Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Obama's props posted by Richard SeymourThe rave reviews from Amreekan liberals of Obama's speech to Congress compelled me to watch it, or as much of it as I could without sinking into a grinning stupor. You don't have to waste your time, as you can read the transcript here. Was it really "electrifying"? Well, of course it was. It was supposed to be. But was it Obama who was electrifying? Wasn't it just the atmosphere whipped up by lapdogs in Congress who insisted upon raising up on their hind legs and slapping their paws together at the blandest incitement to do so? Obama did what he was expected to do: he conversed as if he might be the father you never had, was courteous to his opponents, smiled charmingly, spoke in coy yet apparently effusive language, and denounced the past (the past is very unpopular among American politicians, especially concerning "the stale ideas of", "the failed solutions of", "the broken promises of" etc). And he had very carefully phrased, and timed, moments in his speech that clearly instructed his supporters to holler and rave. And that was what was electrifying.
Trying to extract content from the speech, on the other hand, was like trying suck blood from a stone (where, in all likelihood, the only blood you taste will be your own). And even Obama's performance, though obviously well-rehearsed, contained a few slips. Not that Obama lacks a sense of dramatic irony. Promising to have his stimulus/bailout package sternly overseen by the vainglorious waffler Joe Biden, he flourished: "because nobody messes with Joe". Joe, the banking industry's favourite gopher, giggled with delight, as red in cheek as he was white in mane and fangs. If Congress got the joke, that didn't stop them from giving it up once more. In a parallel fashion, when he promised that the banks would really be very roughly scrutinised indeed, he remarked: "this time, they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer. This time, CEOs won't be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet." Another ungovernable ovation. This cassandra was driving the chorus to delirium. But was Obama ever a cassandra? Did he not, in fact, put his popularity at the service of Wall Street and Hanky Panky Paulson in helping push through the last bail-out? You know, the one that enabled CEOs everywhere to replace their dreary old drapes with lush new ones made of crushed velvet or, worse, velour? Where were his forebodings about the fucking executive curtains?
And again, when it came to reforming healthcare, he subtly juxtaposed it with a coded reference to social security privatization. The administration has just had to back down from plans to create a task force looking at ways to address the supposed solvency problems of the fund. In fact, Obama is lying when he complains of the 'growing costs' of social security. The number of over-65s in 2000 was slightly less than what it was projected it would be by the Roosevelt administration in 1934. Notwithstanding that, Alan Greenspan's ominous warnings about baby-boomers flooding the social security rolls come the new millenium did result in a series of reforms in the 1970s that increased the payroll tax. The system has a surplus, and will continue to have a surplus for decades. There is no solvency crisis. Obama is, to repeat for emphasis, lying. It is unfortunate for him that these fibs were trashed by liberals in 2005 when Bush first tried to push through privatization. On the other hand, if his progressive supporters continue to gush and drool as they are now doing, he could probably hand over the Treasury to Wall Street and no one would hold it against him.
Perhaps Obama's biggest challenge in this speech was to determine the correct quantum of patriotic blood-letting. Most Americans oppose both the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. The vast majority of Democratic voters are in opposition. Obama, for his part, indicated that he was working on a plan to get US troops out and leave Iraqis to their own devices, which would be encouraging except that reports intimate his intention to leave tens of thousands of troops in there. And as for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the war counsel is evidently that the US must escalate to "defeat Al Qaeda and combat extremism". Unfortunately for him, Pakistan isn't playing ball, having cut a deal with the Taliban. And, as we know, Karzai and most of the population of Afghanistan would like to pursue a similar policy. Hardly perfect, I'm sure, but then you don't necessarily "combat extremism" by practising it from 20,000 feet, even if you sell it as "carnage you can believe in". Still, Obama had more than one audience to please, and on this question he has consistently chosen to place his presidential charisma at the service of the war party. And, though he has thankfully ordered the closure of that Guantanamo hellhole, the fact that he insists it is a humane institution should cast some doubt on his statement that "the United States of America does not torture". This is being treated as a promise, but it sounds like denial. In fact, it is the exact wording Bush used in his denials, while the US was in fact torturing prodigiously. And given that renditions will continue, and that most of the secret prisons are being maintained, there is no reason to believe that the global gulag will stop mutilating genitals, much less waterboarding.
Oh, by all means, have the Obama jerk-along. He's a sweet enough guy and if you had to do it with a US president, he'd be the pick of the litter. Better, at any rate, than fishing around under Bill Clinton's flabby mid-riff for a mouth organ. But when it comes to politics? When it comes to your interests, I would urge a more dispassionate approach.