As with the Bush administration, whose approval numbers went from the stratosphere after 9-11 into the shitter by the time it’s authority expired, the Obama administration has ridden the rhetorical wave of hope-and-change that secured the presidency and smashed into the reef of historical unpredictability. The administration has accomplished this descent largely through serial betrayals of the very people who put Obama in the White House. While the Republican Party founders on the splitting between Tea-Partiers and corporate flaks, as well as between libertarians and Christian dispensationalists – strengthening Obama’s chances in the next General Election – Obama’s betrayal of peace activists, labor unions, civil libertarians, Hispano-Latinas, environmentalists, African Americans, and the liberal-left is leaving him vulnerable to a primary challenge that might split the Democratic Party.
In itself, probably a good thing. Another step closer to the recognition of the ultimate futility of the electoral politics of retrenchment.
I voted for Barack Obama. Not, however, out of any enchantment with his bloviated rhetoric or empty suggestions of promises. I went on record as voting for him for two reasons: (1) He was under attack for his blackness by the white nationalists in both parties, and (2) without his election, the disillusionment now under way among Democratic voters, many out of plain, often justified, fear of Republicans, would not have happened.
Let’s review the betrayals of Barack Obama’s voters by his administration, and not the idiotic claims of the Right that he is a socialist, et al.
Peace activists who supported Obama out of a peace perspective have themselves to blame for embracing expediency. And self-delusion. When we pointed out that Obama was another war candidate, I actually read arguments from peace advocates stating their belief that Obama was doing what was necessary to get elected, and that he was secretly nursing a plan to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan. There is a weird and persistent tendency to believe – in the teeth of historical evidence to the contrary – that an office-holder has more freedom than a candidate.
I was with fellow Christian peace activists at the Bartimaeus Institute the day Obama was inaugurated. Many of them were elderly folk like myself, even older, and many were veterans of the Civil Rights movement. They shed tears of hope, not for Obama or his rhetoric, but because there was some visible evidence that what they had risked and suffered had broken down some social barriers. But some of us noted, with a certin fatigue, the touchstones of belligerent machismo and warlike nationalism in his inaugural address.
Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred… For us, they fought and died in places Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh… Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations… As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages… In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood.
We also noted more weasel-worded suggestions of promise.
We’ll begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard- earned peace in Afghanistan.
And so he was everything to everybody.
On Friday, three days after Obama became the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the United States, those armed forces – with his full knowledge and consent – attacked a group of people in Pakistan, using unmanned predator drones. Though it was not clear here how many were civilians it is pretty certain that some were; and at least 20 human beings were killed (I do not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants when our government occupies other nations.). When you use bombs, you accept in advance that you will kill the “innocent.”
His escalation of the war from Iraq and Afghainstan into Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia had begun. Barack Obama’s hands have been bathed in blood ever since.
He retained Bush’s Secretary of Defense. He hired torture commander Stanley McChrystal to oversee the Afghanistan escalation. He amplifed the CIA’s secret war in Pakistan. He sent tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan. He refused to prosecute war crimes. He used his power to conceal photogrpahic evidence of those crimes.
Not only has he erased the self-delusions of peace activists, the war in Afghanistan has now gone on loger than any war in US history. That benchmark was passed as the much-ballyhooed campaign for Kandahar is disintegrating before multiple and successful Taliban attacks, and former US-puppet Hamid Karzai is making overtures to Iran. So Obama is also now seeing his support from warlike Democrats and independents dissolve in confusion and dismay. He told them that this was the “right war.” And it is being lost. Quickly.
In that same week, he was confronted with a related dilemma when Israeli Navy thugs boarded the Gaza relief flotilla in international waters, killing, wounding, and brutlaizing scores of activists. Domestically, the Israeli propoganda machine has been wildly successful – not just now, but for decades – in convincing Ameircan voters that Israel is a victim in the region, under seige by Muslim savages. The Israeli political machine in the US has been equally successful at intimidating and buying off federal-level politicians.
This success is the petard that Obama is now being hoisted on; because the slightest criticism of Israel is now broadly perceived as a betrayal of an important ally (and against Biblical prophecy for many dispensationalist evangelicals). At the same time, the worst casualties were aboard the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish boat with many Turkish passengers, including all the known dead (there are still missing, thoughsome sepculate they were Mossad). Turkey is a key regional actor and US ally, as well as a member-state of the US-dominated military alliance NATO, under whose auspices the occupation of Afghanistan is being conducted.
Turkey is now seen outside the US as the good guy; and the good guy can no longer be counted upon to support US belligerence toward Iran, carefully and patiently crafted by anotehr warlike Democrat, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Arab and Muslim resentment against US support for and identification with Israel has been fanned back into a popular bonfire, threatening regimes like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who are seen by much of their own populations as collaborators with, even sycophants of, the United States… and thereby, Israel.
Obama now faces Isareli pressure via an indoctrinated US voting base, a profoundly weakened position in the Great Game around the oil patch, a tactical defeat in Afghanistan (and probably Iraq, which will eventually and inevitably move into the Iran camp), and increasing diplomatic isolation in its machinations with other world powers.
If that weren’t enough shit to hit the proverbial fan, there is always the Deepwater Horizon undersea oil gusher that is poisoning the Gulf of Mexico and on deck to wreck the coastal economy of the US Gulf Coast. Obamna’s response, as the single greatest recipient of BP camapign cash in the US, has been tepid, and in the case of BP itself, downright obsequious.
Again, he finds himself on the horns of a domestic-international dilemma.
BP is the biggest company in the United Kingdom; and the UK is the most reliable lapdog for US interests on the world stage. Drops in BP stock are already threatening many British pension funds.
The problem with the oil gusher is that it can’t be concealed by the strangeness and distance of the wars, nor can it be obfuscated for long by national secrets. It’s washing up directly onto the coast called by some, the Redneck Riviera, where Obama’s none too popular anyway; and where the locals make a seasonal living from the sea. Add to that the animal-lovers, usually loyal Democrats, who are seeing daily images of animal suffering. The oil-soaked Pelican has become almost a national icon. Environmentalists, some of Obama’s most reliable shock troops for the campaign, are in a state of shock as the oil belches by the millions of gallons week after week, and Obama does nothing. Any suggestion of actually shutting down BP or seizing some of its considerable assets will quickly make enemies of all corporat donbors to future campaigns, and fuel the preposterous claims that Obama is a socialist (if only).
It’s not that Obama couldn’t do anything. Alex Cockburn, writing in Counterpunch, noted:
When the U.S. government wheels out the heavy artillery and starts suing BP for damages, the numbers start flying past the $40 billion mark pretty fast as you tot up Clean Water Act violations, plus fines for bird and fish kills, compensation for workers, expenses incurred by state and local authorities …. On and on. Then throw in criminal charges for willful conspiracy and maybe even the Chinese will think twice about taking over this target of public and private litigation, in cases that will stretch out for a couple of decades, at a bare minimum. More than 200 lawsuits have already been filed.We’ve got two to three decades of litigation to look forward to.
The problem with such justified measures is that they trigger dominant class solidarity, and the trainloads of cash to future campaigns, often more or less equally divided between the two corporate parties, can shift into anti-incumbent coffers at the drop of a hat.
Little to fear on that count. Obama’s adminstration moved almost immediately to restrict airspace from non government and non-BP aircraft over the enlarging spill site; and the US Coastr Guard has been dispatched to keep independent observers from entering many areas with watercraft, as BP collects (and likely destroys) animal carcasses that need to be enumerated in order to guage the true environmental impact.
Unlike the war, the Wall Street bailouts, and his commitment to increasing executive branch power, which are slow hemhorrages of popularity, the BP oil disaster has caused Obama’s approval ratings to spill like a ruptured aorta… or like the Deepwater Horizon itself. Meanwhile, officals in the UK are calling Obama a “bully” for finally making a few strong statements about the catastophe, a “bully.”
North of Louisiana, meanwhile, is my home-state, Arkansas. Here is where Obama managed to alienate not only a key constituency, but one with plenty of money for future campaigns. The labor unions.
In the latest Democratic Primaries, Arkansas’ Lieutenant Governor, and pro-labor candidate Bill Halter challenged incumbent conservative (anti-union) Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln for the Democratic nomination. Obama not only actively supported Lincoln – who was crucial for his insurance-company-friendly health-care bill to pass this year – against the AFL-CIO’s pick (Halter), he had Bill Clinton go to Arkansas to attack Halter, and attack the labor unions. Clinton is already a lightning rod in unions for his unstinting support of so-called free-trade agreements (as is Obama).
Can Obama do without union support in 2012? Sure. The fact is, the unions – with very low density anyway – will fall back into lockstep with the Democratic Party. But rank-and-file support may not. This adds another straw to the laden camel’s back.
What else could go wrong for Obama, one might think, but there are still quite a few points on the list. He might hope the next shoe wouldn’t drop until a losing and senseless war was off the radar, until the oil slick qujits growing into the Atlantic, until the Hlater-Lincoln fallout blows away, until he can twist the Turkish arm to fall back into line… but on June 7th, 14-year-old Sergio Adrian Hernandez Huereca was playing on the Mexican side of the border at Juarez, when a US Border Patrol agent on the US side shot and killed him.
Just two weeks earlier, 32-year-old Anastacio Hernández-Rojas was killed by a combination of beating and stun-gun by Border Patrol agents in San Diego.
Obama’s response? He has ordered an additional 1,200 National Guard to the border as part of his escalating militarization of the US-Mexico border.
These are not stories widely read by Anglos in the US. But they are read, spoken of, and criticized by Hispano-Latinas across the US. In 2008, Obama received 67 percent of the Hispano-Latina vote in the US. On June 9, Gallup released a poll showing an 11-point drop in Obama’s popularity among Hispano-Latinas.
Again, a dilemma for Obama. As Hispano-Latina support wanes for Obama, along with the aforementioned sectors, Obama risks losing wide support in the Southwest from Latin@s, and margin-of-victory support in other states, even as many non-Latin@ Democrats have joined the US middle-class xenophobia against “illegals.” He is increasingly damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t.
One of the prinicple justifications for the militarization of the border has been the “war on drugs.” This is a key issue for libertarians – both ideological and ethical libertarians – as well as African Americans who have suffered terribly at the hands of the criminal justice system’s enforcement of anti-drug laws.
Marijuana decriminalization advocates with NORML recently pointed out:
The total amount of marijuana seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration nearly doubled from 1,539 metric tons in fiscal 2008 to 2,980 metric tons last year.
The numbers were disclosed as part of the DEA’s budget request for fiscal 2011.
To recap: The guy who called the war on drugs “an utter failure” and supported marijuana decriminalization when he was running for the Senate, and who promised to call off the DEA’s medical marijuana raids when he was running for president, has sought an increase in funding for that utter failure, ridiculed the very notion of marijuana decriminalization, presided over a doubling in marijuana seizures, nominated a hard-line Bush administration holdover to head the DEA, and continued to let the DEA raid medical marijuana dispensaries and grow operations without regard to whether they are following state law, despite a written Justice Department policy to the contrary.
This is not the Bush administration; It is Barack Obama’s.
Shave off another few votes.
Who else can he flip on? Well, how about gay people in the military?
In 2008, 68 percent of self-described gay voters supported Barack Obama. The one policy over which he has direct and immediate control is the military’s notorious don’t-ask-don’t-tell, under which gay soldiers are to this day being procesuted and thrown out of the armed services.
The policy has to be repealed by Congress to end it; but as Commander-in-Chief, Barack Obama has the authority and right to suspend its enforcement. When he was campaigning, he campaigned on a promise to end the policy. Now he is waffling through a “review process” between the Pentagon, that almost universally wants to policy kept in place, and a cringing Congress. This “process” is scheduled to last for at least a year, even as troops are still being separated for their sexual orientation. While professional lobbying groups have hailed this as a giant step forward, many individuals who are themselves gay or who support the rights of sexal minorities are ever more disillusioned about Barack Obama.
Again, his dilemma in the real world. If he does end the policy, either by suspension or repeal, he will lose support from many military members, steeped in the homophobic culture of the actually-existing armed forces. He also risks losing the support of a number of homophobic Black churches.
If he doesn’t end the policy, he will be a betrayer. It is estimated that one out of ten people may be gay. Most elections are won or lost on far less. Matthew Yglesias writes about the recent dismissal of two gay officers:
The game being played here is easy enough to understand. Obama’s decision on a variety of fronts has been guided by a clear desire to avoid some of the early missteps made by Bill Clinton. And conventional accounts of Clinton’s early presidency put the way he got into an early dispute with the military brass over treatment of gay and lesbian servicemembers high on the list of missteps to be avoided.
But while the political logic behind the administration’s thinking is understandable enough, the moral logic is contemptible (emphasis added). The dismissal of gay and lesbian soldiers was unjust when undertaken by administrations that believed in the policy. But disagreement about policy is inevitable in a democracy and sometimes injustice reigns. What we have today, however, is an absurdity—an administration that clearly does not believe in the policy, that is on record as opposing the policy, that campaigned explicitly on changing the policy, and that nevertheless declines to change the policy.
Tsao and Choi are being dismissed, in other words, not because the president of the United States feels they should be discriminated against, which would be bad enough. Instead, they’re being dismissed because the president doesn’t feel like doing anything about it.
There was a great deal of hope at the beginning of Obama’s tenure, when he made a sweeping gesture on behalf of human rights and against the Bush depredations against civil liberties. And he has been adept at downplaying thse areas where he has simply continued Bush policies – in my view, because no executive is going to surrender an iota of executive power. He has also been adept as giving his core the right talking points on his minimal reforms of Bush doctrine as evidence that there are differences between Republicans and Democrats. This latter is not simply manipulative – which it is – it is unfortunately also true. There are differences… which is why electoral pressure remains important to most people in any society that is not in a state of rebellion. US society is not in a state of rebellion, of any kind.
Leaving the two-party duopoly, and its whole incredibly influential game, is frightening for a very good reason. It is, in the most Kierkegaardian sense, a leap of faith.
We may learn that that will look like sooner than we decide en masse to flip the whole paradigm.
That’s the wild prognostication I’m entertaining as I jot this all down… The tea-party may split the Republican Party, Obama’s timid, corporate leadership method and his bloviatarian speaking style have conspired to put him into a volatile world situation – already in a tailspin after the Reagan-Clinton-Bush years – that is drowing his presidency, and deepening the faultlines in the Democratic Party. What may be left is one, de facto, weakened corporate technocrat party, reassembling itself from threats perceived in both directions. If hard times bite harder, then this one weakened establishment center will be forced to embrace the most reactionary formations out of plain pragmatism.
The reactionary core of the teaparty phenomenon, it must be noted, is white and suburban… self-described “middle class.” Within this movement there is a lot of plain silliness, like portly white men dressing up in camouflage to re-enact Red Dawn on weekends, shooting their assault rifles, and drinking in the warm glow of mimetic pathology and racial humor. There are also some very dangerous people in this movement, just as there are on the left, who are possessed by adventurism… by the adolescent fantasy of going to war.
A recent teapartier ad on tv showed a modern malcontent sitting at the table with Revolutionary War leaders, ranting about “tyranny” and “gather my armies.” This appeal to the victim-status of white people, and of middle-class people, and its association with the National Myth of vinicated US victimhood, ought to tell us something about the epistemologic challenges ahead for any future opposition to the state, to capitalism, to patriarchy, to racial supremacies, and to the violence that underwrites them all.
This post was written mostly last week, so a fair amount of water’s gone under the bridge on the BP and Gaza issues. Que sera. We’ve been very busy and out of touch. So I’m gonna let this one lay, as is, and let others chew on it if they like.