Single payer health care? That's insane! Higher taxes on the rich to remedy record wealth disparity? Him, become enthralled by that Thomas Picketty tome? Fuggedaboutit.
Blowing wind at the home of wind energy tycoon Michael Polsky last Thursday night, Obama did bestow one big moment of truth when he told his big-buck donors: (all bolds are mine)
But whenever I come to Chicago and I see great friends, it reminds me of why I got into politics -- because a lot of people here played a role in me becoming a state senator, becoming a U.S. senator, and ultimately becoming President.
I know that the Manilows are here, for example. They hosted something for me when nobody knew me. And they’re just one of many people here who have tracked my career. And the values I carried with me to the White House are the values that so many of you taught me.At home in Chicago, Obama could finally relax enough to drop the act. Rich people and their money are the reason he got into politics. Rich people and their values --not regular people and their crises -- are what keep him going. There, he said it.
The Manilows, "just one of many people," are among the FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate) clique that bankrolled Obama's rapid rise. Ten years ago, when he was still insisting he wouldn't run for president in 2008, the FIRE sector saw a golden opportunity in their candidate. Here was a black Democratic fig leaf making friends with such Senate fiscal conservatives as Tom Coburn and Sam Brownback! How the dollar signs must have flashed in their brains. From an ancient article in Chicago City Life:
By one line of thinking, an African American on the ticket in 2008 might excite the minority and liberal bases of the party enough to tip the vote. “What you get with Barack Obama is an extra few [percentage] points [of the vote] generated by additional minority voters and white suburbanites,” says Larry J. Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia who is often quoted on national politics. “Supporting an articulate, polished African American candidate like Obama almost becomes a badge of a suburbanite’s honor: ‘Look at me-I’m racially progressive.’”
In this view, a black candidate might become the Democrats’ key to making decisive gains in traditionally Republican white suburbs. As Lewis Manilow, the former Chicago developer and major Democratic donor and fundraiser, observes, Obama’s “two constituencies” in 2004 were “the black community and I guess what you would call suburban women.”Read the whole trial balloon of an article and laugh. Or weep, as the case may be. The part where a humble-bragging Obama claims to be an instrument of God's will should have been a red flag. Especially since it was accompanied by a highly stylized portfolio of photos:
|Straight from Centrist Casting: Young Mr. Obama|
Fast forward a decade, and here was President Obama back on his home turf, schmoozing with the same casting couch financiers who gave him his first big break. He reassured them in no uncertain terms that all this recent populist talk about wealth inequality is just part of the narrative. He still has their backs:
And when I first came into office, obviously we were in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression, losing 800,000 jobs a month. Over the last four years, we've created 9.5 million jobs. (Applause.) The unemployment rate has come down and housing has recovered. The auto industry has come back. The deficits have been cut in half. We have dug our way out of the rubble of that crisis.You're all doing just fine, Job Creators. Applause, applause for arising from the rubble of your own creation and grabbing a greater than 90% share of what the financial sector destroyed during the Great Meltdown of Aught-Eight. Austerity worked for rich people like you. The deficits, which only the rich pretend to care about, were cut in half. Wages are stagnating while your own profits continue to soar. We bailed out Wall Street, we bailed out General Motors. That both have behaved badly ever since is moot. Pay no attention to that Thomas Picketty fellow and his suggested global wealth tax. Obama isn't.
Warning: now here comes the standard Obama pivot, followed by the standard Obama deflection. First, the pivot in which the president dutifully and truthily recites all that is wrong with our sick society (in neoliberal-speak, social ills are defined as "challenges" that they're perpetually trying to overcome.)
The challenge we have, though, is that for too many families around the country, that recovery has not translated into higher incomes or higher wages. We’re still having trouble making sure that they can finance a child’s college education. We're still trying to figure out, how am I going to retire. There are still too many people out of work, and there are too many folks who are working full-time but at the end of the month have a tough time paying the bills. We still have challenges making sure that every child in America is getting a first-class education. And we still have challenges with an immigration system that is broken and depriving us of enormous talent -- one of our greatest strengths as a country. Climate change remains a generational challenge that we've got to tackle boldly. And, unfortunately, we've got a Congress that right now just can't seem to get anything done.In case you missed it, right there was the part where Obama humanizes the plutocrats by inviting them to pretend to feel the pain of the masses for a minute. And even though their greed is at the root of all evil inflicted on the masses, why don't we.... blame it on the very same Congress they bankroll instead! Also, let's blame it on the mass media conglomerates, which they also bankroll to spread the gridlock myth. The deflection:
Now, you'll hear if you watch the nightly news or you read the newspapers that, well, there’s gridlock, Congress is broken, approval ratings for Congress are terrible. And there’s a tendency to say, a plague on both your houses. But the truth of the matter is that the problem in Congress is very specific. We have a group of folks in the Republican Party who have taken over who are so ideologically rigid, who are so committed to an economic theory that says if folks at the top do very well then everybody else is somehow going to do well; who deny the science of climate change; who don't think making investments in early childhood education makes sense; who have repeatedly blocked raising a minimum wage so if you work full-time in this country you're not living in poverty; who scoff at the notion that we might have a problem with women not getting paid for doing the same work that men are doing.All very true, despite the fact that Obama got where he is today by schmoozing with the self-same Republican ideologues and compromising with the "folks" the minute he was elected on a wave of populism with majorities in both Houses. It was almost as if he were apologizing to the right wingers for beating them. It was almost as if he felt guilty for beating them. It was almost as if he couldn't wait to start beating up on the desperate people who voted for him.
And then there's the part he forgot to mention: that the "gridlock" has a way of miraculously disappearing when it comes to rewarding the rich and powerful, funding the eternal war machine, and ensuring that his ability to destroy Occupy camps and drone at will is unimpeded. Remember when the bipartisan-forged sequester magically got lifted for air traffic controllers, so that the rich in their Lear jets would not be inconvenienced at the same rate as impoverished cancer patients awaiting chemo and poor urban children awaiting Head Start?
And on the same day that Obama was moaning about phony gridlock and nasty Republicans, his minions were busy strong-arming Congress to water down the NSA reform legislation. When it comes to spying on ordinary citizens, his administration is as rigid and paranoid as they come.
He continued to reassure the fabulously wealthy donors that pretend-left Democrats are consistently on their side:
So the problem is not Dick Durbin. The problem is not Michael Bennet. The problem is not that the Democrats are overly ideological -- because the truth of the matter is, is that the Democrats in Congress have consistently been willing to compromise and reach out to the other side. There are no radical proposals coming out from the left. When we talk about climate change, we talk about how do we incentivize through the market greater investment in clean energy. When we talk about immigration reform there’s no wild-eyed romanticism. We say we're going to be tough on the borders, but let’s also make sure that the system works to allow families to stay together, and that we're attracting talent like Michael who constantly replenish the American Dream.Uh-oh. Whenever you hear the neoliberal word "incentivize," run for the hills. See Paul Krugman's recent blog-post decrying this linguistic atrocity, along with its cousin, "impact" when used as a verb. Funny that Krugman is under the impression that such mangluage is restricted to Ivy League students.
But anyhow -- the "innovative" (another fave neoliberal word) way Obama is working to keep immigrant families together is to deport whole branches them in the highest numbers in history. Heaven forbid that Democrats can't be as "tough on the borders" as the Republican haters. Because, Yes. He. Can. Because, drones, troops, guns, and enrichment of the Military Industrial Complex. And anyhow -- market-based, incentivized immigration reform entails importing cheaper tech labor. It's attracting low-wage talent from other third world countries. It hasn't got much to do with the attractive talents of Mexicans already laboring away in our pastures of plenty for slave wages and no benefits. And being slammed into for-profit private detention centers when the first phase of their usefulness comes to an end.
And climate change? Democrats will go so far as admitting it exists and tepidly recommend some useless cap and trade legislation, but other than that, frack and drill till the earth literally quakes, the air is heated up by methane, and the water is poisoned as the seas inexorably rise. Because no Democrat is suggesting conserving fuel by car-pooling or cutting down on driving, or living in smaller, energy-efficient homes. That would be downright, unprofitably socialist.
The president was actually getting some accolades (here, here) for finally blasting the false equivalence theatrics of the mainstream media, in which "both sides" are blamed for whatever ails us. The pundits, he fumed at the soiree, are spewing the ridiculous lie that his faction is the extreme opposite of the Tea Party!
But as he himself proudly admitted, there are certainly no "radical" proposals from the nonexistent Democratic Left, like scrapping the cap on FICA Social Security taxes, starting a New Deal-like government jobs program to combat the scourge of unemployment, insisting on a living wage (not to be confused with the token $10.10 fakery), defending labor unions to the death, imposing a transaction tax on Wall Street, forgiving student loans, forgiving mortgage debt, and just about any social program that would put people over profits. Because in free market, for-profit ObamaWorld, that would be just way too extremist.
No way are the ruling elites of 21st century USA even remotely tempted to emulate social programs as they currently exist in much of Europe. Paul Krugman points out in his latest column that constant bashing by the American right wing of the welfare state leads to the mistaken impression that Europe is on the verge of collapse. But surprise, surprise: "French adults in their prime working years (25 to 54) are substantially more likely to have jobs than their U.S. counterparts".
My "reader comment" on Krugman's column:
The very word "welfare" is fraught with paranoid elite visions of poor people breathing somewhere and not paying for the oxygen. And that's why the Paul Ryans of the world use it with such abandon. It sounds worse than what France actually calls its own safety net -- "Protection sociale".
In certain humane spots on the globe, "All for one and one for all" is more than a rallying cry in a Dumas novel.
And here we are in America, 50 years after LBJ's Great Society speech. Universal French-style health care, free education, paid maternal and sick leave, cash assistance to the poor? Anathema to both austerian political parties, beholden as they are to the plutocracy. The GOP plays the part of Snidely Whiplash, while the Dems are Dudley Do-Right (emphasis on the Dud and moving further Right all the time.)
So they fund-raise off a tepid $10.10 minimum wage, ignoring the humanitarian crisis of unemployment, and sentence a whole lost generation to short, brutish, indebted lives.
And while they're pandering for votes, last week came word that the surveillance state had cast a spying dragnet over Occupy activists who dared rally for social justice.
And meanwhile, McWorkers (whose CEO boss makes 1000 times their average salary) were arrested en masse for demanding $15 an hour. How fitting that the cuffs were slapped on just down the block from "Hamburger University." Because it has become painfully obvious that the power elites view all of us as so much chopped meat.But, back to Obama's speech at the Chicago fund-raiser, held the very next night after the Chicago arrests of the McDonalds employees:
When we talk about taxes we don't say we're going to have rates in the 70 percent or 90 percent when it comes to income like existed here 50, 60 years ago. We say let’s just make sure that those of us who have been incredibly blessed by this country are giving back to kids so that they’re getting a good start in life, so that they get early childhood education, so that struggling middle-class families are able to finance their education, and that if a talented young person wants to go into teaching or wants to become a social worker that they’re not burdened by hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of debt.Shades, again, of rich people like him being instruments of God. Did you ever notice how obscenely rich people often say they got that way by being "blessed," instead of by being greedy grasping assholes? And this whole spiel about not burdening students with debt is just too, too much. No word about arrests of workers exercising their rights of free speech. No word about the government getting rich off student loans. No word about university CEOs getting rich off poor students and adjunct faculty members. No endorsement of Elizabeth Warren's proposal to lend students money at the same near-0% rate that the Fed charges the big banks.
Obama continued blasting the false equivalence, and reassuring the plutocrats:
Health care -- we didn’t suddenly impose some wild, crazy system. All we said was let’s make sure everybody has insurance. And this made the other side go nuts -- the simple idea that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, nobody should go bankrupt because somebody in their family gets sick, working within a private system.Single payer non-profit payer health care would be just totally insane! It would be absolutely crazy for God-blessed people like them to give up profiting off other people's misery. It would be nuts if we joined the rest of the civilized world and declared that health care is a right and not a privilege. Yes, he "said" everybody would have insurance under Obamacare. What he didn't say is that 30 million Americans will remain uninsured by design, and those who do purchase plans can still go bankrupt because of high deductibles and co-pays. I mean, come on. He bitches that he out-Republicans the Republicans and can't get no respect. Sheesh.
So, he told his donors, the only solution is to vote out all the Republicans so we can keep out-Republicanning them. Radical.
Obama is perfectly happy to keep the conversation where it belongs -- the fake food fight between the two similar factions of the Big Money Party. His job is to deflect the conversation from the real war -- the class war, the war of Big Money interests and unfettered capitalism against the rest of us.