by Zainab Cheema
Barack Obama is not the answer to the liberals’ democrat dream but a butler of the neo-liberal establishment, notwithstanding his soaring rhetoric about democracy, hope and change.
The re-election of President Barack Obama has been heralded as the ultimate triumph of the Democratic Party over the nefarious Republicans. CNN has voted him “the most intriguing person” of 2012, as Time magazine anointed him “Person of the Year.” Glossy pictures of the smiling Obama splash webpages and magazines, replacing the grim, sullen man who anxiously watched robo-Romney close the margin to a mere five-point lead in the final leg of the electoral race. As Democrats speculate about anointing Hillary Clinton to be the DNC candidate for the 2016 Presidential election, celebrations continue about the sidelining of the Republicans into a never-ending triumph of sunlit liberal hegemony.
The figures for the election turnout reveal the role played by minorities and women in pushing the tarnished president to the finish line — spurred by disgust as Republican politicians spewed racial vitriol at Hispanics and Arabs, and openly speculated about enrolling the state to police women’s reproductive organs. In short, Romney was done-in by the votes of single women, Latinos, and other minorities. The fascist regressiveness of some members of the Republican Party even made Republican insiders sick to the gills. “If another Republican man says anything about rape other than it is a horrific, violent crime, I want to personally cut out his tongue,” declared Karen Hughes, George W. Bush’s top political aide, in a Politico column. As Maureen Dowd of the New York Times noted, “If 2008 was about exalting the One, 2012 was about the disenchanted Democratic base deciding: ‘We are the Ones we’ve been waiting for.’”
And yet, newly rescued by his disenchanted base, President Obama once more proves that he is not so much the answer to the liberal American Dream, as promoted in his books The Audacity of Hope and Dreams from My Father, but rather the butler of the neoliberal establishment. In the month since winning the election, Obama is enacting legislation near and dear to the Republican Party, swinging the ax over social welfare provisions enshrined in the Constitution since the 1930s. The honeymoon has given way to the “new and improved Obama” — the liberal knight who now proves himself ever more devoted to the financial establishment that greased his electoral machine.
As Obama confronts the task of negotiating with Congress on the precarious US fiscal situation, his solutions strike joy in the heart of the most purist fiscal right-winger — taking Social Security off life-support, and letting the oldest and sickest US citizens to fend for themselves. Rather than imposing higher income taxes on US citizens who earn $250,000 and above, as Obama initially promised, Republicans insist that only citizens earning $1 million per annum and upwards are taxable. Obama’s solution to coax the Republicans is to accept some form of higher taxation while reducing social welfare. “There is only one person who can rescue the Republican Party now — Barack Obama,” notes Cenk Uygur of the Common Dreams media site, “And he will.”
Cutting down the social welfare net for US citizens is not an unpleasant necessity that Obama arrived at, in grappling with the House Republicans. As in 2008, he holds all the cards, legitimacy and social prestige res-tored by an electoral win. While Obama has been compared to JFK, it seems that the president uppermost in his mind has always been Ronald Reagan, the political architect of US corporatization, privatization, and de-regulation.
In his book Audacity of Hope, he imagines the kind of negotiations that a leader would have to undertake with respect to the United States’ economic health. “The problems with the Social Security trust fund are real but manageable,” Obama wrote, “In 1983, when facing a similar problem, Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill got together and shaped a bipartisan plan that stabilized the system for the next sixty years. There’s no reason we can’t do the same today.” Nor was this Obama’s only Reagan reference — during the 2008 election campaign, he frequently referred to the Reagan era with admiration, angering the liberals who believed (dubiously) he should talk up the Clinton years.
The “fiscal cliff” being discussed in Washington, DC’s halls is the inability of the federal government to balance its budget — its metastatic spending simply is out of pace with its revenue. Obama’s willingness to dismantle Social Security — with its meager payments for illness, food stamps, and other crumbs doled out to a disenfranchised population — highlights an unspoken conviction. That is, the dismantling of the New Deal, a job begun by Ronald Reagan, is permissible, but not the unchecked spending of the military industrial complex in its wars against half a dozen Muslim countries. Even as 60% of US citizens oppose the Afghan War, Obama described the Afghan War as “fundamental.” Despite the apocryphal date of 2014 when the US is scheduled to complete its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Pentagon’s top brass is eagerly touting their “astounding progress” against the Taliban ahead of their plans to press for extended military presence, which Obama is expected to cheerfully rubberstamp.
It is also harder to imagine a Republican president who can improve upon Obama’s track record in domestic militarism. Even as Obama wiped away tears for the children killed in Sandy Hook Elementary, Obama’s administration is responsible for the expansion of domestic drones used for surveillance of US civilians, as well as for the greatest number of deportations of illegal immigrants. According to newly released US government statistics, the Obama administration deported a record 1.5 million illegal immigrants in his first term. If Obama marketed himself as restoring the broken American dream — and the public’s tarnished hopes — in the 2012 elections, he apparently sees no irony in being the country’s first African American president presiding over the large-scale booting of Hispanic immigrants fleeing back-breaking poverty, dispossession and violence in Latin America.
Obama’s obsession with “conceding” to the Republicans, even when there is no obvious political pressure to do so, is not an example of his diplomatic finesse — it points to deep-seated insecurities, and a drive to align himself with the neoliberal power culture shaped by US corporations and military contactors. In a recent psychological study of Obama, Obama on the Couch, Justin Frank “describes a childhood deficient in stable attachments and consistent guidance: an absentee Kenyan father who abandoned him, an Indonesian stepfather (temporary), and a Kansas-born mother who often parked him with his grandparents while she pursued anthropological fieldwork and employment elsewhere.” Frank notes that this rootlessness built a deep-seated drive to conform to the power culture and attain status associated with the highest office in the land. In short, Obama’s lack of vision and leadership is not an outcome of unfulfilled potential, but the result of his drive to affiliate himself with the power culture and its objectives.
Liberalism, the political philosophy where governance is based on the informed consent of the public, where the government is held responsible for alleviating the social ills of the people, is now simply a front. The relief and triumph of Obama’s re-election now gives way to the grind of business as usual, as the United States’ first African American president pledges allegiance to neoliberalism — the philosophy of corporate oligarchy over a population disenfranchised by privatization, deregulation, and unaccountable politicians. If liberals expect Obama to be chastened by the victory they sweated for and handed to him on a silver plate, they will be mistaken — Obama will continue to serve the corporate and military oligarchs that swelled the super-PACs of Romney, Gingrich et al. All in all, Obama’s minstrelsy depicts the political showdown of the US elections in its essence: a laborious, billion-dollar process of deciding between Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee.