Between the Rhetoric and the Reality
(August 24, 2009) -- The Obama White House-full of supposedly smart political advisors led by the President of the "Change You Can Believe In" campaign movement of 2008-is in disarray. Worse, multiple, confusing varieties of disarray provoking public confusion, internal Democratic Party strife, and the slow withdrawal of belief in Mr. Obama by his strongest supporters around the country.
Two of his most steadfast supporters in the media-columnists Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert of the New York Times-are wondering about Mr. Obama's plans. Krugman repeated his fellow Sunday Times essayist Frank Rich's observation who wrote about Obama "punking" his supporters with his waffling, reversals and frequent astonishing adoption of Bush's worst corporatist and military policies.
While Bob Herbert, taking to task his political hero for waffling and vagueness regarding health care, issued this reluctant appraisal:
"I hear almost daily from men and women who voted enthusiastically for Mr. Obama but are feeling disappointed. They feel that the banks made out like bandits in the bailouts, and that the health care initiative could become a boondoggle. Their biggest worry is that Mr. Obama is soft, that he is unwilling or incapable of fighting hard enough to counter the forces responsible for the sorry state the country is in."
There has rarely been a more auspicious time for a transforming Presidential leadership. Disgraced corporate capitalism has shattered the economy. The living conditions of millions of workers and pensioners whose taxes were taken to bail out these Wall Street crooks and gamblers are dismal.
Rather than expressing remorse, the arrogant corporate lobbyists are working over Congress with ferocious demands, fueled by cash-register politics and paid Astroturf rallies back in the Congressional Districts.
The giant corporations and their trade lobbies want no real health insurance reform that will reduce their monopolies and profiteering. They want no renewable and energy efficient standards interfering with their massive waste, pollution and inefficiency. They want no reductions in the bloated military budget surrounded by the waste, fraud and abuse of what President Eisenhower called the "military-industrial complex" in his farewell warning to the American people.
The corporate supremacists want no changes in the deliberately complex and obscure tax laws favoring the corporate evaders and avoiders and the tax havens for the super-wealthy.
In short, the global corporations want Washington, D.C. to continue being their massive deregulator and cash cow perpetuating the abandoning of American workers, the pillaging of the American taxpayer and the defrauding of the American consumer.
Forget about corporate law and order to restrain the corporate crime wave. The harmony, bipartisan President Obama and his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, have outsmarted themselves. What worked to defeat Hillary Clinton last year has succeeded in splitting the Congressional Democrats into progressives, corporate liberals and Blue Dog Conservatives Republicans can scarcely believe their luck and are busy exploiting these schisms.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, the number two House Democrat, undermines his Speaker, Nancy Pelosi's "public option" plan for health insurance. Senator Max Baucus-a closet Republican masquerading as the Democratic Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, is working hand-in-glove with right-wing Republicans and the White House to craft a weak "bi-partisan" bill that keeps getting weaker as the corporatist Republicans sniff increasing weakness in the White House.
Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, the more progressive legislators are accusing their former colleague, Committee Chair, Henry Waxman of selling out to the defiant Blue Dog Democrats on his Committee. While Mr. Waxman himself has to be worried that even his compromised "public option" (which Democrats should be calling "public choice") will be derailed by the bill that the Baucus/Grassley/Obama axis will soon reveal in the Senate.
The Obama voters do not know what they are supposed to support. Obama never did identify with a clear health insurance proposal-not to mention the single payer approach (full Medicare for all) he says he would favor if he was "starting from scratch." There has been nothing upstanding for his supporters around the country to rally around.
It is sad to say that all this could have been predicted by Obama's political record as an Illinois and U.S. Senator. He rarely has taken a stand and fought against his adversaries. Even after he cuts a deal with them, they continue to undermine his agenda.
Once again, Bob Herbert senses the disturbing trend: "More and more the president is being seen by his own supporters as someone who would like to please everybody, who is naïve about the prospects for bipartisanship, who believes that his strongest supporters will stay with him because they have nowhere else to go, and who will retreat whenever the Republicans and the corporate crowd come after him."
Mr. Herbert can speak from authority. He has written many columns over the past 18 months reflecting that "nowhere else to go" attitude. If he is going off the bandwagon, more will follow. Mr. Obama better wake up and pay attention to his base before they either have somewhere else to go or simply stay home. It happened to Clinton in 1994.
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His most recent book is The Seventeen Traditions.