I am among those who believed that Obama could learn from his mistakes and develop some political muscle, stop looking and sounding like a Jimmy Carter reincarnation, arrest the dangerously authoritarian tendencies afoot, jettison his consistently wrong economic advisers and rally what’s left of his troops for a comeback.
But there is nothing in the current environment that suggests I was right. Instead, Obama constantly recalls the presidential candidate who cast himself as post-racial, post-partisan and even post-conflict. His campaign call for national unity was sometimes inspiring boilerplate that one could enjoy while suspending reality for an hour. But now it looks as though he believed it was a magic wand, that this hold-hands-and-sing outlook really is his political strategy.
For example, who on earth can take seriously the latest round of ‘peace talks’ between the Israeli and Palestinian figureheads while spoilers on both sides easily can block any hint of progress? When an important rabbi calls for the Palestinians to be struck down by a plague from god and Hamas blows up a few settlers, does anyone give this exercise in fantasy even a monotheistic prayer? Why would Israel want to reward Obama, who can’t even successfully defend himself from a whispering campaign about being a secret Muslim, when they can simply wait out the clock on his term?
Many observers with more patience than I have taken apart Obama’s pointless and bland speech on the end of the Iraq debacle, but few have noted how downright offensive it was for him to excuse the Bushite neocons who started it. After nearly two years of vicious partisanship from his declared enemies, Obama’s continued peace offerings to the rabid right look insane, like a child’s sad pleadings to his abusive parents.
Meanwhile, Obama could not even clearly explain how the disastrous decision to conquer Iraq and not pay for it drove the country into its current recessionary hole, and his economic team predictably trots out the argument that ‘no one could have known’ how bad things were or how weak the stimulus package turned out to be. That’s just a lie because anyone who read the arguments at the time heard plenty of predictions that the stimulus—over which Obama was pilloried and the Tea Party rebellion generated anyway—was not sufficient to replace the demand wiped out by the financial panic of 2008. So we got the worst of all worlds: a weak, compromised non-solution that merely energized the social forces responsible for the original debacle.
On every front we see a neo-Reaganite program stealthily poisoning policy through the good offices of the Obama Administration—the bankrupting Bush tax cuts slowly accepted by the Democrats, Social Security falling under the axe-readying lens of Obama’s Catfood Commission, immigration policing jacked up to new heights while Mexicans are slaughtered by drug gangs in the desert, official assassination now a state consensus, a lost war in Afghanistan stretched out for fear of defeat, and on and on, making one wonder what good it did for us all to rise up against the plutocrats and warmongers in the first place.
If this is the best the Democrats can do, they may be doing more harm in power than out. At least during the dreary, depressing days of the Alfred E. Newman presidency, there was an opposition, weak-kneed and inconsistent, but opportunistic enough to slow down the march to disaster. What is there now? A broad underlying policy consensus down the wrong road while domestic racism with violent overtones is quietly encouraged by one side and dismissed as unimportant by the other. Under these conditions a mid-term Republican takeover of Congress will not be a new setback, merely a reflection of reality. They are running things now.