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Who Will Be There For Obusha, When The Floor Drops Out?

By       Message David Michael Green     Permalink
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For months now, I’ve been wondering if Barack Obama would turn out to be another FDR – a bold and progressive figure who was the right match to the crises of his time – or another Bill Clinton – a pathetic sell-out who was the right match for little beyond pursuing his personal eight-year joy-ride at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Now I’m wondering if I haven’t been asking the wrong question altogether. Maybe the real mystery is whether Mr. Yes We Can will be another Bill Clinton or, gulp, another George W. Bush.

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It’s true, Obama has already made a few quasi-progressive decisions, such as removing some of the insanity from American foreign aid for reproductive health and beginning the process to close down Guantánamo.

That’s well enough, and I give credit where it’s due – though I wouldn’t exactly describe these as bold moves.

I didn’t have high expectations that Obama would turn out to be Eugene Debs, come back from socialist heaven (Stockholm?), and so I can’t say that I’m surprised he’s not. But I am pretty shocked and disgusted at some of the decisions we’ve seen so far, including many that Dick Cheney would have little problem praising (in some cases, because Cheney made them originally).

That’s just too much. And it’s also insulting to progressives who worked hard to put this guy in office, believing – minimally – that he was a better choice than either another Clinton or anything the Neanderthal Party would drag out. I can’t say that I donated a lot of my hours or cash to Obama’s campaign, and yet – just the same – I’m already feeling cheap, dirty and used by what I’m seeing.

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The cabinet is a starting place. Like many of the terminally hopeful, I’ve been saying for a while that it doesn’t matter so much who goes in the cabinet, it matters who makes the decisions. This is mostly true, with about one-and-a-half caveats. The half-caveat is that a smart cabinet secretary can take advantage of a president who is out to lunch, like Bush and Reagan were. I suspect Obama won’t often be accused of that during his presidency, though I’ll confess that looking at the rollout of the economic stimulus program, and the rollout of the administration itself, this last month, I am way less impressed with the basic competence of these folks than I expected to be – whatever their politics.

But, the other major caveat is the symbolism of cabinet choices. Why was it necessary to put three Republicans in it? And, so far, not a single confirmed progressive? Cabinet choices are usually as much emblematic as they are truly administrative. We have to assume that real policy decisions come from the White House, and that most fools in the cabinet will at least be able to get through four years of making speeches without completely crashing the department, while their deputy actually runs the show (notable exceptions noted and excepted, of course). So presidents therefore use their cabinet in part to make a statement, pay off some political debts, and placate groups within their coalition. So far, so bad, ‘cause the main statement I’m getting from the picks of this yet-another-nominally-Democratic president is “Hard to starboard, matey”.

But take a look at some of Obama’s policy decisions in his first month in office, and it gets considerably worse from there. Even today, months after the election is done with, Mr. Obama is out on the stump saying things like, “You didn’t send us to Washington because you were hoping for more of the same. You sent us there to change things.”

That’s a big 10-4, good buddy. So how come, then, you keep turning to Wall Street pirates to run your economic program? It was bad enough that you’ve subjected us to Timothy Geithner to run the Treasury and lead your recovery effort. In addition to being a tax cheat and already demonstrably in over his head, this fool is a protégé of both Henry Kissinger and Robert Rubin. In addition to being part of the brain trust that blew the Lehman Brothers rescue decision, he also presided over the original TARP mass looting of the already stinking corpse of the federal treasury. That would be a pretty impressive resume if one intended to earn his living on his back, wearing a coat and tie. However, I thought we were talking about a Treasury Secretary here?

More to the point, though, this guy is the beginning of this particular ugliness, not the end. Last week, the New York Times reported that, “Senior executives at Citigroup’s Alternative Investment division ran up hundreds of millions of dollars in losses last year on their esoteric collection of investments, including real estate funds and private highway construction projects — even as they collected seven-figure salaries and bonuses. Now the Obama administration has turned to that Citigroup division — twice — for high-level advisers.” Oh boy.

What a shock, then, that even while Obama was pretending to show a wee flash of anger at corporate predators partying on the public nickel the other week, his administration was busy eviscerating the pathetic limitations on compensation it was barely applying in the first place. By the time you get through reading all the caveats, you realize that the $500,000 salary limitation applies to almost no one, and means almost nothing when it comes to those it does apply to. But that’s only the third best part of this charade, however. The second best is that even these absolutely paper-thin sanctions on the compensation of executives of failed corporations now sucking the federal teat first have to be approved by a vote of shareholders in order to apply. But – and this is my very favorite part – did I mention that the vote is non-binding?

It actually gets even worse, yet. Now the AP is reporting that, in the wake of Congress’ stimulus legislation (and you know what bloody socialists those folks are!), the Obama team is looking to play extra-super-double-sweet nicey-nice with the pirates from Corporate Wonderland: “Facing a stricter approach to limiting executive bonuses than it had favored, the Obama administration wants to revise that part of the stimulus package even after it becomes law, White House officials said Sunday”. Obama doesn’t want compensation restrictions to apply to all banks on the government dole. Rather, CEOs who crashed those companies and are now living off the taxpayers they spent decades deriding from the vaunted perch of the free market ideological soapbox can still take all they want, thank you very much, unless they are among the unlucky infinitesimally few getting “exceptional assistance” from Barack, Inc.

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Apparently, there is some concern that Obama will take Congress’ bill and just do whatever he wants with it. You know, kinda like what’s-his-name just got done doing for eight years. Never fear, though. Barney “The Enforcer” Frank, and his posse of Democrats led by Sheriff Nancy are on the job. Congressman Frank told CBS the other day: “This is not an option. This is not, frankly, the Bush administration, where they’re going to issue a signing statement and refuse to enforce it.” Given that, seemingly by his own admission, Democrats in Congress will do nothing to reign in imperial presidents, Congressman Frank neglected to mention exactly what would prevent Obama from doing just what Bad Barney had been allowing Belligerent Bush to do for eight years. Call me cynical, but something tells me that a congressman from Massachusetts saying “This is not an option” isn’t going to make the White House tremble in fear, even if they are Democrats there (and only some of them are), and have pretty much long ago gone pro with the whole trembling thing.

Meanwhile, apparently it was young Master Geithner who led the successful battle within the administration not to take away potential third and fourth yachts from the nice men on Wall Street who have caused a global economic holocaust, now reportedly already responsible for 50 million (no, that is not a typo) job losses worldwide. He does make a good point, of course. If you don’t pay these people well, how can you attract such fine talent? Imagine how bad this global depression would be if the average S&P 500 CEO compensation in 2007 had been, say, a mere $12 million, instead of the $14.2 million it actually was! Boy, we’d really have a bad economy now! And don’t you just feel great that Obama is listening to as sharp a mind as Geithner? This is a cat who – in addition to apparently being an arrogant and capricious manager of his staff – opened his mouth for five minutes the other day and caused the stock market’s value to shrink by 4.6 percent. Let’s see here... Arrogance, gross incompetence, flack for the overclass...? Golly, could there actually be four Republicans in the cabinet? Do we actually know for sure that this Geithner guy is a Democrat? Would it matter if he was?

As bad as all this is, I wish I could say that my problem with Obama is just that he is yet another president of the wealthy, by the wealthy, and for the wealthy. Unfortunately, there’s more. There was ol’ Joe Biden, for example, off to Munich for a big security conference, talking about how the Obama administration will continue Ronald Reagan’s dream of missile defense, the ultimate defense industry boondoggle. Never mind that, even if it ever worked, and at astronomical costs which wrecked the lives of tens of millions who didn’t get education or healthcare instead, any terrorist smart enough to build a nuke or determined enough to buy one would also be clever enough to put the thing on a boat and sail it up the Potomac. This is a trillion dollar gift of public funds to the arms industry that just can’t seem to get buried. I think Reagan knew that. But why doesn’t Obama? Or – far worse – likely he does.

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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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