Wow! What got into Barack Obama?!?!
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This week we saw two behaviors out of him that have been completely absent for his entire presidency. Two attitudinal displays that many of us have been longing to witness for a couple of years now.
First, he's showing some real passion, campaigning hard for a big item on his policy agenda.
And, second, he's using some tough talk against the people who are in his way.
It's great to see. And many of us have long wondered why he never did this before, back when his health care bill was getting savaged, or when we needed someone pounding the bully pulpit to stand up for working people or the unemployed.
Yeah, it's great to see.
Except for one small caveat.
The passion he's finally showing is for a horrific piece of legislation, and the people he's dumping on are his own base.
How great is that, eh? The right can do anything they want to this president, say anything about him they want, personally or politically, and he can't be bothered to hold them remotely accountable for their monstrous excesses. But if the people who actually made him president get angry at being crapped on by their own guy for the umpteenth time, if they finally stand-up and just say no to another sell-out, if they shake their heads in wonder at the dude who once talked about "the fierce urgency of now", well then, by gosh, that right there unleashes his unbridled rage and contempt.
Truth be told, I think his mocking anger -" on full display at his press conference this week -" is driven by shame. Pardon the armchair psychology, but I think he's hiding from his own embarrassment. I think he knows that his mother would not approve of the sell-out he has become. I think he knows that the Barack Obama of just two years ago would not himself approve of the loser occupying his body today. I think he has to transmogrify his shame into rage, and then direct it at those who point out his failings in order to live with his sorry self.
I think, in short, that Obama knows that he is an astonishingly complete coward, a wimp of epic proportions. I think he knows that the product of his cowardice is the wreckage of millions of lives and his own presidency. And I think that is finally just too much to bear, so he has attacked those who, after two years of remarkable forbearance, have finally had enough out of him, and have finally said so.
Obama's actually worse than a coward. Most cowards can at least identify their tormentors. Not President Bendback Overa. How many times will Republicans unanimously oppose his legislation before he figures out that they're not his friends? How many times do they need to literally say out loud that they're committed to his political destruction before he believes that they're committed to his political destruction? How many times does he need to get his butt kicked by them before he stops further empowering these thugs?
And how many times does he need to completely fold and yield to their agenda before he realizes that he's a loser and a joke?
Can you imagine what the last two years have been like within the top echelons of the Republican Party? At first, they must have thought they were toast. They must have figured that they were fighting against the very extinction of the party. They must have known that Bush and Cheney and Rove had driven them to the edge of a cliff. And now here was this new guy, with a new politics, and a hungry and mobilized public rallying behind him. They must have known that if he wanted to, he could give them the final and fatal push over the edge. And he could do so just by telling a few basic truths, so long absent from American politics.
Then, imagine their shock and their stunned glee as they came to realize over time that what they had on their hands was just the opposite of everything they had feared. That Obama was an even weaker pansy than Carter or Clinton or Kerry or Reid. That he was even wimpier than that still, that he was hopelessly predisposed to bargaining with his enemies just for the sake of giving his legislation some sort of jive kumbaya, bipartisan, transcendent, hopey-changey bullshit patina. That you could string the guy along forever. That you could get anything out of him. That you could say anything about him. That he ultimately stood for nothing. That he liked you better than the legions of liberal dupes whom he had fooled into making him president, and for whom he had only sneering, supercilious contempt. Imagine Republican surprise and joy when the guy who looked potentially like the slayer to their former giant turned out instead to be their savior, the naval-gazing punk who snatched resuscitation and historic victory from the jaws of crushing defeat and near annihilation. Imagine their shock and awe when it turned out that the greatest gift the Republican Party ever got was a Democratic president, and not even because of some White House intern sex scandal.
This tax deal that Oweenie just agreed to is an abomination, and it never needed to happen. If you have any doubt about how bad it is, consider solely the fact that the Republicans are in favor of it. Look at Mitch McConnell and John Boehner and the rest of them. These are not your grandfather's Republicans. These are predatory thugs. They have come to Washington to serve the interests of their oligarchic puppet-masters, and nowadays they are capable of taking any action, telling any lie, and savaging any opponent to fulfill that singular agenda. If these folks are for it -" and especially if it involves taxes -" you can safely bet any several of your bodily appendages that the legislation in question is purely evil. Don't worry, you'll emerge fully intact.
If GOP support is not a sufficient barometer of the true nature of this sick dog of a deal, consider that it was bad enough even to wake the somnolent Democrats in Congress out of their slumberous thirty year coma, causing them to rise up and flip a fat bird in the direction of their own Dear Leader. No doubt this new-found independence has something to do with the fact that he just led them over a cliff in last month's election debacle, his "leadership' bequeathing them a gift-wrapped defeat of proportions unseen for nearly a century. But I think there's more than that. Indicators suggest that Democratic members of Congress are actually genuinely furious with the president for the piece of crap he delivered to them, both because if its content and because of the arrogance with which he took them for granted, negotiating with the Yanomami cannibal warriors of the GOP instead, and assuming that members of his own party would have no choice but to go along for the ride. When one member of Congress was defending the president in a speech to his fellow Democrats this week, out of nowhere another actually blurted out, "f*ck the president". I don't think they're just posturing this time.
Nor should they be. This deal is sickening in every respect. And I'm sickened, too, when I hear nice, buttoned-down, safe little liberal sanitary napkin defenders of Obummer defend him by saying, "What did you want him to do? He didn't have the votes." Arrrrggggghhhhh!!!! As if the only two choices a president has are to take a lousy deal or take no deal. As if the president doesn't have the world's biggest bully pulpit with which to sway public sentiment and votes in Congress. As if the public didn't already overwhelmingly support ending tax cuts for the wealthy. As if Obama doesn't have, and hasn't had for two years, giant majorities in both houses of Congress. As if the visage of Republicans kicking the unemployed to the street in order to cater to billionaires couldn't be portrayed as exactly the plutocratic heartless greed that it actually is, if only the president were willing to say so, rather than legitimating these thieves instead through negotiations. As if caving into "hostage-takers" (Neville Quisling Obama's own term) doesn't just encourage them to come back for more. As if, worst case scenario, it isn't better lose on principle sometimes than it is to win in shame. As if thinking you're winning when you're actually badly losing isn't the worst case scenario of all. As if Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush would have just neatly folded their hands together, pursed their lips, noted their regret, and explained that, golly gosh, they just couldn't get what they wanted because the darned votes weren't there.
Barack Obama is an utter failure as a president. In part, that is because his policies are almost entirely as regressive as any and all of George W. Bush's, and regressive policies have been ruining America for thirty years now. Now that the right has brought a once great country to its knees, more of the same is the absolute last thing we need, but that message somehow hasn't gotten to this supposedly Democratic president, who won election precisely on that principle.
But Obama is also a failure because he is a total coward. He fights for nothing. His view of the presidency as some sort of passive, dormant institution that does what it's told to by Congress and otherwise lays low, buffeted this way and that by the winds of circumstance, would have been an excellent fit for any of the benevolent, politically quiet, decades of the nineteenth century. It's a disaster for our time, however, when so much more is expected of presidents, and when the country is now faced with multiple crises.
His cowardice will almost assuredly make him a one-term president. That breaks my heart, I assure you. What's really disastrous, however, is what having such a punk at the helm of the country in this historical moment means for the 98 percent of us who aren't rich and connected. If the election of last month didn't make the point emphatically enough, far worse times are likely ahead of us in the coming years, and my guess is that there'll then be even worse times after that.
The extent of President Milquetoast's capitulations are now becoming the stuff of legend. In the last week alone, he gave us a remarkable record of multiple and thorough assume-the-position-full-on-presidential-reamings, one directly following the next, as his adversaries passed around his rag doll self between them. No wonder regressive New York Times columnist David Brooks declared it had been a good week for Obama.
He stood on the sidelines silently watching as the repeal of the noxious Don't Ask Don't Tell policy went down to destruction. Previously claiming that he opposed the policy and that it would be ended on his watch (despite his administration having gone to court in support of both DADT and the Defense of Marriage Act), it seemingly never occurred to him to get out and fight for its repeal. It doesn't seem to have occurred to him that that's what you're supposed to do with the presidency.
Similarly, his embarrassing efforts to placate the Israelis sufficiently to get them to simply halt their colonialist project for a mere ninety days also blew-up in his face. He had promised to sell them a whole slew of fighter jets, but that was not enough. Then he promised to give them a whole bunch more for free, on top of the original ones. All in exchange for a whopping ninety days worth of a construction halt on an illegal project! This great ally of ours proceeded to laugh in the face of a president whom they fear about as much as Father Christmas. This week it was announced that the Obama administration (or, more accurately, the Obama administered) is now giving up its effort, and along with that goes their much-vaunted peace initiative. It seems never to have occurred to Obambi to actually turn the screws a little bit on the Israelis. Its not like he even needed to use sticks to get his way (god forbid a president should twist arms!). We give so much money and existential security protection to the arrogant Israelis that the president could have even gotten substantial leverage by simply denying them a few of the carrots already in the pipeline. But, gosh, that would be so, so... proactive.
Of course, the worst of it was the deal on taxes, which is so wrong in so many ways it defies words. But I'll try anyhow.
It is wrong, to start with, because this is no tax cut at all. None of them have been, since Reagan started doing this in the 1980s. In fact, if you borrow money in order to fund a tax "cut' -" and what the Republicans got from the president will require massive borrowing to finance it -" what you're really doing is a tax increase. You're still going to have to pay every penny back in taxes, but now you're also going to have to pay back a lot more pennies -" compounding annually -" as well, in the form of interest on those loans. Add it up and it's easy to see that net taxes go way up, not down. So why do the oligarchs want this so badly? Because what it really is is a tax transfer, from them to the rest of us, because it comes back at lower percentage rates for elites then it went out at in the form of tax-avoidance loans. It doesn't seem to have occurred to the president to be concerned about what this means for those of us who are not economic elites. It doesn't seem to have occurred to him to be concerned about what this means for our mountain of national debt that is approaching dangerous levels now. It doesn't even seem to have occurred to him to have publically offered the Republicans his acceptance of their beloved tax "cuts', contingent on them merely showing what expenditures from the federal budget they would cut to pay for them. Not only would this expose the GOP thugs as either deficit frauds or entitlement destroyers, but it would have had the huge political advantage of driving a wedge between the tea party and establishment camps within the GOP. But that would mean that the president might have actually won the battle, so we can't have that now, can we? And, of course, we didn't.
His stupid deal was wrong, secondly, because he held nearly all the cards. He had control of both houses of Congress. He had public opinion solidly behind ending tax rip-offs for millionaires and billionaires. He had the powerful deficit argument against these cuts, and the inability of his opponents to argue against it. He had solid public support for extending unemployment benefits, both on moral grounds and because of their excellent stimulative effect. And he had the default position in his favor. That is, if nothing happened, if they couldn't agree to a deal, if he refused to give in, Republicans lose, when the tax rates expire at the end of this year. With his veto pen, he could prevent them from getting the single thing they most crave in the entire universe for the next two years. He had everything, and all he had to do was show some spine. Oops -" I forgot. It's Barack Obama we're talking about here.
This thing was also wrong because the politics favored the president, and still he folded. On taxes, the only difference between his position and theirs was over tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. On unemployment, they are on record as saying that these meager payments to people suffering badly under George Bush's Great Recession just encourage laziness among recipients. He could have easily prevailed on these fights had he shown the courage to turn them into public relations battles. He could have done long-term damage to the GOP by showing them to be exactly what they are -" a destructive disease willing to do anything to the rest of us in order to better the already rich. Republicans have won politically over and over again by telling enormous lies, simply because nobody stands up to them and speaks the truth. Some political situations are more conducive to that than others (because, my god, they're such good liars), but few as much as this one. Allowing the GOP to paint itself as being precisely as heartless, greedy, deceitful and hypocritical as it actually is would have been a public relations bonanza far exceeding the one Newt Gingrich put on in his display of petulance that undid the party in the 1990s, if only Oworthless would have merely called their bluff. You know you're a sorry thing indeed when the likes of Bill Clinton makes you look weak and regressive by comparison.
Finally, this whole thing is tragically wrong because it is yet another major swing of the wrecking ball in the multi-decade effort to destroy the American welfare state. The fabulously wealthy just absolutely can't stand it that the rest of us should have some moderately decent quality of life instead of all that money getting crammed into their already overstuffed pockets. That's why these sociopaths have been trying for thirty years to unravel the New Deal and more. That means breaking unions, that means trade deals shipping decent jobs overseas, that means changing the tax structure in their favor, that means deregulation, and that means privatization. And what it also means is killing popular entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare the only way that seems possible: by creating a debt crisis that would give politicians plausible political cover for slashing these otherwise untouchable third-rail (you touch it, you die) benefits. It's bad enough to have Republicans work so hard toward that end. Now, in the age of Clinton and Obama, Democrats are every bit as culpable.
Barack Obama is the biggest political wimp to walk the global stage since Neville Chamberlain donned lederhosen and hoisted a beer with the Fuhrer in Munich. Even Chamberlain had an excuse, though. Had the Nazis devoted their full attention to gobbling up Britain, it seemed reasonable at the time to imagine that they could well have succeeded. After all, France would later fall in a mere seven weeks. And, indeed, Chamberlain was canonized at the time for saving his country by means of what looked then like a politically adroit, if highly cynical, deal with the devil.
Obama has no such excuse. He's just a freaking coward, and his cowardice is killing this country. It must be stopped.
If we progressives have learned anything these last two dismal years, it is that an over-reliance on electoral solutions to our problems is a failed strategy, especially when you live in a country with a one-party two-party system. Now, more than ever, we must think of solutions outside the realm of conventional practice.
That said, there's no reason to ignore electoral politics at the same time we are acting elsewhere. The actions -" and, especially, the non-actions -" of this president have made a primary challenger to him coming from the left more than merely something to be contemplated in the face of incontrovertible evidence of his worthless nature.
It is now an absolute necessity.
Russ Feingold, are you listening? Your country is calling.