Saturday, November 8, 2008

No Honeymoon

I share Avedon's exasperation with people who
talk like Tuesday was the Inauguration rather than just the election. Watching the Beeb talking about Tuesday as, "The day an African-American became president of the United States," I was shouting at the tube, "No he didn't! He was just elected, dammit!" There are constant references to "President Obama" as if he actually was. It's as if there weren't several dangerous weeks to go."
She also corrected Alice Walker's mislabeling of the President as "the commander in chief of the United States," a mistake usually made by Bush supporters during his regime. I guess whoever has their guy in (or near) power is going to want to inflate his significance in this way.

I'm going to link again to Naomi Klein's important article on the bailout as pillage (and remember that Obama voted to put Bush's hands deep into the till). It reminded me, first, of the Republican claims in early 2001 that the outgoing Clinton administration had vandalized the White House
and Air Force One. Those claims turned out to be lies, of course, but as with so many Republican lies about the Democrats they should be taken as projection, foreshadowing what the Republicans will do as soon as they get the chance. Second, I began wondering idly whom Dubya will remember when it comes time for the traditional end-of-term pardons. Oh well, I guess we'll get to be surprised on that matter.

The danger doesn't lie solely in what Bush will do during the coming weeks, though. A good many people on the leftward end of the political spectrum (I know, such terminology isn't very descriptive of anything, but I haven't thought yet of a better label, and "left" is the word that is generally used by commentators) threw their support and energy and labor to Obama, wishing and hoping and thinking and praying that he'd grant some of their wishes. Without those people's strenuous efforts, Obama probably would not have won the election; while his campaign relied on traditional corporate-party sources of funds and other support, the "grassroots" elements (as they've been called) probably made the difference between victory and defeat: volunteers who went door to door campaigning, made phone calls, drove voters to the polls, and so on. The general attitude among party elites and the corporate media now is that, having done so much, those people should go home, shut up, and leave the running of the government to the professionals. The first sign that Obama shares this attitude was his appointment of Rahm Emanuel as White House Chief of Staff.

I've already heard some Obama fans say that it's too early to complain, that we should just wait patiently and See What He Does. Absolutely not. Admittedly, none of the people I've talked to have any idea who Emanuel is and why his appointment is a slap in the face to anyone who hoped that Obama's administration was going to be Different -- just as none of them knew what Obama's actual positions and concrete promises were before the election. This is politics as spectator sport, though few sports fans treat the decisions of coaches and team owners as uncritically as these Obama fans treat the running of their country by the man they supported.

Here's the crux of the matter: the right-wing Democrats, the party hacks, the corporate enablers and the corporate forces they represent are not sitting back to wait and see what Obama does. During the campaign they gave him money; they reacted swiftly to any hint that his policies, on "free trade" for example, would differ from theirs and forced him to backtrack, as if it were really necessary. (By contrast, when Obama did something that upset his progressive-liberal supporters, such as his vote for FISA, he dug in his heels and claimed -- often correctly -- that this was what he had promised to do all along.) Now they want to make sure that his staff and advisors are acceptable to them and their interests. In the real world of politics it is perfectly legitimate for them to do so, and it is also perfectly legitimate for Obama's liberal and progressive and left supporters to watch his every action closely and critically, and demand that his staff and advisors be acceptable to them and their interests.

It's perfectly legitimate, for example, to ask why the President-Elect's many foreign-policy advisors include so many people with records of advocacy for US state violence, aggression, and terror, and so few (any?) who object to invading Iraq on grounds other than "the enormous waste from excess military spending." It's legitimate to ask why a name prominently floated for Secretary of the Treasury is Larry Summers, a former Secretary of the Treasury for Bill Clinton, with a long track record of dubious and even vile positions? Have prominent left economists like Robert Pollin been consulted on policy or appointments? If not, why not?

It turns out I'm not the only person who's been wondering what will happen to the Obama campaign's legions of volunteers, virtual and meat machines alike. I never expected that the President, any more than his Establishment worriers, would want his organization to possess any real autonomy. But these supporters include those who said that once Obama was elected it would be legitimate to criticize and pressure him, and indeed that they would be among those holding his feet to the fire, and they need to start thinking about how they're going to do that. And the time to do it is now. Not after January 20, when Obama will have announced his Cabinet and other senior staff appointments and, gosh darn it, it will be just too late to do anything about them; when his first wave of executive orders and proposed legislation will already have been prepped for deployment; when, in short, the foundations of his first term in office will have already been laid. Anthony Arnove wrote at the Socialist Worker's site (and my only disagreement with him is that "the first day he takes office" is already giving Obama too much room to breathe):
The first thing to say is that there should be no honeymoon. The Democrats have held a majority in the House and Senate for two years, yet have continued to fund the occupation of Iraq, to allow warrantless wiretaps, to expand the military budget.

The Democrats can no longer use the excuse of Bush and the need to win the White House to continue to defy the widespread desire for change. That means we need to challenge Obama from the first day he takes office, with public protest and mobilization.

My not-so-ambivalent Obama friend asked me rhetorically the other night if the US had ever elected a left-wing President. I agreed with her that we hadn't, but I was wrong. As Avedon wrote at the Sideshow,

You know, we were told over and over that Obama was "the most liberal member of the Senate" (not true, but I'm sure lots of people believed he was really liberal), and the Republicans even insisted that Obama was a socialist - and yet the people elected him! So Obama has a mandate to be at least a screaming liberal, or even a socialist, right?

She's absolutely right. Obama is not a socialist or a screaming liberal -- not even a "progressive" as a commenter at another blog tried to tell me, but a "centrist" or in plain English, a right-wing Democrat -- but he was elected by American voters who almost certainly believed that he was one. (Similarly, though I'm boggled by the misperception of people who believe Bill Clinton was a liberal, that belief is usually a factor in their nostalgia for his administration, when as they believe, things were better than they are now.) The attacks by McCain and Palin and the media failed: American voters want "redistribution of wealth," downward for a change, and they'll be very disappointed if Obama doesn't deliver it. It may no longer be possible for critical voices to reach Obama, and it certainly will be impossible after Rahm Emanuel becomes his doorkeeper. But the time to try to reach Obama with news from outside the Democratic Leadership Council is now. There can be no honeymoon.