Friday, April 20, 2012

Evita, I need you: Obama our Juan Perón

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.
                          Barack Obama
The Party of Justice understands that the function of politics is to raise the grievances of the people and convert them into concrete acts of government.
                                       From the Partido Justicialista  -- founded by Juan Perón

Barack Obama bears a passable resemblance to the Latin demagogue and wrecker of Argentina, Juan Perón, in both style and substance. Perón used the descamisados, the “shirtless ones” to symbolize his affinity with the marginalized elements of Argentina and to justify a war against the rich and advantaged land owners.  Obama has recently identified himself with the shirtless “Occupy Wall Street” protestors against the “One Percent.”  Like Perón, he appears to believe that the economic and social problems his people face are best solved by identifying, isolating and punishing the greedy and well-off – the bankers, oil companies and corporations. 
In his recently published book, Redentores: Ideas y Poder en America Latina, the Mexican historian Enrique Krause writes of  Perónism: “Perónism was certainly the first populist regime in Latin America.  It has at least three defining features:  vertical mobilization of the masses; a tendency to place social resentment above the nation’s productive energies (with disastrous economic consequences) and a cult of the leader, in this case Juan and Eva.” * 
The Perón-Obama resemblance lacks only a contemporary Eva, but Obama’s monumental egotism and his unfailing self-adulation might fill this void.  At the age of 47 he had already published two autobiographies. In fact these two books about his favorite subject were the only pieces he has ever authored notwithstanding the fact that he is routinely touted as a “constitutional law scholar.”  The President’s “scholarship” has yet to be discovered anywhere in writing.
The 2008 campaign was America’s first experience with the launching of a “cult of a personality” for one of its own.  In spite of a blank resume with no legislative accomplishments, no executive experience, no serious intellectual or scholarly endeavors and no reservoirs of wisdom gained from national-level, tested political engagement the freshman Senator from Illinois virtually overnight catapulted to the heights of a rock star with all of the glamor and excitement typically associated with new celebrities.  His campaign appearances became media extravaganzas with his special podium designed to look like the presidential seal, a speech given among fake Greek columns in a football stadium, vast mesmerized crowds and swooning young women. Like Perón, Obama was a man of political theater.
Not only were the young people and the Hollywood-limo set smitten with The One.  He was instantaneously crowned by the media establishment as a colossal genius, a miracle man who would heal the deep wounds inflicted on the world by George W. Bush and Dick Chaney.  Evan Thomas, Assistant Managing Editor of Newsweek declared on television that “Obama is like a God standing above the country and a great teacher.”  “Great teacher” with its intimations of superhuman cognitive superiority was one of the standard panegyrics favored in an earlier era by the liegemen of Joseph Stalin and the CPSU controlled press. The Obama campaign was throughout greeted on the media side with Pravda-like rhapsodies from the Obama-smitten commentators.   
After the 2008 election the adulation from the media continued unabated. The new president was immediately compared with Lincoln, FDR and JFK. Presidential historian, Michael Beschloss, on national television was heard to bluster:  “whatever one’s partisan views this is a guy whose IQ is off the charts…”  When pressed by Don Imus who was interviewing him – What is his IQ? -- the Ivy League, sterling-credentialed professor had to cough, gulp, and finally confess that he did not know.
No one, however, was more smitten with Obama than Obama himself.  In one of his many soaring orations during the Presidential Campaign Obama predicted that his election would be “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and the planet began to heal…” a signal of this man’s vast and swollen ego and his delusional perception of his capacities to massively restructure the world that were fed by his entourage of sycophants and groupies.
Once elected, the President was everywhere on news shows, talk-shows, sports shows, late-night television, magazine covers, sharing his persona and imparting his wisdom and advice on every conceivable subject from sports to child rearing to science education. The Norwegians immediately awarded him a Nobel Peace prize for not being George W. Bush and the American now had their very own Caudillo, a self-proclaimed authority on every aspect of American life.
Never was there a greater distance between the rhapsody and the real.  “Hope and Change”, as vacuous as it was cynical, was an anodyne for the largely apolitical middle-America, a successful ploy to convince them that Barack Obama was a wholesome, earnest “change-agent” far above politics as usual.
Obama’s entire career in fact has been shaped and driven largely by resentment and a feeling of being “the other”. Resentment is what makes Obama, Obama.  One merely needs to peruse a few pages of Dreams from my Father to realize that the President’s view of the world growing up was shaped by a deep sense of anger and grievance out of which sprang a life-long affinity for associations with mentors, in writing and in person, with their own highly polished and richly articulated views of America’s many iniquities. The title of his second book, The Audacity of Hope was taken from a sermon by Obama’s spiritual guide of many years, Jeremiah Wright, a gifted professional purveyor of the harshest sort of racial hostility and bitterness.
Obama managed to dissimulate his own resentment during the campaign. His wife, Michelle, in a momentary lapse of candor let it slip when she commented that America was “just downright mean,” that she had “never been proud of her country” until her husband had become a leading Presidential candidate.
Out of this long festering resentment the President has fashioned a Peronist political style that vilifies “the rich” and exploits racial and social grievances.  We’re gonna  punish our enemies and we’re gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us,” he told his supporters shortly before the Congressional elections of 2010 in a radio interview that aired on Univision. This was the same man who as a candidate had assured prospective voters: I'm not going to demonize you because you disagree with me....  I don't think the Democrats have a monopoly on wisdom.”   Sometimes President Obama just cannot suppress his “inner-Perón.”
Punishing your enemies and rewarding your friends is the standard modus operandi for every gangster-led governing clique. What Perónism adds is the moralizing cover of Robin Hood – take from the rich and give to the poor.   This is very popular with the poor, of course.  One problem with this is that it is the political bosses who decide who is rich and who is poor and how to even things out just right,  how to make it all fair. Fairness is the demagogue's tool for converting resentment into righteousness. The other problem is that in the long run everyone but the bosses and their friends who represent the poor end up poor.
 Using a populist-oriented “fairness” rhetoric as a guise, Obama practices a Caudillo-style politics distributing money, jobs, and political access to his friends, union bosses, and political supporters, spurning legality, tradition and the “transparency” he promised to be the hallmark of his administration.  One of the more spectacular examples of this was the move the President made in 2009 to set aside the normal Chapter Eleven bankruptcy proceedings for GM to restructure its debt using a special set of proceedings crafted by his party men that stiffed the GM bondholders, rewarded the UAW for their political support and put GM under federal control.       
Nearly fifty years after Perón’s death, the Peronistas still rule over the Argentines and carry on with the “loot-and-reward-your-friends” approach to government that Obama has regularized as his own form of statecraft. The current kleptocrat-President, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has just announced her plan to nationalize YPF, Argentina’s largest oil company.  YPF belongs to a Spanish parent company, Repsol, and has operated in Argentina for decades.  S&P’s Rating Services has already lowered Repsol’s long-term credit rating.   Repsol wants ten billion dollars in compensation for what Cristina is taking.  She scorns the request and refuses to pay. Why should she?  Repsol is a big, rich corporation, part of the one per cent, one of the enemies that Obama would like to punish. The Argentines want the company. Who cares anyway about bond holders?  Shearing bond holders is a Peronist tradition. Kirchner has already taken over the national airline and confiscated billions in what were private Argentine pension funds.  She is very popular
Pollster Scott Rasmussen notes that Obama’s support is highest among those who earn less than $20,000 and those who earn more than $100,000, a base that splits between the poor for whom he stokes envy and the well-off who feel guilty.  He too is popular. 
Before November of 2012 Americans might want to look more closely at Argentina as it is today and its history over the past sixty years.  They could be seeing their future.

*From Enrique Krause, Redentores: Ideas y Poder en America Latina, Random House, Mexico, 2011, 313.
“El peronismo fue seguramente el prémire regimen populista de América Latina. Lo caracterizaron al menos tres rasgos: movilización vertical de las mases, tendencia privilegiar la demanda social por encima de las energía productiva de la nación (con desastrosas consecuencias económicas) y, sobre todo, el culto al líder, al caudillo, en este caso a Juan y Eva.”       

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