Column for 31 January, 2010

King’s X!

“Prepare your shields, both large and small, and march out for battle!  Harness the horses, mount the steeds!  Take your positions with helmets on!  Polish your spears, put on your armor!”

–Jeremiah 46:3-4

It was a good State of the Union Address.  But then, Barack Obama has always given good speeches; his problem has been on the follow-through.  The President (finally) struck a defiant note, aggressively defending his record and reminding viewers of the mess he inherited on taking office, without going too far into buck-passing.  And why not?  Ronald Reagan got eight years’ of mileage out of his “failed liberal policies of the past” line.  I appreciated the fact that he was willing to call out to their faces the five corporatist stooge judicial activists on the Supreme Court who just officially abolished the inconvenience of democracy for the free-market efficiency of plutocracy as well as the Just Say No to Everything Senate Republicans.  He even managed some jabs at Senate Democrats, going out of his way to praise the House for taking action and urging the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body to follow suit, the political equivalent of your mother asking why you can’t be more like your brother.  It would’ve been nicer, though, if the president had been willing to throw sharp elbows like this about six months ago.  Obama outlined an ambitious jobs program; nice, but again, it would’ve been nicer about ten months ago.  In fact, this late conversion to job creation (when the unemployment rate is at ten percent) shows in a nutshell what has been wrong so far with this Administration: squandered opportunity and momentum.  Obama took office with soaring poll numbers and (as he himself noted) large majorities in both Houses of Congress.  After two straight electoral drubbings in a row, the Republicans were disorganized and dispirited.  Instead of capitalizing on this, Obama chose instead to believe his own lofty rhetoric about a “post partisan era” by accommodating Republicans again and again and again, despite receiving nothing in return.  It all seemed to confirm criticisms during the primaries that Obama was too inexperienced, with no real record of surviving the kind of brutal political infighting that characterizes Washington these days.  I mean, c’mon, his biggest political campaign before the presidency was defeating a joke candidate like Alan Keyes!  I agree that healthcare reform needed to be pushed early, and Obama was clearly right to avoid the model of the Clinton healthcare debacle: a committee crafting a bill close to the vest and then trying to ram it through Congress.  The problem was Obama went too far in the opposite direction, issuing a vague outline and then chucking the idea into the legislative Cuisinart with no real leadership and contradictory signals, mostly concessions.  No wonder then that the final product looks like such a kludge.  Obama also settled for a lukewarm stimulus bill that he has done an anemic job of promoting.  Instead of doing a photo-op every single week turning over the first ceremonial shovel of dirt on some new project, he allowed Republicans to hypocritically attack the stimulus as a failure (when even the Wall Street Journal admits it succeeded) while at the same time taking credit for the money in their districts.  Even more unforgivably, Obama showed a deaf ear to public anger at banks, big corporations and Wall Street fat cats by appointing insiders like Tim Geithner to the Cabinet and lending his prestige to a bail-out that, while admittedly better than the Bush plan that essentially poured dump truck loads of cash on incompetent and crooked banks with no strings attached whatsoever, was still far too deferential to the banking aristocracy.  As a result, much of the popular outrage has been diverted into an inchoate lunatic fringe or, worse yet, co-opted by a Republican Party that has been the hand-maiden of Big Business for over a century and whose de-regulation policies led to the disaster in the first place.  With this speech, the President sought to correct the errors by essentially starting his presidency over, and trying to hit the notes he should’ve been hitting immediately following his inauguration.  While maintaining some semblance of bipartisanship with support for entitlement reform and a partial kind of spending freeze, Obama sought to energize the liberal base of the Democratic Party with the new attitude, the jobs bill, and repeal of the ludicrous Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.  In so doing, he may be finally realizing that without a strong turnout by the base, the Democrats are in for a pounding in the off-year elections this November.  Truthfully, though, and again as the President acknowledged, if the Democrats cannot manage to govern with control of the White House and big majorities in Congress, they will deserve to lose as they will have demonstrated their incompetence and irrelevance.  If they aren’t going to fight for the ideals that people were voting for when they elected them, if they cannot ignore the pious mushy corporate bromides of the professional Beltway Punditocracy, if they cannot heed the words of John Adams in my favorite musical “1776,” when he says, “This is a revolution, dammit!   We have to offend somebody!” then, yes, they will deserve to lose, now and two years from now.

Published in: on January 29, 2010 at 8:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

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