Sunday, May 24, 2009

Four More Years: The Obamavore’s Dilemma, by Lorna Salzman


Can we survive the conundrum of Obama’s presidency: a decent, intelligent man promoting weak and dangerous policies?

I don’t want to say “I told you so”. But the fact is that many people, including Ralph Nader and Matt Gonzalez, his former VP running mate, exposed Obama’s voting record and political stances long before the 2008 election.

Gonzalez sent out a long memo which I myself distributed to all my lists but apparently few paid attention to Obama’s actual voting record: in favor of the death penalty; support for most Iraq authorization bills; favors for Exelon, Illinois’ nuclear industry, support for “clean coal”, opposition to class action lawsuits and to limits on credit card interest rates, and (hold your breath), active support for neo-con U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, whom Obama praised as his mentor.

So none of what Obama is now doing (or not doing) comes as a surprise. My reaction and that of many independents and greens was a big DUH. Or, what is it about a centrist capitalist that you don’t understand?

Some progressives moan that Obama has reneged on his promises. But in fact he never made these promises. All his statements, with possibly a few exceptions, made it quite clear that he was in lock step with traditional centrist Democratic Party capitalist beliefs and ideologies. Now, when these facts have become clear, too many people are too ready to believe that he changed his mind rather than admit that they were fooled.

Why were they fooled? The answer is obvious. Because he is African-American. Millions of people voted for him because of this alone, thinking that the color of one’s skin and one’s experience as a minority come hand in glove with progressive or radical thought. This is in its own way a converse variant of racism: thinking that one’s skin color is somehow linked on its chromosome with progressive principles.

These people forget that he comes out of the Ivy League, Harvard Law School, and the eerily prescient Democratic Party machine in Chicago, which has carefully groomed him as The Great Black Hope. They really put their money on the right number.

More people voted for Obama because he was African-American than voted against him because of that. Ponder that fact. Ponder the fact that even now, many blacks and liberals are bending over backwards to cut him slack, even after he brought with him the worst most regressive white collar criminals into his private abode and put them in charge of our economic future: slime buckets like Larry Summers, and, overlooking possible “minor” crimes, Eric Holder. The list goes on and on.

And then there were the Wall St./bank bailouts, done without setting the most minimal conditions on this huge payout, and without demanding anything in return. The Democrats railroaded this through for their friends in finance and banking. The Republicans, whose regressive agenda we fully recognize and which in fact called their sincerity into question on this issue, opposed it.

They were right to do so, though for the wrong reasons (although the far right and conservatives had the right reason: keep government from getting its hands into the pants of private business even if it means bankruptcy for businesses and banks). At the very least Obama could have laid down one condition: support universal single payer health care and you will get your bailout. He didn’t. That isn’t what I call a shrewd businessman.

My point is that Obama didn’t change direction or positions. He stayed firm in his commitment to capitalism, corporatism, and Wall St., so firm that he wasn’t going to demand anything in return for rescuing the financial community. I call that not stupid but an intentional betrayal of all those progressives who voted for him blindly, thinking that his election meant a new era.

But lots of people didn’t fall slavishly at the feet of this idol; they saw very clearly what he stood for and where he would go. And he clearly wasn’t going to diverge from traditional centrist capitalist politics. The believers exhibited “the audacity of hope”… blind hope. That’s par for the course for knee jerk Democratic Party members, for paleo-liberals, for African-Americans. There is always an audience for well-trained dog-and-pony shows. They have four years to brush up on their tricks before every presidential election.

The 2008 election was yet another example of Democratic Party blackmail: “do you want another four years of Bush in the person of McCain”? and all that crap, knowing that there was no alternative to either of them, realistically. The usual lesser of two evils argument that we saw offered when Ralph Nader had the cojones to get up and say what we all know (liberals excepted): that the difference between Democrats and Republicans is, generously, the difference between the two slices of buttered bread squashed together.

Unless and until voters acknowledge this last fact, they are destined to continual groping in the dark for something that will forever elude them. So let’s be blunt.

1. There is no chance in hell that Obama is going to adopt the progressive agenda on ANY of the relevant issues (Iraq, Afghanistan, health care, climate change, civil liberties and protection of privacy, bringing Bush war criminals to justice, energy policy, etc.). No chance.

2. The complacency of the electorate in the face of massive bail-outs, including that of the auto industry which should fold up shop and go home unless they are forced to build electric vehicles, trains and buses and wind turbines, must be brought up short.

3. The prayers and reliance of the public on the federal government to save their jobs and homes need to be aligned with reality, by a push for massive relocalization of the economy, which must for survival’s sake become leaner, smaller and non-reliant on continued economic growth and consumption. Republicans fear socialism but so should we, though for somewhat different reasons. Socialism and corporatism are the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of a deluded and disinterested citizenry.

4. The recession needs to be welcomed and augmented by a wholesale drawback by all citizens from compulsive shopping and consumption, shredding of credit cards, demand for public transportation, willingness to pay the full cost of energy and goods by ending all subsidies and tax breaks for energy and corporations, among other things. We should be helping push capitalism over the cliff; it is Wall St. and the banks that will go first. Afterwards, we can reassemble the pieces we want reassembled, in the way we want them to be. Americans still haven’t learned that democracy comes before the economy. The Russians didn’t learn this lesson soon enough.

5. Here is the sine qua non: a grassroots political and electoral movement that will unite behind some basic principles and demands and then put this into practice in a citizens’ PAC that will focus on unseating those phony liberals (mostly Democrats) who are mainly responsible for the betrayal that is being led by Obama. Max Baucus might be considered as a first target for his outrageous behavior on health care, with Waxman and Markey a close second for their huge energy bill, one of the biggest scams to ever get support from the liberal media and pundits.

Yes, the Republicans are repulsive and mendacious. But they always were and don’t pretend to be otherwise. We don’t need their phony cry for “bipartisanship” and “ending the stalemate” in Washington; the Democrats are doing a fine job of sitting in for the Republicans.

We have two years to put these people up in front of a political firing squad. Yes, some of you will say that the alternative might be right wingers lurking and ready to replace them. But consider this: the Dems might get re-elected but in the meantime they will have to face the wrath of the public and the possibility, even if slim, that their political careers might be over. This is the only way to hold them accountable for their brazen arrogance. They need to be told two things: we don’t like them, and we don’t like the things they stand for.

This message will trickle into the White House soon enough. A grassroots revolt against the deceptions and blackmail of the Democratic Party. A statement that we will no longer accept their contemptuous attitude that continues to lecture us that the alternative is worse. The Democrats in congress, NOT the Republicans, are the ones who need to be put on trial. They need to be told that they do not own our vote and that they must earn it. They have failed. They need to be booted out. Are progressives willing to admit their mistakes and take appropriate action to regain their power as citizens and voters? How long will Democratic Party members fete and re-arm their executioners?

This is the question progressives need to answer. They will be met by clever Democrats telling them to just keep quiet and things will work out. But right now things are working out only for Wall St. The rest of us will be lucky if we get an extension in unemployment benefits or a tiny reduction in mortgage rates. If we listen to the Democrats, we will never get universal health care or get our troops back from Iraq. Come on now, you already knew this, didn’t you?

Time for a reality check about the Democrats. Without it we are doomed to hand wringing and regrets, and a permanent apathy and pessimism that the Democrats will welcome as an accompaniment to the voters’ permanent recusal from civic life.

Lorna Salzman has been an environmental writer and activist since the mid-1960s and served as natural resource specialist for the New York City Dept. of Environmental Protection in the early 1990s. In 2004 she was a candidate for the U.S. Green Party's presidential nomination.

Visit Lorna's website.

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