[Marxism] Glenn Greenwald: Barack Obama is gutting the core principles of the Democratic party

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jul 21 15:50:14 MDT 2011


Barack Obama is gutting the core principles of the Democratic party

The president's attacks on America's social safety net are destroying 
the soul of the Democratic party's platform

by Glenn Greenwald

In 2005, American liberals achieved one of their most significant 
political victories of the last decade. It occurred with the resounding 
rejection of George W Bush's campaign to privatise social security.

Bush's scheme would have gutted the crux of that entitlement programme 
by converting it from what it has been since the 1940s – a universal 
guarantor of minimally decent living conditions for America's elderly – 
into a Wall Street casino and bonanza.

Progressive activists and bloggers relentlessly attacked both the plan 
and underlying premises (the myth that social security faces a 
"crisis"), spawning nationwide opposition. Only a few months after he 
unveiled his scheme to great fanfare, Bush was forced to sheepishly 
withdraw it, a defeat he described as his biggest failure.

That victory established an important political fact. While there are 
very few unifying principles for the Democratic party, one (arguably the 
primary one) is a steadfast defence of basic entitlement programs for 
the poor and elderly – social security, Medicare and Medicaid – from the 
wealthy, corporatised factions that have long targeted them for cuts.

But in 2009, clear signs emerged that President Obama was eager to 
achieve what his right-predecessor could not: cut social security. 
Before he was even inaugurated, Obama echoed the right's manipulative 
rhetorical tactic: that (along with Medicare) the programme was in 
crisis and producing "red ink as far as the eye can see." 
President-elect Obama thus vowed that these crown jewels of his party 
since the New Deal would be, as Politico reported, a "central part" of 
his efforts to reduce the deficit.

The next month, his top economic adviser, the Wall Street-friendly Larry 
Summers, also vowed specific benefit cuts to Time magazine. He then 
stacked his "deficit commission" with long-time advocates of social 
security cuts.

Many progressives, ebullient over the election of a Democratic 
president, chose to ignore these preliminary signs, unwilling to believe 
that their own party's leader was as devoted as he claimed to attacking 
the social safety net. But some were more realistic. The popular liberal 
blogger and economist Duncan "Atrios" Black, who was one of the leaders 
of the campaign against Bush's privatisation scheme, vowed in response 
to these early reports:

     The left ... will create an epic 360-degree shitstorm if Obama and 
the Dems decide that cutting social security benefits is a good idea.

Fast forward to 2011: it is now beyond dispute that President Obama not 
only favours, but is the leading force in Washington pushing for, 
serious benefit cuts to both social security and Medicare.

This week, even as GOP leaders offered schemes to raise the debt ceiling 
with no cuts, the White House expressed support for the Senate's 
so-called "gang of six" plan that includes substantial cuts in those 

The same Democratic president who supported the transfer of $700bn to 
bail out Wall Street banks, who earlier this year signed an extension of 
Bush's massive tax cuts for the wealthy, and who has escalated America's 
bankruptcy-inducing posture of Endless War, is now trying to reduce the 
debt by cutting benefits for America's most vulnerable – at the exact 
time that economic insecurity and income inequality are at all-time highs.

Where is the "epic shitstorm" from the left which Black predicted? With 
a few exceptions – the liberal blog FiredogLake has assembled 50,000 
Obama supporters vowing to withhold re-election support if he follows 
through, and a few other groups have begun organising as well – it's 
nowhere to be found.

Therein lies one of the most enduring attributes of Obama's legacy: in 
many crucial areas, he has done more to subvert and weaken the left's 
political agenda than a GOP president could have dreamed of achieving. 
So potent, so overarching, are tribal loyalties in American politics 
that partisans will support, or at least tolerate, any and all policies 
their party's leader endorses – even if those policies are ones they 
long claimed to loathe.

This dynamic has repeatedly emerged in numerous contexts. Obama has 
continued Bush/Cheney terrorism policies – once viciously denounced by 
Democrats – of indefinite detention, renditions, secret prisons by 
proxy, and sweeping secrecy doctrines.

He has gone further than his predecessor by waging an unprecedented war 
on whistleblowers, seizing the power to assassinate U.S. citizens 
without due process far from any battlefield, massively escalating drone 
attacks in multiple nations, and asserting the authority to unilaterally 
prosecute a war (in Libya) even in defiance of a Congressional vote 
against authorising the war.

And now he is devoting all of his presidential power to cutting the 
entitlement programmes that have been the defining hallmark of the 
Democratic party since Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. The silence from 
progressive partisans is defeaning – and depressing, though sadly 

The nature of American politics is that once a policy is removed from 
the partisan wars – once it is adopted by the leadership of both parties 
– it is removed from mainstream debate and fortified as bipartisan 
consensus. That is why false claims in the run-up to the Iraq war, 
endorsed by both parties, received so little mainstream journalistic 
scrutiny. And it's why the former Bush lawyer and right-wing ideologue 
Jack Goldsmith – back in May 2009 – celebrated in The New Republic the 
fact that Obama was doing more to strengthen Bush/Cheney terrorism 
policies than his former bosses could have ever achieved: by embracing 
the very terrorism approach he once denounced, Obama was converting it 
from rightwing radicalism into into the official dogma of both parties, 
and forcing his supporters to defend what were, until 2009, the symbols 
of rightwing evil.

Identically, Obama is now on the verge of injecting what until recently 
was the politically toxic and unattainable dream of Wall Street and the 
American right – attacks on the nation's social safety net – into the 
heart and soul of the Democratic party's platform. Those progressives 
who are guided more by party loyalty than actual belief will seamlessly 
transform from virulent opponents of such cuts into their primary defenders.

And thus will Obama succeed – yet again – in gutting not only core 
Democratic policies, but also the identity and power of the American Left.

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