HOBOKEN, N.J. - A highly respected friend and colleague told me I should be careful venting rage in such a powerful forum as Kansas Free Press. He thought that the article I wrote in response to Obama's compromise over tax cuts for millionaires was so fueled with rage that it sounded as if I was advocating against supporting Democrats. Right off the bat let me disabuse anyone who may have shared his impression. Yes, I was enraged, and I think I was expressing the justifiable anger of the heartland. But no, I don't want to abandon the country to the right wing. I just want the Democrats to fight as fiercely as they do.
I have no problem with admitting I am wrong, or changing my beliefs about an issue when I learn more about it. In this case I don't withdraw my complaints, they still have validity to me when taking the macro view of things. But after the initial rage has subsided, I am capable of appreciating other perspectives, which don't negate the other points, but can coexist with them. Seen with different lenses, different frames of reference there are things I appreciate on further reflection. And I feel since I gave vent to my outrage, I should give vent to more moderate impulses that are an appropriate background for my complaints.
Let me be clear. As angry and disillusioned as I often am with Obama, it is the farthest thing from my intention to urge withdrawing support from the Democrats and surrendering even more power to the right wing, that small but well-financed and determined faction that pushes so much weight in Washington. My complaint with the Democrats is that they don't oppose the Republicans nearly enough. They don't sufficiently reflect the interests of the population they represent. They give too much weight to the wishes of lobbyists and donors. Not as bad as the Republicans, but way too much. Yes, I still think this is true, but there are other considerations also worthy of attention.
My feeling is that the Democratic party is historically the party of the working people and rather than abandon it we the people should take it over. The people the party is supposed to represent should take it over. My complaints about Obama are within that context. I am a supporter in the sense that I believe that mainstream America needs a leader, but any real leader of the people musts represent their interests, and at this time the most important matter for the middle class is to resist the attack that is now being waged upon them by Corporate America. Again, I refer to Rep. Bernie Sanders for an eloquent explanation of what that battle entails (http://tinyurl.com/36qxyzt).
As someone who wants Obama to succeed in fulfilling what he reached for in his campaign rhetoric, who feels invested in that success, I still believe that what Obama should do is to re-invent himself and come out as a true warrior. Yes, part of such a reinvention is theater, but that is an important part of leadership. I think he needs to lift his head up from the minutiae of governing a bit and reconnect with the people, give them a reason to be charged up. He doesn't have to run the entire foreign policy of the United States as a public relations exercise as Karl Rove did for Bush, but he needs to put a little more attention into getting his message to the people.
I am one who has personally benefited substantially from healthcare reform, because my daughter, who was kicked off of insurance when she graduated from college, was able to get on my policy again and have health care. So I deeply appreciate the reforms Obama and the Democratic Congress put in place. My other complaints in a larger sense are not invalidated by that. We should not have surrendered the public option and so much more to private industry who are engaged in very questionable practices. But both points of view can coexist side by side.
Ezra Klein of the Washington Post explained today some of the nuances of the deal that was made versus the likely alternatives at this juncture in the road. Accepting the fact that the Republicans represent total predatory greed, it was impossible to get unemployment benefits through without conceding the tax cut for millionaires. That is the argument, and it's a reasonable assertion. The result was going to be much more beneficial to the cause of restarting the economy than any likely alternative if bypassing this compromise, according to Klein. It was more important to get money in the hands of those unemployed people to get the money circulating again to charge the economy than it was to fight against the tax cuts for millionaires. That's a deficit issue, Klein said, and it's not as pressing as rebuilding the economy. It's a reasonable argument and a good reason to accept the compromise and get moving, rather than have all those unemployed people hanging on an uncertain future as the issue is debated.
I will only go so far in judging Obama's behavior. I may complain, but ultimately I know that I thankfully do not bear any of the responsibility he bears, so I can not ultimately say what he should do. But given that context, I can still restate my earlier complaints. My friend said that this outcome was set in the last election. But a part of me rebelled against that. It is only true if you accept the narrative now being pushed into the noise machine by conservative forces. The election was a denunciation of Obama's policies, they say, and of course they single out the policies that they oppose, the "liberal" policies. They don't refer to the wars or the bailouts of banks but not people, the failure to extend Medicare to everyone. They interpret the election to mean a triumph of right wing policies, while almost nothing indicates that, accept for the behavior of one very confused minority, the Teabaggers.
The Blue Dog Democrats, the ones who were more like Republicans, got badly beaten in that election, and the more liberal Democrats did better. Obama can accept the inevitability of further compromise with the right if he accepts their narrative of what happened in the election. I don't want him to accept that narrative. I want him to seize the initiative, rewrite the narrative. I want him to take an existential leap that transforms the political reality. This is possible, but it takes inspired leadership. Obama has the talent. He needs a conversion. It could happen.
I like Norman Mailer's definition of the phrase "existential politics" in his essay "The Existential Hero." I would like to share it with Obama.
An existential political act, the drive by the Southern Negroes led by Martin Luther King to end segregation in restaurants in Birmingham, an act which is existential precisely because its end is unknown, has succeeded en route in discovering more of the American reality to us.
If a public speaker in a midwestern town were to say, "J. Edgar Hoover has done more harm to the freedoms of America than Joseph Stalin," the act would be existential. Depending on the occasion and the town, he would be manhandled physically or secretly applauded, but he would create a new reality which would displace the old psychological reality that such a remark could not be made, even as for example the old Southern psychological reality that you couldn't get two Negroes to do anything together, let alone 2,000 has now been destroyed by a new and more accurate psychological reality: you can get 2,000 negroes to work in cooperation. The new psychological realities are closer to history and so closer to sanity and they exist because, and only because, the event has taken place...
Obama stands at a crossroads of fate, and we with him. His success is essential to the extent that the American people really are in danger, not from Al Qaeda, but from forces of destruction within. And we really need someone to pull it together so we can survive and move forward, rather than to collapse into dissolution. Unfortunately, the Republicans are bent on Obama's destruction to such a degree that they seem to have no concern at all about how far down they bring the country as they fight to utterly destroy the administration. I think we are foolish to underestimate the threat we are under. The Republican vision of obstruction, stasis, resistance to any progress or modernity, is the picture of New Orleans under water. Their policies, as expressed by the Bush-Cheney administration and now, lead to collapse of social structures and reversion to feudal systems of social organization. The US now has the income distribution of a Banana Republic.
So to be clear, I am a supporter of Obama in terms of the general outline of the vision he articulated in his campaign. But I want to see him put up more of a fight. I want to see him become what he so clearly has the potential to be, a transformative leader.