The White House Un-Reality Show
Like an abusive spouse who preys on the emotional desperation and dependency of his domestic victim, Barack Obama knows that all he need do is offer some cheap street corner flowers and a few sweet words, and the previous nights and months and years of beatings will be forgiven. Just hum a bar or two of an old, shared song, and the battered partner will supply a full symphony of Barry White’s “Love Unlimited Orchestra”—because she needs to hear it, if only inside her own head.
After four years of chasing Republican skirts in search of a grand austerity bargain; of debauching himself in marathon binges of global lawlessness and aggressive war; of defiling the Bill of Rights through preventive detention and massive domestic spying; of callous neglect of the jobs and lost wealth crisis afflicting the most loyal members of his political family; and of brazen cavorting with the vile and filthy rich, sheltering them from incarceration for crimes against the national and global economy, Barack Obama slunk home on the morning of January 21, to be smothered with kisses.
Much of what passes for the Left, and for traditional African American leadership, agreed with the New York Times’ assessment that Barack Obama’s second inaugural address represented a firm embrace of “a progressive agenda centered on equality and opportunity.” Significantly, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell echoed the sentiment: “The era of liberalism is back…the speech certainly brings back memories of the Democratic Party in ages past.”
It is in the mutual interest of corporate media and rightwing Republicans to move the bar of “progressive” politics ever rightward. However, for African Americans and white progressives, it amounts to erasing their own political legacies from history.
Actually, Obama embraced nothing: he merely peppered the speech with progressive buzzwords and references—just enough notes to get the faithful to fill in the empty spaces with their own internal music. It was classic Obama.
“A decade of war is now ending,” said the Second Incarnation of Obama, sounding a false “peace” note. If he was talking about Afghanistan, that’s a damnable lie. There is no agreement to end U.S. combat involvement in Afghanistan, and no intention of achieving one—only the stated goal to lower troop levels. The Pentagon is fielding contingencies to reduce U.S. troop strength to between 6,000 and 20,000. (When Obama entered office there were 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which he raised to about 100,000 in the “surge” of 2011.) Although the administration line is that most of the remaining Americans will be “trainers,” they will include thousands of Special Forces troops to continue “counterinsurgency” and “counterterrorism” operations. Special Forces are “trainers” and “force multipliers” by U.S. military definition, “training” native troops while engaged in combat missions. U.S. air forces, drone and manned, will continue to pound targets. Obama’s nearly completed “codification” of U.S. drone policies exempts the CIA from any clear rules for “targeted-killing” drone operations in neighboring Pakistan for at least a year, to allow them to do as much damage as possible in the quest for Obama’s version of peace.
But history may record Obama’s greatest crime against peace as changing the definition of war. According to his unique doctrine, the U.S. cannot be in a state of war, or even “hostilities” with another people or country, unless Americans are killed in the process. Thus, Obama refused to report to the U.S. Congress under the War Powers Act following eight months of bombardment of Libya, claiming no state of war had existed since no Americans had died. By this logic, the U.S. is empowered to bomb anyone, anywhere on the planet at will, without the constraints of national or international law, as long as care is taken to protect the lives of U.S. personnel.
Obama rhetorically abolishes war while promulgating a doctrine of general immunity from the rules of war. Armed with such a concept and vocabulary, he can proceed with the militarization of Africa policy, his “pivot” to contain the Chinese in the Pacific, the terror campaign in Syria, the virtual state of war against Iran, and update of his Kill List in perpetuity. What, then, is the president’s meaning when he tells hundreds-of-thousands on the National Mall that “enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war?” This, from a man who makes war on language, itself.
“An economic recovery has begun,” said Obama. Not for Blacks, whose official 14 percent unemployment rate is more than twice that of whites (6.9 percent), and whose median household wealth has fallen to one-twentieth that of white families—a catastrophe of historical proportions. The “recovery” is mainly confined to Wall Street, which is awash in cash, thanks to more than four years of free money (for banks, only). This administration’s jobs policy, like the Republicans’, consists almost entirely of tax incentives to business: trickle down. The One Percent’s “rising tide” has lifted only their yachts.
Obama admits that “a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it,” but has done nothing to curtail the hegemony of Wall Street, the mighty engine of economic inequality. Quite the opposite. His Justice Department has granted blanket immunities from prosecution in both “Scandals of the Century”—the LIBOR interest rate rigging scheme and mortgage robo-signing—letting the mega-crooks off with fines. Nevertheless, liberals were heartened when Obama fixed his lips to say, “the free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play”—as if there were even a hint of substance in the verbal exercise.
As much as 80 percent of the public supports Social Security and Medicare, including the entirety of the president’s Democratic base. Yet, it was Barack Obama who began the current austerity offensive in the weeks before delivering his first inaugural address, informing the New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards that all entitlements would be on the table for chopping during his administration. He followed through by appointing a Deficit Reduction Commission chaired by a far-right Republican and the farthest-right Democrat he could find (Simpson and Bowles), who crafted the blueprint for austerity that became Obama’s model for a grand bargain with the GOP. The deal fell through in 2011 when Republicans balked at even “modest” tax increases on the rich, but there is not a scintilla of evidence that the president has abandoned his long, ideologically-based opposition to the safety net as presently constituted.
Only last month, he offered to alter the way Social Security benefits are calculated—as an opener to negotiations. Obama has shown, by word and deed, that he poses the greatest threat to Social Security in its history—far greater than George W. Bush, whose assault on the New Deal program met ferocious Democratic resistance. Obama will carry much of the Party with him—which is why we at Black Agenda Report call the First Black President “the more effective evil.”
So, when Obama uses a ceremonial occasion to declare that: “The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us” and “…a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune,” it is only cheap rhetoric, signifying nothing. Obama claims he wants to “reform” entitlements in order to “strengthen” them—which is precisely the Republican line. By cheering the inaugural speech, progressives are only encouraging Obama’s gaming and mendacity.
And so it goes. The Great Deporter becomes the great protector of immigrant rights. The man who killed the Kyoto Agreement is heralded as a champion of the environment because he expresses respect for “science” and pledges to somehow “respond to the threat of climate change.” The mention of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s name signifies…what? Nowadays, not a thing.
It is true: Obama is the most gay-friendly president to date. I don’t think U.S. imperialism and Wall Street hegemons have a fundamental problem with that, either.
Apparently, being gay-friendly is all it takes to be considered a champion of a “progressive agenda” in 2013.
—Black Agenda Report, January 23, 2013