Thursday, April 01, 2010

Same speech, different day

In a stunning betrayal of his base that comes as a surprise to all, Barack Obama this week chose to side with wealthy oil and gas interests over the environmentalists that helped get him elected and who -- despite the president's call for the same environmentally destructive offshore drilling they denounced in apocalyptic terms under the Bush administration -- will undoubtedly help elect him again when confronted with the specter of a Palin-Beck ticket in 2012. Truly, no one could see this coming.

In justifying his decision to open much of the East Coast and Alaska's shoreline to new oil and gas drilling on the basis of U.S. "energy security" -- one that, naturally, was announced in front of the militaristic backdrop of an Air Force base, as all important national decisions must -- Obama cast himself as the sensible moderate, the non-ideological centrist whose only real concern is what works best for America. It's a familiar approach for the president, and one that grows no less irksome over time.

"There will be those who strongly disagree with this decision, including those who say we should not open any new areas to drilling," Obama said, while acknowledging "there are going to be some who argue that we don’t go nearly far enough." Ultimately, though, "we need to move beyond the tired debates of the left and the right, between business leaders and environmentalists, between those who would claim drilling is a cure all and those who would claim it has no place," he continued. Energy issue are "too important to allow our progress to languish while we fight the same old battles over and over again."

If you think you may have heard that speech sounds familiar, there's a reason: you have.

"Now, there will be those that welcome this announcement, those who think it's been long overdue," Obama said in February when announcing the awarding of $8 billion in federal loan guarantees for a nuclear reactor in Georgia. "But there are also going to be those who strongly disagree with this announcement," he said. However, "On an issue that affects our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, we can’t keep on being mired in the same old stale debates between the left and the right, between environmentalists and entrepreneurs."

Obama embraced the same formulation last December when speaking about his plan to further expand the war in Afghanistan, another major policy announcement delivered on a military base. "First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam," Obama said, noting that at the other end of the spectrum there are "those who oppose identifying a time frame for our transition to Afghan responsibility." Ever committed to the middle ground, Obama in that same speech -- in the span of two consecutive sentences -- announced both that he was sending "an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan" and that in a year and half's time "our troops will begin to come home" -- his devotion to a policy that results in almost-daily atrocities, but purportedly not one that requires an indefinite military occupation as some on the right would like, demonstrating his carefully concocted image of cool reasonableness and showing why those crazy Norwegians handed him a Nobel Peace Prize.

As I've written before, though, one should beware of powerful people whose decisions have a major bearing on your life claiming to have been freed of all ideological shackles, guided only by goodness and the ghost of Thomas Jefferson, because what constitutes pragmatic, non-ideological commonsense in Washington is shaped by the kind of people who would voluntarily live in a place like Washington: corporate lobbyists and the once-and-future corporate lobbyists we call lawmakers and congressional staffers. The guiding principles of corporatism and imperialism are so widely accepted inside the Beltway, so beyond the realm of serious debate, that after spending enough time here one could be forgiven for viewing bailouts and empire as the result not of a long-standing ideological commitment to the interests of capital and the arms industry, but the inscrutable product of the passage of Time and the flow of History. But it is supremely silly to act as if decisions to hand taxpayer largesse to private interests or to allow multinational corporations carte blanche to profit from drilling in public waters -- or to occupy and drop bombs on poor countries on the other side of the globe -- do not reflect certain ideological assumptions and core beliefs that directly pertain to one's view of relationship of the state to society.

There's another problem with Obama's claimed rejection of ideology: the fallacy, oft-embraced by the Chuck Todds of the world, that being equally despised by whatever it is we're calling the "left" and the "right" these days is a sign of one's essential moderateness, of a job well done, of an intelligence that transcends partisan bickering in favor of pure rationality. Sometimes, though, Occam's Razor applies: it could just be a sign you're an asshole. A federal policy of dropping newborn babies in blenders might anger socialists and Tea Partiers alike, for instance, but only an amoral cretin -- a politician, perhaps -- would claim that outrage as a sign they are doing The Right Thing.



    Gratz, Charles.

  2. It's interesting. We had 13 years of Tony Blair telling us to get beyond ideology, while putting right wing capitalist ideology into full effect under the guise of "efficiency", "best practice" and "the 3rd Way".

    Welcome to the party :-/

  3. These speeches aren't intended to win debates with journalists like you and Glenn Greenwald. The intended audience is the 99% of the population who get their news from chain emails and bumper stickers. The unwashed masses must believe these (radical) agendas are actually sensible and moderate. And David Broder is probably hunched over a typewriter right now, wearing a Snuggie and Prada loafers, banging out a column praising Obama's bipartisanship.

  4. Indy Nobody - so you mean the speeches are just pure government propaganda and Obama is simply like every previous President - completely full of shit? I agree. He won office on an amazing corporate advertising company created campaign of 'Hope and Change' and when he assumes office it's business as usual.

    But really we are in for some major hell in the future. If the 2012 ticket really does turn out to be Palin/Beck or Romney/Demint or whoever else they can come up with you basically have to choose between a douche (Obama) and a turd sandwich (the GOP ticket). There really is no difference other than with Obama you get some small domestic benefits where with the GOP you'd just get further dismantling of the government, further deregulation, and even more bombs dropped (I think we would have already invaded Iran if Palin was in charge - of course Obama has basically started wars in 3 other countries since he took control so you aren't getting much help from him in the anti-war effort).

    These wars have to stop and its ridiculous that our leaders simply don't care. If you take a poll of the House of Representatives it's basically at 15 or 20% of representatives in the House that want to stop the Afghanistan war. Even with all the talk about budget deficits and wasteful spending the first things they think about reducing are health care entitlements and social security. Some how that spot in the budget that say $800 billion for Defense never catches their eye. Hmmm, maybe there is something that can be cut there that would save this country significant money and not force citizens at home to go without essential services? Our leaders are goddamned retarded.

    By the way, Mr. Davis, that line about putting babies in blenders is hilarious.

  5. "In a stunning betrayal of his base that comes as a surprise to all"

    Sorry, no surprise here. Obama misses no opportunity to dis his base, thwart the will of the people, or opt for more corporatism. Lobbyists must be in hog heaven, because he's shilling for them on our dime.

  6. Whenever I hear Obama making his typical "now, let's all not fight over whether the Right or Center Right ideas are better cuz that would just help those pricks on the Left" speeches, I always think of

    "But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable...I simply am not there."

    Obama, Rahm, Giethner...they all seem to take pride in having no "ideals", no "viewpoints" other than "let's be sooper savvy and win elections." Obama even said repeatedly "people see me as a blank slate"...any surprise when you're a Patrick Bateman-esque tabula rasa for the corporate marketing world to package their oil/insurance/derivatives schemes in to make them palatable?