A Harsh Case Against Obama (and His Opponents)

Without comment or framing, let me pass along this video from the "Joe Mason for President" campaign, up recently on YouTube. I have no idea how "real" this effort is, and it sends some contradictory messages. For instance, its home site is "Vote Third Party," but the video announces itself as a challenge to Obama for the Democratic nomination.

Still, what makes this interesting is its distillation of the critique-from-the-left about the way Obama has presented himself, explained the nation's problems, and confronted his opponents. You get the gist of the complaint in the first 5 or 6 minutes, and the most biting indictment is between minutes 4 and 6.

The main complaint in this video is that Obama's "conciliatory" and "reasonable" approach, far from being wise and strategically far-seeing, has proven to be simply weak and vacillating. This is related to the "chess master, or pawn?" debate about Obama's strategy from earlier this summer.

To show that this remains a debate, as opposed to a settled conclusion, after the jump I offer a comparably strong indictment of the Republican opposition that so far has thwarted Obama more often than he has outmaneuvered them.

This essay is from Truthout today, and it is by a recently retired Congressional staffer named Mike Lofgren. Lofgren's name is barely known to the general public, but among people who have covered or worked in the national-security field, he is a familiar and highly esteemed figure. He spent 28 years as a Congressional staffer, mainly on budget matters, mainly in the defense-and-security realm, and mainly for Republican legislators.

His essay is called "Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult." Its opening lines convey its theme.

>>Barbara Stanwyck: "We're both rotten!"

Fred MacMurray: "Yeah - only you're a little more rotten." -"Double Indemnity" (1944)

Those lines of dialogue from a classic film noir sum up the state of the two political parties in contemporary America. Both parties are rotten - how could they not be, given the complete infestation of the political system by corporate money on a scale that now requires a presidential candidate to raise upwards of a billion dollars to be competitive in the general election? Both parties are captives to corporate loot. The main reason the Democrats' health care bill will be a budget buster once it fully phases in is the Democrats' rank capitulation to corporate interests - no single-payer system, in order to mollify the insurers; and no negotiation of drug prices, a craven surrender to Big Pharma.

But both parties are not rotten in quite the same way. The Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bagmen, egomaniacs and kooks. Nothing, however, quite matches the modern GOP.<<

Lofgren -- again, a veteran Republican staffer -- goes on to explain why what has happened to today's Republican party has no precedent in modern political history. And, about legislation (emphasis added):

>>The only thing that can keep the Senate functioning is collegiality and good faith. During periods of political consensus, for instance, the World War II and early post-war eras, the Senate was a "high functioning" institution: filibusters were rare and the body was legislatively productive. Now, one can no more picture the current Senate producing the original Medicare Act than the old Supreme Soviet having legislated the Bill of Rights.

Far from being a rarity, virtually every bill, every nominee for Senate confirmation and every routine procedural motion is now subject to a Republican filibuster. Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that Washington is gridlocked: legislating has now become war minus the shooting, something one could have observed 80 years ago in the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic. As Hannah Arendt observed, a disciplined minority of totalitarians can use the instruments of democratic government to undermine democracy itself.... Undermining Americans' belief in their own institutions of self-government remains a prime GOP electoral strategy.<<

It's important to understand that the point here is not the mindlessly "balanced" outlook of "Oh, I'm sure there's a lot of blame to go around on all sides. One side is weak, the other is crazy, it all evens out." It's far worse than that. The major parts of our political establishment are both showing operational pathologies that each make the other's failings worse, rather than somehow buffering each other toward a harmonious best-of-both-worlds compromise result. For instance, the (wholly needless and destructive) fight over the debt ceiling apparently did even more damage to the Republican "brand" than it did to Obama's. But the real problem is how much it damaged the country's economic prospects and the image-and-reality of the American system's ability to function.

More on this theme through the election cycle. For now, read and ponder.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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