This weekend we saw a President give away the store -- succumb to the blackmail and threats of politicos completely outside the mainstream of political thought -- just as we saw in the "compromise" he made to extend the Bush tax cuts at the end of last year. He then bragged about it smugly as a victory for bipartisan, oh-so-American cooperation. He even boasted about last year's tax cut deal in commenting on the deal.
In no other era would this be considered acceptable behavior by someone with a D next to their name. In fact, I have no doubt that in eras past Obama would be seen by most Democrats and even the press as more than a little delusional in claiming victory during a smashing defeat to Democratic values and policy. The only other view is that he is now one somehow with the right-wing bullies and tea party whack jobs in seeing government spending as the problem, and drastic cuts in spending and more tax cuts as the only "solutions," even while the same thing is going on at the state and local levels.
Robert Reich: The Prez and Ds caved in, endangering the recovery and strengthening the right-wing bullies. A tactical win for Prez and strategic loss.
Think Progress: The spending cuts agreed to tonight totaled $38.5 billion. Total cost of extending Bush tax cuts to the richest 2% of Americans over the next 10 years: $690 billion.
Robert Reich: The right held the U.S. govt hostage, and O paid most of the ransom -- inviting more hostage-taking. Next is raising debt ceiling.
Ezra Klein: The substance of this deal is bad. But the way Democrats are selling it makes it much, much worse.
Comment on Daily Kos: We don't really have two parties. Republicans = insane corporatists. Democrats = polite corporatists. In the end, they both work for the plutocracy.
The alleged deal: Keep the federal government open through next Thursday with a cut of about $2.5 billion to cover the extension. Then, pass the FY 2011 budget sometime next week with $38 billion more in cuts on top of $40 billion in cuts to date to Obama's original budget plan.
The rumor is that it took about $5 billion in cuts to important programs to get the atrocious $330 million defunding of Planned Parenthood rider out of the agreement (which nobody has seen yet).
Bullied relentlessly by the right wing nuts who are somehow seen in Obama's twisted fantasy world as intelligent, respectable, fair-minded players, he did what he has done before and what it is now clear he will do again -- "compromise" to benefit the interests of wealthy global financial, corporate and banking interests to the detriment of ordinary Americans. He then came out and blustered on about how this will be good for us all, that it's an "historic" victory to cut about $40 to 80 billion dollars (depending how you measure) out of spending on our domestic programs smack dab in the middle of a deep and continuing workers' depression.
What Obama Said
You can read Obama's remarks here (pdf). Some of what he said:
"... today Americans of different beliefs came together again ... This agreement between Democrats and Republicans, on behalf of all Americans, is on a budget that invests in our future while making the largest annual spending cut in our history. Like any worthwhile compromise, both sides had to make tough decisions and give ground on issues that were important to them. And I certainly did that."
Yeah, you certainly did. And the Republicans gave up ... on cutting Planned Parenthood funding.
"But beginning to live within our means is the only way to protect those investments that will help America compete for new jobs -- investments in our kids’ education and student loans; in clean energy and life-saving medical research. We protected the investments we need to win the future."
I wonder what "new jobs" Obama thinks we'll be competing for in a world economy dominated by a race to the bottom overseas, and now right here in America -- a place of escalating privatization and dramatic defunding of almost everything, including our schools. He has achieved almost nothing in the realm of clean energy, but we are now supposed to believe we'll be experiencing a huge boom in clean energy jobs. He points to medical research that will save and extend lives, but where will these people be working and how will they be able to survive on the decimated pensions, Social Security and Medicare that will be available to ordinary people?
"At the same time, we also made sure that at the end of the day, this was a debate about spending cuts, not social issues."
As I type this, almost nothing has been discussed publicly about where and how the massive cuts will be applied and, in fact, almost the entire "debate" in the media leading up to this debacle was about a "social issue" -- Planned Parenthood funding.
"A few months ago, I was able to sign a tax cut for American families because both parties worked through their differences and found common ground. Now the same cooperation will make possible the biggest annual spending cut in history".
In other words, he thinks he did working people proud -- did us a big favor -- by caving totally to the right-wing demand to keep the incredibly damaging Bush tax cuts for the rich in place. And he thinks huge spending cuts in discretionary programs and our already meagre social safety net will bring us to the Promised Land. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. must be rolling in his grave.
Big Bad Biden
Did you dig the fairy tale spin story about Big Bad Biden who, we're to believe, raised his voice during the "negotiations" last week and drew a line in the sand? Why it's said he even threatened to go to the American people to make a case against the Repub line! Imagine that!
What did he actually draw a line in the sand about? Some 330 million dollars in funding for women's health care services provided by Planned Parenthood -- which owes much of its existence to the Bush family. However, before Big Bad Biden put his foot down (because Barack didn't feel like stepping down off his self-made Big Compromiser pedestal), we were treated to several days of media headlines and public "debate" about the wisdom of funding abortion services via Planned Parenthood. Except that not one dollar of federal funding goes to abortion services at Planned Parenthood or anywhere else. It's illegal, thanks to earlier Dem cave ins.
We don't really know much about what is in the back room deal to be sealed this week, except that the budget bill for the rest of FY 2011 won't destroy the powers of the EPA. That's for later, in a separate vote. We know that Washington DC will no longer get to decide on their own how to spend the District's own money in terms of women's reproductive choice. Those folks were thrown under the bus by Obama along with whatever else he gave away. We know that defense will actually get a $5 billion increase above the 2010 baseline -- about the amount spent in two weeks in Afghanistan.
And yet Obama stepped before the microphones and said it was a victory. I guess it is if you think the battle is over whether or not Obama gets to continue to portray himself as Mr. Middle-of-the Road Centrist Compromiser Bipartisan Adult-in-the Room Daddy Supreme.
But if you have even a smidgeon of respect and value for progressive measures designed to help ordinary people cope during an era of massive upward displacements of money and power, flat or falling wages, skyrocketing energy, food and health care costs and what is daintily and inaccurately called a "jobless recovery," then you, like me, will probably see it as just another Obama refusal to be a strong, assertive Democrat. You'll see it as another painful loss for working people in the long and winding road to corporatist rule here and around the globe.
Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train
Progressive sage Howard Zinn once said you can't be neutral on a moving train. In this case, Obama can't be neutral and nonpartisan on a train that's speeding so far to the right, to the crazy and ridiculous tea party way of seeing government, that there is no Democratic turf left to fight on. By clinging to his pose of wise man in the middle -- a feint that is no doubt much beloved by his corporate and Wall Street donors -- he has been dragged into territory that only a few years ago was considered corrupt, anti-Democratic and bordering on fascism.
A Frightening Blueprint
What we have now is a clear blueprint of what Obama will be doing from this point forward to the 2012 election. He caved to the bullies and refused to use his own bully pulpit to take the fight to the American people -- to his supposedly fellow Democrats -- when he allowed himself to be maneuvered into a corner (purposefully or not) on the extension of the Bush tax cut banquet for the rich. He then did the same thing in this "fight," ceding to the demands of right wingers on almost everything and doing it with an odd form of smug enthusiasm.
Obama will no doubt do it again when the "negotiations" begin on raising the debt ceiling, and when the 2012 "budget talks" happen, centered around Rep. Paul Ryan's insane (but, you know, courageous in the eyes of the pundits) attacks on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and everything else that the Democratic Party has been known for. The conversation will now take place entirely within the right-wing frame of deficit reduction, cutting the role of government (except in the case of "security" and immigration enforcement) and cementing the power of corporations and banks on the world stage.
There will not be any serious battles that take place on the left side of the playing field -- taxing the rich and corporations is now officially and permanently off the table as a top priority as long as Obama is President even if he claims otherwise. There will be no "negotiations" that center on why we need to raise revenues, except as lip service. Congress will be 100% involved in debasing "entitlements" and keeping the playing field tilting away from working people and towards the entities that became citizens under the Citizens United decision. We will increasingly be hearing how the Catfood Commission recommendations represent the middle ground. Count on it.
In other words, Mr. Change You Can Believe In has now come out publicly and obviously against everything Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lyndon Baines Johnson and other genuine liberals fought for since the Great Depression. Obama has been pivotal in moving the dialogue into right-wing territory as the primary frame, as the place where the pseudo-battles take place, as the turf where the two corporate-funded parties will now conduct their kabuki.
Win the Future!
Now Obama can proceed on with his Win the Future campaign spin campaign -- he did say he managed to protect those elements he considers part of his future winning strategy -- and play the role he and his handlers have created for him. He is the adult in the room where children fight. He doesn't enter the fray but plays wise man referee. He has no real connection or passion for any outcome except "bipartisan" compromise. And all this is supposed to bring back the "independent" voters who deserted him during the 2010 midterm election.
What he doesn't see -- or thinks is irrelevant -- is that he and many Dems were thrown under the bus in 2010 by significant numbers of the Democratic base, by former Change We Can Believe In fans, by those who once saw him as capable of firing up the people to take back the country and our jobs from the global-military-industrial-security-financial-banking-corporate conglomerate of plutocrats and oligarchs who are now calling the shots on behalf of the narrow but powerful investor class. Obama now seems to be firmly on the side of the forces that are pushing almost every government and nation in the developed world into bankruptcy, austerity and a march to the ultimate destruction of any safety net that still exists, anywhere.
Obama has now come out -- at least to observers willing to emerge from denial -- as One of Them. He is now firmly in the privatizer-deficit hawk-eternal war-Wall Street pinball machine pusher camp, and there is no going back. And he has the perfect reptilian-brain scare tactic excuse to convince people he's out to snooker to vote for him again. After all, he's not as crazy as those other candidates, is he?
I sometimes wonder if the nuts are being marched out on purpose to make Obama seem like the only sane choice in 2012, because he has been such a good soldier for the corporatist cause. There are still so many who can't quite admit to themselves that an African-American of obvious intelligence who ran on hope and change is really nothing more than a shill for the global moneyed classes. Take off your blinders, people. I have.
More and more, I have to admit that I agree with a lot of what Chris Hedges has to say. As in,
"We must view the corporate capitalists who have seized control of our money, our food, our energy, our education, our press, our health care system and our governance as mortal enemies to be vanquished ... Only a revolution can save us now."
Being a lifelong Democrat, and having been heavily involved in the Democratic Party ever since the Howard Dean for president days, I never thought I'd ever feel this way at this point in my life. I've been elected to county and state party offices. I've worked hard for Dem candidates, including Obama. I've helped run a local DFA group since 2004. I've blogged on a daily basis in support of progressive and Democratic candidates, issues and causes. But I now don't see how I can continue to put party politics above conscience and support this president or what he is doing. I believe it is more important to be loyal to my principles -- long-time core Democratic principles -- that to be loyal to our president.
I don't know what I will do in 2012 as far as voting goes, but I know that I will concentrate on doing what I can until then to help expose the realities of the Obama agenda and urge others to pressure the president instead of falling into line as an Obama/OFA cheerleader. It doesn't feel good, but it feels right.