'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Okey-Doke Presidency (Part 1) 

Over the course of the last week, the liberal narrative of political change has been exposed as a fiction, a creation as illusory as the Mighty Oz. According to this evolving fairy tale of wish fulfillment, the Democratic victories of 2006 and 2008 were part of a generational transformation of American politics, one potentially as important as FDR's victory in 1932. With a savvy new Democratic President to go along with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, the road was now open towards the enactment of creative progressive policies that would overturn much of what had happened since the Reagan admininistration. Liberal and progressive activists who had labored mightily over the last 30 years to create conditions favorable to their social vision were about to reap the rewards of their persistence.

But the events of the first two weeks of December have buried both the prospects and plausibility of such change. If he were alive today, T. S. Eliot would have written that December, not April, is the cruelest month. With his Nobel speech in Oslo today, unabashedly advocating for the continuation of war in the Middle East and Central Asia, Obama put an exclamation mark to a series of events that extinguished any remaining residue hope that Democratic governance would alter the country's economic and military policies. If anything, they have demonstrated that transnational financial instituations and the military industrial complex have intensified their control over them.

On December 1st, Obama gave a speech in which he explained why he was sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. It was remarkable for the sort of fear mongering and dishonesty indelibly associated with Bush and Cheney. He tied the Taliban and the people of Afghanistan to 9/11, without expressly saying it, just as Cheney implied that Saddam Hussein was connected to al-Qaeda, preserving the ability to deny it if challenged. One can only assume that he deliberately refused to acknowledge the actual connection of two American allies, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Just as Cheney evoked the mushroom cloud, the fear that Saddam might obtain nuclear weapons, to justify the invasion of Iraq, Obama revived it in regard to the proximity of Afghanistan to the Pakastani nuclear arsenal. And, finally, just as Bush floated imaginary withdrawal dates to allay public anxiety, Obama did likewise by putting out a withdrawal date of July 2011, a date that was promptly repudiated by his own defense secretary.

It is entirely possible that Obama's Afghanistan speech will be remembered as a seminal episode, a slow motion lighting strike in which the inevitable failure of his administration flashed through the public mind, a squandering of all the goodwill that he had accumulated over the course of his life in politics. During mass campaign rallies on the eve of Super Tuesday in 2008, Obama exhorted his supporters not to fall for the okey-doke, slang for the ways in which politicians consciously manipulate people to vote for them by asserting a similarity of perspective that doesn't really exist. Now, we have an administration and a Congress that can only communicate by recourse to the okey-doke, and people are wise to it.

Obama's Afghanistan speech was, however, only the beginning. On Monday night, December 7th, it was announced that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had reached a deal that would get the stalled health care reform bill out of the Senate. Predictably, the abandonment of the public option, so prized by progressives as a means of getting costs under control, is an essential feature of the deal, and House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi is OK with it. Shockingly, it is now Thursday afternoon in California, and the Senate has yet to release the terms of the deal, or the language of the bill that incorporates it. The President knows, the Senators know, their staffers know and, most likely, lobbyists associated with health insurance companies, health care providers and pharmaceutical companies know . . . but the public does not. Just as a California state budget that cut services to millions of California residents was determined in secret Gang of Five meetings, and then rammed through both houses for the Governor's signature, the provisions of the health care reform bill are being decided by 10 Senators, after months and months of committee hearings and votes that have been reduced to a meaningless form of political theatre. Of course, the President has remained as invisible as possible during this process.

Now, it is being rumored that, upon the passage of the bill by the Senate, the bill will be force fed to the House whole, subject to a straight up or down vote, without reconciling the House and Senate versions of the bill in conference. Hence, the inconvenience of having to deal with a House bill that includes a timid public option is eliminated, at the price of reducing the deliberations of the entire House to nothing more than a rubber stamp for the Senate and the President. No need to worry, though, the members have been able to accumulate a lot of irrelevant votes that will serve the purpose of getting them re-elected in November 2010, or so they think. They seem to be blissfully unaware of the electoral tsunami that looms just over the horizon. Meanwhile, there are early warning signs that the impetus for financial reform is going down the same road as health care reform, yet another progressive issue of concern about to exploited for the benefit of finance capitalists and their electoral retainers.

And, then, over in a small, dark corner, there is the Obama administration response to what has happened in Honduras. After months and months of passivity in the face of a June coup that deposed the elected President of the country, after perpetual efforts to obtain a face saving resolution that would allow the rightist coup participants to prevail while permiting the leftist President to serve out the few remaining days his term as a figurehead, the administration threw in the towel on December 4th and urged the other countries of the hemisphere to accept the outcome of an election carried out by a coup regime that has frequently imposed curfews and martial law. The administration did so despite accounts of systematic fraud that concealed a low turnout of less than 50% generated by the opposition's refusal to participate. In Oslo, in Washington, D. C. in Tegucigalpa, the month of December has revealed a remarkable consistency in the policies of this presidency and its party in Congress.

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