When faced with the greatest economic crisis, the greatest levels of economic inequality, and the greatest levels of corporate influence on politics since the Depression, Barack Obama stared into the eyes of history and chose to avert his gaze. Instead of indicting the people whose recklessness wrecked the economy, he put them in charge of it. He never explained that decision to the public — a failure in storytelling as extraordinary as the failure in judgment behind it. Had the president chosen to bend the arc of history, he would have told the public the story of the destruction wrought by the dismantling of the New Deal regulations that had protected them for more than half a century. He would have offered them a counternarrative of how to fix the problem other than the politics of appeasement, one that emphasized creating economic demand and consumer confidence by putting consumers back to work. He would have had to stare down those who had wrecked the economy, and he would have had to tolerate their hatred if not welcome it. But the arc of his temperament just didn’t bend that far.
Yes, well, we snicker. Then this:
I have no idea what Barack Obama — and by extension the party he leads — believes on virtually any issue. The president tells us he prefers a “balanced” approach to deficit reduction, one that weds “revenue enhancements” (a weak way of describing popular taxes on the rich and big corporations that are evading them) with “entitlement cuts” (an equally poor choice of words that implies that people who’ve worked their whole lives are looking for handouts). But the law he just signed includes only the cuts. This pattern of presenting inconsistent positions with no apparent recognition of their incoherence is another hallmark of this president’s storytelling. He announces in a speech on energy and climate change that we need to expand offshore oil drilling and coal production — two methods of obtaining fuels that contribute to the extreme weather Americans are now seeing. He supports a health care law that will use Medicaid to insure about 15 million more Americans and then endorses a budget plan that, through cuts to state budgets, will most likely decimate Medicaid and other essential programs for children, senior citizens and people who are vulnerable by virtue of disabilities or an economy that is getting weaker by the day. He gives a major speech on immigration reform after deporting a million immigrants in two years, breaking up families at a pace George W. Bush could never rival in all his years as president.
Yes, well, we snicker:
The most charitable explanation is that he and his advisers have succumbed to a view of electoral success to which many Democrats succumb — that “centrist” voters like “centrist” politicians. Unfortunately, reality is more complicated. Centrist voters prefer honest politicians who help them solve their problems. A second possibility is that he is simply not up to the task by virtue of his lack of experience and a character defect that might not have been so debilitating at some other time in history. Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor, publishing nothing in 12 years at the University of Chicago other than an autobiography; and that, before joining the United States Senate, he had voted "present" (instead of "yea" or "nay") 130 times, sometimes dodging difficult issues.
A somewhat less charitable explanation is that we are a nation that is being held hostage not just by an extremist Republican Party but also by a president who either does not know what he believes or is willing to take whatever position he thinks will lead to his re-election. Perhaps those of us who were so enthralled with the magnificent story he told in “Dreams From My Father” appended a chapter at the end that wasn’t there — the chapter in which he resolves his identity and comes to know who he is and what he believes in.
Or perhaps, like so many politicians who come to Washington, he has already been consciously or unconsciously corrupted by a system that tests the souls even of people of tremendous integrity, by forcing them to dial for dollars — in the case of the modern presidency, for hundreds of millions of dollars. When he wants to be, the president is a brilliant and moving speaker, but his stories virtually always lack one element: the villain who caused the problem, who is always left out, described in impersonal terms, or described in passive voice, as if the cause of others’ misery has no agency and hence no culpability. Whether that reflects his aversion to conflict, an aversion to conflict with potential campaign donors that today cripples both parties’ ability to govern and threatens our democracy, or both, is unclear.
But the arc of history does not bend toward justice through capitulation cast as compromise. It does not bend when 400 people control more of the wealth than 150 million of their fellow Americans. It does not bend when the average middle-class family has seen its income stagnate over the last 30 years while the richest 1 percent has seen its income rise astronomically. It does not bend when we cut the fixed incomes of our parents and grandparents so hedge fund managers can keep their 15 percent tax rates. It does not bend when only one side in negotiations between workers and their bosses is allowed representation. And it does not bend when, as political scientists have shown, it is not public opinion but the opinions of the wealthy that predict the votes of the Senate. The arc of history can bend only so far before it breaks.
Snark snarkity, snarkle snarksnark, snarkably snarkous, snarko... snark snarkcreous snarklicity, snarklestic snarkleyomama. Snark, snarkwink, snarkfu.
We all have our own paths and paces to apostasy. As obtuse as Reston remains - he thinks the fault remains Obama, not him, he thinks the fault remains Obama, not the system that employs Obama - this is still a remarkable if minor watershed, saying what it does where it says it. I'm reminded of Carlen's joke, assholes drive slower than me, jerks drive faster.
- Simpotico, came that voice, - I say they're so simpotico... what? Harry? Oh God no, not for months, he's still in Hollywood where they're filming his novel... yes, it was changed a little. What?...yes, the homosexual boy to a negro and the Jew to a cripple. Sensitive minorities... Of course I'm interested in politics... Don't be tiresome, I couldn't care less about Harry using me in his ghastly book, but giving me a name like Seraphina... No, of course I don't need the money, I'm just suing him because money is the only language he understands...
- Impotence of the "intellectual" elite.
- UPDATE: Mischaracterizing FDR to indict Obama.
- Split the D's for your third party?
- Mixin' up those amendments.
- Still Superman?
- Been six months or so since I reminded you what Corporate's investing in in anticipation of your unrest.
- Murdoch hacked us too.
- Professionalism and teachers.
- Hate when this happens.
- Re: cat names: I proposed Glen and Echo to Earthgirl and Planet to weak maybes. Professor R suggests Deleuze and Guattari.
- Jim's back from Europe.
- Interstellar overdrive goes boink.
- Some lit-links.
- Indie's sacred cows (h/t Frederick's reader).
- Forgive me, I love a good pop song.
- UPDATE! My girlfriend is a rock.
- Darkblack's Sunday Overnight.
- Woke up with this in my head:
SONNET SUBSTANTIALLY LIKE THE WORDS OF F RODRIGUEZ ONE POSITION AHEAD OF ME ON THE UNEMPLOYMENT LINE
It happens to me all the time--business Goes up and down but I'm the yo-yo spun Into the high speed trick called sleeping Such as I am fast standing in this line now. Maybe I am also a top; they too sleep While standing, tightly twirling in place. I wish I could step out and listen for The sort of music that I must make. But this is where the state celebrates its sport. From cushioned chairs the agents turn your ample Time against you through a box of lines. Your string is both your leash and lash. The faster you spin, the stiller you look. There's something to learn in that, but what?