Thursday, May 27, 2010

The End of the Beginning for Obama?

Obama must take the gloves off

After the success of the healthcare reforms, Obama’s position suddenly looks much stronger
by Ian Williams
Sunday, April 11th, 2010 Tribune

The United States creaked triumphantly into the middle of the 20th century when Barack Obama’s team finally squeezed through his healthcare reform bill.

The string and sealing wax effort will need patches almost immediately – although it could have done without the President’s executive order banning federal money being spent on abortions. That was his price for the anti-abortionists in his own party, who were prepared to let 30 million uninsured real people die prematurely in order that embryonic life be preserved or, rather, that no taxpayers’ money be spent on their potential termination.

Those on the left of the Democrats who held out to the last for inclusion of a public option were right to stand firm for as long as they did, but right to fold when the time came. This was a once in a century possibility to rewrite the agenda.

The Republicans, whipped in by the far right, were and are solid against any reform that Obama might introduce – even if many elements of the bill had in the past been proposed by their own party luminaries such as Richard Nixon.

The Republicans’ detachment from reality should make them unelectable, but that depends on how successfully they can detach the electorate from the real world – and their degree of success is worrying. One almost has to admire their cynical Orwellian skill in brandishing two fingers on each hand to voters and persuading them that they make five.

They have been relatively successful in persuading millions that the bank bailout – conceived and passed under George W Bush and executed by Bush appointees to deal with a disaster that had developed and come to fruition under Bush – is really an Obama plan. Perhaps the most eloquent commentary on the Bush presidency is his complete absence from the casting call for the role of national elder statesman. His silence suggests that he has shrunk into the obscurity he worked so assiduously to achieve.

Or perhaps, for the paranoid among us, the Republican leadership has made a conscious decision to let Bush and his mistakes drop into the memory hole. By ignoring him, they help to obscure the disaster of his two terms. After all, they have persuaded millions that the way to protest against the big business domination of American life is to vote for the Republican Party which epitomises that domination. Indeed, it is the Republicans who are fighting to the last vote to thwart any plans to stop government regulation of the banks and financial houses or any attempt to recoup through taxes the bonuses with which the guilty chief executives are rewarding themselves.

The classic Republican poster was “Get the government’s hands off my Medicare”. Medicare is the public healthcare option for American pensioners, which is so successful that Taiwan took it as the model when it introduced a national health service 15 years ago, and is the system that the left Democrats want extended to all citizens. The Republicans would love to destroy it on ideological grounds, but cynically concede that this outstanding example of “socialised medicine” is so popular with senior citizens – who vote in disproportionate numbers – that they try to appear as its defenders.

The first problem for the Democrats is their equivalent of “new” Labour – the Democratic Leadership Council and the so-called “Blue Dogs” that function as a conservative fifth column in the US Congress and are always prepared to hold crucial votes to ransom, whether it be to stop the public option or dilute financial regulation.

To be fair to the Republicans, because of this faction, the Democrats under Bill Clinton were equally to blame for deregulation and the general adoption of the neo-liberal consensus. But since fairness has disappeared from the political arsenal in Washington, it is not the history, more the present that inhibits the administration from coming out with all guns blazing.

Then there is the temperament of Obama. With America’s poisonous history, there is no doubt his election marked a huge milestone. But it would almost be a form of inverse racism to assume the election of a black President in itself changed the country, rather than symbolising the possibility of change. Margaret Thatcher’s election in Britain was not necessarily a big step forward for womankind, any more than all-women shortlists have moved the Labour Party leftwards.

As I said when he was elected, Obama is no leftist, despite the fevered nightmares of the right and the daydreams of the left. He is a vast improvement on Bush and the Republicans, but of all comparisons that is the most odious. He is certainly committed to social justice in a way that they are not – but his choice of tools to effect that still ties him to the neo-liberal Republican/DLC bankers’ consensus.

At the same time, the disciplined war of attrition waged by the Republicans against his agenda, particularly healthcare, has not stopped him making some much improved appointments, for example in the National Labour Board. Now he has won on healthcare, one can only hope that he follows through with an all-out assault on the industry lobbies and the Republicans and Democrats who dance to their tune.

This would prove popular for the mid-term elections, put the blame for the crisis back where it belongs and allow him to build on his achievements. At home, as in the Middle East with Benjamin Netanyahu, if Obama wants to succeed, now is payback time.
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