With his usual magnificent rhetoric, Frank Rich, Op-Ed columnist extraordinaire of The New York Times, recently laid out a grand agenda for President Obama and his administration, in order to deal with the mass disaster left behind for our nation by eight years of Bush-Cheney. Frank said, in part:
[T]he debate over how to raise the president’s emotional thermostat is not an entirely innocuous distraction. It allows Obama to duck the more serious doubts about his leadership that have resurfaced along with BP’s oil. Unlike his unflappable temperament, his lingering failings should and could be corrected . . .The plugging of an uncontrollable oil leak, like the pacification of an intractable Afghanistan, may be beyond the reach of marathon brainstorming by brainiacs, even if the energy secretary is a Nobel laureate. Obama has yet to find a sensible middle course between blind faith in his own Ivy League kind and his predecessor’s go-with-the-gut bravado. By now, he also should have learned that the best and the brightest can get it wrong — and do. . . . No high-powered White House meetings or risk analyses were needed to discern how treacherous it was to trust BP this time. An intern could have figured it out.
But the credulous attitude toward BP is no anomaly for the administration. . . . BP’s recklessness is just the latest variation on a story we know by heart. The company’s heedless disregard of risk and lack of safeguards at Deepwater Horizon are all too reminiscent of the failures at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and A.I.G., where the richly rewarded top executives often didn’t even understand the toxic financial products that would pollute and nearly topple the nation’s economy. . . . If Obama is to have a truly transformative presidency, there could be no better catalyst than oil. . . . This all adds up to a Teddy Roosevelt pivot-point for Obama, who shares many of that president’s moral and intellectual convictions. . . . If he is to wield the big stick of reform against BP and the other powerful interests that have ripped us off, he will have to tell the big story with no holds barred. That doesn’t require a temper tantrum. Nor does it require him to plug the damn hole, which he can’t do anyway. What he does have the power to fix is his presidency. Should he do so, and soon, he’ll still have a real chance to mend a broken country as well.
Frank, nice thoughts.
Certainly, if such changes in direction were to be made, there might be some measurable possibility that our nation might be able to make its way out of the multi-level mess in which it finds itself, both at home and abroad. And we faced the bulk of this mess even before the occurrence of the BP Gusher Disaster (which may be on its way to being the BP Gusher Uber-Disaster, if the projections of a possible giga-ton methane explosion and resulting supersonic-speed tsunami are correct).
It ain’t gonna happen, Frank.
And the reason it ain’t gonna happen has nothing to do with the President’s personality — “no drama Obama,” “he doesn’t want to come across as an angry black man,” “he needs to be loved.” Nor does it have to do with “trusting the smart guys.” It has everything to do with the politics of the Democratic Leadership Council (and their very own “smart guys”), for which he is the current torch-bearer.
Consider, for example, his policies for: 1. Afghanistan, 2. the so-called “stimulus package,” 3. the appointment of the oil-friendly Ken Salazar at Interior (to say nothing of Summers, Geithner, et al and his reappointment of Bernanke), 4. his extractive industry regulatory policy before the BP Gusher Disaster, 5. military spending (which doubled under Bush and is now 53% of the federal budget, being left pretty-much untouched), 6. Health care “reform,” 7. the political mode of response to the GOP: of “always defend, never attack,” precisely the opposite of what has worked so well for the GOP since the doctrine was invented by Lee Atwater early in the Reagan Period: “always attack; never defend.” The GOP is the Party of: racism, homophobia, religious bigotry and angry gunners. But we never hear anything about any of it from the Obama Democrats.
Finally, in his column that appeared the week before the one mentioned above, entitled “Obama’s Katrina? Maybe Worse,” Frank referred to (and I quote, exactly) “Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader.” One does not know whether this appellation was intentional on Frank’s part or simply a mistake (we all make them). But in fact McConnell does have virtually complete control of the flow of legislation through the Senate because of the totally anti-democratic filibuster rule. See an earlier BuzzFlash column of mine. Heaven help the DLC-Democrats, both Obama and Harry Reid, to at least make the GOPers actually filibuster items, much less challenge the whole undemocratic system.
Why should not the DLC-ers act the way they do? The DLC itself is corporate-power-focused, just like the GOP. They just do it in a less apparent way, and do occasionally ask for a concession here and there. Just consider: Bill Clinton in his very first State of the Union address announced that “the era of big government is over”; Larry Summers under Clinton pushed through the repeal of Glass-Steagal and the deregulation of derivatives trading; Ken Salazar would have allowed the Mineral Management Service to proceed on its merry way had not the BP Gusher Disaster occurred; Geithner and the banking industry. All of this is very well-known. There is absolutely no reason to expect that Obama will do a volte face. Everything he is doing is entirely consistent with DLC policy, stretching back to its formation, designed to rid the Democratic Party of any vestiges of FDR/LBJ/McGovernite progressivism, in the 1980s.
So don’t hold your breath, Frank.
Don’t even bother trying. What needs to be done is to split the Democratic Party, a la the split in the Whig Party over the slavery issue that occurred in the 1850s. Rep. Alan Grayson from a definitely “not safe” Florida district is taking some surely progressive positions while staying firmly within the present Democratic Party. There are others, like the less-dramatic Gene Feingold, Senator from Wisconsin. We do not need another Nader/Lone Ranger, non-party-based effort. We need a national, attacking Progressive Democratic Party that, in a three-way race (Lincoln won only because he was in a four-way race) could not only elect a President but could also elect a substantial number of Representatives and Senators. Otherwise, my friends, our nation has no chance to recover from the Reagan-Bush-Cheney National Disaster until after it experiences true fascism.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a Columnist for BuzzFlash, Dr. Jonas is also a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Senior Columnist for The Greanville POST; a Contributor to TheHarderStuff newsletter; a Contributor to The Planetary Movement; and a Contributing Columnist for the Project for the Old American Century, POAC.
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