Posts Tagged ‘George W.Bush’

Reign of Error – Book Review – Truthdig

December 6, 2013

Reign of Error – Book Review – Truthdig.

The Radical Obama

May 7, 2013
Obama and his lucky Penny

Obama and his lucky Penny

Yesterday when I read about Barack Obama’s nomination of union busting, school closing, fund raising billionaire Penney Pritzker for Secretary of Commerce, I was reminded of some words by Pete Hamill I read long ago concerning his take on the nature of politicians. Hamill was writing about former Queens Borough President Donald Manes just after Manes’s grisly suicide as the scandals that ended the Koch years moved closer and closer to Manes, promising to completely expose his public image as a public lie. Hamill, who had known Manes his entire adult life, noted that Manes had mastered the politician’s art of becoming whoever he thought you wanted him to be whenever you wanted him to be it. What Hamill wrote was this: he never knew which Manes to greet because he never knew which Manes he would be talking to. Hamill’s words have stuck in my memory ever since, perhaps because they so precisely encapsulate what seems to be the nature of so many politicians.

But not Obama. The same words welled up in my head yesterday precisely because the phenomenon known as Obama so deftly defies them.

Some process that is related to what Hamill wrote of but is at the same time strikingly different seems to guide many perceptions of Obama. Somehow, Obama doesn’t need to pretend to be whoever he thinks you want him to be. Somehow, no matter what Obama does, even if he does it for years, there are people who pretend that Obama remains what they want him to be. Accordingly, just as Hamill had no idea to which Manes he would be talking, many a time with many a person, I often have no idea which version of Obama people are talking about.
To an extraordinary extent, after more than four years in office, Obama remains to many — or at least to many I know or am somehow in contact with — a projection of their own desires, fears or hopes. This, after becoming the first Noble Peace Prize winner with a kill list; this, long after pointlessly and cruelly prolonging the agony of the innocent in Guantanamo; this, after refusing to prosecute both the Bush administration‘s blatant war criminals who plunged the U.S. into two needless wars or the Wall Street criminals who crashed the world economy, this, after his assault on civil liberties and so much more.

For many Obama continues to be a kind of ambulatory human Rorschach test. For these people, Obama is what they want him to be. No matter what Obama actually does, certain people, including those most hurt by his policies, still cling to the fantasy that Obama‘s words and Obama’s policies have something to do with each other. ( In a similar way, the same something that made intelligent people believe Bill Clinton was lying even when he was telling the truth persuades other intelligent people that Obama is telling the truth even when he’s lying. ) And the Rorschach factor holds as powerfully for those who love Obama as to those who despise him; holds, that is, for Republicans and well as for “Birthers” and Tea Partiers and those who see Obama as a secret Muslim socialist or Nazi or whatever.
But it is not those people of whom I speak.
I am speaking here rather of a group of people who continue to believe in Obama and refuse to define him in terms of his policies and actions, clinging instead to his soaring rhetoric and image. I am speaking of those to whom, as intrepid Black Agenda journalist Glen Ford writes “ Obama acts like a narcotic.” I am speaking of those who, in respect to Obama, have skillfully avoided reality.
Some of the lingering hopes, if dangerous, are understandable. Think of the strange helpless horror of the Bush years. There is no doubt in my mind that millions of Americans were traumatized by the eight year presidency of George W. Bush, eight years in which many, myself included, felt ashamed to be an American. Shame is too powerful and destructive an emotion to carry in you for long. The desire to exorcize the ghost of Bush, his macho idiocy, his endless needless wars, his lies and the fear brought on by the financial collapse that occurred under his watch was, I believe as primal and powerful a factor in embracing Obama as was Obama’s charisma and eloquence: the very charisma and elegance that led so many sensible people to believe in the myth of the one term US Senator with the paper thin resume whose most frequent vote in Congress was neither “yea” or “nay” but “present.”
Think too of the extraordinarily potent symbolism in the election of an African American to the presidency of a nation with a legacy of over 400 years of slavery. Symbolically, this was and remains an immeasurable step in the right direction. In some quarters the symbolism remains just as potent today as it did four years ago, even as African Americans slip further and further into poverty and are incarcerated at alarming rates.
There is a desire to believe in Obama that is almost religious in nature.

I understand this emotion. No one wants to believe this guy is as vapid or weak or treacherous or cunning as Obama proves to be again and again and again. No one wants to believe that the ship of state has been so thoroughly hijacked by the most rapacious and reckless forces on earth: corporations No one wants to know that things are as awful as they are. It is the fear of having no where to turn and no one to turn to. No one wants to feel abandoned or betrayed even, if by every objective criteria, you have been.

And yet this is where we are.

If only for the abomination known as Race to the Top, a policy designed to do nothing less than undermine both the public school system and teacher unions across the country,
Obama should be seen as one of the most corporate minded presidents in U.S. history. But somehow many — who knows how many — do not seem to be getting it. Something stands in the way.
I work in a school in Harlem, New York, where almost everywhere one looks one sees images of Obama looking back at you. The posters were placed there by teachers, even though Obama’s RTTT may force the school to be closed, even if half the teachers are fired as a result of the grossly unfair and unproven evaluation plans mandated by the Obama administration.
And there it is.
Obama is not the anti- American cartoon character his enemies in the Koch brothers’ funded Tea Party want to believe he is.
Obama is not the thwarted progressive his more naïve fans still insist he is.
Obama is not, in any meaningful way, a Democrat.
Obama is not a centrist, a moderate or a pragmatist.
Obama is not a conservative.
Obama is something that has never before risen to the presidency of the United States.
Obama is that which Wall Street and corporate CEOs have dreamed of for decades: Obama is a president of the “party of labor” who is wholly beholden to capital.
Obama is a working man’s worst nightmare.
Obama is a corporatist but not just a corporatist.
Obama is a radical corporatist intent on the complete evisceration of unionism and the eventual privatization of all public life.
And nothing proves than better than Race to the Top.


The Tea Party at the Fair

August 22, 2011

Just back from a little trip to Grahamsville, New York in Sullivan County where we stayed overnight with some old friends and visited the 132nd Annual Little World’s Fair in Grahamsville Fairground.

The fair is a hoot, what with all variety of  prize farm animals on display, rides for  the kiddies and delicacies such as candy apples, cotton candy, and for those with a with a  curious palate, deep fried Oreos.

I was not curious.

Amidst all this was a heavy and very conspicuous presence of the Tea Party, both in an official capacity – they had their own booth set up, as did the Republican and Democratic Parties – and in the form of lots and lots of middle aged overweight white guys who strolled the grounds wearing determined faces, Tea Party baseball hats and  Tea Party tee shirts of various kinds.

And what tee shirts they are!

If the Tea Party’s insane demands in the ongoing and infantile debacle over the debt ceiling were not enough to  convince you that at least a good part of your nation has entered some as-yet-to-be-named dementia, check  out these tee shirts.

In Tea Party land Obama, he who is wholly beholden to corporations, he, who has continued and extended both of Bush’s criminal wars in which 800,000 innocent souls have been murdered by US forces over lies that no one has been held accountable for; he who is doing all he can do to give the US public school system over to corporations, he who gave failed or criminal bankers a trillion dollar, no strings attached loan, is somehow of all things, a communist.


At the same time Obama –or at least his close political associates like Nancy Pelosi – is    a Nazi.

Or maybe a Nazi–Communist.

At any rate, without question Obama hates freedom and America, which as all patriots know are the same thing.

After musing over these rabbit-brained sentiments for a while, and after getting a good  look at some of the Tea Party faithful, I decided that a discussion with such folk was not likely to be fruitful or enlightening.  Besides, they scared the shit out of  my daughter.

As it happened, the booth for the Democratic Party was directly across the way so I ambled over, peeked in, and, as befitting a child of the working class, a son of a union man and a union man myself, was heartily welcome. I asked them how they were dealing with the fellows across the way whose eyes I could feel boring into my back.  They were extremely civil in tone and asked me if I had read the Tea Party placards.  I told them I had read some of them and that my favorite was the one that read: “ US Youth unemployed after 45 years of excessive regulations of  US manufacturing.” I took this to be an appeal for the abolition of troublesome child labor laws.  But that was not the sign they wanted me to see.  The sign they wanted me to see had the Tea Party accusing the Democratic Party of calling the former “terrorists”  while the Tea Party reminding the Dems that the same was said of  George Washington.

Touché!  Now that’s what I call a high minded political argument!

Then the confab grew strange.  One of the three men asked me if I was going to vote for somebody or other for some local office.  I explained I was visiting from New York City They asked what I did there and  I told them I was a public school teacher.  “So you’re under attack too” , one of them said, adding that his parents were from the Lower East Side and had been unionized garment workers and that he, himself, was a union member.  Yes, I replied, teachers are under attack and are so on a federal level, a state level and, in Bloomberg’s New York, on the level of the city.  Yes, they understood that Bloomberg was “a problem”, but were baffled by my accusations about the state and federal government.  “Do you mean charter schools,” one asked.  No, I replied, I did not mean merely charter schools although  that was part of the problem.  I meant the union busting privatizing policies of the two men whose pictures hung prominently in their booth: Governer Andrew Cuomo and President Barack Obama.

The three men looked at me with Little Orphan eyes.  It was clear they had no idea of what I was talking about and I began to suspect they thought I was a Tea Party person playing with them.  I asked them if they were aware that Cuomo had accepted the maximum legal contribution from Tea Party benefactors, the Koch brothers.  I asked them if they had forgotten Andrew’s vows that the first thing he would do as governor was “go after the unions.”  I asked them if they could discern any sense, any sense at all in Cuomo’s refusal to support taxing rich people.  I asked the if they could  discern any connection at all between  the policies of Andrew Cuomo and those of his father, Mario Cuomo or, in fact, any New York Democratic politician of note in the  past 100 years.

The men grew visibly disturbed, admitted that “things had changed” and then reminded me that Cuomo’s main rival, Carl “I’m mad as hell! “ Paladino, he of the baseball bat, would have been worse.   I conceded that he may have been but pointed out that Cuomo’s policies were far more similar to Paladino’s than they would like to admit. In any case, what kind of endorsement is that?  Yes, it’s true, our man has no principles, is a corporate whore, and will betray working people that much the more by steadily moving the party further and further to the right but the other guy… he’d do even worse somehow.

How inspiring!

The talk then turned to Obama and over the men fell an increasingly familiar air, as if discussing a once beloved cousin who was arrested for drug dealing or something of that sort.  In short, talk of the president who two years ago moved a nation now generated zero enthusiasm in a tent of his nominal supporters.  Indeed, theirs was an unmistakably air of baffled embarrassment.

To this I added rage.  I told the men that the American public school system had never encountered as insidious and pernicious an enemy as is the administration of Barack Obama; told the men that Obama’s signature education plan — Race To the Top – was nothing more than a union busting extortion racket that had no place in a democratic society, never mind a public school system and that in two years the man   had done more damage to schools, students   and teachers then George W. Bush could even dream of.  And Obama was only beginning: The end game was the de-profession of the teaching profession, the destruction of the teachers union (and eventually all unions ) and the handing over off the public school system —  the cornerstone of  public life in America —  to the same private sector  who have done such a  splendid  job of  bringing the world to the very edge of  economic collapse.

This, as they say, did not go over well.

A profound silence filled the air. I reminded these decent and well-meaning men that I was not the enemy. Indeed, I reminded then that I was incubated in a union household in which men such as Governor Al Smith and Franklin Deleno Roosevelt were heroes and in which the murdered Kennedy brothers were spoken of in reverence, not merely as Irish Catholic brethren who inspired the world, but as men of empathy and wisdom with courage enough to admit they were wrong and change their minds when such was the right thing to do. I reminded the men that the Democratic party they labored for and which I was expected to sentimentally support bore no relation whatsoever to the Democratic party in which I was raised and which help lift my family to a decent and dignified way of life.   Indeed, in many aspects it now functioned as a parody of such.

None of what I said was challenged.  Once again, one of the men repeated the feeble line about the other side being  even worse.  I have heard this now for years, indeed, for my entire adult life.  I have heard it from all manner of folk who ought to and do know better. I’ve heard it from a couple of fellow teachers at the Save Our Schools rally in DC in July  who defended the National Education Association’s pathetic decision to endorse Barack Obama even as his education policies demonize, demoralize and destroy their members all  across the country.  I hear it in the wind as the choice we are given — pathetic Obama or shill Mitt Romney or insane, spiteful Michelle Bachman or whomever the Tea Party will vomit up — comes into focus.

So, once again I am driven to the inescapable conclusion that in America, the land of the free and home of the brave, politics have boiled down to this horrific, pathetic and suicidal equation: if you think your life will suck under Y, think how much more it will suck under X.

And yet we have the gall to say we are free.

I know not a single, thoughtful soul who is enthusiastic about the Democratic Party.  Not a one.  I know and have seen much enthusiasm in the Tea Party, particularly among those who do not understand that their beloved party was founded and is in large part funded by billionaires who despise them; by those who cannot distinguish between someone who holds a different opinion from them and a communist or a Nazi.

I am fearful, very fearful of the country my little girl will grow up in.

Not America’s Best Idea

September 18, 2009

This week because of an acute pain in my knee I’ve been taking the subway rather than cycling  to  work and this   has allowed me to witness and partake in that peculiar and-all so-normal human circus that is the morning and evening NYC subway commute. As it happened, all week I’ve sat in cars festooned with ads for  Ken Burn’s latest documentary, The National Parks:  America’s Best Idea.  For  a couple of days  something troubled me about the ads but, as is sometimes the case when something is staring you in the face, I could not for the life of me see what it was.

I could not see it because it was too obvious: obscured by their transparency were the words “America’s Best Idea. “  I do not mean to build mountains out of mole hills nor to nit pick.    Nor in any way do I wish to disparage the works of Burns whose enormous films  The Civil War, Baseball, The West, Jazz, I have thoroughly enjoyed and will doubtless enjoy again.  Are they  conventional ?  Yes, but they are no less important for being so.  They  have informed millions – and that is no  little thing.   (And yes, the works have long ago become formulaic, and yes, Burns the man has more corporate backing than most members of the US Senate but at least he brings something worthwhile into the world.)

What troubles me is the conceit that National Parks are somehow America’s best idea.  What troubles me is the dynamic of the misuse of language.  What troubles me is that these words will be read or heard by millions of Americans, some of whom might come to believe they are true.  What troubles me is that any misuse of language is potentially very, very dangerous as it   can have and has had very definite and very negative political and even spiritual consequences. Find any tyranny and you will find misused language.

Are the parks a great idea on every conceivable level?   Of course, they are.  Are they treasures to be protected and revered? Who would argue otherwise?  ( Other than a Ronald Reagan — blessed be his name !   — and the  men who created him.)  But are the parks really America’s best idea or even anything close to it?

Let us consider. A better idea than freedom of speech?  A better idea than the Bill of Rights?  A better idea than the separation of church and state?  A better idea than the right of every child in the nation to receive a free public education?  A better idea than universal healthcare?    A better idea than one man one vote ?  A better idea than government of the people, by the people, and for the people ?

Well, you get the point.

It will not do, I do not think, to dismiss such language as mere rhetoric or advertising or wishful thinking.    This work will be seen and heard by millions and as such, whatever the author’s intentions, these words constitute a very powerful and seductive political statement, all  the  more powerful and all the  more  seductive because of their sheer incoherence. They are the kind of words that seep unexamined into one’s consciousness and   become by sheer repetition to be regarded as true. Recall  the manner  in which    the words “9/11 changed everything”  — words that became a mantra on the very day they speak have — were used to justify   change any manner of things.  Recall the manner in which the Bush administration repeated the lie that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the horror of that day and upwards of 60 % of Americans bought into it as late as two years ago.  Witness the creation and consequent acceptance of so called “free speech zones”  in which American citizens who wish to practice their   first amendment rights at certain political events are penned in like wild animals as far away from the event they are protesting as possible.    Witness the mass insanity of those who are running around   howling about “Obamacare” and bureaucratic  “death panels” created to decide who  lives and who dies under the  Godless government controlled  health care  —  like, for example, Medicare.

The key in all these situations is a misuse of  language  and what we need recognize is that  misused language has a dynamic that  takes on a life of its  own.   There are those, I suspect, who honestly believe that our National Parks are indeed  somehow the  best idea to  be hatched and implemented in the great and troubled and glorious and bloody history of this land.  But I also suspect such people have either never tasted the fear of unemployment or poverty or racism, have never known, except abstractly, want or  oppression or have long forgotten  what it  feels like.   Either that or they have fallen to the place, championed by so many of our New Age brethren   where a worship of nature – an oak tree, an antelope, a raging river — is somehow seen as a loftier spiritual state than the struggle and the beauty of human empathy and compassion.  Well, it is certainly easier in that Nature doesn’t ask much of you.   And it certainly fits in more neatly, oh so neatly with our increasingly post-partisan, non ideological every more  Darwinian reality.