Over the past decade, I've met fairly regularly with “Shallow Throat,”* a mole high up in the former Bush administration, currently a respected consultant in Washington, DC. A well-connected insider, Shallow Throat knows where the bodies are buried, and how the political game is played (and rigged) to benefit the powers that be behind the Republican and Democratic Parties.
Given the momentous events in the news, a good share of which puzzle me, it seemed appropriate to contact Shallow Throat for some insights into what may be going on. We talked the other day in a quiet booth at a Bethesda tavern.
Shallow Throat: I've missed our chats. Where you been? Aren't you and your liberal cohorts happy with the new, feisty Obama, willing to call out the Republicans by name, more eager to mix it up with his opposition?
Bernard Weiner: Yes, of course. However, Obama ran as a transformational president, but once in power, he backed off making any consequential structural changes; he was content to nibble around the edges of power, but not confront power, way too eager to compromise way too early. He lost nearly three years of possible movement forward before he looked at the electoral calendar and decided it as now time to alter his approach. So today, we're presented once again with Obama in full campaign mode, with tough rhetoric and promises of action he will probably never take. He's certainly better than McCain would have been, and stands heads and shoulders above the current crowd of clownish numbskulls running for the Republican candidacy, but we expected, and Obama promised, much more.
ST: So you liberals woke up to how the game is played in Washington, and that Obama is a politician – surprise! He's a centrist pragmatist and always has been; he has no desire to initiate truly radical change.
You do realize, don't you, that the Republican Party, decided early on that their sole mission is to destroy Obama and his initiatives. In their desire to retake the White House, they created conditions that would have stymied any Democratic president, let alone one presented with a Great Recession/Depression that is wrecking the economy and social structure of this country. Cut the man some slack!
BW: We did, for far too long; we're not in the political alterations business anymore – no more cutting of slack. We need action, not just incremental nibbling away at the forces of power but really getting into a serious remake of the rotting and corrupted structures that underlie our economic, social and political lives. Yes, the Republicans are engaged in reprehensible tactics, willing to bring down the economy, for example, just to score electoral points. But we can't ignore how complicit Obama and the Democratic legislators in general have been in moving America to this awful point.
The Occupy Movement
ST: Let me take a wild guess: You support the Occupy folks. If Obama is unable or unwilling to transform the system from the inside, you and your buddies will do it from the outside? Get real, Bernie. To crib from Stalin, how many troop divisions do you have behind you? Americans, you may have noticed, are not all that taken with actual revolution, though many throw that term around loosely. And yes I realize that what's in the works is a structural/social revolution, not a violent one.
BW: The Occupy movement and its allies may not be ready to storm the barricades with pitchforks, but as some in the Tea Party and now in the Occupy movement have demonstrated, the anger and frustration out there is immense and deep. Those in this movement are eager to search for ways to confront the power wielders and get some significant changes made.
There is a potential tipping point if that rage and desire for real change can be channeled properly. Who knows? There might be some clever way to bring elements within the Tea Party faction together with their counterparts in the Occupy movement, starting with their shared anger at the banks and bailouts. Can you imagine the impact if such a potential alliance could be forged, even if on a small scale?
ST: Those are mighty big “ifs.” The Occupy movement seems to have very little organization or clear sense of direction, and their fuzzy goals offer little outreach to Middle Americans – which is the substrata of American society that can possibly lean on the power-wielders to change things.
Plus, the longer Occupy's actions continue as they are – encampments, marches, demos, allowing their anarchist component to smash windows, not dealing with infiltrators and provocateurs and so on – they open themselves to losing momentum and to being co-opted by traditional and more organized elements in society, including Democratic politicians. It happened during the revolutionary days in “The Sixties,” and it's beginning to look familiar today.
BW: You could be right, but I don't think so. It's equally possible that the situation is so desperate right now in the country – one in 15 citizens below poverty level, nearly 20 million out of work, the growing economic inequality, the disappearance of the American Dream, the growing strength of greed-obsessed individuals and corporations etc. – that this nascent “revolution” may actually generate a genuine, diverse and long-lasting movement for radical systemic change.
ST: What you've got now is a roiling sense of anger and frustration. Whether that soup is marinating anything that will emerge later is still a question mark. As long as the powers-that-be can paint the Occupy folks as marginal “hippies” and youthful malcontents, your side is losing.
The situation might be different if it's clear that hundreds of thousands, nay millions, of ordinary Americans stand behind them, march with them, and if various affinity and actions groups can emerge from the Occupy movement, especially during this winter, when going out or encamping may not be so enticing. This is the way to a tipping point. Right now, it's mostly theatre. Important in laying the groundwork for changes in public opinion, but really mostly theatre.
Keeping the Momentum Building
BW: I think you're wrong. As one deeply engaged in turning this country around in “the sixties,” I realize how things can go wrong: internal infighting; splintering around different issues; conflicting egos and ambitions; provocateurs and infiltrators causing havoc and giving the powers that be excuses for harsh police action, etc. etc.
But these moments in history don't come along often; if we want to keep today's revolutionary momentum building, we must join in and support those who are leading the way – however imperfectly and chaotically perhaps, but nevertheless stirring up the embers of determined citizen action.
* * *
We both sat there in silence for awhile, sipping our beers and thinking what had been said (and left unsaid). Then I moved to another topic.
BW: I'm guessing that you would really like to get back into the inner circles of government rather than being a consultant on the outside. If the GOP were to take the White House next year, would you serve if asked?
The GOP Candidates
ST: Not a realistic scenario. I don't think the Republicans have a chance, given their current farm-league group of candidates. What a crop! Ignorants, scoundrels, ideological cretins. But if Obama, say, were to revert back to his spineless persona, it might be a different ballgame. For example, if he were to support hacking away at Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, with no major tax increases, as the Gang of 12 commission is seriously considering. Or if he were to authorize the controversial Keystone tar-sands pipeline from Canada through the heartland in the Midwest, endangering the huge aquifer there. He's already backed away from enforcing key EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] regulations.
So, hand in hand with huge numbers of Democratic defections (seniors, students, activists, minorities, environmentalists, etc.), and with the suppress-and-steal-the-vote maneuvers currently being organized by the Republicans in 18 key states, a GOP victory in 2012 remains possible, if not likely.
BW: On the other hand, it's not outside the realm of possibility that Obama, beholden to the traditional power-and-money sources, might do all of those awful things. What would happen then?
ST: Having thoroughly alienated his base, Obama might then suddenly look even more vulnerable in electoral terms. It's not likely, but it's possible, that there could be a groundswell to support a late Democratic challenger in the primary. (Hillary? Bernie Sanders? Russ Feingold?) Or that Chris Christie or Michael Bloomberg might change their minds and jump into the GOP race, who knows? I don't believe any of this will happen, but the political/economic situation is so fluid right now in the U.S., in Europe, in the Middle East, that nothing can be ruled out.
Sorry to call this to a close, but I've got to run. Feel free, per usual, to get these observations into the political conversation. Let's see what happens. And let's do this again in a few months.
And with that, Shallow Throat exited the tavern, leaving me energized, but also weighed down by the enormity of the job ahead of us.
*To read earlier conversations with the Shallow Throat character, go here.