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