So far as I can figure it at this early stage of the game, we elected at least three presidents last November, all of them identified by the name Barack Obama. Unfortunately, the one on duty in the Oval Office most of the time, the First Obama–the one the elites picked as their man–is sticking to utterly conventional and catastrophic policies. Here is a man who has spent a lavish portion of his first hundred days setting the stage for what bids fair to be one of the greatest foreign policy disasters of the postwar epoch, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. To find parallel cases of lunatic misjudgment, you have to go all the way back to 1961 and John F. Kennedy’s twin commitments to ratchet up the US intervention in Vietnam and greenlight the attempted invasion of Cuba.
Now Obama is pulling troops out of Iraq (except for the 50,000 he wants to leave installed in long-term garrisons) to send them at prodigious expense well beyond the present means of penniless Uncle Sam to ignite widening disaster in Afghanistan. With its lethal onslaughts into Pakistan, the United States is in the process of finishing off the tottering Zardari regime, ushering in a military coup directed by Islamic fundamentalists in profound sympathy with the Taliban.
In concert with militarist continuity from the Bush years, Obama’s lawyers have told federal judges they are explicitly continuing Bush policies on rendition, indefinite detention, spying and telecom immunity. Obama also echoes Bush in contradicting the National Intelligence Estimate, insisting that Iran is working on nukes.
At home, disaster is not impending but upon us. The US Titanic took another huge lurch on the first two trading days of March, as the financial markets looked at the plummeting dividend figures from flagship firms like GE and HSBC; AIG’s fourth-quarter loss of $61.7 billion (the largest in US corporate history); and the impending write-down in commercial real estate, which will tear another huge hole in the Titanic’s hull.
No budget proposal coming out of the White House should ever be taken seriously. But even if Obama’s is properly regarded as merely an advertisement of good intentions, what has there been by way of substantive action in these first crucial days to reverse economic catastrophe? The stimulus package will scarcely deal with the job losses of the past three months. Trillions have been tossed uselessly to the banks, on the recommendation of the bankers and their pitchmen, with whom Obama has surrounded himself.
In sum, the First Obama is doing badly.
The Second Obama is the one who talks a great game, as the Republicans are finding out. Standing in the Salt Lake City airport on March 2, I caught sight of him introducing Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius as his next nominee to run Health and Human Services. You can bathe in the uplifting torrent of Obama’s words like a convert at a baptism and come up out of the water believing that true healthcare reform is right around the next corner.
The Third Obama doesn’t slip into the Oval Office too often, meaning, of course, that he’s the one the progressives staked their hopes on. On the evidence of his modest achievements thus far, he’s the one who’ll be the object lesson in vindicating the very old-fashioned left idea that it will take forces larger than one good guy in the White House to bring radical change to America.
But last month the Third Obama got something done. Here’s how it happened. Obama was sworn in as president on January 20, and two days later the Drug Enforcement Administration celebrated the new era by raiding a medical marijuana dispensary run by wheelchair-bound Ken Estes in South Lake Tahoe, California. Now, on the campaign trail Obama had been very specific about the weight of federal law (which the DEA brandishes) relative to state laws decriminalizing or legalizing medical marijuana in thirteen states.
“What I’m not going to be doing,” he told Gary Nelson of the Medford Mail Tribune, “is using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue, simply because I want folks to be investigating violent crimes and potential terrorism.” So to the hopeful medical marijuana lobby the DEA raid came like a punch in the nose. Fred Gardner, who edits O’Shaughnessy’s, a pro-cannabis doctors’ journal, reported the raid on the CounterPunch website on February 4. That same day, the White House announced that Obama’s commitment to honoring state medical marijuana law would be implemented by his yet-to-be-named DEA administrator. On February 25 Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the federal government would no longer raid or prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries in states where they are legal.
In 1931, as the economy tanked and America headed into the Great Depression, the National Economic League polled its members–a sound cross-section of educated opinion–on the nation’s most pressing problems. The easy winner? Prohibition. It cantered home well ahead of unemployment and economic stabilization. Ending Prohibition was functional to social control. If people could head for the bars, they’d be less likely to man the barricades, calling for real change.
As FDR’s popularity soared, so Obama’s popularity has soared for dope smokers, among them those for whom the herb is the best and cheapest line of defense against pain. The Third Obama honored a commitment and thereby no doubt offended the pharmaceutical industry, which correctly sees legal marijuana as representing a potentially huge erosion of its commercial turf. Give the Third Obama a clap on the back. He needs all the encouragement he can get to sneak into the Oval Office more often. The First and Second Obamas can’t hope to stay so high for long in the popularity stakes, and Obama really wants to be liked.