(Originally posted Dec. 2009)
If hope is the thing with feathers, its failure to materialize wears a decidedly Democratic skin, where the promise of flight is always grounded by the weakest of wills. We’ve known about the party’s inability to govern for decades now, its full-tilt retreat in the face of mere token resistance; where majorities are confused for cheap surrender, and power comes dipped in the veneer of cowardice and compromise. Yes, we buried the last of the Democratic fortitude with LBJ, as well as the unflinching, unwavering dedication to liberal principles best expressed by FDR. The high water mark of the 20th century Left, the almost unimaginable days of the Great Society before Vietnam made Johnson’s presidency more about a re-establishment of American masculinity than the alleviation of suffering, is so far removed from the modern party’s identity that it’s more the stuff of musty, sepia-toned memories than any real inspiration. The two post-Johnson Democrats, Carter and Clinton, were supreme failures in turn, and did more to take the party to the center-right than had it been headed by Saint Reagan himself. And now, with Barack Obama, the man-child among the reeds, the circle is complete. Elected to change course, spearhead a new day, and rise to the challenge of healing a rudderless nation, he has instead disappointed to an unprecedented degree. Not even a year in, he’d lost control of his presidency, with only a mid-term rout (done) and failed re-election bid on the bitter horizon (all-but-done).
Still, we had to know this would happen. As always, we were charmed by the possibilities, distracted by the glamour. Choosing symbolism over heft, experience, and the sack to actually govern, we assumed that having a different hue than his predecessors was enough to signal a changing tide. He spoke with poetry, dammit, and we ignored the assorted canaries who told us the coal mine was suffused with a shallow, though highly toxic poison. As such, Obama is the consummate campaigner; masterful on the stump, with crowds, and eye-to-eye. And yet, the hard work of the presidency – the long hours, the push and pull and soul-killing banter inherent in the position – seems, then and now, beyond him, as if he can’t be bothered to actually give a damn. Obama is, without question, a supreme intellect and rugged, complex thinker, but he hasn’t the stomach for the fight; he retreats at the very moment he should be showing his fangs to a defeated foe. He needs blood on his hands, and the willingness to hide the bodies of the vanquished. Trying so desperately to cast aside the blanket of rigidity he inherited from Mr. Bush, he has abandoned every shard of principle, all possible recourse to actually get something done. Believing in nothing, he has been made the fool, though only by his own design*.
Few could be blamed for seeing a troubling continuity from the past eight years to the present day, as we differ little in either substance or tone from the Bush/Cheney era. We are still at war on two fronts, with more troops on the way, and the associated appropriations are, at this moment, continuing their dreary rise into the stratosphere of debt. Afghanistan, heretofore the most inexplicable of war footings, given its tenuous connection to 9/11 (the hijackers were, almost to a man, from Saudi Arabia, and most of the planning took place in European hotels and American strip clubs), long ago eclipsed a quagmire, and has become, in the blink of an eye, simply another hopeless stretch of rock and sand where the mis- and easily- led die for the all-but-privatized war machine. Obama’s policy here is not only not an improvement on Bush’s, it is monumentally worse, as it re-commits to failure, while betraying the promise that he would be markedly different. He is not. Obama, for all his charm, is a flaccid, simpering con artist without the skill or phallus to challenge the ultimate American orthodoxy: we eat, sleep, and shit war, and it’s just about the only thing we do anymore with conviction. And it’s not even about winning. Just stretch it out, line some pockets, inspire promotions, and lull us to sleep with faux patriotism and blather about honor. Modern war indeed protects American interests, though such “interests” aren’t found with earshot of the Constitution these vampires claim to defend.
And then there’s health care. Both houses of Congress, and here we are, one step from passing a bill so toothless it all but cedes even more control to the insurance lobby. From visions of universal coverage to a doorstop that mandates something or other without doing a whit for price control or flexibility, the bill currently under consideration is exactly what you’d expect to get when its chief defender, President Obama, surrendered his nads before the thing hit the floor. Instead of, say, staking his entire presidency on the most pressing issue of our time, he has been content to hide under the couch until the gutless slobs in the Senate spew mediocrity from their Big Pharma-carved colons. Obama has failed to communicate a single idea related to health reform, and has assumed that mere change, or the repetition of the buzzword, would be enough to win the ball game. He lost control of the story quickly, almost without challenge, and hasn’t done a thing to bring it back to his side. Instead of grabbing lapels and poking his finger in assorted chests until the bastards relent, Obama has made it priority one to stall, hem, and hopelessly haw. As the nation’s primary messenger, he’s abdicated the throne without a shot being fired, and will spend the remainder of his single term in utter confusion. Even a Carter-like cabinet purge won’t erase the stink. His base is clearing the room, his reluctant supporters long ago defected, and his haters are more determined than ever. And as vile as the Republican agenda is, at least it’s a stance. One they’ll most assuredly fight for.
I happily, lustfully voted for Obama in 2008, if only to protect the Supreme Court. His first appointment, Sonia Sotomayor, appears to be a suitable choice (as does his second, the Lesbian Jewess, Elena Kagan), though time will tell if they’re up to the classically liberal, fuck-you-Bush-Senior greatness of David Souter. The real impact won’t come, however, until the Court sheds a Scalia or a Thomas. With a one-and-done, it’s unlikely Obama will ever get that chance. So no, I don’t abide executive weakness. Lacking left-wing chops, Obama has made the long road to retaking the White House even longer, and I won’t buy into the bullshit ever again. Perversely, I’d like to see Sarah Palin take the helm in 2012, if only to watch Democrats light the fire, as they seem to be at their best when there isn’t a chance in hell their ideas will actually see the light of day. And Palin would make America fun again, if only because she’d at last fulfill our subconscious national desire to reward Miss America not only with a tiara, but the keys to the kingdom as well. Hell, we’re on the decline, spinning ‘round the toilet of our nightmares, so why not finish us off at last with a well-stacked scarecrow who substitutes winking for actual thought? We’d get a wasteland, but at least we’d expect it. With Obama, we believed. We threw up our hands and left it up to him. As a lazy, fat, ambition-deprived American male, I’m used to failure with my daily bread, but this is one betrayal for which I will not stand. Say good night, Barack.
* – see also: tax policy, DADT, offshore drilling, non-use of the Antiquities Act, etc.