Monday, December 29, 2008

Pelosiites: Worse than Bush

George Bush is out to lunch, but his government has at least had the decency to “ask” Israel to try not to kill too many civilians in Gaza with its bombs, as if that were possible in the most densely populated area in the world. Par for the course, and criminally reprehensible -- especially since Israel’s latest murderous assault would never have happened unless the United States had acquiesced.

However, “liberal” Democrats are even worse. All they can think to do is mouth off about Israel’s right of “self-defense” – against what had been a minor annoyance (homemade rockets lobbed into a small part of southern Israel, by a people staggering under the yoke of an occupation so brutal that it would be ruled a crime against humanity, if only the United States would get out of the way of international tribunals). Nancy Pelosi, true to form, leads the way. God, if She existed, could not have created a more base and servile creature. She’s been joined by Steny Hoyer, Harry Reid and others. Even Obama, vacationing in Hawaii, has chimed in in his Rorschach way – having David Axelrod repeat the Democratic catechism about how important the American-Israel “special relationship” is. He did not bother to add what everybody knows: that it’s special only to ethnic chauvinists and “morally challenged” religious fanatics – in other words, to his party’s paymasters and to the godly nincompoops he’s trying to win over with a little help from his friends (of the Rick Warren persuasion). Lesser evil party indeed!

Obama, Where's Your Vaunted "Judgment" Now That We Need It?

Yes, we know there’s “only one President at a time,” though he’s more than usually gone missing (not that anybody really minds!), and we know about the Israel lobby. We know too how, where the “Holy Land” is concerned, our political class and media insist on the “moral equivalence” of occupiers and their victims – in plain violation of common sense and elementary decency. Even so, the Israeli assault on Gaza, now in its third day, is so horrendously disproportionate, so thoroughly out of “humanitarian” bounds, that Obama’s silence in the face of it borders on Bush level morality. When the Rorschach Man becomes President, it will be up to us to force him to force Israel to join the community of civilized states. But now is not too soon for us to do our best to force the President-elect, the apostle of “change we can believe in,” to speak out – particularly with an Israeli ground invasion, an Anschluss likely to devastate both sides, in the offing.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

More Wars Ahead?

With an inspiring speech of unusual eloquence in the offing and with Lincolnesque symbolism abounding, Obama’s inauguration should surpass even that Grant Park moment on election night – especially as the fact registers that, at last, we are free from further depredations emanating from the wretched House of Bush. The entire world will rejoice.

But, even as celebratory thoughts multiply, there is cause for concern. Eight years of Bush misrule have left Obama with multiple, inter-related disasters to confront. It’s not just “the economy stupid,” catastrophic as the economic situation now is. There is also the harm done to our liberties and to the rule of law, environmental problems to address and much more. Most of all, there are those two on-going Bush wars – at least one of which Obama, formerly “the peace candidate,” intends to ratchet up several notches – proving that he too can act in dumb, counter-productive ways when “national security” is involved.

In the past few days, however, it has become clear that the outlook for peace is even worse than this because two more wars are looming. The United States is not directly involved in either, not yet; but it is a major cause of both.

There is first of all the growing likelihood of a war between India and Pakistan – both of them nuclear powers. All American presidents, going back to Jimmy Carter, helped conjure political Islam into being and Hindus have long had their own variation on the theme, but it took George W. Bush to turn Pakistan into a powder keg and to make war with India likely. Do Obama and his team of Clintonites have a clue about how to navigate this maelstrom? It remains to be seen.

Conflicts between India and Pakistan may be beyond the reach of any American government to resolve, even if there is now a window of opportunity, as Indians and Pakistanis compete to demonstrate good will by “winning one” for Obama. On the other hand, it is entirely within the means of any American government to restrain Israel as it embarks on yet another war; all that is required is a credible threat to withdraw that open-ended blank check American governments have given them almost since the inception of the state. For keeping Israel at peace, the problem is our politics, not our leverage. This too is a cause for concern.

Ever since Hamas took effective control of Gaza, Israel has done everything in its power to make life intolerable for the people there, turning an occupied territory into a besieged open-air prison. No wonder that there is armed resistance! The remarkable thing is how little there has been – just a few, mostly harmless, rockets lobbed into southern Israel. Now, though, it seems that Hamas feels strong enough to want to draw Israel into a ground war, not to defeat it outright – that would be impossible – but to humiliate it, as it was humiliated, at least twice in recent years, by Hezbollah in Lebanon. Thus they have intensified the still mostly harmless rocket lobbing. Count on Israel to find the bait irresistible. Yesterday’s murderous “shock and awe” bombing raid, killing some 240 people according to the latest reports, may just be intended, stupidly and counter-productively, as a retaliation. More likely, it is a prelude to a ground war. Who knows what disasters that will bring, especially if things go poorly for Israel, as they most likely will – if not in the (re)conquest, then in the post-conquest occupation. Are Obama and his band of Clintonites up for dealing with that war too? They won’t do right by the Palestinians, at least not intentionally; that would be asking too much. But maybe, just maybe, they can find it within themselves to save Israel from itself by imposing a semblance of a just, durable and respectful peace. There’s so far no sign of it.

But for the Israel lobby with its Jewish and fundamentalist Protestant wings, saving Israel from itself would be child’s play -- easier by far than saving capitalism from itself, the task that, thanks to Bush, the Wall Street flunkies Obama has (re)empowered may have no choice but to attempt. It is ironic that there is so much less domestic resistance to breaking with Reaganite-Clintonite orthodoxy than there is to holding Israel back. It just goes to show how, when in dire enough straits, capitalists will willingly abandon their convictions to save their asses. Believers in manifest destiny and divine providence, not to mention ethnic supremacy, are less disposed to forsake ideologically driven ambitions.

So in addition to everything else, Obama may find two more wars on his plate. Will he and his “competent” cabinet be up to dealing with so much so soon? Or will he stumble from the outset, bringing the Obama high crashing down even before memories of Inauguration Day fade? I hope I’m wrong, but my money is on the latter prospect.

Monday, December 22, 2008


How pathetic are those blowhards from both of our quasi-official parties who have been mouthing off in recent days about how unqualified Caroline Kennedy is! How ironic that some of them were, and still are, Hillary supporters; in other words, believers in the “qualifications” of an Official Wife whose undistinguished Senatorial career, essentially a launching pad for her failed Presidential bid, began when she was parachuted into the state of New York!

[In fact, that Presidential bid failed less than appears, inasmuch as the cause of a Clinton Restoration has been taken up by Hillary’s rival, Barack Obama, and inasmuch as, thanks to Obama, Hillary herself has been appointed to the one post, Secretary of State, that she and her husband deem worthy of her – notwithstanding the fact that, again, her qualifications consist mainly in having been an Official Wife.]

In any case, as Caroline’s critics well know, in the House and Senate, how well one does and how effective one is depends, more than anything else, on one’s staff. In that department, Caroline is superbly “qualified” because her doting uncle has the best staff in town, and it’s a sure thing that he and they will instantly assure that she has all she needs, and more. Caroline is therefore in an excellent position to function as a Senator – far better than her critics. She’s also in an excellent position to run in 2010, especially in New York, where, more than in most other jurisdictions, money talks – and the Kennedy name can raise oodles of it. As for suffering fools – “liberal” and not so liberal pundits, self-important political hacks in the Democratic Party, acolytes of New York’s countless interest groups – she has two years to polish her act. In the meantime, she has only to tap into that Kennedyesque combination of noblesse oblige and the common touch that JFK and RFK exuded, and that her Uncle Teddy still does (to far better effect than either of the other two!).

Why care, since Caroline’s politics, as best as it can be discerned, is just a tad better than Hillary’s or, for that matter, New York’s Senior Senator’s, Charles (Schmucky Chucky) Schumer. I care because I want Hillary’s Senate seat to be the launching pad for the first woman President of the United States – but not for Hillary! How deliciously ironic that would be! Now that Obama has taken away the sting of their defeat, it would be the only way those wretched Clintons – the murderers by sanctions of some half-million Iraqis, the state smashers and ethnic cleansers of the former Yugoslavia, the “humanitarian interventionists” eager to wreak havoc at the slightest provocation, the kinder, gentler Reaganite dismemberers of our fragile welfare state, the free-marketeering Wall Street flunkies, the destroyers for a generation of the hope for health care reform – will be brought to a pale semblance of justice.

Having gotten through three generations of the Bush family (with Brother Jeb waiting in the wings), it should be plain to all that our dynastic “democracy” has its shortcomings, especially when our institutions are essentially up for sale. But dynasticism also opens up possibilities that would be otherwise unavailable. Whatever a Senate seat in New York will be going for in two years time, a Senate seat for Caroline Kennedy would be, as the Mastercard ad puts it, “priceless.”

Friday, December 19, 2008

Obama to His "Base" -- " You"

Even Mike Madden, writing in, agrees: that’s what Obama meant when he invited the rightwing evangelist Rick Warren to deliver the “invocation” at his inauguration. But Madden and others exaggerate the point: this latest “f…ck you,” targeted at the more vulnerable parts of his base – at gays, of course, but also at high-minded liberal proponents of tolerance, and at women and men devoted to safeguarding and enhancing reproductive rights -- is, like everything else Obama has done, an unprincipled strategic calculation. He didn’t invite a white supremacist cleric or an anti-immigrant nativist. He didn’t invite an anti-Semite. That wouldn’t have scored him any points. Neither, of course, did he invite the kind of cleric who regularly sides with the angels: for example, by opposing Israeli Apartheid and international lawlessness. That wouldn’t have helped him either. Instead, Obama did what the Clintons would have done if they saw a percentage in it. And why not? Liberals are stuck with him now, and they’re undemanding enough that he can easily make amends. What harm can there be, therefore, in dissing gays now and then or in making nice to “pro-lifers”? If that’s what it takes to win away hoards of pious ignoramuses who regularly vote with the oligarachs of the GOP, then so be it.

Why is anyone surprised? With almost every one of his appointments – Steven Chu at Energy and, now, Hilda Solis at Labor excepted – Obama has been saying “f…ck you” to literally everyone who saw this Rorschach candidate as an agent of (undefined) “change.” It’s turned out that he’s not even a candidate of cosmetic change, of plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,as I thought he would be. He hasn’t even, for the most part, appointed New Model Clintonites. Instead, he’s given us what we would have had had Hillary won – except that Hillary herself ended up with a slightly less elevated position. If that’s not saying “f…ck you” to the people who voted for him, then what is!

What the invitation of that repellent preacher reveals is not anything new about Obama; that he is center-right Clintonite pol, intent on “reaching across the aisle” (edging rightward), has been evident from the beginning. What it reveals, or rather what the reaction to it reveals, is how painful it will be for Obamamaniacs when they finally can’t help but come down from their Obama high.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What Gets Their Goat

A New Yorker cartoon has it about right: some elves are sitting at a bar. One says to the other: “What a Christmas. First the North Pole melts and now they’re laying off elves.” Translation: George Bush has wrecked just about everything he’s touched, and many things he hasn’t. Bush and Company created an historic opening for a radical change of course – an opportunity the Democrats fumbled in the primaries. Even so, he made Barack Obama’s election possible, and the economic mess he has made may yet force Obama’s center-right administration to do some semblance of the right thing. But if “progressives” go missing for a change, or if they remain mired in the delusion that is Obamamania, that opportunity too will be lost. The outlook is not promising.

Obama has now all but completed loading up his cabinet with Clintonites – not even new model Clintonites, like we had every right to expect, but the same old, same old. He did it with hardly a peep of protest from “the left.” Thus, in the past few days, a Secretary of Agriculture who is a stooge of agri-business and a Transportation Secretary who is a downstate (Illinois) Republican without a whiff of expertise in transportation, but with a hardy “bipartisan” spirit, were appointed almost without objection. Would it have been worse if Hillary Clinton had won? At least then there’d be a better (less bad) Secretary of State.

But now, finally, Team Obama has gone too far. In choosing the anti-gay, anti-abortion mega-church evangelist Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at Obama’s inaugural, the Obama camp may have finally gotten the goat of the gullible. The problem is not that so-called progressives find it abhorrent that the candidate of change is going along with a tradition, more honorable in the breach than the observance, of entreating the divinity at the start of what ought to be a secular event. It’s just that they don’t like having the invocation of godliness delivered by someone so blatantly right wing. In other words, it’s OK to pander to Sarah Palin’s benighted constituency, the useful idiots of the Republican oligarchs they’re trying to win over – but Warren is just too much.

Thus, for our so-called left, godliness (bad faith) is OK, but not when it is represented by someone so plainly not on the side of the angels. How pathetic is that! Progressives – you’re going to have to do better. Even after George Bush, the force of circumstances can only take us so far.

Here’s a modest proposal: if the divinity must be invoked, then let Jeremiah Wright be the one to do it. He was, after all, Obama’s “spiritual mentor” – until it became politically inconvenient to be associated with someone guilty of uttering so many naked truths. Even our progressives should agree: Better an African American liberation theologian than an exponent of Saddleback stupidity.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Senator Kennedy

To the dismay of his high-minded liberal admirers, the great Argentinean author, Jorge Luis Borges is said to have admired fascism – for the ironies it conjures up. Our dynastic “democracy” offers similar possibilities. This is why I am so pleased that, according to The New York Times and other sources, Caroline Kennedy has decided to seek Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat. I hope she gets it, and I hope she goes on to become the first woman President of these United States.

Evidently, it’s not yet a done deal, and she has her detractors – including one very silly Democratic Congressman from Queens, Gary Ackerman. It seems he and a few others think Caroline unqualified. But then, what was Hillary Clinton in 2000? Is Ackerman really so sure that it was more educational, in pertinent ways, to live in the White House as Bill Clinton’s official wife than to live there as a toddler? Perhaps, but I’d think that quality time with Uncle Teddy and with her cousins counts for a whole lot more than dinner table talk (or pillow talk, if any) with the non-inhaler-in-chief; enough to cancel out the difference. Otherwise, both women went to Law School. After a year or two in Washington doing the things freshly minted lawyers do, one of them went on to a rather lackluster – and shady – career at Little Rock’s finest law firm. In getting that job, it helped, of course, that she’d gone to Yale. It helped a lot more that she was the Governor’s wife. The other has done serious legal scholarship, edited well-regarded anthologies, and worked for good causes, including some connected with her family. It’s hard to say which one is more qualified on that account. But did I mention that only one of them actually is a New Yorker?

How wonderful it would be if Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat actually is a springboard to the White House – but not for Hillary! And, it that’s what the future brings, what will have made it all possible is Hillary’s sense of entitlement – her Clintonesque conviction that she’s too good to be the junior Senator from New York or indeed anything less than Secretary of State. There’s irony in that as well. The harm she’ll do from her perch at Foggy Bottom remains to be seen. But since Health and Human Services is beneath her too, at least she won’t have a chance, this time around, to set the cause of health care reform back another generation.

So Go Caroline! And Hillary, eat Caroline dust!

Shoes Are Not Enough!

Bravo to the brave Iraqi journalist who, by throwing his shoes at George Bush yesterday in Baghdad – at great personal cost – made the best possible use of cultural conventions to signify contempt! But contempt, even when backed by shoes, is not enough. Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and the rest of them must be brought to justice – Pelosiite/Obamaite pusillanimity and “bipartisanship” notwithstanding.

Unfortunately, with our institutions and our Democrats, there is really no way to call Bush and Company to account. Voting them out of office is hardly equal to the offence, especially since they were obliged to leave office anyway, and since voting them out meant voting in more decent and competent but essentially like-minded people led by an administration dedicated to “change”— in other words, to continuity by another name. Impeachment would have been a step in the right direction but, thanks to the Pelosiites in Congress, that was “off the table.” In response to that betrayal of Congress’ Constitutional responsibilities, the most those vaunted “progressives” in the Progressive Caucus and elsewhere were willing to do was offer grotesquely muted objections. But, even if they had had the courage and wits to put Bush and the others on trial before the Senate, and even if they had been successful in removing them from office, since we have no functional equivalent of a “no confidence” vote in the Home of the Brave, the convicted perpetrators of various “high crimes and misdemeanors” would still have gotten away with almost all their foul works and deeds.

This is, after all, the President who bankrupted the country, brought on the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and who is now intent on destroying the remnants of American industry – all the while transferring obscene amounts of wealth to the beneficiaries of our recently departed Gilded Age. This is the President who has done incalculable, perhaps even irreparable, environmental harm. This is the President who has done more than any of his predecessors since the days of the Alien and Sedition Act to undermine Constitutional protections for civil liberties. This is the President who has concocted a torture regime and done his best to undermine the rule of law at the international level. This is the President who has targeted and persecuted American citizens and permanent residents of the wrong ethnicities on the pretext of defending “the homeland.” Worst of all, this is the President who, by spreading murder and mayhem to Afghanistan and Iraq, has perpetrated incalculable harm in two on-going, lost wars (one of which Obama plans to intensify!).

For most of these and other stupendous harms, there is little anyone can do except throw shoes or their functional equivalent at the perpetrators. But the war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes against the peace are eminently actionable. The point now is to make it painfully clear to Obama and his minions that “making nice” to the miscreants for “pragmatic” reasons is not only pragmatically counter-productive, and a missed opportunity for a genuinely “educative” politics. They must be forced to act on the plain fact that not bringing Bush and Company to justice egregiously offends that ideal. In short, they must be made to understand that “moving on” is a recipe for more of the same, and there there is far too much of that already.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Are there are Republicans even worse than Cheney and Bush? The ones who obstructed the “rescue” loans for the Big Three auto companies are good candidates. The least of it is that, following the money, they’ve switched their allegiance from domestic to foreign capital. The worst: that they’re outright, unabashed union busters, who just can’t stand the idea of institutions that, no matter how feebly, empower workers and raise their standard of living.

I concede that my judgment is untrustworthy since what seems like obvious overreaching to me often gets a free pass from the leaders of the Lesser Evil party – especially when reacting appropriately might give cause for Republicans of the Bush-Cheney grade or worse to castigate them for their “liberalism,” or when they fear displeasing their paymasters. Israel’s depredations in Gaza and the other (illegally) Occupied Territories, and its wars of choice in Lebanon, are examples. But this latest assault on organized labor seems so over the top that I find it hard to imagine that Obama and Co. could let pass without some salutary reaction. But then I remember that for the Better than Bush sector of our political class to do the right thing, even with overwhelming popular support, they need a backbone – and, while the GOP does at least have that, backbones are and always have been in short supply in the Party of Pusillanimity, the POP.

With Inauguration Day so far off, we can still hope, along with liberals on an Obama high, that the overreaching this time will encourage Democrats to move closer to the aspirations of the constituencies who vote for them -- notwithstanding the fact that the writing is splashed across the wall that the new administration will be a Clinton administration redux. We can still hope that Obama and Company will enact programs that strengthen labor -- to the dismay of those southern Senators. Organized labor asked for nothing from Obama, and that may be what it will get. But, in this instance as in so many others, circumstances may force Obama to do the right thing. High on the list is rethinking the entire framework within which unions organize and operate. Repealing Taft Hartley would be a good place to start – practically and symbolically.

Putting repeal of Taft Hartley on Nancy Pelosi’s abstemious table, the one that had no place for impeachment, would also be a good place to start – practically and symbolically – for remaking the Democratic Party. Recall that Taft Hartley was passed over Harry Truman’s veto. Clintonites can’t venerate Harry Truman enough, but for all the wrong reasons. They like his “muscular,” indeed nuclear, foreign policy, his multilateralism, and his role in forging international institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that reinforce American hegemony. But just as Cheney and Bush made Democratic victories belatedly inevitable in 2006 and 2008, the overreaching of Republicans even worse than Cheney and Bush might just force the “victors” to embrace the (few) good things associated with Harry Truman’s presidency: not least his recognition that a strong labor movement is indispensable for freedom, equality and social solidarity – an item in desperately short supply for more than a quarter century.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Barack Obama forgave Joe Lieberman, who campaigned against him – even after Obama campaigned for Lieberman when he ran against the anti-war candidate Ned Lamont in 2006. Of far greater moment, Obama will forgive George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their minions – all of them manifestly culpable for war crimes, crimes against the peace and crimes against humanity. They ran a torture state for which they are totally unrepentant. Even so, there’s no chance they’ll be brought to justice; Obama will take that “off the table,” Pelosi style. There probably won’t even be anything like a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. That’s why we can expect that, under Obama, the Bush wars will continue – the one in Afghanistan will even intensify – and that nothing salutary will be learned from the experience. Obama’s forgiveness will be “preemptive” and total – no matter how stupendous the crimes or how loathsome the criminals. [Even now, with less than six weeks until we see the backs of them, Bush and Company are adding to their “legacy” with crimes against the environment – gutting the Endangered Species Act, for example -- while superintending the demise of American manufacturing.] Corporate criminals, the more egregious ones anyway, may not fare quite so well in the years to come. But don’t expect many of them to be brought to justice either.

Rod Blagojevich is another matter. He hasn’t killed anybody; he hasn’t even destroyed the livelihoods of large numbers of people – like Wall Street speculators or inept CEOs or, for that matter, the Republican Senators hell bent on union busting (and taking what’s left of America’s manufacturing down with them). To be sure, Blagojevich did join the long line of Illinois governors who have brought disgrace upon their office and shame to their state. He deserves to be removed from the governorship and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But what about the others! It offends even the most jaded sense of proportionality that they should get off scot-free, while even Obama, the Forgiver-in-Chief, cannot find it in his heart to feel anything more than unmitigated outrage to level against this one contemptible man.

* *

Even so, the Blagojevich affair may turn out to be Obama’s first misstep. In several news conferences, Obama has parsed his words carefully – Clinton-style. Given what he has said about the matter and the dangers of being caught in a lie, it is safe to assume that he really didn’t meet with Blagojevich to discuss his Senate seat, and that none of his “emissaries” did either. But it’s hard to believe that everyone associated with his campaign remained similarly aloof. Why would they? For that matter, why would Obama? Unless Obama and his team knew that Blagojevich was auctioning off the seat, in which case they would be at fault for not turning him in, why wouldn’t they discuss the successor issue with the one person with the authority to make the selection? There would be no impropriety in that. If there’s anything suspicious in the news coming out of Patrick Fitzgerald’s office, it’s Obama’s abstinence in the selection process. Would it not be odd if the Clintons are not discussing the future of the seat Hillary was parachuted into in New York with Governor Patterson? Wouldn’t it be appropriate for them to volunteer their views or for Patterson to seek them out? Why would it be different in Illinois? That’s the interesting question.

The answer could well be benign. It might be, for example, that Team Obama had Blagojevich on their “untouchables” list -- because they knew him to be generally corrupt. Or, unlikely as it seems, maybe they were just too busy doing other things – like finding unreconstructed Clintonites and Wall Street free-marketeers to appoint to take over “the commanding heights.” In any case, Obama would do well not to follow the Bill Clinton model so closely, especially if his hands are clean. Instead of speaking with lawyerly caution and protesting too much, he would be better off finding out what actually did happen between Blagojevich and Obama’s associates, including those with whom he’s only tenuously linked, if he doesn’t already know – and then telling all. As Obama surely knows, what gets politicians in trouble is not the crime (or, in this case, the appearance of impropriety); it’s the cover-up.

Monday, December 8, 2008

What Will Move Obama Forward?

Not this kind of deluded, boost-don’t-knock non-sense. What will move Obama and his band of Clintonites forward is this kind of struggle. For anyone to the left of Robert Gates these days, the watchword should be – “Two, Three, Many Republic Windows and Doors.”

Note: it’s nice that Jesse Jackson joined those Republic workers briefly and likened their struggle to Martin Luther King’s and Cesar Chavez’s. It would be more than nice if Obama, having uttered a few weasel words of support on Sunday, would show his face there too. But it is ironic – and revealing of the extent of our “left’s” historical ignorance and/or amnesia – that, at a time when the UAW is under assault by Republican (and some Democratic) union busters, no one bothers to remark that, back in the last Great Depression, the first sit-down strikes in the United States were the work of auto workers in and around Detroit struggling for union recognition.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Why Have Obama's Appointments So Far Been So Dreadful?

Before turning to that vexing question, a few preliminary remarks:

-Maybe, once the top tier positions in his administration are filled with Clintonites and Wall Street moles, Obama will throw a few sops to the “liberals.” There are signs of this already, though it is so far mainly confined to the Vice President’s staff – for example, the appointment of Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute as Biden’s economic advisor. Admittedly, we’re talking social workers, not socialists, but, in an era of small “change,” small favors are most welcome.

-I would venture too that today’s announcement that retired General Eric Shinseki will head the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is also good news. Shinseki is a military professional who was on the outs with Donald Rumsfeld even before being forced into retirement for opposing the administration’s transparently low ball estimate of the troop levels necessary to subdue Iraq and manage it after the American invasion.

-It is intriguing that Obama decided to appoint a Japanese American on Pearl Harbor Day, and that no one has accused him yet of palling around with kamikazes. The American Right has evidently made peace with Japan – even to the point of wanting the Japanese to run automobile manufacturing in this country, if that’s what it takes to do in the UAW. The Right’s reaction to Obama’s election also shows that they’ve made peace with the demise of Jim Crow – to the point that they can accept a (non-threatening) African-American President. But, as the example of Obama’s “pal,” Bill Ayers, attests, the folks who were right about Vietnam are still not forgiven. The lesson of that sorry phase of American history is still not learned.

-That “the sixties” remain contentious is a comparatively benign consequence of the fact that America’s defeat in Vietnam – and the defeat along with it of the War Party -- was less than total. The two Bush wars raging today, along with the wars initiated by Bush’s poppy and by Bill Clinton, are more malign consequences. This is why it is urgent to combat the Clintonites – Obama included – on the Bush wars, as much or more than it was to combat Cheney and Bush. They want out – who doesn’t! – but they don’t want there to be a perception of defeat because it would be bad for the empire; because America would then lose “respect.” This is a recipe for yet more disasters. Without some considerable come-uppins, we will have no chance at all of securing a relatively soft landing as the inevitable consequences of imperial overreach accumulate. The less clear it is that these latest adventures have ended in disaster – and humiliation – the more likely it will be that more of the same will happen again.

* *

Of course, it may yet turn out that circumstances force even the most dreadful members of Team Obama to do some pale approximation of the right thing – perhaps even to end the Bush wars. Still, the question remains: why has Obama been so drawn to war-supporting, free-marketeering Clintonites? Why has he made so many bad appointments? The most straightforward answer is that his politics are as bad as theirs. That hypothesis is confirmed by almost everything Obama has said and done since he announced his candidacy, with the possible exception of that too brief moment, before Super Tuesday, when Obama and his advisors thought it expedient to try to win over John Edwards’ supporters.

There are other explanations in circulation too, and they are not entirely implausible. However, for the most part, these explanations have an illusory aspect (in Freud’s sense of “illusion,” according to which illusions are expressions of unconscious desires). Obamamaniacs who are not yet ready to concede that they have been snookered are especially susceptible to illusions. There are also more hard-headed analyses in circulation. What they have in common is the idea, which may well be true, that Obama is extraordinarily shrewd. In the aftermath of that Grant Park moment, and in anticipation of Inauguration Day, the boundaries of these explanations easily meld together – as much for skeptics like myself as for “true believers.”

No doubt the most wishful explanation revolves around the idea, dear to liberal pundits, that Obama is so smart and so self-confident that he can fashion a “team of rivals” for their “competence” alone, while calling the shots himself. [The expression “team of rivals” comes from the title of a very unremarkable best-seller about Lincoln’s cabinet by pop historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.] For those who imagine this, Obama is “the decider” – though, in view of that term’s most recent uses, Obama’s cheerleaders dare not say so directly. Of course, the obverse is at least equally plausible: that Obama is so insecure that he needs Washington and Wall Street “heavies” around for cover and to keep him from going too far wrong.

Explanations that appeal to Obama’s shrewdness, more than to his majestic (or deficient) powers, all have one characteristic in common: they would make little sense had Obama not named Hillary Clinton Secretary of State. Thus there is the Godfather explanation -- “keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer.” In these terms, Clinton’s appointment would be shrewd indeed. By becoming Secretary of State, she will serve at Obama’s “pleasure.” Should she be dismissed, she’ll have no Senate seat to return to. She’ll probably not have much of a base in New York either – since, in the circumstances, neither she nor her “better half” will have much reason to continue cultivating one. Indeed, they have no reason any longer even to maintain residence in New York. Watch for Bill Clinton to move his operation from Harlem to Washington; it’s unlikely to happen right away, but give him a year or two. Remember that, for the Clintons, parachuting into New York was all about launching Hillary’s Presidential campaign. Now that that’s a dead letter, why bother.

[How delicious it would be if, in eight years time, having been appointed to Clinton’s Senate seat, Caroline Kennedy would be elected our first woman President of the United States! Dynastic politics is not without ironies; and, despite the Bush family and the Clintons, it is not a wholly deplorable phenomenon.]

There is also a wrinkle on the last of these explanations that renders it more benign. Ralph Nader mentioned it – skeptically -- last week on “Democracy Now”; I don’t know who else has floated the idea. The thought is that by putting a high profile figure at the head of the State Department – Hillary surely is that – Obama is aiming to restore the State Department’s traditional preeminence in foreign affairs, at the expense of the National Security Council, the Defense Department, and the various, nefarious agencies of the National Security State. That hypothesis is supported by the continuation in office – allegedly for a short, if not fixed, period of time – of George Bush’s man, Robert Gates, as head of the Defense Department. In that capacity, he is likely to remain what he now is: a caretaker. That would help neutralize the Defense Department in the perennial struggle for foreign policy supremacy, effectively reversing the situation that, until quite recently, existed under Bush – before his entire administration went missing. It should become clearer whether there is anything to this idea when we find out who Obama selects to head the many potentially powerful national security posts he has yet to fill – especially at the CIA.

Perhaps, then, there is some good that will come out of all the dreadfulness. Perhaps too things will all work out better than appears. However, to think so, one must don rose-colored glasses. In the light of day, it looks increasingly like what we see is what we’ll be getting.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Where Are They, Now That We Need Them?

As Obama loads up his administration with Clintonites, two formerly prominent mainstream politicians, John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer, have effectively gone missing. Could their philandering really explain this phenomenon – what with Bill Clinton, that nine hundred pound philanderer, calling the shots from behind the curtains? Or is it that they’re both too immoderate for our President elect?

Whatever the explanation, it is an unfortunate turn of events. Although he went along with the foreign policy and national security consensus, Edwards ran for the nomination as a genuine progressive on domestic affairs. He even dared speak of poverty and the working class – forbidden words (and topics) in the Democratic lexicon. While he was still in the race, he pulled both Obama and Clinton leftward, though not nearly enough. If Obama wants to “keep hope alive,” at least until his inauguration, he could do much worse than put Edwards in his cabinet. The Secretary of Labor job is still open. If it doesn’t go to David Bonior, a genuine progressive and Edwards’ former campaign manager, then it should go to Edwards himself. And, whatever the state of their marriage, Elizabeth Edwards would be a fine appointment to any position worthy of her considerable abilities – in contrast to Hillary Clinton who is a terrible appointment to any position at all, but especially to those, like the one she got, that she deems worthy of herself.

Apparently, Spitzer, like Larry Summers, is “challenged” in the personal relations department. But, so what – he knows how to put corporate malefactors away! Corporate America is full of malefactors deserving the worst Spitzer can dish out. Lets sic the pit bull (sans lipstick) on them. Otherwise, the Forgiver-in-Chief -- the forgiver already of Lieberman and, before long, of all the President’s war criminals, including the President himself and the hyper-culpable Dick Cheney – will let them get away with worse than murder, the ruination of countless working and middle class lives. With no charges pending against Client Number Nine, there is no obstacle in the way; only cowardice – which, among Democrats, is a considerable obstacle indeed.


Could anything be more obvious? To “solve” America’s health care problems, we must get rid of private insurance (except perhaps in niche markets for supplements, not replacements, for what is provided to all citizens and permanent residents by right). Then the government or some quasi-government entity established for that purpose could handle administrative issues at far less cost to citizens, as is the case almost everywhere else in the world. But since money talks and since the vested interests have lots of it which they generously disburse to the political class, no Democrat taken seriously will dare state, much less act on, the obvious; least of all Barack Obama. [Dennis Kucinich has never been taken seriously; neither was Paul Wellstone, though he got much better press than Kucinich.] Back in her (unelected) First Lady days, Hillary Clinton ignored the obvious too. If anything good will come from her becoming Secretary of State, it is that she and health care reform, allegedly the “cause” of her life, will part ways. Last time she took charge of that issue, she set the cause back a generation. Life isn’t long enough for her to get another chance.

It’s equally obvious, despite decades of indoctrination in free market theology, that the “solution” to the problems posed by the imminent collapse of the American auto industry is to nationalize General Motors and perhaps the other failing Big Three corporations as well, and to utilize their resources to produce the energy-saving vehicles we need in the face of an impending environmental catastrophe -- even if, for some indefinite period, there are no profits to be made in doing so. Environmental considerations require it; so does the welfare of American workers. Let the shareholders get the (current) market value of their assets but, by all means, stop the “furloughs” and layoffs and give-backs. The paramount task must be to strengthen unions; not hasten their demise.

In all likelihood, though, no help will come from the feds; it is even clearer that if help does come, it will not be worker-friendly. The Bush government and the Republican Party have seized upon the crisis to escalate their union busting efforts – and, as is their wont in nearly all matters of grave concern, the Democrats are going along. Unlike Democrats, when Republicans see an opening, they go for it. This is a case in point. Top executives at the Big Three will do well for themselves, no matter what. Why, then, should the (more) favored party of the ruling class throw good money after bad, especially in a period of “bailout fatigue” and at a time when organized labor, having demanded nothing from Obama or anyone else, is too weak to stand up for itself (even if its leadership had the will to do so)?

Of course, the answer to that question is obvious too, not that it matters in the least. The reason to save the U.S. auto industry, by the most efficacious and least costly means available, nationalization, is that workers matter. Democrats gesture towards organized labor when elections loom, and then diligently ignore their interests. But even if they were less contemptuous of the constituencies that vote for them, it’s still not clear that Democrats would find it within themselves do the right thing in this instance. After all, for our lesser evil party, nationalization has never exactly been “on the table,” as the peerless Pelosi might put it.

In short, it hardly matters that some ways forward are obvious. Nevertheless, it’s worth pointing the obvious solutions out, over and over again, as conditions change. In the past month, “change we can believe in” has revealed itself to amount to nothing more than “change” only gullible liberals can delude themselves into believing in. But there are forces at work that just might, at great cost in pain and suffering, move the center-right, where Obama has situated himself, slightly more towards a point where Obama will have no alternative but to acquiesce in some pale approximation of the obviously right thing. Remember, though, that in the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity, backbones are in short supply. It will be up to “us” to steel their resolve. But that isn’t going to happen until more of “us,” many more, get past the obviously false idea that Obama and his “competent” appointees and advisors are somehow part of the solution.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Silver Lining

Because Saxby Chambliss beat – actually trounced – Jim Martin in the Senate run-off election in Georgia, Obama will not have a “filibuster-proof” super-majority in the Senate, even if comedian Al Franken does finally beat Norm Coleman in the Minnesota recount. Although the increasingly “bipartisan” Obama, shows no signs of doing anything that even a Saxby Chambliss would want to filibuster, this is arguably bad news. That, anyway, is the consensus within the liberal commentariat, as they set about, true to form (since Obama can do no wrong), praising Obama’s political savvy for not putting his own prestige on the line by campaigning in person for Martin --whom they’ve deemed, as of yesterday, a weak candidate and a sure loser.

But there is a silver lining to Martin’s defeat. That sixty-vote super-majority depended on keeping Joe Lieberman on board. Now there is no longer any need. In these circumstances, will the Democratic leadership find the courage within themselves to give that treacherous twit the boot? They would have done it before, had not Obama, Forgiver-in-Chief, intervened. Perhaps now, as the President-elect turns his full attention to reempowering “competent” Clintonites and Wall Street flunkies, he will decide he no longer cares – allowing Harry Reid and Company to do the right thing. I’m not holding my breath, however. Notwithstanding Clintonomics (or was that Reaganomics?), wealth doesn’t “trickle down.” But pusillanimity does – as would by now be evident to all, if there weren’t already so much pusillanimity in the Democratic caucus that a little extra here or there is barely noticeable.

Monday, December 1, 2008

If You Can't Beat 'Em

The Clinton Restoration many thought they were voting against is now nearly confected. Foreign affairs will be run by unreconstructed Clintonites (and a Clinton), while the economy will be given over to barely chastened free marketeers of Clintonite vintage with Wall Street connections. Then, for the anti-war voters, add a dash of Bush in the form of Robert Gates and voilà – “change we can believe in.”

Meanwhile, liberals, famous for not taking their own side in an argument, can’t cut Obama enough slack -- or, worse, can’t stop cheerleading. In more thoughtful moments, they’ll acknowledge surprise and even disappointment. Still they persist in believing, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that Obama, “the decider” (??), knows best.

I could go on about how this is what you get when you demand nothing. But I confess I’m looking forward to a Lincolnesque oration and another Grant Park moment on Inauguration Day. So, for now, lets join in the celebration. There will be plenty of time to state, and restate, the obvious later on. In case reality gets in the way, just remember that it could be worse.

I was reminded of this by a Steve Brodner cartoon in the December 1 New Yorker. It pictures Obama’s “Team of Rivals”. Hillary Clinton is at the head of the table, next to the Commander-in-Chief. Then there’s Bill O’Reilly as Secretary of Defense, Joe the Plumber as Secretary of Labor, Todd Palin as Secretary of Homeland Security, Michele Bachmann as the Head of EPA and, best of all, a tarantula.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Change: Rorschach Style

Barack Obama ran for the nomination as the Rorschach Man – the candidate in whom voters could see what they want. His watchword was “change” – in context, as vacuous a concept as could be. Of course, when voters looked beneath the surface, they found a candidate situated at his party’s center-right (alongside Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden) -- far to the right of his party’s base. But few cared to look. Now the situation is even clearer. Still, remarkably, the world is full of people who’d rather not know. Obama has yet to lose the Rorschach touch.

Thus “anti-war” Obama is filling out the higher echelons of his national security apparatus with war Democrats (unreconstructed Clintonites). Hillary herself will preside over them! And, if that’s not sufficiently unbelievable, now we are told that Obama will keep George Bush’s Defense Secretary on, at least for a while. Thus along with Biden and Clinton, we’ll be getting Robert Gates – of Iran-Contra fame, called back to Washington after the 2006 elections (from Texas A&M, where he was doing whatever university presidents with CIA backgrounds do) to clean up Donald Rumsfeld’s mess, the better to keep the Bush wars going. Even Bill Clinton never appointed anybody like that. All this is happening, moreover, with only a barely audible peep from what passes these days for a peace movement.

Obama’s response to Bush’s economic meltdown is arguably even worse. Not only are the Obama appointees unreconstructed Clintonites, but some of them -- the ones occupying “the commanding heights” like Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner (loomed over by Robert Rubin, the éminence grise of Wall Street moles) -- are the architects of the deregulation that brought the crisis on. Not to worry, though, say ever hopeful liberals. Obama is still somehow the new FDR or rather, since he has learned from FDR’s mistakes, FDR verbessert.

Months ago, I wrote that Obama’s “change” was of the plus ça change variety – cosmetic, not substantive. I was too generous; it’s not even that. Nevertheless, Obamamaniacal illusions remain.

The support Obama is getting is, on the whole, a phenomenon of more clinical than political interest, but it does have a (somewhat) reasonable basis nevertheless. After Bush and Cheney and Henry Paulson (Mr. Magoo), and all Bush’s other “Brownies,” each and every one of them doing a “heckuva job,” there is a longing not just for “change” but also for competence. On that dimension, the Obama appointments shine in the manner of JFK”s “brightest and best.” Will these heirs of Camelot go on, like their predecessors, to launch yet another functional equivalent of the Vietnam War? Time will tell.

The fabulation now is that the gaggles of Clintonites and Wall Street flunkies are on board for their competence only, and that “progressive” (but also “pragmatic”) Obama will be calling the shots. Thus the contention that personnel and policy are not the same. How long before that illusion is shattered!

We must never forget that Bush and Cheney made Obama possible. They also made possible a far more radical transformation of the political scene than Obama will bring. Unfortunately, that opportunity was set aside once the primary season turned into a two-way, Obama v. Clinton, contest. Ironically, though, again thanks to Bush and Company, it could come back – as the fall-out from their misconceived policies and rank incompetence becomes more salient. The pain of it all could yet force Obama and his minions to go where no Clintonite has ever dared to go.

But we must also not forget that as long as Obamamiacal illusions persist, “we” have no claim on Obama or his policies. “We” never demanded anything from him, and that’s exactly what we’re getting. No matter how bad things get, Obama will still be working, Clinton-style, for Wall Street and the other Democratic paymasters, unless we turn him around. To that end, this Rorschach thing, this seeing what we want to see, has to stop. When it does, what will come into focus with the utmost clarity is one plain fact: that, insofar as he is permitted to go his own way, Obama will never be part of the solution. For that, he and his “competent” subordinates -- we must hope they really are just subordinates! – will have to be dragged kicking and screaming. Otherwise, we might as well have ended up with a full-fledged Clinton Restoration, not just in substance, but in name as well.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Abandon (Almost) All Hope

It seems that Democrats in the Senate won’t cede enough power to that old carpetbagger and Official Wife to keep her dwelling among them. New Yorkers rejoice! Rejoice that in Hillary Clinton’s mind, and in the view of increasingly many liberal commentators for whom Barack Obama can still do no wrong (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary), she is owed more. Thus, according to the latest leaks, the junior Senator from New York has decided to accept Obama’s offer to become Secretary of State.

New York’s gain is everyone else’s loss. But we mustn’t exaggerate the harm. From the outset of the primary season, Obama ran as a new model Clintonite. When John Edwards was in the race, he pulled Obama, and Clinton too, slightly to the left. But Obama was always a figure of the center-right of the Democratic Party and, as such, far to the right of the large and growing Democratic “base.” Of all the candidates vying for the nomination, he was the worst – after Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. On health care, his position (no mandated universal coverage) was even worse than Hillary’s. But, apart from being the first African-American to have a chance of winning, he had two things going for him: first, unlike Hillary, who is unrepentant to this day, he opposed the Iraq War from the outset (while voting to fund it, of course, once he became a U.S. Senator and could actually have made a difference); and, more importantly, he offered the hope of ridding the political landscape of that dreadful (and, in Bill’s case, criminal) Clinton family – not just by bringing ignominious defeat upon them, but also by concocting an administration free of the most thoroughly compromised Clintonites. As I have been pressing in these entries since last spring, that was the main thing Obama was good for.

Well, now it’s clear: he’s not good even for that. Moreover, despite what benighted people in what passes for an anti-war movement evidently still think, neither is he any better than Clinton would have been on Iraq. In 2006, anti-war voters unwittingly elected a gaggle of war Democrats. For that, we have the Democratic leadership, especially Rahm Emanuel, candidate selector extraordinaire, to thank. In 2008, anti-war voters, similarly betrayed, have made Hillary Clinton their Secretary of State and, it is lately reported, retired Marine General Jim Jones their National Security Advisor. [The latter may actually turn out to be a decent appointment, in a Brent Scowcroft, not a “change we can believe in,” sort of way.] Putting Jones in is, in any case, better than keeping Robert Gates on as Secretary of Defense, as the inside tipsters claim will happen too.

Should we still be glad Obama won? Well, of course the African-American thing remains. But once the wonderment of that fades, expect lots of Obama voters to crash hard. This is what happens when “liberals” demand nothing of candidates who take their votes for granted.

Meanwhile, on Monday, Obama is due to announce his economic team: Timothy Geithner for Secretary of the Treasury, Bill Richardson for Commerce Secretary, and Larry Summers and Paul Volker as top economic advisors (with yet unspecified titles and job descriptions). Richardson is about as good as anyone associated with Bill Clinton could be. As I’ve often opined, better him for President than Obama; better him too for Secretary of State than Hillary. We should be thankful that Obama felt he needed a high profile latino in his cabinet and that Penny Pritzker, his plutocrat buddy, turned the job down. As for Geithner, it’s too soon to tell. He is said to be a protégé of Summers and, even worse, Robert Rubin. On the other hand, he seems to be doing a good enough job as president of the NY Federal Reserve. In addition, compared to most of Obama’s appointments, he’s a devil we don’t know – yet. Summers, of course, is bad news, and not just because he is “challenged” when it comes to personal relations or for what he said at Harvard about the mathematical abilities of women. Along with Rubin and others in the Clinton fold, he helped set the stage for the economic collapse we’re now experiencing. Volker is an octogenarian deficit and inflation hawk who, in comparison to the formerly venerated free-marketeer Alan Greenspan, now looks good. Who knows what advice he’ll bring, if any. I suspect that Obama wants to use him the way the citizens of Colonus used the body of Oedipus – as a talisman conferring benefits.

It could be worse, of course; much worse. But it could be much better too. In that regard, I wonder why Eliot Spitzer, a proven bugbear of Wall Street malefactors, and John Edwards, a man who at least dared utter such words as “poverty” and “working class” in the primaries, have disappeared into the nation’s memory hole. Why would a country that has forgiven Bill Clinton’s sins of concupiscence more times than he can shake a stick at wax puritanical over the comparatively minor transgressions of these philanderers, especially now that we need both of them? Like the respect liberals of recent vintage accord the likes of Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan, this is one of those “only in America” things that defies explanation.

Anyway, why be surprised or disappointed that a man of the center-right would appoint center-right people to the highest echelons of his administration? Perhaps it’s just that the Rorschach Man conjured up hopes of doing (slightly) better. He well could have. He could at least have dispatched the Clintons, and outnumbered the devils we know with devils we don’t. Instead, he seems hell-bent on doing the opposite. Liberal commentators call it “pragmatism.” It’s impossible to watch MSNBC these days without becoming sickened by the praise it elicits. I call it multiplying reasons to abandon hope.

Should we, then, abandon all hope in Obama? Not quite yet, I say; not before Inauguration Day. After eight years of Cheney and Bush, we could all do with a little “inspiration,” no matter how meretricious we know it to be. After that, there will be ample time to despair – and, once Obamamania is finally drowned in an ocean of buyers’ remorse, to fight back en masse.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Capitol Hill seems to be the source of most of the leaks coming out in recent days about Obama’s appointments. It’s inevitable – Obama and Co. have to test the waters there, and the place is full of blabbermouths. They’re the reason appointments for the likes of Sam Nunn, Warren Christopher and Penny Pritzker were authoritatively reported, and then even more authoritatively denied. But they’re not the only ones. Those consummate leakers, the Clintons, are doing their share too – cleverly boxing Obama in, so that the Secretary of State job is Hillary’s for the taking. Needless to say, as the whole world – even Tom Friedman and David Broder, denizens of its more ludicrous nether regions – realizes, Hillary Clinton would be dreadful in that position. Still, thanks to the ambient incontinence, we may not yet get to see the back of her.

The bad news this morning is that Bill Clinton seems to have come to terms with Team Obama on financial disclosures. There is good news too, but it’s a slender reed on which to pin our hopes. The New York Times reports that, having done so much to get the offer, Hillary is tempted to turn the job down – if the Senate leadership, that gaggle of Pelosiite betrayers of voters’ expectations, agrees to give her the power she thinks her due, not withstanding her lack of seniority and accomplishment. Since she’s in the Senate already and can’t be voted out of office for several more years, and since her worse half won’t go away either (much less be called to account and brought to justice), this would be the least bad feasible outcome.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lesser and Greater Evilism

News of appointments dribbles in:

Janet Napolitano, it seems, will head “Homeland Security.” [Remember when those words conjured up images of Nazi Germany; remember when Germany, not the Bush boy’s America, was the archetypal authoritarian state!] Napolitano will be a major improvement over Michael Chertoff and, needless to say, over John McCain’s color-coded buddy, Tom Ridge. For an Obama appointee, Napolitano is comparatively free of Clinton associations; and she won’t cower before Joe Lieberman, who, thanks to the Forgiver-In-Chief, will head the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee.

Should Penny Pritzker become Obama’s Secretary of Commerce, as press reports this morning indicate she will, Obama will have appointed at least one devil official Washington doesn’t know well. [Most of the others are Clintonite devils known all to well.] No doubt, there is sleaze awaiting exposure in the family businesses; apparently, she and other Pritzkers have been known to pal around with predatory lenders (and even to join in from time to time). One thing is clear, though – as a Chicago plutocrat, she, like other Pritzkers, knows commerce well.

For Health and Human Services, Tom Daschle, already yesterday’s news, isn’t a bad choice either. He was pretty much his own man back in his Senate days, and he knows how to get bills through Congress. The appointment signals that Obama is serious about reforming health care. We won’t be getting single-payer (aka what we obviously need) and we won’t even get universal coverage. But we could well end up with a lesser evil than the status quo. On the Clintonite scale, from one to ten (where ten indicates absolute servility to corporate power and subservience to the Democratic Party’s paymasters), Daschle is maybe a five. In contrast, Donna Shalala, Bill Clinton’s HHS Secretary, a Clintonite avant la lettre, was easily a 9.5.

Thus, in the past few days, Obama has done OK. But, of course, he hasn’t provided anything resembling the “change we can believe in” that Obamamaniacs thought – and still think -- they were voting for.

We should therefore savor the moment as Obama and the Clintons move closer to closing the Secretary of State deal, and before other clear signs of a Clinton Restoration emerge. And, of course, we should keep in mind how much better even a Clinton Restoration will be compared to what we now have, notwithstanding the Iraq sanctions, the Yugoslav wars, the “humanitarian interventions” and so much else (including Clinton’s Reaganite assault on the welfare state and his zeal in deregulating financial markets).

In that regard, it is worth noting that Cheney and Bush and their Palinite co-thinkers in the Republican Party seem determined to foul the nest as much as they can before they finally go away (unfortunately, not to the prison terms they richly deserve). Implementing hard to reverse environmental regulations – weakening the Endangered Species Act, for instance, and opening up ever more federal land to commercial exploitation – is now their highest priority. It now seems too that the Bush crime family will do their best to implement a massive counter-stimulus package before they leave office. That’s what letting the Big Three auto companies go under, before there is any chance of doing anything for their workers and for the larger economy, is all about. Having lost the election decisively, Cheney and Bush and the other beneficiaries of our soon to be Forgiver-in-Chief are about to rule, as best they can, from the grave (well, unfortunately, not quite the grave) -- handing Obama a mess so massive that, unless he somehow finds a backbone and takes a radical turn, he’ll have to spend the next four years digging out from under.

Lesser evilism runs rampant in Obama’s appointments so far, but even so, the gap between “lesser” and “greater” is large indeed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Robert Kennedy is supposed to have said – “don’t get mad, get even.” In excising what little backbone the Party of Pusillanimity had in it, the Clintons pretty much dispatched that sentiment, except of course in cases where Slick Willy felt slighted. That Clinton legacy reached its apogee yesterday in the light slap on the wrist handed out to Joe the Renegade Lieberman. But Senate Democrats wouldn’t have gotten to that point on their own; they needed urging from Bill Clinton and forceful intervention from the soon to be Forgiver-In-Chief. Obama, so far from being a “secret Muslim,” is turning out to be an early Christian, interested first and foremost in turning the other cheek. If it isn’t a fiendishly clever strategy on his part – and there is no sign that it is – it’s a tendency that bodes ill for what ought to be a prime order of business for the new administration: settling accounts with the crimes of the Bush-Cheney years. They are far more momentous than the impeachable offenses the Party of Pelosiites, swept into office on the strength of popular revulsion at Bush’s murder and mayhem in Iraq and his manifest incompetence in Louisiana, took “off the agenda.”

Meanwhile, the Clinton Restoration is proceeding at full throttle. The two positions offered yesterday, according to credible reports, were Attorney General and Budget Director. Obama could have done worse than nominating Eric Holder for the former slot. In the waning years of the Clinton administration, long after Janet Reno whacked the whackos in Waco, Holder was second in charge in the Justice Department. But he doesn’t seem to have been much in Clinton’s thrall. It will count against him that he vetted Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich, after Rich’s wife stuffed the right coffers, but that’s not a big deal; Holder has already apologized for his lack of vigilance. Holder’s shenanigans as a corporate lawyer in recent years – especially the work he’s done for Big Pharma and Chiquita (formerly United Fruit) – are more worrisome. But don’t count on Democrats to raise many questions about any nominee’s corporate-friendliness.

Holder seems to have been a more than capable prosecutor and he is apparently well liked in the law enforcement community. Yet he’s not a vicious “law and order” type. One would welcome an Attorney General with more qualms about judicial murder (capital punishment). But there’s no way Obama, a death penalty proponent, would appoint anybody like that.

The likelihood that Peter Orszag will move from the Congressional Budget Office into its White House counterpart is more troubling. Orszag is a Robert Rubin protégé. His appointment bodes ill for the more senior economic policy appointments to come.

From the beginning, Obama was the Rorschach candidate in whom “believers” saw what they wanted to see. He hasn’t yet lost the touch. Is his vaunted “pragmatism” (never mind that those who use the word have little idea what it means!) – for instance, in offering the Secretary of State job to Hillary Clinton – a stroke of genius in the service of “change” or a sign of incoherence in deference to the status quo? It’s not yet a hundred per cent clear, but I’d bet on the latter. On the other hand, it’s not beyond question that Obama’s offer was a sage move. Neither would it be all that horrible were Hillary to accept the offer, at least not in comparison with some of the (likely) alternatives. Among other things, it means that Richard Holbrooke won’t be getting the job and that, along with other pernicious characters, including the already excluded Vice President To Be, he won’t have any grounds to complain. Bill Richardson would be a better appointment; even John Kerry would. But, as with Holder, Obama could have done worse. Still, it’s a long way from the “change” many voters thought – and still think – they voted for.

For real change, this Democratic forgiveness thing has got to stop, even if, in the short run, it somehow makes strategic sense. Not that it’s much of an accomplishment, but Bobby Kennedy was more right than Jesus. Will Obama see the light? Will the New Lincoln realize that he can’t fool all (or even most) of the people who voted for him forever? It’s too soon to tell, but the prospects are not good. For a long time to come, those who really do want to move forward, may well have an intransigent Forgiver-in-Chief with whom to contend.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

More Reasons for Concern

Don’t blame me; I didn’t vote for him. As I’ve explained in earlier entries, living in a state that was clearly going to choose Obama over Hillary Clinton, I felt free to vote for Mike Gravel. I preferred him to the others because he wasn’t shy about saying that the others were full of shit. In the circumstances, that seemed more important than registering support for Dennis Kucinich’s better (thoroughly marginalized) politics or John Edwards’ (partially marginalized, anti-poverty) lost cause. Then, in the general election, with Obama a sure winner in my state, I was free to vote for Ralph Nader – in protest and out of habit. I confess, however, that in view of the real alternatives in both cases, I did hope Obama would win. Day by day, that hope is becoming harder to justify.

First, there was Rahm Emanuel – the War Democrat, Wall Street flunky, and friend of the Likud. Then a bunch of lower level Clintonite appointees – Greg Craig as White House Counsel, Ronald Klain (late of Al Gore’s VP office) as Joe Biden’s Chief of Staff, and Jim Messina and Mona Sutphen as Deputy Chiefs of Staff. In recent days, Obama has also made a few less egregiously Clintonite appointments: Philip Schiliro as liaison to Congress and Peter Rouse as Senior Advisor.

In her weekly appearance on NPR’s “Morning Report,” Cokie Roberts, the doyenne of conventional wisdom, attributed the preponderance of Clinton people, the devils we know, to the alleged fact that there are no other Washington-savvy Democrats around. Back in 1992, a similar situation didn’t stop Bill Clinton from enlistng devils we didn’t know yet. According to la Cokie, that was because, back then, there had been no Democratic administrations for a much longer period of time. Evidently, Cokie thinks the difference between twelve years and eight changes everything. Or else Jimmy Carter somehow fell into her memory hole. Maybe that happened for her, as it did for POP, Party of Pusillanimity, stalwarts, when in Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Carter dared state the obvious about the fifty-first state.

Obama’s transition team appointments are even more worrisome. He took his “intelligence” transition people whole cloth from the politicized intelligence wing and the torutre and rendition defenders of the CIA. Obama has floated the idea of keeping Robert Gates on as Secretary of Defense, and bringing Clinton’s Wall Street moles – including Robert Rubin and Larry Summers – back to Treasury. Worst of all (so far), for those of us who voted for Obama to keep the Clintons out, and for those of us – like me – who didn’t but still hoped he’d win for that reason, the job of Secretary of State is apparently Hillary’s for the taking. At least there’s no evidence that Obama offered anything to John McCain when they met on Monday in Chicago. The way things are going, even that wouldn’t be out of the question.

[Why would Hillary want to be Secretary of State? To stick it to Bill? To acquire the foreign policy credentials she claimed she had during the campaign? Probably the main reason is that, with her presidential aspirations quashed, being in the Senate is no longer useful. After she lost the nomination, the punditocracy predicted she’d be the next Ted Kennedy. But she’s no Ted Kennedy, and it will be years before she could accumulate enough seniority even to pretend that she is. So why not Secretary of State! For Obama it would be a Godfather move – keeping his friends close, keeping his enemies closer. For those seeking “change,” it would be a straight out, deadweight loss.]

It is remarkable how there are still so many ostensibly sensible people who insist that Obama really is an agent of “change”; that he will be in control, no matter whom he appoints, and that he has his own ideas. Perhaps so -- though there is no evidence of it whatsoever. Much like the (alleged) divinity, Obama elicits faith, notwithstanding a total lack of (defensible) reasons for it. Pundits seeking insight into the transition process who are now flocking to read Team of Rivals, a silly book about Abraham Lincoln written by pop historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, would be well advised to turn instead to Sigmund Freud’s analysis of theism’s tenacity, a phenomenon much like Obamamania, in The Future of an Illusion.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bringing Bush to Justice

The current (December 2008) issue of Harper’s Magazine contains an article by Scott Horton (“Justice After Bush: Prosecuting an Outlaw Administration”) that meticulously identifies and assesses the legal and political difficulties in the way of settling accounts with the Bush administration’s violations of American and international law. Horton’s article includes proposals for steering through the obstacles; a plan that, if implemented, would actually do much of what needs to be done. But, of course, nothing will happen unless Congress and the Obama administration are forced to do the right and necessary thing. That’s why the task now is to make it politically impossible for the Party of Pusillanimity to follow its usual inclinations.

Left to their own devices, Obama and the others will want to “move on.” But the stakes are too high for them to get their way. Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and the rest must be brought to justice.

Needless to say, in this instance, real justice can hardly even be approximated; there is no way any punishment could fit the enormity of the crimes for which Bush and the others could be charged. But that is no reason to accede to calls for “bipartisanship” and consensus (within the political class). If Democrats are reluctant to proceed, the first order of business must be to make it clear to them that they will pay electorally for their “reasonableness” (cowardice). It must be impressed upon them, in no uncertain terms, that justice must be done. But not just for justice’s sake.

The more urgent need is to change the political constraints under which Democrats (and Republicans) operate -- as deeply and for as long as possible, the better to deter future criminality, but also, more importantly, to remove the temptation. If anything good can emerge from the Bush Wars, it will be an Iraq (or Iraq plus Afghanistan) Syndrome more disabling than the (short-lived) Vietnam Syndrome was. As American world domination becomes increasingly untenable – at a time when capitalism itself is falling increasingly into crisis – there is no other way for the American people, and the peoples of the world, to avoid a potentially catastrophic, near term hard landing. One change we really do need that lies within the horizons of what is possible in the short run are policies aimed at making the inevitable landing as soft as possible – while the United States makes the transition from a rogue superpower to one of several world powers in more or less permanent crisis.

But, again, for that to happen we must change the constraints under which Obama and his Clintonite colleagues and advisors operate. It is becoming increasingly clear, with each passing day, that Obama won’t do anything of the kind on his own initiative; if he does it at all, it will be because he is compelled. That won’t be easy. But we can make it happen.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Hillary Redux

It’s time to remind ourselves again that, in contrast to most other “democracies,” our institutions force politicians to betray their constituencies even before they take power. Barack Obama is well on his way: his appointment of Rahm Emanuel as Major Domo and Official Pit Bull (sans lipstick) positively stinks; a bellicose partisan of Wall Street and the Israeli Right will be Obama’s gatekeeper. But bringing Hillary into the new administration is over the top. As I wrote many times in the long ago days of late winter and early spring, if Obama, already running to the center-right of the Democratic base, was good for anything, it was for knocking Hillary out – and sending the Clintons into political oblivion (inasmuch as prison for Bill, though richly deserved, is unlikely). He did knock Hillary out of the race – eventually – but that should only have been the first (and least important) step. Now it’s looking like Obama is intent on bringing the Clintons back in – even to the extent of making Bill’s official wife his Secretary of State.

Needless to say, media speculations can be wrong. They were wrong, it seems, about Sam Nunn and Warren Christopher. Perhaps they are wrong on this too, though they’ve created so much buzz that Hillary’s appointment may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is worrisome too that at least one part of the story they’re telling seems credible: that Obama is impressed by the argument pop historian and talk show stalwart Doris Kearns Goodwin makes in her best-seller Team of Rivals – and therefore that he’d like to do what Lincoln did when he appointed his antagonist, William Seward, Secretary of State. It’s that first time as tragedy (or, in this case, serious mistake), second time as farce thing all over again.

On the plus side, though, at least we know the Secretary of State won’t be Joe Biden -- though, in terms of what counts as “qualifications” in Washington today, Biden is infinitely more qualified than Hillary, whose foreign affairs expertise consists mainly in having visited eighty plus countries, mostly as an official wife (aka First Lady), and, in that capacity, having entertained many an international malefactor (aka World Leader) at the White House.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Joe the Senator: A Sign of the Times

It’s miracle enough that the Democrats would nominate, and the country elect, a black President. It would be a far greater miracle still were the Democrats to expel Joe Lieberman just for being a sanctimonious twit, an insurance company flunky and, for all intents and purposes, an agent of the Likud.

[It’s those insurance companies, many of them based in Connecticut, that are the main obstacle in the way of single-payer health insurance, the one real solution to America’s health care woes. They’re the main reason why Obama’s health care proposals, though better than the woeful status quo, still fall so far short.]

But you’d think that actively campaigning against Obama and for John McCain would be enough to get Joe Lieberman out of the Senate’s Democratic caucus. Reportedly, most Democratic senators, including Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer, feel that way. But not Bill Clinton and not Barack Obama! It’s that “bipartisan” thing, metastasizing into an intra-party thing. And, since no one wants to cross the President-elect, Joe the Senator will probably stay put. You’d think it would be enough for the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity, to let the bastard go, and then “reach across the aisle” to him. Evidently, that’s too harsh for “No Drama Obama.”

This “revolting development” bodes ill for what should be among the first orders of business for the new administration: bringing Bush and Company to justice. Remember how Bill Clinton let Iran-Contra investigations lapse for the sake of good relations with the GOP. They paid him back mercilessly. This is worse – since we’re still mired in two Bush wars and as prone as ever to getting involved in others (with Iran or some other enemy du jour). Unless we settle accounts definitively with the murder and mayhem still going on, more murder and mayhem are inevitable – no matter how competent its perpetrators may be.

This is not the only way in which Obama’s first week as President-elect has been disheartening. No sooner was he elected than he met with his “economic team” – a motley of Clinton advisors and Wall Street moles (including the pernicious Robert Rubin). [Is there a pattern here? Remember how, within a day of securing the Democratic nomination, Obama went to pay obeisance to AIPAC, the pillar of the Israel lobby!] Then there was the appointment of Nancy Pelosi’s pitbull (sans lipstick), Rahm Emanuel, as chief of staff. That just about insures that the Bush wars will go on and on and that their lessons will go unlearned. Now, to make matters even worse, it is reported that Warren G. Christopher – no word describes him better than “hapless” – will oversee the transition with the State Department; and that Sam Nunn, Mister Right Wing Democrat, will supervise the transition at the Pentagon. The sins of those two are too numerous, and too obvious, to recount – though Nunn does deserve credit, along with the war criminal Kissinger, of daring to think nuclear abolitionist thoughts.

Of course, circumstances may still force Obama to do the right thing, but only if “we the people” drag him kicking and screaming. Otherwise, when the Obamamaniacs and their hordes of recent converts crash, it won’t be a pretty sight. “Change we can believe in” indeed!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


It’s looking like Ralph Nader barely got 1% of the popular vote. I voted for him – out of force of habit and in protest. But one has to wonder, as I have from the outset, just what his campaign accomplished – or, for that matter, what it could have accomplished in a year when Obama, like the Pied Piper, drew nearly every susceptible youthful enthusiast to his side. The time is always right for serious efforts at party building, but that’s not what the Nader campaign was about. Instead it was a Children’s Crusade with few children and hardly anyone else on board.

There are better ways than running for President outside the duopolistic party structure to get better ideas out there and to diminish the likelihood that the duopoly will keep them marginalized, and better ways than electoral campaigns to organize around them. The Nader campaign didn’t squander these opportunities, of course, but it didn’t do much, for all the effort it expended, to advance them either. Now, with the seemingly endless electoral season at an end, all that effort can be put to better use.

Even so, Nader’s open letter to Obama was perhaps the most pertinent and cogent document produced in this electoral season. I reproduce it here:

November 3, 2008

Open letter to Senator Barack Obama

Dear Senator Obama:

In your nearly two-year presidential campaign, the words "hope and change," "change and hope" have been your trademark declarations. Yet there is an asymmetry between those objectives and your political character that succumbs to contrary centers of power that want not "hope and change" but the continuation of the power-entrenched status quo.

Far more than Senator McCain, you have received enormous, unprecedented contributions from corporate interests, Wall Street interests and, most interestingly, big corporate law firm attorneys. Never before has a Democratic nominee for President achieved this supremacy over his Republican counterpart. Why, apart from your unconditional vote for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, are these large corporate interests investing so much in Senator Obama? Could it be that in your state Senate record, your U.S. Senate record and your presidential campaign record (favoring nuclear power, coal plants, offshore oil drilling, corporate subsidies including the 1872 Mining Act and avoiding any comprehensive program to crack down on the corporate crime wave and the bloated, wasteful military budget, for example) you have shown that you are their man?

To advance change and hope, the presidential persona requires character, courage, integrity-- not expediency, accommodation and short-range opportunism. Take, for example, your transformation from an articulate defender of Palestinian rights in Chicago before your run for the U.S. Senate to an acolyte, a dittoman for the hard-line AIPAC lobby, which bolsters the militaristic oppression, occupation, blockage, colonization and land-water seizures over the years of the Palestinian peoples and their shrunken territories in the West Bank and Gaza. Eric Alterman summarized numerous polls in a December 2007 issue of The Nation magazine showing that AIPAC policies are opposed by a majority of Jewish-Americans.

You know quite well that only when the U.S. Government supports the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements, that years ago worked out a detailed two-state solution (which is supported by a majority of Israelis and Palestinians), will there be a chance for a peaceful resolution of this 60-year plus conflict. Yet you align yourself with the hard-liners, so much so that in your infamous, demeaning speech to the AIPAC convention right after you gained the nomination of the Democratic Party, you supported an "undivided Jerusalem," and opposed negotiations with Hamas-- the elected government in Gaza. Once again, you ignored the will of the Israeli people who, in a March 1, 2008 poll by the respected newspaper Haaretz, showed that 64% of Israelis favored "direct negotiations with Hamas." Siding with the AIPAC hard-liners is what one of the many leading Palestinians advocating dialogue and peace with the Israeli people was describing when he wrote "Anti-semitism today is the persecution of Palestinian society by the Israeli state."

During your visit to Israel this summer, you scheduled a mere 45 minutes of your time for Palestinians with no news conference, and no visit to Palestinian refugee camps that would have focused the media on the brutalization of the Palestinians. Your trip supported the illegal, cruel blockade of Gaza in defiance of international law and the United Nations charter. You focused on southern Israeli casualties which during the past year have totaled one civilian casualty to every 400 Palestinian casualties on the Gaza side. Instead of a statesmanship that decried all violence and its replacement with acceptance of the Arab League's 2002 proposal to permit a viable Palestinian state within the 1967 borders in return for full economic and diplomatic relations between Arab countries and Israel, you played the role of a cheap politician, leaving the area and Palestinians with the feeling of much shock and little awe.

David Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, described your trip succinctly: "There was almost a willful display of indifference to the fact that there are two narratives here. This could serve him well as a candidate, but not as a President."

Palestinian American commentator, Ali Abunimah, noted that Obama did not utter a single criticism of Israel, "of its relentless settlement and wall construction, of the closures that make life unlivable for millions of Palestinians. ...Even the Bush administration recently criticized Israeli's use of cluster bombs against Lebanese civilians [see for elaboration]. But Obama defended Israeli's assault on Lebanon as an exercise of its 'legitimate right to defend itself.'"

In numerous columns Gideon Levy, writing in Haaretz, strongly criticized the Israeli government's assault on civilians in Gaza, including attacks on "the heart of a crowded refugee camp... with horrible bloodshed" in early 2008.

Israeli writer and peace advocate-- Uri Avnery-- described Obama's appearance before AIPAC as one that "broke all records for obsequiousness and fawning, adding that Obama "is prepared to sacrifice the most basic American interests. After all, the US has a vital interest in achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace that will allow it to find ways to the hearts of the Arab masses from Iraq to Morocco. Obama has harmed his image in the Muslim world and mortgaged his future-- if and when he is elected president.," he said, adding, "Of one thing I am certain: Obama's declarations at the AIPAC conference are very, very bad for peace. And what is bad for peace is bad for Israel, bad for the world and bad for the Palestinian people."

A further illustration of your deficiency of character is the way you turned your back on the Muslim-Americans in this country. You refused to send surrogates to speak to voters at their events. Having visited numerous churches and synagogues, you refused to visit a single Mosque in America. Even George W. Bush visited the Grand Mosque in Washington D.C. after 9/11 to express proper sentiments of tolerance before a frightened major religious group of innocents.

Although the New York Times published a major article on June 24, 2008 titled "Muslim Voters Detect a Snub from Obama" (by Andrea Elliott), citing examples of your aversion to these Americans who come from all walks of life, who serve in the armed forces and who work to live the American dream. Three days earlier the International Herald Tribune published an article by Roger Cohen titled "Why Obama Should Visit a Mosque." None of these comments and reports change your political bigotry against Muslim-Americans-- even though your father was a Muslim from Kenya.

Perhaps nothing illustrated your utter lack of political courage or even the mildest version of this trait than your surrendering to demands of the hard-liners to prohibit former president Jimmy Carter from speaking at the Democratic National Convention. This is a tradition for former presidents and one accorded in prime time to Bill Clinton this year.

Here was a President who negotiated peace between Israel and Egypt, but his recent book pressing the dominant Israeli superpower to avoid Apartheid of the Palestinians and make peace was all that it took to sideline him. Instead of an important address to the nation by Jimmy Carter on this critical international problem, he was relegated to a stroll across the stage to "tumultuous applause," following a showing of a film about the Carter Center's post-Katrina work. Shame on you, Barack Obama!

But then your shameful behavior has extended to many other areas of American life. (See the factual analysis by my running mate, Matt Gonzalez, on You have turned your back on the 100-million poor Americans composed of poor whites, African-Americans, and Latinos. You always mention helping the "middle class" but you omit, repeatedly, mention of the "poor" in America.

Should you be elected President, it must be more than an unprecedented upward career move following a brilliantly unprincipled campaign that spoke "change" yet demonstrated actual obeisance to the concentration power of the "corporate supremacists." It must be about shifting the power from the few to the many. It must be a White House presided over by a black man who does not turn his back on the downtrodden here and abroad but challenges the forces of greed, dictatorial control of labor, consumers and taxpayers, and the militarization of foreign policy. It must be a White House that is transforming of American politics-- opening it up to the public funding of elections (through voluntary approaches)-- and allowing smaller candidates to have a chance to be heard on debates and in the fullness of their now restricted civil liberties. Call it a competitive democracy.

Your presidential campaign again and again has demonstrated cowardly stands. "Hope" some say springs eternal." But not when "reality" consumes it daily.

Ralph Nader

Struggle Sharply

t was a glorious moment when “the next first family of the United States” was introduced to tens of thousands in Grant Park. Obama’s speech to that enormous crowd, and to the nation and the world, was true to form. John McCain’s concession speech, delivered a few minutes earlier in Phoenix, was gracious too. But before we succumb to the celebratory mood of yesterday’s victories, and to all that civility, we need to remember that Obama’s intelligence, eloquence and competence do not change the fact that, on fundamental questions of foreign and domestic policy, he has yet to give a hint of differing even slightly from the Democratic (Clintonite)- Republican consensus.

Considering the alternative, don’t expect Obama’s supporters to feel buyers’ remorse any time soon. But do expect Obama to start giving cause right away. Rumor has it that Rahm Emanuel will be his chief of staff. It could be worse. But remember it was Emanuel who, taking charge of the Democrats’ congressional campaign in 2006, took pains to find Democratic candidates “moderate” enough not to end any of the Bush wars or even to impeach their perpetrators. He’s gotten no better since. The real problems will start to emerge when Obama announces his choices for key economic posts, including Secretary of the Treasury. Despite Chris Matthews’s inside-tipster assurances last night on MSNBC that Obama will not appoint “retreads” to govern with him, reports this morning indicate the Larry Summers and Paul Volker have the inside track. No retreads indeed! Wall Street will love it. For the rest of us, it will be a clear sign that Obama’s rightward surge is still on course. By the time he gets around to a National Security Advisor and a Secretary of State, there will be no doubt.

No more blather, therefore, about a new dawn! Much less has changed than appears. The hard struggle, not just against Bush and his would-be continuators but against the empire-friendly, militarist, and pro-corporate policies of the regime itself, must now go into full throttle.

Monday, November 3, 2008

What's A Lesser Evilist To Do?

The Nader campaign has sent around emails arguing that, with a blowout for Obama all but assured, and with Nader polling 3% in some polls (including CNN’s), progressives should vote for Nader to bump his vote up to 5%. I think this is the right conclusion, at least for those of us who live in “safe” Democratic states, and I’ll probably follow their advice. [I confess I’m still not 100% decided.] But I think their argument is wrong – in a way that reflects what was wrong in their strategy generally.

Back in 2000 -- before 9/11 and, more importantly, before Dick Cheney let his true nature show -- it seemed prospectively (a) that Gore couldn’t lose (after all, peace and prosperity should count for something); (b) that, even if he did, it wouldn’t be a disaster (since the Bush boy would “rule” like his poppy, and that wasn’t that much worse than Clinton’s rule, the likely model for Gore’s); and (c) that, running as a Green, getting the Nader vote up past 5% (the threshold for public funding in future elections), could help break the Republican-Democratic duopoly. [Of course, it was plain, even back then, that the Nader-Green alliance was a marriage of convenience only. Nader never even joined the party. What he wanted was ballot access; what they wanted was a politically compatible famous person to lead the ticket.] However, in 2008, with Nader running against a Green, one too flaky even for me, (c) no longer holds. Why then would it matter that Nader gets 5% of the vote? Only the pros would notice, and even they couldn’t be sure how much of that vote signaled the existence of a left opposition. Worse, even if it was clear that it did, why should Obama care?

Nevertheless, I’ll probably vote for Nader, again. My rationale is almost as flimsy as the Nader campaign’s. I want to register a protest against Obama’s (Clintonite) politics, and voting for Ralph is an easy and costless way to do it. Over more than a year and a half, I’ve laid out the case for protest – it’s all there on this site -- so there is no need to recapitulate the arguments. Suffice it to say that, on the plus side, Obama is intelligent (more than any President in modern American history), eloquent (ditto, even taking JFK into account), and, lets not forget, “of color.” He promises competence, which has been in short supply lately. But all of this pales before the plain fact that, in nearly all matters, foreign and domestic, Obama is on the same page as the Clintons, who were, with only minor differences, on the same page as their Republican counterparts. Yes, for the umpteenth time, those differences, small as they are, have far-reaching consequences. They matter for people all over the world. But they hardly amount to the “real change” that deluded Obamamaniacs envision. Circumstances might force Obama more into that mold, especially if “we the people” do our part. But, looking forward to the next four years under an Obama administration, the chances of a new New Deal are slight, and of anything better (of transcending capitalism instead of saving it from itself) are infinitesimal. Our work is cut out for us after November 4. But, on election day itself, why not just lamely protest this sorry – and unnecessary – state of affairs?

I hold my local Congressional race partly responsible for my susceptibility to this admittedly feeble rationale. In Maryland’s first Congressional district, the incumbent, Wayne Gilchrest, is a “moderate” Republican, with a decent record on environmental issues and even on the Bush wars. He lost in the Republican primary to a rabid right winger named Andy Harris. Harris is opposed by a Democrat, Frank Kratovil, a local prosecutor, to the right even of Obama. The difference is this: Obama and Co. will not bring Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and the rest to justice because they are much too “bipartisan” and eager to reach “across the aisle”; in short, because they’re Pelosiite (pusillanimous) to the core. Kratovil, were he to remain a prosecutor, wouldn’t do it because it would never occur to him that they committed any crimes.

But here in a district with too many rich Republicans (both the Cheneys and the Rumsfelds have vacation homes in the area), and with lots of yahoos around to vote with them, there is no way to vote against Harris except by voting for Kratovil. [There is a libertarian running, but that’s a plain non-starter.] Also, Kratovil has a chance of winning. The good news then would be that there would be one less Republican in the House; the not quite countervailing bad news would be that there would be one more War Democrat. So, in all likelihood, I will tomorrow find myself doing something even more distasteful than voting for a Clintonite Restoration under Barack Obama’s aegis. I’ll find myself voting for Frank Kratovil.

Were I registered in anything but a supremely “safe” Obama state, I’d probably vote for Obama for a similar set of reasons. Then piling it on, instead of “protesting,” would be more useful – because it would be directed against McCain-Palin (and Bush-Cheney), not the lesser evil opposing them. Also my vote would matter more – inasmuch as close elections can be more easily stolen (through voter suppression and outright fraud) than landslides which, in modern America (where election thievery is a fine art), are all but immune. Since there are no gods to thank, I thank my lucky stars that, tomorrow, I won’t find myself in a position where those reasons make the case for pulling the lever for Obama compelling. Voting for Frank Kratovil is bad enough.