Some things don't change. Obama may be in the White House, shuffling between the safety of the center and the language of change ("changeguage?"), firm in his commitment to the doctrine of neo-prog pragmatism which all too often requires the abandonment of ideas and ideals that could offend both the right and wrong people.
He is in office, but is he in power?
The mistake that many make is to confuse the trappings of symbolic power with the exercise of real power. Truth be told, real power is exercised mostly by unchecked private interests, lobbyists and our media. They have the power to obstruct policies, stir up controversies and orchestrate pressure to kill measures they don't like. They are well-funded minority and work skillfully in the shadows and through highly paid PR practitioners.
Every politician knows that these non-elected power centers often have more power than elected decisionmakers. They know that Congress is a swamp of competing interests catering to provincial needs. Remember the debate over "earmarks" during the campaign? McCain raised it but then Obama agreed with him. What happened?
Both parties promote them. They are, apparently, a permanent part of the system. South Carolina's Lindsay Graham thunders against them until it involves money for a convention center in Myrtle Beach SC. And etc.
AP says of the President: "He criticized pork barrel spending in the form of "earmarks," urging changes in the way that Congress adopts the spending proposals. Then he signed a spending bill that contains nearly 9,000 of them, some that members of his own staff shoved in last year when they were still members of Congress."
True, but! Like many press reports this is totally context-free, even in our Republic of Pork. These earmarks represented 2% of the budget and got 98% of the coverage.
That's because the media are in the perception-forming business, and despite some liberal (but rarely left) voices, tilts center-right when it is not blatantly serving a right-wing agenda.
Is this a conspiracy theory? I don't think so based on thirty years inside the media world.
Former AP reporter Robert Parry, now Editor of Consortiumnews.com, sums up this part of the problem, "Less than two months into Barack Obama's presidency, it has become clear that the top threat to his ability to accomplish his goals - from reversing the recession to reforming health care to building a greener economy - is not just an obstructionist Republican Party but a U.S. news media that remains largely tilted to the Right.
There is the powerful right-wing media - with its many outlets in print, radio, TV and the Internet - but also a mainstream/corporate media that can't escape the old dynamic of framing stories negatively about Democrats and granting Republicans every benefit of the doubt."
This phenomenon is obvious to anyone that looks closely but few among the Democrats mention it less they be marginalized or stripped of access to the airwaves for an occasional sound bite. Even fewer try to build and support independent media like Parry's organization or our own.
Politics remains a battleground and it's not just Rush and his ditto heads who help steer or undercut the agenda. Conservative democrats are not fully on board Obama's express.
Powerful lobbies from two private sector complexes and one country have disproportionate clout. There's the long-standing military-industrial complex, there's the financialized credit and loan complex and there are the bully boys of Israeli hegemony.
The first two want to suck off the budget and deregulate when possible; the third wants money too-and gets far more than its fair share-but also to control the discourse and even name the officials who are part of it.
Example, President Obama appointed Dennis Blair Director of National Intelligence. Blair wanted to have an advisory group and reached out to a former US ambassador Charles Freeman considered to be an outspoken and outside the box thinker. Like Obama, Blair wanted some diversity of views among his advisors, and to understand a region that has largely turned against us.
What happened? Freeman who dared criticize Israeli policy was targeted by the Israeli Lobby. Rumors were floated; his record was distorted. Right wing pundits went to work painting Freeman as an enemy of the United States. He was forced to withdraw. Ironically part of this noxious campaign was steered by an AIPAC operative who is himself accused of spying for Israel.
Ray McGovern, a veteran CIA man notes that Freeman himself revealed that his character assassination was orchestrated by the Israel Lobby.
"The outrageous agitation ... will be seen by many to raise serious questions about whether the Obama administration will be able to make its own decisions about the Middle East and related issues. [It casts] doubt on its ability to consider, let alone decide what policies might best serve the United States rather than those of a Lobby intent on enforcing the will and interests of a foreign government...
"The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views ... and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those it [the Lobby] favors."
It is almost as if every government, Republican and Democrat is required or intimidated into supporting Israel's every policy even when blatantly reactionary, racist, or even self-destructive. Are we now supposed to rubberstamp every decision by its new ultra-right government that won power with electoral maneuvers and blatant appeals to chauvinism and fanaticism?
Obama stayed silent when his own appointee was bashed into resigning by agents of a foreign power, even if they don't cop to that description?
Has the president lost his tongue, or his courage? Must he lay down with the lions to stay in power or do the people who put him into office have to get back into action and stand up for the values and spirit that turned so many on?
Yes, he's better than Bush even if some of his recent pronouncements sound Bush-lite. We have to understand the nature or the terrain he's fighting in---and then press him to do what's right, not offer rationalizations.
We also have to anticipate what my former government professor at Cornell, Theodore Lowi is now saying, that he expects Obama too will inevitably be targeted and go through a downward spiral.
"If you check out the rhetoric on the front pages of papers and magazines and TV, you'll see how personalized references are: ‘Can he deliver? When will he deliver?' ....
"The reality is that all the powers in the world could not make it possible for him to do what's expected. That's what makes me so sad. Obama excels in all that we require in a president and he'll fail, precisely because he's president. I know this sounds like an awful contradiction or conundrum, but that's the presidency."