Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Greater minds than mine have been writing about the Great Obama Tax Compromise, so I won't bore you with my attempts at deep political analysis. You can read that here, here, and here if you so chose.

But after a disastrous press conference - where Obama basically told his progressive supporters that they were sanctimonious purists for harboring considerable reservations about a plan that essentially would force the US to borrow $900 billion from China to put in the pockets of American millionaires, so they could offshore the money to the Cayman Islands - I felt the need to come at this from a slightly different perspective.

Last September, right before Obama was about to give a landmark speech on health care reform, when the fate of the public option was still very much alive,  I wrote this:

To this day I still tear up when I remember how, at the end of Camp Obama, our facilitator told everyone in the room to close their eyes and envision Obama and his family on January 20 - to envision Michelle and her girls as they stood to watch their father take the oath of office. And I can tell you, when I was there on the Mall and watched it happen for real, it was all I could do not to break down.
But whatever alchemy created this understanding during the campaign has all but vanished in the last few months. I know so many OFA staff and volunteers who do everything they can to keep this spirit alive, but it's not really coming from Obama anymore. The arguments for health care, even the pledges OFA asks constituents to sign - contain not one whiff of emotional truth. Even the health care horror stories collected by OFA have been stripped of their emotion, filed away to be trotted out in mild DNC ads or handed over to congressional members. These stories need to be used, repeated, and ritualized for the entire country - they need to become our nation's emotional truth.
That is not happening. Instead the administration is pushing policy arguments, lists of ideas, pieces of paper. And they shrivel and die next to Sarah Palin's Baby Trig and the reptile fear of people clinging desperately to whatever they have left after a brutal recession.
So here we are. What now?
Well, if Obama really does punt on the public option, it will be a disaster for him and for us. 
Those of us who feel the most passionately about this, the "left of the left" if you will (although, I live in Venice, there are people here who equate me with George Bush, honest to god), will see a President who did not respect, empower and include them. We will feel that we have no more voice in this administration than we did the last.
That will be our emotional truth.
Worse, Republicans will see that bullying, being disruptive, and tapping into people's worst fears and instincts works, and will use it on each and every piece of legislation the White House tries to pass for the next 3 years. It's happening on climate change legislation now. Combine that with a disillusioned, disempowered activist left and I'm seeing damage to the Democratic Party well past the 2010 election cycle.

This was written in September, 2009. Today, I read this on Daily Kos. I've edited it a bit for narrative clarity, but the clarity of thought could not be better.

Nobody has empowered the GOP more in the past two years than Barack Obama. He empowered them from the very beginning of his administration by prioritizing their approval ("bipartisanship") over critiquing and superseding their failed philosophy. He empowered them by echoing their talking points on the budget deficit and Social Security. He empowered them by sitting back while Max Baucus bungled health care reform in the vain attempt to get GOP support. He empowered them by engaging in ideological unilateral disarmament. Arguably, he empowered them even before he was inaugurated by choosing Wall Street suck-ups Summers and Geithner to helm his economic team, thereby ensuring the banksters would get off scott free (ceding populism to the Tea Party) and the stimulus would be too small.
We didn't want Obama to fail. All our criticism all along has been to get him to marshal his incredible skills in service of a fighting vision that would rally the American people. Voters are turned off by politicians who appear timid, who seem to have no rudder of conviction. Did the GOP fold their tent after their shellackings in 2006 and 2008? No. They redoubled their assault. But Obama—and many other Democrats—crumple in fear.
The failure is his. He didn't even come to us to push the envelope like he said he would in his campaign. Instead, he cuts his lousy deals and then tells us we suck if we don't like it. 
Or patronizes us.

1 comment:

  1. That's right. You said it. And it is our emotional and empirical truth.