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Churning and turning in the widening mire...

Interesting critique of the administration in the London Review of Books. Since it's the anniversary of Lehman, when Obama became the presumptive President, these anniversary pieces will crop up more and more, no doubt.

NOTE Via Baseline Scenario.

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Valhalla's picture
Submitted by Valhalla on

The author puts out the central mystery that needs exploring as Obama's failure to follow up grand rhetoric with action, while simultaneously caving to Republicans in the interests of bipartisanship. What he's missing, despite (correctly) calling out Obama's FISA vote as a harbinger of things to come, is that Obama's grandiloquence was never meant to be followed by action; it's a bug, not a feature. Even some "progressives" have started to realize such; it seems to be something of an intermediary step in the (I won't say "grieving") process of gradually understanding that Obama is not at all the man or leader they thought he'd be.

Rather than face the possibility that Obama never intended to close Guantanamo, reform health care, stop the economic looting by big banks, save home ownership, or close down the Iraq-Afghanistan war machine, Bromwich turns to mere well-intentioned miscalculation to explain both the hostility of the right-wing and the severity of populist anger* the inescapable reason why none of these has happened:

The intuition of Obama and his advisers must have been that any protest in these byways of discourse was right-wing business as usual. That lazy assumption left them unequipped for the gravity of the challenge. They thought the anger would simmer and die down. It did not occur to them that it might simmer and boil. If a threat is seen to spring from a determined opponent, Obama’s inclination is generally to let it go. He will emerge (he trusts) in the long run as the man who takes long views. By the effects of these postponements, however, he is forever giving new hostages to the truckle of compromise; he is put in the position of backing away while his enemies pick up strength; and in a leader whose nature is conciliatory, this means that the declared scope of every undertaking slowly shrinks and recedes.

Bromwich continues to frame the debate as if Obama were outside Versailles, instead of its leader:

For Obama to do the courageous thing and withdraw would mean having deployed against him the unlimited wrath of the mainstream media, the oil interest, the Israel lobby, the weapons and security industries, all those who have reasons both avowed and unavowed for the perpetuation of American force projection in the Middle East.

* He does acknowledge, almost in passing, that most Americans may have some justification to the fears the Republicans are so very efficient at stirring up: "Non-fanatical Americans of modest means have wondered how their children will pay for the emergency measures we are buying now but refusing to tax ourselves for." But buried near the end of the piece is the critical mistake that Obama and most the New Democrats are making, and Bromwich seems to have the right basic reading but himself underestimates the consequences:

Equality in the United States in the early 21st century has become a gospel preached by the liberal elite to a populace who feel they have no stake in equality. Since the Reagan presidency and the dismemberment of the labour unions, America has not known a popular voice against the privilege of the large corporations....Little has been inherited of the welfare-state doctrine of distributed risk and social insurance. The architects of liberal domestic policy, put in this false position, make easy prey for the generalised slander that says that all non-private plans for anything are hypocritical.

But the false position is of Democrats' own making; Obama and his supporters could have used the gigantic bullhorn of his popularity to educate the public about " distributed risk and social insurance" -- even now Obama could still do this on health care -- but instead chose to spend their time with hopey change before the election and pale echoes of right-wing memes after. The danger posed by Obama's leadership style isn't that it might rightly be called hypocritical -- hypocrisy is too common in politics to be treated as true fault or threat to one's power -- but that by contentedly allowing the political river sourced at Versailles carry him along to wherever, the fear, anger, frustration and rage of those of 'modest means' will be exploited and co-opted by Republicans. If there is a miscalculation, it's that the popularity of Obama's hope and change rhetoric could continue carry him above the despair and frustration of the millions of jobless and health-care-less Americans.

Best line of the piece, though: on the ineffectiveness of his spokesmen - "Obama’s confidant David Axelrod...emits a pleasant porridge of upper-media demotic."