There were some of us -- indeed, many of us, myself included -- who thought there was a possibility that Barack Obama might seize this moment of American crisis, twinned with the complete failure for all to see of the regressive agenda, to become the second coming of Franklin Roosevelt.
That's certainly his prerogative, and at this point I wish him all the worst of luck in whatever comes next. Since I never assumed he would be a progressive once elected, any bitterness that I feel is not rooted in his failure to become the new FDR. However, I am irate that, in domain after domain, President Obama has become the personification of the very Bush administration policies that Candidate Obama so roundly criticized. And I feel deep hostility toward him about the betrayal of legions of voters -- especially the young -- who believed his message of hope and thought they were getting a president on their side, not Wall Street's.
More on that in another column. Right now, the question is what comes next? The Obama presidency is probably already toast, though of course anything can happen in three or seven years. But he is on a crash course for a major clock cleaning and, what's worse, he doesn't seem to have it remotely within him to seize history by the horns and steer that bull in his preferred direction. Indeed, near as I can tell, he doesn't even have a preferred direction.
Obama was complete fool if he ever believed for a moment that his campfire kumbaya act was going to bring the right along behind him. Even s'mores wouldn't have helped. These foaming-at-the-mouth lunatics have completely lost all sense and proportion, and were bound to viscerally hate any president left of Cheney, let alone some black guy in their white house. Meanwhile, centrist voters in this country seem pretty much only to care about taxes and spending, and so he's lost them, too, without the slightest rhetorical fight in his own defense. And he's blown off a solid progressive base by spitting in their eyes at every imaginable opportunity, beginning with the formation of his cabinet, ranging through every policy decision from civil rights to civil liberties to foreign policy to healthcare, and culminating with his choice not to even mobilize his email database in support of his policies.
There is the possibility that Obama could change course significantly, just as Bill Clinton did in 1995, following the mid-term election in which his most astute political stewardship managed to turn both houses of Congress over to the Republican Party. But Clinton turned to the right and became just a less snarly version of the Republicans, while Obama is already there. I don't really think he could conceivably turn further rightward at this point, and I don't think he has anywhere near the guts to turn to the left and do what he should have done in the first place.
What all this suggests to me is that Obama and his party will manage by 2012 to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and return the GOP -- and probably an even nastier version of it than the Bush-Cheney junta, at that -- to power. It suggests that the Democrats, who were riding high six months ago over an all but destroyed Republican Party, will be switching places with them within three years time, if not sooner -- and all because of their own cowardice, corruption and ineptitude. This outcome is hardly inevitable, but it is fast approaching. Looking out over the horizon, I see five key factors most likely to effect the health and longevity of the Obama administration, and not one of them looks positive.
The eight-hundred pound gorilla rummaging around in the kitchen right now is the economy. Indeed, this factor alone could readily swamp the combined effect of all the others, particularly if it swings dramatically in one direction or another. My guess, as a non-economist (which, of course, only means that I have a better shot at an accurate prediction than the economists do), is that the economy will exhibit some substantial signs of growth over the next three years. But I suspect the recovery will be tepid, even according to establishment measures such as GDP growth or the state of the Dow. More importantly, I strongly suspect that this will be another jobless recovery, like the last ones we've had, and that the new mean standard of living for the middle class will be pretty mean indeed, significantly diminished compared to what people were already struggling to hold on to when the Great Recession began. Personally, I think if American history teaches us anything at all about presidential elections, it is that for an incumbent president this is more or less the worst possible scenario imaginable upon which to go asking the public to punch his ticket again. Americans vote their pocketbook, and that alone is likely to be the kiss of death for Obama's second term aspirations.
Meanwhile, of course, he's also chosen to put healthcare reform on the table as the signature legislative initiative probably of his entire presidency. That's fine, but watching him in action I sometimes wonder if this clown really and actually wants a second term. I mean, if you had asked me in January, "How could Obama bungle this program most thoroughly?", I would have written a prescription that varies little from what we've observed over the last eight months: Don't frame the issue, but instead let the radical right backed by greedy industry monsters do it, on the worst possible terms for you. And to you. Don't fight back when they say the most outrageous things about your plan. In fact, don't even have a plan. Let Congress do it. Better yet, let the by-far-and-away-minority party have an equal voice in the proceedings, even if they ultimately won't vote for the bill under any circumstances, and even while they're running around trashing it and you in the most egregious terms. Have these savages negotiate with a small group of right-wing Democrats, all of them major recipients of industry campaign donations. Blow off your base completely. Cut secret sweetheart deals with the Big Pharma and Big Insurance corporate vampires. Build a communications strategy around a series of hapless press conferences and town hall meetings, waiting until it's too late to give a major speech on the issue. Set a timetable for action and then let it slip. Indicate what you want in the bill but then be completely unclear about whether you necessarily require those things. Travel all over the world doing foreign policy meet-and-greets. Go on vacation in the heat of the battle. Rinse and repeat.
Altogether, it's an astonishingly perfect recipe for getting rolled, so much so that I'm not the first person to have wondered out loud if that was actually the president's intention all along. Look at this freaking fool. Now look at the guy who ran a letter-perfect, disciplined, textbook, insurgent, victorious campaign for the White House. Can they possibly be the same person? And, since they obviously are, is there possibly another explanation for this disaster besides an intentional boot? I dunno. But what I do know is this. Obama's very best-case scenario for healthcare legislation right now represents a ton of lost votes in 2010 and 2012. And the worse that scenario gets, the worse he and his party do. But even a 'success' in the months ahead will produce a tepid bill, a mistrustful public, an inflamed and unanswered radical right, and a mealy-mouthed new government program that doesn't even begin to go online until 2013. A real vote-getter that, eh?
Which brings us to a third major electoral liability for Obama. Human beings, by and large, like to be led. They like their leaders to inspire their confidence -- even when doing so takes the form of the most fantastically shallow dress-up kind of blowhard buffonery, Ã la George W. Bush -- so that they don't have to think too much about how little personal confidence they themselves actually possess. Obama is the complete antithesis of this model of the presidency. He is Harry Reid's incontinent grandmother as president. He is Neville Chamberlain's squirrely little nephew knocking sh*t over in the Oval Office while he plays "Mr. President", in-between episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants. He is a bowl of Jell-O. That someone forgot to put in the fridge. He exhibits no competence as a chief executive. He inspires no confidence as a national leader. And, increasingly, his credibility is coming into question. Who wants to vote for that?
As if all that weren't enough, Obama is probably also sitting on several national security powder kegs -- including Guanta'namo, which he is unlikely to close; Iraq, which he is unlikely to leave; and Afghanistan, which he is unlikely to win. The latter in particular has now become his war, and lately it is smelling a lot like Vietnam, circa 1964. An decades-long struggle against a popular nationalist adversary. Endless calls from the Pentagon for more troops. Incredibly inhospitable terrain for fighting a war. An American-made puppet government hated for its corruption and for its gross incompetence at every task other than raw predation. Mmmm-mmm. What a yummy stew. Haven't dined on that fine cuisine since 1975. And what another great vote-getter to add to this sorry list, eh?
Put it all together and it's pretty hard to see how Obama gets a second term. Which can mean only one thing: We're looking at a Romney or a Palin or some sort of similar monster as the next president, despite the fact that their party was absolutely loathed only a year ago, and actually still is today. It won't matter. People will be voting against the incumbent, not for any candidate, and that will leave only one viable choice, especially for centrist and right-wing voters. Whoever wins the Republican nomination will be the next president, crushing Obama in the general election (assuming he survives the Democratic primaries). And that's a particularly scary notion, since the party's voting base who will make that choice in the Republican primaries is the same crowd you've seen featured all this summer at town hall meetings. Olympia Snowe is not going to be the Republican nominee in 2012. Know what I mean?