With vague allusions to populist promises and admonition of his stubborn Republican opposition, the Great Capitulator ramped up his act like it was 2008 all over again. Memories of that agonizingly nauseating year abounded as mainstream liberals sang his praises. Among others, Michael Moore, of Ramsey Clark endorsement fame, was live on twitter with this: “Let’s give him an A- on this one. He lost points for saying that the IraqWar has made us “safer” & “more respected” around the world.” He gets just a minor reduction there for completely losing the “insight” he once claimed to have about the Iraq War being misguided, but otherwise gets Moore’s approval.
It is absolutely confounding how liberals have repeatedly fallen for this president. He has thrived off of vague pronouncements and innuendo, only making concrete political promises on issues with overwhelming popular support, at which point he generally manufactures some semblance of fight before rolling over dead in quick order. How many years of this before the Michael Moore’s of the world get it? The problem is not that the president’s hands are tied by an overzealous Republican establishment; rather, he is confined to a contrived role in a rigged political act designed to mimic representative democracy. The script goes like this: he postures as the people’s president, while the opposition scolds him as being a liberal elitist. Then, they bicker about all things innocuous, while carrying on unabated with the core business of shredding the constitution, stifling dissent, and maintaining the Empire. Obama’s new vaguely populist rhetoric and seemingly forceful tone is all a bad rerun. The Washington Post declared this to be the emergence of “Obama 2.0,” but they got it wrong. It’s all the same Hope and Change Pony Show.
With each year of Obama’s successful duping of the liberal establishment, the center-point of accepted political opinion gets driven further to the right. In this address, he bills his two greatest accomplishments as getting Bin Laden and saving GM: an extrajudicial murder and a bailout conditioned with wage and benefit reductions for future employees. He blithely touted his circumvention of international law and due process in the bin Laden killing. Meanwhile, he goes on to trumpet his saber rattling vis-à-vis Iran, and his illegal use of drones in Pakistan and Yemen, while speaking of an “ironclad – and I mean Ironclad” relationship to the contemptible regime in Israel. It is quite disconcerting to know that respected “”liberal” commentators could characterize a speech as “populist” despite all of this dastardly retrograde rhetoric.
The praise did not stop with Michael Moore. David Corn from the once respectable Mother Jones had this to say: “Obama is pitching a patriotic, quasi-populist progressivism (while conceding the need for deficit reduction and government cost-efficiencies). Either he doesn’t quite get the concept of “quasi” or we can count him in the ranks of the duped. In his coverage on Twitter he said: “Progressives can get too bogged down in critique. Obama showed how to criticize while reaching higher.” While it is difficult to discern from a 140-letter tweet, the thrust of this statement seems to be that far-reaching critiques are not acceptable. His reasoning goes that ideologues are archaic and inherently divisive. Anyone who breaks with the theme of unity is a party pooper. In taking this line, the president and his supporters conflate reasoned dissent with the knee-jerk rejectionist posture of the outrageous Republican establishment. Those that demand “too much” of the president are viewed with equal contempt by the increasingly base liberal establishment.
What these candy-ass liberals fail to understand is that we cannot be united with a 1% whose recklessness and avidity knows no bounds. The super-rich have unequivocally demonstrated that their interests lie elsewhere. They have spent decades lobbying for deregulation and trade “liberalization” that has allowed them to displace millions of American jobs while reducing the quality of millions of others. Meanwhile, they preyed on working Americans with their sub-prime and Adjustable Rate Mortgages, and then shook the whole house of cards by repackaging those lousy investments into fancy financial instruments, thus provoking a recession that is ongoing for most of the 99% of us. The Occupy Movement grew out of rage against these monsters, not out of any desire to move in with them. A responsive and thoughtful president would be railing against them, not tidily talking about a “togetherness” that the 1% has incessantly rejected.
Nonetheless, liberals will argue that the president adequately addressed inequality with his token references to economic fairness and his advocacy of a Buffet Tax. The latter proposal is quite clearly a ploy on his part, as he knows the Republican congress would never seriously consider it. He gets to posture as a liberal without ever having to actually enact a progressive measure, per the norm. If he really had any desire to equalize the tax code, he could have done it during his first two years, when he had a strong party majority in both houses of Congress. Meanwhile, if he had the determination, he could ram through such legislation in the current climate of populist upheaval, despite the current Congress of stooges and charlatans. However, it would be extremely naïve to expect the president to suddenly cease being the servile sort that he is.
One could reasonably argue that the proposal to establish a “Financial Crimes Unit” amounts to a progressive initiative that is praiseworthy. Indeed, one cannot imagine a Republican president bothering with such a measure. However, Obama is merely building on what has been a very minimal response to the financial crisis thus far. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform bill barely began to scratch the surface: its primary purpose so far being that it provides government with alternative avenues to taxpayer bailouts should banks face liquidity issues in the future. The more far-reaching and prescient reforms, such as resurrection of Glass-Steagall and breaking up the monolithic corporate banks, have not been serious policy considerations by this administration.
That makes two progressive-leaning proposals, delivered in the president’s typically vague form, all set for future abandonment. Meanwhile, you can add his support for fracking and “school choice” to the list of regressive positions in this State of the Union. On the former issue, he calls for an ambitious increase in the refinement of natural gas. Despite widespread documentation of the hazards posed to drinking water and the preponderance of disease in and around gas fields, Obama decided to tell the nation: “The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.” On “school choice,” a moniker for school privatization via charters or vouchers, he elicits inspiration from his home-state’s treasured political icon: “I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed: That Government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more. That’s why my education reform offers more competition, and more control for schools and States.” Here, he is merely repeating talking points directly from corporate lobbyists that have used school choice as cover for their efforts to attack public schools, break up teachers unions, and to maliciously profit from the newly burgeoning education “industry.” Obama does suggest willingness to “stop teaching to the test,” though this is probably more of his vacuous pandering to common progressive causes. He might make a half-hearted effort at some aesthetic change, but will do nothing to stave off the ongoing looting of the public schools. With Arne Duncan, the old Chicago Charter School champion, still serving as Secretary of Education, it is tough to imagine any diversion from the current privatization thrust.
The only rational conclusion from this year’s speech is that this is, indeed, the same old Obama. This is the same unrepentant militarist that was elected in 2008, the same prosecutor of illegal wars in Pakistan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen; the same authoritarian that signed the NDAA, thus codifying his immoral and unconstitutional detention powers; the same murderer of American civilians: the president who has dutifully played his role as supervisor of this descendant and morally decaying power. As this has yet to become a full-fledged dictatorship, the president must appeal to his subjects’ finer sensibilities on occasion. In this, he excels. Even after three years of the same old dog and pony show, he is still proving adept at duping the diffident liberal mainstream.