The secret they won’t tell you

Sam Smith  The CIA’s criminal and anti-American torture activities is far from the only secret Washington has kept from the rest of the country. One of the biggest  is that the dismantling of New Deal and Great Society politics by GOP Lite Democrats such as Clinton and Obama has been disaster. The Republicans won’t tell you because they’re having too much fun. The Democrats won’t tell you because it’s too embarrassing. And the media won’t tell you because it hasn’t been told it’s all right to do so.

But a few facts clearly point the way. For example, Clinton lost 7 Senate seats to the GOP while in office and Obama has lost 13. Clinton lost over 40 House seats while in office and Obama has lost nearly 70. Meanwhile GOP representation in state legislatures  has gone up 1400 seats since Obama became president.

If we were talking baseball rather than politics we’d have new players and a new coach. But that isn’t how politics works these days. As long as enough of the big folks go along with the fiction, it stays firmly in place.

In my 1993 book on Clinton, Shadows of Hope, I noted:

There is another rule [about today’s politics]. The public plays no part. The public is the audience; the audience does not write or cast the play. In 1988, the 1992 play was already being cast. Conservative Democrats were holding strategy meetings at the home of party fund-raiser Pamela Harriman. The meetings — eventually nearly a hundred of them — were aimed at ending years of populist insurrection within the party. They were regularly moderated by Clark Clifford and Robert Strauss, the Mr. Fixits of the Democratic mainstream. Democratic donors paid $1000 to take part in the sessions and by the time it was all over, Mrs. Harriman had raised about $12 million for her kind of Democrats.
The play was also being cast by a group that called itself the Democratic Leadership Council. Although lacking any official role in the Democratic Party (and often appearing more a Democratic Abandon Ship Council), the DLC claimed it was the voice of mainstream party thought. In fact, it was primarily a lobby for the views of southern and other conservative Democrats, yet so successful was its media manipulation that it managed with impunity to call its think tank the Progressive Policy Institute.

The Democratic Party right got its way with Clinton and then with Obama, although by this time it was already necessary to do more covering up. In 2003, The Black Commentator told a part of the story:

Illinois State Senator Barack Obama rejects any “suggestion” that “inclusion of my name” on a Democratic Leadership Council/New Democrats membership list amounts to “an endorsement on my part of the DLC platform.”

 In a June 13 letter to The Black Commentator, the Black candidate for U.S. Senate defended his civil liberties, anti-war, and social welfare legislative record, and requested “that folks take the time to find out what my views are before they start questioning my passion for justice or the integrity of my campaign effort.”

 Specifically, State Senator Obama maintains that an October 2002 anti-war speech was removed from his campaign web site because “the speech was dated once the formal phase of the war was over, and my staff’s desire to continually provide fresh news clips.” The speech was returned to the site following Associate Editor Bruce A. Dixon’s June 5 commentary, “In Search of the Real Barack Obama: Can a Black Senate candidate resist the DLC?” in which Mr. Dixon remarked, “Somebody else’s brand of politics appears to have intruded on Obama’s campaign.”

 The “somebody” Dixon had in mind was, of course, the DLC/New Democrats.

 Dixon, a Chicagoan currently living in Atlanta, also authored ’s June 12 Cover Story, “Muzzling the African American Agenda – with Black Help: The DLC’s corporation dollars of destruction.” Dixon traced the DLC’s founding in the mid-Eighties as a mainly southern white response to minority and union influence in the Party, to its current dominance in the party’s national structures, based largely on the DLC’s role as broker of corporate contributions to candidates and incumbents. Dixon wrote:

 “The DLC’s mission is to erase the last vestiges of social democracy from the Democratic Party, so that the corporate consensus will never again be challenged in the United States. Acting as a Republican Trojan Horse in the bowels of the Democratic machinery, the DLC claims the “real” party lives somewhere off to the right, where George Bush dwells, and that minorities, unionists, environmentalists, feminists, men and women of peace – virtually every branch of the party except corporatists – must be purged or muzzled.”

 State Senator Obama says he “didn’t object to the DLC’s inclusion of my name on their list.” That is precisely the problem, from which all suspicions reasonably flow. As we wrote in our September 19, 2002 “Trojan Horse Watch”:

 “Every African American politician associated with the DLC should be considered suspect, and closely watched. There is no reason for them to be there except to make deals with the party’s right wing – which believes that Gore lost the 2000 election largely because he became too closely identified with Blacks and labor.”

 Such truths were not widely reported then and aren’t reported today. But the fact is that Clinton and Obama have done more political damage to the Democratic Party than any presidents in our history. The past quarter century has been a disaster not only for the party but for the progressive programs it created but no longer respects. The sooner we admit and act on this truth, the sooner our destructive path can be reversed.

Sam Smith, November 5, 2008 – Over the past few weeks I’ve been a good boy. I’ve placed everything having to do with the real Barack Obama into a futures file and spent my time on the far grimmer matter of the real John McCain and Sarah Palin. Now the party is over and it’s time for people to put away their Barack and Michelle dolls and start dealing with what has truly happened.This, I admit, is difficult because the real Obama doesn’t exist yet. He follows in the footsteps of our first postmodern president, Bill Clinton, who observed the principles outlined by scholar Pauline Marie Rosenau:

Post-modernists recognize an infinite number of interpretations . . . of any text are possible because, for the skeptical post-modernists, one can never say what one intends with language, [thus] ultimately all textual meaning, all interpretation is undecipherable.. . . Many diverse meanings are possible for any symbol, gesture, word . . . Language has no direct relationship to the real world; it is, rather, only symbolic.
As James Krichick wrote in the New Republic, “Obama is, in his own words, something of a Rorschach test. In his latest book, The Audacity of Hope, he writes, ‘I am new enough on the national political scene that I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.’ “This is remarkably similar to Ted Koppel’s description of Vanna White of TV’s Wheel of Fortune: “Vanna leaves an intellectual vacuum, which can be filled by whatever the predisposition of the viewer happens to be.”Obama has left the same kind of vacuum. His magic, or con, was that voters could imagine whatever they wanted and he would do nothing to spoil their reverie. He was a handsome actor playing the part of the first black president-to-be and, as in films, he was careful not to muck up the role with real facts or issues that might harm the fantasy. Hence the enormous emphasis on meaningless phrases like hope and change.Of course, in Obama’s postmodern society — one that rises above the purported false teachings of partisanship — we find ourselves with little to steer us save the opinions of whatever non-ideologue happens to be in power. In this case, we may really only have progressed from the ideology of the many to the ideology of the one or, some might say, from democracy to authoritarianism.The Obama campaign was driven in no small part by a younger generation trained to accept brands as a substitute for policies. If the 1960s had happened like this, the activists would have spent all their time trying to get Martin Luther King or Joan Baez elected president rather than pursing ancillary issues like ending segregation and the war in Vietnam.It is historic that a black has been elected president, but we should remember that Obama was not running against Bull Connor, George Wallace or Strom Thurmond. Putting Obama in the same class as earlier black activists discredits the honor of those who died, suffered physical harm or were repeatedly jailed to achieve equality. Obama is not a catalyst of change, but rather its belated beneficiary. The delay, to be sure, is striking; after all, the two white elite sports of tennis and golf were integrated long before presidential politics, but Washington – as Phil Hart said of the Senate – has always been a place that always does things twenty years after it should have…

The key issue that has driven Obama throughout his career has been Obama. He has achieved virtually nothing for any other cause. His politics reflects whatever elite consensus he gathers around himself. This is why his “post partisanship” needs to be watched so carefully. If Bernie Sanders and John Conyers don’t get to White House meetings as often as Chuck Hagel, Obama will glide easily to the right, as every president has done over the past thirty years. If liberals, as they did with Clinton, watch without a murmur as their president redesigns their party to fit his personal ambitions, then the whole country will continue to move to the right as well.

Since the real Obama doesn’t exist yet, it is impossible to predict with any precision what he will do. But here is some of the evidence gathered over the past months that should serve both as a warning and as a prod to progressives not to take today’s dreams as a reasonable facsimile of reality:

Business interests

Obama supported making it harder to file class action suits in state courts. David Sirota in the Nation wrote, “Opposed by most major civil rights and consumer watchdog groups, this big business-backed legislation was sold to the public as a way to stop ‘frivolous’ lawsuits. But everyone in Washington knew the bill’s real objective was to protect corporate abusers.”

He voted for a business-friendly “tort reform” bill

He voted against a 30% interest rate cap on credit cards

He had the most number of foreign lobbyist contributors in the primaries

He was even more popular with Pentagon contractors than McCain

He was most popular of the candidates with K Street lobbyists

In 2003, rightwing Democratic Leadership Council named Obama as one of its “100 to Watch.” After he was criticized in the black media, Obama disassociated himself with the DLC. But his major economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee, is also chief economist of the conservative organization. Writes Doug Henwood of the Left Business Observer, “Goolsbee has written gushingly about Milton Friedman and denounced the idea of a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures.”

Added Henwood, “Top hedge fund honcho Paul Tudor Jones threw a fundraiser for him at his Greenwich house last spring, ‘The whole of Greenwich is backing Obama,’ one source said of the posh headquarters of the hedge fund industry. They like him because they’re socially liberal, up to a point, and probably eager for a little less war, and think he’s the man to do their work. They’re also confident he wouldn’t undertake any renovations to the distribution of wealth.”

Civil liberties

He supports the war on drugs

He supports the crack-cocaine sentence disparity

He supports Real ID

He supports the PATRIOT Act

He supports the death penalty

He opposes lowering the drinking age to 18

He supported amnesty for telecoms engaged in illegal spying on Americans

Conservatives

He went to Connecticut to support Joe Lieberman in the primary against Ned Lamont

Wrote Paul Street in Z Magazine, “Obama has lent his support to the aptly named Hamilton Project, formed by corporate-neo-liberal Citigroup chair Robert Rubin and other Wall Street Democrats to counter populist rebellion against corporatist tendencies within the Democratic Party. . . Obama was recently hailed as a Hamiltonian believer in limited government and free trade by Republican New York Times columnist David Brooks, who praises Obama for having “a mentality formed by globalization, not the SDS.”

Writes the London Times, “Obama is hoping to appoint cross-party figures to his cabinet such as Chuck Hagel, the Republican senator for Nebraska and an opponent of the Iraq war, and Richard Lugar, leader of the Republicans on the Senate foreign relations committee. Senior advisers confirmed that Hagel, a highly decorated Vietnam war veteran and one of McCain’s closest friends in the Senate, was considered an ideal candidate for defense secretary.

Chuck Hagel was rated 0% by NARAL. . . rated 11% by NAACP. . . rated 0% by Human Rights Coalition. . . rated 100% by Christian Coalition. . . rated 12% by American Public Health Association. . . rated 22% by Alliance for Retired Americans. . . rated 36% by the National Education Association. . . rated 0% by League of Conservation Voters. . . rated 8% by AFL-CIO. . . He is strongly anti-abortion. . .voted for anti-flag desecration amendment. . .voted to increase penalties for drug violations. . . favors privatizing Social Security

Ecology

Obama voted for a nuclear energy bill that included money for bunker buster bombs and full funding for Yucca Mountain.

He supports federally funded ethanol and is unusually close to the ethanol industry.

He led his party’s reversal of a 25-year ban on off-shore oil drilling

Education

Obama has promised to double funding for private charter schools, part of a national effort undermining public education.

He supports the No Child Left Behind Act albeit expressing reservations about its emphasis on testing. Writes Cory Mattson, “Despite NCLB”s loss of credibility among educators and the deadlock surrounding its attempted reauthorization in 2007, Barack Obama still offers his support. Even the two unions representing teachers, both which for years supported reform of the policy to avoid embarrassing their Democratic Party ‘friends,’ declared in 2008 that the policy is too fundamentally flawed to be reformed and should be eliminated.”

Fiscal policy

Obama rejected moratoriums on foreclosures and a freeze on rates, measures supported by his primary opponents John Edwards and Hillary Clinton

He was a strong supporter of the $700 billion cash-for-trash banker bailout plan.

Two of his top advisors are former Goldman Sachs chair Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers. Noted Glen Ford of black Agenda Report, “In February 1999, Rubin and Summers flanked Fed Chief Alan Greenspan on the cover of Time magazine, heralded as, ‘The Committee to Save the World.’ Summers was then Secretary of the Treasury for Bill Clinton, having succeeded his mentor, Rubin, in that office. Together with Greenspan, the trio had in the previous year labored successfully to safeguard derivatives, the exotic ‘ticking time bomb’ financial instruments, from federal regulation.”

Robert Scheer notes that “Rubin, who pocketed tens of millions running Goldman Sachs before becoming treasury secretary, is the man who got President Clinton to back legislation by then-Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, to unleash banking greed on an unprecedented scale.”

Obama’s fund-raising machine has been headed by Penny Prtizker former chair of the Superior Bank, one of the first to get into subprime mortgages. While she resigned as chair of the family business in 1994, as late as 2001 she was still on the board and wrote a letter saying that her family was recapitalizing the bank and pledging to “once again restore Superior’s leadership position in subprime lending.” The bank shut down two months later and the Pritzker family would pay $460 million in a settlement with the government.

Foreign policy

Obama endorsed US involvement in the failed drug war in Colombia: “When I am president, we will continue the Andean Counter-Drug Program.”

He has expressed a willingness to bomb Iran and won’t rule out a first strike nuclear attack.

He has endorsed bombing or invading Pakistan to go after Al Qaeda in violation of international law. He has called Pakistan “the right battlefield … in the war on terrorism.”

He supports Israeli aggression and apartheid. Obama has deserted previous support for two-state solution to Mid East situation and refuses to negotiate with Hamas.

He has supported Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel, saying “it must remain undivided.”

He favors expanding the war in Afghanistan.

Although he claims to want to get out of Iraq, his top Iraq advisor wrote that America should keep between 60,000 and 80,000 troops in Iraq. Obama, in his appearances, blurred the difference between combat soldiers and other troops.

He indicated to Amy Goodman that he would leave 140,000 private contractors and mercenaries in Iraq because “we don’t have the troops to replace them.”

He has called Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez an enemy of the United States and urged sanctions against him.

He claimed “one of the things that I think George H.W. Bush doesn’t get enough credit for was his foreign policy team and the way that he helped negotiate the end of the Cold War and prosecuted the Gulf War. That cost us $20 billion dollars. That’s all it cost. It was extremely successful. I think there were a lot of very wise people.”

He has hawkish foreign policy advisors who have been involved in past US misdeeds and failures. These include Zbigniew Brzezinski, Anthony Lake, General Merrill McPeak, and Dennis Ross.

It has been reported that he might well retain as secretary of defense Robert Gates who supports actions in violation of international law against countries merely suspected of being unwilling or unable to halt threats by militant groups.

Gays

Obama opposes gay marriage. He wouldn’t have photo taken with San Francisco mayor because he was afraid it would seem that he supported gay marriage

Health

Obama opposes single payer healthcare or Medicare for all.

Military

Obama would expand the size of the military.

National Service

Obama favors a national service plan that appears to be in sync with one being promoted by a new coalition that would make national service mandatory by 2020, and with a bill requiring such mandatory national service introduced by Rep. Charles Rangel.

He announced in Colorado Springs last July, “We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.”

On another occasion he said, “It’s also important that a president speaks to military service as an obligation not just of some, but of many. You know, I traveled, obviously, a lot over the last 19 months. And if you go to small towns, throughout the Midwest or the Southwest or the South, every town has tons of young people who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s not always the case in other parts of the country, in more urban centers. And I think it’s important for the president to say, this is an important obligation. If we are going into war, then all of us go, not just some.” Some have seen this as a call for reviving the draft.

He has attacked the exclusion of ROTC on some college campuses

Presidential crimes

Obama aggressively opposed impeachment actions against Bush. One of his key advisors, Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago Law School, said prosecuting government officials risks a “cycle” of criminalizing public service.

Progressives

Unlike his deferential treatment of right wing conservatives, Obama’s treatment of the left has been dismissive to insulting. He dissed Nader for daring to run for president again. And he called the late Paul Wellstone “something of a gadfly”

Public Campaign Financing

Obama’s retreat from public campaign financing has endangered the whole concept.

Social welfare

Obama wrote that conservatives and Bill Clinton were right to destroy social welfare,

Social Security

Early in the campaign, Obama said, “everything is on the table” with Social Security.

Why does Obama screw up so much?

Sam Smith

The farmer in South Carolina was bashing Jimmy Carter to a campaign reporter.

“But don’t you think he means well?” asked the reporter.

“Oh yes,” replied the farmer. “He sure means well. . . but he do so damn poor.”

Wikipedia put it a bit more eloquently: “His administration suffered from his inexperience in politics. Carter paid too much attention to detail. He frequently backed down from confrontation and was quick to retreat when attacked by political rivals. He appeared to be indecisive and ineffective, and did not define his priorities clearly. He seemed to be distrustful and uninterested in working with other groups, or even with Congress when controlled by his own party, as well as fellow Democratic senators which he denounced for being controlled by special interest groups.[Though he made efforts to address many of these issues, the approval he won from his reforms did not last long.”

Now, thanks to Barack Obama, Carter is looking better even though they share a surprising number of traits. Of course there were others presidents, like little George Bush, who didn’t mean well and did damn poor as well. . But Obama is probably the worst well meaning president of the past century or so.

I know you’re not meant to talk this way about someone who is black, a Harvard Law School graduate, the toy boy of American liberals, and faced with the most repugnant political opposition since the Confedracy.

But unfortunately, the aforementioned attributes have been given such excessive prominence that they have mainly served as a shield around reality, a shield that has successfully concealed the actual Obama since he first ran for public office.

My thoughts here are not ideological. They’re more like those of a sports writer trying to figure out why a player is not doing as well as the scouts predicted he would.

In fact, Obama troubled me from the start. I was meant to be thrilled and full of hope and change, but what I saw instead was a fairly mundane Harvard Law School graduate, intelligent without much visible soul, articulate without much passion, and rising without much reason.

After all, he had spent eight undistinguished years in his state senate, a level of governmental responsibility shared with 1,900 others across the nation. He then spent three undistinguished years in the US Senate before being declared by the Democrats to be the answer to all our dreams.

How did he get on this track in the first place? One reason was that the Democrats, long overdue, were looking for a black or woman candidate. But not just any candidate. Not a Jesse Jackson or Gloria Steinem, for God’s sake, but someone who would play by the rules while looking the part.

Obama reminded me of Chauncy Gardiner aka Chance the gardener, the last manifestation of magnificent nothingness to appear on the American political scene – albeit safely contained in the fictional movie “Being There” while Obama was running for election to a real White House. At the time I wrote:

Like Obama, no one knew where Chance had come from. Even the CIA and FBI were unable to discover any information, with each concluding he is a clever cover-up by one of their own agents.

In the final scene of the film, reports Wikipedia, “Chance is seen apparently walking across the surface of a lake while the most important movers and shakers in the USA discuss running him for President. This scene continues to generate discussion and controversy. Clearly we see Chance walking on water, an act with a clear biblical reference. . . Is there a prosaic explanation, such as hidden stepping-stones? Or is Chance the Savior (as so many of the characters are looking for)? Does he truly possess some special grace?”

The novel upon which the movie was based was written over thirty years ago by Jerzy Kosinski. The Obama candidacy may elevate Kosinksi to one of the most prescient political authors of modern times. After all, what is more Obamesque than the sort of phrase that got Chance started? – “In the garden, growth has its seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.”

Obama rose to the top in record speed in no small part because – as with Bill Clinton – it was clear that he would fit into the growing oligarchical ecology extremely well. Like Bill Clinton, he projected the image of an outsider, yet had fully adapted to the ways of the insiders.

Obama clearly understood this himself. At one point he even described himself as a mirror in which others saw themselves.

In 2008 Paul Street wrote:

At a series of social meetings with assorted big ‘players’ from the financial, legal and lobbyist sectors, Obama impressed key establishment figures like Gregory Craig (a longtime leading attorney and former special counsel to the White House), Mike Williams (the legislative director of the Bond Market Association), Tom Quinn (a partner at the top corporate law firm Venable and a leading Democratic Party “power broker”), and Robert Harmala, another Venable partner and “a big player in Democratic circles.”

Craig liked the fact that Obama was not a racial “polarizer” on the model of past African-American leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

Williams was soothed by Obama’s reassurances that he was not “anti-business” and became “convinced. . . that the two could work together.”

“There’s a reasonableness about him,” Harmala told Silverstein. “I don’t see him as being on the liberal fringe.”

The “good news” for Washington and Wall Street insiders was that Obama’s “star quality” would not be directed against the elite segments of the business class. The interesting black legislator from the South Side of Chicago was “someone the rich and powerful could work with.”

But if you come from nowhere and have nowhere you want to go other than up, you can easily – as Obama has – become a prisoner of the moment and of those most powerful at that moment. There’s nothing wrong with compromise in politics but without a clear destination whose path one alters for survival or future progress, there is no clear way to know how to compromise wisely.

Because of the rudderless quality of their goals (other than ambition), Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were the first Democrats of modern times to be heavily controlled by the same oligarchic forces that had long run the GOP. And Hillary Clinton would be another variation.

And it’s not just corporations. Obama seems strikingly unwilling to challenge the intelligence services purportedly under his authority. The explanation we may never learn, but it is safe to say that our president is subservient to the intelligence leadership as well as to corporations.

Another problem for Obama is that he the first president to be a full fledged member of the new gradocracy –lawyers, economists, MBAs, data drones and policy processors – who first took over American business and now run our government as well.

It didn’t work well for American business and it hasn’t worked well for politics. There is an inverse relationship between the increase in MBAs and the American economic power and creativity. The same can be said for government. This is primarily a cultural, not a political change and so is seldom discussed.

Obamacare was a good example. Not in the past half century has such a remarkably contradictory collection of the good, bad and uncertain been combined in one piece of major legislation, a bill that USA Today claims produced around 11,000 pages of regulations.

This is the problem with putting a gradocrat rather than a good politician in the White House. The health care bill contained some fine provisions but these have been hopelessly obscured by insurance industry petting schemes like the policy mandates and still indeterminable factors such as how much businesses will get around the measure and how much premiums will go up.

Behind this all is not so much misguided politics as a kind of elite narcissism that marks much of the Obama years – the idea that those at the top in Washington are the bright ones who can put it all down on paper and you have to pay the fines if you don’t follow what they say.

This ignores, among other things, the anarchism of complexity. As institutions become more complex, it becomes increasingly difficult to predict the effect of specific policies. Further, the good parts get lost in the displeasure with the badly designed portions. And some of the worst simply gets ignored until they become impossible.

Many politicians used to understand such hazards but today far fewer do.

Whatever Obama’s faults, they’re not all his fault. After all, he is where he is thanks to the support of an elite that also thought it knew all the answers and life, as it always does, has proved otherwise.