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December 22, 2009

I Don't Get It

I understand all of Barack Obama's behavior this past year, except for one thing. He's a standard issue corporate Democrat, and has done everything standard issue corporate Democrats do. And while he theoretically could make the Democrats more politically successful by taking advantage of popular anger and staking out some populist positions, especially regarding Wall Street, the Iron Law of Institutions decrees that he won't—while the Democratic party overall would be more successful, mobilizing new constituencies would require Obama himself and his primary backers to have less power within the party. Imagine if all 15 million people on Obama's email list, energized by encouragement from Obama, were getting organized and coming up with their own ideas. Stephen Bing wouldn't like that.

So that's not confusing. All of it makes perfect sense and doesn't require Obama and friends to act like anything other than regular power-hungry politicians.

But here's what I don't get: why didn't Obama, starting the day after he won the election, relentlessly brand the economy as Bush's? Why didn't he tell every Democrat that whenever they appear on TV, they have to meet a quota of three mentions of "The Bush Economy"? That's just politics 101, and god knows the Republicans would have done it if the situation were reversed. Obama had every incentive to do this, and none not to—he could still have had the same policies to pay off Wall Street, while shielding himself from some of the heat.

It's weird. While the Democrats do behave like the Washington Generals, consistently playing to lose, I don't generally think it's conscious. They're just responding to incentives. But here the incentives are all in one direction (as far as I can tell), and they haven't acted.

The only explanation I can see is staggering incompetence. I guess you can never rule that out.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at December 22, 2009 08:46 PM

Incompetence arising from the fear of appearing unseemly? Obama does love his conflict avoidance. But unless he actually forbade badmouthing Bush then you're assigning too much responsibility to him. More than enough incompetence to go around.

On a more ad hominem note, have you noticed that when he's delivering a speech he lifts his chin after every utterance he thinks is significant? It's really distracting. I was in a coma for most of this year so I didn't see many speeches, but I don't remember that from when he was a candidate. I remember the pose, but not him striking it so often.

Posted by: Weldon Berger at December 22, 2009 09:26 PM

I think it is conscious.

But the evidence is more compelling when the Republicans let the Democrats off easy because they are the tough guys and we're supposed to think of Democrats as limp-wristed.

For example (off the top of my head) how come the Republicans are not talking about how Obama is about to have a massive tax hike on the poor (which is what the mandate is, and what I have always called it)?

Posted by: DavidByron at December 22, 2009 09:56 PM

JS, I have to wonder if you were asleep when you wrote the last graf. You've answered your own question. Look at a list of the major contributors to both McCain and Obama, and perhaps the truth of the matter will cohere. When Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, etc. own both parties, what would be the point of engineering an internecine squabble on something so dear to their hearts as the economy? Trivial issues, yes, to distract the booboisie, but certainly not the money/debt nexus, not the primacy of the IMF, World Bank, etc. in abetting Empire building and resource exploitation. Heaven forfend!

Obama is the suave public face of these Economic Hitmen. He may not fully comprehend the role he plays, and his relationship to their murderous methodologies; possibly he never will. But obviously he has internalized its salient features, and on some level he must realize he is their creature, their puppet, to be manipulated as they see fit.

It's not incompetence: when you sum up the Obama administrations myriad "failures" in its first year, and see them for what they really are, it's laughable to think that such single-minded perversity could be chalked up to incompetence. What you identify as a failure of basic political tactics is merely, for those who bankroll American politics, business as usual.

And what a wonderful business it is. A 30 billion dollar expansion of the Afghan war, with only 100 al qaeda fighters left in the country, equals, what? $300 million per al quaeda fighter? And on the domestic front, in what way has the continuation of the "Bush economy" harmed the bottom line for Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan? Didn't they rack up record profit and record bonuses? Why would they direct their puppet to change the tune, when for them the dance is going so swimmingly?

Surely you saw the scene in 'Network' where Ned Beatty explains to Howard Beale how the world really operates? Or did you actually think it was fiction?

Posted by: Oarwell at December 22, 2009 11:22 PM

Sure Obama is a "standard issue corporate Democrat." If he weren't, we'd be talking about somebody else. One of the more common-sensical recognitions of Marx was that social change has to be rooted in existing social conditions, not some Utopian dream of a better world. We can sing all the happy songs we want, but the task at hand is to change the world we now have to a better one, and that means that we can't do anything we want just because we can imagine it. Not individually, not collectively. Anyone who doesn't begin with that recognition is sure to fail at the business of social change.

Smart politicians have good radar about what is politically possible for them to do. Maybe they're rotten to the core, maybe not, but they are professional politicians, so in general they want to be successful. I feel sure that's true of Obama. If a political program isn't viable right now, neither Obama nor other politicians aiming for success will show much interest in it. It has nothing to do with their supposed incompetence. Whatever Obama and these corporate Dems are, they are not predominantly incompetent.

We should have a political system where populist rhetoric works for Dems, but we have been skillfully deprived of that. Instead we have a system where money matters more than anything, and where having huge corporate enemies is typically a terminal condition. That state of affairs goes way back, but it got worse after the intelligence agencies were given a very large amount of unaccountable power, which shouldn't surprise anyone because Wall Street and the intelligence agencies have always been joined at the hip.

Right now our political system is a mess, and frankly our society is a mess too. (V.S. Naipal was probably right in his observation that a political system can't be better than the society in which it exists.) We are the victims of our own unbridled wants, which have been foisted upon us from birth because that's the stage of capitalist development we have reached. The profitability of the FIRE sector is built on our unbridled wants and inability to wait to satisfy them, and that's far and away our most profitable economic sector. Our whole culture and economy is now set up not merely to satisfy wants, but to generate them. We're all so damn busy and stressed-out that we live like hampsters on a wheel trying to get more of what we want. That does not enhance empathy or many other virtues, and to add to the problem, whenever a politician comes along with a broad enough mandate to effect real political change, he is thwarted by the the National Security State of the MICFiC or whatever you want to call it. Ultimately, the game is rigged; our political system is presently a sham.

I don't mean to suggest that the problems we face aren't imposed upon us--they have been. But we also contributed and contribute mightily to it happening. The "incompetent" Dems aren't creating the problems we face--they're just accepting the existing messed-up state of affairs and trying to have political success. That's what politicians do. It doesn't mean they're any damn good, but they aren't incompetent.

Finally, don't think for a second that the Iron Law of Institutions is more than a generalization or a tendency, even if that doesn't sound as impressive as a "Law". When real social change comes, people in institutions will sometimes smash those institutions and with them their own power. It can happen. Just twenty years ago, someone named Gorbachev did it. Whether he was wise to do it could be debated, and another man named Putin would curse his name for doing it, but he did it. So it is possible sometimes, Iron Law of Institutions be damned.

But it's rare, because only very infrequently do the existing historical circumstances permit a historical figure to have that sort of freedom of action. And the consequences aren't all good. Real change exacts a high price. The average life expectancy in Russia dropped by several years during the decade that followed Gorbachev's radical decision to smash the institutions that gave him his own power.

Posted by: N E at December 23, 2009 12:08 AM


I can think of a couple of possible reasons that the Republicans would not have leapt on the mandate, decrying it as an unconscionable tax upon the poor:

1) As a default position, Republicans are in general quite content to see taxes levied on the lower classes. It's the taxes that primarily affect the upper classes that draw their ire.

2) It's a stealth tax, one not even directly collected by the government. Of course, in the event of non-compliance with the mandate, the collection of the penalty would be through the government, probably the IRS. Politicians love stealth tax increases, ones that can be held to be "only fair". For instance, my town recently re-assessed the value of the taxable properties in town. Our home's assessed value was ratcheted up to twice its previous value, leading to double the taxes. The city parents didn't change the tax rate; i.e., increasing the number of mills charged per unit of valuation. That might have provoked an outcry. For that reason, the strategy was to harness the tax rise to a perceived social good or inevitability. During the run-up in prices of the housing bubble, the assessed values on the tax rolls and the actual selling prices had diverged to such a degree that the town-wide re-assessment could be maintained with a straight face to be "only fair". This was a stealthy tax increase. Similarly, the mandate can be cast as a sacrifice necessitated and justified by the outcry for society-wide health insurance, and therefore "only fair". They will be hoping that we fail to see that this is a fantastic gift to the Medical-Insurance Complex, with none of the accountability for performance and cost controls that might accrue to the benefit of the citizenry should we have adopted the Single Payer model.

3) Rest assured that, should the "consumers" (once known as citizens before that became inconvenient to the Corporate State) evince some awareness of the screw job, the Republicans will not be chary in their scorn for this horrifying expropriation instituted by the Democrats. Their hands will be clean, since they can say that they had nothing to do with it. But it is to be anticipated that an astroturf campaign to foment disgruntlement will precede the next election should it fail to spontaneously arise. They will run on it. It is red meat.

Republicans have absolutely no problem with the merger of corporations and the state. They're just pissed that the Democrats are horning in on their stratagem. How else do you think that they were hoping to create their Thousand Year Reich?

Posted by: JerseyJeffersonian at December 23, 2009 12:17 AM

you know how powerfully disempowering it is for them to do this to you: rub your nose in the fact that there is not 2 parties?

Posted by: tooearly at December 23, 2009 01:44 AM

Obama rode into office on the coat tails of Bush’s unpopularity. The bar that Obama had to jump over was fairly low and looking at his record prior to his presidency there isn’t much to see. So maybe he is incompetent and when you look at all the times Obama has made statements that are then immediately denied by Clinton and Gates for example the 2011 withdrawal date he mentioned in his war speech it makes you wonder. The next day Clinton and Gates were busy mollifying the war junkies that the withdrawal date of 2011 was only hypothetical. They can’t even keep their lies straight between Obama and his underlings. I think incompetent isn’t so farfetched.

Posted by: Rob Payne at December 23, 2009 02:36 AM

Obama's too bent on coming off "classy", that's what. He campaigned precisely on classiness, and he thinks that's gonna win him more votes over his actual term itself. "Class" is but one tool in the political toolbox, Obama made it his hammer, and now he's driving screws with it.

Posted by: En Ming Hee at December 23, 2009 04:37 AM

"While the Democrats do behave like the Washington Generals, consistently playing to lose, I don't generally think it's conscious."

I like the cultural connection, though I really think that one guy on the Generals honestly tried. Shit, what was his name...

Posted by: john at December 23, 2009 04:48 AM

Obama does what he's told. Full stop.

I also feel compelled to state that no matter what "realists" say, reality does not give a shit what is "politically feasible". What's politically feasible does not faze determined plutocrats and it does not faze C0₂ levels or ocean acidity. What is politically feasible does not address actuality in any way, let alone improve it. It's THEATER from start to finish. All of it.

And we just sit back and watch.

We, The Audience.

Posted by: 99 at December 23, 2009 05:49 AM

The main reason why Obama won't call it the Bush economy is that Obama endorsed Bush's economy by implementing the Bush-Paulson bailout, by continuing the disastrous defense spending and by refusing to undo the Bush tax cuts. He can't criticize the "Bush" economy because it is the "Obama" economy. See this graph to illustrate the costs:

Posted by: drip at December 23, 2009 06:10 AM

I guess I should go on briefly. It is not incompetence; Obama is getting what he wants, just as George Bush did. Bush had no regrets about his presidency because he got every fucking thing he wanted. except perhaps privatized Social Security and even that worked out for him. Obama just stepped into his shoes.

Posted by: drip at December 23, 2009 06:31 AM

They have consultants, they have think-tanks, it can't be incompetence. It's something else.

I think a better theory is that they get their orders from the same headquarters the Republicans do, and for some some reason the HQ told them not to use this line.

What reason? Who knows. It can be anything, could be a calculation, or could be a personal favor or something.

Posted by: abb1 at December 23, 2009 06:51 AM

i retired from the staff of the OED quite a while ago, but i don't think it qualifies as incompetence if it's *planned*. the appearance of incompetence, spinelessness, etc., is the plan. if the plan was to be competent, wouldn't the jackass party have learned something from its decades of incompetence?

it surprises me that you don't see incompetence as a pose (see 99's comment above.) when, e.g., it comes to crushing a threat from outside (say, Nader), they are just as cruelly competent & vicious as their doppelganger.

Posted by: anon at December 23, 2009 08:34 AM

From Chapter 20, Part 5, "The Prince"
". . . that he must well consider the reasons which induced those to favour him who did so; and if it be not a natural affection towards him, but only discontent with their government, then he will only keep them friendly with great trouble and difficulty, for it will be impossible to satisfy them. And weighing well the reasons for this in those examples which can be taken from ancient and modern affairs, we shall find that it is easier for the prince to make friends of those men who were contented under the former government, and are therefore his enemies, than of those who, being discontented with it, were favourable to him and encouraged him to seize it."

Posted by: Murfyn at December 23, 2009 10:02 AM

I don't think it's so weird. Talking about Bush riles people up, and the last thing he (or his sponsors or allies) want is for people to get any angrier.*

So from Obama's point of view hating on Bush would be counterproductive. Everybody's already mad as hell. There's a sense of terrible injustice in the air, even if people don't agree on what that injustice is. Talking about Bush would just remind people how pissed off they are (regardless of whether they loved him or hated him) and encourage them to petition for redress of their grievances. Besides which the man's an inveterate argument-avoider. Sometimes a personality trait is just a personality trait.

* Yeah, it's not going very well, is it? Maybe he is staggeringly incompetent after all...

Posted by: radish at December 23, 2009 10:32 AM

"The only explanation I can see is staggering incompetence. I guess you can never rule that out."

You certainly can't. Look at the health-care debate: the right wing had a succession of freak-outs during the summer, about 'death panels', coverage for illegal immigrants, coverage for abortion, etc. None of these had any basis in fact, but the Dems kept tried to defuse any controversy by amending the bill. All this did was give the freak-outs credence and make the bill worse; the crazies weren't assuaged (Palin revived the 'death panels' scare just yesterday), and the public doesn't believe there was any (ecch) 'bipartisanship'. That's bad policy and bad politics. Not to let the Dems off the hook for their other crimes, but what explains it other than "staggering incompetence"?

Posted by: Chris Ekman at December 23, 2009 10:37 AM

Smart politicians have good radar about what is politically possible for them to do. Maybe they're rotten to the core, maybe not, but they are professional politicians, so in general they want to be successful. I feel sure that's true of Obama. If a political program isn't viable right now, neither Obama nor other politicians aiming for success will show much interest in it.

This kind of talk is where you lose me, N E. An overwhelming majority wants out of Iraq, so how is leaving Iraq not viable? Ditto healthcare, and on and on, and even the criminal enterprise in Afghanistan to a lesser extent.

If Franklin Roosevelt had not taken any good action after being elected and just continued the policy of Hoover, the N E of back then could with just as much plausibility said the same thing — 'not politically possible'.

Sometimes, indeed often, politicians avoid doing what is both right AND would make them popular — because their own value systems are genuinely fucked up (i.e. evil).

Posted by: Cloud at December 23, 2009 10:43 AM

What is the actual objective?

Idries Shah (pbuh) wrote something a lot like "You'd be surprised how often your thoughtlessness is interpreted as malevolence, and vice versa."

A. How's the Obama Administration doing?
B. Compared to what?

Wavy Gravy's Reflection: It's All Done with People

In a piece running at Counterpunch, titled there "Obama in the Shark Tank", Ralph Nader muses on the fact that personality becomes character becomes destiny.

Republican attack on Obamacare

Not as "a tax on the poor" (who cares about them? - if you're poor, it's your own fault) but as a "government takeover of the healthcare system" - but the Republicans are mentioning the expensiveness of it, as well as the coerciveness of it.

tooearly's point - "rub your nose in the fact that there is not two parties"

The Firesign Theatre enunciated Fudd's Law: If you push something hard enough, it will fall over.

Right now they (the MICFiC) are pushing the "two party" fiction pretty darn hard. I suppose they believe there is too much confusion, and therefore we (the ordinary people) won't get no relief. Businessmen are drinking wine, ploughmen dig the earth, but none of them along the line know what anything is worth.

May the Creative Forces of the Universe stand beside us, and guide us, through the Night with the Light from Above.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at December 23, 2009 10:48 AM

Amazing! Not clear for me, how offen you updating your

Posted by: Edwas at December 23, 2009 11:15 AM

99 nails it, with pith to boot!

Here's David Michael Green at Counterpunch:

"So, like, my question is: Then why the hell did you help out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street? Why the hell did you surround yourself with nothing but Robert Rubin proteges in all the key economic positions in your government? Why did you allow them to open a Washington branch of Goldman Sachs in the West Wing? Why have your policies been tailored to helping Wall Street bankers, rather than the other 300 million of us, who just happen to be suffering badly right now?

Are you freakin’ kidding me? What’s up with the passive president routine, anyhow, Fool? You hold the most powerful position in the world. Or maybe Rahm forgot to mention that to you. Or maybe the fat cat bankers don’t actually let do that whole decision-making thing often enough that it would actually matter...

But, really, are you going to spend the next three interminable years perfecting your whiney victim persona? I don’t really think I could bear that. Hearing you complain about how rough it all is, when you have vastly more power than any of us to fix it? Please. Not that.

Are you going to tell us that “I did not run for office to be shovel-feeding the military-industrial complex”? But what – they’re just so darned pushy?

“...I did not run for office to continue George Bush’s valiant effort at shredding the Bill of Rights. It’s just that those government-limiting rules are so darned pesky.”

“...I did not run for office to dump a ton of taxpayer money into the coffers of health insurance companies. It’s just that they asked so nicely.”


“...I did not run for office to turn Afghanistan into Vietnam. I just didn’t want to say no to all the nice generals asking for more troops.”

Here’s a guy who was supposed to actually do something with his presidency, and he’s turned into the skinny little geek on Cell Block D who gets passed around like a rag doll for the pleasure of all the fellas with the tattoos there. He’s being punked by John Boehner, for chrisakes. He’s being rolled by the likes of Joe Lieberman. He calls a come-to-Jesus meeting with Wall Street bank CEOs, and half of them literally phone it in. Everyone from Bibi Netanyahu to the Japanese prime minister to sundry Iranian mullahs is stomping all over Mr. Happy.

And he doesn’t even seem to realize it."

Posted by: OW (formerly Oarwell) at December 23, 2009 12:09 PM

Amazing! Not clear for me, how offen you updating your

God, now even the spam is criticizing my lack of posting.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at December 23, 2009 12:20 PM

Obama was selected to be president mainly so as to provide someone entirely despiseable to absorb or deflect rage and hate from the White Oligachy onto a Person of Color. White people were starting to become restive under the lash of the Busheviks, were starting to doubt the wisdom of the aristos. It was absolutely mandatory to replace a white person as sock-puppet with a non-white (or a woman)...

Posted by: woody at December 23, 2009 01:09 PM

Wonderful speech by Iraq vet, distribute widely:

Posted by: OW at December 23, 2009 02:54 PM

my lack of posting.
speaking of, wonder why we haven't seen prof. chazelle around? all well i hope?

Posted by: almostinfamous at December 23, 2009 03:08 PM

Paul Street's latest on the "Empires new Clothes" and his liberal progressive base which finally seems to be seeing what was in front of them all along.

I did not know "Progressives for Obama"-truly an embarrassing title, has actually changed the name of their organization until reading the Street article.-Tony

Posted by: tony at December 23, 2009 03:28 PM

Tx OW....

And I want that vet to be making that speech as he's frogmarching them out of D.C.!

Posted by: 99 at December 23, 2009 04:38 PM

Like Oarwell says, talking about "the Bush Economy" implies a repudiation of Bush (and pre-Bush) economic policies. Even if the money men might be confident that such rhetoric wouldn't result in any actual policy change from Obama, they'd still be worried about a space being created in which someone else might argue for change. Or, more accurately, Obama's backroom boys would be worried that the money men would be worried, so Obama bites his tongue for fear of spooking campaign donors.

Posted by: weaver at December 23, 2009 08:16 PM

Perhaps they have made the rationale that they are STILL more likely to win future elections with a corporatist agenda...deciding that no matter how popular the party becomes playing to populist rhetoric...they still feel their chances of winning elections in the future, lies within a corporatist strategy and agenda.

Posted by: scott at December 23, 2009 09:25 PM

What I find surprising is how little pop-psychology analyses of Obama have been offered, especially compared to how much people liked to speculate about Clinton's womanizing and Dubya's warmongering being about their relationships with their fathers.

Now I readily acknowledge that such pop analysis is inherently suspect, but that doesn't make it inherently useless.

Obama often seems pretty smug to me, just like his immediate predecessor. But I'm guessing this is a fairly common quality in presidents and would-be presidents, and Clinton was just a lot better at hiding it than "43" and "44".

So that by itself isn't particularly useful. However I also wonder about the eagerness with which he discredits those associated with him, like his repudiation of Reverend Wright or Wesley Clark, as if he sees his absent father who ditched him and mom as powerful and strong, and people who don't do that, especially passionate and expressive people, as weak.

Additionally, it seems he really dislikes giving a speech without an audience physically present, even if it's just a news conference. It's as if he thinks he needs the audience to feel powerful, or to get feedback on how he's coming across, and is uncomfortable just speaking into a camera without that feedback.

(as far as Hillary Clinton repudiating his less-Hawkish than thou statements go, I wonder if that's a 2012 trial balloon. She ain't getting any younger.)

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at December 24, 2009 03:29 AM

Cloud, the psychology of the head honcho just isn't that important. Nixon was no good, but he tried to make some changes for the better for selfish political reasons, and though he was destroyed by the CIA and the military and the Right for doing it, he made some big changes. Even though Nixon was no damn good, the political system still worked a little bit then. Now it seems we can't get good results even if a President means well.

FDR was a good one, but Hoover was actually trying some of those New Deal policies too. There was pressure from the left then. That is what is needed now too. Obama never had a real movement behind him, and unfortunately it doesn't look to me like he believes he can start one. Or if he does, he doesn't know how to do it. He is doing a very bad job at motivational leadership, which is very important.

Posted by: N E at December 24, 2009 09:55 AM

At Jesse's Café Américain, the proprietor wonders "Why is Obama Failing?" He quotes extensively from psychologist Drew Westen's recent Huffington Post article, "Leadership Obama Style." Jesse sees Obama's lack of principles as being at the root of his problems, and says

What makes Obama a greater failure than either Bush or Clinton is that he was elected on the promise of reform, a promised change, a political renewal in a country sickened by the erosion if not betrayal of its republic by men who view the Constitution as 'just a goddam piece of paper.'

Jane Hamsher focuses on the health care bill machinations having to do with dropping the public option, saying

Obama is triangulating against you today. They want all those diaries of outrage by "liberals," so that right wingers will look on and think "good for him - like Joe Lieberman, he really knows how to stick it to liberals." It's the move of a deeply cynical politician who believes in nothing but shameless manipulation for political convenience. Meanwhile, the media will completely overlook the fact that this bill is nothing but a corporate giveaway written by sleazy greedy whores willing to hold the nation's sick hostage in order to pull off the biggest Shock Doctrine scam in world history.

Hamsher's language may seem overwrought - please make some allowance for the fact that she is a cancer patient, and so the situation of someone living with a life-threatening illness and needing extremely expensive medical care is not purely theoretical for her.

May the Creative Forces of the Universe be with her, and with us all, in this solstice season, and have mercy on our souls, if any.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at December 24, 2009 10:53 AM

N E, your gentle treatment of Obama is touching. I wish I had someone who'd follow me around, loudly absolving me of all responsibility for everything I do.

"Obama never had a real movement behind him, and unfortunately it doesn't look to me like he believes he can start one. Or if he does, he doesn't know how to do it. He is doing a very bad job at motivational leadership, which is very important."

Obama didn't want a real movement behind him, because a real movement would have a mind of its own. He tried to coopt in advance the kind of people who might start one with his own organization, which was very successful in terms of the goal he set for it: to get him into office. That organization was not exactly invisible: the Obama campaign was singled out by Advertising Age for excellence in marketing, beating out Apple Computers. The Democratic leadership and the corporate media were uneasy that Obama's supporters -- by which term they did not mean his corporate supporters -- would want a say in how he governed. But not to worry, there hasn't been any real restiveness in the ranks. Obama himself has made clear his dislike of any insubordination among the proles. (No links here -- I'm sure you, NE and other ATR readers will recognize everything I'm talking about.)

I'll agree that he's doing a bad job at motivational leadership, but I think the way you phrased this reveals that you accept the framework of shepherd/sheep as a model for leadership: the idea that the followers will do whatever the leader wants if he just motivates them in the right way. (How does he motivate you, NE? You're quite the dogged apologist.) I've seen some indication that Obama's ground troops are voting with their feet, and drifting out of involvement. I imagine next November will tell us more. But judging, again, by the e-mails I've seen, I think Obama doesn't realize how upset many of his former supporters are. He assumes that everything he's doing is fine with them, and they only need to be given their orders plus proper motivation. That isn't how it works, NE: the "movement" has to have goals it believes in, and "Obama in 2012" isn't enough for the grass roots unless it means something other than war, torture, and more corporate welfare.

Now, I agree, and have often written about it, that many of Obama's fans had inaccurate and unrealistic beliefs about what he stood for and intended to do, let alone what he could do. But I won't blame them for deserting him when they realize that they were wrong about him. What else should they do, change their goals and values? No doubt you think so; certainly Obama thinks so.

Posted by: Duncan at December 24, 2009 12:02 PM


I hardly said anything about obama, who isn't the problem. As always, that's the extent of my dogged apologetics for him.

mistah charley

I am sorry that jane hamsher has cancer, and I think I agree with her about most things, but I don't really think she is deep in either political knowledge or judgment. I think she is mistaken about the triangulation too. I still see a difference between Clinton's triangulation and what Obama is doing, though I certainly am not seeing Obama do anything bold. Based on what has happened so far, I couldn't make much of a case for his Presidency being much different from what a Hillary Clinton Presidency would have been.

As for this idea that neither Bush nor Clinton were elected on the promise of reform, that's false. Both were expressly elected on that promise in a major way, though of course their constituencies wanted different types of reform. People don't have enough long term memory, and they don't go back and check, but you can these days fairly conveniently go back and read what was published in 1992 and 2000 any time you want. Without even getting out of your chair!

I wish we only had to contend with a lack of principles by Obama. Then I would be more hopeful. Alas, that is in my view not even a significant part of the problem. But you kno that. It's all your MICFiC.

Happy Holidays to all!

Posted by: N E at December 24, 2009 01:03 PM

I really think Obama's making a steadfast effort to be the President of all Americans, not just of Democrats. That this Quixotic effort was doomed by the increasing insanity of the radical Repulican right before he was ever nominated only serves to make it more tragic. I think this character trait is admirable, and insufficiently understood, so that people sneer at it as "classy". We've grown very cynical indeed.

Posted by: joel hanes at December 25, 2009 04:49 AM

I really think Obama's making a steadfast effort to be the President of all Americans, not just of Democrats. That this Quixotic effort was doomed by the increasing insanity of the radical Repulican right before he was ever nominated only serves to make it more tragic. I think this character trait is admirable, and insufficiently understood, so that people sneer at it as "classy". We've grown very cynical indeed.

Posted by: joel hanes at December 25, 2009 04:49 AM

We've grown very cynical? Joel, you are the one pumping out glittering generalities and impugning people who react skeptically.

Posted by: Harold M at December 25, 2009 03:50 PM

Joel, posting it twice doesn't change the fact that the sentiment expressed is just so much platitudinous blather-- kind of like an Obama speech.

As far as the larger concern about whether the democrats want to lose, my impression is there are at least three factions to the democratic party, at least at the national level:

in no particular order, they are,

1.the group who recognizes that the democrats have mostly strayed from their first principles, and would like to bring them back. I'm thinking of people like John Conyers and Dennis Kucinich, and I'm going to call them the Neo-New Dealers. Needless to say they are the least powerful group.

2. the group that tends to be unfocused boosters of DLC talking points and are readily cowed by accusations of ideological shrillness, but apparently believe that some incremental reforms are possible if you keep your goals modest. Marcy Wheeler and Barney Frank come to mind. I don't know what to call them. The faux populists? Most populists are faux populists, as far as I can tell. The democrat-ish wing?

3. the third group, which, I am convinced, wants to seem like they are the second group, but is making a concerted effort to move the democrats to the right because they're convinced this is how you create an enduring majority, or get rich trying to. I could call them a name or two, but it would be wrong on Christmas day.

Posted by: grimmy at December 25, 2009 06:07 PM

What I never got, what I still don't get, is how anyone was fooled by Obama in the first place. He was so obviously a plastic fake, a packaged corporate creature with Wall Street's best interests at heart. And the adulation was creepy and also, obviously seriously astro-turfed. All that gooey idolization...ugh.

I find it morbidly funny now to hear the same apologetics used to support Bush's invasion of Iraq now used by his detractors to support Obama's continuance of torture and endless detention.

Posted by: Elliot at December 25, 2009 11:43 PM

I thought that the Washington Generals comparison is apt, although I've always preferred professional wrestling as how politics works.

The Republicans are in absolute opposition to health care reform because:

1.) They don't need to vote for it for it to pass. The health insurance companies are going to get their guaranteed profits that the "reform" gives them.

2.) The current bill with mandates is going to drive a wedge between those Americans who can still afford to pay for health insurance and those who can't or are being denied it. That means that while there may be more Americans getting some health care in the future, it also means that every health insurance increase is going to be blamed on the Democratic brand. You might as well print Obama's picture on every bill going out from Aetna or Blue Cross. That means that if this health care reform plays out as it looks to me, the Democratic brand will be reviled by most of what's left of working class households. When liberals fail, that's what makes fascism attractive to the underclasses.

This piece of health care reform will thus accomplish a government safety net for insurance companies instead of the probability of the whole industry collapsing in a few years (as it would without "reform"). It will so destroy the Democratic Party as to clean away all the underfunded candidates (generally more liberal and independent Dems), thus leaving only the well-funded corporate Dems or their corporate-funded Republican opponents in office. Those progressives who think that the Dems can pass this piece of crap and then clean it up down the road won't have many corporate-free Dems in Congress in a few years to do much of anything, as if they had any power to ever do it right.


Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at December 26, 2009 12:14 PM

I really think they are "looking forward, not backward" and not just in terms of letting powerful criminals run free. They're blowing sunshine and hope and happiness up their own assholes. The future is a prettier place, and it's all Obama's. Bush is in the past. They THINK that's how they win.

Posted by: David Swanson at December 28, 2009 12:57 PM