Yet another day, yet another bout of liberal handwringing over yet another jilting by Barack Obama. This time, their hero has let them down with his planned freeze on "discretionary" spending. (Which doesn't include funding for the war machine and the security organs, of course; as always, that's "imperative" spending – we are allowed no "discretion" whatsoever when it comes to gorging our fat cats on blood money and fear-profiteering.)
Tuesday morning saw no less than five major pieces on Salon.com decrying Obama's "panic," his unworkable "gimmick" which will "doom the economic recovery," his "farce" in repeating Franklin Roosevelt's 1937 mistake of cutting spending too soon and prolonging the Great Depression, and Obama's "cynicism" in sending out his message-massagers to liberal outlets to assure the (dwindling) faithful that he's not really going to cut any worthy programs – assertions that Republican will eagerly seize upon, and which will boomerang as rank betrayals of his political base when they turn out to be false.
One can hardly take issue with the thrust of the Salon pieces (and others like them across the progressiverse): Obama's spending "freeze" is a disastrous, cynical farce whose only real result will be an increase of suffering and hardship for the most vulnerable in our society. It will certainly produce no real budget savings, given the voracious, ever-widening maw of the militarist apparatus. Obama claims his freeze on spending that might actually enhance the quality of life of the American people will "save" $250 billion over three years. But where will this money go? Straight into that militarist maw, which devours that amount of cash every few weeks, and is always demanding – and receiving – more, more, and still more.
The already-chintzy, misdirected "stimulus" spending will indeed grind to a halt, sending multitudes of people who had been temporarily shielded from the worst of the recession crashing headlong into the bitter reality of the economic rapine wrought by our elites. And speaking of that economic rapine, if Obama was really keen on saving $250 billion, perhaps he could have lopped a few hundred billion off the trillions of dollars in bailout baksheesh which his administration has doled out or guaranteed to the financial elite. Or perhaps he could fought for genuine health care reform, with the hundreds of billions that a single-payer plan would have saved, instead of swelling the profits of the insurance and drug conglomerates with public money and captive customers.
So yes, the spending "freeze" will be the usual bungling wheeze. It will not do what it is ostensibly designed to do ("signal seriousness about cutting the budget deficit"); it will not "foster bipartisanship" in the savage, petty factional infighting that characterizes our ruling establishment (which is actually entirely bipartisan when it comes to the essentials: making war on weak, broken nations, and making money for those already bloated to bursting with money). And yes, it is a panicky move meant to shore up Obama's sagging poll numbers -- and is also a craven sop to the financial elites who were miffed by his talk about "reining in the banks" a few days ago. And it may even be, as one Salon writer noted, a "Sister Souljah" moment, designed to slap down the "left" and show everybody what a big tough centrist hombre he really is.
But the shocked and injured tone with which this move has been greeted in some quarters seems entirely misplaced. Many of the writers seem to be operating on the assumption -- or under the delusion -- that Obama actually had some kind of political-economic-social agenda that he wanted to enact as president, and that he is now "failing" to enact it, "squandering" his opportunity. There still seems to be a belief that he ran for president because he wanted to do something with all that power.
But Obama is not "failing"; he is doing exactly what he set out to do: be the president. That's it. That's all he wanted to do. And he's doing it. The panic now emanating from the White House is not that of a man watching a chance to realize his deeply held ideals for a better world slipping away from him; it's just the flopsweat of a guy trying to stay perched on top of the greasy pole for another term. From his earliest days in office, it has been clear that Obama, like Clinton before him, had no real political program to enact; he was happy to do whatever it took to get enough votes to put him into office, while also assuring the real brokers of national power -- Big Money, Big War -- that he was a "safe pair of hands" who would never seriously disturb the blood-smeared operation of their giant sausage grinder.
The contrast to the Bush Regime is striking. While the front man himself was an empty suit of clothes, the operators at the core of the faction, led by Dick Cheney, had a very definite program they wanted to enact: a vastly accelerated militarism; ever-more rampant corporatism; the "hollowing out" of the state by selling off its public service functions to cronies and sycophants, while undermining and eviscerating its civic functions (its laws, courts, constitution, etc.) with egregious claims of unaccountable authoritarian power. This agenda was clear from the beginning. (See here for the Bushists' militarist blueprint; and here for its continuity in Obama's "safe pair of hands."). And it was followed through with relentless determination, with no quivering about "bipartisanship" with other factions, and with only the scantest regard for polls or public favor. It was a hideous agenda -- but by God, they had one, and they worked it with all their might.
Obama, on the other hand, stands for nothing; thus nothing he tries to do will stand. He was already hollowed out when he came into office, with a "brand" not an agenda, not a program -- and, as becomes increasingly apparent all the time, not a clue.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on January 27, 2010.