Spraying Roundup on Hope
No one told us it would be boring, but it is. We’re talking here about the Obama presidency. Having an adulterer and a moron at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. for eight years apiece, plus Dick Cheney down the corridor, spoiled us. Which side of Bill’s head did Hillary hit with the lamp? Would George fight his way to the end of the sentence in his daily battles with the English language?
These days, tranquility reigns — or seems to — in the Obamas’ private quarters. Senior White House staffers remain loyal and tight-lipped. Small wonder Jay Leno’s nightly show is sagging. There was nothing to make jokes about, at least until Sarah Palin went on her book tour.
Carter was another Democratic president who didn’t drink or fornicate or steal. But he had Brother Billy and the colorful Bert Lance as his director of OMB, already mired in Southern Gothic scandal by the middle of Carter’s first year in office. He had the late Hamilton Jordan as his chief of staff, getting drunk at state dinners and making lewd verbal overtures to the wife of the Egyptian ambassador. Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, may be foul-mouthed, but thus far, he’s run a ship offering about as much drama as the upper executive tier of an insurance company in Ames, Iowa.
Politics are getting duller by the day, too, as the idealists watch their expectations trickling all too swiftly through the hourglass. What’s left? Enforcing compulsory purchase of private health coverage — the dream “reform” of those insurance executives in Ames — and savaging the Medicare Advantage plans of lowincome seniors. (See Mary Lynn Cramer’s savage exposes of the later outrage on the CounterPunch site.) Obama’s dipped below 50 percent in public approval, which — so the pollsters tell us — is nothing particularly unusual for a new president at this stage of the game. What’s going to stop him sliding by Alexander Cockburn down more? Next week, he’s columnist scheduled to announce that he’s ordering 34,000 more troops to head for Afghanistan.
I heard someone on NPR say this was Obama’s compromise between Gen. Stan McChrystal’s original demand for 50,000 troops and those who have been saying nix further deployments and bring all the troops home. In other words, we have a typical Obama compromise, making gestures designed to please everybody, but in the end going along with Business as Usual. Like his one on Guantanamo. Pledge to close it down, then drag your feet, continue secret renditions of captives to other prisons like Bagram and finally engineer the resignation of Gregory Craig, the White House counsel who was trying to close Guantanamo, now open until every last prisoner can be sent to replications of Guantanamo somewhere else.
Such decisions are coming thick and fast. Right before Thanksgiving came news that the Obama administration has decided not to sign an international convention banning land mines, which now has support from more than 150 countries. Yes, there was a landmine policy “review” by the administration, now denounced by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy as “cursory and halfhearted.” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told the press last Tuesday that U.S. defense requirements really require landmines and Obama is going to stay with the Bush policy, though — here’s the Obamian compromise — the’ US government said itwould for the first time send an official observer to a session of theInternational Convention, meeting in Cartagena, Colombia. This willcome as a great comfort to the relatives of those thousands — half ofthem children — blown to bits each year by landmines littering wartornlandscapes across the globe.
Obama’sblend of opportunism draped in high-minded verbiage is beginning torile some liberals — the same way Jimmy Carter’s similar mix did 30years ago. The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd has turned in tworecent acrid columns on the president in the last month. Having spentmonths in the vanguard of the Democrats’ favorite blood sport, flayingSarah Palin, Dowd suddenly declared that Palin at least
speaksfrom the heart and that Obama should take some lessons from the formergovernor of Alaska in how to connect with ordinary people at the levelof genuine emotional conviction.
Thenthis week, Dowd wrote an even sharper column charging Obama withcallous lack of loyalty to political supporters such as Greg Craig, whojumped ship from the Clinton campaign last year and did Obama greatservice. Dowd also scored Obama’s signal lack of gratitude to CarolineKennedy, whose endorsement of Obama last year gave him a powerful liftat a crucial stage in the race.
Soyes, there’s discontent and disillusion on the liberal and progressiveside, but will this translate into political difficulties for
Obama?Probably not. Obama can blow a hundred campaign pledges, douse withRoundup the crop of hopes he planted last year, and still the liberalsector will stay true and delude themselves that hope — though dormant— still lives. Where else are the liberals to go? African-Americanswill never desert him in significant numbers. And remember, theprogressive crowd stuck with Clinton through the gutting of welfare,the effective death penalty act, an appalling immigration bill and ahundred other presumptive deathblows.
LikeClinton, Obama is unconcerned by the anguish to his left. His targetwill be the independents who put him in the White House and whodeserted him in the November elections in states like Virginia.
Independents,so the pollsters claim, are worried by the deficit. They think Obama’sefforts to rekindle the economy and create jobs have been far tooprodigal. They want austerity budgets, even as the liberals shout for anew stimulus bill, as the jobless total rises. Obama is alreadytriangulating, just as Clinton did. The prospect is cheerless — lookingmore and more like the bland, respectable corporate rule of theEisenhower years.
Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. Copyright 2009 Creators.Com