Now that 30,000 more American troops are headed to Afghanistan, complete with "an endgame built in" (right!), many of President Obama's (former?) supporters are trying to figure out why he continually pursues policies we thought we were voting against. I can't figure it out, but I did come up with a range of possible explanations, more than one of which may apply though some are mutually exclusive. Somewhere below, I believe, lies an explanation for the Obama enigma.
1. I Still Believe: For the ever-faithful, the once-shining prince has become the Muhammad Ali of politics, rope-a-doping the generals and big pharma until he can implement the policies he really supports. One day our prince will re-emerge, hopefully before he devolves into a frog. This explanation becomes a problem when it's still being proclaimed the day before he leaves office.
2. Things Would be Worse with McCain: Hey, liberal cry-babies, you don't know how good you got it! Imagine if McCain had been elected! You should be strewing Obama's path with roses, wherever that path leads, even unto the farthest reaches of bail-out non-accountability and the hill country of Afpak! Give him a break, it's only been two month ... uh, five mon ... uh, ten months. Hey, at least he's not McCain! But we did vote for Obama, not "Not McCain" -- didn't we?
3. He Inherited Too Big a Mess: There's truth to this one. Americans have short attention spans and demand instant gratification. So after an eight-year orgy of hypocrisy, criminality, economic destructionism and military irrationality, don't expect Obama to just turn it around in less than a year. Still, we might expect the titanic ship of state to actually change its course. Instead, we've had some nice renovations to the shipboard environment and a mild improvement of (social) services for the growing number of people in steerage. Granted, a 180 degree about-face was unlikely, but we could hope for a solid 60 or 90 degree turn to port by now.
4. Caught in the Cogs of a Relentless Machine: Or, "there's only so much a president can do." This seems odd considering the havoc that George Bush wreaked on America. Perhaps the real message here is that we can't expect a president to oppose the vast corruptocracy of generals and bankers; energy, pharma and defense industry powerhouses; private militia leaders (Blackwater, Dyncorp); and international financiers. George Bush and Ronald Reagan only seemed to employ the presidency effectively for their own ends. In reality, presidential power is meaningless and only gives the illusion of power when serving as the front for the real rulers. Obama is doing the best anyone can do when caught in a tsunami -- trying to stay afloat, giving them 30,000 troops when they want 40,000, getting partial coverage for six million more Americans when he can't get real coverage for all of us. Maybe it's an excuse, but it sure isn't a message of hope or change.
5. Bad Advisers, Worse Congress -- or vice versa: He's stuck with a Congressional majority, many of whose members are fully owned by their corporate contributors and who lack the intelligence, political vision, commitment, or backbone to heed the call of history and recognize that business-as-usual will lead to disaster. Then the "experienced" advisers, from Brzezinski to the Republican war-manager Gates, Hillary, and the Goldman Sachs clique -- the right wing of the Democratic Party. Why he ended up with these advisers, however, tells us that this explanation alone can't be the whole story.
6. He Actually Believes This Crap: Is it possible Obama believes there's a victory to be won in Afghanistan that will materially affect the ability of Islamic terrorists to operate in the world, that Iran is an ever-looming threat to world peace, that the health care bill he is currently championing is a great step forward. If so, there was no trace of this Obama during the campaign -- or was there? We knew he was no Mike Gravel or Dennis Kucinich. In the weird hall of mirrors that is American politics, Obama managed to convince us he was more progressive than we had any right to believe.
7. There's No "There" There: The notion that this brilliant, articulate man who rode into Washington D.C. on a chariot drawn by vision and rousing rhetoric may simply have been only that, makes us all suckers. This was the last national politician many of us were going to believe in. Were we so naive? His "bi-partisanship" that empowers the intransigent right that hates him to the detriment of his own allies; his adoption of the cheesiest rhetoric from the "war on terror"; and the lack of pressure on financial institutions that benefited from the bail-out, raise the question of whether he has any real leadership ability at all, beyond the over-rated quality of campaign charisma.
8. He's the Patsy, Prelude to the Backlash: Obama is the real thing, he came into office ready to change the world, and then found that not only is there little that can be done because George Bush Jr. left America in worse shape than anyone dare tell. The power brokers will keep things afloat so Obama holds office long enough for the historically-challenged public to forget who really caused this mess. This strategy was not put in place to rescue the reputation of "Dubya" -- he's served his purpose and he can now play cowboy on his home on the range. The big play here is the backlash, the emergency measures and demagogic "leaders" who will serve as shock troops for the long-standing reactionary desire to finally lay to rest any last vestige of the New Deal, bury the reform spirit of the 1960 and '70s, appropriate as much of society's wealth as possible, further corrode civil liberties and roll over any resistance to a government by, for, and of the corruptocracy.
9. They Threatened Him: Outrageous but simple. Send someone to the Oval Office who says, "You can be liberal to a degree but on certain matters, we call the shots. We'll let you know when and how and don't even think about doing it any other way." But hey, we're a democracy, that can't happen here...
10. We Get the Leaders We Deserve: America shone bright that November night when we elected what appeared to be a very special individual as president to replace the most odious administration in our nation's history. The contrast could not have been greater. And then we waited eagerly, our jobs done. But our jobs are not done. They don't end election night and they don't end with health care vigils or letters to the editor. It is we the people who will be responsible for the Obama we wind up with and if he fails, then we fail, and if we fail, he fails. Extraordinary times require something extra from a people -- sacrifice, commitment, courage, skepticism. We have, to a large extent, lost our ability to matter in a political way. It's not just the militaristic police presence that greets every protest demonstration, the black helmeted cops armed to the teeth, ready to riot as soon as their masters release their collars. It's something that has crept into the soul of our nation and that no Obama can rescue us from. But perhaps we can rescue him from that political resignation and despair -- and in so doing, write a more regenerative explanation for the Obama presidency than those offered above.