Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Our Used-Car Salesman

I'm still not sure there's any good reason to write about this -- I mean, everyone who reads this blog must surely be aware of what's wrong with Obama's budget deal, right? -- but I've been collecting links and thinking about this for over a week now, and seeing the defenses of Obama by his slobbering fans, so I might as well get this off my chest.

Of course, it's not only liberals and Obamaristas who are twisting the story to their own ends. The right-wing media have aimed for balance by pretending that it's only the Democrats, and Obama, who are obstinate and unyielding; the New York Daily News front page here (via) is a good example. RWA1 linked on Facebook to a column by George Will, "Congress Stands Its Ground", with the comment "Right on target." George Will! George Will, who couldn't hit a target three feet away with a shotgun! First Will praises Speaker Boehner:
Amid these tawdry episodes, House Speaker John Boehner signaled constitutional sanity regained: “Congress will forge a responsible path forward.” Congress. Obama has marginalized himself.
Then he attacks Obama:
When he was a lecturer on constitutional law, he evidently skipped the separation-of-powers doctrine. But, then, because this doctrine impedes the progressives’ goal of unleashing untrammeled government, they have long loathed it: Woodrow Wilson, the first president to criticize the American founding, considered the separation of powers the Constitution’s “radical defect.”
But for Congress to go it alone is also to ignore the separation-of-powers doctrine, and Boehner conveniently forgot that there are two houses of Congress, and his party only controls one. It would have been more honest to speak of the Republican Party instead of Congress. A couple of days later, it emerged that Boehner didn't even control his own party: those eighty-seven Teabagging Congressional freshmen whom Will praised for their principled intransigence handed him his ass on a platter. (Another reminder that it's not enough to have principles, you have to have good ones.) And, of course, it's not just the executive who unleashes untrammeled government: Congress has also been the right-wingers' scapegoat for their supposedly out-of-control spending.

Considering the source, I make free to doubt whether Wilson was the first president to criticize "the American founding," but in any case he wasn't the last. George W. Bush denounced the Constitution as "just a goddamned piece of paper," [alas, this quotation appears to be bogus] and few Republicans objected to his trampling on our sacred charter while he was in power, just as few Democrats object to Obama's doing it now.

RWA1 also linked to "Debt Ceiling Chicken," a Town Hall column by Thomas Sowell, arguing that the debt ceiling should be repealed. This one was a little better; though Sowell is a fierce a partisan as RWA1. Sowell blamed only Obama and the Democrats for out-of-control government spending, with not a word about Bush or Reagan, both of whom had to raise the debt ceiling in order to continue their out-of-control spending.

One thing that became very tiresome early on was the fake even-handedness of much of the media and the ordinary citizens they liked to quote, accusing "both" sides of refusal to compromise. It was pretty clear that neither the media nor their people in the street had any idea what issues were involved, but it didn't help that Obama played the same game. Anyone who paid attention saw that Obama "compromised" at every turn, giving the Republicans what they asked for, even offering to outdo them in terms of spending cuts, and getting nothing back - which is not compromise. Whatever It Is I'm Against It cited his own critique of Obama's position from last December, which was eerily prescient: Obama is saying the same stupid things he said then:
“This country was founded on compromise.” Er, the American War of Semi-Independence? (Update: Rick Perlstein writes on his Facebook page, “Give me liberty or give me illness.” “Loosen my restraints somewhat or give me death.”) “I couldn’t go through the front door at this country’s founding. And if we were really thinking about ideal positions, we wouldn’t have a union.” Oh, I see, the compromise of slavery. That’s your standard for a really good deal, is it? I guess the unemployed should be happy the Republicans weren’t demanding a repeal of the 13th Amendment. Yet.
And Obama's apologists are rushing into the breach to defend the Collaborator in Chief. I waded through a couple hundred comments under this post at alicublog on Sunday night, and watched them thrashing around. Accusations of "conspiracy theories" flew at Obama's critics, even after it was pointed out that no conspiracy was involved where the malfeasance was carried out in plain sight. "You'd rather they addressed the debt ceiling a year and a half ago?" Well, yes; and "they" could have.

Then it was time to blame the "masses": "In all of this, there is one segment that cannot be fixed or even addressed: The overwhelming ignorance and apathy of the voting public." No explanation, or any recognition that polls show consistently that overwhelming majorities of the voting public oppose entitlement cuts and favor raising taxes on the rich. The trouble is that there's no one for them to vote for. After pointing this out I commented:
Both parties like the "overwhelming ignorance and apathy of the voting public," and spend a lot of effort making sure it continues. The question, then, is to figure out how to get candidates who will represent our interests. That's not going to be easy, but unless it's impossible I'd like to know how to make it happen. As others have already suggested here, I don't think it's going to happen through voting, or even through getting involved in local politics, though local politics can be more responsive to voters' wishes. It's going to include direct action of various kinds.
Another alicublog regular replied:
I'm not a believer in the idea of destroying everything so a perfect Utopia can arise from the ashes; if I were, I'd be out there in the Tea Party screaming about getting gubmit tyrants out of my Medicare. When you mention "direct action" you make me very, very nervous ... although I admit that sometimes, the thought of pitchforks and lampposts is heartening.
I asked who had endorsed destroying everything, because I hadn't. As for her reaction to "direct action," I asked:
Do you know what "direct action" means? Ever heard of this guy called Martin Luther King, Jr.? Some other folks called the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee? I'm not calling for "pitchforks and lampposts." If you are, you're dreaming, to put it nicely.

"Acting at the grassroots level" is direct action. Of course, it makes the bosses/rulers very, very nervous. Consider both national party conventions in 2008, and 2004: any serious grassroots action will be met with state violence, and if you think Obama would never do such a thing, think again.

This is why liberals are so useless. I admit, I'm not sure what sorts of direct action, or where. But we've seen very forcefully how useless voting by itself is at bringing about change.
Funniest, though, was alicublog regular Chris V, who kept asking people what they thought should be done. When someone invited him to answer his own question, this was his response:
You may wish to drop a line to the Washington Post, explaining that decreasing revenue is also a way to get to a debt crisis, for fuck's sake, and although opinions are welcome, this clown's [referring to Teabag leader Judson Philips] contribution is not informed opinion, it's stupidity, and their readers (that's us) are not served by a moron lying in their faces.

Repeat as needed. Apply as necessary to other infected areas as well.
Whoa! Radical! That'll get their attention! Someone else replied, "Repeat as needed? This is The Washington Post you're talking about. Repeat forever is more like it." The Post, it will be remembered, has on its staff such intellectual luminaries as Dana Milbank, William Kristol, and George Will, and it has continually urged Obama to move to the center.

And then longtime Obama groupie (I'm using the term advisedly) aimai offered up this startling comment:
I'd also like to add that Obama seems to invoke in his Republican opponents an almost sexual panic, a fear of seduction. Good negotiating includes a large element of seduction--read any account of Teddy Kennedy or any of the old masters of the Senate. But Obama's opponents are for a variety of reasons chief among them race but also including class, age, religion, and modern partisan culture wars, absolutely predisposed to reject any kind of negotiation with him. They are deathly afraid of liking him, of doing what he wants because he convinces them and seems reasonable. That's partly because they know their caucus and their voters think he's black satan. And its partly because he's very seductive and they fear being seduced because they know it loses them the upper hand. I really can't imagine what it must be being Obama and being forced to work with this hysterical, ugly, meanspirited, bigoted, lying, corrupt group of intransigent Senators and Representatives. I mean I literally can't imagine having to go to work every day and work to get anything done with people who do not scruple to sit with you and eat your food and then go out and lie about you and attack you personally on the steps of your house.
Obama? Seductive? This is one thing that continues to baffle me. He's a good speaker only by comparison with Dubya. I avoid listening to his speeches (and read them instead, which makes his dishonesty even more blatantly obvious) because I can't stand his hectoring tone. Obama loyalists really need to get rid of the idea that because they find him adorable, everybody else (except Republicans) does too.

[P.S. Let's also try plugging some other values in for those variables there. Imagine being asked -- no, demanded to support and vote for someone who does not scruple to sit with you and beg money from you and assume that he's entitled to your vote, and then goes out and lies about you and attacks you personally on the steps of your house. To say nothing of acting, consistently, against your interests and needs, while collaborating assiduously with the other party. That's what Obama does to so much of his constituency, not just the "left." Maybe if this commenter looked at the situation from this perspective, she'd understand why the Democrats lost the House in 2010, and why Obama's approval numbers have dropped.]

Yes, the Republicans are insane. The trouble is, Obama isn't: he's quite sane. (IOZ did a good post on that after one of the debates with McCain.) But that's not a recommendation. He's highly pragmatic, he's as dishonest as Nixon (and increasingly as full of self-pity), he's looking out for number one, and if the Tea Party didn't exist, he'd have had to invent it.

Look: I heart lust. But this is sheer projection. aimai, you may recall, was the wannabe courtier who gushed, earlier this year:
Whatever my feelings about Obama's centrism I've got to say that he and Michelle really adorn the White House. As a couple they are just...well...magnificent and the children are fucking adorable (same age as my two so I really feel for them). The huffpo lineup of former first ladies and their dresses at these state dinners was like the evolution of humanity from grotesquely old and billowy faux victoriana to blooming, statuesque, youth.
What's depressing is that these people are intelligent, well-educated, capable of rationality. But party loyalty and adherence to a cult of personality, even of Fuhrerprinzip, have taken their toll. Or as Glenn Greenwald put it, more kindly,
A mere three years ago, huge numbers of people invested substantial time, attention, energy, emotion and "hope" in fighting to put Barack Obama in the White House. The very human incentives not to reach this conclusion are both obvious and overwhelming.