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Barack Obama rode into office in 2008 on a wave of populist euphoria. By the time the ballots are counted in today’s midterm elections, Obama’s personal approval ratings will have fallen to historic lows and he will be universally recognized as the man who brought ruin on the Democratic party.
While still popular among party loyalists, the president has become radioactive among independents–the critical group of “swing voters” who have fled Camp Obama en masse frustrated with both the lack of audacity and/or change. No one figured they were electing George W. Bush to a third term in office when they cast their vote for the inspiring senator from Illinois two years ago. But that’s what they got. To say that supporters are disappointed, is a gross understatement of the pessimism that’s spread like Kudzu among the party faithful. People have grown increasingly cynical as they realize that neither party provides a path to real structural change. The system is broken; Obama has merely exposed the rot at the heart of American democracy.
In truth, it’s not all Obama’s fault. He was picked by elites who thought they could ride his lofty-sounding bloviating all the way to the White House. And they did, too, but that’s when things began to unravel, as one campaign promise after the other was tossed aside. Obama even backpedaled on issues that would have cost him very little in terms of political capital—like gays in the military or allowing California’s bid to liberalize marijuana laws go unchallenged. Issues that would have rekindled support among his downcast liberal base. But, no. Obama was ferociously opposed to throwing bones to the “professional left”. As Humphrey Bogart famously quipped, “They’ll get slapped and like it.” Today, we’ll find out how much they “like it.”
Voters had plenty of opportunity in 2008 to figure out Obama’s real position on the issues, but they chose not to. They chose to ignore that he was a staunch supporter of the quagmire in Afghanistan, or that he voted for the Patriot Act, the TARP bailout, and warrantless wiretapping. And when he bowed to pressure from the right and kicked his friend and pastor–the Rev. Jeremiah Wright–to the curb, his devotees looked the other way. “Character doesn’t matter”, they thought. “What matters is hope.”
Since he’s been in office, Obama has approved the policy of killing US citizens suspected of terrorism without due process, he’s authorized intelligence/counterinsurgency operations in foreign countries, he’s rejected habeas claims for terror suspects, and he’s refused honor his promise to close the US gulag at Guantanamo Bay. He’s made every accommodation imaginable for big finance, big oil and the drug companies — right down to allowing himself to be used as a prop in a photo-op on a beach in Louisiana during the Gulf oil spill to convey the impression of a chief executive who “feels the pain” of locals whose lives have been destroyed by the criminal negligence of the serial polluter, BP. He’s bent over backwards to placate the GOP congressional minority while embracing the hard right’s deficit slashing, warmongering world view.
The argument could be made that the corporate Dems who fill out the current administration are more competent than the bunglers on the Bush team. But while it’s true that Clinton, Holbrooke and Gates are more discreet and resourceful than Wolfowitz, Cheney and Rumsfeld, that’s not what people voted for. They wanted change, and they didn’t get it. What they got was a more skillful imperial managerial staff. Nothing more. So now Democratic senators, congressmen and governors face the prospect of a GOP surge, followed by two years of political gridlock during which unemployment will rise to 11 per cent, extreme poverty will soar to levels not seen since the 19th century, more than one state government will declare bankruptcy, and Republican rejection of a second round of fiscal stimulus will thrust the economy back into recession. At the same time, the erosion of civil liberties, the bailouts, the covert foreign interventions, the fear-mongering, the torture, and the wars will continue apace.
Today’s balloting is a referendum on the Obama presidency. Let the landslide begin.
MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He can be reached at email@example.com