The US president has caved into vested interests and preserved extraordinary rendition. Not so different to his predecessor, then
As the midterms approach, 15 million Americans are out of work and Obama’s ratings hover at about 40% to 45%. There is no doubt Democrat majorities in house and Senate may disappear. Democrats in marginal seats keep the president at arm’s length, aware that the mood of the electorate reflects the desperate straits in which the country finds itself.
Obama’s electoral triumph of 2008 coincided with the most colossal economic crisis since the Great Depression (and far more global in scope); to add to his troubles, two wars were under way on difficult terrain in far away Islamic lands. The first few months of 2009 became the most abbreviated honeymoon period granted a new president in recent memory.
In times of crisis, the incumbent suffers. And the bigger the crisis the greater the punishment inflicted on those in power, unless they do something that makes a change. Obama has not done so. Instead, both at home and abroad, the continuities between Obama’s administration and that of Bush-Cheney far outweigh any differences.
Whenever vested interests resisted, Obama caved. On the economy, despite the advice of Robert Reich and Joseph Stiglitz, the president defended the very orthodoxy that led to the Wall Street crash. And this at a time when inequality in the US was much higher than it had been 40 years ago.
The healthcare “reforms” also saw a total capitulation to the corporations: the insurance companies, the pharmaceuticals, the for-profit hospitals and the top of the range specialists will benefit. Even the loyal Los Angeles Times felt compelled to complain: “As a candidate for president, Barack Obama lambasted drug companies and the influence they wielded in Washington. He even ran a television ad targeting the industry’s chief lobbyist, former Louisiana congressman, Billy Tauzin … [for] preventing Medicare from negotiating for lower drug prices … Tauzin has morphed into the president’s partner. He has been invited to the White House half a dozen times in recent months.”
Vested interests resisted. Obama caved. The healthcare “reform” was actually crafted by Liz Fowler, former executive for a private health insurer and an employee of Senator Max Baucus, who presides over the Senate finance committee and is, according to John R MacArthur, the publisher of Harper’s Magazine, “a beneficiary of millions of dollars in contributions from insurance and health care companies”.
To dissociate politicians from capitalists is slightly disingenuous, to put it mildly. US lawmakers are competitive and auction themselves to the highest bidder via the lobby system. As a result, the story of the healthcare reforms is replicated in numerous other spheres. The “new” education policies based on privatisation and charter schools that have been a disaster in parts of the country are to be continued as managers replace educationalists. Guantánamo remains open. Obama’s legal guru now embedded in the state department, Harold Koh, publicly insists the drone attacks in Pakistan that kill more civilians than “terrorists” are perfectly legal. Elena Kagan, Obama’s offering to the supreme court, told Congress that she agreed with John Yoo, a Bushman who served as an assistant attorney general, that a “terrorist” captured anywhere was subject to “battlefield law”. Like his Republican predecessor, the new attorney general, Eric Holder, happily invoked “state secrets” to stop a trial, while Obama’s CIA boss (a former Clinton employee), Leon Panetta, was in feisty mood after he got the job, boasting that he fully intended to preserve “extraordinary rendition”, that is, sending prisoners to be tortured in Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan or Pakistan.
The hope of 2008 soon morphed into hype. Admirers in the liberal media who had linked Obama vicariously to the civil rights movement sounded increasingly ridiculous; claiming the mantle of Martin Luther King for their man was an extravagance that had to be rapidly discarded. In one of his last big speeches, a year before he was assassinated, King had argued “that if our nation can spend $35bn a year to fight an unjust, evil war in Vietnam, and $20bn to put a man on the moon, it can spend billions of dollars to put God’s children on their own two feet right here on earth”. What had any of this to do with a seasoned machine politician from Chicago?
As a candidate, Obama projected himself as a new Reagan, above narrow party politics. He wanted to please all, but has ended up annoying many. And if the Republicans can find a halfway decent candidate (perhaps a uniformed one) I doubt the incumbent will get a second term. Will the Clintons even let him be the candidate?