Opinion » Ted Rall

No Hope or Change

Turmoil from Mideast to Midwest


NEW YORK­--If irony were money, we'd be rich.

"You've got to get out ahead of change," President Barack Obama lectured recently. "You can't be behind the curve." He was, of course, referring to the Middle East. During the last few weeks there has been a new popular uprising every few days: Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, Libya. And now, Wisconsin.

In Madison, where a new Republican governor wants to gut the rights of state workers to form unions and negotiate for higher wages, tens of thousands of protesters have filled the streets and the State Capitol for days.

"It's like Cairo has moved to Madison these days," said Congressman Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican.

Deploying his technocratic aloofness in the service of the usual screw-the-workers narrative, Obama sided with the union-busters: "Everybody has to make some adjustments to the new fiscal realities," he scolded.

"Everybody," naturally, does not include ultrarich dudes like our multi-millionaire president. Obama, who declared a whopping $5.5 million in annual income for 2009, has neither reduced his salary nor donated a penny of his $7.7 million fortune to the U.S. Treasury to help adjust to those "new fiscal realities."

"We had to impose a freeze on pay increases for federal workers in the next two years as part of my overall budget freeze," said Obama. "I think those kinds of adjustments are the right thing to do [in Wisconsin]."

"Had to." Interesting words. They imply there was no other choice. Three words: Tax. The. Rich. Rich people and corporations are making out like bandits.

"Adjustments." How bloodless. For normal people, Herr President, losing 2 percent of one's pay is not a mere adjustment. It hurts.

Obama's grandstanding had-to freeze on federal pay will save $5 billion over two years. That's nothing. That's what the Pentagon chucks down the Iraq and Afghanistan ratholes in a single week.

The federal deficit is $14 trillion. That's $14,000 billion. Obama's federal pay freeze, which amounts to a piddling four-hundredths of 1 percent, is empty symbolism.

All political systems are built on contradictions that lead to their downfall. The United States relies on a chasm between soaring rhetoric and brutish reality--a gap so wide and so glaring that it is amazing anyone ever takes the propaganda seriously.

Democracy--real democracy, the kind people are fighting for in Bahrain and Madison--is incompatible with free-market capitalism.

Which is what union members in Wisconsin, as well as those of us who don't belong to unions but understand that we would be working 100-hour weeks in death-trap factories without them, see clearly. The American Dream is just that: a dream.

According to a recent Bloomberg National poll, most American adults believe that their children will have worse lives than they do.

In a way, the unemployed and underemployed should thank Obama and the plutocrats he helps protect. The ruling classes' shortsighted refusal to give up some of the loot they've stolen will soon bring about the real changes Americans require and deserve.