[Marxism] Obama's delusion

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Oct 14 16:52:59 MDT 2009

Obama’s Delusion
David Bromwich

Long before he became president, there were signs in Barack Obama of a 
tendency to promise things easily and compromise often. He broke a 
campaign vow to filibuster a bill that immunised telecom outfits against 
prosecution for the assistance they gave to domestic spying. He kept his 
promise from October 2007 until July 2008, then voted for the compromise 
that spared the telecoms. As president, he has continued to support 
their amnesty. It was always clear that Obama, a moderate by 
temperament, would move to the middle once elected. But there was 
something odd about the quickness with which his website mounted a 
slogan to the effect that his administration would look to the future 
and not the past. We all do. Then again, we don’t: the past is part of 
the present. Reduced to a practice, the slogan meant that Obama would 
rather not bring to light many illegal actions of the Bush 
administration. The value of conciliation outweighed the imperative of 
truth. He stood for ‘the things that unite not divide us’. An unpleasant 
righting of wrongs could be portrayed as retribution, and Obama would 
not allow such a misunderstanding to get in the way of his ecumenical goals.

The message about uniting not dividing was not new. It was spoken in 
almost the same words by Bill Clinton in 1993; and after his midterm 
defeat in 1994, Clinton borrowed Republican policies in softened form – 
school dress codes, the repeal of welfare. The Republican response was 
unappreciative: they launched a three-year march towards impeachment. 
Obama’s appeals for comity and his many conciliatory gestures have met 
with a uniform negative. If anything, the Republicans are treating him 
more roughly than Clinton. Obama appears securer only because the 
mainstream media, which hated Clinton beyond reason, have showed up on 
his side. Americans, however, attend to a congeries of substitute media, 
at the centre of which lie Fox News Radio and Fox TV, the Murdoch 
stations. From that source, in the late spring and summer, a message 
percolated through a crowd of 20 million listeners, a message that was 
coherent, detailed and subversive of public order. I listened a little 
every day, as I drove to work and back, and I saw what was coming. The 
talk aimed to delegitimate the president, and it gave promise of an 
insurrection. A floating army of the angry and resentful were being 
urged to express contempt for Barack Obama, and to exhibit their loyalty 
to principles they felt in danger of losing – the right to bear arms, 
the right not to pay for health insurance. When representatives from 
Congress addressed town-hall meetings in the late summer, men in several 
states came armed with guns in leg holsters. Their local grievance was 
hostility to Obama’s plan for healthcare, a plan which was detested 
sight unseen, and which has still not been explained with sufficient 
clarity to remedy the distrust of the rational. (Clinton made the 
mistake of handing the construction of a national health system to his 
wife and a group of advisers she consulted in private. Obama, to avoid 
that error, left the framing and elaboration of a bill to five 
committees of Congress: an experiment in dissociation that rendered him 
blameless but also clueless beyond the broadest of rhetorical 
commitments.) But beneath all the accusations was a disturbance no 
ordinary answer could alleviate. The America these people grew up with 
was being taken away from them. That formulation occurred again and 
again on talk radio. Barack Obama had become the adequate symbol of 
forces that were swindling the people of their birthright. ‘This guy’ – 
another common locution – didn’t have a right to give laws to Americans.

When the Clinton impeachment was going forward, Obama was a young 
Chicago politician with other things on his mind. He could have learned 
something then about how the Republicans work. The most questionable of 
his appeals in the primary campaign against Hillary Clinton was the 
endlessly repeated bromide with which he dissociated himself from ‘the 
partisan bickering of the 1990s’ – a piece of spurious evenhandedness if 
there ever was one. Bill Clinton, who gained his national stature in the 
conservative Democratic Leadership Council, had been as much a prudent 
adjuster and adapter as Obama. The fury of the attack on Clinton, which 
started a few months into his presidency, was not the bickering of two 
rival parties exactly comparable in point of incivility. Yet such was 
Obama’s convenient picture of the recent past.


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