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Lead, Follow, Or Get Out Of The Way

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Headlined to H2 2/13/10

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So now there's going to be a bipartisan health care summit, eh? Woo-hoo.

Is that sorta like the jobs summit we just had, one full year into the reign of Obama, despite that all twelve of those months has been riddled with severe economic cancer? And hasn't that summit just really produced a raft of good solutions to the unemployment crisis?

Is the health care summit gonna be kinda like the stimulus bill, a full third of which was a sop to Republican tax-cutting religious dogma, which effort bought all of a single GOP vote in Congress?

Does it bear any resemblance to the health care negotiations which have been going on for nearly a year now, that also involved protracted efforts to accommodate Republican interests, and that succeeding in reducing the level of GOP support from the prior vote on the stimulus bill down by a full one hundred percent?

Or are we talking here about any of a whole slew of "Democratic" policies, from the Middle East to Afghanistan to civil liberties to military spending, in which the Obama administration never had to negotiate at all with Republicans, because they were already running the same policies as George W. Bush? And nevertheless still got slammed for it?

I really have to confess that I don't know why Barack Obama ever wanted the presidency. He had a boatload of fame and fortune in his hands already, though admittedly it's a whole other league to be in as a part of the exclusive club of US presidents.


On the other hand, you run some serious risks as president that really call into question whether it's worth it, from a cost-benefit perspective. Especially since you can only spend so much money in a lifetime, and Obama had already made tens of millions from his books, and had huge potential to keep on making more from lectures, lobbying and more books, without ever sitting in the White House.

Lincoln and Kennedy remind us of the most prominent of these risks. But combine the always present possibility of presidential assassination with the fact that we have the first black president of a country still loaded with angry, armed racists, and you have a serious concern there. Additionally, America is just absolutely in a bad mood these days. We're like a toddler having a temper tantrum, oscillating between wanting this or that, usually wanting both at the same time, and regularly throwing a sh*t-fit if we don't get just exactly what we want when we want it. If it were possible for an entire country to need its diapers changed, that's just about where we are nowadays. Put it all together and you get a recipe for disaster for a black president whose middle name is Hussein. Especially one who allows himself to be labeled a socialist. Maybe Michael Steele or Clarence Thomas could pull this off without agitating the survivalist crowd into taking a pop at him, but Obama's got a whole army of nuts out there waiting to take him out. Many of them are in these tea party fringe fanatic groups. Hell, many of them are in the GOP.

Moreover, that's not the only risk he took in running for the presidency. You can also get elected and then fail miserably. Is it really worth it to enter the pantheon of American politics, but in a titular sense only? Wouldn't it be better to lay low and get rich than to be a laughingstock failure who also happened to have once had an oval-shaped office? Wouldn't most people rather be Jeb Bush than George W.?

This is why I wonder why this guy ever sought the presidency. Doing so clearly came with some serious risks, and not necessarily massive benefits relative to where he was already sitting.

Of course, if you were going to do something with the office, that would be something else entirely. That would be worth taking big risks for. I think most people want to be successful in life, and most people who are either self-confident (or radically insecure) enough to seek the American presidency would absolutely also like the legacy of being one of the great ones. Obama just doesn't seem to have that jones, though. He's the perfunctory president. He seems to want to have a health care bill, any health care bill, so he can say he's done that. He seems to want to have a climate agreement, however eviscerated, just so he can tick off that box. And he seems to want to be president just to be president.

Of course, the Democratic Party has become nearly as captive of corporate and Wall Street interests as the Republicans have, which may be a better explanation for the inaction of Congress and the president. But the capacity to sustain that facade is now rapidly melting. Perhaps Democrats even realize this.

The core (sometimes theoretical) principle at the root of representative democracy is the quid pro quo that is supposed to govern the relationship between the representative and the represented. The member of parliament gets to serve in high office, provided that MP reflects the political sentiments of his or her constituents. The problem with American politics today, of course, is that the real constituents of members of Congress are not the voters in their districts and states, but rather the special interests who fund their campaigns to fool the voters in their districts and states. You don't need to see Bulworth again to figure that one out.

And the problem for Democrats is that the country is now reaching the limits of viability for that game. Voters can be fooled or lulled into political narcolepsy for a long time, provided conditions are relatively benign. One reason, frankly, that voter turnout has been so low over the last half-century is that people have been basically satisfied with conditions in their lives, notwithstanding the usual grumbling about welfare queens or foreign aid or uppity blacks. This also explains why we rarely see people marching in the streets in any serious way, and why we don't see the rise of alternative political parties of any serious scale. By and large, people have been pretty complacent about politics because their life conditions have been pretty decent, whether they know it or not.

All that is changing now. Actually, it's been changing for thirty years, but now it's really crashing down hard. During the middle part of the twentieth century a literal new deal was struck in American society, in which for the first time the masses would get a moderate share of the pie and the fantastically wealthy would be reduced in economic stature to being merely hugely wealthy. But, after a while, the greediest amongst us decided they'd had enough of that tough bargain and, circa 1980 or so, the empire struck back. The American plutocracy hired Ronald Reagan and his party to undo the provisions of trade, labor, tax and welfare state laws that propped up the newly created middle class, and the ground underneath most Americans' feet has been eroding ever since. It was actually much worse than what people thought all along, because much of the pain for the middle class was eased by sending wives to work earning a second income, and stealing from their children via budget deficits.

Now comes the triple whammy of the apocalypse, as the products from these policies come home to roost in a serious way. First, deregulating everything in sight so that the rapist class could have its unfettered way with all of us has produced the inevitable reckoning with reality now screening in your neighborhood as "The Great Recession". Second, the unsustainable pattern of profligate borrowing has become go figure unsustainable, and we are now seeing the beginning of serious movements toward reeling back spending on popular government programs, just when they are needed most. And third, the structural changes that have been promulgated over the last three decades leave most Americans poorly positioned to even hope for a path to economic recovery. Roughly speaking then, the middle class have been tossed out of the plane, their primary parachute was defectively fabricated by a deregulated corporation trying to save money on production, and their emergency chute was stolen out of the pack and sold on the black market called Wall Street.

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David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.  He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. His website is (more...)
 
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Professor GreenDo you really think that Obama is a... by Miriam Callaghan on Sunday, Feb 14, 2010 at 11:33:37 AM
guess his students learned this hi-brow statism fi... by Chris Bieber on Sunday, Feb 14, 2010 at 4:21:01 PM
Please note that the people who got snookered by O... by Perry Logan on Monday, Feb 15, 2010 at 6:18:19 AM