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It may be that the most depressing aspect of President Obama’s proposed “American Jobs Act” is the pitiful acceptance by leading elements of what passes for the “progressive” coalition in these dreary times. Apparently, some organizations and individuals have become so desperate that they will embrace anything that Obama proposes, even if it represents a Republican-lite agenda. Incapable of mounting any sustained opposition to this corporatist imperial president, they tout Obama’s recent rhetoric about the defense of public goods and government action even though his policies have eviscerated those goods and corrupted that action.
The historical amnesia that informs these cheerleaders for Obama is particularly repugnant when one considers the active recruitment by his administration of big pharma and health insurance companies in the crafting of his Healthcare Act. Moreover, the criminal deference that Obama showed towards British Petroleum when it dispersed thousands of toxic gallons of Corexit into the Gulf belies any of his rhetoric about public goods. Finally, in the lead-up to Obama’s announcement of his “American Jobs Act,” he overruled the EPA on its sane and necessary smog regulations, rewarding in the process the environmentally destructive fossil fuel industry.
When it comes to some of the particulars of the “American Jobs Act,” there appears to be abject surrender to White House marketing of its so-called benefits. While there is a modicum of recognition that the proposed payroll tax cut will continue regressive tax policies favoring business, there is, with a few exceptions, little acknowledgement that the long-term implications of such a cut in FICA revenues will make Social Security more vulnerable to right-wing maneuvers.
Relying, again, on corporate tax breaks for creating jobs, Obama is reinforcing the strategy of conservatives. While claiming such measures as bi-partisan proposals, the President seems to be capitulating once more to Republicans. However, instead of decrying such capitulation, it is incumbent on what remains of progressive forces to call out Obama for what he really is – a “Neoliberal Negro,” as the African-American journalist, Jon Jeter, so incisively and scathingly notes in his book, Flat Broke in the Free Market.
Certainly, Cornel West and other progressive blacks have made clear their break with Obama. Yet, many in the leadership of the black community are rallying around the “American Jobs Act” although it does nothing to address the severe employment crisis among African-Americans. Indeed, the references to “infrastructure repair” in Obama’s proposal do not guarantee hiring black workers in the notoriously racist construction industry.
Given how corporate tax breaks overseen by the Obama Administration have not imposed any capital controls in the past, thus allowing for outsourcing and massive financial speculation, there is little expectation that this so-called jobs bill will stem the hemorrhaging of the economy. The fact that labor unions, from the UAW to the Teamsters, have signed onto promoting Obama’s agenda is a telling indictment of their timidity and continuing cooptation in the Democratic Party, even as that party hues to its neo-liberal financial backers.
Although there have been insurgencies against the egregious policies of right-wing Governors, efforts to oppose Obama from the so-called progressive wing of the Democratic Party are almost non-existent. With a few sporadic instances of mobilized anger on certain legislation, like the recent debt-ceiling debacle, and a minor campaign by those in the black caucus to re-focus the debate on jobs, Obama remains impervious to pressure from the left. Surrounded by corporate flacks and dedicated to devastating neo-liberal and imperial policies, Obama is 21st century incarnation of the Manchurian Candidate.
Yet, it does little to decry the failures of Obama when a stupefied and battered public can be jerked around by platitudes and hollow promises. In particular, progressives need to devise new direct action campaigns like those in Greece, Italy, and Spain, where the opposition is no longer in thrall to what passes for the left in parliamentary politics. It is lamentable that many progressives here are just barely able to rouse themselves for the defense of jobs and what remains of a tattered social welfare state.
Instead of being sucked into the vortex of a dysfunctional political system, we need to generate the same sort of “indignation” found in the mobilization and organization of the outraged global multitudes whether in southern Europe or northern Africa. And one first step is a clean break with and opposition to Obama and his “American Jobs Act.” Enough with rationalizing and temporizing; just say take this “American Jobs Act” and shove it!
Fran Shor teaches history at Wayne State University. He is the author of Dying Empire: US Imperialism and Global Resistance (Routledge 2010).