Last Friday, in a column about economic policy, Paul Krugman focused on “moral collapse” at the White House — “a complete failure of purpose and loss of direction.” Meanwhile, President Obama flew to Afghanistan, where he put on a leather bomber jacket and told U.S. troops: “You’re achieving your objectives. You will succeed in your mission.”
For the Obama presidency, moral collapse has taken on the appearance of craven clockwork, establishing a concentric pattern — doing immense damage to economic security at home while ratcheting up warfare overseas.
By the end of the weekend, a deal was just about wrapped up between the president and Republican congressional leaders to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
On the spin-cycle agenda this month is yet more reframing of the president’s foggy doubletalk about Afghanistan. Strip away the carefully crafted verbiage and the picture is stark — with plans for a huge U.S. war effort in that country for many years to come.
At the end of a year with massive U.S. military escalation in Afghanistan, parallels with the Johnson administration’s unhinged Vietnam War are hard to miss. Conjectures about an inside-the-Democratic-Party challenge to Obama’s re-nomination are now moving from shadowy whispers to open discourse.
Some critics of the Vietnam War hesitated to confront it because of President Johnson’s laudable domestic record, which included the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the founding of Medicare and the launching of other Great Society programs. In sharp contrast, what most distinguishes President Obama’s domestic record is its series of major cave-ins to corporate power and income inequality.
Ostensibly battling for economic fairness, the president is flying a white flag high over the White House.
“The Obama administration seems to have very little concern about poor people and their social misery,” former Obama supporter Cornel West pointed out during an interview on Democracy Now last month. “Look at the policies vis-à-vis Wall Street downplaying Main Street. . . . Look at the policy, the dilapidated housing. We can go right across the board. Look at the policies of the New Jim Crow system: the Prison Industrial Complex. So, we’re talking not just about individual presidents, we’re talking about a system that is tilted against poor people, against working people, disproportionately black and brown and red.”
The tilt of that system continues to become more extreme under the shifting needs for corporate profits and an “austerity” agenda that the Obama administration has embraced under the rationale of deficit reduction. The White House plan to freeze federal workers’ pay, announced in late November, is another brick in the slanted wall.
In the process, the president is implying that civil service workers are expendable. Obama drew cheers on Friday night at Bagram Air Base when he told several thousand assembled troops: “You may have noticed that during these tough budget times, I took the step of freezing pay for our federal workforce. But because of the service that you rendered, all who wear the uniform of the United States of America are exempt from that action.”
Along the way, the wealthy get to keep their humongous tax cuts, and the military-industrial complex gets to keep its warfare state going full throttle.
Evidence of the Obama administration’s “moral collapse” is profuse; the pattern is clear, the consequences already terrible. During the weeks and months ahead, progressives will need to engage in fresh strategic discussions. Public candor may be insufficient, but it is necessary.