Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

In Defense of Obama

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Cynthia Gordy of The Root has written an article criticizing Obama’s efforts to alleviate the plight of the poor since entering office, in light of the White House’s recent report on the same. Her tone reminds me of myself and most liberals’ complaints about Obama – in short, we think he’s not strong-willed enough – and every topic ends with a quote from somebody making the same “yes, but…” argument. For instance, on Health Care:

Claudia Fegan, a physician serving low-income patients in Chicago and a spokesperson for Physicians for a National Health Program, says that Obama’s initiatives have good intentions. “But the process is too complicated for most poor people, who have fairly chaotic lives, to access,” she said.

Or Welfare:

Economist Malveaux, president of Bennett College for Women, says there’s no doubt that Obama has provided assistance to the poor, but cites challenges. “There are some really good things that the administration has done around poverty, but they have not been proportionate to the extent to which the problem has increased,” she said.

Or Foreclosures:

“The foreclosure crisis hit the African-American and Latino communities in 2002, so we’re talking about a problem that is really entrenched,” said Lisa Rice, vice president of the National Fair Housing Alliance. “I think the administration has done some things well, but we’re playing catch-up to a large degree.”

Each topic reads almost exactly the same: Progress, but not enough. Yeah, okay, okay. We get it. We’ve been steadily edging back from the brink – and dear god, there most certainly was a brink – we haven’t turned around and started walking away from it.

But, honestly, we know that. We knew that implicitly. Making a four-page article about it seems… redundant, especially considering it fails to make a single mention as to why he may have failed to live up to his campaign promises on all these fronts. There’s lip service towards the end of the article that dismisses his “playing politics,” but let’s get real: That 400lb gorilla in the room is an elephant.

It really does take getting all your ducks in a row in order to effect substantive political change. Obama didn’t have much to build upon, so the fact that he made any progress at all – against a party that’s out for his blood, has spent hundreds of millions, if not billions, questioning the legitimacy of his presidency, and has shown an ardent and effusive desire to sabotage the government and the country until he is out of office – is a testament to his ability. But, quite simply, he cannot do it alone, and we don’t have all that many strong leaders in the Democratic party.

As pointed out by Robert Caro, it took nearly ten years of concerted effort to create the sort of situations in which Lyndon Johnson could pressure Congress to pass the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964. It wasn’t just a rush to curry votes book-ended with a tense face-off against Strom Thurmond. It was the result of a great long deal of “playing politics.”

By contrast, the relatively quick and decisive policy rehauls – to make a grand understatement – during the tenures of Lincoln and both Roosevelts were nothing if not tumultuous, fraught with peril, and very, very illegal, as far as the expansion of executive power went. Their actions saved this country from some horrifying crises, and in some cases were victorious against severe opposition, but I seriously doubt we’d let Obama – to say nothing of the GOP – do anything remotely as bold without metaphorically lynching him.

So, much as I complain about the protesters downtown, and much as I’ve also railed against Obama’s seeming reticence to work the system with some elbow grease, give them credit: At least they’re doing something. But no good deed, however, goes unpunished.

Weiner’s lack of balls

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Y’know what, Weiner? Fuck you.

I don’t give a shit about your personal foibles, and more importantly, neither did your Queens constituency. So fuck you for pulling a Spitzer and quitting when you should have been pulling a Clinton and doubling down.

Yeah, the Democrats have no spines and don’t like it when Republicans get to be all morally high and mighty – this week – but guess what? The Republicans do that anyway, and all the most aggressive Democrats now have been systematically culled from the system. Cuomo had to spend three years in pergatory, Spitzer’s now merely a commentator, and Obama himself is forced to speak ill of his own just for the sake of satiating politicians who want nothing more than his head on a stake.

Grow a pair, Weiner. Your constituency isn’t the Democratic party: It’s your Democratic voters.

The Corrupting Influence

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I, like, many people to the left of the Democratic party tend to caucus Democrat, vote Democrat and become active in the Democratic party. It’s the closest thing this country has to a populist party (as counterpoint to the Republicans’ party of money) and as such tends to have the most representative of this nation’s representatives – especially considering its checkered past with ward politics, xenophobia and racism amongst the different factions of the working class.

But having largely gotten past those hurdles, what I see destroying the Democratic party is co-option with the GOP. The Democratic party still attracts the same people, but I see vibrant New Yorkers full of spit and anger – Al Franken, Andrew Cuomo, Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer – either turning into politically-debauched players – Bill Clinton, Barney Frank, Chuck Schumer, Chris Dodd – or thrown out of the proceedings altogether – Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean – based on how willing they are to play to money.

I see the same with Barack Obama: His fantastic rise is marred both by the decimation of liberals in his cabinet like Van Jones (and the shocking influence Goldman Sachs has over the US Treasury) and by the nagging worry that even then – even with all the compromises – he may be Jimmy Carter’d for attempting to push what little regulatory reform he is still working on.

Not that any of this is new. Anybody who’s been alive in the last 40 years knows this narrative. What gets me is how, like conservatives have declared racism ‘dead’ because we elected a Black president (forgetting all the shit we talk about him now), it’s almost immediately become passe to point out the raging class war going on – as if we’ve made a U-turn in the 90’s and ended up back in the 80’s again, where ‘liberal’ is a bad word – because Democrats are in office and thus classism cannot exist. It’s hard not to be cynical in witnessing the denigration of what is and by all rights should be a historic movement in American history.

It is unfathomably depressing how we went from gloating that the Republican machine that gave us the deregulators and short-sighted neo-cons was all but dead to now, with unlimited power for money to get its message heard (and the amazing ability for the electorate to believe anything they’re told), watching the Republicans – with their barefaced alliance with money and in spite of their utter inability to govern – diligently continue to bury what chance this country has of digging itself out of ruin.

And it all has to do with what keeps people in office. Bogged down by lobbyism, media propaganda and overall poor education, I don’t see a progressive means for lifting ourselves, vibrant as the new Democrats are, out of this dysfunctional hellhole: It’s a Democratic majority but it’s a Republican system; still the very same one they’ve worked on and perfected all these past 40 years. Their hubris got them voted out (but not before destroying the country) but their system is still in place, giving anyone still willing to play their game immense powers over those doing it honestly. If reform comes (-if-), it’ll be excruciatingly slow; a gradual process that will take decades, and that angers me.

It’s at times like this that it’s not hard for me to want Obama to use the extended executive rights of his office (granted to his office by the Republican machine, natch) to by decree shut the flow of money down, damn the consequences: Declare an emergency – a national crisis of faith! – and bring in international inspectors to determine that elections are held free and without the taint of farce.

That’ll be the day.

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