Scapegoat-in-Chief: The Race for the Oval Office
By Richard Heinberg / postcarbon.org

 
The first two U.S. presidential debates have been painful to watch. Both candidates are running on platforms constructed from verbal hallucinations about the nation’s past, present, and future. And the American people are being asked to choose between those hallucinations in order to select the best available scapegoat for the next four years of national economic decline. The race is burning up billions of dollars in advertising money, yet few citizens seem genuinely excited about either candidate, with households evidently viewing the proceedings as a prime-time ritual combat in which it is the winner, rather than the loser, who will ultimately receive the fatal thumbs-down. 
 
Most of the delusions and fantasies that pervade the debates can be grouped into three baskets:
 
Energy. In the second debate, a questioner from the audience asked president Obama if there is something the latter can do to lower gasoline prices. The ensuing fiction-laced candidate dialogue featured assertions like the following:
 
·      America has a century’s worth of cheap natural gas. (It doesn’t, and production levels will probably begin declining within the next couple of years.)
·      Oil drilling in North Dakota will soon free the U.S. of the need to import oil. (It won’t, and production there will similarly peak and start to wane in the next 2-5 years.)
·      The president of the United States should be held accountable for high gasoline prices. (In fact, aside from temporary gestures like opening the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, there’s almost nothing a president can do to reduce gas prices, which mostly track the global price of crude oil.)
 
The reality is that America faces profound energy challenges. The “Beverly Hillbillies” era of cheap oil is over, and with it the decades-long spate of economic expansion that both candidates appear to believe is the birthright of all citizens. Oil production costs have skyrocketed in recent years, and out of desperation drilling companies are using costly techniques like hydrofracturing to wring crude from low-grade reservoirs. The energy world portrayed in the debates—in which coal is “clean” and oil and gas companies will lead the U.S. to a new era of energy abundance if only they are unleashed or regulated properly—is a stage set carefully crafted by fossil fuel industry PR professionals and political consultants. Once viewers have dutifully mistaken this painted scenery for reality, it’s the actors’ job to raise the audience’s adrenaline levels with taunts and sneers. Meanwhile, outside the theater, the real world is hurtling toward an energy supply crisis for which no one is being prepared, and whose impact will not be blunted by sensible policy.
 
Summon the scapegoat.
 
The economy. Why hasn’t the American economy recovered? Why are so many people still unemployed? What policies will re-start the nation’s engines of growth? Anyone who watched either debate will know that these questions provoked lengthy and heated exchanges between Obama and Romney, precisely because they are the matters of greatest concert to voters. Probably only a few viewers bothered to examine the assumptions on which both candidates appear to agree: that ongoing economic stagnation is a temporary glitch that can be fixed, and that growth is normal and can continue perpetually.
 
Here president Obama is fighting with one hand tied behind him. As long as he feeds the delusion that the economic crisis is a solvable problem, he must find some way to deflect the demanding query: “Well, then, why haven’t you fixed it?”
 
In reality, the crash of 2008 resulted from the bursting of history’s biggest credit bubble, together with the simultaneous rupture of the decades-old regime of cheap oil. These are not “problems” that can be “fixed.” The global economy will inevitably contract during the remainder of this century, and success will be measured by the ability of nations, communities, and households to adapt to the new reality of declining mobility, expensive energy, and scarce credit.
 
If Obama were to even begin explaining this situation to voters, he would immediately be tarred as a pessimist, even a doomster. The best he can do is to argue that it was a Republican who got us into this mess, so it would be a mistake to choose a Republican using similar policies to get us out. Both candidates conspire to mislead their audience as to the cause and nature of the crisis, and both stoke unrealistic expectations of recovery and growth once they are elected. Since recovery is not in the cards, that just means that whoever wins will reap the blame.
 
Who wants to be the scapegoat?
 
Climate change. In this case, delusion is a species of blindness. In the real world, impacts from global climate change are showing up faster than forecast in even the most “alarmist” scenarios published just a few years ago. Most of the U.S. is still suffering from a devastating drought that has already ruined billions of dollars’ worth of crops. Altogether, weather anomalies are increasing in frequency and severity—exactly as the climate models predict, only faster. The north polar ice cap is disappearing before our eyes. This is potentially a crisis of truly apocalyptic dimensions. Yet, during the debates, president Obama has offered only one brief mention of climate change while governor Romney has avoided the subject altogether.
 
At some point in the not-distant future—quite likely, during the next four years—the mushrooming impacts of climate change will rudely demolish the complacent edifice of denial that characterizes current political discourse. At that point, Americans will be asking questions like, “Why haven’t you done anything about this?” or, “Why is God punishing us?”
 
Send in the scapegoat.
 
Under the circumstances, picking a favorite in this race is a sucker’s game—even if one of the political parties is in some ways more delusional and opportunistic than the other, and even if one of the candidates seems more intelligent and public-spirited than his opponent. Choosing the better president won’t prevent further economic decline. Nor will blaming the scapegoat-in-chief offer any tangible relief when prosperity doesn’t return. The only way we can make things go better is to acknowledge reality and adapt to it. Since we’re not likely to get much help along those lines from our political leaders, it’s really up to us.
 
 

Get The End of Growth http://www.postcarbon.org/eog | Watch the animation Who Killed Economic Growth? http://bit.ly/whokilledgrowth

Like this post?

Keep the information flowing: Donate to Post Carbon Institute
Stay connected: Receive our monthly e-newsletter

Load Comments
You Might Be Interested In
59 min · As President Obama and Mitt Romney squared off for the first time on Wednesday night, Democracy Now! broke the sound barrier by pausing Obama and Romney's answers to get real-time responses from candidates Jill Stein of the Green Party and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party...
32 min · The US’ housing bubble burst nearly six years ago, but the worst may be yet to come. After a landmark settlement, the major banks have lifted a freeze on foreclosures and government relief has been too small to make a difference. Public housing budgets have been slashed...
5 min · The second installment in a Star Wars themed parody of the 2008 presidential election, featuring Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, among others.
7 min · Obama supporters condemn right-wing-sounding policies when they think they’re Romney’s, but either excuse them or go into denial  when told that the policies are actually Obama’s. Here are some of the sources that were mentioned throughout the interviews 
54 min · IF YOU'RE EXPERIENCING PROBLEMS WITH THE VIDEO ABOVE, YOU CAN WATCH THE FILM AT THE OFFICIAL PBS FRONTLINE WEBSITE. If you think Mitt Romney’s recent threats against PBS were actually about budgets or Big Bird, think again. The reason the right hates PBS is that sometimes it...
45 min · On the day Barack Obama was elected the 44th President, more than 58 million voters cast their ballots for John McCain. In the months leading up to this historic election, filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi (Friends of God, The Trials of Ted Haggard) took a road trip to meet some of...
2 min · As the US presidential campaign enters its final weeks, both the Republican and Democratic candidates are hitting the swing states. But misconceptions and rumors abound and many voters have their facts about the candidates all wrong. Some believe that Democrat Barack Obama is...
29 min · Series Premiere: Culture in Decline | Episode #1 "What Democracy?" by Peter Joseph. This opening show addresses the coming 2012 US Presidential Election and the subject of what we perceive as "Democracy" in the world today.
2 min · In recent months we've seen a spate of assertions that peak oil is a worry of the past thanks to so-called "new technologies" that can tap massive amounts of previously inaccessible stores of "unconventional" oil. "Don't worry, drive on," we're told.We can fall for the oil...
90 min · STEALING AMERICA unveils patterns of anomalies at every level of the electoral process. Controversial partnerships perpetuate a secretive environment, as relevant facts and figures remain hidden from view. As a result, most Americans have no real sense of the threat to free...
12 min · The Riz Khan show looks at how electronic voting could be manipulated to flip the outcome of the 2008 US presidential election. A great 12 minute synopsis of the issue, up to the minute. The Riz Khan show airs on Aljazeera, the world's first English language news channel to...
55 min · Blacked out or dismissed as 'conspiracy theories' by corporate news outlets, reports of massive vote fraud in the 2004 presidential election circulated on the internet and independent media. As the Jan. 6th, 2005 deadline for a challenge to the Electoral College vote drew...
Alberto · Sandy has blown climate change back on the agenda – and many believe the White House was wrong when it decided in 2009 that climate change was not a winning political message [as opposed to the opportunity of the clean energy economy]. Barack Obama: a 2009...
Glenn Greenwald · As I’ve written about before, America’s election season degrades mainstream political discourse even beyond its usual lowly state. The worst attributes of our political culture — obsession with trivialities, the dominance of horserace “reporting,” and mindless partisan...
Daniel Ellsberg · It is urgently important to prevent a Republican administration under Romney/Ryan from taking office in January 2013. The election is now just weeks away, and I want to urge those whose values are generally in line with mine -- progressives, especially activists -- to make...
Randy Fabi and Aisha Chowdhry · The roars celebrating the re-election of U.S. President Barack Obama on television give Mohammad Rehman Khan a searing headache, as years of grief and anger come rushing back. The 28-year-old Pakistani accuses the president of robbing him of his father, three brothers and a...
Eli Dragen · democracynow on livestream.com. Broadcast Live Free As President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney square off in the first presidential debate in Denver on October 3, Democracy N
Fred Clark · I’ve written about or linked to a great deal here “chronicling Mitt’s mendacity” — to borrow Steven Benen’s phrase. Mitt Romney says many, many things that are not true. He says this despite being in possession of the correct facts of the matter. Which is to say that Mitt...
It's Our Economy · The economic collapse of 2008 came at the end of three decades of stagnant wages that resulted in record household debt and made it apparent that the economy does not work for most Americans.  Even during the collapse the rich got richer and the poor got poorer as trillions...
Hamilton Nolan · The deadly collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh has sparked calls for better worker treatment. The revelation that Apple manages to avoid almost all taxes has drawn vague calls for tax reform. A more direct path to fairness: let's just have a reasonable international...
Like us on Facebook?