The mid-term elections ended recently with the terminally spineless Democrats and Invertebrate-in-Chief President getting a well-deserved drubbing. The audacity of hope? Nope! Rather, endless white flagged surrender on almost every issue crucial to the wellbeing and survival of the middle class and the poor: The public option in healthcare? Surrender. Rigorous Wall street regulation? Surrender. Workers right to organize unions in workplaces? Surrender. Outsourcing middle class jobs? Surrender. Renegotiation of mortgages to forestall foreclosures? Surrender. Major climate legislation? Surrender. And now it looks like the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy will be extended--the worst surrender of all.
Obama's hopelessly compromised presidency has two intimately intertwined root causes: First, upon his election he failed to launch an investigation of the Bush White House for its shredding of the Constitution with torture, imprisonment without due process, spying on citizens, conducting an illegal and immoral war under false pretenses--and for a warehouse full of other deceptions and violations of American and international law. Second, he failed to frame today's Republican Party as the utterly destructive un-American force it has become through its total subservience to the corporations and the super rich, deceptively framed as the "free market," in tandem with its brilliantly Machiavellian use of anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and other fear-mongering wedge issues meant to dupe people into opposing their own economic interests.
The back story for Obama's failure is that for over 30 years since Reagan, and wildly accelerating with Bush junior, the overriding goal of the far right has been to dismantle American democracy, civil rights, and ultimately the public civic order itself. The key to this strategy has been to dramatically expand the corporatization and rightward shift of major media (most notably FOX) as abetted by billionaire-funded think tanks (e.g. the Heritage Foundation) to serve as tools and fronts to stigmatize and discredit liberalism. Throughout our history liberalism has informed and motivated the struggle to deepen and extend America's founding democratic ideals and egalitarian populist social contract vis-a-vis slavery, child labor, racial and gender equity, workers rights and protection, the minimum wage, the 40 hour week, paid vacations, Social Security, Medicare, and a host of other issues. The far right's draconian and insidious strategy also has
centrally focused on starving all levels of government until, as right wing spokesman Grover Norquist put it, the government becomes so small it can be dragged into the bathroom and drowned in the bathtub. Of course a fully corporatized military would continue to command what was left of the Federal government's budget. That's what the far right's "small government" rhetoric really means. Its endgame is to enable the unregulated corporations to fully "privatize" and thus gain total(itarian) control over American society.
From the start Obama has used the language of liberalism to coopt the left while hiring center to right corporatists to run his administration (e.g., Emanuel, Gates, Summers, Geitner, et al), thus continuing the core policy logic of his predecessor--despite the crazy disingenuous cries from the right about "socialism." Accordingly, he has proceeded to pander and cave in to the Republican Party on almost every issue important to the wellbeing of the American people. By so "compromising," while being falsely painted as a leftist, Obama also has damaged the American left, such as it is, for at least a generation. Truth be told, a leftward orientation provides the only viable approach to America's plight in the long run--as current history is revealing. But the heavily indoctrinated American people don't understand this yet, if ever. Many have been miseducated to have little insight beyond personalistic "hunches" and impressions of political candidates and parties. Right wing ideology has been cunningly employed to scare and confuse people, putting them at sea without an adequate political compass to make sense of the issues--the better to be ruled without a fuss. Still, if one takes the time to unpack and explain the key issues one by one, most people, even those self-identified as conservative or independent, turn out to be quite liberal in their views.
The fact is the Republican Party, having been discredited for causing the near destruction of the American economy, was on its death bed in 2008. So what did Obama do as soon as he took office? He administered CPR when he should have pushed its dying body over the cliff as the un-American monster it had become. Instead, he did everything in his power to lend legitimacy to the Republicans, starting with the healthcare issue, as he offered one olive branch after another while they mercilessly attacked him. Now the evil Republican monster drunk on poison tea is back and rampaging through society in the form of utterly alienated, empathy-challenged zombies.
What hurts me most as a college teacher is that Obama's feckless behavior has destroyed the hope he inspired in America's youth during his campaign. Most of my students, so awakened and energized in 2008, have turned away in disgust from politics and civic engagement. In fact millions of people of all ages feel betrayed and are deeply disappointed. I myself am grieving over what I fear marks the likely end of the America the Founders so hopefully created. That America seems so over to me. Both the Republican and Democratic Parties, most decidedly since the unconscionable Citizens United Supreme Court decision opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate money in American elections, are now virtually wholly owned subsidiaries of the corporate elite. Our only remaining hope may be to work to create a truly liberal third party movement that honestly and totally serves the common good. This would be a long uphill climb, no doubt predicated on entirely publicly financed elections, but there may be no other way forward.
The governing Obama has done an 180 degree turn from the campaigning Obama in almost all areas, including not only issues of social policy, but--most amazing of all--even with regard to his ability to communicate to the American people.
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His fantastic transformation conjures up images from the movie, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." What explains Obama's puzzling behavior? I see three possible explanations: 1. He was always a center right corporatist and has consciously functioned as a "Trojan Horse" for the American corporatocracy; 2. He is delusional in ways analogous to Battered Wife or Stockholm Syndrome; 3. Most darkly, he and his family's lives have been threatened to "play ball or else."
I don't know the right answer. I do know that I am led to consider that Barack Obama, not George Bush, may prove to be the worst president in American history because he enabled the final destruction of this great experiment in democracy.
You've done a "heckuva job" President Obama. I fear the "Night of the Living Dead" has arrived.
Resident sociologist at Marist College in Poughkeepsie New York since 1993, and co-director of Public Praxis Project since 1996. Author of numerous articles, op-ed pieces, and (1990)book, Mirrors of Madness;currently working on, Entering the Light: (more...