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Posted by: Doug Henwood | January 3, 2010

Radio commentary, December 31, 2009

Some Janus-y observations at the turns of the year and decade.

I apologize for quoting a Facebook status update; it always annoys me when CNN quotes Twitter feeds as if they were news. But this is relevant, I swear.

Last week, a friend and colleague of mine whom I have a lot of respect for conceded some political disappointments over the last year in his status update, but concluded that things were basically going in “our” direction.

What ever was he talking about? Let’s take stock for a moment.

• We’ve just been through the worst financial and economic crisis in two or three generations. Things are stabilizing now, but hardly turning around. Over 15 million people are officially unemployed, and another 11 million are unofficially so. Yet little has changed in policy or thinking. Hundreds of billions of public funds, and trillions of Federal Reserve magic money, have been deployed essentially to restore the status quo ante. Wall Street’s economic and political dominance, which looked to be teetering just a year ago, now looks restored. The president may huff and puff a bit about “fat cat bankers,” but he wrote them big checks to aid the return to business as usual.

• Something similar is happening with health care reform. Despite a lot of inflated rhetoric coming from the Dems and their loyal pundits, insurance company power and wealth will be enhanced, not overturned—not even challenged. For a taste of the inflated rhetoric, here’s what House communications director Dan Pfeiffer wrote this on the official Oval Office blog, in reaction to the GOP’s efforts to repeal the health bill before it’s even been enacted: “[M]any opponents of reform…appear to think that insurance companies can do no wrong. [E]veryone should be very clear what is being called for here. At a time when insurance companies are finally about to be reined in, and when American families are finally about to be given control over their own health care, opponents of reform are advocating that insurance companies once again be allowed to run wild.”

Pfeiffer’s view isn’t shared by the inscos themselves.  A few weeks ago, Politico’s Ben Smith reported that “an insurance industry insider who has been deeply involved in the health care fight email[ed] to declare victory”:

We WIN. Administered by private insurance companies. No government funding. No government insurance competitor.

That’s not “our” direction, is it? Nor is it “reined in.”

• And abroad, U.S. imperial power, instead of being pared back, only intensifies. The war in Afghanistan is being escalated, and now we’re opening a fresh front in Yemen. Civilians are already being killed, and more will be, in pursuit of what? An utterly chimerical victory over “terrorism,” whatever that is? The policy that most excites hatred of the U.S., our almost unconditional financial and military support of Israel’s savage occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, continues. But that’s not all. As we heard on this show last week, Obama’s approach to the Copenhagen climate conference was as arrogant and unilateral as anything the George W Bush did. This provoked the economist Jeffrey Sachs, once famous for torturing countries in Latin America and Easter Europe with shock therapy but who has apparently been born again into something like a critic of imperial power, to say that Obama could end up being more damaging to international environmental law than Bush.

What’s this all mean? It’s as if we’ve now developed a pattern of alternation. First, a reactionary and subliterate Republican president—Reagan, Bush the younger—launches a profound assault on the living standards of the population to enrich the very richest and an assault on civilized standards of discourse and behavior. Then the troglodyte is succeeded by an urbane Democrat—Clinton, Obama—who consolidates those transformations while disarming the liberal intelligentsia with high-flown rhetoric and by his refreshing capacity to speak in complete, grammatical sentences. I’ll abstain from quoting Marx’s cliché about first time tragedy, second time farce, because this second time is sad and tragic and we should know better.

But maybe 2010 will bring about the productive disillusionment I’ve been hoping for. The better portion of the liberal intelligentsia may finally shed its remaining illusions about Obama’s phantasmic inner progressive. And the millions of regular people who were energized by his candidacy and are now disappointed by his embrace of business as usual might be energized into something more radical. A good start would be fighting for single-payer and a serious international attempt to address the climate crisis. And increasing pressure to withdraw from our wars in the Middle East. That’s going to take independent action, not vague hopes for leadership from Washington or obeisance to reigning notions of the possible. There’s just enough chance that something like that might happen that it could put the happy back into happy new year.

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Responses

  1. Everything was insightful, except the part about Israel, which seemed out of place and dogmatic.

    JS

  2. Everything was insightful, including the part about Israel.

    “joe s” seems out of place and dogmatic.

  3. Keeping in mind that we are still a representative democracy, how exactly would an ideal Obama candidate-turned president pass a public option plan? Or would the goal be a moral victory by exposing moral hypocrites and forcing the GOP into a vote against the public? How do liberals combat the declining intellectual standards of the public ‘conversation?’ What about those angry anti-intellectual “freedom fighters” (read:morons) known as the ‘Tea Party Express?’
    The nuts and bolts of everyday governing right now would never allow for any great legislative victory. Obama can do little to ‘change’ the political climate that has been manufactured over the last 30 years or so. I also think that if the opportunity truly existed, Obama would pass a public option. I have not seen any evidence to the contrary. What I have witnessed is the Joe Lieberman/Ben Nelsons of the world hijack the legislative process and expose the corporatist instincts of the “Democratic” party. Let’s be honest- the only way for the public option or similar reform to have any chance of passing is either a) the liberal factions team up with a newly class conscious and politically reformed working class OR the system completely collapses.

  4. Passing a public option plan might start with trying to pass a public option plan. Of course, Obama didn’t want to do that, and many pressure groups, especially the unions, gave him a free pass on that. But presidential leadership and the power to twist Congressional arms aren’t nothing. Congressional liberals never played the obstructionist game that Nelson and Lieberman did. With every vote so crucial, they could have. But they didn’t.

  5. …start with trying to pass a public option plan
    Of course, Obama didn’t want to do that,

    ^^^^
    You know this ’cause ?

  6. It was widely reported, Charles – e.g. here.

  7. Yeah but Feingold also says, “But while the loss of the public option is a bitter pill to swallow, on balance, the bill still delivers meaningful reform, and the cost of inaction is simply too high.”

    So it will be meaningful reform. The big test will be financial reform and it ain’t looking good.

    Obama would have passed the public option if he had the votes. He’s a politician and will succumb to pressure.

    In his big speech to Congress on health care he said the public option was a good idea and wouldn’t kill the private insurance companies. He used the public university system as an example and said public colleges didn’t kill off private universities. Much different rhetoric than Clinton’s the “era of Big Government is over.”

    And Feingold is just one Senator. It’s just his opinion that they could have won the public option if they fought harder for it.

  8. Petr K. says about the health insurance requirement: “So it will be meaningful reform” and gives as his reason… because Feingold says so. I guess Peter hasn’t actually looked at or analyzed the bill – same mental MO as voting for Obama. He was “meaningful” because… people said so, but only if you didn’t actually take a look.

    I guess Doug Henwood won’t be getting any of that that productive disillusionment” from Mr. K. – just continued delusion.

  9. You’d think Democrats would be screaming about the Medicaid aspects of the “reform,” which is a huge subsidy to the cheap states. The Medicaid reforms are structured so that states that provided really minimal benefits will get oodles of subsidy, while those that provided better benefits will get no subsidy. In addition, states with large numbers of undocumented workers will lose their “safety net” payments (for hospitals that care for a lot of uninsured patients) and can’t, of course, cover these immigrants under Medicaid.

  10. “Petr K. says about the health insurance requirement: “So it will be meaningful reform” and gives as his reason… because Feingold says so. I guess Peter hasn’t actually looked at or analyzed the bill – same mental MO as voting for Obama. He was “meaningful” because… people said so, but only if you didn’t actually take a look.”

    I guess you haven’t, which makes you a … hypocrite. Typical pompous, self-righteous moron.

    “The University of Chicago’s Harold Pollack has done the sums. By the time the reforms are fully implemented, “the Senate bill would provide about $196 billion per year down the income scale in subsidies to low-income and working Americans.” That’s more, Pollack notes, than the federal government spends on the earned-income tax credit, Head Start, assistance to single mothers and their children, nutrition programs like food stamps, and the National Institutes of Health combined.”

    And it doesn’t add to the deficit. But people like jp wish it isn’t signed into law b/c it isn’t perfect. Childishness.

    http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2010/01/11/100111taco_talk_hertzberg

  11. Hey, Peter K. Moron,

    http://www.pnhp.org/news/2009/december/pro-single-payer-physicians-call-for-defeat-of-senate-health-bill

    …but people like you want it because… you are who you are.

  12. Wasn’t No Child Left Behind supportable because it firehosed some serious dollars toward education?

    How’d that work out?

    I’m surprised how many of my NPR, New Yorker, liberal friends strongle agree with me when I start dumping on Obama. Surprised and encouraged.

    DH, I would rally around Global Warming. Although it would prove Mark Twain wrong (“everybody talks about the weather…”) it just doesn’t feel tangible enough. I mean who’s going dodge rubber bullets for tighter CO2 restrictions?

    I think single payer’s good and the wars (2 and 1/2 and counting).

  13. Make that “wouldn’t” rally around Global Warming

  14. just caught this M. Pollack entry on lbo-talk:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/29/opinion/29herbert.html

    …which takes apart that section of the bill that will give us: not health care for all, but bad health insurance coverage for those who now have decent insurance coverage.

    But New Republic blogger and Obama sycophant Harold Pollack says otherwise, and the deluded (see certain other entries in this post) can’t tell the difference between “not perfect” and awful.

    Those who find the likes of Pollack, Hitchens and Zakaria to be informed sources would profit by attempting to digest the sharp analysis of sites like LBO, but weak stomachs for the truth may preclude that.

  15. Obama’s support of Isreal is a MUCH bigger deal than white Americans seem to be able to grasp. For a huge part of the Muslim world this is the #1 priority, and there was a huge groundswell of hope all over the planet that this would be the one area in which Obama could actually be a little less cruel, a little more humane, and a little more rational.

    He isn’t.

    Maybe you hate Arabs, maybe you think Isreal has a right to occupy Palestine – fine that’s your opinion. But nonetheless Doug is very observant to point out that this is yet another area that will make people bitter and disillusioned with the new leadership in the USA. That is an obvious FACT – there’s nothing out of place or dogmatic about it – people ARE disappointed and angry. Regardless of what you think of US Isreal policy this is totally obvious.


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