Friday, 30 March 2012

Smart, but not astute

Four years ago Obama captured the national mood. Most of us wanted change badly, and we were looking for something new, a sharp break with the warmongering, corruption, bloody-mindedness, thuggery, celebratory ignorance, and oozing nastiness that emanated from the spoiled-rich-frat-boy environment of Bush Junior. Obama latched onto that yearning; he represented something new, unsullied, audacious (to use his own term), authentic, tuned in to the popular will. He wasn’t a sleazebag, and he wasn’t predictable Hillary who could be expected to usher in another round of principle-free dealing that played the Democratic base while faithfully serving the interests of favored business and financial elites.

Once in office Obama showed that he had misread that mood or had merely played it himself. He dedicated his first year to cobbling together the health insurance reform package now and forever to be known as ‘Obamacare’, forgetting about or dismissing the idea of building a grassroots movement to agitate for the reform, engage with it and ultimately defend it. I personally sat in on a couple of meetings called from the huge lists of Obama campaign workers in which dozens of people discussed their goals, their burning issues and their immediate willingness to pitch in on whatever agenda Obama and his leadership circle settled upon. The infrastructure was in place to counter what would later become the Tea Party assault on Obamacare, had the Democratic Party or Obama’s team chosen to mobilize it.

But they did not. All those meticulous lists of what we—the people who had put Obama in office—wanted and were willing to work on were peremptorily dumped in the White House circular files. No one ever contacted me again UNTIL it was time to send in money to the Re-elect Obama Campaign. (I sent them all back with messages like, “Stop torturing Bradley Manning” and “Get the $$ from your banker friends.” They eventually took me off their lists.)

Historians or reporters more curious than I can find out why Obama and his Dem friends did this. I don’t really care, but in my view that was a critical moment. Obama placed his trust in the diehard Republican opposition and pretended that they would gather ‘round the flag and help him construct a way out of the country’s insanely unsustainable healthcare expenditures. Perhaps he believed his own rhetoric and really thought that it didn’t matter that he was black and a Democrat—ha!

To avoid the Bill & Hillary defeat of 20 years earlier over the same issue, Obama decided to bring some of the powerful economic players into the deal from the start, promising to jettison the single-payer idea in private while pretending to push for it in the early negotiations. We the People were not part of his strategy. His special address to the joint session on health care (the one interrupted by the Remember Fort Sumter delegation in the person of ‘You lie!’ Joe Wilson) included a lame defense of the single-payer notion, but it was clear even then that the expansion of Medicaid/Medicare to cover us all was dead in the water.

Isn’t it ironic to see Obama, despite his pathological insistence on making nice with his enemies, today accused of forcing a Stalinist state down the country’s throat anyway? The openly partisan Supreme Court majority is now expected to blast away at the core of his health insurance reform—the coverage mandate borrowed from conservative think tanks and the Romneycare experiment in Massachusetts—thereby wrecking Obama’s principal signature achievement and quite possibly mortally wounding his presidency.

I don’t think losing a political fight is the worst thing in the world; HOW one loses makes a big difference because it sets up the next clash. What if Obama had fought for a more sensible alternative and gone down swinging?

Of course, that is speculation and hypothesizing, but the anti-democratic spirit of the opposition is very real. Commentators are remarking with amazement at how the conservative Supreme Court justices are essentially ‘legislating from the bench’ and not even shy about it, this after decades of right-wing howling about ‘activist judges’. After Bush v. Gore, this is shocking? Anyone with a pulse can perceive that the reactionary forces afoot in our polity today are not interested in democratic rules or respecting majority wishes. Democrats, instead of mounting resistance, are fully complicit, and Obama is the maximum emblem of that folly. Will he have a change of heart if his painstaking labor over health insurance is pissed away by five guys?

1 comment:

DWhite said...

I share your disillusionment with Obama, and will be sitting out an election for the first time since I first voted in 1972 (Shirley Chisholm in the Dem primary)