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Clancy Sigal Headshot

A Disappointed Democrat? You bet

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In every cry of every man,
In every infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear.

- William Blake, Songs of Experience

I never get invited to the good parties. George Soros, the former currency trader and angel of liberal causes, is currently throwing a private whingding called the "Democracy Alliance", hoping to persuade his fellow hyper-billionaires to throw their money anywhere but at the failed presidency of Barack Obama. David Brock, described as a "media mogul", is also raising a mountain of cash from wealthy Democratic donors to hit the airwaves, I guess to invent a sort of leftish Fox News, or a new and improved Air America (please heaven, no).

Good luck, fellas.

I wasn't asked to the Soros and Brock affairs because the invitations read "rich only", and I'm ashamed I failed to make the cut. In the new oligarchy that controls both parties, we loyal peons -- Obama's so-called base -- are unpersons, like movie zombies, except when, every two or four years, they summon us -- again, like zombies -- to man phone banks and knock on doors, which I did for Obama in 2008.

Money roars its commands and we obey. In 2008, total election spending reached more than $5bn. By 2012, it will probably hit $7-10bn, if not more -- enough to pay the annual salaries of 250,000 teachers.

Alas, I won't get a penny of it. The real-life "Don Drapers", ad merchants and consultants and advisers, will.

My brain knows this. But in the blood-stirring heat of elections, my gut contradicts what I know to be true, that the Democratic party, especially at the top, is a terminally corrupt institution and has outlived its time. In the recent midterms, I walked into my local polling booth and robotically punched holes marked Democratic party down the line, even for candidates I knew nothing about, like judges and county assessors, as long as they had "Dem" next to their names.

What possessed me? In the privacy of the voting booth, suddenly I was taken over by liberal vampires hissing, "Be afraid ... be very afraid ... John Boehner and Sarah Palin will get you, ha ha ha." Ka-chung, ka-chung went my voting hand, detached from my intellect.

As a New Deal baby, I was a "yellow dog Democrat", supporting anyone who was not a Republican. "Yellow dog" is a tradition that goes back almost to the civil war when diehard southerners screamed they'd rather vote for a "yaller dog" than Lincoln's anti-slavery Republicans. On occasions when I voted "third party" -- Prohibition, Libertarian, Nader, Socialist Labor, Vegetarian -- it took strong willpower to jerk my hand back from punching the Democratic line.

Historically, Democrats have a better heart than Republicans, we all know that. Against all evidence, we feel the party is on our side. Sometimes, it is. Example: last month Joe Biden's wife, a teacher, persuaded her husband to pressure Obama to put up $2bn for community colleges. The effort was disorganized and lacked commitment ... a "small" thing ... but thank heaven for it.

But it's those other small things, or an accumulation of them, that brings me to my senses. It began with Obama's speeches, which, even during the euphoric 2008 campaign, struck me as canned blah. One forgives platform rhetoric. But the man seemed incapable of talking plainly and to the point. Circumlocution and hesitation - "thoughtfulness", it was called - was his style. Hmmm. Then, on his assuming the presidency, came the serially broken promises.

Yet, often it's the small stuff that sticks in the mind -- the PR "optics", a jargon word for how a situation looks to the public eye. They're so revealing, like George Bush in Air Force One floating over the drowning residents in Katrina-struck New Orleans, as if he hadn't a care in the world. And Obama's optics? How about those absurd photo-ops of him kneeling to sternly inspect oil goo on a Louisiana beach after the BP disaster? Calculated to show his concern, they only revealed a George Bush-like detachment, perhaps to cover up the lies he and his administration told about the disaster's true impact. Or his preaching at Americans to please, please go and be tourists in the oil-spoiled southern states -- when he and his family promptly chose to holiday at clean Martha's Vineyard. Or Michelle's "Marie Antoinette" luxury visit to Spain and her campaign to exhort Americans to lose weight, while a record number (one in eight, or over 40 million) are on food stamps.

Obama's "failure to communicate" communicates all too starkly where his, and his party's, priorities are. Which are, to keep the losing war going (now, at least, till 2014), while ferociously hunting down whistleblowers like WikiLeaks. So much for transparency.

Obama's tone deafness is less a character flaw than a seriously thought-out policy decision -- to be blunt -- to screw us. Our president is "out of touch" because he is so in touch with his economic captors, the Three Stooges for Wall Street, Geithner, Summers and Bernanke, who helped create our economic mess, and to his madly optimistic generals.

"But what's the alternative? Where shall we go?" ask my anguished liberal friends, their mind-forged manacles still welded to a Democratic party in its sunset days. We continue to deny the obvious, that we do not count. Rahm Emanuel was clearly speaking for the president when he called us liberal activists "fucking retards". Obama has as much contempt for us as the Republicans do for him.

Where shall we turn? Not to another party (yet), or a Man or Woman on a White Horse alternative candidate (yet). But maybe, let's turn a glance at our own American history with a renewed respect for those marvelous losers, Teddy Roosevelt, Gene Debs, William Jennings Bryan and Upton Sinclair, whose failed campaigns lay long-term groundwork for progressive victories. But let's start with William Blake's poetry.

This post originally appeared at The Guardian.