The end of politics-7: Obama the faux liberal and his apologists

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

For the previous posts in this series, see here.

John R. MacArthur says that it is becoming increasingly obvious that Obama is a faux liberal. But his deluded fans still seem to think that he has some deep progressive plan that is hidden from the rest of us, and twist themselves into logical pretzels to make the case. MacArthur says that Obama’s speeches at West Point and at Oslo (the latter accepting the Nobel Peace Prize while making the case for war) reveal “two breathtaking exercises in political cynicism that killed any hope of authentic liberal reform.” Glenn Greenwald describes the ‘classic Obama strategy’: “pretty words, rhetorical appeals to lofty ideals, self-congratulatory preening, accompanied by many of the same policies that were long and vehemently condemned by him and most of his supporters.”

It always surprises me that otherwise perceptive progressive commentators repeatedly express amazement at how (as they see it) the Democrats get repeatedly outmaneuvered by the Republicans. They keep saying things like “Why don’t the Democrats say X?” or “Why don’t the Democrats do Y?” if they want to win political and legislative battles, and ascribe their not doing so to them being “inept, cowardly and bungling.” These commentators are often right in their prescriptions of what Democrats should say and do but wrong in assuming that the Democrats are somehow dense in not seeing the obvious. The Democrats do not say X and do Y because they do not want to ‘win’ anything that goes against the interests of the oligarchy, however much their public utterances say otherwise.

These observers who express frustration at the seeming political ineptness of Obama and his team do not seem to realize how unlikely it is that a candidate and his advisors who had a finely tuned political ear and ran a truly brilliant election campaign, both tactically and strategically, that resulted in an improbable but resounding victory, could transform themselves overnight into a bungling and politically tone-deaf crew once they got into office.

The only way to understand what happened is to view Obama and the Democrats as hack politicians whose prime impulse is to follow the one-party agenda and who will respond only to pressure and/or money. We see the result of such pressure in some small ways. There was considerable outrage when the sleazy and dishonest anti-gay pastor Rick Warren was chosen by Obama to give the invocation at the inauguration. (Let us leave aside for the moment the fact that there should be no prayer or swearing on the Bible at government functions.) Perhaps as a result of the fuss over Warren, Obama did his usual backtracking pandering, choosing the gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson to give the prayer at the opening event of the inaugural week festivities, at the Lincoln Memorial. Although a relatively small example, it shows that what is necessary is to ramp up the pressure on Obama and the Democratic leadership and not believe them when they say that they have our best interests at heart.

So what should we do? Definitely not be deluded into thinking that Obama is on the side of ordinary people and has some cunning plan to restore the rule of law and cease inflicting war on the rest of the world. We should not have any illusions about any politician and not be beguiled by smooth words dripping with high principle. I’d like to end this series of posts with the words of Roger D. Hodge who wrote in The Mendacity of Hope (Harper’s Magazine, February 2010, p. 7):

Admirers of the president now embrace actions they once denounced as criminal, or rationalize and evade such questions, or attempt to explain away what cannot be excused. That Obama is in most respects better than George W. Bush, John McCain, Sarah Palin, or Joseph Stalin is beyond dispute and completely beside the point.

Let us grant that Barack Obama is as intelligent as his admirers insist. What evidence do we possess that he is also a moral virtuoso? What evidence do we possess that he is a good, wise, or even a decent man? Yes, he can be eloquent, yet eloquence is no guarantee of wisdom or of virtue. Yes, he has a nice family, but that evinces a private morality. Public morality requires public action, and all available public evidence points to a man with the character of a common politician, whose singular ambition in life was to attain power; nothing in Barack Obama’s political career suggests that he would ever willingly commit to a course of action that would cost him an election. His preposterously two-faced approach to Afghanistan, wherein he simultaneously escalates the war while promising to begin “the transition to Afghan responsibility” just a year later, is a perfect illustration of his compulsion to split the difference on any given political question. (One could also point to the health-care boondoggle, or to his utter capitulation to Wall Street in economic matters.) He dilly-dallies, draws out both friends and opponents, dangles promises in front of everyone, gives a dramatic speech, and then pulls back to gauge the reaction. Since the policy itself is incoherent—and, as usual with Obama, salted with stipulations and provisos—he can always trim and readjust as necessary. Deadlines and definitions of “combat forces” are infinitely malleable. Since Obama is an intelligent man, surely he understands the meaning of the word mendacity.

Having embraced and professionalized the powers of force and fraud previously associated with the likes of John Yoo and Dick Cheney, Obama has embarked on a course of war that will certainly invite further abuses of power. His political survival now depends on martial success in a land that has defeated some of history’s most brutal strategies of conquest. Obama has set a trap for himself, but because he is such a clever politician, the spring is just as likely to fall on us instead. Such insidious governance demands serious, sustained opposition, not respectful disagreement or fanciful historical apologies or mournful lamentations about the tragedy of his presidency. Principles can be sacrificed to hopes as well as to fears. (My emphasis)


POST SCRIPT: And now, the Ben Bernanke Show!

The media were breathless speculating this week that the confirmation of Ben Bernanke for a new term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve was in doubt because of anger at the way public funds were liberally doled out by him to the Wall Street banks, especially to Goldman Sachs, which we know really runs the government.

Anyone who thought that his job was in doubt still does not understand the way the game is played. What happens is that policies that favor the big banks and the rich are rammed through with little or no debate. Then, as popular anger slowly rises as awareness of the swindle sinks in, our elected representatives start grandstanding, as if they too were suckered like the rest of us and not aware of the giveaway. So we see the ritual scolding of the bank CEOs, Bernanke, and current and former Treasury secretaries Timothy Geithner and Henry Paulson. All these words are cheap, of course. The public treasury has already been looted.

These ineffectual congressional scoldings are part of the show that is put on to try and appease us while the looting goes on.


  1. says

    “What evidence do we possess that he is a good, wise, or even a decent man?”

    Answer: his career choices. Note that when he finished his undergraduate education at Columbia, he did not seek employment opportunities that came with power and money but instead chose a low power, low income profession of community organizing.

    When he got his law degree, he did NOT choose a high powered law firm; in fact, he had money trouble early on.

    “Wise”: he did make the Harvard Law review and he did get a teaching position at the U. of Chicago Law School.

    Also, he wrote his own books (no ghost writers).

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