A year and a half after his November 4, 2008 election, the progressive left is, rightfully, up in arms over the lack of integrity President Barack Obama has shown across the gamut of burning contemporary political issues. These include, but are not limited to issues such as war, health care, secrecy, warrantless wiretapping, and environmental issues, among many others.
A healthy and flourishing representative democracy depends on an engaged citizenry standing up and demanding that their representatives represent them. President Obama said so himself at this year's Netroots Nation conference in Las Vegas in his desperate plea to show progressive activists that he is, indeed "one of them." It does not take a political guru to understand that this was a desperate attempt to garner support from progressive Democrats for the 2010 elections, who, according to soundbites his Administration pulled together from The Rachel Maddow Show and included in the video address to the attendees at Netroots Nation, have fought so hard for that magical buzzword he used so loosely in 2008: change!
But, as much as Obama opportunistically attempts to appear as a great friend of the progressive left, his administration's disdain for the left has seeped out on multiple occasions. No one who has been paying attention to the remarks and policy pummeled out by the Obama Administration, then, should be surprised by the comments made on Tues., Aug. 10 by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs that made a mockery of Obama's progressive base.
Gibbs Attacks the "Fringe Losers" of the Left
In his morning press briefing, Gibbs went into all-out attack-mode. "I hear these people saying he's like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested," Gibbs said. "I mean, it's crazy ... They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we've eliminated the Pentagon." As if the Canadian universal health care, something Obama used to vouch for, is something to scoff at. We could make the same point about cutting the Pentagon's bloated military budget, which is bankrupting the United States economy.
Gibbs went on to say these people "... wouldn't be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) was president." While this is a witty line, it's naive and silly. Kucinich is easily the most progressive member of either chamber of Congress, and nearly every progressive wishes there could be more courageous and outspoken politicians in Congress like him.
FireDogLake blog's Marcy Wheeler hit the nail on the head when she stated, "No matter how many mean names Gibbs calls hippies, the real issue is that he, the voice of the Obama Administration, appears totally clueless about why America isn't clapping louder about the Administration's ... 'successes.'" Other renowned progressive bloggers and writers shared their animus towards Gibbs' comments, including Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald, FireDogLake's Jon Walker, FireDogLake's Jane Hamsher, and The Progressive Magazine's Matthew Rothschild.
Without a doubt, these writers' sense of indignation is well-founded and the causes they push for are righteous. But expecting Obama to do much of anything on any of the day's burning political issues was, as outspoken Vietnam War veteran Will Williams, one of the veterans featured in the recently released documentary titled "The Good Soldier," said during the Jan. 2010 forum in Madison, Wisconsin titled The Left and Obama "....expecting too much...Obama is a politician."
JibJab, a digital entertainment studio based in Venice, California became famous after it released the video "This Land is Your Land," which poked fun at the 2004 Kerry-Bush campaign cycle, released another humorous video for the 2008 Obama-McCain campaign cycle titled "It's Time for Some Campaignin'." Both are obviously funny and light-hearted songs, but the latter actually has some fairly deep lyrics toward the end that should have resonated with voters more deeply in the run-up to the 2008 election: "Citizens gather from both far and near, for a ritual we practice every four years, when we promise you anything you want to hear ... We spend billions of dollars to get you to step up and cast your vote here, then we spin you around and poke you in the rear. Oh it's time for some campaignin'!"
It is a bit irrelevant that Obama promised many things to many different people during the campaign, for that's what politicians do during campaigns, and particularly during Presidential campaigns. What progressive critiques on the left are missing, including those of Hamsher, Wheeler, Rothschild, and Greenwald, is that Obama was never one of them, so it is impossible to say he ever "sold out." He was never "one of us."
Barack Obama is a brand. And the Obama brand is designed to make us feel good about our government while corporate overlords loot the Treasury, our elected officials continue to have their palms greased by armies of corporate lobbyists, our corporate media diverts us with gossip and trivia and our imperial wars expand in the Middle East. Brand Obama is about being happy consumers ... It inoculates us from seeing that the old engines of corporate power and the vast military-industrial complex continue to plunder the country. Corporations, which control our politics, no longer produce products that are essentially different, but brands that are different.
Obama, who has become a global celebrity, was molded easily into a brand. He had almost no experience, other than two years in the Senate, lacked any moral core and could be painted as all things to all people. His brief Senate voting record was a miserable surrender to corporate interests. He voted to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He reauthorized the Patriot Act. He refused to support the single-payer health care bill HR676, sponsored by Reps. Dennis Kucinich and John Conyers (D-New York). He supported the death penalty. And he backed a class-action "reform" bill that was part of a large lobbying effort by financial firms. The law, known as the Class Action Fairness Act, would effectively shut down state courts as a venue to hear most class-action lawsuits and deny redress in many of the courts where these cases have a chance of defying powerful corporate challenges.
In closing, Hedges states, "The junk politics practiced by Obama is a consumer fraud. It is about performance. It is about lies. It is about keeping us in a perpetual state of childishness. But the longer we live in illusion, the worse reality will be when it finally shatters our fantasies ... This is the ultimate danger of the Obama Brand. It effectively masks the wanton internal destruction and theft being carried out by our corporate state."
The Administration's Comments are Extra Incentive to Hit the Ground Running
Citizens can continue to bemoan the fact that they thought Brand Obama would make us happier and our society more prosperous. Or we can come to terms with the fact that, like the stick of Extra Sugar-Free bubble gum that won't prevent cavities if one does not brush his teeth, Brand Obama will not create progressive social and political change unless the grassroots pressure him by the millions to do so.
Brand Obama will not foster change. The people united will. The scornful comments about the progressive left by Robert Gibbs and Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emmanuel should serve as fuel for pushing harder and pressuring the Administration to an even greater degree.