Published on Friday, January 22, 2010 by CommonDreams.org
How to Squander the Presidency in One Year
Hey, Conan Obama: How About Now? Can You Hear Us Now?
by David Michael Green
There's only one political party in the entire world that is so inept, cowardly and bungling that it could manage to simultaneously lick the boots of Wall Street bankers and then get blamed by the voters for being flaming revolutionary socialists.
It's the same party that has allowed the opposition to go on a thirty year scorched earth campaign, stealing everything in sight from middle and working class voters, and yet successfully claim to be protecting ‘real Americans' from out-of-touch elites.
It's the same party that could run a decorated combat hero against a war evader in 1972, only to be successfully labeled as national security wimps.
Just to be sure, it then did the exact same thing again in 2004.
It's the same party that stood by silently while two presidential elections in a row were stolen away from them.
How ‘bout dem Dems, eh?
One year ago today, there was real question as to what could possibly be the future of the Republican Party in America. That's changed a bit now.
And, speaking of ‘change', the one kind that Barack Obama did actually deliver this year was not that which most voters had in mind after listening to him use the word incessantly, all throughout 2008. Obama and his colleagues have now managed to bring the future of the Democratic Party into question, just a year after it won two smashing victories in a row.
Personally, I'm not real bothered by that. Today's Democrats are, almost without exception, embarrassing hacks who deserved to get stomped a long time ago.
What really upsets me, however, is what these fools have allowed to be done to the name of progressivism, and to the country.
Barack Obama has now, in just a year's time, become the single most inept president perhaps in all of American history, and certainly in my lifetime. Never has so much political advantage been pissed away so rapidly, and what's more in the context of so much national urgency and crisis. It's astonishing, really, to contemplate how much has been lost in a single year.
It was hilarious, of course, when Michelle Bachmann invoked the Charge of the Light Brigade at a rally against "Obama's" (has he ever really owned it?) health care "initiative" (isn't that too strong a word to use?), quite oblivious to the fact that the actual historical event was one of history's greatest debacles. Obama, on the other hand, seems to be actually reliving the famous cock-up in the flesh. Except, of course, that he doesn't really "charge" at anything. He just talks about things, thinks about things a real long time, defers to others on things, and waits around for things to maybe happen.
This week, though, something actually did happen. Alas, not precisely what the president had in mind, however.
But the election in Massachusetts was only slightly less inevitable than the sun rising in the east each morning. It was the product of an amazing collection of abysmal choices and practices over the last year that has produced a meltdown of equally amazing proportions for this president and his party. It is fitting that it comes on the anniversary of the president's inauguration, a moment filled with so much hope for so many just a year ago.
What has Obama - this Conan O'Brien of presidents - done wrong in order to produce this devastating outcome? The short answer is: Just about everything imaginable.
* He does not lead. Americans, especially in times of crisis, want their daddy-president to pick a point on the horizon and lead them to it. Often - especially in the short term - they don't even care that much which point it is. They will happily follow a president whose policies they oppose if he will but lead.
* And if he will demonstrate some conviction. I have never seen a president so utterly lacking in passion. This man literally doesn't even seem to care about himself, let alone this or that policy issue. He doesn't seem to have any strong opinions on anything, a sure prescription for presidential failure.
* He has therefore let Congress ‘lead' on nearly every issue, another surefire mistake. Instead of demanding that they pass real stimulus legislation - which would have really stimulated the economy, big-time, and right now - he let those dickheads on the Hill just load up a big pork party blivet of a bill with all the pet projects they could find, designed purely to benefit their personal standing with the voters at home, rather than to actually produce jobs for Americans. And on health care, his signature issue, he did the same thing. "You guys write it, and I'll sign the check." Could there possibly be a greater prescription for failure than allowing a bunch of the most venal people on the planet to cobble together a 2,000 page monstrosity that entirely serves their interests and those of the people whose campaign bribes put them in office?
* Another possible strategic move even stupider than deferring to Congress to write major legislation is to cozy up with the least popular people on the planet - including, in fact, the real-life granny killers. Got an economy that is so raw it's leaving thousands in literal peril of losing their lives? Why not draft some legislation to bail-out the people who created that mess and guarantee that they retain their multimillion dollar bonuses?!?! You know, the same folks who are always talking about how great capitalism is and how important it is to take risks! The same ones who are always telling us how awful the government is - the same government that saved them from extinction. Those folks. That's right, bail out with outrageous bonuses the very people who need it least and who caused billions of people around the planet to suffer, while leaving everyone else to fend for themselves! That'll raise your presidential job approval ratings every time! And while you're at it, bring in the much beloved health insurance and pharmaceutical corporate lobbyists, and negotiate a deal with them to craft your high profile health care legislation! What voter can't get behind that?
* Another brilliant presidential tactic is to be such a Mr. Happy Nice Face that you acknowledge no enemies for the country, or even yourself. Not the health care corporate vampires who suck the blood out of Americans from San Diego to Bangor, providing absolutely no value-added health service whatsoever, while denying treatment to deathly ill human beings at every opportunity, all to rake in billions more in profits. Not the reckless pirates on Wall Street who bet all our money on insane gambles that wrecked the global economy, took government bail-out money to survive, and yet are still drowning in bonuses as rewards. Not the Republican Party who spent three decades downsizing the middle class, plunging the country into wars based on lies, deregulating every protection in sight, fattening up corporate cronies, wrecking the environment, trashing the Constitution and polarizing the country politically. And not even a catastrophic climate disaster speeding toward the planet with relentless determination. No! We must all be happy and talk nice! No bad guys. Not even the bad guys can be bad guys.
* A related brilliant move is to mobilize a giant army of passionate volunteers dedicated to putting you in the White House, and then do nothing with them once you get there, other than taking them completely for granted and never calling upon them to do anything in support of your agenda. Be sure to deflate their enthusiasm in every way possible.
* Even more importantly, if you're trying to run your presidency into the ground you'll definitely want to avoid mobilizing the general public behind your agenda. To make sure that you don't repeat the great legislative victories of FDR or LBJ or (unfortunately) Reagan or (really unfortunately) Little Bush, never use their method of appealing directly to the people. Never express your legislative program as a moral imperative, a great calling to the nation. Never attempt to rally the public behind your cause. Never express any urgency. And never call upon them to demand that Congress pass your bills. Then, you can rest assured they won't!
* And let's take it up a whole ‘nuther level, while we're on the subject. A successful president is one who articulates a strong and compelling narrative for the nation. So, in your quest to avoid rising even to mediocrity, be sure to leave a great big gaping canyon where that whole narrative thing is supposed to go. No New Deal, no Great Society, no New Frontier or War on Terror for you. Nope! Just a thousand little projects with little non-solutions to big problems. Hey, why not inject yourself into Cambridge, Massachusetts community police politics while you're at it! Or the New York State Democratic Party gubernatorial primary! Or you could deliberate for weeks about which breed of dog to get for your kids! That's a great use of the president's political capital!
* Another great trick for crashing a presidency is to pick all the wrong priorities to ‘fight' for. Imagine, for example, if FDR had substituted for his ‘Day of Infamy' speech right after Pearl Harbor a ringing call for an American revolution in cobbler technology! Yes, that's right, in response to the devastating surprise attack by the armed forces of the Empire of Japan, what if the president urgently called upon us all to start making really amazing shoes?! Before it's too late, and we all get blisters on our feet! Similarly, Mr. Obama, your spending the last year on (jive) health care and jetting around the world dipping your toes into foreign policy problems while Americans are losing their jobs and their houses is a fine way to kill your presidency. Guaranteed to work every time.
* And, finally, perhaps the most important thing one can do - and the thing that helps explain many of the other items above - is to adopt really, really pathetic policies. If you're doing a stimulus bill, for example, make sure that it's too little money, not targeted at real stimulative levers in the economy, costs a lot, doesn't kick in for a year or two, gives away about a third of the money to ineffective pet projects for Republican while none of them vote for it anyhow, and leaves the unemployment rate stuck at a miserable ten percent. Or, if you're doing a bail-out of the banks for the purpose of producing the liquidity essential to restarting the economy, let them take bonuses as big as they want, and don't actually require that they loan out to anyone the money you've given them. Or, how about spending nearly all your political capital on ‘health care' legislation, which is really an insurance company boondoggle bill instead? That's really what the people want, eh? No wonder Obama's not out there writing the narrative, fighting the good fight or crushing his enemies. Even he can't get excited about his own priorities, so extraordinarily abysmal are they.
All of this represents the best prescription I can imagine for wrecking a presidency, and Obama has followed it with exacting precision. Indeed, doing so would appear to be his only real passion. It's almost as if he were a Republican sleeper politician in some party politics version of the Manchurian Candidate, planted to arise on cue and destroy the Democratic Party from within.
And thus - while anything's possible, of course - I am hard pressed to see how the Obama administration is anything but finished.
Moreover, by blundering during the only chance he'll ever have at introducing his presidency, he's now created an additional set of problems for himself which may well be insurmountable, even if he were to now try to live up to his campaign billing. He needs Democratic votes in Congress to do much of anything, but they're all focused on the looming tsunami of next November. The very same people who might have swallowed hard and reluctantly followed the lead of inspirational new president Obama one year ago, today will join everyone else in the world and spit in the eye of useless, feeble, washed-up Barack. He's got zero leverage over his own party in Congress now. As for the public, it's gonna be pretty hard to now market himself as the great enemy of the people's enemies, when he's just finished a year of making secret sweetheart deals that benefit Wall Street bankers, health insurance pirates, and pharmaceutical predators, all while leaving his own base and the public he's supposed to be serving out in the rain. Politicians can reinvent themselves, but you need time and there are certain limits of plausibility that cannot be ignored, any more than you can ignore the laws of physics.
Of course, I don't give a shit about Barack Obama anymore, other than my desire that really ugly things happen to him as payment in kind for the grandest act of betrayal we've seen since Benedict Arnold did his thing. But what about the country?
I don't think those questions really require a response. I think we all know pretty well the answers.
This is the country that Obama - the great Hope guy - is bequeathing us.
Dante said "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality".
Better stock up on the mist sprayers, Barack.
David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (mailto:email@example.com), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.