Saturday, September 5, 2009

As Obama Sinks Slowly on the Right

Sorry, I know I'm mixing my metaphors there.

Anyway, credit where credit's due: the Obama administration has moved to cut off non-humanitarian aid to the coup regime in Honduras. This right-wing site claims simply that "aid" will be cut off, leaving out the "non-humanitarian" part. What surprises me is that the writer, Hans Bader, mentions that Honduras is "one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere." Maybe this is meant to imply that Obama is being hypocritical in hurting the poor, since the American right has never cared about the well-being of the poor anywhere. Bader also reports that "Earlier, the Obama Administration blocked travel to the United States by the people of Honduras." That is not likely to hurt the Honduran poor, which indicates where Bader's sympathy really lies. As Vicki Gass of the Washington Office on Latin America told NPR, "if they start cancelling the visas, the student visas of children of the elite who come to colleges in the United States and their wives who go shopping on the weekends in Miami, then that might have a real impact."


KELEMEN: But Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations is not so sure the U.S. can really push the de facto rulers to bend.

Ms. JULIA SWEIG (Council on Foreign Relations): What the last couple of months have demonstrated is something broader in American foreign policy, which is that the tools in the toolbox are a lot duller than they used to be, and actors - whether they're Micheletti and his supporters in Honduras or forces in Afghanistan that we want to be working with - can't necessarily be easily controlled or coerced even when they very, very much depend upon the United States.

That, I think, will have to be seen. It will also have to be seen whether Obama is really prepared to push Micheletti very hard; the usual pattern in these matters is to announce aid cut-offs, and then rechannel the money through other sources. From the Democracy Now! report:
JUAN GONZALEZ: What do you make of the decision of the International Monetary Fund recently to give Honduras about $160 million in aid?

GREG GRANDIN: Yeah. Well, one hand takes away; the other one gives. The United States controls, largely controls, the IMF and the fact that the IMF—pretty much concurrently with the State Department’s much heralded decision to cut off $30 million, the IMF announced that it was granting $150 million. I mean, even the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Fund, all of these institutions have declared that they’re cutting off loans and aid to Honduras, but the IMF went forward. This also is largely symbolic.
So Hans Bader shouldn't lose sleep over the Honduran people. We wouldn't want the Honduran military to run out of ammo, especially considering the threat they face from (as Sweig put it) "Zelaya, a leftist leader close to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez".

Then there's the Obama administration's decision (via) to make public the log of most visitors to the White House. As Glenn Greenwald says, Obama does deserve some credit for the decision, but it should not be forgotten that it was made not freely, in fulfillment of Obama's campaign pledges to improve government transparency, but under pressure of lawsuits by watchdog groups -- much like the torture memos that were released under similar pressure in April. From the ABC News story Greenwald linked:
The new policy is the result of the Justice Department settling lawsuits brought by the good government group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which had sought visitors logs from both the Obama and Bush White Houses. In a letter from Justice Department attorney Brad Rosenberg, the administration outlined details of its settlement with CREW, which included the new policy.
So far only Bush-era logs have been released, which was the easy part -- well, kind of easy, since Obama has made it clear that he wants to protect Bush and Cheney no less than himself. Now let's see the visits to Obama from representatives of the health insurance industry. There's nothing wrong in itself with his listening to such people; what is wrong is that he has shut out alternatives. As Bruce A. Dixon wrote in a blistering piece at Black Agenda Report,
The only obstacle to passage of the president's health care --- or health insurance --- legislation is the White House itself. Barack Obama knows better than any of us the difference between what he promised and what is about to be delivered. The undeniable difference is dawning on much of the public too, and is reflected in sagging poll numbers for Democrats and the president. The dozens of Democrats who have declared they will vote against any health care --- or health insurance --- bill that does not contain what they call a “public option,” are only trying to insulate themselves and protect President Obama from the worst consequences of his own treachery in selling out the vision of universal health care to big pharma and the insurance companies. They aren't blocking the president's bill. They're trying to ensure that there is something in the bill they can defend to the outraged public who elected them to pass health care reform.

From the beginning the president hamstrung his own grassroots supporters. He made much of his vaunted email and phone list of 13 million volunteers useless by coming down hard against Medicare For All and any forms of single payer, which were among the prime motivations for their energy and devotion. So the people whose boundless enthusiasm swept Obama into the White House were not available to pack many of the town meetings or pressure the reluctant. Some Democrats, like Dick Durbin of Illinois canceled their public meetings for fear of left leaning hostile, and likely pro-single payer crowds which even corporate media would find it hard to ignore.

Speaking of which, Avedon at The Sideshow links to this article which offers evidence that the corporate media are giving visibility, and therefore credibility, to the right-wing shock troops disrupting the town hall meetings: if the teabaggers aren't stirring up shit, then it isn't news and needn't be reported. So Avedon suggests,
But that's on the assumption that the "unsympathetic" will always be right-wingers who are blowing the insurance companies' horn for the Republican Party. What if liberals came and made a ruckus because "a public plan" that doesn't cover everyone isn't good enough? What if people came and interrupted "reasoned" arguments in favor of "the public option" that pointed out that a flat single-payer program that covered all Americans fully and equally would actually be cheaper than an "option" open only to a small segment of the population and full of administrative money-wasting? What if angry liberals demanded to know why single-payer is off the table?
Well, of course, that wouldn't be news either. A tiny turnout of pro-Republican protesters is always news, while protesters from the left will be ignored, minimized, and caricatured.

Finally, there's the hullaballoo over President Obama's planned speech to the nation's schoolchildren, apparently on the theme of community service and hard work. The Right, suddenly, is concerned that the speech might have a political agenda; Roy Edroso's liberal commenters are all, like, JFK and "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country!" (Some, rather creepily, drew a connection between Kennedy's call for service and his assassination, with dire implications for Obama. That's like the Jesus fans who say that Jesus was crucified for preaching love ... but I digress.) Speaking from the perspective of someone who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, when overt political propaganda was part of the air we breathed in school, I have mixed feelings about this. Sure, the speech will be innocuous: who could object to the President's urging kids to work hard, stay in school, and care about their communities? Not even me. And it's entertaining to watch the Right frothing about the Obama cult of personality, so soon after their fawning adulation of George W. Bush, and their ongoing cult of Ronald Reagan. Glenn Greenwald quotes Jay Nordlinger, a blogger at The National Review, who complained:
When I read about that celebrity video where they say, “I pledge to be of service to Barack Obama,” I thought that the people do not deserve to be American citizens, because they have no idea what America or a liberal republic is. . . . Also, it strikes me that "I pledge to be of service to Barack Obama" is the product of a thoroughly secular mind, which is another marker of contemporary America. . . . Did conservatives ever say “I pledge to be of service to Ronald Reagan”? I never heard it -- and the notion is preposterous.
Nordlinger obviously wasn't paying attention. (And how often I've heard liberals say analogous things.) Greenwald provides a lengthy selection of the cult of service to George W. Bush, which ought to be read not only by conservatives (who won't read it, and wouldn't remember it if they did) but by liberals, especially Obama fans who might (but won't) recognize their own reflections in that mirror. Do I need to link to examples of the ecstatic gushing of liberals and even leftists after Obama won the election, or the exaltation at his inauguration? (If so, this will do for a start.)

As for Kennedy's "Ask what you can do for your country," I was 10 years old when he was inaugurated, and probably thought his words were inspiring then. But eventually I learned that for JFK, what I could do for my country included not only the Peace Corps (a good but sometimes problematic program) but the CIA, killing and torturing people in Vietnam, committing terrorism in Cuba, bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war, and running a damned Murder Incorporated in the Caribbean. Americans who took Kennedy's exhortation seriously in less exalted areas, like the Civil Rights Movement, found that their efforts weren't it at all, not what he meant at all. Given Obama's own conduct so far, I think he may be more like Kennedy than his fans care to recognize.