In just a little over two years we will be choosing a new president and, since this is America, we have already begun the campaign process. I am not announcing my candidacy today (two can play that game, Hillary); rather, I want to do a bit of an autopsy on the Obama presidency that I once, silly optimist that I am, thought would usher in a new era, and “new, New Deal” for America, an America that, through liberal ideals and progressive policies . . . well, you get the idea.
I doubt that I am regarded by my government as seditious enough, or even a sufficient nuisance that with all their surveillance capabilities they regard me as worthy of a file somewhere in the bowels of Langley in a file cabinet In the section titled “Snarky Liberal Bastards” (formerly “commie pinkos”). Then again, how would I ever know until that deep night in which there is a knock on the door, followed by a long plane flight to some “dark site” where are electrodes will be attached to determine just how much life is left in these fine “family jewels.” (I wouldn’t be so paranoid if I lived in a more enlightened country.)
Barack Obama’s public approval rating has been below 50% for sometime now. It’s around 40 percent. That puts me in the 60 percent, with some incredibly bad company, I know, so I ought to explain. My disapproval would be better expressed as “disappointment,” attributable, I must admit, to the fact that I’ve probably put too much of my hopes for a reincarnation of my hero, FDR, in Mr. Obama. (I might point out here that I recently watched the entire PBS series on The Roosevelts, and I realize there wasn’t a chance in hell that Barack Obama would ever be anything close to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.)
I don’t want to take anything away from the fact that Barack Obama saved this country twice, once from the perpetual war (although we are close to that) that we would have had with Sen. Johnny McCain, shitty pilot, professional POW, wife-dumping gold-digger, and; from the perpetual screwing of the American middle and working classes by Latter-Day Saint of the greedy one percent, Mitt Romney. Unfortunately, those defeats might comprise most of the positive side of the Obama legacy. But as a “progressive” – the word “liberal” clearly has no application at all to Mr. Obama – – compared to the Roosevelts . . . well, Mr. Obama doesn’t compare at all. And I must add that my intent here is not to tear down President Barack Obama. Given the tenor of American politics he is probably the best choice for winning that office since my ideal choices are probably not electable. But compared to any Republican he is far and away immensely superior.
But, like the joke response to the question, “How’s your wife? Another way of looking at Obama is “Compared to what?”
So I might hazard this comparison. The documentary made this one significant linking point among TR, FDR and ER: TR suffered from asthma, Eleanor from the loss of her parents and upbringing by abusive, alcoholic relatives, and; FDR from polio. These were conditions that would cause most people to crash and burn, especially FDR’s, and yet they were persons of immense accomplishment in public service. So how come Barack Obama just doesn’t stack up?
I have a hypothesis. I believe that the main failing of Barack Obama is characterological, formed by the accidents of birth, race and geography. That character shaped him—being Half-American-Half African (It was even joked that he was a “Halfrican-American”), half Black and Half White—as someone, to succeed, who had to tread a line, in Hawaii, Indonesia, and then America, that did not appear too ambitious (uppity?), too threatening, too racial, too ideological, too different. He had to play a game of cooperation, conciliation, the demeanor that would get him into the better schools and even become the first editor of the Harvard LR who reputedly never published in it. He was not from the African-American narrative of a slavery lineage, a life story share-cropping in the rural south, or hustling on city streets. He became, in some sense, in indelibly racist America, the closest we could get to an acceptable Black man.
That is irony—that he reached the pinnacle of power, but by a life of careful accommodation to power. When he achieved the highest office two results appeared: one was that it drew out into the open, from the streets to the halls of Congress the ugly racism that has infected America since he days of Jim Crow; the other was that Obama simply installed his behavior of accommodation and cooperation (so much for that audacity bullshit) to his political operandi. He thought he could make nice with the likes of McConnell and Boehner, that he could succeed by doing things by halves—taking a few people out of Gitmo, taking his sweet time on gay marriage and gays in the military, taking “single-payer” off the table on health care, by creating an economic stimulus package that was woefully inadequate—and he could work with Congress and Wall Street. He never seemed to get that there is a hard core of racists that hate his guts. He never seemed to get that when you get the power you need to employ it. The first signs that would not be the case was that Bush, Cheney and the neo-con author/war criminals of the Iraq war walked off without a single indictment, as did the Wall Street thieves (so much for that audacity bullshit). Not only that, Obama invited the Wall Streeter into his cabinet, and Bushies like Bob Gates to run DOD.
My disillusionment began with the President’s first address to the core of cadets at West Point in his first administration. On that occasion, he walked back his pledge to get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan by declaring that he would add 30,000 more troops to the Afghan war, convincing me that he is just another pol sucking up to the defense establishment. Since then, I have found it increasingly difficult to listen to his lofty, but hollow, rhetoric.
By the end of his first year I found myself writing:
. . . while Obama seemed to see his election and a signal for reconciliation and bipartisanship, what his victory really did was tear the veneer off of America’s abiding problems with race, ethnicity and class. And that extends to the venerable halls of Congress. Surprisingly, Obama has hardly turned out to be a problem for political right. His first act was to extend a tax cut to the rich; Guantanamo remains open, as do black sites and rendition; torture has stopped (we think), but gays are still purged from the military, and DOMA is still there [there has been some progress here]; most of the main players in the economic crisis were welcomed into the administration to make sure that the bonus boys stay too rich to fail, and the stimulus for Main Street was woefully insufficient. But the real signal that liberals and progressives had been ideologically buggered was the troop “surge” (America’s Charge of the Light Brigade) in Afghanistan. That has been promulgated before the main structural change that might have signaled that we were on our way to a real democracy and out of a corporatocracy would have been a serious public health system. What that experience has proved is that the insurance companies rule by way of their bought congressional minions, the Crone and the Creep, Snow and Lieberman [both gone, but more than aptly replaced]. And thanks to the president’s lassitude and political ineptitude the dream was dead and buried by the ides of November. Not only had we not gotten the next FDR, but FDR had more courage and vision in one lame toe than Obama has in his young, healthy body.
There will be those who might respond that the fault is mine, for placing an unfair burden on Mr. Obama, by comparing him with FDR, that they are different persons from different times and circumstances. Yes, FDR was from the American aristocracy class, although I defy you to find a president who was more concerned with and better connected with the common man. FDR had to appease the Dixiecrats who he needed to pass his monumental policies (although he had Eleanor to address social concerns like de-segregating the military), but he would not have gotten sucked into the stupid wars the way Obama has allowed himself to become mired in Bush’s Mid-East fiascos.
One could go on and n with comparisons, but maybe a fundamental difference lies in the different implications of “yes, we can” and “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It might be that Mr. Obama, even as the most powerful political leader in the world, is still governed by his old fear, that he won’t be accepted if he asks for more than half.
[To be continued]
© 2014, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 9.25.2014)