the Defense Industry than McCain?
And as of a week ago from the publishing of this article, Obama has begun arming terrorist organizations in Syria.
It is another common misconception that during Republican presidencies we have periods of war, and during Democratic presidencies we have periods of peace. Of 'official' wars it is certainly the case that the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq war were begun by H.W. and W. Bush. Though it is important to quantify 'official' because there has not been an official declaration of war since World War II. But Bill Clinton dropped bombs on no less than 4 sovereign countries: Iraq, Serbia, Afghanistan, and Sudan.
Some of his international military endeavors were exceptionally gruesome. My personal favorite (in other terms, the one that disgusts me the most) is the bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. It is estimated that tens of thousands of civilians died once the supply of medicine was cut off.
And Clinton was able to get away with maintaining one of the darkest stains on America's soiled history, the full-force economic sanctions against Iraq that began with the first Gulf war and ended after Saddam's fall in 2003. The sanctions killed 567,000 childrenaccording to the British Medical Societies Lancet. (Later studies have argued the number 350,000 children to be more accurate, for full transparency).
United Nations ambassador Madeline Albright, when asked about these numbers, coldly stated “The price is worth it.”
Obama's first major act of war was a No-Fly zone over Libya which resulted in the removal of Muammar Gaddafi. The media had a well orchestrated propaganda campaign that garnered significant public support for this act.
His second major act of war was the arming of Syrian rebels mentioned earlier, undoubtedly prolonging the horrific civil war. Some of the groups that form the opposition group are terrorist organizations, which makes one recall the policy of Carter and Reagan arming terrorist groups in Afghanistan under Operation Cyclone.
And this section would be incomplete without mentioning the prolonging of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and their extensive use of private contractors.
But the true depths of Obama's war mongering resides in his constant and silent drone war. A policy that started under W. Bush, Obama has expanded the use of drones extensively. He has allowed the usage of Signature Strikes, whereby drone operators bomb people they do not know, based on movements they find suspicious. Worst of all is the policy of double tapping, bombing the same scene twice after rescuers have come to try and help their fellow citizens. Obama's drones have even bombed funerals.
While the death toll of the Drone war may not be as high as the conventional wars of the Bush family, the moral depravity certainly gives them a run for their money.
Private Military and Intelligence Contractors
In the last section I mentioned Obama's extensive use of private contractors in military and intelligence operations.
It has always been hard to tell exactly how many private contractors are employed by the Federal government, and how many of those are under the umbrella of the Defense Industry. It was under Reagan that the Pentagon's privatization agenda began, and it has continued ever since. An NYU study on the size of government shows that the use of private contractors increased under the Clinton administration by about 25%. It is known that Clinton hired KBR, at the time owned by Halliburton, to build military bases and support troops in Kosovo.
Under Bush, with the Iraq war, was when the use of private contractors skyrocketed. By 2008, the number of private contractors in use in Iraq was 155,000, more than the number of troops, a degree of privatization unprecedented in modern warfare. The public became acquainted with the likes of Blackwater under the Bush administration, with events such as the unprovoked massacres in Baghdadand Fallujah.
I cannot recommend enough the work of investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill regarding Blackwater. If you don't have time for his book, check out his talk on the subject.
During his campaign, Obama promised to cut federal spending on private contractors. It soon became clear, however, that much of the stimulus money would go straight to their pockets. His Afghanistan surge was primarily accomplished through contractors, which made up half of the military forces in the country by 2009. The total number of contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan quickly reached 250,000. Security contractors (i.e. private military forces) increased by over 400% under Obama and represent a quarter of all contractors employed by the Pentagon.
The most shocking use of contractors has only recently been revealed. It turns out that they represent a significant amount of the NSA workforce. 483,000 people are employed by private contractors and have 'Top Secret' access. The potential for illicit spying and extortion represented by these numbers is so high as to reach certainty. This is completely mind-blowing and perhaps the most significant threat the American people face today.
By now, everyone is familiar with the CIA's policy of rendition, whereby they send suspected terrorists to be interrogated in foreign countries. The process was used extensively during George W. Bush's administration.
But did you know that the process began under Clinton? This PBS Frontline report confirms that the rendition process began in 1995.
In 2007, Obama wrote an article in Foreign Affairs journal stating: “To build a better, freer world, we must first behave in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people… This means ending the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law.”
But by 2013 it has become clear that the process of rendition has continued. The Washington Post has reported on some specific cases and I highly recommend checking out The Rendition Project which has been tracking the global rendition system extensively.
A key process in globalization involves removing national sovereignty in favor of trade agreements that favor the rights of corporations. Bill Clinton championed the NAFTA agreement, which among other issues superseded articles in the Mexican constitution, water rights in Canada, and allows corporations to sue nations when they are in violation of the trade act.
Regardless of your opinion on NAFTA and other trade agreements, Obama has taken the concept of corporate power over national sovereignty to a whole new mind-blowing level with the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, a trade proposal that we only know about because the documents were leaked to the public. You can read the leaked document here. Why the secrecy? The TPP agreement would bestow radical new powers on corporations, including establishing an international tribunal that would override domestic law and would have the power to issue sanctions against governments for failing to abide by their ruling.
The TPP runs contrary to Obama's statement: "We will not negotiate bilateral trade agreements that stop the government from protecting the environment, food safety, or the health of its citizens; give greater rights to foreign investors than to U.S. investors; require the privatization of our vital public services; or prevent developing country governments from adopting humanitarian licensing policies to improve access to life-saving medications.”
And to me the biggest concern is that Congress was kept in the dark along with American citizens, the treaty was negotiated between the Executive branch and corporate executives.
Congressman Alan Grayson summed it up nicely: “It's all about tying the hands of democratically elected governments, and shunting authority over to the non-elected for the benefit of multinational corporations. It's an assault on democratic government.”
But what about taxes? Gay marriage? Abortion? Marijuana?
The crux of the one-party state issue is that the issues involved are the issues that affect the political elite. Issues like gay marriage and abortion can be likened to a pressure valve: the people are forced to exert tremendous amounts of effort to affect social change, essentially utilizing all of the available activism. The minds of the populace are focused on these issues instead of the problems that are actually effecting their lives, such as predatory banks and the steady erosion of civil liberties. And what is the end result? It isn't even federal politicians that affect gay marriage or abortion in the first place, it is the courts and on a state level. Activists go home happy and pat themselves on the back for their 'symbolic victory' when their newly elected president comments on gay marriage. But what is the tangible change?
An issue such as taxes falls under the same category. Ever since Reagan slashed the top tax bracket, the tax burden has been solidly on the middle class. A few percent bump under Obama does not change this, it is simply another pressure valve. The true one percent are unaffected by a small tax increase, their wealth comes from investments and assets.
This is all part of the illusion. Our political system is designed to make us think we have choices when in reality our voice is limited to a couple issues that are unimportant relative to the big picture.
In no uncertain terms, our democracy is an illusion. It is as real as 'Professional Wrestling'. The two parties have consistently followed the same policies, giving American citizens only the illusion of choice. If you took the records of Clinton and Obama and put them under a Republican name, conservatives would cheer their legacy. It is the vitriol and mud-slinging of politics that contributes most to the illusion; without the constant name calling Obama would have long ago ceased to resemble a liberal. When campaigns are in full swing, candidates will refrain from the biggest gun, such as George W. Bush commuting the sentence of only one of the 151 death row cases sent to his desk as Texas Governor: serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, responsible for between 300 and 600 deaths, never brought up on the campaign trail. And at the end of a campaign candidates will become best friends again, when only days earlier they would refer to each other as harbingers of the apocalypse.
There is no trade-off of liberal and conservative agendas in the Executive branch, as the public is led to believe. Rather, Democrat presidencies are designed to placate the populace and give cover for some of the more covert aspects of The Agenda, such as Obama's continuous erosion of civil liberties.
The political elite understand that American 'democracy' is just a game. At the end of the day, they all follow the same agenda. Who is the 'man behind the curtain?'