Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential pick, Paul Ryan, as with himself, is an uninformed opportunist who was born into wealth and privilege and whose proposed policies aim to perpetuate that privilege at the expense of the rest of the population with whom he nominally shares a national identity. Barack Obama is a cynical opportunist who serves the interests of wealth and privilege and whose policies more effectively promote those interests than Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan could ever hope to. Those circling the wagons to get Mr. Obama re-elected should spend a bit of time getting to know their guy.
At the highest level Mr. Obama codified, through both continuation of, and failure to prosecute, the worst of the Bush / Cheney administration’s war crimes, domestic crimes, civil intrusions and economic policies. When Mr. Obama entered office he had the opportunity to repudiate these crimes and restore the illusion that America has ever been a civilized nation. America’s global torture prisons have been moved out of sight but not out of fact (link). The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq remain illegal wars of aggression undertaken to boost the fortunes of multi-national oil companies and the slaughter-for-profit military industry. The war in Afghanistan has been expanded under Mr. Obama and the war in Iraq was only ended against his wishes by Bush era treaties. And U.S. foreign policy remains the preeminent force of repression and unjust order overseas.
Mr. Obama’s recently disclosed ‘kill lists’ (link) suggest an unhinged monarch, fully divorced from legal accountability and history, carrying out vendettas against unproven enemies with fevered impunity (if he doesn’t have to show evidence, he doesn’t have to have evidence). With Americans now openly subject to murder at the whim of whoever occupies the Oval Office, the long, inglorious history of domestic power politics carried out through strategic assassination finds a home on our shores. (One need only recall the Bush / Cheney hilarity at putting Ted Kennedy and other prominent Democrats on lists of suspected terrorists used by airlines to imagine where this abuse of power can lead).
Mr. Obama’s signature achievement while in office, his ‘health care reform,’ the ACA (Affordable Care Act), is a Republican plan developed by the right-wing Heritage Foundation and first passed in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney. The plan forces citizens to purchase a defective product from private insurance companies who profit by denying health care to people who need it. The program’s ‘insurance exchanges’ leave individuals to select among inadequate policies to buy protection against future maladies of which they have no foreknowledge. Recourse for health care denied is appeal to under funded, understaffed state insurance commissions that have long histories shielding insurance companies from having to pay legitimate claims.
When Mr. Obama took office the nation was in the throes of an economic meltdown and financial collapse of bi-partisan origins. Mr. Obama rewarded the most culpable of the policy malefactors with top jobs covering up the mess that they had created. Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner set about rendering the right-wing fantasy of corrupt, incompetent government fact by stuffing the housing agencies full of bank detritus. The Federal Reserve set about restoring the fortunes of the sliver of Americans who own financial assets through several trillion dollars of monetary stimulus while adequate fiscal stimulus was deemed ‘unaffordable.’ Corrupt bankers were universally made whole while the rest of the economy was left to rot.
Early on Mr. Obama applied his own unique economic insight to argue that the explosion in unemployment in 2008 – 2009, coincident with the worst economic downturn in modern history, was due to ‘productivity gains,’ (link) and that nothing could be done to help the unemployed. (Even if productivity gains had been behind the decline in employment, which wasn’t the case, Mr. Obama could have revived the nation’s public sphere—teachers, doctors, emergency responders, public works workers, etc. to put people to work, but he chose not to). After passing a tax-cut laden economic stimulus program Mr. Obama appointed the corporate ‘leaders’ responsible for several decades of jobs outsourcing to his ‘jobs’ council. Four years on fully twenty million Americans remain unemployed or underemployed, with no effort to help them in the works.
In his effort to save particular culpable bankers while leaving the banking system corrupt, fragile, predatory and dysfunctional, Mr. Obama spared the victims of banker malfeasance no inconvenience, misdirection, unnecessary effort or cost. As part of the bank ‘bailouts’ Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner developed an entire program (HAMP– Home Affordable Modification Program) (link) to intentionally dupe hundreds of thousands of homeowners facing foreclosure into wasting a year or more of their lives ‘negotiating’ with banks that had no intention of modifying mortgages. The result was to inflict economic, legal and moral harm onto already distressed citizens solely to benefit the banks. That Mr. Geithner could have accomplished the same goal by fiat without torturing the already victimized citizenry illustrates what utter contempt he and Mr. Obama have for the American people.
A short while later Mr. Obama ‘negotiated’ a mortgage settlement that gave the banks blanket retroactive immunity for illegally foreclosing on several million homeowners using fraudulent, forged and backdated documents in foreclosure proceedings. The deal, under which the banks paid a $25 billion ‘fine’ with other bailout funds, removed any pretense that the banks needed a legal right–past, present or future, to illicitly take homes from the citizenry at will. The hyped ‘investigation’ that was to follow into massive mortgage industry malfeasance is a poorly funded smokescreen with the twin goals of providing Mr. Obama with a faux-populist patina in an election year while preventing any real investigation from taking place.
After several decades of the Washington political establishment opportunistically trotting out the ‘budget deficit’ canard in the lull between launching expensive wars for the benefit of their corporate benefactors, creating expensive giveaways to connected industries (Pharma) and enacting exorbitant tax cuts for the ascendant plutocracy, Barack Obama upped the ante by laying Social Security and Medicare on the table to be sacrificed without even the pretense of having been forced to do so. The only likely reason why he didn’t beat Paul Ryan to the punch in trying to privatize Social Security, as Bill Clinton had wanted to do, is that the matter polled poorly following George W. Bush’s bungling of the matter.
To set the public up for his ‘budget crisis’ claptrap Mr. Obama pulled ‘a Clinton’ by appointing a deficit commission stacked with deficit hawks that included none other than Mr. Clinton’s old ‘commission’ standby, right-wing hack and inheritance baby Erskine Bowles, to play the part of ‘Democrat concerned about the deficit.’ Readers may remember Mr. Bowles as Mr. Clinton’s Chief of Staff when he appointed the earlier deficit commission that first recommended privatizing Social Security. Unable to find the consensus needed to put forward a proposal in the name of the commission, Mr. Bowles joined fellow despiser of social spending Alan Simpson to write a faux report to give Mr. Obama cover to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in his second term should he be re-elected.
The environmental catastrophe of the British Petroleum gulf oil spill found Mr. Obama missing in action in the crucial early weeks, claiming that the government of the United States was impotent to contain the damage (or force BP to contain the damage) for several more weeks, and physically preventing reporters from reporting the damage caused by the spill in final weeks. Mr. Obama allowed British Petroleum to exponentially increase the environmental damage of the spill by illegally disposing of 1.84 million gallons of toxic waste (link) under the guise of ‘dispersing’ the spilt oil. As this was taking place Mr. Obama acted as a public relations advocate for British Petroleum and once the spill was ‘contained’ used government resources to cover up evidence of the crime.
Following this abrogation of duty Mr. Obama scammed gullible environmentalists by temporarily halting construction of the environmental end-times northern tar sands pipeline while moving forward with the southern pipeline. There is little rationale for continuing the southern pipeline unless the northern pipeline is to be built following the presidential election. The totality of this project will exponentially increase the greenhouse gases being put into the atmosphere at a time when global warming is unambiguously in evidence.
In every dimension as president Barack Obama has proven himself a loyal servant of the global ruling class—bankers, corporate CEOs and oil and gas industry executives, against the rest of humanity. And through his faux-populist rhetoric and crude-materialist presence (black Democrat) he has been able to promote ruling class interests more effectively than conspicuous aristocrats like Mitt Romney could hope to. More to the point, as a trained technocrat, Mr. Obama can avoid the overreach of crude ideologues like Paul Ryan by knowing exactly who his benefactors are. (Mr. Ryan would hit a brick wall thirty seconds into trying to cut the government programs that the ruling class feeds off of. Mr. Obama will stick to de-funding only those who lack social power).
Finally, my condolences to Mr. Obama’s supporters on the coming disappointments should he be re-elected. Sure Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would be ‘worse.’ But should Mr. Romney win there would be less delusion around whose interests any president will serve. The ruling class declared war on the rest of us forty years ago. Mitt Romney clearly represents the ruling class. Mr. Obama does the same with less evident intent.
Rob Urie is an artist and political economist in New York.
COMING IN SEPTEMBER
A Special Memorial Issue of CounterPunch
Featuring recollections of Alexander Cockburn from Jeffrey St. Clair, Peter Linebaugh, Paul Craig Roberts, Noam Chomsky, Mike Whitney, Doug Peacock, Perry Anderson, Becky Grant, Dennis Kucinich, Michael Neumann, Susannah Hecht, P. Sainath, Ben Tripp, Alison Weir, James Ridgeway, JoAnn Wypijewski, John Strausbaugh, Pierre Sprey, Carolyn Cooke, Conn Hallinan, James Wolcott, Laura Flanders, Ken Silverstein, Tariq Ali and many others …