Journalist Criticizes State Of The Union Speech

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Journalist Chris Hedges wrote a book criticizing the left — from farther left. His book Death of the Liberal Class argues that liberal politicians, academics and others have sold out. He tells Steve Inskeep he's no fan of the president's speech.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And the head of the Chamber of Commerce praised part of the State of the Union speech. The leader of the business group favors the president's call for infrastructure spending. He approved of it in a joint statement with the labor leader from the AFL-CIO.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Some people on the left are not happy to see the president position himself in the political center.

Mr. CHRIS HEDGES (Author, "Death of the Liberal Class"): Well, the very term center is quite upsetting because that really, I think, is more appropriately defined as capitulation.

INSKEEP: Journalist Chris Hedges wrote a book criticizing the left - from farther left. His book "Death of the Liberal Class" argues that liberal politicians, academics and others have sold out, and he is no fan of the president's speech.

Mr. HEDGES: It was, clearly, a speech meant to mollify Wall Street. It had a great deal of hypocrisy in it, condemning what he called the parade of lobbyists for rigging government just after he appointed the top Washington representative of JPMorgan Chase to be his new chief of staff.

INSKEEP: William Daley?

Mr. HEDGES: Yeah. And I think one of the things that disturbed me most was this idea that somehow we're failing, the economy is failing because of a lack of education. It was a failure of regulation, a failure of government control -which unleashed rapacious forms of human greed and fraud.

INSKEEP: Let me play a piece of tape here. This is from the State of the Union address, and I'm just interested what you think of the president's language as he talks about increasing the competitiveness of America.

President BARACK OBAMA: In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America. I will submit that proposal to Congress for a vote, and we will push to get it passed.

INSKEEP: Got some applause there.

Mr. HEDGES: Well, he quite consciously uses the language of the business community to indicate that he is pro-business.

INSKEEP: You mean the word competitiveness, talking about a...

Mr. HEDGES: Competitiveness...

INSKEEP: ...competitive America.

Mr. HEDGES: Investments in education, that kind of stuff.

INSKEEP: What's wrong with that? Don't people want America to be more competitive in the world marketplace?

Mr. HEDGES: Because government's not a corporation. Government is not about competition. Government is about addressing the necessities of citizens: health, education, housing, security, jobs, living wages, protection so that people have clean and safe water and food. It's not about business programs. And that, of course, is the ideology of the right wing - to not only make government serve corporations but essentially, reduce government and cut citizens loose.

INSKEEP: Well, you know the argument that is made against that. People will say look, we can't afford education, the social services - all those things you just mentioned - unless the economy is strong and businesses are strong, and people are making money and paying taxes.

Mr. HEDGES: Well, and they're right. But who's responsible for the debt peonage? It's not those people working extra shifts in Wal-Mart.

INSKEEP: You're talking about the fact that the United States has a huge public debt now, much of it...

Mr. HEDGES: Yeah...

INSKEEP: ...owed to overseas investors.

Mr. HEDGES: That's the fault of Wall Street. I mean, they're the people who ratcheted it up. They're the people we had to bail out. It's not the person working on a minimum-wage job, but they're the ones who are going to be made to suffer.

INSKEEP: You write, if I'm not mistaken, in this book, "The Death of the Liberal Class," that you actually think that - although you didn't like their methods - you thought the communists had the right analysis of the economy.

Mr. HEDGES: Partly.

INSKEEP: It's the workers against the bosses.

Mr. HEDGES: Well, I think in that sense, speaking - we no longer speak in the language of class warfare. Everybody has become middle class. Although, of course, what we've done through - especially the acceleration of NAFTA and outsourcing of jobs - is disempower or disenfranchise our working class. And, you know, I'm not a Marxist and I'm not a communist and I'm not an anti-capitalist, but there are different forms of capitalism.

There's the penny capitalism in the farm town where I grew up, where farmers bring their products in and sell it. There's the regional capitalism of the local factory owner, hardware store owner, who lives in the community, invests in the community, sits on the school board. And then there's corporate capitalism, which is something else. Corporate capitalism is supra-national; it has no loyalty to the nation-state. It's hollowed our country out from the inside. It's a kind of global neo-feudalism. And it's corporate capitalism that frightens me.

INSKEEP: Chris Hedges is author of "Death of the Liberal Class." Thanks very much.

Mr. HEDGES: Thanks for having me.

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