Saturday, October 23, 2010

Trading In The Politics of Hope

Unbelievably, it's been two years since we elected a president who ran on a platform of hope. After a decade of rule by cowboys and neighborhood bullies, and listening to the same old song about good guys and bad guys, it felt good to change the tape to play "yes we can;" a refrain heard even in Spanish, "Si se puede," "si se puede."

Nobody wants to argue with the concept of hope, that's like profaning against apple pie, but few want to read the warning label either. Hope, when not applied properly, is a drug, an anesthetic, something that deadens and numbs, a shot of novocaine before a sensitive procedure. And, when the novocaine wears off, we're left only with pain.

Somehow, though, I don't think that's the kind of hope Mr. Obama had in mind. I don't think Obama's hope was intended to be used as a sedative, but instead as a portal to action. The problem is, it had an unintended side effect. Instead of inducing folks to act, it got them to react, and not the people the president had in mind either. It brought all of the usual souped up, and snazzy bigots out from under the rug---the Sarah Palins, Rand Pauls, the folks who would like to take us back to the days of Jim Crow laws.

Nobody wanted to listen to what Mr. Obama said during the 2008 presidential campaign. Instead, they heard only what they wanted to hear. For those who opposed the war in Iraq, candidate Obama promised troop withdrawal. He never said he supported universal troop withdrawl, but only withdrawal from Iraq. Obama came through loud and clear pounding the drums about tracking down al Qaeda in the border between Afghanistan, and Pakistan. And, while he flinched while using the phrase "war on terror," he didn't mince words when it came to his plans for Osama bin Laden.

Somewhere along the line, sadly, once he became president, Mr. Obama's plan for chasing al Qaeda on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan got hijacked, and instead became a full-scale war.

Clearly, 50,000 troops is a prodigious number to leave behind in a "non-combat" capacity, and that doesn't factor in the shadow army of private military contractors. While the president will insist that combat forces have been removed from Iraq, there is no doubt that combat involving US forces is far from over in that country.

The release of the latest WikiLeaks documents proves, among other things, that the wars in Iraq, and Afghanistan are every inch Mr. Obama's wars despite being largely indistinguishable from the military adventurism of his predecessor.

Reportedly, the president told his generals he wants an "exit strategy' in Afghanstan. After nine years of war, you don't need an exit strategy, you need to exit.

Okay, so he never ran as George McGovern. Moreover, it was also clear from the presidential campaign that Mr. Obama deliberately chose Joe Biden to be his vice president because of Mr. Biden's foreign policy experience. The reason he did that was not just to overcome objections about his lack of background in foreign policy, but because Obama wanted the focus of his administration to be on solving the number one threat to national security during the campaign season which wasn't from al Qaeda, but from the collapse of the financial sector. Problem solved. The financial sector has not collapsed.

But, instead of giving high marks to this president for solving the problem, and acting swiftly and decisively to save GM, people on both sides keep bitching about the bailouts.

It was also evident that among the many reasons Mr. Obama selected Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State was her own foreign policy experience.

A president with as much on his plate as this one had better learn how to delegate, or be overwhelmed, and delegate he did. He would be well-served, too, to listen to those to whom he delegates. Mr. Biden's views of Afghanistan differed from his own.

While the president ultimately takes responsibilty for the direction of the country, often it is those to whom he delegates who deserve condemnation for any foreign policy, or domestic blunders. There was no question in the Kennedy administration who gave commands the president or the Defense Secretary. JFK told McNamara to begin phased withdrawal from Vietnam. McNamara didn't command JFK to commit more troups. JFK had no more foreign policy experience than Mr. Obama has.

The wisdom of keeping a Defense Secretary whose ties to the former administration's military policy run deep is, at best, questionable. It's hard to change direction when the reins are in the hands of the same drivers.

By the time Obama took the reins as commander in chief, and asserted what the Constitution guarantees as civilian control of the military, it was already too late which was amply demonstrated by General McChrystal's interview with Rolling Stone . In the war between the Pentagon and the White House, the Pentagon won. One has only to look at the amount of taxpayer money allocated to the Defense Department in the 2011 federal budget to realize that.

For all their talk about "Obamacare," rank and file Republicans, donning tea party hats, like Sharron Angle, Michele Bachmann, Christine O'Donnell, and Rand Paul neglect to mention that in his 2011 budget, President Obama appropriates about twice as much for national defense as for health care. Far be it for Ms. O'Donnell, Ms. Angle, Ms. Bachmann, or Mr. Paul to want to tap into the defense budget to pay down the deficit. Instead, they want to slash social security, and Medicaid.

If it was this president's plan to make his legacy about his domestic agenda, he's doing so ably. But, you ask, where are the jobs? There have been more private sector jobs created in 2010 alone than under eight years of President Bush. The stimulus Palin et. al condemn has actually served to bolster employment, according to a report, last month, from the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

As to the Republican claim that taxes have gone up since Mr. Obama took office, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and USA Today, Americans are paying the lowest taxes in more than 50 years. Somewhere around a third of the Recovery Act involved tax cuts which provide relief for 98% of Americans.

Still, that's not good enough for some who have turned the word "bailout" into a mantra. They proposed sitting back while Rome burned, and not allowing for government intervention to stop the hemorrhaging of banks, mortgage companies, and automobile manufacturers which would have led to the certain demise of the same free market system Republicans like Sarah Palin and Meg Whitman endorse.

As an article in the Washington Post recently said, "The government interventions worked. The companies were saved. Most of the money that taxpayers invested is likely to be repaid" and, more importantly, the so-called "bailouts" were begun under George W. Bush, a minor detail that the Republican buddhas of deregulation like to ignore.

Even less credible are claims that spending is out of control under a Democratic Congress, and that the president's policies are compounding the deficit. The truth is, the national debt nearly doubled under George W. Bush whose administration had the dubious distinction of being the biggest borrower of foreign money of all the other administrations combined.

Not to mention that not one tea party candidate has even broached the subject of a middle class that went missing. When Palin, and partners, take the stump, all they talk about are "the people." What they fail to mention is that the people they represent are the upper 1% income bracket of the population. Sarah Palin is about as "populist" as Marie Antoinette.

Unless you have ice water running in your veins, it should make your blood boil when you hear the usual Republican banter about privatizing social security, too. In the end, what that really means is turning over your social security check to Wall Street.

Yes, the anesthesia has worn off. The operation was a success, but the body politic is still hurting, and the pain will be felt for years to come. It's not possible to survive the economic train wreck of the past 30 plus years of Reagan/Bush deregulation without injury, and without scars. There may be no such thing as a jobless recovery, but there is also no such thing as a painless recovery.

The Messiah didn't enter the White House in January, 2009. Mr. Obama is a politician, not a magician. The hope he put out there on the campaign trail was meant to suggest light at the end of the tunnel, not to create it.

There are many who are saddened, and disappointed to wake up, nearly two years after his inauguration, to find we're still immersed in a labyrinth of global battle, and financial hazard, but turning the keys of the House over to the same wrecking crew that brought us to the brink of disaster is no way to solve the problem.

Trading in the politics of hope for the politics of dopes is no solution either.