Obama has abandoned all pretense of being the liberal Democrat his campaign in 2008 indicated. All that matters to him now is re-election.
Obama’s State of the Union message Tuesday illustrated his failed presidency. It was long on rhetoric and short on proposals.
He talked about the nation’s “Sputnik moment,” about thinking big, about daring to dream, about reaching for the stars, about out-innovating, out-educating and out-building the world.
Wonderful locker room talk. But hardly a guide for a troubled nation with horrendous unemployment and a sour economy.
Jim Hightower, great populist critic, rightly mocked Obama’s forlorn platitudes.
“Obama and his team say they are recalibrating, recasting, retooling and rebranding his presidency,” he wrote. “And they have come up with a dandy new slogan: ‘Win the future.’ ”
China has already “won” the future. Obama? He has become just another politician, a centrist celebrity.
Obama keeps stuffing his adminstration with former Clintonites who got the nation in financial trouble to begin with. He maintains what columnist Robert Scheer calls the “revolving platinum door linking the White House with Wall Street.”
That link produced deregulation, fraud and corruption. Yet as Hightower notes, Obama has become “an irrepressible corporate-hugger, suddenly blowing kisses to CEOs and big business lobbyists.”
Obama has surrendered to the GOP just as the triangulating President Clinton did. Clinton abolished “welfare as we know it.” But even worse, he pushed free trade that benefited corporations but cost countless American jobs.
Corporations sent the jobs overseas to countries where labor is cheap. Meanwhile, workers at home saw their wages and benefits cut.
As William Greider put it in a Nation article: “American democracy has been conquered by American capitalism. What the capitalist system wants is more wealth and more freedom to do what it wants.”
Which is precisely the way Obama likes it.
Instead of leading, Obama sounds like a retrograde Republican. In his message he proposed a five-year freeze on domestic spending. He even cast a suspicious eye on Social Security, the best “big government” program in American history.
We are halfway through Obama’s first term with much to complain about and little to brag about. The biggest complaint: the permanent war state.
Obama has yet to learn the truth of a remark made by an Irish soldier to a British officer in the 1970 movie, “Ryan’s Daughter.” It is the anguished cry heard by every invader in history: “Get out of my country.”
Obama campaigned as an anti-war candidate. Yet he ordered a surge in the futile Afghanistan War costing $113 billion annually. He still has 50,000 noncombat troops in Iraq and signs of staying forever. He is engaging in a clandestine third war in Pakistan.
His military empire of 1,000 bases circles the globe. No wonder Defense Secretary Robert Gates keeps asking for still more money.
He insists that budget cuts would threaten the military’s readiness to fight. But what he really means is that perpetual warfare is threatened.
A draft law would stop everlasting U.S. wars and the need for military personnel to serve absurd multiple combat tours. But the military, industrial and congressional complex will not tolerate that.
Obama gave a gift of $130 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. He gutted the estate tax.
He ordered an unconscionable two-year wage freeze for federal workers, pocket-change savings in a $1.5 trillion budget deficit. This symbolic gesture was still another Clintonesque sop to Republicans.
In his State of the Union message Obama did not address the crucial gun control issue. He too, like Congress, is terrorized by the NRA.
Some good things he proposed are not likely to be enacted.
Obama urged Congress to eliminate the tremendous corporate handouts in the tax code. But he will find few backers in a Congress beholden to corporate largesse fueling re-election campaigns.
His proposal to pass a DREAM bill, which would make citizens of college students who were born of undocumented immigrants, faces a hostile Congress.
Obama’s plan to speed solar and wind power is excellent but not worth the cost, the GOP will say. (China has passed America as the world’s leading producer of wind turbines.)
An article by Charles Baxter on P.T. Barnum in the winter Lapham’s Quarterly asks: “What are our political figures if not openly show business personalities?”
Obama is that: hollow but cheered like the celebrity he is.
Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.