The (Fading) Call of Obama

Now that Barack Obama is being exposed like never before as a tool and agent of concentrated wealth, business class rule, and militarism, 2009 is ending on a distinct note of liberal disenchantment. His "progressive base" is restive over his actions to an unprecedented (to use Obama’s favorite word [1]) degree as the president of "Yes we can" has morphed (as widely predicted on "hard left") into the pallid symbol of "No We can’t – as the clarion of "change" has emerged as another Democratic office-holder whose outwardly progressive campaign pledges translate into corrupt, corporate and imperial nothingness in the real world of power.




The signs of liberal and progressive anger at Obama ("The Empire’s New Clothes," as I described immediately him after his election to the presidency) are hard to miss. The former sixties radical and "Progressives for Obama" (PFO) co-founder Tom Hayden announced that he was "scraping the Obama sticker off my car" after the president gave his West Point Afghan War Speech three weeks ago. [2] Formed by such leading left-liberal lights as Hayden, Bill Fletcher, Cornwell West, and Barbara Ehrenreich, PFO has dropped its president’s name from the organization, re-christened "Progressive America Rising." [3]


The editor of the liberal-left magazine The Progressive has noted that Obama’s West Point oration read as if had been penned by "Bush’s speechwriters"[4], connecting The One to the liberal-loathed image of Dubya – consistent with the left commentator Alexander Cockburn’s observation that "war [is] war, whether the battle standard is being waved by a white moron from Midland, Texas or an eloquent black man from Chicago."[5]


The congressional Black Caucus has undertaken some criticism of, and confrontation with, the first black president for placing "Wall Street’s agenda" above the needs of black and other minority citizens. [6]


The ACLU recently issued a blistering indictment of Obama’s handling of Bush administration war crimes the ACLU said the Obama White House refused to prosecute and went to extraordinary lengths to cover up. [7]


There has been considerable liberal and progressive criticism of the weak, corporate-captive climate "deal" (with no binding restrictions on carbon emissions from the industrialized states that have created the climate crisis) that Obama came back from Copenhagen with in mid December of 2009 – an outcome that was already indicated in the administration’s previous efforts to undermine serious global climate reform.[8]  The criticism is well founded, for, as the leading climate activist and intellectual George Monbiot notes, "The immediate reason for the failure of the [Copenhagen] talks can be summarized in two words: Barack Obama. The man elected to put aside childish things proved to be as susceptible to immediate self-interest as any other politician. Just as George Bush did in the approach to the Iraq war, Obama went behind the backs of the UN and most of its member states and assembled a coalition of the willing to strike a deal which outraged the rest of the world. This was then presented to poorer nations without negotiation; either they signed it or they lost the adaptation funds required to help them survive the first few decades of climate breakdown."[9]


Many left-liberal activists, bloggers, politicians, and organizations – including even the often pathetically Obama-obedient MoveOn – are arguing that no bill at all is preferable to the weak, stripped-down and corporate-captive "health reform" (aptly described by even the centrist Democrat Howard Dean as a "gift to the insurance companies"!) currently being pushed by Obama and other top Democrats.[10]  A recent e-mail circulated to tens of thousands by the progressive Democrat activist Jane Hamsher (Firedog Lake) says that "The Senate’s [Obama-endorsed] health care bill must be killed…This is not reform. This is a con job."


A recent essay on the historically Obama-happy liberal Web site The Huffington Post concludes as follows: "I don’t honestly know what this president believes. But I believe if he doesn’t figure it out soon, start enunciating it, and start fighting for it, he’s not only going to give American families hungry for security a series of half-loaves where they could have had full ones, but he’s going to set back the Democratic Party and the progressive movement by decades, because the average American is coming to believe that what they’re seeing right now is ‘liberalism,’ and they don’t like what they see. I don’t, either."[11]





Will the liberal and progressive disillusionment with Obama continue and deepen? Let’ hope so. Few things have been less pleasant to behold in the last few years than what the radical filmmaker and author John Pilger has termed "the Call of Obama" to people of "liberal sensibilities."


"It is not unlike a dog whistle," Pilger noted last October: "inaudible to most, irresistible to the besotted and boneheaded." As an emblematic early example, Pilger quoted a comment from the noted liberal Hollywood superstar George Clooney, who said the following on the Charlie Rose Show in December of 2006: "He walks into a room and you want to follow him somewhere, anywhere."[12] 





There have been many examples since Clooney, including numerous Obama followers with considerably more elevated intellectual qualifications than Clooney. One such example is Robert Kuttner, the leading left-liberal public intellectual and editor of the weekly liberal policy and politics journal The American Prospect. Kuttner’s dreams of Obama were summarized in a rapidly written book published just before the election under the title Obama’s Challenge: America‘s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency. [13] In this volume, Kuttner wrote about "how great Presidents overcome great crises" and "what President Obama must do to redeem his own promise and the promise of America." With the U.S. facing "the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression," Kuttner argued, "our next president will need to become a truly transformative leader – like [Franklin] Roosevelt and Lincoln."  In Kuttner’s view, Obama had the stuff of which greatness is made: the new president "unmistakably possesses unusual gifts of character and leadership."


Obama, Kuttner fantasized, could "be that rare transformational leader," Kuttner claimed, because "his personal odyssey, writings, and speeches suggest a capacity to truly move people and shift perceptions as well as bridge differences…they suggest more a principled idealist than a cynic." Consistent with this Great Man approach to history – Obama’s  Challenge was dedicated to "presidential historian" Doris Kearns Goodwin – Kuttner’s book contained a chapter dedicated to the proposition that "great presidents" (like Lincoln,  Jack Kennedy,  Johnson and Obama) "animate" and "educate" the "people on behalf of expansive uses of progressive government."  By using "the moral power of the presidency" to "lead by teaching and the force of [their] own character," Kuttner argued, these Heaven-sent heads-of-state show the way toward progressive change from on high.  Kuttner fantasized that the recession Obama inherited from Bush would spark him to apply his "truly transformative" self in progressive and even "radical" ways.


He boldly blew through a rich historical record indicating that the future president was a "deeply conservative" agent of empire and inequality, incorporated – a willing tool of corporate-managed fake democracy and military, state-capitalist re-branding whose main challenge was to capture, contain, and tamp down (certainly not encourage) progressive sentiments amongst the restive citizenry.[14]


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