Friday, December 31, 2010

The Lost Decade Ends, The Struggle Continues

A few songs to stiffen the spine and cleanse the soul seem appropriate to celebrate the passing of this lost decade. It began tragically with the 9/11 attacks, the seizure of the people's government by a small clique of  oil barons, plutocrats, corporate predators, and insatiable war profiteers. And it ends with cruel and heartless Republicans trying to deny the heroes of that terrible day the healthcare to treat them, many now terminally ill, from having inhaled the clouds of toxic dust that covered Manhattan.

What kind of country have we become?

And the clueless wingnuts ask, have the terrorists "won"? The terrorists "won" the moment Geroge W. Bush and Dick Cheney were installed as co-presidents by a radical activist right wing Supreme Court, Cheney reveling in his Dark Lord persona as senior partner in the shadows of power manipulating all. Bush-Cheney served their wealthy corporate cronies well, slashing environmental controls to enable BP's assassination of our coastal wetlands and fisheries, and Halliburton's plunder of the U.S. Treasury for profit and corruption in Iraq-Af-Pak as our troops died to defend the corporations' power (not right) to line their pockets with our money, with skyrocketing deficits to starve the "beast" of government and feed the rich and powerfully connected.

Bush and Cheney are war criminals by any reasonable definition of international law, which the United States once pledged to uphold. But President Obama looked the other way. His acquiescence in this venal coverup and in refusing to stand up to the Republican Party, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the corporations so much so that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is dictating policy to them, makes the President an accomplice in this venality and a partner in crime. After he surrendered the tax cuts to the rich and corrupt corporate interests, we are told by stealth DLCer Bob Shrum masquerading as a liberal that we should "trust" President Obama.

I do not and will not. President Obama has lost this liberal. I have gone to the mat for the President once too often only to find that the White House was busily sawing off the limb we were on, giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Maybe Stephen Colbert is right. Maybe President Obama just isn't that into liberals and progressives. Every significant action he has taken has been matched, even surpassed by retreat. President Obama is like Union General Meade after the battle of Gettysburg when Lee's army limped off in slow retreat to the banks of the Potomac. Had Meade pressed his advantage he could have destroyed the Army of Northern Virginia and ended the war in one bold stroke.

President Lincoln, whom Obama admires and has studied (not very well, evidently), was infuriated, writing Meade that he had missed a "goldern opportunity" to end the war. Interestingly, while President Obama's closest adviser is 20-year family friend Valerie Jarrett, a political neophyte who has behaved like one in every way, one senses that Jarrett smothers the President with the kind of protectiveness that is not in the best interests of the nation or the people. She's like the President's shadow. Everywhere he goes she's not far behind. And she's a jumble of facile clichés and meaningless talking points. Last week on Meet The Press Jarrett unctuously asserted that the President "goes to bed at night and wakes up every morning thinking about what's best for the American people." Does this sound familiar? It should, because Jarrett was rehashing word-for-word a Bill Clinton cliché repeated ad nauseum during his particular travails.

One should expect the President's closest aide to be a little more creative, perhaps? But then she announced the President would go on a "listening tour" early in 2011 to listen to the concerns of the American people. This is exactly what the House Republicans did before the midterms. It was nonsense and political atmospherics with not a whit of substance. Their website was a joke. They invited "the American people" to write in with their "concerns" and by far the most popular item was legalizing marijuana. The website was scrubbed. So this is Valerie Jarrett's brilliant game plan? Can the White House spell dis-as-ter?

And another thing. I'd like to know what are the historical examples of lifelong presidential friends  contributing in significant ways to public policy. Either they're ciphers, playing a minimal moral supportive role, in which case no harm no foul, or they're of equal political and intellectual stature. Well, Obama-Jarrett is not Jefferson-Madison. Carter-Lance maybe, and Bert Lance, whose qualities in government only Jimmy Carter could discern, resigned under a cloud of scandal. But they prayed together every morning. Jarrett is supposedly Obama's link to the business community — that turned out well — and known to be partial to Georgetown cocktail parties.

The President needs less highball dilletantes and more close advisers who won't be intimidated to get in his face and tell him some hard truths. It's interesting that the Lincoln model was Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals": Every one of Lincoln's opponents for the presidency — strong wills and egos all — ended up in his cabinet. His biggest rival, Secretary of State William H. Seward, the frontrunner for the nomination and presumptive president, did not think much of Lincoln and tried to sabotage him early on. But in the end, Seward was Lincoln's closest friend. If Hillary ever grows into that role, it will be only with Jarrett's blessing.

The President's team is out of balance. Foreign policy, arguably the least important component, is the strongest with Hillary and Bob Gates running their departments and U.S. foreign and defense policy smoothly in helping the President carry out his objectives. But the most critical component, domestic policy, is a mess. Valerie Jarrett is an incompetent. The invisible cabinet secretaries, with few exceptions (Transportation's Ray LaHood) are weak and have been given little opportunity in the spotlight, which has been hogged by Jarrett and Vice President Biden, whose function seems to be plugging holes in leaky, confused messaging. Biden stands out because he speaks his mind. His harmless gaffes tend to humanize and set him apart from ivory tower operators like the disastrous Larry Summers, perhaps the most fatefully negative appointment Obama made.

So where does this leave liberals and progressives? Where we've been all along: Inside-the-Beltway wilderness but closest to the hearts and minds and souls of the American people. After 30 years of Reaganomics indoctrination, people like Chris Matthews continue to live in the devil's box of Washington power politics and influence, with segments in which he tries to learn from fellow pundits what the "progressive agenda" is. Please. The progressive agenda is America's agenda. You like polls, Chris, then take a look at them. On healthcare, financial reform, protecting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, getting out of Afghanistan. That's the progressive agenda — America's agenda. Not what the corporate political shills at POLITICO have to say.

The time for liberals and progressives to fight is now. For Social Security, Medicare, the tattered social safety net, the remnants of the New Deal, financial regulatory reform and the healthcare law. We might not get much support from the President or the power elites that run this country. But this isn't virgin territory for progressives. We've been here before. Many, many times before.

If the people of Latin America can overcome the terror, the murders, the torture of American-sponsored fascism and military dictatorship, and elect true socialists like Lula of Brazil, who raised 19 million people out of poverty (not 2 million, Mr. President) and leaves office with an 80 percent approval rating and a thriving capitalist nation that is more just and free and forward-looking, then so can we.

The People United Will Never Be Defeated. 

Inti Illimani is a great Chilean band. Miraculously, they escaped the terror of Pinochet's bloody overthrow of the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. This song, "The People United Will Never Be Defeated," is a fitting tribute to President Allende's last radio broadcast as the bombs rained down on the presidential palace:
"May you continue to know that much sooner than later the great avenues throught which free men will pass to build a better society will open. These are my last words. I am sure that my sacrifice will not be in vain. I am sure that it will at least be a moral lesson which will punish felony, cowardice and treason."

This too shall pass.

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