Obama, the Tea Party, and the Ugly American Liberal Intellectual

The “Real Enemy”


My recent completion (with co-author Anthony DiMaggio) of a critical study of the Tea Party phenomenon and the epic mythology surrounding it in the dominant corporate-crafted media-politics culture[1] that hatched that phenomenon sometimes affords me an interesting opportunity to gauge the narrow imagination of the ugly American liberal intellectual. “Oh,” that intellectual says, reflecting on my two last previous books – critical Left studies of the Barack Obama phenomenon and presidency and the massive media-politics mythology surrounding Obama[2] – “good for you.  Nice to see you change your colors and go after the real enemy – the right wing. You should do a talk and book- signing here on my campus. I’ll tell my students to go and get extra-credit for writing up your talk.” There were no such invitations for either of those “Obama books.”3


I could certainly use the book event and I like to talk to students but the liberal intellectual (an academic in this case) has it wrong about me and my new (co-authored) book. There’s no change of world view at all involved in my penning of a volume about/against the Republican Tea Party. I have a long history of critically analyzing and resisting the American right before and since the rise of “the Tea Party.”  I’ve never pulled my punches on the rightmost sections of the narrow American political spectrum. My first bookEmpire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (2004) was loaded with heavily annotated diatribes against George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Karl Rove, FOX News, Grover Norquist and the rest of the right-Republican political and noise machine.  Just because I am nauseated by the nothingness of liberals and Democrats doesn’t mean I ever forget or dismiss the threat posed by the pseudo- conservative right. 


A Democratic Party Mesmerized by Centrist Precepts


More importantly and to the point of this essay, there’s no real intellectual or political discontinuity in moving my book-length critical focus from the Obama phenomenon to the Tea Party phenomenon.  A newly re-empowered right wing is what you get when no vibrant progressive left exists to channel legitimate popular anger at the persistent making of American policy in accord with the unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire that control Washington (regardless of which of the two reigning business parties holds nominal power there).  Obama has been both reflection and agent of the dangerous shut-down of progressive forces – dangerous because popular resentment abhors a progressive vacuum and will flow into dodgy authoritarian and regressive directions without real and serious alternatives and avenues of expression on the left.


Why did the Republican Party and its right wing Tea Party front triumph so handily in the November elections of 2010? Along with the terrible economy and the significant migration of corporate political money to the right last year, a significant part of the explanation lay in Obama and the Democrats’ demoralization and demobilization of the Democrats’ base over the first two years of Obama’s presidency. Progressive author and blogger Les Leopold put it well on the left-liberal Web site Huffington Post:


‘It’s open season on Obama, whom so many hoped would lead us out of the neoliberal wilderness. He was once a community organizer and ought to know how working people have suffered through a generation of tax breaks for the rich, Wall Street deregulation and unfair competition. When the economy crashed, he was in perfect position to limit the unjustified pay levels on Wall Street…Instead we got a multi-trillion dollar bailout for Wall Street, no health care reform, no serious financial reforms whatsoever, record unemployment, and political gridlock that will be with us for years to come.’4


Liberals and progressives had little basis for thinking that Obama would guide them out of the wilderness.5 As I demonstrated in great detail in late 2007 and early 2008[6] (and as I first started showing in late July of 2004[7]), U.S. senator and presidential candidate Obama was what left political commentator Lance Selfa called “more of a pro-business, ‘centrist’ politician than the radical conjured up in the fantasies of the likes of Glenn Beck.”8 Nevertheless, by the fall of 2010, a large number of Democrats and independent swing voters surely agreed with Leopold that “Obama hasn’t produced the reforms he promised, while embracing policies like Bush’s ‘war on terror,’ and the Afghanistan war that they abhor.”9 For a large number of core Democratic supporters, mainstream Democratic liberalism had failed to live up to its idealistic campaign rhetoric.10 Right-wing and “mainstream” media contributed mightily to the perception of disappointment, but Obama and the Democrats would have been well advised to look at themselves to understand the disgruntlement of the Democratic “base.” For they have acted all too perfectly in accord with former Richard Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips’s onetime description of the Democratic Party as “history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party.”11 As Selfa explained in October 2010:


‘The Democrats had large majorities in both houses of Congress, including, for a period of time, a 60-vote majority in the Senate. They had the potential to reset mainstream politics for a generation. Yet, with the Obama administration in the lead, they mainly assumed the role as savior of the corporate system that was teetering on the edge of the economic abyss in late 2008 and early 2009.


Since then, the Obama administration has bent over backwards to placate business and its right-wing critics while ladling out thin gruel to its most fervent supporters…The stimulus plan was too small to lift the economy out of its deep hole. And the administration trimmed it further in a largely futile attempt to win “bipartisan” support…Unemployment continued to rise under Obama, feeding the public perception that “government,”  and “government spending,” was ineffectual. If the crisis of 2008 had discredited neoliberal nostrums, the continued crisis of 2009 and 2010 appeared to discredit liberal, “big government” solutions. …Today, the administration proclaims the necessity of “deficit reduction,” “entitlement reform” (aka, cutting Medicare and Social Security), and austerity. This largely reflects the administration’s attempt to carry out big business’s agenda.’12


One did not have to be a radical to be bothered by Obama’s centrist, business-friendly betrayal of the Democratic Party’s work

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