America’s invisible government: Can a President take it on?

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By Joseph Stashko 

American government is constantly in the grip of unseen forces, including the CIA and big business.

That was the consensus view at last night’s Frontline Club event, ‘America’s Invisible Government’.

The panel discussion was chaired by BBC Radio 4’s Paddy O’Connell and comprised of Michael Goldfarb, London correspondent for, Godfrey Hodgson, ex Washington correspondent for The Observer, and Russ Baker, an investigative journalist who also had copies of his book, ‘The Bush Dynasty’ on sale and author of Family of Secrets.

Hodgson pointed out what he believed to be a common misconception about America, saying:

It’s a fallacy that America is a non hierarchical society. While I don’t think that there’s a single conspiracy, there are a few groups who are a sort of commercial aristocracy.

When asked about the role the American President had within Washington, he responded:

Most Presidents are actually surprised at how little power they really have.

Hodgson also said that he could only think of two American Presidents, Lyndon Johnson and Franklin Roosevelt, who had truly been able to act autonomously when in office, praising them both for having ‘independent spirit’.

Exploring themes covered in his book, Russ Baker spoke of a military-financial-intelligence-oil elite that seeks to preserve its wealth, power and position, and won’t allow a true democratic process to function:

I think that no one becomes President unless they’re already acceptable to these elites. The only two Presidents I can think of who turned this around were JFK and Richard Nixon.

Michael Goldfarb argued that there was a far more disturbing dimension to many behind the scenes power-plays in Washington, citing the prevalence of ‘the politics of fear’ and the reluctance of many Americans to criticise their political system.

Gore Vidal’s idea of ‘Perpetual war for perpetual peace’ works very well for the American people, and because fear is such a driving force, this extends to the behind-the-throne actors as well.

Towards the end of the evening, an audience question prompted the panel to question and interpret what role the media had to play in preserving convention. Goldfarb opined that the turning point for American newspapers was Watergate, when wealthy right wing business actors started taking an interest in newspapers, and moulding articles to a neo-conservative ideal.

He cited Woodward and Bernstein as an anomaly in American journalism, with the majority being ‘an elitist closed shop’. Baker agreed with this, concluding:

There is an obsession with ‘telling both sides of the story’ which we need to get rid of, and crooks need to be singled out as crooks. There are so few instances of the media really going after the establishment…

We all want to keep our jobs!

UPDATE: We have changed the title of Russ Baker’s book to “Family of Secrets” after incorrectly referring to it as “The Bush Dynasty”.

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