As his final year in office approaches, this unresolved question of Obama's actual legacy is still under serious discussion. Solid new evidence is being marshaled and publicized about Obama's actions and inactions that directly conflict with the images floated upon his lofty words, and political ruses.
2. Obama's True Genius for the Job
Obama worked in the professional activist sector. He knows how it works. The activists who have supported him carry part of the responsibility for misinforming Democratic voters. Now, before he leaves office, they need Obama to throw them some bone they can market as a victory. Obama knows that in response to his delay, the activists will gnaw that bone until there is no policy meat left on it of any real consequence. Consequences are not an important concern of soundbitten politics so long as there is an appearance of substance to be sold to donors. When all the meat is finally chewed away by competing activists is where Obama comes in. When he finally responds to the crescendo of demands it will appear that Obama must have done something important, without him actually delivering more than a soundbite. It is in the interest of professional activists to market that soundbite as true, and truly important.
An organization tied to Prof. Larry Lessig, who has wasted millions of donated dollars on a series of " unhelpful " and downright " absurd " strategies, has surprisingly issued an incomplete but still useful report revealing Obama as a highly effective fraud, not an ineffective idealist. For one narrow subset of piecemeal campaign finance reforms, mainly focused on the recently popular demand for disclosure of "dark money," this report catalogs Obama's litany of broken promises, reversals, buck passing, empty diversionary rhetoric, and appointments of functionaries for whom use of existing executive authority for anti-corruption purposes was "not a priority," although Obama's campaign promised it would be.
Disclosure is the bare bone of a soundbite strategy that activists plying this campaign finance silo market to the public as if it would do a job that it cannot. Disclosure of dark money is not an effective remedy where corruption is so systemic that all politicians are in the pocket of plutocrats. Disclosing that fact does not empower voters. They already know it, but have been guided to no effective strategy to deal with it by the Lessigs of the world. Measuring gradations of corruption is futile. When a rare Sanders appears to actually take up the fight against the corrupt system it does not take disclosure to determine his authenticity.
The report from Lessig's organization about Obama's refusal to throw the activists even this tiny bone, with a pat on the head they could market, refrains from using any variants of the word "lie." But it does demonstrate that Obama's blame of Republicans for his own executive inaction is a deliberate pretext to evade his own direct responsibility for the significant worsening on his watch of both the future scope for and the current fact of systemic, legalized, political corruption. He used that excuse again in approving the Influence Peddlers Protection Act of 2015, formally known as the Consolidated Appropriations Act. Again he can say "the Republicans made me do it" while he kept his veto pen in his pocket.
Obama's pattern of polished deception is not limited to the issue of money in politics. On numerous issues the expert verdict returned after analysts penetrate the PR fog around such matters as the Obama surveillance state, government transparency and whistleblowers, food safety and Monsanto, too big to fail impunity, and so forth, to get to the reality of his actions is repeatedly: "worse than Bush." Obama exemplifies the finding of researchers that Democrats give more bang for the plutocrat's buck. See Cooper, et al., Corporate Political Contributions and Stock Returns. By disarming gullible Democrats, it turns out, he can get more done for plutocrats than Republicans can by inciting them to opposition.
Another example of some recent interest was an Obama PR initiative wrongly praised by the head of a Lessig organization to flatteringly contrast the "dark money" betrayal described in the above-mentioned report with Obama's otherwise "principled" and "bold executive action" on other issues, like climate change. The specific example was the Keystone XL Pipeline controversy. Obama very publicly vetoed an element of Keystone XL with great fanfare. It was heralded as an epic victory by the various professional activists who have been working and raising money within that particular non-profit business silo. Obama proclaimed as a great environmentalist.
What avoided the slobbering fanfare was the fact that the Alberta tar sands Pipeline to the Gulf Coast had already been largely built under Obama's unpublicized executive orders, and was already operative when he announced his veto of an inessential Keystone XL component of the pipeline infrastructure. An expert on the issue reports that "gamblers in this casino we call the oil and gas industry have already largely won this [Keystone] fight, even as activists have declared what Obama nixed to be a major victory." One might wonder what table stakes produced these gamblers' winnings, and if there was a surcharge by the house to hide their victory from the adoring public.
Obama then followed up his pipeline decision by helping to manage through Congress the 2015 Christmas gifts for special interests bill by which Obama got Congress to prevent him from controlling dark money, powers he had refused to use for nearly six years, but was increasingly criticized for not using as described above.
In an excellent piece, Steve Horn describes how a major global warming provision " to end the 40-year export ban" on petroleum was added to the Influence Peddlers Protection Act of 2015. Obama should have vetoed this Act as offensive to the legislative process, as well as for violating his Paris agreement. He only had to announce that he would only sign a clean bill, without the favors for special interets. But instead he co-produced and propagandized on behalf of this travesty of the legislative process, giving a rare solo press conference to make it all sound normal. Just keep moving, nothing to see here. A process that last year the Washington Post described as a " caricature of the deliberative process by which Congress is supposed to approve appropriations," this year becomes in Obama's telling "typical of American democracy." Typical in the systemically corrupted American democracy.
This is just one
more example of Obama deception that confirms West' s
general "counterfeit" verdict and what Glen Ford has
called not the lesser but "the more
effective evil." The Obama pattern of deception has been long
understood, even prior to such early book length indictments like
Roger D. Hodge, Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal
of American Liberalism (2010). But the Keystone XL story is also
an example of another familiar mechanism of contemporary politics: how
professional activists peddle disinformation for money, such as in
this case by pretending they won some soundbite
campaign which was so shallow in substance that
the activists either never noticed they had actually lost or just
went right on raising money anyway after it was all but over.
Obama's actual conduct will only be shown to be the opposite of what this manipulated first impression purveyed to the public when the folklorists are forced to either admit that tar sands oil is reaching the Gulf Coast right now at record levels through existing pipelines approved by Obama, as well as American oil now being exported for the first time since Jimmy Carter, or they just move on to their next fundraising project with a collective "never mind." The media will not be reporting in either event, and the big lie will prevail that Obama stood up for his belief in global survival when it counted and negotiated a really democratic deal with Ryan.
The dishonest hyping of Obama's pipeline theatrics demonstrates how soundbite activists help provide political cover for "a president who has allowed more domestic drilling and more pipelines to be laid and permitted across the United States than perhaps any other in U.S. history and certainly in modern U.S. history." Here is found yet another of those many informed verdicts of "worse than Bush," even on the Bushes' home turf of oil.