Robert Scheer is the editor of Truthdig, where this article originally appeared. His latest book is The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America (Twelve).
Barack Obama’s faux populism is beginning to grate, and when yet another one of those “we the people” e-mails from the president landed on my screen as I was fishing around for a column subject, I came unglued. It is one thing to rob us blind by rewarding the power elite that created our problems but quite another to sugarcoat it in the rhetoric of a David taking on those Goliaths.
In each of the three most important areas of policy with which he has dealt, Obama speaks in the voice of the little people’s champion, but his actions cater fully to the demands of the most powerful economic interests.
With his escalation of the war in Afghanistan, he has given the military-industrial complex an excuse for the United States to carry on in spending more on defense than the rest of the world combined, without a credible military adversary in sight. His response to the banking meltdown was to continue George W. Bush’s massive giveaway of taxpayer dollars to Wall Street, and his health care reform has all the earmarks of a boondoggle for the medical industry profiteers.
Health reform was the subject of Obama’s Tuesday e-mail, which proclaimed in its heading, “We will not back down.” Addressing me by my first name, which I assume is in acknowledgment that I, like the millions of other suckers with whom he so intimately corresponds, had contributed to his campaign, he began with a clarion call for yet another contribution, this time to donate.barackobama.com/FinalStretch.
“As we head into the final stretch of health reform, big insurance company lobbyists and their partisan allies hope that their relentless attacks and millions of dollars can intimidate us into accepting the status quo. So I have a message for them, from all of us: Not this time. We have come too far. We will not turn back. We will not back down.”
But we, following him, have already backed down. Does the president not recall that he began his health care reform effort by ingratiating himself with the insurance lobbyists in taking “single payer” off the table on day one? The insurers are not really upset with what may survive as a minuscule public option, for they have won the big prize: Everyone must buy insurance from them under penalty of law, and there will be no built-in requirement for cost control. Their so-called opposition to the current plans has to do with fine-tuning the president’s guarantee of their future profits.
The same contradiction between progressive rhetoric and big-business giveaways was on display, also on Tuesday, when Obama addressed the economic crisis. Speaking at the Brookings Institution, an Establishment think tank that helped craft the radical financial deregulation of the Clinton years, Obama blamed Republicans for the mess. He thundered against “an opposition party, which, unfortunately, after having presided over the decision-making that led to the crisis, decided to hand it over to others to solve.”
Rubbish. It was Bill Clinton–in his trademark triangulation of progressive rhetoric with the big-business agenda–who presided over the passage of banking deregulation that led to the mess. Obama knows that full well because he laid out that sordid record in a major speech on economics during the primary campaign, in March 2008 at Manhattan’s Cooper Union:
“Under Republican and Democratic administrations, we failed to guard against practices that all too often rewarded financial manipulation instead of productivity and sound business practices.” He specifically cited the New Deal protections of the Glass-Steagall Act and other legislation that Clinton’s radical deregulation legislation had swept away. Inexplicably as a matter of logic, or all too predictably given the political power of Wall Street, Obama as president turned to the same pro-deregulation Clintonistas to run his economic “reform,” led by Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers.
As for “solving” the banking problem, Obama simply followed the lead of his Republican predecessor. The throw-money-at-Wall-Street solution for which Obama takes credit is the one crafted by Bush’s treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, and it was fully endorsed by then New York Federal Reserve President Timothy Geithner, whom Obama named to replace Paulson. The buying off of the financial hustlers was blessed by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who has been renominated to that position by Obama.
The solution that Obama boasts of has left us with trillions more in debt, one out of four children poor enough to qualify for food stamps and, as Obama conceded in his Tuesday speech, “more than seven million fewer Americans with jobs today than when this recession began.”
I do agree with one line in Obama’s e-mail to those of us who hoped for the best from his presidency: “the opponents of reform will not rest.” But I didn’t expect him to be one of them.