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.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Only in America

Unless all the polls are wrong or unless mass insanity overtakes the nation by Tuesday, Obama will win. Why, then, is there still so much apprehension? Even I’m worried, though not enough to switch my vote from Nader. [Much as I regret the fact, Cynthia McKinney is out of the question; she is too much even for me.] The easy answer is that Obama is black, sort of. The conventional wisdom has it that a white guy (or maybe even Hillary Clinton) would have “closed the deal” long ago with all those “undecided” rural, white working class guys. Then too, there’s the so-called Bradley effect (white voters lying to pollsters), which informed statisticians, almost without exception, discount. Another explanation is that the Republicans have succeeded in spreading misinformation and confusion – about everything from Obama’s religion to his tax plan. Racism and ignorance are indeed reasons for concern, but it is becoming increasingly clear that Obama’s election hinges less on these things than on how many people can’t identify with him because he isn’t ignorant enough.

It’s not exactly a class thing. The rich may be different from you and me, but as long as they aren’t too conspicuous in ways that would put Joe the Plumber ill at ease, they’re just fine. [I am speaking, of course, not of the real Joe the Plumber, a self-promoting moron, but the iconic figure of John McCain’s propaganda machine.] George Bush, the son of a President and grandson of a Senator, has more money than he knows what to do with, but he’s OK because, despite Phillips Andover, Yale and the Harvard Business School, he managed to remain profoundly dumb. And, for good measure, he acts like a swaggering frat boy who somehow talks like Buddy Ebsen (unlike even brother Jeb who grew up in the same, over-privileged house)! Who cares about John McCain’s seven (or is it eight?) houses and his umpteen vehicles! He got them fair and square by marrying a beer distributor’s icy daughter, thereby realizing every good old boy’s American dream. On the other hand, John Kerry (like Bush, a Yale man, and Skull and Bones) is too cosmopolitan in his tastes (and in his choice of a super-rich wife). He even speaks French! That won’t do. Flaunt the common touch, no matter how disingenuously, and anything goes – because the hapless poor (who consider themselves “middle class”) will think you one of their own. Then anything you want for yourself and your class will be fine with them. Do away with the “death” (inheritance) tax for people much richer than they’ll ever be? Sure thing. Lower taxes on capital gains for investors? You betcha. Make the Bush tax cuts for the rich permanent? Right on. It’s not a race thing. By all accounts, Kerry had less support among these yahoos than Obama now does. What it is is false consciousness, but in a very bizarre form -- a “populism” that identifies with the rich.

Who then is the class enemy? Why people like Obama, of course; people who are curious and thoughtful and who actually learned something in college. There’s a bit of dissonance there because black people, men especially, aren’t supposed to be that way. But, no matter; we’ve come a long way baby. Obama gets the yahoos riled up not so much (perhaps not at all) because he’s black, but because he’s smart. The Obama campaign plays into this too. Rarely, if ever, do they mention Columbia or Harvard or the Harvard Law Review. Filthy rich is fine. But a first rate education, even if financed by scholarships and loans (not family money as with Bush), is beyond the pale.

It’s a position so indefensible on its face that only American yahoos could go along with it. [Elsewhere in the world, when people are envious, it is of the monied, not the brainy.] But even our yahoos have their limits. If one of them were in need of a brain surgeon would they shop around for someone whom they’d like to have a beer with, the reason many of them supposedly opted for Bush over Gore and Kerry? Would they choose to go under a scalpel wielded by a clueless ex-beauty queen soccer mom? Or, for that matter, a doddering surgeon with the worst success record in the hospital? I think even they would go instead for the bright new kid on the block – no matter that he’s black or younger than Methuselah. Why is the choice of a President different? That’s a question that would answer itself, if only the yahoos would ask it. But here, in the Home of the Brave, don’t count on it. If there were a God in heaven, as Sarah Palin truly believes, now would be the time to pray: “please God, don’t let there be so many of them as to bring about yet another American tragedy.”