Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Barack Obama; Selling out His Constituency




It was all about Hope and Change We Can Believe In and we bought it.

My goodness, how many presidential candidates have thrown those lines out there? But we elected the man and danced in the streets after a previous eight years of fear-based lies. It was a huge relief to those who felt America had been hustled by the outgoing administration. The system would right itself. Thank God, the system would finally right itself, with this smart, savvy constitutional lawyer at the helm. If he happened to be a black man as well, it was simply another page turned in the American history we all believed was inevitable.

”Barack Obama ran for president as a man of the people, standing up to Wall Street as the global economy melted down in that fateful fall of 2008. He pushed a tax plan to soak the rich, ripped NAFTA for hurting the middle class and tore into John McCain for supporting a bankruptcy bill that sided with wealthy bankers "at the expense of hardworking Americans." Obama may not have run to the left of Samuel Gompers or Cesar Chavez, but it's not like you saw him on the campaign trail flanked by bankers from Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. What inspired supporters who pushed him to his historic win was the sense that a genuine outsider was finally breaking into an exclusive club, that walls were being torn down, that things were, for lack of a better or more specific term, changing.”[1]

He swung into the saddle on a horse that had been economically shot-out at the knees, but we knew he was the right man to lead. His final rallying cry was to go after Wall Street and the Investment Banks that had blown the vaults and run off with the pretty school ma’am. Young, tough and straight-shooter, we watched him buckle his gun-belt. But it was the elected Obama we watched with anticipation, rather than the candidate. He selected a posse to chase the bad guys, almost entirely made up from among the old robber gang.

New York Fed chief, Timothy Geithner, a man who smoothed the Wall Street path to all the TARP banking bailouts, was the first to hit the saddle alongside Obama, as Secretary of the Treasury. Next to grab a horse from a bystander was Larry Summers, to head the National Economic Council, the key group that coordinates all economic policymaking within the White House. Sporting a spiffy new white Stetson, Summers was fresh-faced and ruddy from his millions made as a managing partner at the hedge fund D. E. Shaw & Co. and his popular speechifying at major financial institutions, happily including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers.

What is it they say? It takes a thief to catch a thief. Long story short, Wall Street and the banks are now twice to-big-to-fail and Obama’s Attorney General now says they’re too-big-to-prosecute as well. Confused and in a state of wonderment, as JPMorgan Chase reserved $23 billion to fight criminal prosecution and Bank of America stashed $40 billion to keep its leaders out of jail, we re-elected Barack Obama in 2012. But it hadn’t the soul of four years earlier. He had a lot of help from Mitt Romney’s self-immolation. 

Six months into Obama’s second term, all hell broke loose in the spying community and this Man of Hope and Change is hip-deep, these four months later, in a web of lies that only become more tangled by the day. As candidate and President, Obama promised transparency in his administration. On Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as at well scripted public appearances, he continues to make that claim, all in an attempt to give lip-service to transparency, or at least the appearance thereof. In the early days of the Snowden revelations, he said publicly that he was eager to have a dialogue with the American people on the subject. Simultaneously and without the least irony, he demonized and hunted the man who forced that throw-away line of ‘eagerness for dialogue.’

These are the times of monologue on both sides of the political spectrum. In reality; 
  • Edward Snowden has become a man without a country for his NSA spying revelations, sought by Obama and his administration as a ‘terrorist’ and ‘traitor.’ Without that promised dialogue, Snowden’s revelations continue to bloody the sheets and the president is (perhaps) rightfully exposed, his worldwide reputation coming apart at the seams.
  • Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, is holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London (in part) for making public thousands of American internal documents that outraged the world and of which we knew nothing in Obama’s transparent government.
  • Chelsea Manning begins serving 35 years in military prison for making public the July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike and the 2009 Granai airstrike in Afghanistan, both of which indiscriminately targeted civilians and for which no military servicemen of substantial rank were charged. Who got 35 years? Why the messenger, of course, no matter how fragile his personal and military life.
  • Without Spc. Joseph Darby handing over of the horrific images of detainee abuse to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID), the abu Ghraib torture photos would never have sparked an investigation. To its credit, the next day, the Army launched a criminal investigation, but the seeds of such techniques were well known to have reached all the way to the Bush administration, within which no acid rain would fall.
  • The United States no longer tortures prisoners under its direct control but continues, under the Obama administration, to allow ‘extraordinary rendition’ to other countries for just that purpose and Guantanamo is still open for business.
So much for ‘transparency and welcoming a dialogue.’

The broken promises include that closing of Guantanamo (which he could have accomplished by presidential order as Commander in Chief), eliminating all oil and gas tax-loopholes, requiring publicly traded financial partnerships to pay the corporate income tax, restoring habeas corpus rights for ‘enemy combatants,’ regulating pollution from major livestock operations, increasing the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, limiting the term of the Director of National Intelligence, introducing a comprehensive immigration bill in the first year of his 2nd term, ending tax deductions for companies that offshore and—pick your favorite ‘other.’

So, what are we to make of Change We can Believe In? That it was a con-game to assure a 2nd term? That the constituency that elected him had somehow let him down? That he was unable to get his agenda past Republican blockage? Rather, it seems he was way over his head in the matter of political experience and used the nation’s governance as a training ground. But we stayed with him through a re-election campaign, which is more than he did for those of us who doggedly got him there.

FDR fought (and largely won against) a Republican Party that despised him through five successful election cycles. His legacy continues today, responsible (at the author’s own admission) for the very survival of Dick Cheney’s family. Now there’s an irony for you.

It would be one thing if the national thirst for honesty and support were simply not there, but the amazing success of plain-spoken candidates who support civil society, like Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio, are riding electoral groundswells on issues that affect American society. Will they too be defeated by their darker sides, or lust for re-election? It seems not, but these are early days. It seemed not with Barack Obama as well and this season’s vigilantes are just swinging into their saddles.

And there we come down to it, a president’s, or other elected official’s legacy to the citizens he represents. Barack Obama is a young man, among our youngest elected presidents. He will have 40 or 50 years to reflect upon what he promised as a candidate against what he delivered as president. History will reflect upon those disparities as well, including those of us who unswervingly supported him.

I suspect history will not be all that kind and he may face decades of personal regret for the President he might have been.



[1] Matt Taibbi, Obama's Big Sellout, Rolling Stone, December 13, 2009