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Joseph A. Palermo

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A President Standing in Quicksand

Posted: 09/15/11 01:41 PM ET

It was never a question whether or not President Obama can make a stirring speech. We've heard them before and I've tapped my foot to them. His failure lies in the delivery of those great-sounding items he outlines with inspiring rhetoric. We all know that in the Republican House of Representatives John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and the boys are going to tear apart Obama's "American Jobs Act" like wild dogs ripping up a wildebeest carcass. They'll throw on Obama's desk the offal of the bill and deny him the good meaty stuff that might have made a difference in working people's lives.

Obama and the Democrats are in trouble politically not because they did too much to help hurting Americans, but because they did too little. How else do you explain the President's plummeting poll numbers in a solidly Democratic state like California? The huge Wall Street banks got a lot of tender loving care while struggling mortgage holders and unemployed workers were left to fend for themselves. There's no clearer example that oligarchic corporate interests have "captured" not only the regulatory agencies of government, but the government itself. A lot of this misplaced Tea Party rage at government is because of the fact that the government has become a tool to impose an agenda that is great for ruling corporate and banking elites but terrible for everybody else.

The people who were snookered into predatory mortgage loans got nothing while the bankers and the lenders who did the snookering got a fat federal bailout and a huge chunk of free money from the Federal Reserve. There's no justice in that and it has a great big "D" stamped on it. No amount of eloquent speechifying is going to change that.

The political wizards around Obama do not understand how demoralizing the Obama presidency has been for his most enthusiastic supporters. Their candidate turned out to be a Chicago pol with a veneer of populism. Running for reelection in 2012 as "at-least-I'm-better-than-the-Republican" candidate is exactly the Tweedle-Dee narrative Obama's supporters had hoped he had broken out of in 2008.

Why did Obama allow the Republicans to define him? And why did he surrender his political capital to Republicans like Olympia Snowe and "Democrats" like Max Baucus and Ben Nelson? These characterless hacks could never win a national election. They should have been forced to bend to the interests of the person who won the election of 2008 by 10 million votes, not the other way around.

Which brings me back to the "Jobs Bill." The only piece of the bill that's likely to pass is a national version of "Georgia Works," which looks to me like another program designed to beat up unemployed people by forcing them to work for their unemployment checks. A national "Georgia Works" program will do nothing to address the unemployment crisis while undermining labor unions and putting more downward pressure on wages. Republican politicians love "Georgia Works," that alone should breed suspicion about its merits for working people. When Obama first became president right-wing talk radio hosts were making noises about him wanting "reparations"; instead, if he signs a national "Georgia Works" scheme into law it'll be more like imposing a new form of slavery.

In the bigger picture the nation already tried all the bedrock Republican social policies -- call it "right-wing social engineering" -- and they failed miserably. Every time Obama embraces Republican policies as part of yet another compromise he undermines his own political position because those policies are also doomed to failure; hence, he's standing in quicksand.

The Bush years were all about terror alerts, fear, and war; the Obama years have been all about austerity, foreclosures, and rolling back public institutions.

The high unemployment, increasing poverty, foreclosures, Gilded Age inequality, and the destruction of vital public services relating to health and education marches on year after year, with little more than apologetics from elites tied to both major parties and the corporate media.

And here's the good news:

With luck this sorry state of affairs will produce a legitimation crisis as the failed economy and our failed political leaders continue to grind us into dust. After many years of this depressing environment more and more people will begin to question the legitimacy of the "free market" system. After the tax cuts for the rich and corporations bear no fruit in the form of "job creation," when the privatization just leads to more exploitation of average working people, when the denuding of public services produces more lost children and destroyed lives -- after this continues for a while, and the Tea Party is played out by witnessing its policy prescriptions make everything worse for the average person, then we might have a chance for "Change" where a real labor party could emerge with a real leader.

Looking to our neighbors in South American who have abandoned en masse "free market" prescriptions and IMF austerity measures because they not only failed, but gutted their middle classes, we might find a glimmer of hope. (One of the most amazing things I heard Republican presidential candidates say at the recent "debates" was that the United States should do to Social Security what the government of Chile did to its similar system! Maybe someone from the RNC should email some Chileans and ask them how that privatization scheme worked out.) Any politician today, from Barack Obama to Rick "235-executions" Perry, who calls for more austerity, more deregulation, more privatization, amidst these terrible economic conditions is simply wearing his or her failure as a badge of honor.

The other piece of good news is that Elizabeth Warren might become a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. That would be a great development because perhaps she could be the one to tap into the legitimation crisis that's going to hit American capitalism hard in a few more years. Maybe she could run for president in 2016 against the incumbent Republican.

The fact is our political leaders from both parties have facilitated an assault on the American middle class and are currently using its dismal aftermath as an excuse to further rip apart public institutions that give working people a leg up. They've constructed a protective shield around the Big Banks so they'll never have to accept responsibility or face the consequences for doing more damage to the United States of America than Al Qaeda ever could. "We've seen the enemy and it is us."

The so-called Arab Spring also has much to teach Americans (like the rejection of neo-liberal economics in Latin America). Direct democracy involving citizen action still has meaning. Even the Israelis seem to have learned something from their Arab neighbors and have begun their own "spring" with mass protest against the growing social inequality in the Jewish State. It's kind of ironic that inspiration for Americans to climb out of the abyss our failed politicians have led us into would come from nations that not long ago, before their people rose up in protest, were seen as being perpetually subordinated to the dictates of global corporations and banks. Maybe there'll be an "American Spring" someday, or an American leader with strong labor ties like Luiz Lula da Silva. But until then, we'll be watching the slow motion train wreck go on.

 
 
 

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