Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Et Tu, Barack?

by RANDALL AMSTER

Less than a year into the Administration that was to save us from the perfidy of the past, it’s clear that business-as-usual still holds sway. Trillions for war, nothing for the poor. Trillions for banks, but the people — no thanks. Trillions more in debt, and we ain’t seen the end yet. Trillions for corporate cronies, but who will show us the monies? (Sorry!)

I suppose at this point we may well have to give up on the notion that there will ever again be anyone in American political life worthy of holding out hope for. The character qualities and integrity of a bygone day — whether real or imagined — are implausible and impracticable in the hypermodern age. We see too much of our public figures, and yet too little at the same time. Image is everything, and the slogan has become the product.

Jaded as we are, some still expected more (or at least different) from our young President. Perhaps it was a form of self-delusion born of longing for someone, anyone, to make sense in these times. We are, after all, a messianic people at the end of the day. We have lost our way, so we seek “the one” descending from on high with stone tablets and a plan.

This has nothing to do with partisan politics or the relative merits of individual candidates and officeholders. It is a cultural phenomenon, this longing for someone on whom to pin our hopes. It is likewise systemic in nature that any such potential person will be coopted, coerced, corrupted, or crucified — in that order of pressure and outcome, most likely.

So why are we surprised to find ourselves at this juncture again? Is it because we arrived there so soon with this new icon? Many people seemed to think it would somehow be different this time, that history was yielding and a new day was dawning. Even the electorally-indifferent couldn’t help being taken in by the soaring oratory and stark contrasts embodied in the man who would be president. But reality has quickly set in.

Obama is a brand, and — even with the shine coming off a bit — is still a strong one. “Barack Obama is three things you want in a brand,” said Keith Reinhard, chairman emeritus of DDB Worldwide, back in March 2008. “New, different, and attractive. That’s as good as it gets.” Indeed, Ad Age and the Association of National Advertisers selected Barack Obama as “Marketer of the Year” for 2008, even before he was elected President. In the end, which victory really matters more? Is there in fact a difference?

An incisive summation of the brand’s genesis from Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi appeared way back in February 2007, and still speaks very much to the tenor of these times:

“The Illinois Senator is the ultimate modern media creature [and] his entire political persona is an ingeniously crafted human cipher, a man without race, ideology, geographic allegiances, or, indeed, sharp edges of any kind. You can’t run against him on the issues because you can’t even find him on the ideological spectrum. Obama’s ‘Man for all seasons’ act is so perfect in its particulars that just about anyone can find a bit of himself somewhere in the candidate’s background, whether in his genes or his upbringing…. [H]is strategy seems to be to appear as a sort of ideological Universalist, one who spends a great deal of rhetorical energy showing that he recognizes the validity of all points of view, and conversely emphasizes that when he does take hard positions on issues, he often does so reluctantly…”

In another feat of foreshadowing, Paul Street penned these prescient words in November 2008, on the heels of Brand Obama’s ascent to the highest office in the land:

“The Obama-based ‘rebranding of America’ in the wake of the long proto-fascistic, arch-plutocratic, and messianic-militarist Cheney-Bush nightmare comes with heightened popular product expectations at home and abroad. The risks and likelihood of disappointment and betrayal are high. Many American and other world citizens can be counted on to take ‘Brand Obama’ and the refurbished ‘Brand USA’ and give them meanings that do not accord very well with the U.S. power elite’s agenda. Rising and betrayed expectations are the stuff of actual social revolutions (something rather different than marketing revolutions), as the left historian Barrington Moore once argued. For these and other reasons, Obama will be relying heavily on his marketing and public relations experts to keep the bewildered citizenry’s hopes and dreams properly constrained and downsized. Popular thought coordination through mass marketing will be important to the governance period as well as the election phase of the Obama ascendancy. As Obama’s early and excessively candid foreign policy advisor and Harvard ally Samantha Power told the power-worshipping public affairs talk-show host Charlie Rose last February, ‘Expectation calibration and expectation management is essential at home and internationally.’”

Can we thus claim not to have known? All the hand-wringing over Afghanistan, Wall Street, Health Care, the Peace Prize, Climate Change — was there some reason aside from misplaced romanticism to believe that it was going to be different in a post-Bush world? Obama played the role pitch perfectly by letting others embrace a partisan-tinged foolish consistency on the issues, and instead subtly ingratiated himself to us as someone who cared about things, a decent guy, solid — in short, he began to seem almost like a friend.

To update the seminal phrase from history: Et tu, Barack? “Perhaps the most famous three words uttered in literature … this expression has come down in history to mean the ultimate betrayal by one’s closest friend.” Strong words, yes — but as Ralph Nader recently opined on CounterPunch, the same sleight-of-hand manner and faint-of-heart rhetoric continues to this day:

“His is a concessionary demeanor, an aversion to conflict and to taking on entrenched power, a devotee of harmony ideology not because he doesn’t believe in necessary re-directions, but because he does not project the strength of his beliefs and willingness to draw the line…. The President cannot be a transforming leader if he turns his back on the liberal and progressive constituency that elected him because he thinks they have nowhere to go.”

Progressives need to show that there is somewhere else to go, first by realizing that there are no saviors — just real people working together. In this cult of personality masking as politics, we must acknowledge that the fault lies not in our superstars, but in ourselves.

RANDALL AMSTER, J.D., Ph.D., teaches Peace Studies at Prescott College and serves as the Executive Director of the Peace & Justice Studies Association. His most recent book is the co-edited volume Building Cultures of Peace: Transdisciplinary Voices of Hope and Action (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009).

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 27, 2016
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
Ralph Nader
Are You Ready for Democracy?
Chris Martenson
Hell to Pay
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Debate Night: Undecided is Everything, Advantage Trump
Frank X Murphy
Power & Struggle: the Detroit Literacy Case
Chris Knight
The Tom and Noam Show: a Review of Tom Wolfe’s “The Kingdom of Speech”
Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
Libby Lunstrum - Patrick Bond
Militarizing Game Parks and Marketing Wildlife are Unsustainable Strategies
Andy Thayer
More Cops Will Worsen, Not Help, Chicago’s Violence Problem
Louis Yako
Can Westerners Help Refugees from War-torn Countries?
David Rosen
Rudy Giuliani & Trump’s Possible Cabinet
Joyce Nelson
TISA and the Privatization of Public Services
Pete Dolack
Global Warming Will Accelerate as Oceans Reach Limits of Remediation
Franklin Lamb
34 Years After the Sabra-Shatila Massacre
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail