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Why Does Barack Obama Follow the George W Bush Playbook?

Continuity of Administrations Seems on Deck in DC

Danny Schechter

Do the initials C.O.G mean anything to you? That acronym stands for Continuity of Government. We heard about it back in 2001 when Dick Cheney was taken to that undisclosed location just in case the White House went up in smoke again like it did in 1812 (Reference from the must see new Britfilm, "In The Loop").  The government's main commitment in times of disaster is preserving itself.  (God forbid that people find out that the country could go on without the government in its present humongous configuration!)  

But who would have thunk that C.O.G would morph into C.O.A., (Continuity of Administration) with the Obamatons building rather than destroying the agendas they inherited?  

Every day brings news of the latest Presidential two-step: one step forward, one and a half steps back. Despite the loonies who denounce him as a Socialist (of the Kenyan variety, no less) the man at the top is about system maintenance more than system change. In policy after policy, he seems to feint left before moving right.  

George Bush must be beside himself yukking it up as he smokes his doobies down in Texas, laughing at how the WHO were once again proven wrong. (He is now being quoted as calling his dog Barney the "son I never had.")  

Yup, many of us seem to have been fooled again.  You betcha. 

The only people who are not disillusioned are those who had no illusions to begin with. Isn't it obvious that power may seem to reside in the White House but it is effectively constrained by the real power centers -- a cautious Bureaucracy, an overblown Military, avaricious Big Industries and the fraud factories on Wall Street? 

That's where the clout is. That's where most of the political donations came from.  He ignores these complexes at his peril, although, alas,  he already seems to share many of their assumptions and worldviews. 

Iftekhar A. Khan, a scribe in Pakistan writes about this reality:

"Many who thought Obama would change US policies in Iraq and Afghanistan have been disappointed. Obama and Brown don't formulate policies; reps of powerful interest groups do. How could Robert Gates, who outlasted Bush regime, take a U-turn on the AfPak strategy he himself devised? He has been at the center stage of conceiving and planning the brutal military offensive Panther's Claw in Helmand -- Southern Afghanistan. Richard Holbrooke on the AfPak scene is another face for Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld."   

When I was coming of political age, I was influenced by the work of C. Wright Mills who wrote about the Power Elite as a permanent government of special interests and institutions. Building on that, a former President of SDS, Carl Oglesby, came up with a theorybook that discussed the war within and between those elites.  

Oglesby saw the conflict in regional terms with the new wealth of the Oil Aristocracy -- who he called the Cowboys based in the Southern tier, battling the old wealth of Wall Street, powercrats he called The Yankees. 

Herb Calhoun describes his argument, set against the background of the assassinations of the 60's as growing out of these elite conflicts: 

"What all of these events had in common was that they were links in a chain designed to replace one set of power elite (members of the old moneyed "peace promoting" Eastern Yankee Establishment) with another (the nouveau riche and newly arrived, "progress through war" Western Cowboys). Thus it is argued here that the events connecting Dallas, Memphis, Watergate and the demise of the Hughes empire, are but threads in a common fabric, growing and evolving directly out of the systematic corruption of American politics and out of contemporary political realities.  

"Altogether it is thus a seductive and believable theory that says as much about American political realities as it does about the events of Dallas, LA, Memphis and NY themselves. What Oglesby tries to do, and succeeds at it brilliantly, is expose the almost organic level of corruption in the structure of the political process..." 

Well that corruption has not gone away as we watch the health insurance industry buy Democrats and Republicans alike, as we watch the news machine turn into the fear machine while the bankers turn the bailout billions into bonuses to enrich their already rich coffers.  A study by NY State Attorney General Cuomo found that big banks took more out in compensation than they took in. If you call this looting, you won't be wrong. 

Calhoun calls it this way: 


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"... there is no free lunch even in a democracy. As in any other political system, in a democracy too the choice is between terror and tyranny, between Democracy and Fascism. These two poles of political existence cannot be finessed through laziness, exhaustion, or choosing to live in denial. Like all other political systems, democracy also exists on that tenuous sliver of ground that lies between these two poles; there are no angles left to be played. Those who somehow believe that benign tyranny 'by their own favorite corrupt power elite' is the answer to terror, have failed to notice Oglesbys crowning point about the JFK assassination: that terror and tyranny are but opposite sides of the same corrupt coin: that tyranny is terror, just by another name, and by other more elaborate means." 

So where does this leave us?  

Unfortunately, it's back to where I came in, as a young activist who went "part of the way with LBJ" to agonize as he escalated the Vietnam war, as a prisoner of the cold war anti-commie consensus.  

Today, war on terror thinking is the new conventional wisdom even though we know that Iraq and Afghanistan are disasters. So why doesn't he see it? The White House is just like Wall Street in that respect: when you are inside the bubble, you don't know it's there. You believe your own hype.  

Military commanders are always promising victory if only they get more troops and bigger budgets. That's the game they play again and again. And even Stephen Colbert buys into the "surge turned it all around" myth. 

Politicians also have to watch out for the long knives -- from the bankers who want to scuttle financial reforms; the Arms manufacturers who don't like to see profitable weapons systems like the F22 scuttled; the Health insurers orchestrating the hysteria against all reform; the General Electrics of the world who just paid $50 million to settle an accounting fraud case.  

The media remains tethered to more heat than light even as the crazed commandos of the revanchist right won't let any facts get in the way of their suicide mission. (I would like to see Beck's birth certificate; was he born or cloned?) 

Like millions, I was impressed with Obama and hoped against hope and history that he was THE ONE, that he would be different. While it's too early to totally dismiss him out of hand after just six months in office, there is an all too familiar stench to what we are seeing. COA, not just COG! 

The sad truth is, given what he has to deal with, and hard as it is to swallow, perhaps he can't be all that different. His only "army" seems to be on Facebook and MSNBC. 

The right is of course self destructive in banging that drum of polarization,  while what's left of the left refuses to recognize that what we are dealing with, and have to deal with, is a "System thing," not just a case of another tarnished pol who said one thing and is doing another.  

Could he have been elected if he hadn't played the game? Could any of the other Dems won? I doubt it.  Is a half a loaf, make that a quarter of loaf, better than no loaf at all? You tell me.  It's not as if the progressive movement was doing so great back in the Bush daze.  

Nevertheless, continuity doesn't make it for me.  We need change.  


Oh yea, Happy Birthday Mr. President. 

Mediachannel's News Dissector Danny Schechter blogs at He is making a film on the financial crisis as a crime story. Comment to   

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