The Fall of Obama
By ALEXANDER COCKBURN
The man who seized the White House by fomenting a mood of
irrational expectation is now facing the bitter price exacted by
reality. The reality is that there can be no “good” American
president. It’s an impossible hand to play. Obama is close to
The nation’s first black president promised change at the precise
moment when no single man, even if endowed with the communicative
powers of Franklin Roosevelt, the politic mastery of Lyndon
Johnson, the brazen agility of Bill Clinton, could turn the tide
that has been carrying America to disaster for 30 years.
This summer many Americans are frightened. Over 100,000 of them
file for bankruptcy every month. Three million homeowners face
foreclosure this year. Add them to the 2.8 million who were
foreclosed in 2009, Obama’s first year in office. Nearly seven
million have been without jobs in the last year for six months or
longer. By the time you tot up the people who have given up
looking for work and the people on part-time, the total is heading
toward 20 million.
Fearful people are irrational. So are racists. Obama is the target
of insane charges. A hefty percentage of Americans believe that he
is a socialist – a charge as ludicrous as accusing the Archbishop
of Canterbury of being a closet Druid. Obama reveres the
capitalist system. He admires the apex predators of Wall Street
who showered his campaign treasury with millions of dollars. The
frightful catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico stemmed directly from
the green light he and his Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar,
gave to BP.
It is not Obama’s fault that for 30 years America’s policy – under
Reagan, both Bushes and Bill Clinton – has been to export jobs
permanently to the Third World. The jobs that Americans now
desperately seek are no longer here, in the homeland, and never
will be. They’re in China, Taiwan, Vietnam, India, Indonesia.
No stimulus program, giving money to cement contractors to fix
potholes along the federal interstate highway system, is going to
bring those jobs back. Highly trained tool and die workers, the
aristocrats of the manufacturing sector, are flipping hamburgers –
at best – for $7.50 an hour because U.S. corporations sent their
jobs to Guangzhou, with the approval of politicians flush with the
money of the “free trade” lobby.
It is not Obama’s fault that across 30 years more and more money
has floated up to the apex of the social pyramid till America is
heading back to where it was in the 1880s, a nation of tramps and
millionaires. It’s not his fault that every tax break, every
regulation, every judicial decision tilts toward business and the
rich. That was the neoliberal America conjured into malign
vitality back in the mid 1970s.
But it is Obama’s fault that he did not understand this, that
always, from the getgo, he flattered Americans with paeans to
their greatness, without adequate warning of the political and
corporate corruption destroying America and the resistance he
would face if he really fought against the prevailing arrangements
that were destroying America. He offered them a free and easy
pass to a better future, and now they see that the promise was empty.
It’s Obama’s fault, too, that, as a communicator, he cannot rally
and inspire the nation from its fears. From his earliest years he
has schooled himself not to be excitable, not to be an angry black
man who would be alarming to his white friends at Harvard and his
later corporate patrons. Self-control was his passport to the
guardians of the system, who were desperate to find a symbolic
leader to restore America’s credibility in the world after the
disasters of the Bush era. He is too cool.
So, now Americans in increasing numbers have lost confidence in
him. For the first time in the polls negative assessments
outnumber the positive. He no longer commands trust. His support
is drifting down to 40 per cent. The straddle that allowed him to
flatter corporate chieftains at the same time as blue-collar
workers now seems like the most vapid opportunism. The casual
campaign pledge to wipe out al-Quaida in Afghanistan is now being
cashed out in a disastrous campaign viewed with dismay by a
majority of Americans.
The polls portend disaster. It now looks as though the Republicans
may well recapture not only the House but, conceivably, the Senate
as well. The public mood is so contrarian that, even though polls
show that voters think the Democrats may well have better
solutions on the economy than Republicans, they will vote against
incumbent Democrats in the midterm elections next fall. They just
want to throw the bums out.
Obama has sought out Bill Clinton to advise him in this desperate
hour. If Clinton is frank, he will remind Obama that his own hopes
for a progressive first term were destroyed by the failure of his
health reform in the spring of 1993. By August of that year, he
was importing a Republican, David Gergen, to run the White House.
Obama had his window of opportunity last year, when he could have
made jobs and financial reform his prime objectives. That’s what
Americans hoped for. Mesmerized by economic advisers who were
creatures of the banks, he instead plunged into the Sargasso Sea
of “health reform,” wasted the better part of a year, and ended up
with something that pleases no one.
What can save Obama now? It’s hard even to identify a straw he can
grasp at. It’s awfully early in the game to say it, but, as
Marlene Dietrich said to Orson Welles in Touch of Evil, “your
future is all used up.