George Lakoff has an interesting post up on Obama’s communication failure with respect to the Gulf Oil Spill. Lakoff writes:
Crises are opportunities. He has consistently missed them. Today was a grand opportunity to pull together the threads — BP and the spill, Massey and the mine disaster, Wall Street and the economic disaster, Anthem BlueCross and health care, the Arizona Immigration Law, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — even Afghanistan. The press threw him fastballs straight down the middle, and he hit dribblers every time.
Quite right. In The Shock Doctrine Naomi Klein analyzes the way in which neo-liberals have used periods of crises to push through a series of economic and legislative reforms. There is no reason that crises of this sort can’t be used to do something similar, but for progressive ends. Yet Obama has done nothing of the sort. No doubt this is because Obama himself appears to endorse neo-liberal economic policies, but all the same.
Lakoff goes on to remark that,
The central idea is Empathy. Democracy is based on empathy, on people caring about one another and acting to the very best of their ability on that care, for their families, their communities, their nation, and the world. Government must also care and act on that care. Government’s job is to protect and empower its citizens.
That idea is what draws together all the threads. The bottom line for corporations (whether BP, Massey, Anthem or Goldman Sachs) is money, not empathy. The bottom line for those who hate (whether homophobes, the Arizona Legislature, or al Qaeda) is domination and oppression, not empathy.
Empathy, and acting on it effectively, is the main business of government.
While I completely agree with Lakoff’s thesis that corporations are profit driven entities and that this is something that needs to be trumpeted again and again, I’m more reluctant about his rhetorical strategy of framing issues in terms of entity. Perhaps I’m a cynical bastard, but I just don’t think people are primarily motivated by empathy but rather by interest. Appeals to charity strike me as very weak. Rather, what needs to be trumpeted is that the profit motive pursued by corporations is directly contrary to the interests of working and middle class people.
The BP oil disaster will very likely have a tremendous impact on the economy. This is a no brainer, of course, with respect to the Gulf economy, much of which is dependent on the fishing industry. But it’s difficult to see how the collapse of that economy won’t also impact the American economy as a whole. Moreover, corporations and neo-liberal de-regulation have, since the 70s, caused the stagnation of wages for working and middle class people, increased joblessness, and created a major wealth gap between the top 5% and the rest of us. This is something people need to understand.
Obama has missed a major opportunity to reverse some of these dynamics and to pump up regulation, actually fund regulators so they can do their jobs, and fund green technologies and renewable, eco-friendly resources. This should have been a major opportunity to push significant tax cuts for those who buy hybrid cars, increased regulations energy efficiency in the trucking and shipping industry (the former travels over a trillion miles a year in America alone), and to push for green energy sources. Why has Obama, who is so intelligent and rhetorically gifted, missed these opportunities? My cynical heart tells me that he’s completely aware of this opportunity but isn’t interested in seizing it because he too is owned by the corporations. In the wake of the SCOTUS decision allowing corporations to spend unlimited money advocating for particular politicians, this seems to follow as a matter of course.