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.

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