"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Don't Feed the Frenzy

Many liberal pundits have fallen into a frenzy of Obama-bashing, but they’re blasting at the wrong target. Obama is not the cause of this crisis. He stands at the end of a long trail of decisions made by powerful elites in business and government over many decades. These decisions box the type of decisions that can be made into tight crevices, into one of which Obama is now cramped. One man, even if he is President, can't reverse the momentum of that long trail. As beautiful a sight as it would be to see Obama challenging the power of Wall Street, we can easily foresee what the consequence would be. The ruling elite would find a way to remove him, either politically or physically, if necessary.

However, a real leader would have used the opportunity, even if he faced certain defeat. He would realize that "the political center" is an optical illusion. He would have instinctively understood that Republican support could only be a cruel hoax. Instead, he would have rallied his newly fledged legions of young fans and proclaimed positions radical enough to get them excited, even if he secretly knew they would face severe obstacles. He would set the bar high enough for real achievement to be possible.

But Obama was not that leader. The reason he never challenged entrenched power is that he was chosen by that power to fulfill specific corporate goals. This is how David Michael Green characterizes the health care debacle, “I mean, if you had asked me in January, ‘How could Obama bungle this program most thoroughly?’, I would have written a prescription that varies little from what we've observed over the last eight months: Don't frame the issue, but instead let the radical right backed by greedy industry monsters do it, on the worst possible terms for you. And to you. Don't fight back when they say the most outrageous things about your plan. In fact, don't even have a plan. Let Congress do it. Better yet, let the by-far-and-away-minority party have an equal voice in the proceedings, even if they ultimately won't vote for the bill under any circumstances, and even while they're running around trashing it and you in the most egregious terms. Have these savages negotiate with a small group of right-wing Democrats, all of them major recipients of industry campaign donations. Blow off your base completely. Cut secret sweetheart deals with the Big Pharma and Big Insurance corporate vampires. Build a communications strategy around a series of hapless press conferences and town hall meetings, waiting until it's too late to give a major speech on the issue. Set a timetable for action and then let it slip. Indicate what you want in the bill but then be completely unclear about whether you necessarily require those things. Travel all over the world doing foreign policy meet-and-greets. Go on vacation in the heat of the battle. Rinse and repeat.” David Michael Green, “After Obama”, Sept. 4, 2009. This wonderful paragraph may not be simply a caricature of incompetence. The result of his political moves will be the defeat of real health care reform for at least the next four years. There are many who would consider that a significant success.

Another foreseeable result of the cumulative crises which he is bound to mishandle will be the election of a far-right Republican president in 2012. This Republican may have the intellectual chops of an Arnold Schwartzenegger or the feckless, good-old-girl charm of Sarah Palin, but it won't matter. This president will take orders from the same corporate headquarters as Obama, but with the incomparable advantage of arriving after 4 years of feckless "liberalism." It's the Hannity and Colmes strategy. Use a cartoonish liberal cliche to highlight the granite chin of fascism.

This new president will be empowered to wipe away what's left of the Constitution, establish military rule, and eliminate all government programs other than the armed forces, law enforcement, and the prison system. Anything less will be characterized as "Obamism.”

The hard truth is that we love our illusions and no longer care whether they are grounded in reality. Obama provoked the illusion of liberalism, evoking memories of real decency once embodied by the term. And we bought the illusion, secretly knowing that it was no longer possible. Once the chosen messiah failed to live up to the illusion he represented, the crowd turned vicious. But the illusion had already worked its magic. The purpose of the brilliant marketing campaign was accomplished. Now it is simply a matter of re-establishing dominance from Caracas to Kabul. And that is the formula for insanity. Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.

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