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Priuses: Battle Formation! The Implacable Left Reads Obama the Riot Act

This week marks a milestone in the deteriorating relationship between President Obama and "the professional Left" former press secretary Robert Gibbs once disparaged. In his debut article for New York magazine, Frank Rich said that Obama's core problem is that "he is an elitist of a certain sort. For all the lurid fantasies of the birthers, the dirty secret of Obama's background is that the values of Harvard, not of Kenya or Indonesia or Bill Ayers, have most colored his governing style. He falls hard for the best and the brightest white guys." A lot of those guys work on Wall Street, and Rich believes that locking them all up would avenge the 2008 financial meltdown.  (Rich assumes but never demonstrates that such vengeance would restore prosperity. The logic and evidence argue it would make matters worse.) 

According to Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone, Obama declined to discipline the malefactors of great wealth not only because he likes the kind of people he met at Columbia and Harvard who wound up on Wall Street, but because he was compromised by all the campaign contributions he received from the financial industry. In 2008 Taibbi was one of those who "thought that Obama might be that rare, once-in-a-generation-type political talent who could help the country rise above itself." Even then, however, Taibbi wondered whether Obama was, more simply, "full of s--t," and now concludes that the president's failure to hoist taxes on capital gains, dividends and hedge fund managers confirms his darkest fears.

Obama has also dismayed the historian Michael Kazin, who laments that Obama "appears to have no strategy for creating a long-term majority--either for his party or for the progressive causes he believes in." Obama's sins are those of omission, Kazin argues. The president supposes that "solving immediate [policy] problems is the key to political victory." In reality, the political transformation people expected him to catalyze requires "a compelling vision of what kinds of policies Americans need and a set of powerful institutions that can motivate and mobilize voters," a vision Obama can't or won't offer.

These were the charges filed before the stories Thursday that the president was open to, even promoting, the inclusion of cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in a deficit-reduction deal. In the aftermath of that development, Granolageddon is now upon us, as the liberal commentariat heaps abuse and contempt on Obama. Putting Social Security on the table, according to Michael Tomasky, "reveals yet again, and more starkly than ever before, what's most important to [Obama]. It's not to lead. It's not to fight. It's not even to win. It's to be the most reasonable and unflappable person in the room. Obama will not be a transformational president unless the transformation starts in his own DNA." Tomasky reckons that the politician who made liberals swoon in 2008 has the skills of a successful college basketball coach, but ones which "are serving him and the Americans who want to believe in him very poorly."

Tomasky was the composed person at the table.  Paul Krugman, who expressed deep misgivings about Obama during the 2008 nomination contest with Hillary Clinton, is now writing, "It's getting harder and harder to trust Mr. Obama's motives in the budget fight, given the way his economic rhetoric has veered to the right.... Watching Mr. Obama and listening to his recent statements, it's hard not to get the impression that he is now turning for advice to people who really believe that the deficit, not unemployment, is the top issue facing America right now, and who also believe that the great bulk of deficit reduction should come from spending cuts."

Salon's Glenn Grunwald is also resigned to the assessment that Obama really "believes in the corporatist agenda he embraces ... If it means 'painful' entitlement cuts for ordinary Americans at a time of massive unemployment, economic anxiety and exploding wealth inequality, so be it." Not only is this Democratic president prepared "to lead the way in slashing programs that have long been the crown jewels of his party, defense of which is the central litmus test for whether someone is even a Democrat." Grunwald argues that Team Obama has also calculated, cynically but shrewdly, that they'll get away with triangulation for the same reason Bill Clinton did: The bitter, betrayed Left has nowhere else to go. "White House aides will just utter Michele Bachmann enough times like some magical spell and snap more than enough people into fear-induced compliance. The last thing the White House is worried about - the last thing - is its 'base.'"

Top Prize in the venom competition goes to Jane Hamsher, proprietress of the Firedoglake asylum. Obama has always been the kind of neo-liberal happy to scale back entitlement programs, she contends, and the Democrats who imagine themselves "progressives" have always pretended to be defiant - right up to the moment they fold like a lawn chair. They did it during the health care debate on the public option, she writes, and they'll do it again on Social Security. For Hamsher, a Democratic president amenable to cutting Social Security is the last straw, the "breaking point." 

What we're watching is the death of the Democratic Party. Or, at least the Democratic Party as most of us have known it. The one that has taken its identity in the modern era from FDR and the New Deal, from Keynesianism and the social safety net. Despite any of its other shortcomings (and they are myriad), the Democratic Party has stood as a symbol for commitment to these principles.  As recently as 2006, Democrats retook the House in a surprise wave election because the public feared that George Bush would destroy Social Security, and they trusted the Democrats over Republicans to secure it. Just like George Bush, Obama now wants to "save" Social Security....by giving those who want to burn it to the ground the the very thing they've wanted for decades.

Any member of any party who participates in this effort does not deserve, and should not get, the support of anyone who values Social Security and cares about its preservation. The amount of damage that the Democrats under Obama have been able to do has been immeasurable, by virtue of the fact that they are less awful [than] George Bush. But where George Bush failed, Obama will probably succeed....

We'll fight this, because it's the right thing to do. We will probably lose. But we will make it as painful as possible for any politician from any party to participate in this wholesale looting of the public sphere, this "shock doctrine" for America. And maybe along the way we'll get a vision of what comes next. Because what we believe in as Americans, and what we stand for, is not something the Democratic party represents any more.

Barack Obama, a state senator running for an open seat in the U.S. Senate, became an overnight sensation and a national political figure with a speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, which proclaimed "there is not a liberal America and a conservative America - there is the United States of America." Liberals and conservatives remain disunited in many ways, but Barack Obama has helped more and more of them agree on at least one thing: he can't do the job during the daytime after a good night's sleep any better than he can at three in the morning.
Categories > Progressivism

Discussions - 4 Comments

The LSM (Lame Stream Media) did a great job of vetting Sarah Palin as the Republican Vice Presidential nominee in 2008. Too bad that they did not spend at least 10% of that energy vetting their messiah...

Coulter has it right in Demonic comparing the American left's mentality to the mob mentality of the French during the French Revolution.... The French put in power one messiah after another only to behead them when they did not live up to the mob's expectations. Looks like the American leftist mob is looking for a guillotine.... that guillotine maybe Fast and Furious operated by the Gunwalker....

Granolageddon: What a great word! A formulation of genius!

The Democratic party, and the American establishment, still has not gotten over the big political events of 19989 and 1994. They still have not digested the idea history might not be moving toward social democracy.

Or more to your point, the Democratic Left believes in the existence of Historical Inevitability as a force, while the insurgent right gathers strength from its belief that the future can be either great or disasterous depending on its own strength and right actions.

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