As you may be aware, Matt Stoller’s most recent Salon column and other progressive critical perspectives, including my own, have met with some heavy outrage when they suggested the possibiity that the Democrats and POTUS weren’t exactly interested in addressing the demands or needs of those liberals and progressives who voted them in. TransEx blogger Robert Prasch weighs in on the controversy.
By Robert E. Prasch
Those following the political blogosphere are, no doubt, aware of vitriol being directed at some long-respected progressive voices who have concluded that it is time to vote third party. Fatigued by being again, as they were in 1996, 2000, and 2004, asked to vote for the “lesser of two evils,” they are tired of the “same old song and dance.” And it is old. Some readers may remember the bumper stickers beseeching us to vote for the Neo-liberal pro-Iraq War Senator John Kerry over the Neo-liberal pro-Iraq War George W. Bush: “Kerry Sucks Less.”
But I want to raise a related issue. What, exactly, were these now-vociferous supporters of the President doing and saying in late 2008 and early 2009 when the administration was setting in place the personnel, policies, and decisions that laid the groundwork for today’s dispute? Is it unreasonable to ask how it is even possible that a president, who garnered such fierce and passionate enthusiasm a few short years ago, could even be in such a close election? After all, he is running against an individual who has spent almost the entirety of his adult life acting as the quintessential predatory capitalist. Let’s remember that this is occurring even as most Americans outside of the top 10 to 20% tax bracket are continuing to suffer through the worse economic times in anyone’s living memory. Can we at least agree, Richard Nixon excepted, that this precipitous drop in popularity, despite the “hot hand” he was dealt, represents one of the greatest failures in the history of postwar political leadership?
The reason underlying this monumental failure is not hard to find. President-Elect Obama and his inner circle fundamentally misjudged the political moment. The nation was clearly demanding significant change – so much so that they were willing to elect an unseasoned—Black—politician (remarkable given the U.S.’s unflinching history of racism). Yet Obama and his inner circle somehow convinced themselves that recycling the tired old idea of “triangulation” from the Clinton first term would be their best play. To that end, Barack Obama and his senior advisors immediately set about alienating their core supporters. Within two weeks of election day, the Administration announced that Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner–the individuals whose previous records individually and collectively defined what it meant to be monumental failures as public servants–would be placed in charge of the economic recovery. Their appointments indicated, and their performances amply confirmed, that whatever “hope and change” meant as a slogan, it would in no way apply to the president’s economic policies. They have, without a doubt, restored Wall Street’s fortunes – what they have not done is restore the fortunes of anyone else.
On December 1st, 2008 the Obama Administration announced that Robert Gates would be retained as the Secretary of Defense. Gates, let us recall, was more than simply the man George W. Bush appointed to direct his pointless, endless, and immoral wars along with extending them to the rest of the globe via the nascent drone program. No, as the former Deputy Director of the CIA, Gates narrowly escaped prosecution over his role in the Iran-Contra Scandal. Even if we allow that the 1991 investigations into his actions were above-board (a stretch), he was far too closely associated with the rampant criminality of the Reagan regime to warrant appointment to dogcatcher, much less to Secretary of Defense. That he did not belong in a Democratic Administration goes without saying.
What about financial reform? Did the appointment of Goldman Sachs and Citibank impresarios to innumerable offices at the CFTC, SEC, and elsewhere suggest to any of these die-hard Obama partisans that “hope and change” would play a fleeting role in the Administration’s governing agenda? If so, when did they come to that realization? Just to ground the point: Did any of them really think that Rahm Emanuel would lead progressive change within the Democratic Party? We know that Emanuel spent his entire career as a Clinton-era operative fighting against progressives within the Party. Did anyone expect that to change when he became the president’s Chief of Staff? Anyone? Let’s not even get started on Obama’s vigorous pursuit of Bush’s “free trade” agenda or his not-so-secret plans to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits.
To repeat: all of the appointments listed above were announced before the inauguration. They were announced before the president revealed that he had no intention of keeping a broad range of campaign promises. Before he began to prosecute the brave whistle-blowers who reported upon Bush-era war crimes and unconstitutional surveillance. Before he dropped charges against all of those who actually committed these crimes. These latter inconsistencies, we now know, made sense because the Administration was on the cusp of doubling-down on the very worst – really grotesque — Constitutional abuses of the Bush era. Let us be clear, no president has ever claimed the right to kill American citizens, at its own discretion, for reasons untold, and without any outside review of its decision.
My point is a simple one: a betrayal has indeed occurred. It was not instigated by Glenn Greenwald, Matt Stoller, the Black Agenda Report, or any other progressive voice. All these writers have done is put these betrayals before the public. The people who betrayed the once-vibrant and hopeful 2008 coalition that elected Barack Obama president are lodged in the White House. Their betrayal was not a consequence of circumstance. It was the inevitable playing out of decisions taken before January 20th, 2009. The above list of appointments amply affirms that Barack Obama and his leading advisors knew, at the moment that the oath of office was taken, that their priorities and agendas would be in many, if not most, instances antithetical to the priorities and agendas of its supporters. There was to be, neither then nor later, a glass “half-full” or even a “quarter-full.” If anyone tells you otherwise, just ask him or her to show you the glass.
The fact is that the Obama Administration, like the Clinton Administration before it, knowingly engaged in a cynical wager. They bet that they could pursue a host of policies fundamentally odious to their core supporters and yet be reelected. The calculation depended on the premise that rank-and-file Democrats would have no other option. Unsurprisingly, the Obama Administration and its surrogates have invested considerable time and energy convincing its former supporters that there is no option.
Anyone who has ever gone shopping knows that their bargaining power depends ultimately upon his/her willingness to walk away. The ability to walk away explains why the service we get from our local dry cleaner is significantly better than what most of us get from our local cable provider. When you have a choice, and demonstrate a willing to take that choice, you become empowered as consumer (I might add that the same is true of labor markets, which explains why most employers prefer a higher level of unemployment than their employees). Right now, a deeply cynical reelection campaign is betting that progressives will be too afraid of Romney to seek to empower themselves. This, let us remember, has been the strategy pursued by an increasingly right-wing Democratic National Committee for close to thirty years. Every four years we are asked to vote for the lesser evil. In a couple of weeks we will all learn if this plea will pay off again. The question is, will we learn? Will we learn to bargain with a faithless leadership of the Democratic Party? If not this election, then when?
But, let us be clear. Win or lose, Rahm Emanuel, Robert Gibbs, David Axelrod, David Plouffe, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama will all be fine. They win either way. Lucrative lobbying, banking, and advising jobs await all of them. “Speaker fees,” often six-figures, will be plentiful. The gravy awaits, and it’s all good. Of that we can all rest assured. What of the economic fortunes of the vast majority of the American people? Obama’s former supporters? The unemployed? Underwater homeowners? The victims of fraudulent foreclosures?
Well, here’s some news: He’s just not that into you. We’re adults. It is time to get over it. You owe him nothing because he has done nothing for you and plans to do nothing for you – unless you count the positive harm of cutting Social Security and enacting the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If voting for such a person “rocks your boat,” feel free. But surely it can be understood why more than a few people may feel differently.