The Empty Conventions, photo by David Stahl via Flickr

The major party conventions were depressing. Usually the speeches are fun, and the roars of the crowd are inspiring. This year, he trappings were there, red white and blue bunting, shouted speeches, pounded podiums, silly hats and grinning delegates, repetition of the usual sentiments about meritocracy, opportunity and change, and new this year, delightful snark on Twitter. But there was nothing behind it this year, no conviction, no sense that things will get better under either nominee.

Both parties focused on social issues: the Republicans on their anti-abortion, anti-welfare, and anti-everything screeds, and the Democrats on LGBTQ rights, women’s rights and good family life. They focused on social issues and platitudes about the greatness of the American people because they agree on economic issues. Capital must dominate our society. Capital can do no wrong. All good things flow from capital. When in trouble, capital must be bailed out. Workers are parasites on beautiful capital, and must be repressed. Their desire for a decent life must be subordinate to payments to capital and its holders.

There was exactly one speaker who recognized this. Elizabeth Warren supported her claim to represent actual humans with her description of the current system:

People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here’s the painful part: they’re right. The system is rigged. Look around. Oil companies guzzle down billions in subsidies. Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. Wall Street CEOs—the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs—still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them.

That was the only moment in either convention where a speaker told people the truth about their lives, their lived experiences and their futures. Warren was right to that point. It was downhill from there.

He [Obama] believes in a country where everyone is held accountable. Where no one can steal your purse on Main Street or your pension on Wall Street.

That isn’t true. Obama believes that Wall Street is made up of savvy businesspeople who made a mistake or two, some greedy people, and even one or two immoral people. But he has faith that they were misguided, not common criminals, when they wrecked your pension, your 401(k), your IRA, your municipal finances, your employer, your job and your future. He resolutely refuses to push for a real investigation and he insists that Eric Holder and the candy-ass prosecutors at the Department of Justice are doing a great job.

Both parties are run by people who agree with this assessment. Here’s Mary Jo White, who was the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York under Bill Clinton, and is mentioned as a possible replacement for the Wall Street sycophant in chief, Eric Holder as Attorney General:

“We must distinguish what is criminal from what is reckless behavior or bad business decisions and not bow to the frenzy,” Ms. White said. “And I worry the frenzy overrides reason and judgment sometimes.”

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, also has it partly right. She thinks her job is to insure the primacy of politics against the assault by the “market”. By market, she means the vast sums of money floating around the world looking for returns at any cost to society, trillions of dollars managed by Wall Street thugs and owned by tax-avoiding corporations, drug cartels, Saudi oil princes, secretive Taiwanese billionaires, and Russian mafia types. Here’s Merkel in November 2010.

“We in the federal government are absolutely convinced that, under a future mechanism, creditors also have to be made to participate in the cost,” Merkel said. “It is true that there is a kind of battle over what power the financial markets have and how much room for policy-making the politicians have.” At stake is “what we call the primacy of politics,” she said.

In a recent speech, she repeated her call for the primacy of politics, saying

… in the last five years, markets “haven’t served the people,” allowing a few to get rich at the expense of the many. Markets can’t be allowed to destroy the fruits of people’s labor and governments can’t be put at their mercy through excess debt, she said.

Merkel is a rigid economic conservative, so her solution is horrid austerity imposed on citizens of other countries, trashing the lives of young and old alike. It’s hard to see how that squares with the idea of the primacy of politics. But, at least she, like Warren, is articulating the truth. People can only govern themselves if they keep the power of capital under tight control. Nothing will change until we have leaders willing to say the truth out loud, and to act on it.

And that won’t happen until more people can hear that truth over the racket created by the rich and demand change.