Sunday, August 7, 2011

the problem with obama

When I was in Ohio for a mini-family reunion a few weeks back, my dad baited me into discussing politics.

This was after I told him and Cheryl that really, these days I don't even read the newspaper--at least not like I used to; the Washington Post was once my home page; I still have 30 or 40 political site bookmarks on my Firefox, all unused--and that I don't think about politics very much.

But my dad has been ripping through book after book on the economy's implosion, dissections by economists and the like explaining just what happened, who screwed who, and who got away with economic murder. So he was really into talking about all that; I was not.

I'm aware that we got fucked, and that the big banks did the fucking.

I am also aware that nothing changed. They are lubing us up again for another rogering, with virtually nothing and no one lining up to stop them, left or right.

What ensued demonstrated that I do know a lot about politics; I am not uninformed. I just refuse to waste any more brain power than absolutely necessary thinking about or battling over or struggling against the facts: the game is rigged. There can be no real, useful political discussion without overturning the way things are now, as it has become apparent that Obama and his promise of change has been subsumed by the relentless power of money.

He works for--and not coincidentally, has hired to implement his policies--the people with money or the people who work for the people with money. He has demonstrated himself incapable or unwilling to aggressively go after those who profited and continue to profit spectacularly while the rest of the country comes to resemble Rome circa 400 AD, just before the barbarian hordes destroyed the remnants of a mighty empire.

So it's not that I'm apolitical, or disinterested, or uninformed. It's rather that I refuse to participate in a shell game that always turns up the same winner, no matter if the apparent victor is wearing a D or an R next to his name. As Noam Chomsky observed, we spend all our time arguing 'Pepsi or Coke?' When what we should be discussing is whether spending our money on brown sugar water is really a good idea in the first place.

Thus I was really pleased to see someone lay it all out in the New York Times today (found via reddit). Drew Westen is a professor of psychology who consults for politicians, and he frames his article in terms of story-telling. He talks of the troubling signs even from Obama's inauguration onward, when we needed a leader who would lay out the story in honest terms, who's the bad guy, and how are we going to make certain this isn't going to happen again, much less let the same people pull off the same crime again. This story, had it been properly told:

...would have offered a clear, compelling alternative to the dominant narrative of the right, that our problem is not due to spending on things like the pensions of firefighters, but to the fact that those who can afford to buy influence are rewriting the rules so they can cut themselves progressively larger slices of the American pie while paying less of their fair share for it.

But there was no story — and there has been none since.

He points out that, unlike either Roosevelt:
...when faced with the greatest economic crisis, the greatest levels of economic inequality, and the greatest levels of corporate influence on politics since the Depression, Barack Obama stared into the eyes of history and chose to avert his gaze. Instead of indicting the people whose recklessness wrecked the economy, he put them in charge of it. He never explained that decision to the public — a failure in storytelling as extraordinary as the failure in judgment behind it.

And here's the real problem with Obama: his failure to do anything to help, and in fact his deliberate muddying of the waters--especially given a historic level of support and potential for real change. That's why I don't do politics anymore: if Obama couldn't or wouldn't pull it off then, with the support he had and the mandate he had and the historic immolation of the economy just behind him and thus a public hungry for change, then no one, ever will be able to overcome the moneyed powers who run things. Not without something that would look very much like a revolution, some change in the way things are done that is drastic and radical.

Read the entire article. It is illuminating, and cuts through the essentially useless and retrograde left-right dialogue and shouting that litters our airwaves.

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