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.