How did we get into this situation?
First, let's define the problem. Robert Kuttner
does that job well:
How do we explain President Barack Obama's failure to rise to the challenge that history dealt him, and the inversion of a Franklin D. Roosevelt moment into a new period dominated by the corporate elite and the far right? After the epic 2010 midterm defeat, the optimistic scenario for progressives would be for a damaged Obama to squeak through to re-election in coalition with an almost certain Republican Congress. The pessimistic picture would be for Republicans to capture both branches. Either way, the national narrative increasingly blames government rather than market excesses for the economic catastrophe. And the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party stays in the wilderness for several more years.
Obama has already adapted to the Republican takeover of the House by moving further center-right. When he named as his new chief of staff Bill Daley, more a Wall Street lobbyist than a "business leader," Obama won praise from The Wall Street Journal editorial page, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, all of whom want nothing so much as to destroy Obama's presidency. As our colleague Robert Reich recently observed, "Obama's failure is that he won't challenge this Republican narrative."
Everyone has heard of the Great Man theory of history. But what about the Lesser Man theory? Historians will long be debating the relative weight of systemic constraints versus Obama's personal weakness as a leader, in what is shaping up as one of American history's epic missed moments.
Yeah, but how did this happen?
That's the elephant in the room -- and never was that image more apt -- which progs refuse to address. But this blogger
, previously not on my radar (h/t lambert
), has it nailed:
Obviously, to the question of why Barack Obama did not attempt to transform American into a peaceable kingdom, the answer is that he did not intend to attempt it.
Why has the President governed like a neoliberal coporatist? Because he is a neoliberal corporatist. Why has do his pedantic, proceduralist utterances and didactic vocal cadences fall so short of his reputation for rhetorical brilliance? Because he is a pedant. Why has he failed to combat the systemic imperatives of war and business and the business of war? Because he is the system.
A commenter on that blog offers some further words worth quoting:
At this point Kuttner, Digs, et al must be dialing it in. "Why does he act like a corporate hack? It is a mystery!" is just polite pwogwessive-speak for "We fucked up - we trusted him." Better to be thought a high-minded-though-naive idealist than a dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks true-believer fanboi/fangrrll who never questioned why the stuff on the open-face that was advertised as hot beef smelled and tasted like...well, something else.
This is why 2008 should be remembered as one of the most important years in American political history. We should still be talking about 2008 in 3008.
Repeatedly, incessantly, anti-Obama Democrats were castigated as racists or blinkered Hillary cultists. In fact, I entered 2008 believing the election to be a simple matter of ABC -- Anyone But Clinton. That axiom soon changed to Anyone But Obama, and the change had nothing to do with racial bigotry. Where others could see only Candidate Obama, I saw President Obama.
Obama's big lie on NAFTA should have warned everyone about what was to come: The campaign actually distributed pamphlets advertising Obama's alleged lifelong opposition to the treaty. In fact he always has, and always will, favor that treaty.
His Iraq war lie was also telling: He claimed to be a consistent, out-in-front opponent of the war, when the record shows that he dodged every opportunity -- even when speaking at the 2004 Democratic convention! -- to criticize Bush's decision to invade. The single exception was a 2003 speech, little-noted at the time (he was not the featured speaker), delivered in front of an audience that would not have tolerated a pro-war stance.
We also had the spectacle of Obama saying that he had rarely spoken with sleazy "fixer" Tony Rezko," only to be undone by an FBI informant in Rezko's office, who confirmed that Obama and Rezko were in constant communication. For years, every time Blago got a pay-off, Obama got a smaller pay-off -- even from the goombahs in Vegas.
Incidentally, the Rezko/Blago "thing" is hardly dead; see here
. If Issa doesn't hold hearings on this stuff, then we'll know that this corruption case is bipartisan.
Here is where I have a subtle disagreement with the Corrente crowd and with people like Ioz. They insist on framing the problem in terms of weltanschauung: "Because he is a neoliberal corporatist."
I still don't know what Obama is
, in his heart of hearts. There may not, in fact, be a genuine identity residing in that mysterious place. The problem (as I see it) is not a matter of belief but of corruption.
Bottom line: I think they got something on the guy.
When someone has hold of your balls, your personal beliefs don't matter. Obama took the money; now he takes orders.
Yes, the answer may really be that simple.
A diminishing number of progs (not many, thank God) still scream "racist" at anyone who denounces Obama. All I can do is sigh the same sigh I sighed in 2008. My problem with Obama never had anything to do with the fact that he is black. My problem is that he is blackmailed