April 04, 2011

Obama Rides Again

I think the character from fiction most reminiscent, for me, of President Barack Obama is Douglas Adams's creation Zaphod Beeblebrox, who served for a time as President of the Galaxy. Zaphod had two heads and three arms, but despite these anomalies was a charming, unctuous, devil-may-care fellow who was unfailingly affable and upbeat and had a keen eye for the photo op. Zaphod shows up in various episodes of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the trilogy with four books).

Mr. Obama has announced (by Tweet) his intention to run again, which of course was a foregone conclusion. I don't know if he will win, but early indications are that he's the front-runner. I still get a lot of email from the Obama people, and I've never spammed it or attempted to filter it. I'm not bitter, after all. I gave more money to Mr. Obama's campaign in 2008 than in any previous election, but I'm not inclined to duplicate the effort. For one thing, he won't need the money. It was obviously his strategy to leverage private donations from average Americans (the Commoners) in 2008 on a campaign of Hope & Change, then to shift gears when actually in office to serve the usual Big Business interests, that is to say, the financial sector of the American economy. Wall Street & Co. will take up the slack now that they know Mr. Obama, despite the gaudy rhetoric of 2008, works for them.

Mr. Obama, like President Beeblebrox, is nonchalant about his campaign misrepresentations. I am hard put to think of a single promise he has actually kept. It's an astonishing record, in fact. I think the mistake I made, and one made by a lot of older Americans, is that we keep thinking of campaigns in terms of "issues" and complicated policy questions, such as civil liberties or environmental problems or sustainable energy programs, and this is simply not the way things are done anymore. These are the hobby horses of bloggers and other malcontents. Take for example the latest reversal coming out of the White House. A very big deal, according to Obama in 2008, was to close Guantanamo Bay, our concentration camp on Cuba. He also argued strenuously that military commissions were unconstitutional (I can cite specific words if necessary, but it's easier just to click over to Glenn Greenwald and read, on a daily basis, about the astonishing 180's which the O-Man pulls every single day). Today we learn that Attorney General Eric Place Holder is going to try the 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed before a military commission at Guantanamo. This approaches the Hat Trick of campaign reversals. All that's needed is a decision to allow evidence elicited by torture as part of the case against the Sheikh and we're there, and that's the sort of thing the President can do while choosing a club on the 8th tee.

As I say, however, this focuses on the wrong things entirely. I don't think the American public really cares about details like this, and it is a measure of Obama's political savvy that he recognizes (as did President Beeblebrox before him) that the American people don't care about this sort of thing. All the public cares about is the official unemployment rate, if that, and Hilda Solis over at the Dept. of Labor has demonstrated an amazing gift for bringing the UE number relentlessly down even in the face of declining labor force participation. I've said it before, I'll say it again, Secretary Solis is the true MVP of the O Admin.

In the post-modern political world, politics is about celebrity, and Obama has that. He's become famous for being famous. He doesn't really have any ideas, I don't think he's a deep thinker, he decides issues based on who will give him the least grief if he goes against them, and then flashes a big smile. Most of what he does in foreign policy is indistinguishable from George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, ditto civil liberties (he may actually be a little worse, but he was able to build on the public's apathy about the previous administration's unconstitutional excesses and go from there: He Stands on the Shoulders of Unconstitutional Giants, in other words).

I think Dimitry Orlov is right: our political situation has become Sovietized. What the government does has nothing to do with the people anymore. Washington lives in its own Imperial City, and we should simply stop expecting anything from them. Tea Party activists are the latest to be utterly conned by campaign rhetoric. The Washington Village people are different from you and me. They may as well have two heads and three arms.