By Glen Ford, Executive Editor Black Agenda Report
As of this writing, the Progressives for Obama website still exists, a relic of Left delusion that should have died of embarrassment months ago. Barack Obama has, indeed, grown in the presidency – but not into the FDR-like figure of his leftish supporters’ imaginations. Nor has his presence in the Oval Office served to spur Blacks and progressives to dramatic action, creating the “push” that Left Obamites had predicted would allow their champion to act on his more “liberal” instincts. Quite the contrary. The “Obama Effect” has led to the near-total collapse of the Left– both its white and Black wings – and made the nation safe for rule by finance capital and militarists.
The military, finance capital and healthcare corporations (insurers are a branch of finance capital) are winning every important battle because, on fundamental issues, President Obama is on their side. It is he who crushed the anti-war bloc in the US. House; who silenced and marginalized single payer advocates, while fawning over health profiteers; who engineered the greatest transfer of wealth in human history to bankers, leaving them free to once again ruin themselves and the rest of us.
So let us give President Obama his due. He not only smashed the Left opposition, he humiliated them.
There is no longer an anti-war bloc in the U.S. Congress. It began to evaporate when Obama took office. The Out of Iraq Caucus has dissolved. The Progressive Congressional Caucus cannot find a mission. And the Congressional Black Caucus can claim only eight members worthy of the label, “progressive.” The list of CBC members among the 32 Democrats that voted “No” to Obama’s $106 billion Iraq and Afghanistan war request is so short, it can be taken in at a glance.
Barbara Lee (CA), Maxine Waters (CA), Diane Watson (CA), John Lewis (GA), Donna Edwards (MD), John Conyers (MI), Keith Ellison (MN), Donald Payne (NJ).
Less than seven years ago, only four members of the CBC supported George Bush’s Iraq War Powers: Harold Ford, Jr. (TN), William Jefferson (LA), Albert Wynn (MD) and Sanford Bishop (GA). In the pages of The Black Commentator I called them the “Four Eunuchs of War” and felt confident in writing:
“The rest of the 36 voting members of the Congressional Black Caucus defended Black America's political legacy, voting No. Rep. Barbara Lee (CA) led half of her CBC colleagues in support of her ‘alternative to war’ resolution, demonstrating once again that African Americans are the core of the forces of peace and justice in the U.S.”
It’s been all down hill for the CBC since 2002, a steady slide into corporatism and irrelevance. With the Black progressive “core” definitively demobilized since January 20, the Left is largely adrift.
Obama has accomplished what George Bush could not: virtually silence progressive voices in Congress, so that he can stoke the fires of war on two fronts without significant challenge from the legislative branch. It is a great victory, so why not congratulate the president, and give him the elemental respect of recognizing that he is – or is trying his best to be – a Man of War?
A Murdered Dream
Kudos, again, to the president, for such adroitness in killing a dream whose time appeared to have come: single-payer healthcare. Obama made non-persons of healthcare reform’s best friends in the Democratic Party, barring them from White House-sponsored healthcare events. The president erected a big tent that included everyone except single-payer advocates who, from Obama’s perspective, are the enemy. Instead, he wheels and deals and even invents nonexistent agreements with Big Pharma, Big Hospitals, and Big Insurance, all the while vowing to slice huge chunks out of Medicare and Medicaid.
Obama apologists offer their usual excuse: the president must huddle and compromise with the profiteers, if he is to get any kind of health care passed. The single-payers are well-meaning spoilers. Obama had to muzzle them, so he could get down to business on a practical plan.
What should be clear as day to any lucid, rational observer of the last 150-plus days, is that Obama has not compromised with anybody. Certainly, he never even thought to compromise with single-payer advocates – he simply shut them out of the discussion. And he was never in a position to effectively compromise with the healthcare profiteers and their political servants, since Obama never submitted a Plan of his own, or endorsed anyone else’s. Instead, he encouraged everybody and their momma except single-payer advocates to fashion their own plans – creating a cacophony of what Rep. Conyers aptly calls “crap.” In the end, he will throw his weight behind one or another pile of healthcare crap.
Is Obama incompetent? Only if you believe he sincerely wants a healthcare plan that is as close to the ideal of health-as-a-right as possible, in which case, yes, he has been amazingly incompetent. But why disrespect our president? Give the man credit for knowing what he is doing. Assess his efforts according to the clear logic of his actions, for he has worked wonders.
Obama has succeeded in shutting out of the debate proponents of an idea supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans and an even larger segment of his own party. According to a June 12-16 New York Times/CBS News poll:
“…72 percent of those questioned supported a government-administered insurance plan — something like Medicare for those under 65 — that would compete for customers with private insurers…. Sixty-four percent said they thought the federal government should guarantee coverage, a figure that has stayed steady all decade.”
Only 20 percent of respondents oppose a Medicare-for-all-type plan. It would require the awesome power of a still very popular president to hold back a mob that is composed of damn near everybody, but Obama is up to the task. At the end of the process – this crap storm – that he has so skillfully set in motion, Obama will settle on a legislative contraption that will not even cover all of the 45 million-plus currently uninsured. For-profit healthcare will be safe for the remainder of his term, and possibly much, much longer.
The Bankers’ Man
Even a man of Obama’s vast talents cannot easily hide the fact that the federal government (including the Federal Reserve) has “spent, lent or committed $12.8 trillion…to stem the longest recession since the 1930s,” as reported by the Bloomberg financial news service on March 31. The vast bulk of the money has gone to finance capitalists, most of it on President Obama’s watch. It is easily the largest transfer of national treasure in planetary history, accomplished in the relative wink of an eye, mostly outside the legislative process. By comparison, the 2008 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the United States – that is, the value of every good and service produced by every man, woman, child and enterprise of any kind in the nation – was $14.2 trillion. By the end of March, the feds had “spent, lent or committed” a sum equal to 90 percent of last year’s total economic activity in the United States – and still counting.
The Obama administration’s facade is cracking on the macro economic issue. Despite his hollow protestations, it is now generally perceived that Obama’s team is allowing “the banks” to get away with murder, theft and mayhem. In reality, the finance capitalist class is virtually inseparable from Obama’s economic apparatus; one is an extension of the other. Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, Robert Rubin, Paul Volker and the rest of Obama’s economic Rasputins will no more “rein in” finance capitalists, than they would put shackles on themselves.
Once gain, I must ask that you respect President Obama. Allow him to surround himself with people of like mind, men and women with whom he shares a core worldview. Do not belittle our president, by grumbling that he is being “manipulated” by “the bankers.” Accept that he is a strong leader, who knows what he wants to accomplish and is wise enough to choose a team that reflects his vision. The Obama administration serves the bankers’ interests because Obama wishes to do so.
This will be his undoing – not his expanding wars, not the healthcare fiasco – and much sooner than most think. Obama’s sham banking regulations were unveiled to great fanfare – and bombed, colossally, on the front page of the New York Times. In language that an economics columnist for the “gray lady” of corporate media seldom deploys against sitting presidents, Joe Nocera wrote:
“Everywhere you look in the plan, you see the same thing: additional regulation on the margin, but nothing that amounts to a true overhaul…. Firms will have to put up a little more capital, and deal with a little more oversight, but once the financial crisis is over, it will, in all likelihood, be back to business as usual.”
Nocera’s headline read, “Only a Hint of Roosevelt in Financial Overhaul.” William Greider, writing in The Nation, a bastion of “Progressives for Obama,” concluded that “most of Obama’s reforms are insubstantial gestures, not actual remedies.”
Kevin Baker’s devastating piece in the July issue of Harper’s stripped the emperor naked. Obama was not, as his progressive followers imagined, the second coming of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Rather, he is the political soul-mate of FDR’s predecessor, Herbert Hoover:
"Much like Herbert Hoover, Barack Obama is a man attempting to realize a stirring new vision of his society without cutting himself free from the dogmas of the past—without accepting the inevitable conflict….
“The common thread running through all of Obama’s major proposals right now, is that they are labrynthian solutions designed mainly to avoid conflict. The bank bailout, cap-and-trade on carbon emissions, health-care pools - all of these ideas are, like Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated 1993 health plan, simultaneously too complicated to draw a constituency and too threatening for Congress to shape and pass as Obama would like. They bear the seeds of their own destruction.”
Baker is too kind. He persists in assigning Obama the most progressive of motives, when the content and consistency of his actions point to a profoundly corporate frame of mind and outlook. The president “avoids conflict” with the banks because he has no basic problem with them occupying the commanding heights of power in U.S. society.
It is better, and ultimately more respectful, to judge a politician, or any person, by the accumulated body of his work. Based on his record as candidate and president to date, it is plain that Obama sees the world as the bankers see it. He accepts their advice because he agrees with it. He shares their core ethic, and is therefore always forgiving of their “excesses.” The fate of his presidency is entwined with theirs.
At some point in the near future Barack Obama will become inextricably associated in the public mind with Big Capital – and deservedly so. No one can predict when this perceptual critical mass will be reached, but once it has occurred, it sticks.
The aftershocks of the recent meltdown and the before-shocks of the next, onrushing crisis of capitalism will bring a cascade of calamities to the doorstep of the White House. With each crisis, Obama will do what we now know comes natural to him: protect capital at all costs to society as a whole.
With their champion saddled with such baggage, it will be interesting to see when “Progressives for Obama” become extinct.