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.