Just because Martin Luther King and Jesse Jackson were trail-blazing agents of progressive passion who could stir red blood with a goodly speech, people took one look at Barack Obama and thought: here comes another one.
Turns out he's a non-ideological pragmatist, and now progressives are disappointed. Madly, mightily, miserably: right down to their sternums at the innermost center where herpes viruses go to hibernate — like a Sartrean disillusioned with Heidegger because he was a Nazi, or a Catholic stricken that the Pope — God's Embodiment on Earth — could ever have enabled the hallowed priestly tradition of mass child rape.
If you're progressive, you shouldn't be disappointed in Obama. You should be disappointed in yourself.
Because you've been blinder than Oedipus. Your high hopes were built on cocoa puffs. Not ONCE in his entire political life has Obama taken any position that wasn't totally and triangulatingly Clintonesque. In fact, he's such a triangulator, he likes giving the impression he's almost sorry to be doing something his enemies don't want him to do. Look at him still coddling the Republicans, like some Big Mama nursing a bawling infant. If he were Hillary, he'd call them a bunch of lying loudmouth braindead rightwing conspirators on their way to oblivion, and be done with them.
Sure, Obama seemed to sport progressive cred because he was against the Iraq War. But remember, this is what he said: “I'm not against all wars. I'm just against dumb wars.” You didn't have to be a genius progressive to be against the Iraq war; it was a plain-to-see dumb Vietnam War Two. As the burliest bully among nations, we're dumb enough to think our patriotism is best expressed in killing foreigners. We are a naturally war-like people, like the Mongols or the Zulus. Being anti-war in America doesn't make you progressive. It just means you're not a total oaf. It means you're slightly out-of-tune with most Americans, who think our troops are heroes, when all they are is misguided, poor youngsters trained to be serial killers.
1. TOADY OBAMA
Obama is not a total oaf, but he does believe our troops are heroes, and he's put 30,000 more of them at risk in Afghanistan to prop up the world's biggest and most corrupt narco-state. Which does make him a 90% oaf and a 100% toady to our military-industrial-congressional complex.
It also makes him a president who has shrewdly silenced those who like to call the Dems soft on national security. Barack Machiavelli Obama put another 30,000 of our youngsters at risk out of pure political calculus, methinks. No other reason makes much sense. Let 'em die, as long as nobody thinks I'm a regular Dem softie. It was the minimum Obama could get away with to be considered a standup Commander-In-Chief. It has nothing to do with changing anything in the criminal enterprise called Afghanistan, which won't change even if we put a soldier there for every citizen, admonishing every single Afghan man-to-man, hey, dude, stop being a corrupt warlord, stop being a Pashtun who likes the Taliban, and stop growing opium — how about trying soya beans, pardner?
To see Obama clear, and to recognize that BECAUSE of his non-progressiveness, he has the potential to be our greatest president since FDR, try this simple thought experiment. Take off your “hopey-changy” goggles and expect nothing from him. Nada. Zip. Observe Obama in the harsh glitter of an LA noonday, like you would look at any other politician who isn't handsome or charismatic — say someone like Nixon or LBJ.
2. MUTHA OBAMA
First thing to know about Nixon and LBJ is that they were motherfuckers, and that's what Obama is: a motherfucker. An iron-nosed, super-slick, deal-cutting, low-down Machiavellian politician. The first thing he did when he wanted health insurance for 30 million uninsured Americans (leaving 17 million still uninsured) was to duck behind-closed-doors to make nicey-nicey with the insurance industry, reassuring them he wouldn't push for a robust public option. He cut a deal with the guys who could derail reform (like they did in 1994) before he did anything else. That's the mark of a realpolitik manipulator. Then he went out in public and talked his pretty talk about how much he likes a public option and how he would've gone for single payer if we were starting from scratch. All Machiavellian smoke and mirrors. From the very beginning, he gave a real problem a tough look, took the measure of his would-be enemies, and found a way to placate them so he could seal the deal before letting Congress carry his water — and any “progressive” agenda be damned.
Sure, Obama was a community organizer in his salad days, but not because he was a starry-eyed bleeding-heart liberal progressive, but because he wanted to learn Saul Alinsky's Machiavellian playbook — which is to rile the poor into becoming such nasty mothers who give their oppressors such a nasty time, the oppressors finally give in just so the unruly bastards will shut the heck up and leave them in peace to go find other more passive victims to oppress.
Look at whom Obama has surrounded himself with. There are no earnest young progressive puppies hopishly yipping away in the corridors of the White House. Not at all. Only Chicago hardasses and ex-Clinton hacks are on deck. Obama's Chief of Staff is not some progressive poobah, but an investment-banker-Chicago-pol-and-Clinton-hack combo, Rahm Emanuel. Rahm is the guy who went trolling for conservative rightwing Democrats — military vets and anti-abortion folks that Republicans might vote for — and conscripted them to run in swing districts, which is one reason why there are big Democratic majorities in Congress, but also why there are the Blue Dogs — the Republican wing of the Democratic Party and a millstone around Nancy Pelosi's neck. There is not a single progressive of any note in Obama's cabinet. Did he bring back Robert Reich? No, he brought back Larry Summers, one of the chief architects of the financial meltdown — which is like picking John Torture-Memo Yoo as your Attorney-General. Where is Joseph Stiglitz? No, Obama's economic team are all in the pocket of Wall Street, and if one of them isn't, like Paul Volcker, Obama ignores him until he needs to put on an anti-Wall Street show like he did when he got scared by Scott Brown taking Ted Kennedy's safe Massachusetts seat.
And most notable of all, where is Howard Dean, the architect of the 50-state Democratic comeback? The man to whom Obama and the Democratic Party should be most grateful? The man whose internet campaign strategy Obama copied to win the Presidency? The one Democrat who most deserves to be some kind of top dog? Nowhere. Howard Dean is not DRC chairman anymore, and he has no job whatsoever in the Obama administration. Why? He's a progressive, that's why. Obama doesn't want ANY progressives near him, having ANY say in ANYTHING. Why not? Because Obama himself is NO progressive. Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson will both stop toking herb before Obama becomes a progressive. There was much talk of Obama appointing a “team of rivals” a la his hero Lincoln. Bullshit. He did no such thing: he appointed a team of center-to-right yes-men and women.
3. MACHIAVELLI OBAMA
But hey, didn't Obama just pull off one of the most historically progressive reforms in the history of historical America's history? Oh, yeah, right, for sure: Barack Machiavelli Obama and Nancy Steel Balls Pelosi and Harry Hangdog Reid have finally pushed healthcare reform over the finish line, like a dung beetle pushing its ball of crap home. Now they're the biggest historical heroes of Congressional history since the dawn of democracy. OK, let's muster half a faint cheer for Nancy anyway: she's the iron lady who stiffened the Democratic spine when the men all diarrheed themselves after Scott Brown took Ted Kennedy's safe Massachusetts seat. From Obama and Rahm Emanuel on down to Barney Frank, the panicked hacks were all going wobbly, and needed a woman to wipe their pee-stained underwear for them.
If it weren't for Nancy's balls, healthcare reform would've withered like an earthworm on concrete. Nancy Pelosi is that rare Democratic phenomenon: a politician with actual beliefs who is actually prepared to fight for those beliefs. A step up from Obama. She laid it out in real no-backing-down-now damn-the-torpedos fighting talk:
“We'll go through the gate. If the gate's closed, we'll go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we'll pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we'll parachute in. But we're going to get health-care reform passed for the American people.”
You go, girl!
Now Obama's got his healthcare victory, but how progressive is it? It's basically what the Republicans wanted in 1994, and what Massachusetts already has, signed into existence by Republican Governor Mitt Romney. It's socialism all right, but not for us, only for the healthcare industry, who've now got 30 million extra premium payers, many of them subsidized with our tax dollars. For this bonanza they're paying the small price of not keeping folks off their rolls because of a “pre-existing condition,” and not knocking them off their rolls for getting sick (the reason why people buy insurance in the first place), and not capping what they pay out for people's medical expenses. In other words, for promising not to openly cheat their customers anymore, the insurance industry gets to continue running their 20% to 30% overheads scam when Medicare can deliver healthcare at 4% overhead (proving once again that government is more efficient at helping folks out than our magnificently efficient private enterprise plutocrats).
Some reform. But it's a start. When the insurance companies begin to jack up their premiums again, or pull some other scam, there may still be enough residual public anger simmering around to put a robust public option on the table at last, and soon we'll be on our way to Medicare for all. Be still, my progressive heart. Who knows, this delicious scenario may even be a second-term adventure in the back of Obama's Machiavellian mind at this very moment. Or not. Dream on.
Whatever. Now the health insurance industry will be sucking on the big government gazoomba, subsidized by our tax dollars, along with the banking industry, the arms industry, the oil industry, Detroit and our farmers — all the capitalists who are against socialism for everyone but themselves.
It's amazing how dependent our magnificently efficient free-market private enterprise is on our so-called inefficient government. They just can't seem to get along on their own. The world of capitalism is just too tough for our great Captains of Industry and our brilliant Masters of the Universe. Wall Street, Detroit, health insurance, arms manufacturers, Big Oil, agribusiness: all born welfare queens. Big businesses are basically the big sissies of capitalism — too cowardly to suffer the consequences of their own craven mishaps. It's the engine of small businesses that keeps capitalism going. Big business is socialist and monopolist by nature. Please, big government, be our nanny state, give us your milk: we are the rich executives of important corporations, so much more deserving than the people we screw over.
4. POLITICAL OBAMA
Meanwhile, on to the next thing. Financial reform. A sterling opportunity for Obama to demonize the banks and maybe unearth a few tea-party votes in November. After all, many tea-party insurgents voted for Obama in 2008.
Let's face it, Barack Machiavelli Obama is stacking up his political cards carefully to keep his majorities in Congress come the November mid-term elections. By then he will have positioned himself and his party as noble fighters for regular folks against the bad bonus-happy bailed-out Wall Street gangsta banksters (who, having knocked off Greece, are probably undermining the Prince of Monaco and the Queen of England at this very moment) — while letting the banksters know behind-closed-doors that they're free to gut any reforms hiccuped by retiring Senator Christopher “I'm Angling For A Financial Lobby Gig” Dodd. Also, by then our troops will have come home from Iraq and gotten the progressive Dem base all gratefully stirred up. And by then the stench would've gone out of GOP lies about healthcare reform: old folks would've received their $250 donut hole checks, and young folks up to 26 will be happy they're covered by their parents' healthcare plans. Two excellent voting demographics. With any luck, Obama may even get a couple of months of back-to-back job growth to crow about, and the GOP will collar maybe 20 Blue Dog seats in the House (good riddance) and two in the Senate — and have only their refusal to help govern and their latest joke, Michael Steele, to blame for their continuing misfortune. (When your only stars are two hot babes, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, with the collective judgment of a hominid fossil between them, you know you're going nowhere fast. The Party of No: No Ideas, No I.Q, No Future.)
5. OBAMA THE GREATEST
OK, so why do I say Obama has the potential to be our greatest president since FDR?
Number one, it's not as if he has much competition. Most presidents are either a disaster or useless. I'd say at least thirty of our presidents have been useless, with nobody noticing the difference if they'd been replaced by Japanese house-cleaning robots.
In my lifetime, they've all been pretty much one disaster after another. Eisenhower was OK: he built our highways and ended the war in Korea. But JFK was a useless disaster. He stopped Khrushchev from loading Cuba up with missiles, but any president would've done that. He piled military advisors into Vietnam, and that turned out to be our single biggest foreign policy disaster. Nixon was disastrous but not entirely useless: he made a rapprochement with China but bombed Cambodia; he established the EPA but screwed up with Watergate.
Then there's LBJ, the rarest of the rare, the lonely exception: a great president, maybe greater than FDR. He signed Civil Rights and Medicare into law along with a host of Great Society programs (but conned himself into the Vietnam escapade, which he at least had the intelligence to know was a mistake after year one, which is more than you can say for Obama and Afghanistan). As for Ford, he pardoned Nixon and handed out “Whip Inflation Now” buttons. Carter put human rights on our foreign policy agenda, which makes him a saint among presidents, but like some hapless Mugabe, he could do nothing about 20% plus inflation. Reagan was an unmitigated disaster, backing nun-killers in Nicaragua and bashing the unions and destroying our tax base by bringing the marginal tax rate of the rich down from 70% to under 30%, and giving the super-idealistic starry-eyed Chicago school of pie-in-the-sky efficient market utopians free rein with his “trickle-down” Reaganomics, to lay the foundation for making us the most unequal society on earth, a throwback to the era of the Sun King. Bush One was pretty useless, although he did kick Saddam out of Kuwait, but gave the neocons enough inspiration to come back under Bush Two to destroy us. I honestly don't know who was a bigger disaster — Clinton or Bush Two. But coming back to back, they've certainly been the most dysfunctional regime since the reign of Roman Emperor Caligula, who made his horse a Senator. Clinton destroyed Mexican agriculture and helped the big corporations to export our good jobs with NAFTA, nixed the Glass-Steagall Act that kept us safe from Wall Street shenanigans for 60 years, and made sure that derivatives would be unregulated. Bush Two gave us two wars, a bitch of a deficit and a reputation as torturers, and also bailed out the Clinton-enabled Wall Street shysters. You tell me who was the bigger disaster. It's a little like deciding by what would you prefer to be struck down most — a heart attack or a stroke.
Now along comes Obama and what is the difference between him and the others?
Number one, he's not a total born-privileged pink-Madras-panted Brahmin jackass like most of them, but a half-decent chap whose mom crammed some values down his throat.
Number two, he thinks with his brain not his gut (Bush Two) or his dick (Clinton).
Number three, and this is the big difference, he's ready and fired up and ambitious enough to:
a) actually name our biggest problems (healthcare, education, energy, infrastructure)
b) actually tackle them, i.e. do whatever deal-cutting and Machiavellian scheming he has to do to get some kind of a job done.
6. AMBITIOUS OBAMA
No other president in the history of our nation has ever done that. Most of them didn't even know what our biggest problems were, and if they did, they were too cowardly to name them, lest they saddle themselves with the thankless task of having to solve them. The most ambitious ones try their hand at maybe one biggish problem, generally fail, and then leave well enough alone, only to wake up in their last year and suddenly think: yikes, what will be my legacy? and then dictate a memoir to make up for their lack of never having done anything. The reason why Presidents are generally useless is because, in Obama's words, they “kick the can down the road.” Presidents display the greatest ambition to BECOME president, but the funny thing is, once they're at the top of the heap, they lose all ambition to BE president and habitually do sweet blow all.
Obama actually wants to solve our problems. None of this effort has ANYTHING to do with being left or right or Democratic or Republican or progressive or conservative, but EVERYTHING to do with plain common sense, not a quality exhibited by politicians after a lifetime of chasing voters and financial backers with lies and empty promises. Mind you, we should reserve some crocodile pathos for politicians: the poor bastards are like over-the-hill Casanovas in some fairy tale devoid-of-common-sense fantasy who can't get it up anymore but are still trying to get their maidenly voters to swoon with happy talk.
Not that Obama is short on the happy talk, but he doesn't quite need Viagra yet.
He's notched healthcare to his bedpost and is going after education (his race-to-the-top state competition a good start), infrastructure (there was some of that in his stimulus plan) and energy.
Energy reveals the typical Obama strategy. When he gets in the ring with opponents, Obama doesn't lead with his left: he leads with his other cheek. The Great Conciliator: he always throws out a pre-digested bone for the recalcitrants to chew on. It's what he did when he invited the Republicans to sit down with him and talk about healthcare reform. It's what he did when he said to progressives about healthcare, hey, here's a lame public option, folks, go play with that for a while. To the hawks: here are 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan, go amuse yourselves with that. To all of us who are outraged at the banksters: hey, here's a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, go talk among yourselves about that — while I make sure it gets put under the aegis of the Fed, known for its sightless oversight.
The same strategy on energy: all of a sudden Obama is in full-on drill-baby-drill mode. Play with that one, you energy bunnies. Triangulation at its finest and bluntest and blatantest.
Machiavelli must be smiling from ear to ear. Whatever it takes, baby. Anything to get the job done. Throw out a bone for the dogs to chew on, then let Lieutenant Pelosi hack out the details with her unruly troops, and then let's all shove away at an array of pesky little mountains with some big juggernaut 2,000-page reform bill.
What we have here is the art of the possible — because our screwed-up system of the best democracy that money can buy has made impossible the crafting of the demonstrably beneficial.
Translation: the art of the possible means half-assed is what you get, which is still better than nothing.
Already, with half-assed healthcare reform, Obama can claim to have achieved something no President has done since Teddy Roosevelt noticed the problem a hundred years ago.
Now imagine if Obama gets some half-assed education reform through, some half-assed infrastructure done (high-speed rail, anybody?) and some half-assed green energy initiatives up-and-running (solar and wind subsidies, anyone?).
Presto: one of our great presidents. That's how far half-assed can get you these days. Set us on a new trajectory. Transformative and all that.
And it's got nothing to do with being progressive or conservative or anything remotely ideological or party-political.
Just being practical.
Obama is well along his merry road already. Not even halfway through his first term and healthcare reform is signed, sealed and delivered. Three more big problems to knock off, and chances are Obama will get there, and thus become worthy of having his shnoz carved into Mount Rushmore.
Anyway, that's what I think. Nay: firmly predict. You see, once I stopped believing Obama was a progressive, I suddenly started realizing he could be great anyway. Simply because he wants to solve our biggest problems — and could care less about ideology to the right or the left.
How about about you? Go ahead, try it. Stop thinking of Obama as progressive. Just hope he keeps on being a low-down practical SOB bastard of a scheming blackguard.
You'll find this can be quite a relief. Hey, it can almost restore your faith in some kind of American Dream.
American Dream Redux, to be sure, but a tad better than the nightmare we've been living in.