Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Whither Obama

The following is my response to comments from a friend regarding my last post.

My response in blue


Thanks for your efforts to see the bright side of Obama while criticizing his position on Afghanistan. It is my feeling that he is caught in the vice of a culture which has forsaken intelligent discourse and his own "arc of history" theories.

Vice – Vise, in this case pretty much the same, but it’s in large part of his own making.

The dilemma the Left faces at this time is that their (our?) man cannot simply try to lift the locomotive from one set of tracks to the other without revealing his impotence.

He has in a sense chosen impotence, maybe thinking he’s not up to the choice of change and maybe, as you point out in the next sentence, he thinks we will get there at some point and he will be able to manifest his true feelings and political positions. There is a small part of me that thinks this is the case and at some stage he will become what we voted for, but only a small part.

To continue this set of muddled metaphors, it is obvious that he believes there is a cross-over switch somewhere on down the line and when we get there, we will get there. Thus his stance on Afghanistan and gay rights and, to a large degree, Health Care reform. In the meantime, we cannot stop the momentum of the past 8 years entirely. And simply slowing the Bush Train can seem like just more of the same, which it is by virtue of the rails it is on.

Correct except he has purposely chosen to maintain many, if not most of the worst Bush policies, now embracing them as his own: Spying, Habeas Corpus, two wars, feeding banks while the common folk starve; and in the Bush tradition, impunity for constitution maulers, insurance reform designed to protect company profits, standing by Israel in spite of its war crimes and dastardly treatment of the Palestinian people, even though that goes against the best interests of the US and Israel, as well as majority opinion in the US. Those are just a few amongst many other capitulations he’s made to vested authority.

Clearly any elected leader is governed by electors who may give or deny their consent at any point, rendering their ultimate verdict during an election. Obama is no different. Of course, it is often pointed out that true leadership---strong leadership---is brave and heedless of mere public opinion, even to the point of disregarding the imperative to stay in power, even to the point of undressing in public if necessary.

Good analogy, except in this case it falls flat since Obama is going against public opinion in the wrong direction. He’s sloughing off the will of the public to serve the rotten and beaten-down opposition in a way that lifts the opposition and dumps on his constituency. Public opinion strongly supports single-payer health care, withdrawing from Afghanistan, fair treatment of the Palestinians, opposition to bank bailouts, justice for constitutional law breakers.

True leadership is heedless of the wrath of the fat cats, he bows down to them in obeisance. FDR had as great a mandate as any president, but still had to fight tooth and nail against regressive forces. The banksters who brought down the world economy in 1929 put out everything in their power to stymie or emasculate his program, but because he fought and fought hard and had the people on his side, they were powerless to stop him. Obama, in contrast, has decided that the banksters deserve to be coddled so has given them everything they could ask for; plying them with taxpayer money, letting them off the hook for meaningful regulation, exempting the wealthy from having to pay their fair share of taxes. Didn’t have to be that way.

There also desperately needs to be a financial truth commission, a breaking up of the biggest banks, a tax on stock transactions, a return to the separation of retail banking from speculative banking and an assurance that no bank is too big to fail. If the latter especially doesn’t happen there will almost certainly be another bubble to burst. The banksters are already back in the business of excessive speculation; this time on the taxpayer dime. And making big-time bonuses off the rise in stocks. The latter spike in stock prices created, I might add, from the wealthy having too much money to play with. Too much money needing a purpose creates bidding competitions and causes prices to rise.

There needs to be a total change in the organization of banking that leaves the current banking system for business and big money individuals and creates an alternative system of credit unions designed for citizen banking. There also needs to be a philosophical change away from easy credit - including a strong social push against high-interest credit – towards saving and responsible borrowing.

To a considerable extent this was the nature of the Bush Administration, especially in the case of Dick Cheney. To an amazing extent, this highly aggressive leadership accomplished a great deal of what it set out to accomplish. I am reminded of this period being marked by virtually daily assaults on the Constitution.

Leadership creates results, even when it gets there by stealing two elections.

But obviously some of these more draconian changes were so radical they have had a problem becoming "traditional." All governance is, in some important ways, a reflection of the governed. My reading of history tells me that even out-and-out dictatorships and authoritarian regimes must keep their ear to the ground constantly about public opinion. They have always feared the impatience of The People---and with good reason. During the Reign of Terror something like 17,000 aristocrats (and other hapless bystanders) came away from the guillotines without so much as a head. Leadership can suddenly become a target for rotten eggs and pitch forks. And yet the siren call of leadership is almost irresistible to those inclined to seek it.

Another person who commented on my last post talked of revolution. The Declaration of Independence spoke of the people taking things in their own hands when they received no proper redress of their concerns from their government. While I’m not in the States to properly gauge the mood, it seems to me most of the people who have skin in the protest game (not even talking about revolution) are wingnuts of the Neanderthal persuasion, and no offence to our prehistoric cousins. Where is the anger? Where are the street fighting men/women?

I’m not quite in favor of the guillotine for congresspeople who don’t support single-payer health care but I do think that progressives should make it clear they will strive to defeat any legislator who doesn’t pledge to support it with their votes, no matter what the consequences. When legislators know the people are serious about reform, they will serve the people.

It is clear that all the major decisions facing Obama in the foreseeable future involve enormous political risks for the future of his presidency. If he quits Afghanistan in a way that can be construed as precipitous he will be vulnerable to criticism for being too "soft" by vast numbers of Americans still clinging to their cherished notions of military and nationalistic prestige.

Yes but he will be on the right side of history and be expressing the will of the majority; and especially the majority who elected him.

On the other hand, if he lingers there and the losses continue to increase, he will be vulnerable to criticism from the Left who harbor their own warm images of lions and lambs lying together.

The left as well as the majority. Most people on the left recognize that there are times when war is absolutely necessary. But also don’t harbor the romantic view of war held by the right.

Thus we see how narrow the options are at this moment, regardless of the actual reality of what we face regarding geopolitical relationships. So what should he do?

He should represent his constituency, the people who elected him based on his campaign promises. He should fight like hell for what he knows is right. If that includes playing hardball with reluctant corporate-lackey Dems, so be it. Begging for support from Repugs is stupid when the opposition acts like rabid pit bulls and your own party has an overwhelming mandate.

As I see it, it is almost pointless to critique this or any leader unless the cultural milieu is brought into the analysis. How do leaders in a (nominally) democratic political culture navigate these forces, especially when they involve intense domestic policies (Health Care reform), always the most difficult issues as they pit brother against brother---a recipe for carnage if ever there was one. The Cain and Abel syndrome.

As you mentioned previously, leadership is the key. A leader takes the popular will and turns it into reality. A leader isn’t so much interested in everybody liking him or her but serving the greater good. Compromising on health care to the point of watering it down to worthlessness in order to make it acceptable to the insurance industry is not the mark of a leader.

Some people think his policies will result in a one-term presidency, with the country back in the hands of a moronic Repug party. I don’t think so, but it’s a possibility that all should fear. In spite of how bad he may be, he’s an angel compared to the opposition, who will, without the least compunction, steal the next election if it’s remotely close.

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