Leaving Obamaland–none a moment too soon, but delusions remain
Dateline: 08/26/2009 – 10:29
By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
Democrats could accomplish nothing during the Bush years, they told us, for the first six years because they were a minority, and during the last two because Republicans could filibuster. Now, with both houses of congress, a filibuster-proof senate majority and a “transformative leader” in the White House Democrats can only continue the wars, the privatizations, the torture, coverups and kidnapping. In power, Obama and the Democrats can bail out Wall Street but not homeowners; they cannot accomplish anything voters want, like universal health care, Medicare For All. Some Democratic activists are sobering up, looking around, and heading for the exits.
“…it’s not the president’s fault if he appears to moonwalk away from a health care bill to a health insurance bill, from single payer to a public option, to insurance co-ops…”
Somewhere there’s a president who stands up for homeowners facing bankruptcy and eviction. Somewhere there is a transformative leader who fights to deliver hope, universal health care and equal rights for everybody, who will bring the troops home from Iraq and other places and who is a relentless foe of Wall Street’s excesses. This president’s very career is a repudiation of racism, ancient injustice and unearned privilege. Of course, that guy is not the president of the U.S. He’s the president of an imaginary realm we call Obamaland.
In Obamaland, the president never keeps the truth from us except to deprive the nation’s enemies of more bad things to say about us, because he’s so busy looking forward. Crimes maybe, are in the past, hope is in the future, right? In Obamaland the president isn’t to blame if the wars continue and the troops don’t come home, and the government keeps kidnapping and torturing people — he didn’t exactly say all that would stop right away if at all anyhow, did he, really? In Obamaland, all this can be overlooked or forgiven, or at least put off till Democrats somehow obtain a bigger advantage than a mere crushing majority in the House, sixty votes in the Senate, and a new president.
And in Obamaland, even though the president told us to judge his first term on whether he delivers effective, affordable health care to millions of Americans including the uninsured, it’s not the president’s fault if he appears to moonwalk away from a health care bill to a health insurance bill, from single payer to a public option, to insurance co-ops, and to a plan that doesn’t cover the uninsured till 2013.
We could go on for quite a while — and actually we have been for several years now, about how this mystical, magical place called Obamaland was conceived and constructed, and marketed as the answer to the abuses of the Bush years.
Back in June of 2003, when Glen Ford and I introduced Barack Obama to our audience at Black Commentator , he was a Democratic primary election candidate for the US Senate in Illinois. Candidate Obama, we noted at the time, seemed to be playing a double game. He offered progressive, black and antiwar constituencies a hook just big enough to hang their hopes on, while through his affiliation with the right-wing Democratic Leadership Council, Obama actively courted the support of the full range of corporate America, from the energy, insurance, military contractors and financial sectors to the airlines and Wall Street. This video clip of a much longer interview with BAR executive editor Glen Ford explains how we discovered Obama’s affiliation with the Democratic Leadership Council, along with his apparent repudiation of his previous criticism of the Iraq war in the wake of Bush’s declaration that Iraq was a “Mission Accomplished.”
Being named one of the DLC’s “100 To Watch” as Obama was in 2003 signifies that a candidate has been extensively vetted by a broad range of corporate interests as completely trustworthy and utterly loyal to their agendas. Having obtained the indelible seal of approval from Wall Street, insurance companies, telecoms, military contractors, airlines and the like who sit on the DLC’s board, denying it all was the safe and sensible, if dishonest thing to do, and Obama did just that. He claimed the DLC had conferred this distinction upon him with no advance knowledge on his part, and that he would gladly renounce it, as if such a repudiation could ever be taken seriously.
In the interest of clarifying Barack Obama’s place on the political spectrum, we posed three “bright line’ questions to him.
1. Do you favor the withdrawal of the United States from NAFTA? Will you in the Senate introduce or sponsor legislation toward that end?
2. Do you favor the adoption of a single payer system of universal health care to extend the availability of quality health care to all persons in this country? Will you in the Senate introduce or sponsor legislation toward that end?
3. Would you have voted against the October 10 congressional resolution allowing the president to use unilateral force against Iraq?
The three questions were chosen with some care. Earlier in his political career, Obama had taken a position forthrightly against NAFTA, had endorsed Single Payer, and had cast himself as an opponent of the war. But in the heat of a contested race for the US Senate in which Obama was absolutely dependent on a large and unified black and brown vote, — those being the constituencies most opposed to the war and NAFTA, and who would most benefit from Medicare For All, — and in which he also needed to get all of the antiwar, anti-NAFTA white vote, Obama’s answers were visible evidence that he was already moonwalking away from Democratic voters and toward his elite campaign contributors. Instead of sponsoring single payer in the senate, Obama said he favored “universal health care” and would work to get SCHIP funded.
“I favor universal health care for all Americans, and intend to introduce or sponsor legislation toward that end in the U.S. Senate, just as I have at the state level. My campaign is also developing a series of interim proposals – such as an expansion of the successful SCHIP program”
Instead of repealing NAFTA, he said “renegotiation” might be necessary, another position he repeated when convenient in his presidential campaign four years later, and later abandoned altogether.
“…I believe that free trade – when also fair – can benefit workers in both rich and poor nations, I think that the current NAFTA regime lacks the worker and environmental protections that are necessary for the long-term prosperity of both America and its trading partners. I would therefore favor, at minimum, a significant renegotiation of NAFTA and the terms of the President’s fast track authority… “
2003’s candidate Obama affirmed, with some qualifications, that he would have opposed the authorization to use force against Iraq.
His answers were larded with weasel words. We knew it, and so did anybody who read our work then, or reads it now, several years later. But they were just enough so that given the entire political situation, we felt we had to endorse Obama’s campaign for the US Senate. My colleague Glen Ford calls it an ethical dilemma, but I prefer to believe it was a political one, in which we conducted ourselves as honest journalists. We caught him with his pants down and called him. We posed the bright line questions. Candidate Obama was forced to answer them for the permanent record, a record which indicts President Obama today, and prefigures his conduct on health care, NAFTA, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, government torture and kidnappings, the right to organize unions, his Wall Street bailouts, his endorsement of Bush educational policies and much more. The fact that Obamaland has turned out to be a delusion is no surprise to us, and to many others. It’s a reality that dawns upon more and more of us as time goes on.
“So the very best our popular president with whopping majorities in both houses of congress can do is not single payer. It’s not universal health care at all, but “health insurance reform” as the president calls it, a bailout for private insurers”
The Democratic Leadership Council is almost irrelevant today, a victim of its own success. It was established in the wake of Jesse Jackson’s presidential candidacies in the 1980s, when white, right wing Democrats felt themselves an endangered species. Their goal was to enable Democrats to compete with Republicans for corporate funding by promoting Democrats who were just as pro-corporate as any Republican. By now corporate Democrats are the rule, not the exception, and the career of Barack Obama is the crowning example of the DLC’s complete victory in freeing the Democratic party from the wishes of Democratic voters, even if Obama denies the DLC brand itself.
The fight for universal health care has blown away the illusions of many. Though months behind schedule, the Democratic health care legislation appears to be where and what our Democratic president wanted all along.
So the very best our popular president with whopping majorities in both houses of congress can do is not single payer. It’s not universal health care at all, but “health insurance reform” as the president calls it, a bailout for private insurers, under which millions will be forced to purchase junk insurance, some with government subsidies funded by Medicare and Medicaid cuts. The president is even open to taxing employer-furnished insurance benefits, a position he ridiculed McCain for during the campaign. Drug prices will remain high thanks to a deal cut with Big Pharma, and the public option, originally conceived as a Medicare-scale government run insurance plan competing with private insurers to drive their costs downward, was thoroughly gutted, eviscerated and watered down before the White House declared it “not essential” to its vision of national health care at all. What remains of a health care bill is what Detroit Rep. John Conyers has called “crappy.”  But it’s what the president wanted all along.
It is evident now that President Obama has simultaneously played both the good cop and the bad cop on health care, using the excuses of Senate and blue dog intransigence and Republican opposition in order to shed provisions of the health care bill the White House did not favor. We all learned in sixth grade civics class about “co-equal branches” of government, but like a lot of things we learned in childhood, the reality is something else. Outside of Obamaland, the president, any president, possesses levers of vast executive power that can be utilized to bring any mere congressman or senator back onto the reservation. The White House, according to California’s Lynn Woosley, routinely bares its fangs at junior members of congress who hint at voting against the war budget, but never threatens to depose stubborn liars in the Senate or call to heel the blue dogs of the House, whose careers are literally the handiwork of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
It’s morning in America again, and this time a hung over morning. The left, and most of all the black left, is only beginning to rouse itself from the Obamaland stupor and stumble out into daylight. The president after all, is not necessarily an ally in the fight to deliver health care, or education, or halt privatizations, bankruptcies, foreclosures or unjust wars, or most of the other things that need delivering or need stopping. Now progressives and the wide awake are beginning to leave Obamaland in droves, abandoning the automatic stance that the president is an ally in the struggle for peace abroad and justice at home.
We still need medical care for all. Seventy percent of US bankruptcies in 2009 will be from unpayable medical bills. This won’t be the first time in our long, history of struggle that the president is not necessarily on our side. As more of us wake up, smell the coffee and head for the exits from Obamaland we know there are plenty of our people still there.
Some are careerists, who have or hope to get jobs or contracts or preserve their livelihoods by toeing the administration line, or at least not being publicly critical of it. It’s a tough world, and we can understand their position. All job applications in the administration, after all, demand an applicant show his or her Facebook and MySpace pages, and all internet and other writing of a political or policy nature. Some Obamaphiles are the old black misleadership class. Other Obama supporters are the counterparts of George Bush’s fan base, who still believed the man was President Jesus to the very end. But most of those still stuck in Obamaland are only half asleep. Until more of them are awakened, we won’t stop the wars or the torture or the kidnappings or the creeeping privatization of education and everything else that isn’t nailed down. Until we wake up a lot more of them, we certainly won’t extend Medicare to everybody.
As Glen Greenwald and others point out, the excuse for not getting things done in the Bush years was that we didn’t control the Congress. When Democrats swept the Congress in 2006 the excuse was that we had to hold our fire to make sure the right presidential candidate got in, and anyway the Republicans could filibuster anything they wanted. Now with a Democratic president, a House majority and a filibuster-proof majority the excuses are House blue dogs, Republican birthers, and a few right-wing senators of both parties. In Obamaland these are sufficient and suitable excuses for nothing being accomplished. But not in the real world.
We have to tell the truth as we know it, and engage them, persistently, respectfully. Some won’t hear us, some won’t even respect the exchange but that’s OK too. We have to engage them as though someone else were listening, and often enough, somebody else will be. And more of us will sober up, and head for those exits.
Bruce Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and based in Atlanta. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.