By Robert S. Becker May 27, '10
I’m all in favor of knowingly jousting at windmills, so good luck to Cenk Uygur for arm-twisting Goldman Sachs to repay (only) $12.9 billion via loans guaranteed by our “reform” government. Problem is, where’s the public leverage – corporate largesse forced by street marches? Consumer outrage or feisty editorials? Targeted, ex post facto penalty taxes? With this corporate Supreme Court doing the review?
The best protests identify achievable game plans, and Uygur’s tactic withers without endorsement by a business-friendly president, Congress, and Supreme Court. That row of windmills makes this less a protest than dream quest. There’s an infinitely simpler, more far-ranging protest, requiring no indirection, Congressional maneuvers or suspect legalisms. Ask the president to return your campaign contributions – and not for his “pragmatic,” bait-and-policy switches, but simple non-performance, in fact, inept management style reminiscent of Bush-Cheney's crisis management.
Take the Obama wait-and-see Gulf disaster response, which should transcend policy and party, the ideal corporate lethargy made for the White House bully pulpit. But not acting boldly for five weeks – despite the Katrina geography connection – defines a weak president. What sort of free market wet dream is this White House living, missing incontrovertible facts? This spill is enormous, the country’s all-time worst polluter is cutting corners, and emergencies make small presidents smaller (W.) and big presidents bigger (FDR, Truman).
Important presidents don’t wag their finger without having a big stick in the other hand.
Missing: the Audacity of Scope
Thus, my refund protest focuses less on "mere” political shortfalls but violation of our core, bottom-line contract: to deliver professional management that offsets eight years of staggering blunders. Is it too much to ask for a president to match in quality his own impressive critique of the awesome disasters of his predecessors? What’s missing in Obama, from the start and across the boards, is the audacity of scope, comprehensive frameworks that acknowledge wholesale problems, then commit to planning and innovation, completed by brilliant public relations, the sort that won the White House.
No organization can long survive by disguising window dressing as real change. When James Carville, ultimate party insider, goes apoplectic, you know the president is asleep.
If this president’s agenda is to strengthen entrenched, corporate values – to reinforce, not reform the system – let him make that case, explain his own major discrepancies – anything but act like we forgot the pledges. To leave unaddressed the gap between promise and performance, indeed have his chief of staff diss progressives, insults loyal supporters. To fail to provide coherent oversight for a country desperate to regain its “can-do” spirit foretells a legacy historians will term “partial, reactive, and mediocre.” Been there, done that.
Mr. President, your smashingly well-branded campaign made millions believe you would be Not Bush (and Not a Clinton), a newcomer who would at least try to be a game changer. If you again expect support from disaffected loyalists, wouldn’t a few admissions best restart the counter, with good faith refunds? Your political fundraising arm is unimpaired and, frankly times being what they are, cash back would be welcome.
His Risk-aversion, My Buyer's Remorse
I admit I bought the brand but the original, classic brand, not this new, unsettling derivation. I don’t judge you for finding “pragmatic” ways to win, but for not coming clean, now two years later. Few imagined a rousing FDR progressive, but even fewer a right-lurching centrist, paying homage to congenital liars without ideas, the folks your campaign shredded. What’s telling is not your understandably watered-down legislation, but so little effort to fight the good fight or risk anything for a progressive issue. Having lost one-third of your popularity, what’s to lose?
Politics is a gamble and I accept the legislative trade-offs. But not failure to act on your own explicit rebuke of Bush-Cheney for incompetence, dismal appointments and arrogance of power. How many of your lead appointments wouldn’t (and didn't) fit Bush-Cheney, and how is your overall leadership more coherent, less crisis-oriented? Your wary reluctance to do battle already textures your legacy. In delayed timing and tin-ear responses, I see too much Tweedledee (you) and Tweedledum (the W.). Refunds are owed not because of what you’ve done, but haven’t done, for being risk-adverse and reactive when boldness was called for. No one I know voted for more Bush III management style.
Survey the big-scale oversight shortfalls: first, no major change towards “terrorism,” still calling for budget-busting, unilateral military action "against al Qaeda," rather than international aid plus undercover police-espionage interventions. This is about failure to present any “replacement” geo-political strategy, not defending specific military tactics. This is about justifying the Afghan surge with success markers, making clear what changes years of war will accomplish six months after departure.
No Integration Across the Boards
Likewise, still no overall plan to confront looming economic dilemmas, besides short-term pump-priming – which feels like plugging one hole, then waiting for the next leak. What regains decent-paying manufacturing to the States, or deals with entrenched union contracts or abysmal investments in research and education, from first grade through college? Solar energy can only do so much.
Anyone find an integrated energy independence plan, aside from modest alternative energy boosts and more offshore drilling? I see no systemic solutions to ongoing, even worsening environmental and resource degradation (basics, like drinking water, soil, forests, and oceanic health). No campaign to restore huge, infrastructure disintegration, simply crowing about shovel-ready jobs, no serious commitment to thousands of 1930’s bridges, tunnels, canals, and roads in dire straits.
Ultimately, Bush-Cheney did not leave in disgrace because its ideology was rejected, but because that gang showed, again and again, it couldn’t shoot straight. In America, massive incompetence trumps even suspect ideology, especially in a reputedly “conservative” country. That crew’s crime, finally, was not about party but personality, a rigid, backward mindset relying on denial, deception, and non-performance except in areas of crony capitalism.
The issue isn’t Obama has achieved nothing, nor that good won’t come from, say, health insurance reform when implemented in the real world. But insurance at best is only one variable in entire “health care delivery” universe. In short, one struggles to find across any major area where this administration, like the preceding, isn't making it up as it goes along – and that is the path that assures disaster like Gulf spills.
Most painfully, from an ex-Constitutional Law teacher, there’s no full statement, let alone campaign, to heal the multiplicity of ways Bush-Cheney abused the law, the Constitution, and the balance of powers, its most onerous, enduring disgrace. Not one big Obama speech that says, “I can’t quickly solve big inherited messes, wars, oil spills or the recession, but I can redeem law, a corrupted presidency, our Constitutional system, and restore human rights. Either we respect due process and justice or we accept being a radically worse country.” Hardly a peep, and in key ways more topdown abuse.
It's all about leadership, stupid!
Would redeeming the Constitution not gain Obama "bi-partisan" or centrist support he’s lost? Would saving the Constitution, as FDR saved capitalism, not save Obama’s vulnerable legacy? Not by pushing secrecy, or indiscriminate, predatory drone attacks, or shielding Bagram and inmates in a dark, lawless netherworld, or enforcing assassination of an American citizen without due process, invoking scary, Cheney-type horrors.
Were I on the Board of Directors of a corporation called America, I’d press for different management assumptions that dealt with full problems rather than dish out talking points or charades as if leadership. This administration’s Grade for wide-scale planning: D. Grade for communicating a unifying vision: Incomplete or D. Grade for educating voters on legislation: C-. Grade for dealing with emergency oil spill: D.
Is there a silver lining from an administration of shortfalls? Perhaps, a regressive, pro-business, neo-con president will induce a progressive backlash. Imagine moveon.org or such entities less tied to Democrats – or new integrations of groups. Such a caucus must pick its fights carefully, for splitting the left, as the Tea Party does the right, results in more opposition dinosaurs. And yet, imagine progressives teamed up with libertarians against absurd wars, military excesses, or government abuses of civil and human liberties – now that’s an alliance to stir things up.