As we approach the Democratic Donnybrook and prepare for the triumphant crowing of the nasty and mean-spirited, one yearns to unearth the reasons for the strange official immolation of the movement that coalesced behind Barack Obama two years ago. I was tempted to say ‘self-immolation’ since it is the familiar phrase, but that would be misleading. This is a social force that was dismantled from above, and that, it seems to me, is the phenomenon that compels our notice.
I was part of that movement in a way I had not been for decades and witnessed the enthusiasm awakened by the Obama campaign as it was acknowledged, thanked and dismissed once the deed was done. When people sought to find a way to throng into the ongoing fights—for things like financial system and health care reform, clean energy, peace-making and a dozen other pressing national and worldwide problems—I saw them acknowledged, thanked and dismissed. We had done our job, as far as the big boys were concerned, and now could go home and leave the rest to them.
How distinct is the right’s attitude toward its base of Christian fanatics! They, by contrast, were channeled into church-centered political groupings, their fires stoked by the panic du jour (pornography, abortion, sex ed, flag-burning, school prayer, gays, gay marriage, now Muslims), their operational capacity managed and developed by the many evangelical lobbying and mobilization entities like Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition. While their Republican masters may have disliked aspects of the preacher caucus, they relied upon it and knew better than to call them “fucking retards”, even in private—a lesson lost upon political genius Rahm Emanuel who will now preside over one of the worst electoral drubbings in recent history.
I am reminded, as usual, of the Chilean experience in which the democratic opposition to Pinochet’s dictatorship swept into power in 1990 and immediately jettisoned its own popular base while sucking up to the wealthy elites that until recently had cheered the secret police as it murdered their members. Emblematic of this shift was Socialist president Ricardo Lagos’s all-out efforts to bring Pinochet back from house arrest in England on the phony grounds of ill health.
Why do they do this? Obama himself provided a clue with his remarks at a recent fund-raiser for rich Democrats in Connecticut. According to reports, Obama twitted people like me for always ‘seeing the glass half-empty’, for failing to recognize his administration’s achievements in health insurance reform and financial services regulations. Obama echoed in milder terms the outburst from his spokesman Gibbs who said we all needed a drug test for criticizing them and comparing Obama’s record to W’s.
Gibbs doesn’t think people like Christine O’Donnell, the Republican-Wiccan candidate for the U.S. Senate from Delaware, needs a drug test, nor does Rahm think John Boehner is a “fucking retard”. Those are the people to engage with, to sit down at the table and hash out legislative details, to listen to respectfully while they question your birth certificate, shout you down in joint sessions of Congress and openly defy your attempts—and even your right—to govern.
Obama’s team has a colonized mentality that his one-time troops do not share. We are not beholden to the Republican minority and do not bear their vicious insults gladly. At a healthy distance, we actually see them much more clearly than the experts promoted beyond their Peter Principle level of incompetence into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We see their cynical opportunism, their willingness to junk the country’s economy, its constitutional traditions (and ‘values’) and its long-term viability for immediate gain. They are not all crude, racist demagogues, but many are, and the rest eagerly pander to them.
Obama, Gibbs and Rahm argue that they have done a great job, and if they are right, I have one question: why is the country turning against you? Isn’t part of being president and running the country the task of generating a convincing narrative and mobilizing support for your program?
Like traumatized wives of alcoholics, Obama’s team returns again and again to the illusion that this time, or next time at the latest, if I just try a little harder, offer a little more, cook the right dinner, find the right formula, my husband will approve and love me. Meanwhile, the defenseless children huddle in the background, fearing the next outburst and Daddy’s blows.