Election Day 2010. I think of a piece of graffiti from the 1970's encapsulates it: "America is like the biggest department store in the world, but they still don't have your size." It seems I'm not the only person to feel this way.
I think back two long years to Election 2008. I was in New York City. From my friends' 10th story window I could hear folks all the way to Harlem dancing in the streets. People from everywhere converged in Washington DC to celebrate the dawn of a new era. Now, lots of us, who campaigned enthusiastically for Obama just two years ago, feel like broken, jilted lovers. Like many Romeos, he was not what he promised to be. I am not naïve. I have voted in enough elections and had enough lovers to know the romantic glow can dim when reality sets in. I knew he was a centrist. But I thought he was fair and honest, canny and creative. And, speaking personally, I shared his taste for arugula.
Even though, as a feminist, I would have enjoyed pulling the lever for the first viable woman presidential candidate of my lifetime, I didn't. The reason: I thought Hillary would provide more of the same -- an old-line no-longer-New Deal Democrat, with solutions that don't adequately address 21st Century problems.
Obama had all indications of being a systems thinker: someone who would see complex issues, from education to the economy to the environment and foreign policy, as a multi-faceted system, and deal with them systemically. The overall interests of the economy, education, and the environment are not at odds in the long run -- not if you factor in the costs of global climate change in agriculture and extreme weather conditions, which threaten to displace massive populations and require trillions of dollars in emergency relief (of course, if the multi-nationals have their way, this will become a profitable industry with large government contracts); not if you consider the long-range economic necessity of getting the edge on new energies as part of a thriving economy.
It didn't turn out that way. First Obama appointed Tim Geithner, darling of the Wall Street foxes, to guard the chicken coop during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. My heart sank further when he left a loophole for lobbyists in government positions, and William Lynn waltzed right through it. Lynn was a Raytheon lobbyist for six years, lobbying extensively on a broad range of defense-related issues. He is now the top operations manager at the Pentagon, with final authority on a number of contract, program and budget decisions.
When Obama bailed out Wall Street but not Main Street, got into bed with Big Pharma, and didn't even invite Single Payer to the table in the healthcare talks, in spite of a groundswell of popular support for the idea, I knew the game was over before it began. Once again he had given away his chips to the highest bidder before even reaching the poker table. After that, he had nothing left to bargain with. Not surprisingly, his opponents used all their muscle to crush him, and he had nothing but words left to fight back with. It ended predictably. The adversaries he tried to placate abandoned him after getting what they wanted. Happens all the time. The American people were sold to the highest bidders: Big Pharma, the banking industry, China, and the Insurance Industry.
We should not be surprised by the lack of enthusiasm Democrats feel today and the honest anger of people taken in by the rhetoric of Rupert Murdoch and the Tea Party, even if it is an astroturf movement. I know an intelligent, well-read man in California who is convinced that it is the Obama administration that is driving us into economic ruin through regulation and increasing debt. He is waiting for the election results before deciding what to do about selling his house in the Silicon Valley. If the Democrats continue to dominate Congress, he is sure the economy will continue to fall; if the Republicans score a victory for business, he thinks it will return to strength. I am sure of the opposite, but many voters agreed with him. I just heard an interview with a former bank officer in Indiana who voted Democratic in 2008. This time she voted Republican because she lost her job and spent down a considerable amount of her savings in the past couple of years. She says she doesn't "blame" the Democrats; she just thinks it's time for a change. That's as much analysis as most Americans give to the issues.
Obama had the trust, and even the love, of the American people, who voted for something different. But he lacked the courage of his convictions, if indeed he had any. Under the expert guidance of Rahm Emanuel, he gave us rhetoric and more of the same old bridge mix -- bite into it and it dissolves. He was more interested in pleasing all of the people and all of the corporate donors all the time, than in getting the job done. As always, that MO failed at keeping the Democrats afloat. Obama and Pelosi accommodated the wrong forces and caved in to the wrong interests. Voters are sick and retching. Our votes will no doubt reflect our stomachs. The rest of his term won't be pretty. I have a weak stomach. I am glad I will be out of the country.