Saturday, 29 December 2012

The expendable Ms. Rice

John Heilemann, an astute political columnist for New York magazine, shot himself in the foot this week in a revealing way, providing yet another illustration of how much more our errors teach us than our triumphs. He wrote a full-length opinion piece about how Susan Rice WAS in fact going to be nominated and confirmed as Hillary Clinton’s replacement. As it turned out, not so much.

Heilemann’s reasoning was based on five embarrassingly well elaborated points: that Obama wanted Rice for the job, that she was qualified for it, that the dust-up over the fatal attack on the Benghazi consulate was a non-issue, that John McCain making a big deal out of it showed that McCain was a jackass (and that Obama was sick of him), and that Obama by standing firm would obtain a solid victory because the GOP would fold in a real fight over the nomination.

The ink—if they still use ink—was barely dry on that run of the magazine when Rice threw in the towel, and Kerry was brought in next. How could such a prescient and careful political observer make such a goof? I think it reveals the lengths to which many in our midst are determined to drink the Obama Kool-Aid.

Heilemann must have forgotten that Obama is a pussy. That is, when faced with Republican opposition to pretty much anything, his default position is to find a way to cut a deal and compromise halfway. When that fails, as it inevitably does since for the Repubs he’s a Kenyan socialist gangster, Obama cedes more ground. But when the situation is binary, as in Congress does/does not confirm person X to a job, Obama has nowhere to go. So he buckles.

There are exceptions that prove the rule, notably the lengthy fight over Obamacare, which partially obscured his tendency to start out by giving the Republicans far more than they deserved and then backtracking from there. In fact, the pattern was established firmly in the healthcare fight itself after which Obama got nothing despite providing constant sweeteners for nearly a year. It continued through the stimulus package, financial services reform and other budget issues. We can anticipate another bout of here-have-the-farm on the bullshit ‘fiscal cliff’ scam, which is likely to be sealed at five minutes to midnight Monday.

There is, however, one place where Obama consistently stands firm: sticking it to his liberal base. That’s where the president displays his pair of steely cojones, whether it’s the recently renewed snooping on U.S. citizens, flaunting his godlike assassin’s powers, not closing down the Guantánamo dungeons, deporting Mexicans by the tens of thousands, or enforcing archaic federal marijuana laws.

Obama’s record suggests that his chronic apparent weakness in the face of Republican opposition is nothing of the sort, but rather a convenient way to pretend to be forced into doing what he is more or less inclined to do anyway. Putting up a good show of conflict keeps us all agog and rooting for him to finally get ‘tough’ and use his power to do good as he supposedly wants to but, for some inexplicable reason, can’t or won’t.

It’s painful to think that his real program is the one we are getting: constant concessions to the financial elites and the security state, a gradual chipping away at the New Deal legacy, continued redistribution of wealth upwards accompanied by further concentration of power at the top. But the evidence shows that that is the Obama program, not some warmed over nouveau Great Society liberalism.

So it’s wonderful that Heilemann pissed all over himself in this dramatic fashion, not because he’s a rotten sort but because he’s a perfectly decent guy. When our opinion leaders finally wake up and observe the reality about the Obama White House, rather than the fantasy image they’ve been sucking on for years, we’ll be ready to have a real debate about where the country is. Probably far too late to do any good, but whatever.

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