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Awakening from Obama's seduction

by Gary Olson

April 18, 2011
Originally published in The Morning Call

President Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, expected to cost more than $1 billion, is under way. Given incumbency and likely opponents, he'll probably win.

Unfortunately, that won't make a whit of difference for most of us, and if you know anyone still slumbering in an Obamamania-induced trance, I have a guaranteed spell breaker. Paul Street's book, "The Empire's New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power," demolishes any remaining misapprehension that Obama is anything other than a Wall Street, military friendly and seductive-sounding servant of concentrated wealth and power.

Given the facts, Obama's record as president is no surprise: Recycling discredited economic advisers like Rubin and Geithner; rescuing ruthless Wall Street speculators; extending Bush-era tax cuts for the super-rich; abandoning his health care public option and quickly selling out to private insurers; going back on his pledge to close Guantanamo; maintaining 50,000 troops in Iraq while substituting mercenaries for others; a pitifully inadequate stimulus package; doing virtually nothing about the real unemployment rate of 18 percent and shrinking paychecks; a record-setting Pentagon budget; pushing anti-labor trade deals; and reneging on his campaign promise to reform management-friendly labor laws.

Finally, in Obama's Vietnam, the disastrous and immoral Afghanistan War that costs taxpayers $2 billion per month, 98,000 U.S. troops remain on the ground. In 2010 alone, 499 U.S. soldiers died there and 440 Afghan civilians were killed by U.S.-led forces. And this is only the short list from Obama's first term, which feels more like Bush's third term.

More of Obama's true colors emerged when he refused to utter a word of solidarity with besieged public workers in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere. This is the same person who, while campaigning in 2007, eloquently proclaimed, "If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collective bargaining when I'm in the White House, I'll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself and I'll walk the picket line with you as president of the United States of America because workers deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner."

And only a year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations could contribute unlimited funds to politicians, Obama named Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric, notorious for exporting job and tax avoidance, as his "jobs czar".

Why has all this occurred? You won't find it in high school civics textbooks, but the truth is that he doesn't obtain the nomination for president without first being carefully vetted by our political, media and corporate masters. In Lawrence Shoup's apt phrase, this is the "hidden primary of the ruling class." Only after being reassured about the candidate's enthusiasm for advancing the corporate domestic and foreign agenda does the funding and media attention begin to materialize and this is precisely what occurred with Obama. It was the combination of a brilliant marketing strategy, beguiling rhetoric, and something approaching a cult of personality that put him over in 2008.

After two U.S.-image staining Bush-Cheney terms, worried elites undertook an Orwellian rebranding project and Brand Obama was their choice. This would be Bush without the baggage but with attractive packaging and major style points.

The fact that Obama was biracial was a bonus because it allowed many white voters to delude themselves into believing that racism was now behind us. The enticing slogan "change we can believe in" shored up a system increasingly viewed as illegitimate by many. And this service to his financial backers was manifest when the new president told a bankers convention, "My administration is all that stands between you and the pitchforks."

Finally, has anything positive resulted from an Obama White House? I agree with Street that it was important, albeit painful, for voters and particularly younger ones, to experience life under the unvarnished reality of a "New Democrat," corporatist, poseur progressive. The sooner they shed any remaining illusions about Democratic presidents being the source of substantive change the better.

As the late, revered American historian Howard Zinn wrote, "There's hardly anything more important people can learn than the fact that the really critical thing isn't who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in — in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating — those are the things that determine what happens. It is becoming clearer and clearer to many, after the first year of Obama's presidency, that it is going to require independent action from below to achieve real change."