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Michael Brenner Headshot

Barack Obama -- Out of the Closet

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Wall Street's takeover of the Obama administration is now complete. The mega-banks and their corporate allies control every economic policy position of consequence. Mr. Obama has moved rapidly since the November debacle to install business people where it counts most. Mr.William Daley from JP Morgan Chase as White House Chief of Staff. Mr. Gene Sperling from the Goldman Sachs payroll to be director of the National Economic Council. Eileen Rominger from Goldman Sachs named director of the SEC's Investment Management division. Even the National Security Advisor, Thomas Donilon, was executive vice president for law and policy at the disgraced Fannie Mae after serving as a corporate lobbyist with O'Melveny & Roberts. The keystone of the business friendly team was put in place on Friday. General Electric Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt will serve as chair of the president's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. That is the spot, under a different council name, previously held by Paul Volcker. Both he and his post now will be airbrushed out of Obama administration history to align the past with the inglorious future.

Mr. Obama last week obediently recited the Chamber of Commerce's liturgy about governmental regulation being the cause of what ails the American economy in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. This public oath of allegiance signaled his now admitted complicity with those who supposedly had been his opponents. The one example of alleged bad regulation he cites in the WSJ op-ed is something about saccharin and the environment. The prospect of our corporate moguls being released from the bonds of saccharin regulation doubtless has China's President Hu and his colleagues quaking in their well-tailored suits.

Let's make one thing perfectly clear. These actions were not imposed on Obama. They are not the inescapable outcome of political circumstances. He chose this path. It conforms to his behavior from the very start of his presidency. It was a newly-elected Obama who hand-picked Geithner and Summers. Who installed as his right-hand man Rahm Emanuel from the board of scandal-ridden Freddie Mac and deal-maker at Dresdner Kleinwort. Who declared at a press conference on the eve of his inauguration that he would not seek to repeal the Bush tax cuts but rather let them drain Treasury revenues until they expired, which of course he has conspired to prevent. Who met clandestinely with Big Pharma to cut a secret deal that ruled out the government's bargaining on drug prices. Who met clandestinely with health industry giants to cut a secret deal that ruled out the public option.

This is the same Obama who does not know the main provisions of the Social Security Act of 1935 -- as evinced on repeated occasions. Who put Social Security and Medicare on the rack by rigging his deficit commission with the appointment of Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles. The Obama who avowedly takes his inspiration from Ronald Reagan; who spent his holiday in Hawaii reading an account of how the Gipper's White House office was run for him. The Obama who has reserved his harshest and heartfelt words for attacks on progressives. Political expediency is not the reason for turning his back on his supporters and on his pledges. After all, spurning his constituents and kowtowing to the entrenched interests led to the biggest off-year disaster in American electoral history. In short, all the evidence is that an old-school "moderate" Republican occupies the White House.

So, what are liberals/progressives to do? They should begin by recognizing who they are and how they typically behave. Democrats generally see themselves as more "responsible" than Republicans. They worry about the consequences of their actions for the country, for our public institutions. They fret about being too assertive, about rupturing ties. Liberals are more "responsible" than conservative Democrats. They carry free-floating guilt for whatever goes wrong, or might go wrong. They hate the thought of hurting people. Self-labeled progressive Democrats are the kind of people that your mother wanted you to hang out with in high school -- short of Canadian exchange students being available. Faced with passionate and unscrupulous enemies, they are confused and uncomprehending. Just as if they accidentally found themselves in the midst of a Saturday night bar room brawl. Such brutal faces; such tortured souls. They wonder how these people became so maladjusted; how sad that their families didn't get the attention of a really good, caring social worker.

Faced with betrayal, they freeze at pronouncing the word, of thinking the thought, of feeling the emotion. They are easy marks for the upscale con man with the high-minded rhetoric. They see taking offense as itself somehow offensive. They shy away from accusing, from denouncing. So when Mr. Obama spits in their face week after week, they are stunned into denial. Some declare: Our Saviour is also a rainmaker -- a thousand blessings be upon him! Others turn the other cheek. A few instinctively reach for a handkerchief. The more imaginative suggest that he was really aiming at the Republicans, but he's under such great stress that he lost his aim. The truly original believe that it's all part of a clever strategy so ingenious that we poor mortals can't conceive of it. Mysterious are the ways of Our Saviour.

With relief they all reach for the ultimate non sequitur: "Think how much worse it would have been with McCain and Palin." Frank Rich of the New York Times writes seven columns about the Palin coven for everyone saying anything bad about Obama. And never two in a row of the latter -- that's one emotional upheaval too far. It's somehow "unfair." The McCain-Palin line has come back in vogue as liberal/progressives turn their bloodshot eyes to 2012. The New Realism is to take our place dutifully behind Mr. Barack Obama as responsible people must. Responsible people should not even think of doing otherwise. For that means those awful (albeit maladjusted) right-wing fanatics will take over the country. Of course, we have a duty to tell Mr. Obama that we think he's gone astray -- in some respects. But not too loudly, not in a way that could hurt his feelings. We must remember that he is all that stands between us and the Tea Partiers. Oh my gosh!

Meanwhile the hyenas across the aisle can barely contain their laughter. Just as they barely can keep a straight face as Barack Obama hides his unconditional surrender behind clichés about bipartisanship and compromise -- while putting on a stern countenance and turning his sword (fierce rhetoric) against those unspeakable purists whom he has just sold out -- lock, stock and barrel. It's like watching the Serengeti drama of predator and prey, except that there is a bizarre lead actor who plays both roles. And the antelope keep expecting the protection of this hybrid who now prefers to idle with the fangs at the watering hole.

What is to be done? Liberals' hopes have been dashed. The outlook is bleak -- only storm clouds on the horizon. Worse, our country's afflictions are fated to get worse. The Wall Street plutocracy is in control -- their power reinforced and reconfirmed. Their brothers in the business world are crowing. The poor are cut loose, middle America is squeezed, public services are under the knife. The country is in a time capsule hurtling crazily through the 1920s hell bent for the Gilded Age of the 1890s. We've lost; we've lost with barely a fight. We've lost again even when given the chance of a lifetime. All the pieces were in place to restore a decent society, to cast the discredited Republicans into political oblivion. A godsend became a curse. Our champion might as well be one of them. Deep down he is.

Our one remaining hope is that the chaotic disintegration of the American political system goes even further. That out of this maelstrom emerges someone with the fire and honest conviction to shed a sharp light on our national predicament; to generate a sense of outrage. After all, the turmoil already has thrown up the improbable Sarah Palin and the improbable Barack Obama -- the two figures who dominate our political life. Maybe, just maybe, a valiant soul is out there who is moved by more than his self promotion and self gratification.

As for Mr. Obama, the time has come to send a blunt message: You want to stay in the White House until January 2017? Then satisfy us liberals or you'll soon be finding out if Chicago is still your kind of town. And mean it.

"The meek shall inherit the earth" says the Good Book. If that were true, liberals/progressives would be first in line. But when might that day of reckoning come?

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