Monday, December 2, 2019

Obama's Magical Thumb

Just as Barack Obama once bragged that he was the only thing standing between the criminal financial class and millions of angry "pitchforks," he's now posing as the only thing standing between  panic-stricken oligarchs and Bernie Sanders. Or so says the group-think media narrative in a rather blatant test of liberal loyalties. You can worship Obama, or you can agitate for a new New Deal, but you cannot possibly do both. Because that would be disloyal to Obama, beloved elder statesman and most admired man on earth according to a Gallup poll of about a thousand people.

As we have come to expect from the historically fawning media coverage of Obama, there's a lot of doublespeak involved in this narrative, which has the former president publicly vowing to support any Democratic nominee, but privately vowing to put a stop to Bernie if he threatens to run away with the nomination and thus prevents the brokered convention that could very well usher in the artificially reanimated corpse of Hillary Clinton.

There's even been some talk of Michelle Obama coming in to save the Neoliberal Project from Bernie Sanders. But if this were the case, she wouldn't be traveling to Singapore this month to schmooze with The Growth Faculty, a group of wealthy tax-avoiding American expatriates and multinational CEOs. To be fair, she won't actually be physically mingling with her fellow plutocrats at a pre-speech cocktail party. But she is charging as much as $3,000 a head, not only for front-row seating, but for a value-added separate red-carpeted VIP entrance reserved for the most well-heeled of the well-heeled. It's an expensive privilege to see Michelle Obama in the flesh, but it's even more of a privilege to be seen as being able to afford Michelle Obama. The ticket holders will be treated just like celebrities at the Oscars, waving to envious gawking onlookers behind the ropes, who cannot afford the high price of admission. Michelle Obama makes Hillary Clinton's Goldman Sachs speeches look like pep talks to the Podunk Rotary Club.

Hubby Barack is also headed to Singapore, where one out of every six residents is a millionaire. But he will not be sharing the stage with Michelle. Why do two for the price of one when the affluent audience can very well afford the high price of two separate Obama-ramas? But he does manage to outshine Michelle by not only offering a pen and a notebook and the red carpet treatment for attendees, he's also giving away a special souvenir lanyard and a wine-soaked three course lunch (which he will sadly not attend.)

Notice the Carefully Hidden Thumb

This is the same Obama who just told another group of stateside plutocratic fans fearful of a Sanders or Elizabeth Warren presidency that "when you listen to the average voter — even ones who aren’t stalwart Democrats, but who are more independent or are low-information voters — they don’t feel that things are working well, but they’re also nervous about changes that might take away what little they have."

So if he wants to convince the average, barely making it, low-information (read: stupid) voter that other average stupid voters don't want to tear down the the oligarchic system that he, Barack Obama, worked so hard to perfect during his eight years in office, he'd better hurry home from Singapore for a non-stop condescending lecture tour right where the Lowlife Low-Info rabble lives. That's because Bernie Sanders is once again topping many polls.

Obama's mission, if he chooses to accept it, will be to hammer home the "electability" trope that Democratic Party fortunes are more important than the existential crises of climate, health care, housing, unbridled militarism, excessive surveillance and incarceration, low wages and crushing household debt, His mission might be even more effective if he stops by Flint, Michigan to take another ghoulishly disdainful sip of lead-contaminated water to prove to the Low-Info crowd that lead is harmless. Too abrupt of a change to a cleaner system might make them nervous. They don't want to lose the contaminated water that they already have.

Aggression is not in the Democratic Party's job description. Just remember Obama's blase reaction to Trump's election in 2016, soothing that Trump and the Dems are all on the same team, fighting within the safe 40 yard line. He was absolutely correct. The oligarchs will be safe, no matter who is president. Except, of course, if Bernie Sanders becomes president.

In the last 40 years, playing defense in the center of the field has been the D Team's only strategy. Tactics have included "defending" Social Security from Republican predation by raising the retirement age. There was Obama's noble but rebuffed offer to scale back cost of living increases for retirees, surviving parents and children and the disabled. Besides snipping social programs, the D Team can also be relied upon to protect abortion rights by not fighting all that hard in the Senate to prevent anti-abortion judges from advancing to the Supreme Court.

Notwithstanding that by any fact-based metric (including the loss of a thousand Democratic seats during his tenure), Obama was a failed president, he is still marketed as possessing a magical thumb with which to push down on a voter scale and influence the primary election outcome. Notwithstanding that this same magical thumb pressed very hard on the Hillary scale in 2016 and actually gave the election to Donald Trump, the Magical Thumb cliche remains a favorite of the Media/Political Complex.

From The Hill:

Former President Obama has emerged as a key player in the Democratic presidential primary race.
He hasn’t put his thumb on the scale for any one candidate in particular. But in two different speeches this month, he has made clear that presidential hopefuls would be wise to avoid moving too far to the left if they hope to win back the White House in 2020.
And The American Prospect:
Obama has determined to put his thumb on the primary scale, and he couches his critique in the language of electability, in what voters really want. Practically every Democrat in America wants to eject Donald Trump from the White House, and ask 100 of them and you get 101 theories of how to make that happen. But without doubting Obama’s sincerity that a moderate politics and only a moderate politics can spell victory next November, I can’t help but notice the audiences for his targeted attacks on progressive policy: wealthy donors in the most rarefied, winner-take-all enclaves of America, whether in Washington last week or San Francisco on Thursday.
The National Review:

Look, everybody knows — I think everybody knows, we didn’t only serve together, but our families are close. We became very close personal friends . . . I didn’t want it to look like he was putting his thumb on the scale here. And that, you know, I’m gonna do this based on who I am, not by the president going out and trying to say, ‘This is the guy you should be with,’” Biden said during an interview on The View in April.
The former adviser (Valerie Jarrett) said she was "not going to put my thumb on the scale. Because at this time when Barack Obama was running in 2007, he was down by 30 points and Hilary Clinton was the inevitable candidate,
Now, lest the Low Info Hordes of America feel that their own short brutish thumbs are being neglected in all this elite pressing upon the scales, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has a more egalitarian take on the Doped-Up Horserace. As reported by the Las Vegas Review Journal:
He also appealed directly to Nevadans, saying that the voters of this state wield considerable political power due to its early caucus.
“You have a thumb on the scale,” Buttigieg said. “Please use it well. Please tell your friends. The biggest decider in whether somebody gets involved who wasn’t already is not whether somebody like me asks them, it’s whether somebody they know asks them.”
Who needs a brain when all you need is a magical thumb that you can call your very own - once, of course, you heed the centrist wisdom of Mayor Pete and only press responsibly. Your thumbs are so much more than the texting appendages of your smartphone.

And who needs pollsters and Nate Silver's analyses and predictions when you can opt to use your thumbs the magical Shakespearean witchery way and intone "By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes" whenever you hear Obama sermonize, or read a scare-mongering article about powerful thumbs on scales making a mockery of what is still left of our democracy.

Obama's over-hyped thumbs should be the least of our worries. Despite all the media propaganda, his thumbs are no more powerful than anybody else's. Remember all the good his mighty magical thumb did Hillary Clinton, and how she and her team were themselves all thumbs in their contrivance of the failed #Russiagate scandal to explain how Obama's thumb turned out to be nothing but a useless arthritic pinkie finger.

As Obama and the rest of the corporate wing of the Democratic Party preen and posture, loom and lecture, let's remember that all Obama is really doing is thumbing his nose at us. As the First Witch in Macbeth so sagely predicted,

Shall he dwindle, peak and pine:
Though his bark cannot be lost
Yet it shall be tempest-tost.

Flight of Witches by Arthur Rackham


Charlie McCarthy said...

He's got his thumb and fingers up the rear ends of quite a few of the "Media/Political Complex" who will say and write whatever voice he throws their way and he doesn't even need to keep his lips from moving.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Allow me to channel a Greek chorus in the wings of this campaign.

As already implied above, Obama's thumb is as useless as his legacy. His thumbs and all his other magical powers only seem to work for him to make him more admired and connected and rich. Everything he touches turns to gold, which ends up in his pockets and his alone.

Meanwhile, I find the enduring trust in Bernie touching. Like Obama, he usually gets the benefit of the doubt from his large following.

There are low-information voters, and there are short-memory voters. Bernie bears a big share of responsibility for Trump's becoming President in 2016. He swallowed all the DNC's dirty tricks without a murmur, shushed his followers when they began to revolt against Hillary at the convention, then he soldiered on to campaign hard for Hillary. Canine loyalty comes naturally to sheepdogs.

Thanks to Bernie, what was left of the Left in the Democratic Party was scattered among all the parties or sulking with the stay-at-homes.

Obama has begun throwing cold water on Bernie's fire. In light of Obama's badmouthing isn't Bernie is entitled to blast Obama the way Tulsi Gabbard blasted Hillary for her personal attack? I wish in Bernie's next packed auditorium we might hear him rattle off the list of Obama's betrayals. But Bernie won't do that. Why not?

Yes, memory! And I can also count. Bernie is the oldest contender ever for the presidency. A long campaign is physically and mentally and emotionally taxing. A man of Bernie's age could suffer a heart attack at anytime. Oh wait....

Out of pity, Obama has embarked on a good deed. He merely wants to sideline Bernie to save the old boy the trouble of jousting in futility against capitalist windmills (assuming Bernie's for real), or working too hard as an Independent for a party he does not belong to and which doesn't like him.

In the process Obama will advance any old DNC middle-of-the-road lesser-of-two-evils corporate hack who may, or may not, yank Trump out of the White House. The winner will be the Obama-inspired DNC; it can't lose no matter who gets elected.

Annie said...

Adolph Reed, the academic who had Obama's number in 1995 Chicago has an article in current affairs - 'Adolph Reed on Movements and Monuments'. Regarding Bernie's movement in 2016:

"But there were a number of really good people who I knew, mainly academics, who just couldn’t understand why we were averse to trying to get coverage in the New York Times, or whatever. And my reaction was, because we’re a working class initiative, they’re never going to give us good coverage— the only thing they’ll ever try to do is smear us, and that’s not where we’re going to build our base. We’re not going to build our base by wooing Krugman and the editorial board of the New York Times. We’re going to build a base, and it’s just like something Sanders said in the first debate: The only way we’re going to make any of this stuff that we want happen is to build a popular movement out of there that’s big enough, and strong enough to assert its will in a way that can change the terms of the political debate."

And for those of you who missed Reed's scathing takedown of Obama in 1995, here it is:

"In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program — the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance. I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics, as in Haiti and wherever else the International Monetary Fund has sway. So far, the black activist response hasn’t been up to the challenge. We have to do better. "

Jay–Ottawa said...

@ Annie

Thanks for the link to Current Affairs. The interview with Adolph Reed is instructive. He stresses a few broad points about what is and is not real politics. Monuments vs Movements.

Politics is about accomplishments, nailing something down that is real and beneficial. Holding a one-day march or giving a black the keys to the White House is purely symbolic.

Obama was a pretty gift-wrapped box (the symbol), which turned out to be empty inside (the politics). Here's Reed on Obama mania:

"Tariq Ali of Verso approached me right after the election. I didn’t want to do an Obama book, but I thought, “okay, I can do a book on Obama mania,” because one of the head-scratching moments of this phenomenon, was seeing how many people, who you would think, based on their histories and practices, would know better, got swept up in this ridiculous hype about this guy."

Reed says more: Don't wait for a "spark" who will ignite a revolution; better to organize a movement, which is lots more work over a long time. Involve yourself in the endless detail of urging locals to work towards meaningful goals. Instead of confining oneself to a narrow interest group, work towards concrete goals that will benefit the whole society.

Whipping up as much candidate mania as possible my be an unavoidable first step in a US political campaign. Gotta have "name recognition." But then try to see beyond Bernie mania, Tulsi mania, etc., etc. What is the likelihood this character will get something meaningful accomplished for the whole country? Alone with only admiration and applause for his or her story, none of them will accomplish anything. With a movement behind the good guys and gals in office they can roll over the entrenched opposition.

There's the rub. There is no scary groundswell in the US along the lines Reed speaks of as a movement. The elite rest secure in their towers. Their praetorian guard on the street or sitting in front of all those surveillance screens is putting on more muscle every day. Enablers of the elite are not on the defensive, not infiltrated, not divided. To the side the MSM will continue to subdue the public through propaganda and blackouts. Short-sided interest groups will proudly mark their borders and miss the big picture.

Solidarity? Ah yes, first Gdansk then all of Poland, a generation ago. Lately, it's just a call oft repeated by Jimmy Hoffa in "The Irishman" as he reminded the Teamsters of their power. As a consequence, no matter who gets elected in 2020, no matter how sincere now or dedicated once on the job, if he or she has no broad, supporting movement howling at the gates 24/7/365, nothing will change. Except the symbols of course, just as in 2008.