A year of Obama

by Alexander Cockburn

A year of Obama

A year after Obama’s triumphant election, hauling substantial majorities in the House and Senate on his coattails, the progressive sector sits trying to warm its hands before the bonfire of all its hopes. An awful “health reform” bill has cleared the House and is now headed for marriage with some even more ghastly Senate version from which we may be saved only by a filibustering Lieberman, Obama’s initial mentor in the Senate.

Meanwhile, the White House is furiously denying reports from such well-regarded correspondents as David Martin of CBS that Gen. Stanley McChrystal will get “most, if not all,” of what he wants. Instead of giving him the boot for insolent public challenges to the civilian executive power, Obama will order the dispatch of about 40,000 new troops (CBS’s figure) to Afghanistan, representing a long-term commitment as fateful as Lyndon Johnson’s surrender to Gen. Westmoreland’s request in Vietnam nearly half a century ago.

The progressives poke about among entrails of the House health bill and find evidence of mini-victories like the survival in vestigial form of the “public option” — a fetish phrase guaranteed to raise a loyal cheer whatever the realities, which in this case aren’t hard to discover.

As Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association, put it in the wake of the House vote, “The principal beneficiary is not Americans’ health but the bottom line of the insurance industry, which stands to harvest tens of billions of dollars in additional profits ordered by the federal government.” Or as Democratic Rep. Eric Massa of New York warned before the vote, “At the highest level, this bill

will enshrine in law the monopolistic powers of the private health insurance industry, period.” by Alexander Cockburn And of course, the columnist House bill reduces public protection for women, with its rollback of reproductive rights in the anti-abortion amendment. The “public option” remnant? It will be available to about 2 percent of people under age 65, mostly those now not covered who buy insurance on their own.

It is as ridiculous to claim that this “health reform” bill has anything substantive to do with beneficial social change as to believe there have been any encouraging shifts in foreign policy since the Democrats took over. Only recently, we had the surreal spectacle of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claiming in a press conference that what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu “has offered in specifics of a restraint on the policy of settlements, which he has just described — no new starts, for example — is unprecedented in the context of the prior two negotiations.”

Obama’s Afghan policy evolved on the campaign trail last year as a one-liner designed to deflect charges that he was a peacenik on Iraq. He formed a foreign policy team mostly composed of Clinton-era neoliberal hawks, headed by Hillary Clinton and Richard Holbrooke. Then he ordered 17,000 new US troops to be deployed to Afghanistan.

If on his second day in office he’d announced a full and complete review of US aims in Afghanistan, with no option left offthe table, he’d have had some purchase on the situation. But the monthsdrifted by, and finally, the worsening situation forced a review ofAfghan policy — precisely when Obama’s poll numbers were dropping, thewar lobby was heartened and the liberals were already dejected byObama’s surrender to Goldman Sachs and Wall Street, and by his fumblingretreats in the health fight.

It’sexactly as I predicted from the start. The past year has yielded onesurrender by the administration after another — whether it berenditions, phone-tapping or an accelerated schedule in giving thefinger to organized labor, whose troops had done the most to put Obamain the White House. Even before his election last November,

Obamaextinguished all hopes — risible though they were to those who hadfollowed the senator’s brief political career — that he would harvestpublic fury at Wall Street and curb the power of the banks. He votedfor the Bush/Paulson bank bailout and then hired Lawrence Summers — oneof the prime architects of the country’s economic death plunge — as hischief economic adviser. Today, Summers stands alongside Obama in thepublic pillory, with the rising unemployment figures hanging round hisneck.

If youwant to see the year’s political price for dropping the ball on thegreatest political opportunity we’ll see in our lifetime to curb thepower of Wall Street and set a new economic course, just look at therecent election numbers in Virginia, which voted for a Democraticpresident last year for the first time since the Johnson sweep of 1964and handed the Democrats three Republican House seats. In these samethree districts earlier in November, Republican Bob McDonnell — runningon a we-needjobs platform and against a terrible climate bill built onjunk science — clinched the governor’s race by huge margins asindependents, seniors, suburban voters and stay-at-home Democrats tookout their disillusion with Obama.

Progressives delight in depicting a Republican Party captured by the nutballs, dooming itself to the margins.

Don’tbelieve it. The “sophisticated right” (so described by C. Wright Mills60 years ago) equipped with big Republican money will assert its powerover the “wild-eyed Utopian capitalists”

(Millsagain). Glenn Beck will burst the envelope he’s already pushing or beimpaled on some disclosure from his fraught psychic past. Sarah Palinwill be similarly discredited as a public figure. Next November,Republicans can look forward to recapture of the House and a whittlingdown of Democrats in the Senate by five or six. Then Obama can fireRahm Emanuel and hire David Gergen, just as Bill Clinton did in thesummer of 1993.

Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. Copyright 2009 Creators.Com