Anticipatory Compliance the Obama Way

In his reflections on the destruction of European Jewry, the late Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg described a number of ways in which Jews “tried to avert the full force of the German destructive measures.” Among these was “by judicious compliance with orders, and sometimes by anticipatory compliance with order not yet issued.” A telling instance of the latter – though not cited by Hilberg – took place in the camp where I was born: Westerbork, the transit camp in Holland from which the bulk of Dutch Jewry was dispatched to the killing centers of the East. There, the occupier threatened to bring on the SS to administer the camp – at which point the Jews made a counter offer to run the camp themselves – under the watchful eye, it goes without saying, of the German overseer. It was Jews, for example, who prepared the transport lists, based on a number submitted to them by the German Commandant. The upshot of judicious and anticipatory compliance, in Hilberg’s words, was that by “[p]laying into German hands, they speeded the process of destruction.” This was certainly true in Holland.

I am reminded of Hilberg’s explanatory construct by the actions of the newly elected president and the “Grand Bargain.” Originally put forward in his first term, the “Grand Bargain” is being sold as part of a package deal to help avert the greater disaster of going down the “Fiscal Cliff.” Then, as now, Obama is anticipating making deep cuts in the so-called entitlement programs that constitute the safety net for millions of Americans. “Grand Bargain” and “Fiscal Cliff” are instances of language designed to do the thinking for us. The “Grand Bargain” is neither grand nor a bargain, while the “Fiscal Cliff” is a scare tactic pushed by the real masters of this country, the multinational corporations and Wall Street. The former balk at paying their fair share of taxes, while Wall Street is salivating at the prospect of privatizing the social programs administered – and administered with admirable efficiency – by the government.

Obama’s strategy is on full display. The President will stay pat on his promise to increase taxes on the wealthy — unless, true to form, he doesn’t. However, the determination to increase taxes on the rich, must be seen in its proper light; it is a decoy to make the cut into the so-called entitlements more palatable; a little bit of sugar makes the medicine go down.

I am not positing an equivalency between Obama’s actions and the reaction of the hapless Jews in World War II. The latter had to make choices in what amounted to choiceless situations, as has been noted by Elie Wiesel. But Obama’s actions can rightly be called anticipatory compliance. Unlike the Jews in World War II, the President of the United States has the leverage to make choices; there was, and is, no reason to cave in to Republican demands by complying with, and anticipating, their demands. And yet he does, ad nauseam. The only explanation is that Obama sincerely believes that the cuts are necessary, even as it is pointed out again and again that such cuts will only have a marginal effect on bringing down the deficit and actually undermine the vitality of the economy as a whole. The deficit, repeatedly demonstrated as well, can be reduced and eliminated rather painlessly through increased taxation on the rich and corporations, slashing the bloated military budget, and a return to prosperity through massive investments in the infrastructure (i.e. jobs). By playing into the hands of the Republicans and taking the first steps in dismantling the social programs that have served us so well Obama, supported by many in his own party, is speeding up the destruction of the middle class and consigning millions more to a life of poverty and despair.