Perverted Priorities: One Year Later

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.


Martin Luther King Jr., April 4, 1967





One year after President Barack Obama’s historic election in the name of “change” and “hope,” Gallup and USA Today report that the U.S. citizenry’s initially high expectations of the Obama presidency have fallen along with the president’s popularity.


In November of 2008, 67 percent of the American population thought that the Obama administrations would be able to reduce unemployment.  By mid-October of 2009, just barely more than half (51 percent) believed that. 


In the month of the president’s election, 64 percent of Americans told Gallup and USA Today that the next White House would be able “to improve the health care system.” Fifty-eight (58) percent thought President Obama would be able to “bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan in way that’s not harmful to the U.S.


Eleven and a half months later, just 46 percent believed that Obama could improve health care.  The same exact percentage (46) thought the same way about Obama and Afghanistan (Susan Page, “Obama’s Election One Year Later,” USA Today, October 28, 2009, pp. 1A, 5A).


At one level, we might consider these reduced expectations something of a victory for the American corporate and imperial power elite.  Realistically or not, much of the majority U.S. working class populace wanted certain things from the Obama presidency. The things hoped for included increased employment opportunities and wages, a roll back of war and militarism, universal and adequate health care, rebuilt infrastructure, serious efforts to fix the environmental crisis, reduced inequality, and generally improved life circumstances for ordinary people.


The corporate and imperial ruling class that backed Obama’s campaign and staffed many of his key cabinet and other policymaking positions had different priorities for America. They wanted Obama to foster an illusion of democratic change that worked to prevent popular rebellion. They wanted the new administration to save and restore legitimacy to their damaged profits system and empire. They desired a public relations makeover along improved governance for American Empire and Inequality in the wake of the grossly incompetent, unpopular, and messianic-militarist Bush-Cheney administration and the related epic financial meltdown of September-October 2008.  They wanted the Obama’s “progressive” triumph to cloak a deeper underlying triumph of conservatism.  They wanted new and deceptive clothes for the persistence of the old regime.  They wanted a re-branding without a restructuring – without any serious questioning of underlying institutions, and ideologies. 




“Towards Making the Burdens Yet to Come More Bearable”


Two good places to get a sense of what the American establishment has expected from Obama are the editorial pages of The New York Times and the Washington Post   The real world ideological orientation of these two leading citadels of corporate-imperial ideology have nothing to do with the “leftist” project to which both papers are routinely and absurdly connected by fanatical right-wing propagandists like Bernard Goldberg, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh.  Strongly committed to the preservation of existing power relations, that orientation is suggested in a statement from the Times’ editorial board three weeks before Obama’s Inauguration. In a December 22, 2008 editorial entitled “The Printing Press Cure,” the Times explained that Obama had to walk a fine line in relation to the damaged domestic business order he was inheriting from George W. Bush. The next president needed, the Times felt, to embrace a level of government intervention that was adequate to save the profits system while distancing himself from promises that might encourage the citizenry to resist. “As president,” the Times lectured, “Mr. Obama will have to convey optimism without over-promising. He will have to inspire confidence, even in the absence of a dramatic turnaround – which is simply not on the cards.” The editorial ended on an interesting note: “While Mr. Obama must continue to level with the American people – the economy is unlikely to turn up until 2010 at the earliest, and even then it will probably rebound slowly – his near term moves will go a long way towards making the burdens yet to come more bearable.”


Translation: it was Obama’s job – on the model of Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the 1930s – to prevent the citizenry’s anger and struggles (under a dramatically failing capitalism) from coalescing into a popular rebellion. The Times’ editors felt that Obama’s proper role would be to stop potential “populist rage” and the deepening economic crisis (imposed by capital) from sparking a powerful new working class movement. To repeat the words of the Times’ editorial, it was all about “making the burdens yet to come more bearable.”