After Obama

Eight months into it,
it now seems pretty clear that the Obama administration is finished.

There were some of us
-- indeed, many of us, myself included -- who thought there was a
possibility that Barack Obama might seize this moment of American crisis,
twinned with the complete failure for all to see of the regressive agenda,
to become the second coming of Franklin Roosevelt.

Eight months into it,
it now seems pretty clear that the Obama administration is finished.

There were some of us
-- indeed, many of us, myself included -- who thought there was a
possibility that Barack Obama might seize this moment of American crisis,
twinned with the complete failure for all to see of the regressive agenda,
to become the second coming of Franklin Roosevelt.

Many think that was a
position from the get-go. I disagree. Not only do I believe
that it was a legitimate possibility, I would argue that it was the
logical choice even just from the narrow perspective of Obama's personal
fortunes. The president is every day committing political suicide
by a thousand cuts because he chose not to take that track.

That's certainly his
prerogative, and at this point I wish him all the worst of luck in whatever
comes next. Since I never assumed he would be a progressive once
elected, any bitterness that I feel is not rooted in his failure to
become the new FDR. However, I am irate that, in domain after
domain, President Obama has become the personification of the very Bush
administration policies that Candidate Obama so roundly criticized.
And I feel deep hostility toward him about the betrayal of legions of
voters -- especially the young -- who believed his message of hope
and thought they were getting a president on their side, not Wall Street's.

More on that in another
column. Right now, the question is what comes next? The
Obama presidency is probably already toast, though of course anything
can happen in three or seven years. But he is on a crash course
for a major clock cleaning and, what's worse, he doesn't seem to
have it remotely within him to seize history by the horns and steer
that bull in his preferred direction. Indeed, near as I can tell,
he doesn't even have a preferred direction.

Obama was complete fool
if he ever believed for a moment that his campfire kumbaya act was going
to bring the right along behind him. Even s'mores wouldn't
have helped. These foaming-at-the-mouth lunatics have completely
lost all sense and proportion, and were bound to viscerally hate any
president left of Cheney, let alone some black guy in their white house.
Meanwhile, centrist voters in this country seem pretty much only to
care about taxes and spending, and so he's lost them, too, without
the slightest rhetorical fight in his own defense. And he's
blown off a solid progressive base by spitting in their eyes at every
imaginable opportunity, beginning with the formation of his cabinet,
ranging through every policy decision from civil rights to civil liberties
to foreign policy to healthcare, and culminating with his choice not
to even mobilize his email database in support of his policies.

So if he's lost the
left, right and center, just who does he think is going to be clamoring
to give him a second term three years from now, especially if the economy
remains lousy for most people in the country, as it's likely to do
regardless of GDP or Dow Jones growth?

There is the possibility
that Obama could change course significantly, just as Bill Clinton did
in 1995, following the mid-term election in which his most astute political
stewardship managed to turn both houses of Congress over to the Republican
Party. But Clinton turned to the right and became just a less
snarly version of the Republicans, while Obama is already there.
I don't really think he could conceivably turn further rightward at
this point, and I don't think he has anywhere near the guts to turn
to the left and do what he should have done in the first place.

What all this suggests
to me is that Obama and his party will manage by 2012 to snatch defeat
from the jaws of victory and return the GOP -- and probably an even
nastier version of it than the Bush-Cheney junta, at that -- to power.
It suggests that the Democrats, who were riding high six months ago
over an all but destroyed Republican Party, will be switching places
with them within three years time, if not sooner -- and all because
of their own cowardice, corruption and ineptitude. This outcome
is hardly inevitable, but it is fast approaching. Looking out
over the horizon, I see five key factors most likely to effect the health
and longevity of the Obama administration, and not one of them looks

The eight-hundred pound
gorilla rummaging around in the kitchen right now is the economy.
Indeed, this factor alone could readily swamp the combined effect of
all the others, particularly if it swings dramatically in one direction
or another. My guess, as a non-economist (which, of course, only
means that I have a better shot at an accurate prediction than the economists
do), is that the economy will exhibit some substantial signs of growth
over the next three years. But I suspect the recovery will be
tepid, even according to establishment measures such as GDP growth or
the state of the Dow. More importantly, I strongly suspect that
this will be another jobless recovery, like the last ones we've had,
and that the new mean standard of living for the middle class will be
pretty mean indeed, significantly diminished compared to what people
were already struggling to hold on to when the Great Recession began.
Personally, I think if American history teaches us anything at all about
presidential elections, it is that for an incumbent president this is
more or less the worst possible scenario imaginable upon which to go
asking the public to punch his ticket again. Americans vote their
pocketbook, and that alone is likely to be the kiss of death for Obama's
second term aspirations.

Meanwhile, of course,
he's also chosen to put healthcare reform on the table as the signature
legislative initiative probably of his entire presidency. That's
fine, but watching him in action I sometimes wonder if this clown really
and actually wants a second term. I mean, if you had asked me
in January, "How could Obama bungle this program most thoroughly?",
I would have written a prescription that varies little from what we've
observed over the last eight months: Don't frame the issue,
but instead let the radical right backed by greedy industry monsters
do it, on the worst possible terms for you. And to you.
Don't fight back when they say the most outrageous things about your
plan. In fact, don't even have a plan. Let Congress do
it. Better yet, let the by-far-and-away-minority party have an
equal voice in the proceedings, even if they ultimately won't vote
for the bill under any circumstances, and even while they're running
around trashing it and you in the most egregious terms. Have these
savages negotiate with a small group of right-wing Democrats, all of
them major recipients of industry campaign donations. Blow off
your base completely. Cut secret sweetheart deals with the Big
Pharma and Big Insurance corporate vampires. Build a communications
strategy around a series of hapless press conferences and town hall
meetings, waiting until it's too late to give a major speech on the
issue. Set a timetable for action and then let it slip.
Indicate what you want in the bill but then be completely unclear about
whether you necessarily require those things. Travel all over
the world doing foreign policy meet-and-greets. Go on vacation
in the heat of the battle. Rinse and repeat.

Altogether, it's an
astonishingly perfect recipe for getting rolled, so much so that I'm
not the first person to have wondered out loud if that was actually
the president's intention all along. Look at this freaking fool.
Now look at the guy who ran a letter-perfect, disciplined, textbook,
insurgent, victorious campaign for the White House. Can they possibly
be the same person? And, since they obviously are, is there possibly
another explanation for this disaster besides an intentional boot?
I dunno. But what I do know is this. Obama's very best-case
scenario for healthcare legislation right now represents a ton of lost
votes in 2010 and 2012. And the worse that scenario gets, the
worse he and his party do. But even a 'success' in the months
ahead will produce a tepid bill, a mistrustful public, an inflamed and
unanswered radical right, and a mealy-mouthed new government program
that doesn't even begin to go online until 2013. A real vote-getter
that, eh?

Which brings us to a
third major electoral liability for Obama. Human beings, by and
large, like to be led. They like their leaders to inspire their
confidence -- even when doing so takes the form of the most fantastically
shallow dress-up kind of blowhard buffonery, a la George W. Bush -- so that they don't have
to think too much about how little personal confidence they themselves
actually possess. Obama is the complete antithesis of this model
of the presidency. He is Harry Reid's incontinent grandmother
as president. He is Neville Chamberlain's squirrely little nephew
knocking shit over in the Oval Office while he plays "Mr. President",
in-between episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants. He is a bowl of
Jell-O. That someone forgot to put in the fridge. He exhibits
no competence as a chief executive. He inspires no confidence
as a national leader. And, increasingly, his credibility is coming
into question. Who wants to vote for that?

A related problem is
that he loves to flash that big toothy grin of his right before his
venomous adversaries knock his choppers back into his head. I'm
trying to imagine what a wimpier president would look like, and having
a very hard time coming up with an answer. I'm trying to imagine
how the regressive right could possibly bathe their country's president
in a more acidic pool of vitriol, and I'm having a difficult time
topping their assertions that he's out to kill the elderly while simultaneously
indoctrinating grade-schoolers into the ranks of the Revolutionary Spartacist
League. I'm trying to conceive of how vacant a White House could
possibly be of any whiff of push-back against these assaults, and I
can't quite envision it. Maybe if they went out and did some
real scandals and filmed it all as a gift for the GOP? Perhaps
they could dig up Vince Foster's body and murder him all over again,
this time on video? Or they could hire Ken Starr to just run amok
in the White House for a few years, looking for anything remotely juicy?
But could Obama's Keystone Kops even do a scandal properly?
I'm not sure, but I'm pretty confident the public is losing trust
in this guy as their Big Daddy Protector. Who in America would
vote for this eunuch to be in charge of keeping their little suburban
Happy Meal-stuffed brats safe from tawny evil-doers with bad intentions?

As if all that weren't
enough, Obama is probably also sitting on several national security
powder kegs - including Guantanamo, which he is unlikely to close; Iraq,
which he is unlikely to leave; and Afghanistan, which he is unlikely
to win. The latter in particular has now become his war, and lately
it is smelling a lot like Vietnam, circa 1964. An decades-long
struggle against a popular nationalist adversary. Endless calls
from the Pentagon for more troops. Incredibly inhospitable terrain
for fighting a war. An American-made puppet government hated for
its corruption and for its gross incompetence at every task other than
raw predation. Mmmm-mmm. What a yummy stew. Haven't
dined on that fine cuisine since 1975. And what another great
vote-getter to add to this sorry list, eh?

Put it all together and
it's pretty hard to see how Obama gets a second term. Which
can mean only one thing: We're looking at a Romney or a Palin
or some sort of similar monster as the next president, despite the fact
that their party was absolutely loathed only a year ago, and actually
still is today. It won't matter. People will be voting
against the incumbent, not for any candidate, and that will leave only
one viable choice, especially for centrist and right-wing voters.
Whoever wins the Republican nomination will be the next president, crushing
Obama in the general election (assuming he survives the Democratic primaries).
And that's a particularly scary notion, since the party's voting
base who will make that choice in the Republican primaries is the same
crowd you've seen featured all this summer at town hall meetings.
Olympia Snowe is not going to be the Republican nominee in 2012.
Know what I mean?

So the question then
becomes, what next? What happens after Obama?

I see two possible general
paths going forth from that point -- one bad, and one worse.
The bad path would involve a frustrated but essentially beaten-into-submission
public oscillating between incompetent Republican and Democratic administrations,
turning one after the other out of office -- not on ideological grounds,
but instead seeking any change that has the possibility of stanching
the empire's hemorrhaging wounds. This would look a fair bit
like Japan or Britain does today. The former just replaced its
government and the latter will likely do so next spring. But I
don't think either of these major party shifts are really ideological
in nature, and I don't think either new government is likely to be
hugely different from the one it succeeded.

But Americans seem to
me especially piggish critters these days, and the benign model that
is sufficient to placate disgruntled citizens of long-lost empires may
not suffice to soothe the savage soul of Yanquis still deep in the process
of watching theirs crumble around their feet. That moves us from
the bad path to the worse. Given what the American public is capable
of happily countenancing during relatively flush times (can you say
"Reagan"? "Bush"?), imagine what could happen when spoiled
Baby Boomers go to the polls under conditions approaching the 1930s.

Such a crisis could conceivably
entail a sharp turn to the left, and in every rational country certainly
would. But this is America. We pretty much don't go anywhere
near socialism, at least not overtly, and in any given decade -- especially
the recent ones -- we're lucky to get away with anything less than
creeping fascism. Moreover, elections are almost always reactions
to the status quo. Since Obama is ridiculously -- but nevertheless
widely -- perceived as a liberal, the reaction is all the more likely
to involve a sharp turn to the right in response.

Under this scenario,
anything portside of Torquemada would be buried alive if not annihilated,
and the next regime would likely be one that could make Dick Cheney
shudder. And that's the happy side of the equation. If
history is any guide, a nifty (not so) little war could only be right
around the corner, for the helpful purpose of jump-starting the economy,
crushing the domestic opposition, and distracting the public from that
pesky nuisance once affectionately referred to as 'reality'.

I don't want to lay
odds on which of these outcomes is the more likely, but I feel pretty
confident, I'm sad to say, that any happier scenario is considerably
less likely than either of these. For a lot of reasons, America's
near-term future looks bleak to me, and this country -- which already
has a remarkable tendency to make dangerously foolish and sickeningly
selfish political choices -- is altogether too likely to do something
that would make the Bush years look like a scene from a Norman Rockwell
canvas by comparison.

This tragedy, if it comes,
will have many sires who share responsibility for driving America from
Republican red to fascist black. But on that list must certainly
be included the powder blue of the effete Obama administration that
came in between.

Rahm Emanuel once famously
averred that "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.
And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you
could not do before."

I don't really believe
that corporate-controlled fascism is what he had in mind when he said

But, who knows?
Maybe that's exactly what he was thinking.

Or -- perhaps most likely
of all -- maybe nobody at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is doing much thinking
whatsoever these days.

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