Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dems to Base: "Drop Dead"

They should call it the Obama Doctrine and we should thank the Democratic leadership in the Senate for making its nature clear – most recently in their efforts to craft a health care reform (actually an insurance company enrichment) bill.

The Republican leadership, such as it is, follows just the opposite tack. Either out of guile or because they are controlled by the useful idiots they’ve been recruiting for decades, they play to those idiots, aka the Republican base. Whether this is a recipe for winning elections in 2010 remains to be seen. Maybe not because there’s a limit to how buffoonish Republicans can be and still win back the apolitical middle they lost thanks to George Bush and Dick Cheney. But as a recipe for influencing policy – which is, after all, what anybody who is not a party functionary or one of their media hacks cares about – it is a sure winner. It was Republican obduracy that empowered the Democratic right. Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson were the lucky beneficiaries; but for Republican nay saying, they’d never have been able to act out their obstructionist strategies or to stick it to their colleagues (never mind the voters).

Mainstream Democrats responded like the cowards they are. At a time when “bipartisanship” means surrender, they were happy to oblige.

It should now therefore be clear to all that, win or lose, Obama and his Congressional comrades are weak and unable to govern; that all they can do is betray the hopes of their base. The Petreus-McCrystal-Gates axis realized this long ago; so has the Israeli Right, which could have been tamed but is instead, as usual, calling the shots. And despite their moral and intellectual deficiencies, Congressional Republicans have figured it out too. The time is long past due for the Democratic base to realize what has been going on and to react accordingly – which means taking initiatives and restricting Obama’s choices, as much or more than Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson do.

Meanwhile, even if Obama finally gets a bill that is not, on balance, an unmitigated disaster, what a difference a year makes!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lose One for the Gipper!

Like the Clintons before him, the Obama health care reforms began with the Commander-in-Chief giving away the store, and then negotiating down. Add to that Obama’s self-defeating “bipartisanship” and his unwillingness to stand up to right-wing Democrats – and Joe Lieberman – and voilĂ , an historical opportunity has been lost. [This is just one of many examples. Obama’s first year in office should go down in history as a year of lost opportunities.]

Spineless Democrats now seem poised to acquiesce in what amounts to a give-away to private insurance companies – and also to Big Pharma and the for-profit health care industry. They are satisfied, it seems, with minor insurance reforms which, they insist, make the best of a bad situation. But the bad situation is of their own making and Obama’s. And their real motive for acquiescing is to win one for the New Gipper, Barack Obama – at no matter what cost. Not that anything that can be represented as a victory is likely; at least not before Democratic spinmeisters and their friends in the “liberal” media get on the case.

In the minds of Democrats, it’s a “now is the time for all good men (and women) to come to the aid of the party” moment. But if their heads were screwed on right and if they had half the courage of their convictions, they’d scuttle the whole effort and start over – without the “stakeholders,” the health care profiteers, calling the shots, as Obama insisted they must from the outset.

Now is the time to lose one for the Gipper. It will be good for America in the long run, and good practice too – for standing up against the Petreus-McChrystal axis that seems to have our War is Peace Commander-in-Chief in its thrall. Not that, with the Party of Pusillanimity in the majority (for what that’s worth!), there’s much chance of standing up to anybody.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Obama's War is Peace Prize

Would Orwell have believed it: Barack Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize just two weeks after he fixed the Petreus-McCrystal plan for perpetual war in Afghanistan and for a not very secret war in Pakistan in stone; while the occupation of Iraq continues; and just days after the Obama Justice Department intervened on behalf of torture lawyer John Yu, arguing that he cannot be sued in civil courts? This from the man who was elected to restore the rule of law and who has done nothing but protect Bush-Cheney era war criminals from prosecution.

The Nobel Committee claimed that Obama was chosen for his potential, not his accomplishments, and for his promise to reintegrate the United States into the community of enlightened states. That was a lame contention back when the prize was announced; by now, it is simply preposterous. Just ask the negotiators for developing countries how “multilateral” the United States is being, at this very moment, in Copenhagen. And reflect on the fact, announced while Obama was on his way to Oslo, that Attorney General Eric Holder, who was one of the good ones (compared to the unreconstructed Wall Streeters and Clintonites), has authorized death sentence prosecutions at about the rate Alberto Gonzales and Michael Mukasey, Bush’s last two Attorney Generals, did. [Bush’s first AG, John Ashcroft, maintained a slightly higher pace, but then he was an in-your-face Christian.]

One can only avert one’s gaze. But how can anyone whose head is still screwed on right not be revolted by the praise liberal commentators have been heaping on Obama’s speech? Yes, in a low-grade way and compared to what George Bush’s speech writers used to concoct, it was eloquent, thoughtful, and nuanced. But, for anyone with eyes to see -- for anyone who lacks Obama’s confidence that his, Obama’s, saying it makes it coherent and true -- the speech was intellectually shallow and morally depraved.

Notwithstanding the praise it has drawn, the part of what he said that actually made sense was hardly news. Obama declared that war (or, more generally, violence) may sometimes be necessary to advance peace (or non-violence). Thus he referenced the timeworn case for the permissibility of non-pacifist means for pacifist ends. Need I point out that this is what almost all non-pacifists already believe or that the case for it is or rather ought to be familiar to all educated people? Obama’s point is the theme, for example, of Max Weber’s “Politics as a Vocation”; an essay he could hardly have failed to read back at Columbia along with a host of other classics that argue for a similar point. Still, the nuance Obama added was troubling. He introduced an explicitly religious motif – about the inexorability of Evil. As commentators on the Right, including Karl Rove, were quick to point out, this was vintage Bush boy. So too was his embrace of the Commander-in-Chief title and his insistence on his prerogatives as “head of state.”

Obama declared Al Qaeda evil. In passing, he maintained that America’s “enemies” in the Balkans and in other “humanitarian interventions” fall in the same category. It should be almost as unnecessary to correct these errors as it is to dwell on the Orwellian aspect of the whole event. But I can’t resist pointing out, yet again, that, by being in the thrall of warmed over Petreus-McCrystal “counter-insurgency” nonsense, Obama is inciting Islamicist resistance, not suppressing it. And neither can I fail to restate the obvious: that 9/11 was not an other-worldly eruption of Evil, but an understandable consequence of decades of American policy in the Middle East – that it was blowback for what the U.S. has done in Israel/Palestine, in Kashmir, in Afghanistan itself and, especially, for its support for corrupt but subservient Arab regimes. What is the Nobel laureate doing about these and other root causes? The short answer is Nothing. The slightly more eloquent, thoughtful and nuanced answer is not much different: from time to time, he talks a good earful, raising expectations he then betrays.

Whatever Obama may think, his saying “X” does not make it the case that X. And, despite what liberal pundits may think, his saying “X and not-X” simultaneously -- as in “escalate” and “wind down” -- is hardly a sign of greatness of mind. It only shows that his thinking is incoherent. Now that Obama has embraced the role of Commander-in-Chief, not just of our bloated armed forces but of American capitalism and its empire, this incoherence threatens to give rise to outcomes that are infinitely more worrisome than anything several hundred “evil” Al Qaeda operatives can contrive.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bipartisan At Last!

Letting Bush era war criminals get away with murder didn’t do it. Neither did giving away the store to Wall Street or sacrificing the public interest to the insurance, pharmaceutical, for-profit health care and dirty energy industries. Abject servility before the NRA and AIPAC and their ilk didn’t do it either; nor did putting the interests of the constituencies who put him in office – labor especially, but also gays, Latinos and even African-Americans – on the back burner. No matter how far to the right he veered, Barack Obama just couldn’t get the Party of No to say Yes.

Until now! In somber, “pragmatic” tones, Obama made his case for escalating the Afghanistan War and prolonging the occupation indefinitely. [Or until the impending 2012 elections necessitate rethinking. Does anyone believe that, if the troops really do start “transitioning” in July of 2011, it will be for any other reason?] The incoherence of his rationale – build an Afghan state, the better to defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan – was staggering. [I will leave for a later time or for others to elaborate why, for any conceivable American national interest, the Obama escalation is transparently counter-productive.] But the Republicans could hardly dissent. If they did, it would mean they don’t “support the troops.” It would also require them to break ranks with God and General McChrystal. Clever Obama! In one foul stroke, he won what he most longs for -- a Yes from the GOP.

I don’t expect that many will agree with this diagnosis. How, it will be asked, can bipartisanship explain such an obviously ill-conceived leap into the abyss? But it’s as good an explanation as any of the other contenders: that Obama is the prisoner of his own campaign rhetoric or of hapless Generals eager to get “counterinsurgency” right; that he fears what the Right will do if he “loses” Afghanistan; that the military industrial complex has something on him; that, as the acting steward of the American empire, he can’t be perceived to back away. No doubt, these factors have something to do with Obama’s dreadful decision, as does the inertia of war (we’re there because we’re there), and the willful impotence of what passes for a Left in this country, eager as it has been to cut Obama slack. But I stand by my contention: the main culprit is Obama’s obsessive, reckless bipartisanship.

Over the past year, it has become clear that the guiding principle of Obama’s governing style is to win the hearts and minds, or at least the grudging acceptance, of Republicans and Blue Dogs and Joe Lieberman – in other words, of the most execrable of the execrable. That was the Clintons’ idea too but, for them, it was, like everything else, just opportunism. Obama really believes in it. And, with a little help from his friends Petreus and McChrystal, he figured out how to get what he so desperately wants. Joy to the world, he must be thinking. Until the Party of No figures out how to get back on course, over in the West Wing, it will be a season to be jolly.