Obama’s Bankrupt Presidency & the Prospects for Real Change

A Tired & Bankrupt Democratic Party & A Dysfunctional Administration

As 2009 has given way to 2010, chants of ‘Yes, we can’ have given away to groans of “What the hell?”  There is no question the turn of events in the last month or two has dealt a severe blow to American liberalism.  The Democratic Party, which thought itself on the verge of creating a new, lasting coalition after eight years of Republican misrule and the near collapse of the U.S. economy in 2008 propelled them to power, now find themselves with their backs against the wall.  Barack Obama simultaneously managed to dishearten his base while mobilizing his conservative opposition.  This has led to a perfect political storm in which nothing of real substance has changed from the Bush years, yet somehow the fans of Rush Limbaugh believe Socialism has been imposed on the nation.  

Even though many progressives knew little about then-Senator Barack Obama, we were so disgusted with the Bush Administration and nearly thirty years of Republican domination (in one form or another) we were willing to give Obama a chance to bring his “change” to America.   As it turned out, those of us who were so excited about the historic moment of electing America’s first African American President had seriously deluded ourselves.  Nothing in Obama’s brief voting record as a U.S. Senator indicated he was a politician with any cojones whatsoever.  Obama did not wait long to disappoint.  Even before taking office, he began choosing for his staff and cabinet the same kind of people Hillary Clinton would have chosen.  Then there was, of course, the Rod Blagojevich scandal, which reminded us all of the corrupt political culture that has pervaded the city from whence Obama cut his political teeth.  Citing all the betrayals Obama, in my view, has made since taking office would take up too much space:  From the choice of Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary to Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff to the decision to conduct a surge in Afghanistan, Obama has really bent over backward to piss liberal voters off.

Republicans have a different view.  Somehow, they think Obama’s stimulus plan constituted ‘socialism’, even though it was composed of only slightly more money spent than Bush’s bank bailout in 2008.  The conservatives then screamed about a “government takeover of health care”, even though the health care plan proposed had far more input from insurance and drug companies than it did from followers of Marx or Lenin.  The one issue the Republicans are correct about is that all the additional social spending has driven up the federal deficit, but it is quite odd the chronic deficits never bothered conservatives much when they were being run up by the previous Administration.    Nevertheless, as little evidence as there is to support the conservative standpoint, their views have held out, especially amongst independents, who are flocking back to Republicans.  The proof of the independent defection to the GOP was demonstrated by the political earthquake that occurred recently when the Massachusetts Senate seat left open by the death of Ted Kennedy went to a Republican, Scott Brown, effectively killing health care reform and putting Obama’s Presidency on life support.  The loss signals a virtual slaughter of Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections.  If Obama goes by Bill Clinton’s playbook, he’ll soon choose a Dick Morris-style sleazebag political consultant and bend over backwards to Corporate America (as if he could bend anymore than he already has) in order to amass a war chest meant to destroy any serious competition.   In the meantime, he’ll sign legislation further moving him and his Party from any pretense of progressive ideals.  In other words, Obama will continue to sell us all down the river, only at a faster rate.  Thus, the Democratic base that organized so well to help win Obama the election will be even further marginalized.

Adding insult to injury, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that corporations and unions can spend unlimited amounts of cash to support or defeat candidates in elections.  This means that, soon, politicians in the Democratic Party are to become even less likely to fight for real reform (if such a thing is possible), as they become cowed by the prospect of multimillion-dollar smear campaigns to defeat them, the likes of which happened to John Kerry in the 2004 election, only worse.  Liberals will be implored to stay on board:  We will be warned that America has turned rightward and more bellicose and we must support the Democrats as the most progressive choice that is politically possible.

This citizen, for one, has had enough and would rather engage in the audacity of real hope.  Since I first cut my political teeth during the Iran/Contra days in the mid-80s, the Democrats have been putting out the same basic story year after year and election after election:  “Vote for Democrats, because the Republicans are extremists.”  The scare tactic has worked.  Democrats have taken gobs of corporate money, screwed its electoral base on nearly every issue, and gotten away with it, election after election, simply because much of their voting base is scared to death of the big, bad GOP.  But I’m not so sure they’ll be able to get away with it anymore.  Progressive voters really have nothing more to lose by supporting a third party movement.  We have finally seen what it would be like to have a Democratic majority in both Houses, including a filibuster-proof Senate.  For all our trouble, all our organizing, precinct walking, letter writing and blog posting in support of Obama, we got nothing.  Nada.   No end to the war.  No cuts in the military budget.  No restoration of civil liberties.  No accountability for Wall Street and no health care reform.  Barack Obama has remained steadfastly loyal to the wealthy elite that largely funded his campaign.

Although it is easy to get discouraged, Obama’s failures might also be a prospect for long-term change.  In some ways, these current times remind me of the fateful election of 1992, when Americans’ desperate cry for change almost led to the nation’s first independent President.   That year, I supported former California Governor Jerry Brown, who ran for the Democratic Party nomination on a rather radical platform of taking no more than $100 from any single contributor.    Frustration on the Left was expressed through the Brown candidacy; on the Right, anger was expressed via Patrick Buchanan.  When Buchanan and Brown both flamed out, H. Ross Perot, a Texas billionaire, seemed to unite the anger of Left and Right and Middle, and seemed a good bet to go all the way to the White House.  Until just before the Democratic convention in July of 1992, the Texas billionaire was leading in the polls; then a series of political missteps led him to suddenly drop out of the race and virtually hand the election to Clinton.  I was in New York at the time, and Perot’s timing could not have been better for the Democrats: When the dust had settled, a sluggish Democratic Party was re-energized and suddenly grabbed the mantle of reform, pulling a majority of Perot voters into their camp.  Although Perot re-entered the race later that year, the damage had been done, and Clinton was elected President.

Being one of those progressives who swore never to vote for Clinton, I was virtually strong-armed by progressive friends that Bubba was the only real option.  Having stained myself with the Clinton vote, I tried to make up for it by keeping up on my commitment for change within the Democratic Party. Working with other local volunteers from the Brown for President Campaign, we formed a political group- called We The People–that hoped to be a model for a national movement.  Former Governor Brown himself attended several of our meetings, and at one of them, pitched to our group the idea of putting an initiative together for the City of San Francisco that would build on his Presidential bid and limit campaign contributions to $100 per individual.  Our organization had some dedicated signature gatherers who had already collected enough signatures to put a public transportation initiative on the ballots for 1993, and we were confident they would have done so for the campaign finance initiative. 

Unfortunately, the Jerry Brown, who ran against the Democratic Party establishment in 1992 eventually caved in to pressure from labor unions, who did not like the $100 initiative.  It turned out, it was not only corporations that were against campaign finance reform, and this was a rude awakening for me.   Brown, who is now once again a prolific fundraiser, soon convinced our We the People chapter we would be better off working in a coalition of labor and union activists to oppose the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).      He asked us to pull the petition and we the grassroots organizers foolishly obeyed the calculating politician.  Against our better judgment, our organization steered away from the core issue of the corrupting influence of money in politics and became just another conventional political group making compromises.  The dropped initiative caused a bitter internal battle, which eventually led to our dissolution.   We’ll never know if the $100 campaign contribution initiative would have shaken up San Francisco politics because it was killed in its infancy.

The lessons I learned from the experiences of 1992 are many but one key lesson I took away is to not to always look for change to come from above.   If ordinary citizens always depend on a Jerry Brown, Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan or any one politician to tell us what we need to do, we are setting ourselves up for being betrayed.  I initially found Obama’s grassroots organizing appealing, but later have come to realize that his people are too attached to his persona, and not to the ideals of the Republic.  This is the one enticing aspect I find about the so-called “Tea Parties”: This movement is not attached to a single political personality, even though its origin may be more Astroturf than real grass roots activism.   If something similar could percolate around a new progressive, antiwar movement, and would refuse to let itself again be co-opted by the hopelessly sleazy and corrupt Democrats, it might be a real force for change.    Many of us screwed up badly by buying into the fantasy that the Democratic Party can be reformed.  Hats off to those individuals who refused to drink the Kool Aid: Sibel Edmonds and Cindy Sheehan amongst them.  The truth seems to be that change will only come, in the long term, if citizen activists, tens of thousands of us, remain detached from the mainstream parties and do not get caught in the game of strategic politics. 

Will 2012 be the year a truly independent, reformist movement breaks loose in American politics?  One can only hope so.  Whether that is the case or not, I personally believe it is time to dump Obama and the Democrats and start working change from the outside.    Jerry Brown, in one of his more lucid moments, told Frank Sesno of CNN in 1992 that when one is inside a fish house, it is nearly impossible to clean out the stench.  Unfortunately, the stench of a cannery is like perfume compared to that coming from the tired, bankrupt Democratic Party and the dysfunctional Obama Administration. 

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  1. Nicely said, beautifully & sincerely written, Mike. Kudos!

  2. bgflanagan says:

    Although your well written article is not blowing a whistle strictu senso – it takes shoulder to shoulder place with other polisci material here and about the web. I used to work in no such agency and am very sure that though patriotic as we were – none of us (I speak for myself here actually however of course) – no one thought such secrecy would ever be turned back onTO the American public, and then – now having Obama as essentially a yes man to the unspeakables you detail in your article – we are all left, after catching our breath at these horrors – to wondering what will take place with idiots such as Palin actually getting some traction amongst the fanatical right. I just returned (well a coupla weeks ago) from the Caucasus – and central Asia region – and I can assure any and all readers here and elsewhere the Taliban worldview and the Christian rightist worldviews are essentially the same: purist/puritanical/hypocritical – and ultimately in both cases – fanatical (and thus by extension/definition dangerous). We all NEED places like this (current website) on the web not only – while there is time left before it ll becomes corporatized (again a topic addressed in timely fashion by BFPost) – not only for the sake of freedom of expression but perhaps for our own sanity, that is wholeness (original meaning of “sane) – in order to think objectively and fairly about topics.

    A while back (http://bgflanagan.wordpress.com ) I got to thinking how stuff like this article addresses was once spoken of here in the states as “unspeakable”. Is it not, or was it not one time not so long ago simply unspeakable to think, to even consider the possibility that our assets, our own American tradecraft – would be turned AGAINST us??? No doubt the pissed off German people had had just about enough of it when they burned down the Reichstag in 1933… (q.v. this article et al. in website). I do not equate 911 with the burning of the Reichstag, however there are gathering points / moments in history and certainly the two events could be perhaps safely considered as such.

    We all need to consider what do we do now (yes, it was Lenin who asked this first, historically and famously – , “Chto togda Nam teper’ dyelat’?). What do we now do then? Sibel spoke of it also – it brought a chortle as I listened – she said the talk shows are all “Yap yap yap” (source = recent podcast) from left to right. What do we do now then?

    I enjoy a lot of websites like everyone I suppose from democracy now to antiwar to American Conservative and Atimes… and many others but hey who is doing ANYthing about it nowadays? Gotta start somewhere and perhaps BFpost is it.

    Last thing – sorry but one critique here. Love all the podcasts, Mr. Collins is EXcellent… dig it all. O yes. BUT… the lead in song – puhlease. Lose it. “Everybody knows… yadda yadda yudddduh…” Sounds like some idiot on ludes singing from down a drainpipe somewhere. Does NO dignity to your site. Incongrous to the max. Please do get something more upbeat perhaps? Sorry to criticize but – I have to fast forward when I listen and punch out when the interview is over so as not to listen to it. OK.

    Thanks again for the site. I remain a fan. Nuff said.

  3. Good post. I, too, have been disappointed by a lot of lost opportunities. I don’t know how much real change can happen in a hurry, but seeing some of the same policies continued is depressing. I see glimmers of hope and then those dashed on a constant basis these days. As an independent, I am not keen on any party in particular. The republicans have been self-destructing for sometime now. The democrats have not united to bring in the change we need and voted for. Corporations own too many of them. I am tired of the game of politics that keeps us fighting among ourselves while our freedoms and future hang in the balance.

    The tea parties do have some valid points, but by having Sarah Palin involved really detracts from any real serious consideration. And with corporations sponsoring them, it is hard to find any sense of authenticity in their efforts.

    I am grateful for this site and the topics discussed here.

  4. I was never disappointed with Obama’s “we are change” because I knew he was a phony corporate whore from the beginning. His first job out of college was working for a CIA front company. I voted for Nader. If more people voted their conscience we wouldn’t have the problems we’ve got today.

  5. No, I never believed there would be any change. The corporatocracy and Military Industrial Complex calls all the shots, but that doesn’t me that I wasn’t holding on to a little “HOPE” for “CHANGE”. I voted for Ron Paul and would do so again. I’ll never vote for either Democrat or Republican again NEVER. This was a great piece and I know it reflects the mood of many.

    On a side note,I wish there was more podcasts. I love them ! I just cant get enough of them and find myself getting antsy waiting for the next one. Whats up with the new video section ? I hope it’s up and running soon.

    BTW: I love the intro song on the podcast, please keep it.

    Thank You for all your tireless work folks

  6. Nice post. Now, some other factors to consider:

    Obama says that both he and the Democrats think that the Supreme Court ruling re: unlimited contributions is terrible. Oh really? Then why did you take millions from the anti-single layer lobby?

    Bloomberg and Palin have both started their 2012 campaigns (despite the spin saying otherwise). In Bloomberg’s case, 1 person could literally buy the election. No campaign fundraising at all. Imagine how streamlined his camp would be vs. the others. Have you heard 1 person in the MSM say essentially, this is ****** up? This means that campaign finance reform really is dead now.

    In the latest “health care reform” bill, pre-existing conditions are still in place for millions. We’ll use little kids as the usual election political football. But screw everyone else.

    A proposal for an independent in 2012: Bernie Sanders. Imagine if he did run. Here in the States, the “socialist” word would be banned for him. But in the rest of the world where they’re mature enough to handle multiple parties, how would they see this? Also, has anyone ever found any dirt on this guy? I haven’t.

    Are we up to $1 trillion yet for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars?

    If the Democrats lose in the mid-terms, how will it look if literally none of Obama’s policies are passed? How is a spin doctor going to save him in that situation?

    Other independents in 2012? Paul doesn’t have a chance. What’s one of the biggest things hurting him (IMO)? The fact that he refuses to run as a Libertarian (which is what he really is). To me, that’s like Liebermann being an “independent” or Spector conveniently becoming a Democrat.

    Time for dinner.

  7. Good work, Mike. My sentiments, my experience, too, although I would add the continuation of the disastrous pro-Israeli foreign policy to my disappointments list.
    IF there’s any hope, it lies in breaking up the toxic two-party symbiosis with the corprarchy. I’ve plastered BF bumper stickers over my Obamanos! ones. And I’m hoping for a progressive 3rd-party movement that the many like ourselves can join while we wait things out. I like the $100 idea.
    And thumbs up to the Leonard Cohen intro.

  8. camusrebel says:

    Using the phrase “third party” is akin to giving up the fight at the outset. I have been a member of the Green Party for several years. Cynthia McKinney needs to recruit Kucinich, maybe Paul, Nader, Sanders, start a COALITION. Maybe the MPC, multi-party coalition, concentrating on all our shared concerns as well as the many, many crimes of commission and ommission by or two “main” parties as a precursor to having them outlawed, leaders imprisoned.

  9. Moreon Obama: http://onlinejournal.com/artman/publish/article_5161.shtml

    He’s always been a corporate shill. People are too lazy to even google; instead they diddle, dawdle, ogle, and giggle.

    My two bytes 🙂

  10. 🙁

    is it just my PC?

    No other BFP since Monday?

  11. 🙁 🙁

    Since Sunday. Sibel, hurry back! 🙂

  12. America has been taken over by a motley collection of crooks, liars and murderers, formed from various elements of the Pentagon, the intelligence agencies and AIPAC.

    The first part of the coup d’état was on November 22, 1963 when JFK got his brains splattered on a Dallas street.
    The final coup de grâce was on 9/11.

    Can we take back our country using the democratic process or will we keep getting conned by Obama’s?

    I’m not holding my breath. Many are already swooning over ‘Crazy Sarah’ from Alaska, and Evangelical Christian who is venal, inept, clueless about world affairs, financed by shadowy money men and is more than willing to send more of our kids off to die fighting wars for Apartheid Israel.

    Just what we need for prez, a female GW Bush.

  13. Some thoughts from Howard Zinn:

    That’s a possibility. It’s only a possibility but I think whether that grassroots movement inside the Democratic Party develops or not what is most important is the development of a mass movement outside of the party system. That is, yes, the streets. The kind of movement that in the years of the civil rights movement against racial segregation or in the years of the movement against the Vietnam. A movement that is outside of the orthodox political institutions but which creates an atmosphere in the country and enlists enough people in its cause and frightens the establishment sufficiently so that something is changed.

  14. To Greg Bacon… any real change is only going to take place by armed revolution. That is exactly why we have the right to bear arms – to take down any govt or faction thereof who takes away our basic freedoms. We’ll never get it back by the political process. It’s just too corrupted at this point. Elections are stolen, we’ve got airheads like palin, bush, lieberman, mccain, and obama running for CEO of this country. You don’t need intelligence any more to run this country – just a line of bullshit that all the sheeple will lap it up.

    To T… both zinn and chomsky sold out their souls. I was a big fan of zinn (all the way back to the early 70s), but his silence on 911 told me either one of two things… he’s a chicken shit, or someone put a gun to his head and told him to shut up or he’d get wellstoned. We no longer have a democracy, but a totalitarian police state. The airport body scanners were on order before ulmar fizzlepants struck a match. For me, I’ll let them strip search me before I go thru one of those things. Everyone should demand a strip search or better yet – walk in naked. Or simply, don’t even fly. All those jokers in congress who write these laws fly on private airlines. That’s why they don’t give one flying fuck about the public. That’s a fact.

  15. @ Greg Bacon

    Just what we need for prez, a female GW Bush.

    No kidding!

    A female GW Bush, with PMS to boot! 🙂

  16. Hey Greg… I wrote this for oped snooze shortly before I was banned there…

    Published September 17, 2008 on OpEdNews.com using the pseudonym Cinderfella 20 reasons why I feel I’m uniquely qualified to be VP or have any other job based on Sarah Barracuda’s logic:

    1. I’ve dated beauty queens, therefore I’m an authority on intelligence and natural selection.
    2. I have even surfed big waves. I’m sure to qualify as a hydrologist or dam (sic) engineer.
    3. I could even be a dictator. At least as good as our current Dick Tator, aka Mr. Potato Head, Richard Cheney. (If it weren’t for his pacemaker he’d be a vegetable too.)
    4. I can turn on a light switch. I have confidence to be an authority on power plays.
    5. I’ve killed and eaten rattlesnakes. Dealing with Vladimir Putin would be cake. He don’t even have fangs.
    6. I can brush my teeth and even go to the bathroom by myself. Being a bioweapons expert would be microbial in comparison.
    7. I’ve been very unsuccessful at business. As a top executive I could run the country even further into the ground than our current CEO. It’s a no brainer job. Having one is evidently a disqualification.
    8. I am very good at reading between the lines. With all that experience in dealing with space, I think I’m more than qualified to be an astronaut.
    9. I’ve shot guns of all calibers. Heck, I can press a button and shoot off a missile just as easily as shooting off my mouth or pulling a nuclear trigger.
    10. I’m an authority on money, credit, and cash flow because I have wallet. Managing the economy of a country is just a matter of deception. 11. I have a lot of friends no one else can see or hear. Therefore, I’m more than qualified at foreign correspondence.
    12. The glasses I wear help me with vision. I can even see into the future. Not to mention being an expert at surveillance. 1
    3. You can fool me once, you can fool me, uh… with that kinda background I can be a world class fool.
    14. I’ve had square offices and round ones. I can run an oval office just as easy. It’s just plane geometry after all.
    15. I know how to pop blisters and put on bandaids. Surgical strikes are just bigger blowups and coverups.
    16. I can tie my shoes, tie one on, or even find Taiwan on a map. It’s over there between Takrete and Thailand.
    17. I understand computer technology because I have a chip on my shoulder. I can bite or byte. I’d be good at vp because I can take it either way. I’m good at h(omon)yms because I go to church too.
    18. It’s true I’m bipolar. But so is the earth. We’ve got a lot in common. I understand geography as well as psychology. That’s what makes me a great leader. I can catch fish others only dream about.
    19. I’ve studied math and have learned how to measure things. I could even be a great ruler because of my experience.
    20. Best of all I’m a darn good liar. That more than qualifies me to be a competent politician.

    Bio: Independent scholar, researcher, inventor, designer, musician, philosopher, and writer who just happens to live on one of the world’s largest active volcanos. Needless to say, he is volatile. Politically he is a conservative who wishes to retain the liberal traditions of the founding fathers in a radical way. Philosophically he maintains life is short, so get on with it. “Whatever one believes to be true, either is true, or becomes true… within limits to be found experientially and experimentally. These limits are further beliefs to be expanded.” And existentially, he thinks like Bucky Fuller – reality is 99% invisible.

  17. Excuse the editing… it was hasty. I’m a busy guy just trying to keep pace with all the bs out there. I’m almost always out of breath! But never out of depth 🙂 Politics is a deep subject and full of black holes vying to suck us in! But I’m an anti-gravitic. And I try to keep my magnetron tuned positive. Nikola Tesla is one of my best personal heroes. Along with Nelson Mandella, Castro, Gorbachev, Kucinich, and Jesse. Oh yeh… esp Sibel! She’s won my heart. I wish her the best & I worry for her… and myself as well. I know I’m on the nwo hit list. It’s only a matter of time for showdown. I’ve been a marked man for over two decades. But I’m a trooper and only want to help others down the path to equanimity & the soul-less divide of out of the box thinkers and the drones. Aloha, my friends here.

  18. I’m with cinderman. We know that we’re on some list or other, but, rather than await the invaders, let’s put our heads together to figure out what to do to stop them. Proactivity beats passivity and inactivity any day.
    The enemy is only human or subhuman after all, and millions of us can band together to do the job. Let’s hone our skills and be ready at a moment’s notice to step to the plate to do what needs to be done.
    The 24/7 rule is absolutely essential for us in this preparation. Remember Benjamin Gitlow’s book, The Whole Of Their Lives? If the damnable enemy is so dedicated, so must we.
    With a brave activist cheerleader like Mrs. Edmonds, we can’t fail. Aloha.

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