Thursday, February 19, 2009

So, when do we get worried? (Vol 1)

I see that the left's honeymoon with Obama is still in full swing. Despite mounting evidence that Obama is not going to be a very liberal president at all, that he is hiring some of the same guys who got us into this economic mess to fix it, that he's following that Bush administration's policies forward on excessive secrecy and on Guantanamo prisoners, everyone's cutting him a lot of slack.

Kinda reminds me of the right; You know, the guys who supported Bush no matter what he did?

Yes, I know it’s early. Yes, I know we can’t blame him for Republican partisan slash and burn tactics in Congress. But we can blame him for the company he keeps, and the policies he crafts, and for legacy policies that he upholds rather than repudiates. And we can also blame him for hypocrisy when he abrogates his own rules, citing the financial meltdown as an excuse.

Some things to ponder about the Obama administration so far:

1) In the administration’s first major test case on the rights of a Guantanamo detainee, they supported the Bush administration’s previous position.
2) Timothy Geitner was former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson's right-hand man during the crafting of the initial, woeful T.A.R.P. plan - the one that had no real oversight at all for how the money was spent - hence, no loans, and big bonuses for execs in the bailed out companies. Geitner and Paulson are both veterans of Wall Street. Couldn't Obama have picked someone more Progressive, like Paul Krugman, or former Labor Secretary Robert Reich? Similarly, Robert Rubin, another top architect of the Obama economic plan, helped gut Citibank (while receiving a salary of over 100 million dollars annually). And Lawrence Summers, Obama's chief economic advisor, loves tax cuts and hates infrastructure. Sounds like... Bush! These people are embedded representatives of the culture of unrestrained greed and short-term gain that got us into this mess - do we really want the foxes guarding the hen house again? Don't we want people who are part of the solution, not part of the problem?
3) A recent NY Times article found the Obama economic plan to be strikingly similar to the Bush plans drawn up in November and December.
4) Obama abrogated his own promise not to hire lobbyists into his administration, citing the financial meltdown as a mitigating factor. Yes, I’m absolutely sure that there are no people outside of the power/money elite that have the skills and background to do the job.
5) A new article today indicates that the Obama administration is also perpetuating the same over-secretive tactics of the Bush administration in its dealings with congressional oversight and Media.
6) Despite the most catastrophic economic meltdown since the 1930’s, no one from the President on down through his administration has talked about our bloated, unsustainable military budget. This is the 800 pound gorilla in the room, studiously being avoided by everyone in power. It is inconceivable that this bloated budget (which includes plans for more nuclear submarines and a new generation of larger, even more expensive aircraft carriers), not be under review. One would think that the ‘most liberal member of the Senate’ might spend a little of his political capital (after all, unlike Bush, he actually did win a mandate) and put our military budget, our Imperial Achilles Heel, into the national debate about our future. Instead, all signs point to a heroin-like injection of even more capital into military projects, which will provide some short-term relief, and major withdrawal symptoms later on. This country has been on a permanent war-economy footing since 1939, and we simply can’t sustain it. Yet, the President, the Congress (and the Media, for that matter), don’t mention it, don’t bring it into the debate, into public consciousness.

So, yes, I’m officially worried. Far from being the most Liberal president in my lifetime (I guess I’d give that to Carter, who’s looking more prescient every day in some respects), Obama seems Centrist, embedded in the power elite, and towing the line for the Military-Industrial Complex.

It’s time for the left (where oh where for art thou, Move On?) to make some noise. It’s time to stop wishing, and fantasizing, and imbuing Obama with all of our hopes and dreams, and start demanding some action on the ground.

This financial crisis is actually an incredible opportunity to change this country’s direction, and to challenge some of the basic tenets of our government and economy that have been taken for granted for years. It’s an opportunity that hasn’t been seen since the early days of FDR. Unlike FDR, Obama is dealing with a much more strident and intransigent Republican faction in congress, which is more intent on bloodying him and the Democratic party than in saving working people’s lives, livelihoods, and dreams. I get that. But he is not even speaking to the real problems. He’s not even trying to inject new thinking into the old order. He’s surrounded himself with the usual Beltway/Wall Street suspects, and they’re polishing deck chairs on the Titanic. (Think I’m exaggerating? Look at the Stimulus Bill, and compare it to what FDR did; very little money for boots on the ground projects, lots to government agencies and… I can’t believe it… MORE TAX CUTS!). Yes, he needed some Republican votes. But the input from the Obama side itself had woeful little in terms of infrastructure construction and repair. The bill should have created something like the WPA and the Civilian Conservation Corps. The government could have employed hundreds of thousands of people to install solar power and water heating, windmills, for every federal building. This would have been akin to Roosevelt’s bold moves. Instead, we get incremental, timid, mostly status-quo mediocrity.

No, Obama isn’t Bush – don’t mistake what I’m saying for that. But from Geitner, Rubin etc. to his policies on secrecy and detainees, there is a whiff of ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’ – or at least, it’s feeling a bit more like that than ‘change we can believe in’ – I don’t see it. Same old crew, same old policies, incrementally polished up, same lobbyists like Remoras, swimming in a stream of money, sucking on the Federal carcass.

Kinda makes you pine for a real Revolution…

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