Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
In my last several columns, I have tried to be brutally honest about the nature and character of President Obama’s foreign policy decisions and the health care reform he supports. While I considered myself a clear-eyed realist about our new president, it is apparent now that my optimism for both the domestic and foreign policy decisions we could expect from him was clouded by several factors that I did not fully appreciate.
Part of my problem was that my hope for Obama as a transformational president and my joy at being rid of Bush (who I saw as an illegitimate president brought to power by a partisan Supreme Court) got in the way of my realism, but there were other factors as well.
Looking through my computer files of the last year, I came across some unedited verses I wrote about Barack Obama’s election in early December 2008. They are cautious, but insufficiently skeptical–
The ripened grape
“A historic reversal,” some might call it.
We have a new captain of the ship.
A new overseer.
A new foreman.
A new conductor.
A new captain.
Dare I call him a new guide, a pathfinder, a trailblazer, a pioneer.
We hope he is all this and more.
This captain was chosen not to oversee slaves,
but to oversee a rebirth of America.
Look at him and see the original inhabitants of this land.
See the slaves, the indentured servants, the workers.
See the folly of the not-so-wise.
Those who took the lives of the willing and unwilling.
Who, as the poet said,
“played with the world like it was their little toy.”
This time, this time, we hope that we have a grown-up in charge.
A new guide, a pathfinder, a trailblazer, a pioneer.
Someone who will find a new north star.
Who will not let our dream become a “raisin in the sun.”
Someone whose blossoming will signal the renewal of America’s promise.
I expected too much of Barack Obama and I should have known better. By the time the primaries of 2008 got to Texas, the Republicans offered me no one to support, so I voted in the Democratic Party primary. I chose Obama over Hillary Clinton because I saw her election as installing just another neoliberal administration like that of her husband’s (his nomination in 1992 was what caused me to break with the Democratic Party and become an independent). I failed to absorb opinions I had read and sent to friends that presaged the same neoliberalism that now characterizes the Obama administration. One of those friends, experiencing his own disbelief at the direction of the Obama presidency, brought three of these articles to my attention recently.
In 2006, Lee Sustar, writing for CounterPunch, pointed out that in Latin America “the kind of politics that Sen. Barack Obama represents” is termed “neoliberalism with a human face.” Sustar noted that in Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope…,” he announced his support for bombing Iran, failed to understand the devastating carnage committed by multinational corporations around the world, supported the cold war, and favored an increased military budget. In his book, Obama indicated his willingness to give big business what it wants in a guest worker program, supported the border wall between the US and Mexico, and acknowledged his support for globalization (a move that has devastated America’s workers).
The health care plan announced in “Audacity” sounds a lot like the corporate-dominated plan cobbled together by Hillary Clinton in 1994 and echoed in the current bills to “reform” health care now being considered in Congress. Obama even buys in to the nonsense that what’s wrong with America can be cured by tort reform (which prevents ordinary Americans from holding “corporations accountable for faulty products and negligence.”) Sustar warned us, using Obama’s own words, but I failed to heed them.
Likewise, columnist David Sirota pointed out that Obama had never developed significant legislative initiatives during his first two years in the Senate and did not aspire to “challenging the status quo in any fundamental way.” Sirota wrote further–
“Obama is a candidate who has kept his record deliberately thin, who has risked almost nothing for the bigger (progressive) movement, and in fact who has sometimes gone out of his way to reinforce dishonest stereotypes about the left. This is a man who has helped launch the Hamilton Project designed to undermine Democrats pushing for fairer trade deals. This is a man who belittled Paul Wellstone (the progressive senator from Wisconsin killed in a plane crash during the election of 2002) as merely a ‘gadfly.’ This is a man who refused to lift a finger for Ned Lamont (the 2008 Democratic nominee for senator from Connecticut, who defeated Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary, but lost to him in the general election when Lieberman ran as an independent). Flocking to a candidate like that without demanding that he change only reinforces the damaging concept that our movement is a Seinfeld Movement about nothing.”
Both Ezra Klein and Tom Hayden warned in 2006 and 2007 that Obama was an empty vessel into which those of us who consider ourselves progressives and populists could pour our fondest wishes for an America that cared about all of its people, not just the wealthy and the corporations. Hayden pointed out that Obama did not support those who might be called the “Tom Hayden Democrats,” or the “George McGovern Democrats,” or the “Jesse Jackson Democrats,” or the Martin Luther King Democrats,” or the “Cesar Chavez Democrats,” or the “Gloria Steinem Democrats,” or the “Bobby Kennedy Democrats.” And it is true, as well, that Obama does not support those who might be called the “FDR Democrats.”
As Barack Obama is demonstrating, he will work out secret deals with the pharmaceutical companies and embrace the health insurance companies, whose failures to meet the health insurance needs of all Americans are as significant as the failures of the Wall Street giants who made such a mess of the financial system that they had to be bailed out by the taxpayers. He will put no political pressure on reluctant senators and representatives to achieve health care reform worthy of the name. Instead, he allows his Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to triangulate his policies by “setting up false polarities” (in Hayden’s words) so that he can position himself in the middle, even when the better and more intellectually honest position is elsewhere. So, we had no hearing on single-payer health insurance, and we will get, at best, a pitiable public option, if we get any option at all.
Undoubtedly, part of the cloud that hampered my vision over the past two years was the fact that Obama is African-American. As one who has supported the civil rights movement since the age of ten, who marched for equal rights, who rallied with Dr. King, who participated in demonstrations against racial segregation, and who negotiated with businessmen to end segregation in their establishments, it was no small event during my lifetime to see an African-American elected president.
But having a president who is African-American, or a woman, or a Hispanic-American, or a Native American means nothing unless that person cares more for average Americans than he or she does for the privileged and the powerful. We need a president who will challenge the status quo, both at home and abroad. It appears that in Barack Obama, we do not have such a person.
My resolve for the future is to push through my own limitations of vision and perceptions to see the world as it really is, not as I wish it were. Happy New Year!
© Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. HankinsEmail | Print