Monday, February 15, 2010


A note on Obama

The rank air of the decaying republic has left me almost constitutionally unable to write this past year.  It is clear—wasn't it always?—that enough Democrats, especially in the Senate, were too frightened or bought off or indeed supportive of right-wing ideology to bring about the changes that the electorate so passionately hoped to see after the election of Barack Obama and a Democratic supermajority to the Senate.

The fault must be laid principally on Obama's doorstep. Obama was the first President elected by a clear popular majority (53.1%) since George H. Bush in 1988. It was an advantage that he promptly ignored, preferring instead to wallow in the rejection of his unrequited love offerings to the Republican mini-minority. Obama is sincere when he contends that his proposals have a lot in common with the Republicans', but he and his advisors are remarkably stupid for thinking that that is what matters to them.

Obama named the odious Rahm Emanuel to be his doorkeeper, which should have alerted the most ardent Obama supporters that they were being betrayed. He then appointed Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers to continue the Republican economic calamity. He left Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense to reassure the military-industrial barons that nothing would change on his watch and turned health care reform over to the Congress after arranging secret negotiations and giveaways to silence opposition from the pharmaceutical industry.  After all these peace offerings to the right, he tried to induce a spirit of conviviality amongst his Republican opponents, apparently hoping to get them drunk at his cocktail parties. Needless to say, it didn't work.

What Obama should have done was take a page from the Republican playbook and propel his agenda by the force of a committed constituency that was prepared to help him "go all the way." This is a strategy that would have won him the "populist" label in the media and possibly gotten him assassinated. But he has already said he doesn't care if he's only a one-term President—it's the policy that counts.

He should have taken another page from the Republican playbook and used the always effective weapon of fear—but with a difference. He could have articulated the real risks we face rather than the ersatz bogeymen that Republicans manage to keep in the headlines. 

Did he want regulatory reform of the financial industry?  The public was more than ready to back his demand.  Do we need reform of the health care industry? It could have been—and should have been—presented as a matter of national defense during wartime. Want to rein in government waste? Explain the risks of the rising national debt and demand independent commissions to pour over the federal budget, including the Pentagon's. Call out the whistleblowers.

As he took office, the only thing Obama had to fear wasn't fear itself but fear misdirected. And he seems not to have seen it coming despite the right wing's history of using the tactic. Concerning health care reform, in short order the airwaves were full of talk of "government death panels" and the destruction of Medicare (yes, from Republicans who've been trying to kill the program since its inception!). And there are Republican-sponsored fear-filled analogues to be found for every item of candidate Obama's agenda.

Effectively it is hard to distinguish the Obama administration from that of Bush, though to hear it told in the right-wing media you would think there had been a revolution. It is in fact the absence of one that will see a number of Democrats unelected quite soon.

Related posts
In case you were looking to the Democrats for your salvation (8/19/05)
Must-Read of the Day (9/08/07)
Quote of the Day: On the political center of American politics (1/21/10)

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