Thursday, April 25, 2013

Bipartisan gag-fest week for Obama

And I mean "gag" both in the sense of "joke" and "about to throw up" senses.

All five living Presidents are getting together today to honor war criminal and torture perpetrator George W. Bush at the opening of his Presidential library. This is one of those occasions where the President's dual role as head of state and head of government present a dilemma. At least it should. I don't object to the former Presidents attending this event, one of which is his father.

But Obama's presence is another reminder of his shameful unwillingness to do his legal and moral duty to prosecute perpetrators of torture. The Cheney-Bush torture program was a real blow to the rule of law. And Obama's unwillingness to prosecute the torture perpetrators means that such abuses will continue. We saw just this month how many Republicans were eager to declare the one suspect in custody over the Boston Marathon bombing an "enemy combatant" so that he could be taken out of the normal legal system and tortured at will and imprisoned indefinitely without ever having charges brought against him. The Administration's decision not to do that was a good thing. But Obama's decision not to prosecute known torture perpetrators, including Bush and Dick Cheney, puts his own stamp of approval on their crimes.

Ordering torture and invading a country for no good reason should never have been treated like business-as-usual.

And this Saturday, we have the 2013 "Nerd Prom," aka, the White House Correspondents' Dinner. The Nerd Prom is the living annual celebration of the merger of governmental power, the Establishment press and Hollywood celebrity. You can see one of many examples of this in the advance coverage, this one from The Hollywood Reporter, White House Correspondents' Association Cracks Down on Oscar-Style Gift Lounge by Erin Carlson 04/23/2013.

Jerry Brown in his 2011 Inaugural Address as California Governor said (from the prepared text):

With so many people out of work and so many families losing their homes in foreclosure it is not surprising that voters tell us they are worried and believe that California is on the wrong track. Yet, in the face of huge budget deficits year after year and the worst credit rating among the 50 states, our two political parties can’t come close to agreeing on the right path forward. They remain in their respective comfort zones, rehearsing and rehashing old political positions.

Perhaps this is the reason why the public holds the state government in such low esteem. And that’s a profound problem, not just for those of us who are elected, but for our whole system of self-government. Without the trust of the people, politics degenerates into mere spectacle; and democracy declines, leaving demagoguery and cynicism to fill the void. [my emphasis]
The Nerd Prom is a grotesque manifestation of that very process where "politics degenerates into mere spectacle" and promotes conditions in which "democracy declines, leaving demagoguery and cynicism to fill the void."

The President is expected to play stand-up comedian, cracking jokes about issues of the day at the event. George W. Bush hit the record low point so far at the 2004 dinner when he joked about those missing "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq that he used to justify the war and which weren't there. Ha, ha, lots of dead people because of a cynical lie! The distinguished correspondents laughed right along with the joke.

This presentation of Obama's to a bunch of wealthy Democratic donors encapsulates so much of what is wrong with Obama's Presidency and Party leadership (Josh Lederman, Obama: Republican Outreach Will Continue Even If Democrats 'Think I'm A Sap' Huffington Post/AP 04/24/13):

About 60 donors paid between $10,000 to $32,000 per ticket, said a Democratic official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss party finances. Hosting the event was Naomi Aberly, a major Obama fundraiser and prominent supporter of Planned Parenthood who credited Obama for working to protect women's reproductive rights. Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, who was Obama's first-term U.S trade representative, also attended.

"Occasionally I may make some of you angry, because I am going to reach out to Republicans. I am going to keep on doing it, even if some of you guys think I'm a sap," Obama said. "But what I also believe in is that when Democrats have the opportunity to set the agenda and we don't have a country where just a few are doing really, really well, we have a country where everybody has a chance to do well." [my emphasis]
This is the Democratic President once again bragging about how he's upsetting his own Party's voting base by things like his austerity economics including proposed cuts to benefits for Social Security and Medicare. So what are donors buying with those $32K donations? A Democratic President who is cautiously liberal on issues like same-sex marriage and immigration and conservative on economic policy issues. An advocate for the "left" version of what most of the world calls "neoliberalism," the deregulation/privatization/financialization/globalization/IMF/Washington Consensus. Mostly the same as conservatives on actual economic policy but with superficial modifications, coupled with a more tolerant attitude on social issues.

Colin Crouch points out that even within a relatively narrow consensus on issues of business regulation and the desirability of privatizing public services, "The realm of values is ... a fragmented and contested one, with few groups in a position to impose orthodoxy. This provides the opening for a large range of interests beyond those favoured by state, market or firm to gain access." (The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism, 2011, p. 151) Thus there is room to engage in substantive fights over an issue like birth control without endangering the larger deregulation/free-market consensus. However, the recent fight over gun regulations shows how economic interests, the firearms industry in this case, can win out over even a staggering 9-to-1 consensus in favor of a measure like the timid background checks bill the Senate stopped last week.

This clip of The Young Turks' Cenk Uygur from July of last year just after the Aurora mass murder is especially interesting to see in light of Obama's recent failure to get even the Senate to pass a mild background-check federal gun law, Michael Moore's Question For President Obama After Colorado Shooting The Young Turks YouTube date 07/26/2012:

I discussed Obama's Urban League speech dealing, the topic of that report, in a post at the time:

But I show that whole section of the speech above because it gives a good look at what is so disheartening about Obama for progressives. For one thing, Obama spent Friday through Tuesday as Pastor-in-Chief on the Aurora killings, the White House even saying that Obama would be concentrating on enforcing existing laws. Meanwhile, FOX News and Republican hate radio and the extremist gun lobbies have been saying since before Obama was inaugurated that Obama and the UN had a secret plan to confiscate everyone's huntin' rifles, and will keep saying it no matter what Obama proposes or does. ...

There's an argument to be made that the NRA's political clout is vastly over-rated among Democrats who use it as a reason not to advocate even very popular restrictions on automatic weapons and gun shows. But they're bitter opponents of Obama even though he hasn't pushed any kind of serious "gun control" legislation, and has clearly wanted to avoid even talking about it. Yet he's reluctant to use these issues to win votes of independents among whom they are popular and at the same time hasn't (so far as I can see) used the occasion of the Aurora mass gun murder to stigmatize the conspiracy theories that the Republicans and the gun lobby flog endlessly to use against him.
Obama is willing to defy an overwhelming consensus against cuts in benefits to Social Security and Medicare because there is big money to be made by private financial institutions by cutting or doing away with those programs - at a serious cost to public health and well-being. Leading that fight increases his prospects of big financial rewards at the end of his Presidential term. For similar reasons, he carefully avoided challenging the firearms industry lobby, the NRA, over an issue like gun regulation which is not only popular but in the interest of general public safety and even the War On Terror.

His switch after the Sandy Hook shooting may have been driven by his emotional response to the mass killing of children. But I'm sure he didn't ignore the political value of at least appearing to make a serious stand on a popular issue of which liberals are even more inclined to favor than the general public at a time when he was offering up benefit cuts in Social Security and Medicare.

But after four years of responding to mass-casualty events involving gun violence, even the attempted assassination of a Democratic Congresswoman, by evading the issue of gun regulation and by not even trying to tie extremist and hate-mongering rhetoric by Republican leaders and media outlets to the climate of violence, it's pretty clear he prefers to avoid this issue like the plague. He now has a talking point that he tried to get background checks passed and the Republicans blocked it. But I will be very much surprised if we see him seriously take on gun regulation against during his Presidency. Even though recent experience tells us that we can expect several more mass-casualty events involving guns and bombs over the remainder of his term. The firearms industry is making money on those semi-automatic assault weapons, so the Great God Free Market is happy.

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