From “Fired Up and Ready to Go” to “Tired Out and Staying Home”

There’s been a lot of commentary about President Barack Obama’s failure to construct a winning “narrative” for the elections of 2010. In 2008, there were millions of people “fired up and ready to go.” But after a year plus of the Beltway-Rahm Emanuel strategy of never exposing oneself to political risk the grassroots energy of the campaign has been allowed simply to dissipate.

Robert Reich argues that “if there was ever a time to connect the dots and make the case for government as a means of protecting the public from [corporate] forces. It is now.” But at this point, about seven months before the midterms, transforming Americans’ view of government is a tall task, especially when many of the George W. Bush policies have clearly prevailed.

The problem with Obama’s “narrative” lies in the substance of what has transpired over the past year.

  • Those who wanted single-payer health care didn’t even get a seat at the table, (even though it’s the most fiscally responsible of the choices over the long term). And then those who wanted a “public option” or a “Medicare buy-in” had their hopes dashed. These decisions didn’t do much to keep health care reform advocates fired up and ready to go.
  • Teachers and educators thought there’d be an Education Department in the Obama Administration that would move in a new direction away from Bush’s failed “No Child Left Behind” policies. But all we’ve gotten is more teacher bashing, more union bashing, and more calls for privatization. Arne Duncan is no friend of educators. Just ask Diane Ravitch. And how can you undermine teachers’ unions while claiming to be a big friend of organized labor?
  • In Afghanistan there’s been an expensive escalation of the war that simply throws good money after bad. And the increase in drone attacks has only widened the war into Pakistan. It’s far too late to begin celebrating “victories” in year nine of a stalemated guerrilla war.
  • There have been no prosecutions (or even wrist slaps) of people like John Yoo and other Bush officials who used chicanery to turn the United States into a nation that tortures people and denies the writ of habeas corpus. The Sunday New York Times featured a full-page advertisement from the ACLU with a series of photos where Obama’s face morphs into Bush’s to criticize the continuation of the Bush detention policies.
  • Every time some bureaucrat from the Obama Administration reports that the recession is “over” it only rubs salt in people’s wounds. When local communities across the country are firing teachers, civil servants, and even cops due to the fiscal catastrophe, along with the steep drop in housing prices and continued high unemployment, it leads people to scratch their heads and ask if the politicians in Washington (namely, Democrats) are even on the same planet.
  • There’s been no progress in passing the Employee Free Choice Act, which was one of the key drivers of union support for Obama in 2008. EFCA is the only measure that has a chance of slowing down the decline of real wages and living standards as America continues its long slide into becoming a low-skill, low-wage society. Everyone knows the Senate is going to step all over this vital labor-friendly legislation regardless of how many envelopes are licked or doors knocked on.
  • There’s been no serious reforms enacted to rein in the financial services industry. The fevered trading in risky derivatives that helped tank the economy is continuing unimpeded by any new regulations. Between 2008 and 2009, the average Wall Street bonus increased by 17 percent, at exactly the same time just about everyone else in America has seen their incomes drop. The Wall Street bankers that brought down the economy have been rewarded for their colossal failure with bailouts and loan guarantees. Nobody who created the mess has been held accountable. Not Henry Paulson, not Christopher Cox, not Alan Greenspan, not Goldman Sachs. Nobody. Leaving people to wonder: Where the hell is Obama’s SEC?
  • Cap and Trade? Forget about it.

So the question is: Who among Obama’s base is going to be “fired up and ready to go” for the November midterm elections?

During the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush years the center of American politics was pushed about a hundred degrees to the Right. Obama gets elected and tries to move it about a half degree leftward and all we hear are screams of “socialism!” In reality, the only group to receive “socialism” so far from this administration has been the biggest investment banks on Wall Street.

Former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey believes the problem started on January 21, 2009. “They made a big mistake right out of the box with the Inaugural Address,” a New York Times article quotes Kerrey as saying, because a president who pledged “bipartisanship” should not have disparaged the previous administration. By Kerrey’s logic I suppose FDR shouldn’t have criticized Herbert Hoover either. (Memo to Democrats: Don’t take political “advice” from Democrats from Nebraska.)

The Obama White House reportedly has 13 million supporters on a vast email list. But those emails won’t mean much if you turn on the TV and see Obama campaigning for Blanche Lincoln. The anger among voters is palpable out there. Much of it is neither “left” nor “right.” At this point, the Democrats have not only failed to tap into this anger, as the party in power they’re rapidly becoming the focus of it.

Joseph Palermo

Republished with the author’s permission.

About Joseph Palermo

Joseph Palermo is Professor of History, California State University, Sacramento. Professor Palermo's most recent book is The Eighties (Pearson 2012). He has also written two other books: In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Columbia, 2001); and Robert F. Kennedy and the Death of American Idealism (Pearson, 2008). Before earning a Master's degree and Doctorate in History from Cornell University, Professor Palermo completed Bachelor's degrees in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Master's degree in History from San Jose State University. His expertise includes the 1980s; political history; presidential politics and war powers; social movements of the 20th century; the 1960s; and the history of American foreign policy. Professor Palermo has also written articles for anthologies on the life of Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J. in The Human Tradition in America Since 1945 (Scholarly Resources Press, 2003); and on the Watergate scandal in Watergate and the Resignation of Richard Nixon (CQ Press, 2004).

Comments

  1. Palermo understates, as does the above commenter.

    On environment, Obama isn’t even a moderate Republican (a la Nixon, say?). The Center for Biological Diversity, giving excellent documentation, awarded Obama a C for his first year. Fewer species were studied and listed for endangerment than even in any Bush year. For Interior, he rejected enviro suggestions for Rep. Grijalva and instead picked Salazar, an associate of James Watt’s institute. The only difference between Obama-Salazar’s and Palin’s approach to wholesale slaughter of wilderness wolf packs (that had been brought back from the brink of extinction by decades of dedicated effort) is that Palin did it directly as a state governor and Obama leaves it to the states.

    Overall, Obama’s messianic ethics simply transcends what works or makes sense for ordinary mortals – progressives, other Dems, or moderate or even extreme Republicans. His beautiful awesome idea is that enemies come first. Be good and indulgent to your enemies, whether intransigent Republicans at home or Islamic jihadist regimes abroad, never mind your friends, or the nation’s health or human rights worldwide.

    It’s just a so-sorry-but-that’s-life bit-of-too-bad if dying continues in Darfur, or executions in Tehran. The main messianic thing is to give Iran time enough to develop nukes – after all, how are they going to lovey-dovey nuclearly disarm along with us if we don’t give em a chance to arm in the first place?

    Iran’s is indeed the kind of regime made to order for a true messiah, Obama, to keep self-sacrificially ‘engaging’. In several great ways they pass the test. They openly and brazenly steal elections. They deny that the Holocaust ever happened in Europe, and meanwhile boast that they will arrange one in the Near East on their own. They propose that the UN should overlook their nuke transgressions and let bygones be bygones, by having their fuel sent abroad for enrichment – and then after long-drawn out months of maybe-yes-maybe-no they nix the deal they themselves proposed. All this while it’s their agents that suicide-kill Americans in Iraq (and insofar possible join in in Afghanistan). The more Obama coos to them, the more Iran (and Syria, with Turkey beginning to come along too) spit at him – thereby giving messiah Obama the opportunity to even more self-abasingly coo back.

  2. Adam Eran says:

    One Huffingtonpost article says (correctly, I believe) that Obama has shown himself to be that rarest of animals: a moderate Republican.

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