BY ALEXANDER COCKBURN
A year after Obama’s triumphant election, hauling substantial majorities in the House and Senate on his coattails, the progressive sector sits trying to warm its hands before the bonfire of all its hopes. An awful “health reform” bill has cleared the House and is now headed for marriage with some even more ghastly Senate version from which we may be saved only by a filibustering Lieberman, Obama’s initial mentor in the Senate.
Meanwhile, the White House is furiously denying reports from such well-regarded correspondents as David Martin of CBS that Gen. Stanley McChrystal will get “most, if not all,” of what he wants. Instead of giving him the boot for insolent public challenges to the civilian executive power, Obama will order the dispatch of about 40,000 new troops [CBS’s figure] to Afghanistan, representing a long-term commitment as fateful as Lyndon Johnson’s surrender to Gen. Westmoreland’s request in Vietnam nearly half a century ago.
The progressives poke about among entrails of the House health bill and find evidence of mini-victories like the survival in vestigial form of the “public option” – a fetish phrase guaranteed to raise a loyal cheer whatever the realities, which in this case aren’t hard to discover.
As Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association, put it in the wake of the House vote, “The principal beneficiary is not Americans’ health but the bottom line of the insurance industry, which stands to harvest tens of billions of dollars in additional profits ordered by the federal government.” Or as Democratic Rep. Eric Massa of New York warned before the vote, “At the highest level, this bill will enshrine in law the monopolistic powers of the private health insurance industry, period.”
And of course, the House bill reduces public protection for women, with its rollback of reproductive rights in the anti-abortion amendment. The “public option” remnant? It will be available to about 2% of people under age 65, mostly those now not covered who buy insurance on their own.
It is as ridiculous to claim that this “health reform” bill has anything substantive to do with beneficial social change as to believe there have been any encouraging shifts in foreign policy since the Democrats took over. Only recently, we had the surreal spectacle of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claiming in a press conference that what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu “has offered in specifics of a restraint on the policy of settlements, which he has just described – no new starts, for example – is unprecedented in the context of the prior two negotiations.”
Obama’s Afghan policy evolved on the campaign trail last year as a one-liner designed to deflect charges that he was a peacenik on Iraq. He formed a foreign policy team mostly composed of Clinton-era neoliberal hawks, headed by Hillary Clinton and Richard Holbrooke. Then he ordered 17,000 new U.S. troops to be deployed to Afghanistan.
If on his second day in office he’d announced a full and complete review of U.S. aims in Afghanistan, with no option left off the table, he’d have had some purchase on the situation. But the months drifted by, and finally, the worsening situation forced a review of Afghan policy – precisely when Obama’s poll numbers were dropping, the war lobby was heartened and the liberals were already dejected by Obama’s surrender to Goldman Sachs and Wall Street, and by his fumbling retreats in the health fight.
It’s exactly as I predicted from the start. The past year has yielded one surrender by the administration after another – whether it be renditions, phone-tapping or an accelerated schedule in giving the finger to organized labor, whose troops had done the most to put Obama in the White House. Even before his election last November, Obama extinguished all hopes – risible though they were to those who had followed the senator’s brief political career – that he would harvest public fury at Wall Street and curb the power of the banks. He voted for the Bush/Paulson bank bailout and then hired Lawrence Summers – one of the prime architects of the country’s economic death plunge – as his chief economic adviser. Today, Summers stands alongside Obama in the public pillory, with the rising unemployment figures hanging round his neck.
If you want to see the year’s political price for dropping the ball on the greatest political opportunity we’ll see in our lifetime to curb the power of Wall Street and set a new economic course, just look at the recent election numbers in Virginia, which voted for a Democratic president last year for the first time since the Johnson sweep of 1964 and handed the Democrats three Republican House seats. In these same three districts earlier in November, Republican Bob McDonnell – running on a we-need-jobs platform and against a terrible climate bill built on junk science – clinched the governor’s race by huge margins as independents, seniors, suburban voters and stay-at-home Democrats took out their disillusion with Obama.
Progressives delight in depicting a Republican Party captured by the nutballs, dooming itself to the margins. Don’t believe it. The “sophisticated right” [so described by C. Wright Mills 60 years ago] equipped with big Republican money will assert its power over the “wild-eyed Utopian capitalists” [Mills again]. Glenn Beck will burst the envelope he’s already pushing or be impaled on some disclosure from his fraught psychic past. Sarah Palin will be similarly discredited as a public figure. Next November, Republicans can look forward to recapture of the House and a whittling down of Democrats in the Senate by five or six. Then Obama can fire Rahm Emanuel and hire David Gergen, just as Bill Clinton did in the summer of 1993.
– Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, available through www.counterpunch.com.