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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 5/9/09

Get Obama

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To get a sense of the true explanation for the apparent leaps in forward motion Obama seems to represent, imagine if he had come into office on the heels of, not eight years of regressive insanity, but instead eight years of Milquetoast moderation of the sort that Bill Clinton perfected to such a high degree. You know. The kinda thing where you inch a little forward on social issues, jump a lot backward on economic issues, throw around some cheap-but-plausible-sounding-to-the-narcoleptic ringing phrases that have zero content, go to the mat for important stuff like the V-Chip and school uniforms, and basically stand for nothing whatsoever but your own personal joy ride in the White House. That stuff. Imagine how small would Obama’s forward motion seem if he came from a starting point that took the Bush years of regression out of the equation.

If that Clinton style sounds harrowingly familiar, it’s because it is. My sense is that Obama is a lot like a Clinton, though he can be – and is – mistaken for an FDR for the reasons given above. There is in fact a difference between Barack and Bill, I’m pretty sure, but not necessarily such a significant one. Where I think Clinton was in it exclusively for Clinton, as only a quintessential Baby Boomer could fully be, and thus given to precise calculations of exquisitely refined political safety at every turn, I think Obama is more public-spirited. But, crucially, the nothing-burger tendencies he shares with Clinton seem nevertheless fully present. I suspect they are driven by his “can’t we all just get along” personality, as opposed to Bill’s manic attention-craving disorder, but so what? They still amount to a lot of nothing, delivered way too late.

Whatever the motivation, what I think is hard to deny is that, while Obama appears to be a real go-getter, he is in fact a mere incrementalist in a time of real crisis. Despite the fact that George W. Bush’s disastrous and regressive presidency can make Obama look bold and progressive in contrast, he is in fact hurling Band-Aid after Band-Aid at national hemorrhage after gaping wound. And that’s just his best stuff. As soon as you get to what really matters to the predatory regressive right – the money, of course – Obama is almost indistinguishable from George “Enron” Bush, or Dick “This is our due” Cheney.

Discussing Obama’s three choices so far of sitting judges for appeals court nominations, law professor Tracey George might just as well have been commenting on his entire presidency in saying, “He could not have been more cautious”.

I’d have a problem with that under normal circumstances. There is always plenty of work to be done in this very imperfect world, and the last thing we need is another Clinton who wasted eight years of a presidency avoiding risk at all costs and accomplishing nothing. I’d also obviously have a problem with that under ‘normal’ post-Bush circumstances, where so much wreckage so desperately needs to be undone. But I really object to this embarrassingly centrist, ultra-cautious pussyfooting when there are so many critical conditions in crisis mode, screaming out for attention.

I cannot believe I live in a world massively threatened by environmental catastrophe, and my government is barely even talking about half-measures, let alone moving heaven and earth with fierce urgency to save the planet. And the oil guys aren’t even in the White House anymore.

I cannot believe I live in a world where the economy is imploding and the guy in charge of the country where the recession is rooted has hired agents of the very criminal crowd responsible for the problem to produce a solution, and that, shockingly, the ‘solution’ once again benefits wealthy elites while doing little for the rest of us.

I cannot believe that I live in a country with a crumbling healthcare system, and the solution being offered by the “change” candidate-now-president – to the extent we will see one at all – will forego the obvious model of universal coverage adopted by all other developed countries in the world, and will instead slap Scotch Tape on the train wreck of the existing for-profit healthcare disaster, in an attempt to hold it together a little longer.

I cannot believe that I live in a world where the Taliban is within spitting distance of capturing nuclear-armed Pakistan, and my government can’t even get serious enough about peace in the Middle East to show some real security guarantee carrots and foreign aid sticks to its client state in the region, forcing it to end an illegal and deeply antagonizing annexation masquerading as a forty year occupation.

I cannot believe I live in a country where individuals who knowingly broke the law and ruined the national reputation by torturing are exposed by the president, only for him to then turn around and deploy magical powers which supposedly allow him to exonerate them in advance.

This is Obama’s America? This is Obama’s America.

Historians and pundits have long debated whether history makes the leader, or the leader makes history. Bill Clinton obviously believed the former. As if to prove what we already knew – that he was possibly the most narcissistic human on the planet – he lamented shortly after his presidency ended that he hadn’t been ‘lucky’ enough to have a major crisis on his watch, so that he could go down in the books as one of the greats, like Lincoln or Roosevelt. Amazing. Only someone so completely absorbed with himself could be so astonishingly lacking in concern for the mass victims of such a legacy-enhancing catastrophe as Clinton craved for his own benefit.

Meanwhile, he never seemed to understand that he had the capacity to lead, to legislate, to act, and to make history, himself, and that playing it safe and selling out the American public in the welfare bill or the Defense of Marriage Act or NAFTA or WTO treaties was not the way to do that. Clinton got himself elected, then re-elected, but he never actually did anything with his presidency, because he viewed the two objectives as mutually-exclusive. Maybe he was right, albeit once he won his second term he certainly had nothing left to lose (and he sure never cared about the fate of his party). Regardless, if that’s your approach, you sure don’t get to b*tch about being ripped off by history because the 300 million people of your country were relatively safe and prosperous during your watch. Great leaders take great risks for great purposes. Small presidents watch out for themselves and work tirelessly to fulfill their own personal aspirations.

For a year now I’ve wondered what Obama would turn out to be – a Bill Clinton or an FDR. I think we have a pretty good answer at this point. Indeed, ironically, Obama now seems to be out-Clintoning Clinton. He not only has the very national crisis that Wild Bill craved, he’s got about six of them. But always the response seems to be incredibly tepid and conventional and, well, conservative – as the above examples show.

Even when it’s a slam-dunk policy choice, he is still the Cautious Kid to a fault. This week he made a big announcement about how he will be shutting down the rip-offs of the American treasury (and therefore of the American taxpayers, who have to make-up the difference) by closing loopholes that allow US corporate pirates to off-shore their profits and thus protect them from taxation. Pretty safe bet, right? I mean, who besides kleptocrats and conservatives (and what’s the difference, after all?) could oppose that? And yet it turns out that, on closer inspection, Obama left out of the plan a technique known as ‘transfer pricing’, the tax-avoidance tactic that actually accounts for most of the scamming.

This is classic Barackoism: Let’s move real slow. Let’s not offend anyone. Let’s find the most half-way possible measure, and then cut it in half again, just to be sure. Maybe we can bring the Republicans along, even though we don’t need to. Is Wall Street okay with this?

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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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