FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Vote “No” on Obama?

by MICHAEL BRENNER

Barack Obama received a blast last week from one of his former Harvard law professors who made the case that he “must be defeated.”  Roberto Unger’s argument boils down to a damning indictment spelling out charges that the President has betrayed the progressive cause and those who militated for his election. The alleged betrayal is all the more painful, Professor Unger says, because it reveals a man who never was what he claimed to be. Deep down, he is a conventionally conservative person- not just a politician who bowed to electoral expediency. Moreover, he claims that Obama has nailed the lid on the coffin of the Democratic Party that has veered sharply away from its historical constituency and principles. The President’s actions and rhetoric are having the longer term effect of skewing the nation’s political discourse far to the right of where the locus of the American people’s interests and sentiment lie. Hence the conclusion that the man must be stopped now lest the damage reach the point of irreversibility.

Democrats, and especially liberals, seem to have lost sight of the historic opportunity that was presented to Barack Obama after the election. The nation was at the nadir of the financial crisis that had discredited Republican philosophy, Republican policies and Republican politicians. Anxiety was at its zenith. Exposing the deep flaws in the economy, the crisis also highlighted how the system worked to the disadvantage of now badly hurt – and scared – salaried Americans. A revival of progressive thinking, and with it electoral dominance, was in the cards. Instead of seizing the historic occasion, though, Obama soughtonly to patch up the status quo ante. So he calculating chose the course of stocking his administration with tainted establishment figures while setting out on the quixotic mission of conciliating the opposition.  Hence, dinner meetings with William Kristol and George Will, currying favor with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell in the name of a fictitious bipartisanship. From today’s perspective, with the benefit of inside the White House accounts by the President’s own people, it is crystal clear that Obama never even entertained the thought of fashioning a new liberal majority in the country. It just wasn’t in him. 

Unger’s bill of particulars extends to civil liberties and foreign policy as well as domestic affairs. The White House’s aggressive actions on surveillance, detention, mistreatment of illegal aliens, prosecution of whistleblowers, and government secrecy constitute a concerted assault on the bedrock values and laws of the American republic. As to foreign policy, he claims that Obama’s strategy relies more on muscle than brains. The so-called “war on terror” has been pushed into more and more places, Afghanistan saw a drastic escalation, and a military confrontation with Iran looms as the White House has ruled out any reasonable accommodation of Tehran’s own valid security interests.

In summary, the Obama administration has been to the right of Richard Nixon. Nixon who launched the Environmental Protection Agency, signed the Clean Air Act, supported OSHA, offered a  government  managed and more coherent health insurance plan than Obama’s, never called into question Social Security or Medicare, upheld financial regulation, reconciled with China, did not tick off names (including Americans) on kill lists and whose Watergate crimes are juvenile pranks  in comparison to assault on constitutional rights of the past three years.  This will not change. There are two certainties about a second Obama term in the White House. He will do nothing that challenges either orthodoxy or established interests; and he will do only that which conforms to his self-defined personal political interest and image.

Unger’s counsel is that progressives vote for Mitt Romney as part of a scorched earth policy that will leave re-fertilized political terrain on which to cultivate a new progressive movement. An alternative is just to stay home – to vote ‘no.’ As Will Rogers once urged, “don’t vote, it just encourages them.” Encourages them in the mistaken belief that they have a mandate, and have been legitimated. There is truth to the underlying premise that the choice is between a mainstream Republican (circa 1980) and a Republican cipher yoked to the far right agenda of the Tea Party and their camp followers. The principal practical difference is merely the pace at which the United States becomes an outright plutocracy. The direction is the same. For Unger, and for those who share his viewpoint, there is one outstanding inhibition: what a Romney presidency would mean for the Supreme Court. The Court majority’s unrestrained dedication to advancing a set of political, economic and social doctrines that point the country back to the golden days of the 1890s raises the stake. Even on this score, Obama’s critics point out that he has rejected the idea of appointing an articulate advocate of a liberal bent cut in the mold of Paul Stevens. Indeed, one of his appointees – Sonia Sotomayor – has shown a disposition to side with the ruling ’conservatives’ on a number of criminal rights and social policy issues.

For the overwhelming majority of liberals/progressives, a cultivated pragmatism will dictate a vote for Obama – contre-coeur – with quite a number exposing their own insecurities and credulity in pleading that the President deserves to be viewed as some kind of heroic champion fighting against great odds. In addition, they dispute the prediction that a true progressive Democratic party will arise Phoenix-like from the ashes of another resounding defeat. That is a compelling appraisal – although not on the grounds usually offered. Progressive ideas and policies are not out of synch with what the populace wants. Real financial regulation, protecting Social Security, shedding our imperial ambitions abroad, taking the Bill of Rights literally – those are winning positions. Rather, it is their sell-out by Democratic Party leaders, their corruptibility by money, their weakness for trendy palliatives like charter schools, their lack of honesty in addressing their constituents and their better selves – therein lies the reason for the Democrats’ deformation and defeat.

The unlikely prospect for a progressive revival stems from our dominant political culture and social malaise. Pervasive self-centered disengagement from public life and public responsibility, the takeover of the media by doctrinaire ‘conservative’ and corporate interests, the compromised ‘intelligentsia,’  consequent abandonment and, thereby, de facto disenfranchisement of a large chunk of  the (potential) electorate – together they militate strongly against a progressive renaissance. These are the harsh realities of our situation. Maybe a Democratic Party in opposition to a Republican president would be spurred by activists and by the sting of defeat to mount a fighting retreat, at least, with an ardor that a nominal Democratic White House works so hard at forestalling.

That returns us to the question of whether or not to vote at all. Abstention is hard to justify on practical grounds.  Yet, there exists for some an instinctive resistance to placing their personal imprimatur on Barack Obama. How can one approve what he has done? How can one express approval of the man himself? Can one do so with a clear conscience? This question cannot be cavalierly cast aside as an exercise in vanity, as a naïve indulgence of misplaced moral purity. It is true that the morality of individual action and ultimate ends always co-exists uneasily with standards of political ethics. But the two cannot always be reconciled. Is it unreasonable for someone to feel in his heart that he cannot tolerate pulling the Obama lever – that the act itself sullies and degrades who he is? That it could even hamper his future ability to carry on as a public person with a sense of integrity unimpaired?  I personally do not find it unreasonable.

Michael Brenner is a Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

Michael Brenner is a Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

February 09, 2016
Andrew Levine
Hillary Says the Darndest Things
Paul Street
Kill King Capital
Ben Burgis
Lesser Evil Voting and Hillary Clinton’s War on the Poor
Paul Craig Roberts
Are the Payroll Jobs Reports Merely Propaganda Statements?
Fran Quigley
How Corporations Killed Medicine
Ted Rall
How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military
Neve Gordon
Israeli Labor Party Adopts the Apartheid Mantra
Kristin Kolb
The Greatest Bear Rainforest Agreement? A Love Affair, Deferred
Joseph Natoli
Politics and Techno-Consciousness
Hrishikesh Joshi
Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio
Stavros Mavroudeas
Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece
David Macaray
Attention Peyton Manning: Leave Football and Concentrate on Pizza
Arvin Paranjpe
Opening Your Heart
Kathleen Wallace
Boys, Hell, and the Politics of Vagina Voting
Brian Foley
Interview With a Bernie Broad: We Need to Start Focusing on Positions and Stop Relying on Sexism
February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Patrick Cockburn
Oil Prices and ISIS Ruin Kurdish Dreams of Riches
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
Jim Goodman
Congress Must Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership
Peter White
Meeting John Ross
Colin Todhunter
Organic Agriculture, Capitalism and the Parallel World of the Pro-GMO Evangelist
Ralph Nader
They’re Just Not Answering!
Cesar Chelala
Beware of the Harm on Eyes Digital Devices Can Cause
Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail