By Jim Smith
It’s been a year since George W. Bush left the White House (and he has yet to be arrested for war crimes). When Barack Obama took his place, the big majority of Americans applauded because his name was not Bush. Many, perhaps a majority, were thrilled because a Black man, a man of mixed race, had been elected to the top position in the country.
The Beachhead’s headline for November 2008, (we held the paper for the election results) roared, “It’s Obama!” with a subhead, “America’s Finest Hour.”
A year later, the majority of Americans are wondering what went wrong. A CBS poll in January recorded that only 46 percent approved of his job performance. A Gallup poll says that only 40 percent like the way he is handling, or not handling, the economy. Even less approved of his performance on health care.
Obama’s slide from grace cannot be attributed just to the inept Republican opposition. In a more-than-year-old comedy routine, Lewis Black said the “Democrats were the party of no ideas, and the Republicans were the party of bad ideas.” Since Obama’s election, that’s been reversed with the Republicans offering no ideas and the Democrats coming up with clunkers like Wall Street bailouts and mandatory health care without a public option or a single payer alternative.
While a lot of Obama’s misfortune is due to being allied for the past year with a Democratic-majority Congress that has behaved like a branch office of Wall Street, he must bear much of the blame, himself. In spite of his year as Commander-in-Chief, the U.S. is still occupying Iraq. He has escalated in Afghanistan, and the infamous Guantánamo prison is still operating. Belligerence has been expressed by Obama and his hawkish Secretary-of-State, against Iran, Yemen and Venezuela. Gaza continues to be a bleeding sore which his administration seems unwilling to seriously address.
Obama’s response to the devastating Haiti earthquake has not been to send in medical and rescue teams and construction workers, but to send 10,000 troops and an aircraft carrier, named after former Congressmember Carl Vinson, whom Wikipedia calls a “staunch segregationist.” Is the intent to help the Haitians, or to maintain U.S. control and ensure that Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former president who was kidnapped by U.S. troops in 2004 and dropped off in Africa, does not return by popular demand. If not for the earthquake, would Obama have acted to stop Haiti’s descent into a hell of extreme poverty that the Rev. Pat Robertson says it so richly deserves?
In November 2008, this newspaper wrote and published an open letter to Obama. We have yet to receive an acknowledgement that it was received. In it, we urged Obama – who won 88 percent of the vote in Venice – to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, repeal the Patriot Act, restore habeas corpus, end torture, close Guantánamo, and end wiretapping of American citizens. We also asked that he take the lead in reducing carbon emissions and that he bail out those most in need, not Wall Street.
Last April, I wrote that he was in serious danger of losing his popularity due to his inaction, or bad actions (President Obama and Mr. Abajo, Beachhead, April 2009). Like many economists, pundits and ordinary citizens, I urged a massive jobs program, a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions, stopgap measures to protect the growing number of homeless people, and more. Unfortunately, none of this type of Rooseveltian program has been taken up. There has not even been legislation to prevent the “casino capitalism” that plunged the nation into depression in the first place.
Obama, and his pro-Wall Street aides including Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Zbigniew Brzezinski – the Democrats’ answer to Henry Kissinger – are clearly in bed with the big banks and investment houses. Did Obama have any choice but to follow Bush in giving Big Capital hundreds of billions of dollars? Well, yes. Instead of propping up AIG, Goldman Sachs, and the big banks, he could have used the money to protect working people’s pensions and bank accounts. Instead of saving GM from tripping over itself, he could have protected the jobs and pensions of the auto workers. If he had done that, we would not be seeing hundreds of millions of dollars being paid out in bonuses for jobs not well done. AIG is paying $165 million this month in bonuses to corporate big shots. This insurance giant was given public funds totaling $170 billion in bailouts!
If there was any doubt that the Democrats in Congress and Obama dance to the Wall Street tune, it should have been put to rest by these corporate bailouts, which were followed by a health care bill that was slavishly amended to suit the big insurers. The old adage that the Republicans are the party of big business and the Democrats are the party of the “little guy” is long out of date.
The truth is that America is no longer a political democracy. It cannot be called democratic when it has two parties that are both controlled and funded by the same small group of super wealthy oligarchs and the corporations they own. While Obama, and even John McCain, may seem like “just folks” in their carefully constructed media personas, they are, in fact, bought and paid for spokespersons for the global corporations that own America, Inc.
Should this be a cause for despair? Not at all. Nothing lasts, and it appears that cutthroat capitalism is already tottering from the financial earthquakes of the past 18 months, with more on the way. The question is, what will take its place. Will we be able to construct a more humane and peaceful nation and society? Or will we sit by passively while a more and more corrupt and dissolute elite makes the rich, richer, and the poor, poorer, from L.A. City Hall to the halls of Congress?
Here are some suggestions for being part of the solution, not part of the problem: 1) Run, don’t walk, to the Post Office and change your registration from Democrat or Republican to “Peace and Freedom,” “Green,” or even “Decline to State.” Already, more than 5,000 Venetians have rejected the Democrats and Republicans when they registered to vote. I’m convinced that only by breaking the power of the Democrats and Republicans to define our freedom and control our lives can we have a truly democratic country; 2) Get involved in your community, Venice. We can’t have a loving and peaceful country if we don’t have strong, active communities. There are many Venice organizations already working on all sorts of community problems. Join one, or start your own; 3) “We the People,” is the basis of the Constitution and the country. Don’t let the Wall Street vampires divide us from one another. Help those who are less fortunate. Encourage those who are fearful of standing up for their rights. Insist on a democratic process whenever two or more people get together. We can have real change. We can survive a full-on depression. But only if we stick together.
“The Dream is over,” the Beatles once sang. Yeah, that pretty much sums up the first year of the Obama presidency. Now we’re awake and ready for our Naked Lunch, which is, as Jack Kerouac once told William Burroughs, that “frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.”