Saturday, February 12, 2011

What Would Bobby Say About The Chamber of Commerce And Obama's Missed Opportunity?

When President Obama addressed the Chamber of Commerce last week, some of us had hoped for fireworks from the President, a righteous indignation and reckoning for the Chamber's despicable, un-American conduct subverting our democracy in the last election. Going before these anti-American corporatist sharks, President Obama did his best impression of Ghandi, turning the other cheek, almost as a supplicant. It was a strange position for arguably the world's most powerful man to be in.

The President seemed to strike a harder tone, for two sentences, then retreated into a familiar pattern of appeasing his adversaries: "But I  want to be clear; even as we make America the best place on earth to do business, businesses also have a responsibility to America." With nary a hint of irony, the President said, to make room for government investments in education, innovation, and infrastructure, government has a "responsibility to cut spending we can't afford." The President touted his spending freeze, which will hit programs for the poor and middle class the worst, not to speak of federal employees. Meanwhile, President Obama's Fat Cat audience are busily squirreling away their billions in tax cuts into offshore tax havens — indecent bonuses  we truly cannot afford and which are downright immoral.

In a rather cynical and bizarre bow to the Chamber, President Obama said, "Now, I understand the challenges you face. I understand that you're under incredible pressure to cut costs and keep your margins up. I understand the significance of your obligations to your shareholders. I get it.

(Please. Pass the barf bag!) With all due respect, no sir, you do not get it.

The President was altogether too conciliatory, promising to cut "burdensome regulations" and giving these criminal tycoons a fifth-grade lesson in the perils of a laissez-faire society run for greed and profit; sort of like the corporate-run America we live in today: "few of us would want to live in a society without the rules that keep our air and water clean; that give consumers the confidence to do everything from investing in financial markets to buying groceries." Really? It depends to which "few" you refer, Mr. President. These contemporary robber barons are doubling down on their demands for deregulation, as if the financial collapse and the BP oil disaster and the multiple food recalls never happened.

Who are you kidding, Mr. President? Sometimes, it seems as if you're trying to convince yourself more than anyone else. When Bobby Kennedy addressed business leaders in 1968, he said:
"There is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly and destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor....This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in winter. This is the breaking of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men."
These words are as relevant today as they were when Bobby spoke them, some 43 years ago. In some ways, the "violence of institutions" both public and private is more crushing today, with tens of thousands of Americans losing their homes, their jobs, their hope, their dignity and their health care, with one-in-six children going hungry. One can only imagine what Bobby would have said to that hideous governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, for cutting critically ill patients from the transplant list, allowing two to die. For a miserable five million in savings that could have been matched with federal funds and found in less lethal portions of the state budget. For strictly despicable ideological and bureaucratic reasons from a right wing political apparatchik who lost her soul somewhere along the way and the sense that public servants exist, first and foremost, to serve the people.

Waiting (in vain?) For President Obama to Be More Like Bobby.
Whatever he'd say to, and about her, it would have been blistering. This is the speech some of us have been waiting for President Obama to deliver to the Chamber of Commerce. Perhaps it would not have been politic but it would have been true. Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of Bobby's favorite authors. One of the passages from Emerson that Bobby marked, declared: "If the single man plant himself on his instincts, and there abide, the huge world will come round to him."

No comments: