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The Obama Question

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

“What do you think of Obama?[1]

He is Barack Hussein Obama,

44th—and first black—President of the United States of America.

Nobel Peace-prize winner.

So-called leader of the free world.[2]

O-bomber.

The Drone Ranger.

Mr. Guántanamo.

Mr. extraordinary rendition.

Mr. N.S.A.

The whistle-blower hunter.[3]

Defender of the 0.1%.

The question above is posed in different ways, in different tones. It depends on the person posing it. If the person hates Obama—for any of a variety of reasons, into which I may go later, then the question is accompanied by a conspiratorial leer. The leer extends a hopeful olive branch, anticipating an enjoyable evening of exchanging highly questionable information about Obama and his purported policies.

If the person likes Obama, they usually hope that you don’t mention torture, the financial bailout, drones, Guantánamo, Israel or any of another host of issues on which Obama is decidedly not progressive. Even the ACA—called “Obamacare” by nearly everyone—which he would likely deem to be the major part of his legacy, crumples under more progressive scrutiny.

Heaven forfend you mention any of Obama’s campaign promises—from 2008 or 2012—because his failure to have accomplished any of them in the manner he’d promised is—according to these people—most definitely not his fault. It is the fault of the Republicans.

So, his detractors oppose everything he stands for and his supporters acknowledge that he sucks but it’s not his fault.

Whose fault is it then?

The short answer? The system sucks and good luck changing it.

That many high-ranking Republicans seem hell-bent on policies that benefit only themselves and their friends to the detriment of all others is abundantly clear. That this group also includes many Democrats is also clear. Just because only 93% of Democrats are assholes versus 95% of Republicans doesn’t make much difference to the casual observer.[4] The natural conclusion to which to come is that they’re all assholes and you won’t be off by much. Assuming this will equip you well for dealing with them all. At the least, not trusting any of them is a good start. But I digress.

Of course, if their policies benefit you, then you’ll think they’re a swell bunch of guys—and they are still, mostly, guys. But you’re in a small minority. The vast majority of people in the U.S. and the world have nearly nothing in common with their representatives, be they in the U.S. or Iran or Russia or China … or any of dozens of other countries that happily count themselves in the OECD. There are a few where the government seems to work for the people instead of the other way around—e.g. Switzerland and a handful of Scandinavian countries, perhaps—but not many of us are lucky enough to live there.

The U.S.. is definitely in the other category, where the people pretty much work for the government, but let’s not forget: the government, in turn, works for its own masters. But those masters are not us.[5]

Corporations are people, in the U.S. at least. Those are the real masters of the 21st century. It is they—and their ultra-exclusive owners—who wield the real power. They call themselves the masters of the universe and have yet to be proven wrong.

Obama: smart? dumb? a dupe? evil?

Which brings us back to Obama. He’s incredibly far removed from any one of us. He can very eloquently express viewpoints that sound as if they sympathize and even echo our own. But he’s lying. We’ll leave it to history to decide for sure whether he himself knows he’s lying—but I’m going to come out and write that anyone that smart is at least self-aware enough to know that what he says and what he does almost never line up.

I’m sure it’s frustrating to constantly have to say things that you don’t mean in order to get things done that you really want. Such is the life of a politician. It’s not easy convincing people to do things against their own best interests—or against basic morality. Which is why you have to lie to them so much.

Is Obama a dupe? No, I don’t think so. That’s giving him too much credit. It’s so easy to buy the story that he’s desperately trying to enact a progressive program in America while presiding over one of the greatest regressive swings in history. Do people think that he’s the Mr. Magoo of politics? That he accidentally swings the economy in the favor of the bankers and Wall Street while really, honestly and desperately trying to do the right thing for the vast majority of Americans? How bloody hopeful and simple-minded could you possibly be to believe that? Believing this fairy tale ensures only that Obama—or someone very much like him—will hoodwink you again.

It’s the system, stupid[6]

But we can substitute the name “Obama” with the name of any politician. I want to emphasize that I don’t think he’s special, or especially bad. He’s just the current president. He’s the same—more or less and for all practical purposes—as all the rest. He starts wars, he runs a drone-based, extra-judicial assassination program that is demonstrably criminal and evil, he lowers taxes, he gives gobs of money to large corporations (hello, health-insurance industry), he glorifies the military and showers it with endless cash and weapons programs, he allows torture while redefining it otherwise semantically, he embargoes and fights economic wars against helpless nations, he ignores climate change, expands fossil-fuel subsidies and he promulgates an arrogant trade program that is a finger in the eye of every nation in the world.

It goes on and on. Business as usual. What the hell is so different about this model versus the last one, objectively speaking?

Why hate Obama? Many seem to hate him because he is black. This can be the only reason because it’s literally the only thing that they objectively don’t like about him. This single reason is overwhelmingly influential in how people form an opinion of him that they ignore a veritable slew of reasons that they should like him, all political and policy-oriented in nature. Reasons that should, by all rights, be much more important to a person than his skin color, but there you have it—man is a frail creature and a fallen one.[7]

Anti-progressives should love Obama

Yes, they should! He’s done absolutely everything he could to make them love him.

Bankers like Obama; he does everything they like. Republicans hate him, but he does almost everything like a Republican. He funnels tons of cash to the richest in our land and neglects everything that would benefit the poor. During his entire administration (and part of Bush’s) all of the income increase has been captured by the top 1%. Everyone else went backward. Is this the mark of a progressive? Only in a country as broken as the U.S., perhaps.

Even the ACA is a sop to insurance companies—the far more progressive single-payer model was swept off the table by the Obama administration even before negotiations started. People don’t remember that he didn’t even fight for it; he never wanted it.

Obama has the sweetest gig in politics: everything he wants, the Republicans want the exact opposite with a religious zeal. So he can say he wants the most outlandishly progressive things and he is nearly assured that the Republicans will deliver America the exact opposite. He looks like he’s trying to save humanity, and the Republicans deliver the regressive program he actually wanted.

Support is opposition; war is peace;

His recent support of net neutrality is a good example. What are the odds that the Internet will be regulated as a utility with the Republicans in charge for the next two years? Vanishingly small. What are the odds that it will happen if Obama wants it to happen? Zero percent.

The exact same goes for the much-ballyhooed climate agreement with China. More smoke and mirrors that looks progressive, but is all about meeting voluntary targets. China will probably actually meet theirs. The U.S.? With a Republican-controlled Congress and Senate? Not a fucking chance by Peter Lee (CounterPunch). But Obama gets the progressive praise for “trying”.[8]

So why does Obama support these things now, when he was all wishy-washy about it before? Hard to say.

I would like to think that it’s because Obama has found a backbone and realized that he has nothing to lose by finally standing up for what he believes in. I’ve always said that he should have been doing exactly that, that he could at least stand for what he believes in rather than compromising all the time and getting nothing out of it.

But if you have a hint of cynicism in you, you’ll be gut-laughing at my naiveté right now. Hell, I’m laughing at me for even having written it. This is the story that Obama is selling. Do not buy it.

I think that it’s much more likely that this is yet another example of something that Obama doesn’t really believe in but that he thinks he has to say in order to seal his legacy as a progressive president—because history has little do with reality, and American history even less so.

Or maybe he really is just manipulating the Republicans into doing what they all really want: the further privatization of America and the world, the promulgation of the single-minded and simplistic breed of capitalism that we seem to be stuck with.

Is he ineffective because he’s stupid? Or too smart? Too principled? His opposition is too evil? Is he actually effective?

Who knows? Who cares?

How many more years do we have to waste thinking about this?

What matters is that he is not part of the solution for the real problems that we have. That’s all you need to know, I think.


[1] A long while back, a reader asked me if I couldn’t write an article about Obama. Over three months later and I was finally inspired to do so. Unlike the two examples I give in the article, he was actually genuinely interested to know. Apologies for the delay.
[2] I suspect strongly that he only called that—at least non-sarcastically—in the U.S.
[3] With a nod to Hans Landa’s nickname in Inglourious Basterds
[4] Totally making these numbers up—but they feel right.
[5] I’m going out on a limb and assuming that you’re not in the 1% or the 0.1% or the 0.01% and gracing my blog with your presence. And if you are and haven’t been offended away? Fantastic!
[6] To paraphrase James Carville.
[7] To paraphrase the always delightful, pure of hatred and sorely missed Alexander Cockburn.
[8] Hell, hard-core Obama supporters probably give Obama credit for landing that probe on the comet himself. Even though it’s an E.S.A. venture.