It has been a season of electoral "shellackings" and abject capitulations, but, finally, on December 22. Obama had a good day. The morning after, the spin doctors and pundits and the last remaining Obamamaniacs are playing it for all it's worth. Barack Obama is the new comeback kid.
This is a dangerous illusion. Even allowing that Obama really is on the right side of the issues that get raised in Congress, leaving it up to Obama was the root of all the harm done in the past two years. Republican obduracy was indispensible, of course, but it was Obama's "bipartisan" zeal and his negotiating "skills," along with his manifest unwillingness to displease any of the powers that be, that got us into our current fix. As an even more decrepit Congress starts up again in January, it can only get worse. Social security and Medicare and, indeed, almost everything worthwhile the government does -- beware! Beware too everyone who might be in the way of a CIA drone or a special ops misadventure or, worse still, a new or continuing war of choice.
But there's no denying that Obama had a good day. How did he pull it off? Well, first, Congress was up against the clock. Then there were the measures themselves. Could even the most obdurate Republican, intent on handing Obama another defeat, hold out against aid for 9/11 responders when Fox News was telling them that enough is enough? And who was going to defy the entire "bipartisan" foreign policy establishment by holding up the new START treaty? For that matter, who would have blocked extending unemployment insurance right before Christmas, if the issue had come up? It didn't, of course, because Obama had already unloaded a bucket full of goodies for the filthy rich in return for extending benefits to the unemployed (but not the long term unemployed) along with a few other sops to the more than 98% of the population who have not been making out like bandits. Republicans are obdurate, sublimely so, and morally dense - but they're not that dumb.
The other part of Obama's good day was, of course, the signing of the bill repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell." Getting that through Congress involved more of a struggle, but with the public overwhelmingly in favor and with Obama's nemesis, the military brass, on board, it's hard to see how repeal could have failed. This is why it was so remarkable, yet so typical, to see Obama take credit, boasting of his "persistence," and even odder to see how warmly his self-aggrandizing remarks were received.
Not wanting to upset the celebrants assembled yesterday for the repeal signing, but being willing to take leadership only on issues where the going is easy, Obama said he was still "struggling" with gay marriage. Translation: the polls haven't yet topped 70%. They probably will eventually and if public opinion swings that way in time, Obama will probably go along -- not just Clinton-style, out of sheer opportunism, but because he really does share an ideological affinity with what is nowadays basically a conservative gay rights movement.
Were it not, there would have been at least a few rumbles yesterday against the military and the imperial order it makes possible. There was not a word. And there would be voices demanding civil unions, not marriage, for all. That should not be a radical position in a country in which separation of church and state is a long established principle. After all, what is marriage beyond civil union, except a churchly intrusion into public life -- to the degree that clergy are licensed to assume the role of state functionaries in making marriages "valid?" Don't expect to hear that, though, from those who now lead the struggle for gay/straight equality. With a movement like that, Obama should have no difficulty making common cause.
In short, on issues that do not affect ruling class interests adversely, and where there is overwhelming popular support, Obama can still score victories, provided all the background circumstances fall into place. That's what happened on December 22. But those who see this as a harbinger of good things to come, who think it shows that Obama has gotten his groove back, should think again. Obama will continue to disappoint, as he takes his base for granted while stalking "independent" voters - poorly informed and basically apolitical men and women whose inclinations are generally even more rightwing than his. As long as Obama's present and former supporters continue to welcome whatever little they can get, and then to praise Obama for providing it, Obama Winter will grind on and on.