The State of the Onion
(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari.)
As far as disappointments, I wasn't terribly disappointed because I didn't expect that much. - Howard Zinn (1922-2010)
Amid the shuffle of the drinking games, live-blogging and partisan yelling on both sides of the Great Ideological Divide was the largely ignored news of the death of legendary historian Howard Zinn. As it turned out, it proved to be the most newsworthy event of January 27, 2010, much more interesting and worthy of comment than the president's first State of the Union Address, James "Bond" O'Keefe and his Ritz Brother cohorts or anything else.
No, it was Howard Zinn, who could've easily suffered the same fate as Aldous Huxley, who had the colossal misfortune to die the same day JFK was assassinated
In a way, Zinn's passing from a heart attack in California the day our new president would give his first SOTU Address was something that only a historian could fully appreciate. One of the very last things Zinn had written was a thumbnail impression of President Obama for The Nation's latest edition, "Obama at One."
Respect for copyright infringement alone prevents me from quoting Mr. Zinn in full because, as was his usual style, his thoughts and feelings on the administration mirror my own and that of all liberals and progressives who choose not to go gently into that good night and keep their eyes closed.
But Zinn flatly said with the world weariness permitted only by the very jaded and the very old that he was not disappointed by Obama because he, like I and so many of us, did not have any great expectations. No matter what President Obama does or doesn't do, we should all be grateful that in 2008 we did not show the enormous disconnect from fact that installed George W. Bush in the White House twice in a row.
Yet from the very beginning, when Mr. Obama first announced his presidential campaign early in February 2007 in
What few populist messages and promises he'd made during his campaign he'd immediately began reneging on from January 20, 2009 on. And last night Barack Obama sounded not as if he was delivering his first SOTU Address but as if he was running for president again. Only it sounded like a rehash of the 2008 campaign, not a preemptive one for 2012. It almost sounded as if, to Obama, 2009 and the official and unofficial Republican guttersniping that accompanied it never happened.
What did we hear? Calls for bipartisanship that one would expect an intelligent man to know would go unheeded beginning with Bob McDonnell's rebuttal, one that consisted of the usual GOP lies and propaganda. Obama feigned empathy with the American middle class's plight gleaned through carefully weeded letters sent to his desk. He hated the second round of bailouts yet signed off on them, anyway.
He's freezing spending for three years except for his inherited wars (one of which he'd ramped up much like Nixon ramped up Vietnam) and, presumably, the outsourcing orgy at the State Department, Pentagon and even NASA. Every economist from Paul Krugman on down had even before the address denounced this tactic as the worst possible thing a President can do during a deep recession.
Let me say that again: Spending for unspecified social programs will be cut or suspended while companies like Halliburton, Blackwater and other war profiteers will continue as business as usual. Meanwhile, Section 6 of the TARP bill drawn up by the Bush White House gives dictatorial powers to the Treasury Secretary (another Wall Street insider only with better hair) that allows him to buy up another $700 billion in toxic assets without any transparency or oversight whatsoever.
So what's changed? Reading Zinn's extended blurb on Obama's first year, one sees that his wearied cynicism and almost complete lack of expectations was justified, especially when we match it up to Mr. Obama's maiden address. As in 2008, Mr. Obama promised transparency and bipartisanship in our government yet the facts speak for themselves. No government can afford as much transparency as the people would like, especially a nation as large and as active in its foreign policy as the United States.
Looking Through a Glass Onion
Let's face facts: The president even admitted last night, after taking some token jabs at the previous administration (without, notably, mentioning the B word) that he wasn't interested in litigating the past. This pretty much puts the kibosh on any hopes on an Obama-era Justice Department trying Bush, Cheney and their gang for subverting the Constitution. If we have any hope for justice for the massive criminal enterprise of the Bush-Cheney junta, much of which we're still unaware, we will have to look to Europe. The Hague, our nation turns its blackened eyes to you.
Far from transparency, we're seeing the same old same old and one has to painstakingly peel back the onion to see what is at the middle of it all. But the onion is made out of glass and is brittle. Anyone who's ever tried to get anything through the gutted FOIA has, more often than not, gotten documents even more heavily redacted than anything pried from the Bush administration.
And the glass onion is far from transparent. Witness what we've been hearing from the citizen media and even the legitimate press about back room deals cut between Rahm Emanuel and Billy Tauzin's buddies in Big Pharma. Look at the compromised position that Obama started out regarding health care, a signature issue on which he has, very unwisely, staked much of his political capital. Again, I give you Professor Zinn:
On domestic policy, traditionally Democratic presidents are more reformist, closer to the labor movement, more willing to pass legislation on behalf of ordinary people--and that's been true of Obama. But Democratic reforms have also been limited, cautious. Obama's no exception. On healthcare, for example, he starts out with a compromise, and when you start out with a compromise, you end with a compromise of a compromise, which is where we are now.
At this stage, this "compromise of a compromise" is taking on the guise of an original photostat being photocopied thousands of times over until it becomes a mere blurred document that is undecipherable, a palimpsest of any actual reform. Now Obama's former colleagues in the Senate have produced a bill, due to his inaction and laissez faire attitude, that has become so reviled in the House and across the country that the lower chamber has all but guaranteed that it will, Scott Brown or no Scott Brown, not pass.
And the real reason for the massive HMO giveaway, this latest bailout, never came close to being divulged by our transparent President: namely that the big HMO's got hit hard by engaging on risky derivatives speculation on Wall Street and need to come up with about 40,000,000 new captive paying customers to make up the shortfall. The Senate version of the health care bill, as we all know too well, is very firm about a mandate, will use two bylaws in the tax code to enforce "noncompliance" yet does nothing in the way of limiting health care costs or provide a public option. These were not mere oversights.
Even more disturbing is the mantra we're hearing about how "progressive" our own health care system is here in Massachusetts. Literally 24 hours after the bill was signed into law by Mitt Romney in December of 2006, premiums skyrocketed by as much as 75-100%, with stiff penalties being imposed for "noncompliance". There's no public option to speak of and Mass Health, which formerly was for welfare recipients, hardly offers rates through major insurers that are competitive with job-provided health plans. In many cases, the Commonwealth's alternative is even more expensive.
And how are people supposed to be able to afford mandated health insurance when they're not working? Even with the ARRA, which reduces COBRA costs to the uninsured by 65%, insurance is out of reach if you're making $200 a week or less on unemployment. No one should have to choose between food and health care yet that is precisely what Mitt Romney, and Barack Obama, are forcing us to do. Using our system of "health care reform" as a template is one of the most disastrous ones to use. If that's the best Congress and the President can do, they might as well just let the health care industry write their own legislation the way we let the credit card companies write the bankruptcy bill in the 90s.
What Can Brown Do to You?
The only thing about this White House that's transparent is the spin regarding Obama's newly populist tone in the wake of the Brown-Coakley debacle here in the Bay State. Anyone out there who thinks the SOTU Address would've read exactly the way it was last night had Brown not won deserves the Senate health care bill inflicted on their life.
It was noteworthy, after all the exit poll numbers had been crunched, that the Go Along To Get Along 2010 Obama suddenly once again became the 2008 populist Obama. One exit poll after another proved the Brown victory was not a referendum on health care (because of our bright, shining example of health care "reform") but one on the Democrats' inability to connect with the voters (primarily independents). An unofficial 17% unemployment rate and an economy heavily dependent on Chinese loans that are about to become nonexistent were the reasons why Scott Brown was catapulted from Beacon to Capitol Hill.
Had Coakley and her presumably dependable vote on the health care bill carried the day, you can bet even that this "post-partisan" President would've been able to give the GOP the finger last night after saving the mythical 60 seat, filibuster-proof majority.
But last night, all we heard was the same delusional pap we heard throughout 2008. "Let's all work together and think of the people and not our personal political fortunes." "The people are tired of partisanship."
True enough but simply asking a plainly insane political faction that's even more corrupt than the Democrats is not going to end the gridlock that Scott Brown promised last year. Professor Zinn was right not to entertain high expectations of this administration and we should all follow his example and begin looking up and down the left side of the aisle for an alternative in 2012.