Why Obama Cannot Undo the Surveillance Society—But We CanSubmitted by go213mph on Wed, 06/12/2013 - 09:35
President Obama, taking a smart political tack in the uproar following several explosive disclosures on NSA domestic spying practices, said he was all in favor of a vigorous public debate—that it would be a “healthy” thing . But calling for a public debate is one thing; actually doing anything to facilitate a truly open discussion, much less acting on what such a discussion might reveal, is quite another.
Today, the New York Times, in a news/analysis article , essentially declared that there was no hope for any kind of restraint of growing government spying on the public. Not if it is up to the people’s representatives.
The Times noted that secrecy rules will prevent robust and open discussion in Congress. It also pointed out that Republicans will mostly stay in line with their traditional allies in the intelligence services—and that Democrats will too, both because they will want to show they did the right thing in voting to authorize the Patriot Act and other relevant legislation, and because during this round, the leader is Obama, a Democrat.
But that’s just the beginning of the difficulties in the way of achieving reform of our incipient surveillance state. The Times goes on to say:
Nor is it clear that political pressure from either Congress or the public will be sufficient to prompt the administration to open the door wider on government surveillance.
When even an establishment-serving entity like the New York Times virtually concedes that there’s no hope for reform even when the vast majority might want it, this is a signal that something is deeply amiss in this society.
Congress Can’t, President Won’t, Which Means….
Of course, there is more to the story.
What the Times and other media will not and perhaps cannot say, is this: not only is Congress impotent in these matters, but it wouldn’t even matter if the president himself chose to act. Here’s why.
As history shows us, when it comes to the overall direction of American governance, absent generally minor tweaks of foreign policy and somewhat more robust swings on certain domestic issues that rouse voting bases (notably things like gay and reproductive rights and, lately, immigration) presidents of both parties rarely deviate from a kind of “consensus” cobbled together by people in academia, media and government, a consensus that almost always serves the interests of a fairly small number of wealthy people and interests. (If you’ve never heard this notion, a visit to one of our remaining public libraries might be in order.)
This is not a partisan issue. It doesn’t matter who is president. No “ordinary American who can dream of one day becoming president” is in a position to alter the basic equation, which would involve bucking the vast military-financial-industrial-academic complex that drives the American economy, funds our political elections and keeps people in line through any means necessary. That’s as true of Obama as it was of Kennedy or Nixon or…fill in the blank. For more on this, see our 2010 piece “What Obama is Up Against .”
“A Bullet For Your Thoughts?”
President Obama, who presumably believed in and hoped to achieve some of the promises he made as a candidate, has no choice but to try and keep people complacent, for he is essentially helpless. This is in part because of the power-brokers to whom he owes his political success—figures from the liberal end of the same status-quo-benefiting money spectrum—bankers, investors, corporate attorneys—who always run things. He has almost no wiggle room.
As we previously reported (see this  and this ), his efforts to assert himself have not gone well. Notably, when he tried to reduce troops substantially in Afghanistan, a campaign of leaks from high-placed military sources, accommodated by their friends in the media, immediately neutered him. Once it became clear that virtually no one would actually tell the public what had happened in this instance (or bring to the spotlight the tremendous financial stakes  in Afghanistan for corporate interests), Obama must have understood what history has in store for him: the legacy of a Carter or a Clinton or perhaps a Ford, followed by the rewards heaped upon a Bill Clinton in the long years remaining in his life.