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Jane Smiley Headshot

What Now?

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It's pretty evident that Obama is caught between rock and a hard place, but the trap is one he made for himself, and those of us on the left who hoped that he would not make this trap now have to ask ourselves some very difficult questions. The first of these is this -- if we step up to the plate and support him now with both our money and our feet, what will we get in return? If the last six months are any indication, the answer is, "Nothing." I have to admit that I've watched the administration with increasing dismay. Although I sent Obama as much in the way of campaign contributions as I was allowed to by law, and then was dunned again after the inauguration for more (in this I am like most of my liberal friends), Obama seemed neither to share our analysis of what was wrong with the Bush administration nor to share our views on who, exactly, was the right sort of official to correct Bush's crimes and misdemeanors. While his choices on the environment have been pretty good, he has catered to Wall Street at every turn, and Wall Street has responded by going back to business as usual as quickly as possible, clearly unintimidated by their friends Summers and Geithner. Our tax dollars have disappeared into the maw of fat bankers' salaries and rising equity while we, the taxpayers are still stuck with high principal, tight loans, high fees, and skittish lenders. Yup, Naomi Klein was right -- a crisis is just another way for the financial class to soak the poor.

Health care has been the real test, and if his administration caves to Republican intimidation and lies and foregoes the public option in the health care bill, Obama is failing that test. If there is no public option and no way of lowering the price of drugs -- if Obama is determined to make back room deals with the same old corporate shills--then what have I gotten for my campaign contribution? It's not nothing, it's worse than nothing, because if the man who promised hope does the same old thing, then that is the end of hope.

It was always pretty clear to me that the right wing was not ever in a million years going to play the bipartisan game, and I couldn't figure out why Obama thought they might. At first I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt -- that he knew he had to appear to extend the hand across the aisle so that he could then do the right thing with a clear conscience (and good PR). But then it became evident that he really does care more about the Republicans across the aisle than the left side of his own party, and this is really peculiar, because the more that he has attempted to woo those Republicans, the more hysterical they've become. They think he's weak, and they think they're winning. If he foregoes the public option, they have won. Simple as that, and we on the left can and must come to the conclusion that he used us and our money, but never intended to listen to us or give us a G-D thing. Believe me, even if and when he gives up the public option, no Republican is going to extend the hand of fellowship to Obama, no matter what. As far as I can tell, Obama does not understand how Republicans work. Here is how they work -- if you are stronger than they are, they arm themselves and scream that they are being victimized, and if they are stronger than you, they arm themselves and scream about what a pussy you are. In other words, they work like spouse abusers work. To try and work with them is crazy, and Obama's only hope for making something of his promises and his presidency would have been to work around them. But he didn't.

There is a real danger now that some right wing nut is going to commit an enormous and terrifying crime. Obama has never understood that what he represents is, in and of itself, repellent to some Americans. There are people out there who believe he's the Anti-Christ and if there's one thing Saddam Hussein learned, it's that you can't prove a negative. But Obama courted the Republicans from the beginning and gave us the cold shoulder. Now Move On is asking me for money again, and I expect Joe Biden will appear in my mailbox any day now.

If I pony up, what will I get? More Geithner. More Summers. No public option. Obama needs to wake up before he has no friends at all. Max Baucus is not his friend. Chuck Grassley is not his friend. If Obama wants me for a friend, he's going to have to give me something for my little contribution and my vote, and my support. He's going to have to come clean about the abuses of power committed by the Bush administration and repudiate them. He's going to have to repudiate the drug companies and give them back their money. He's going to have to pressure the banks to revamp their lending policies and their fees, and he's going to have to regulate them. And he's going to have to stand up to the Senate Finance Committee and give us the sort of health insurance that the Senate Finance Committee enjoys. The left could do again for Obama what they did last year -- back him up. But he's jilted us since then, so what hope is there?