Our Professional Failure

Hey, Robert Gibbs:
Screw you, and the president you rode in on.

I've always heard former
presidents and their staff remark about the insularity of working in
the White House. Now I see what they mean. These people
are losing it.

Hey, Robert Gibbs:
Screw you, and the president you rode in on.

I've always heard former
presidents and their staff remark about the insularity of working in
the White House. Now I see what they mean. These people
are losing it.

Press Secretary Gibbs
recently did an interview with The Hill magazine in which he vented
what is apparently widespread anger within the White House toward progressives
who express their disappointment with this presidency. Among other
comments, he noted that the "professional left" wasn't recognizing
the administration's accomplishments to date. Gibbs said, "They
will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we've eliminated
the Pentagon. That's not reality." He also said, "I
hear these people saying he's like George Bush. Those people ought
to be drug tested. I mean, it's crazy". And he argued
that liberals would never be happy, saying, "They wouldn't be satisfied
if Dennis Kucinich was president".

Let's leave aside how
insulting and demeaning these comments are to millions of Americans
who happen to share three key attributes: One, they really care
about their country, two, they worked harder than anyone to get Barack
Obama and Gibbs their current jobs, and, three - unlike much of the
rest of America today - they have so far resisted slipping into insanity.
In truth, this White House has been bitch-slapping its own base since
it walked in the door, staffing up with Republicans and Wall Street
bankers, negotiating endlessly at every opportunity with the absolute
worst elements of both political parties, and completely ignoring any
progressive initiatives or components of key legislation. Now
it comes along and adds grievous insult to injury with these degrading

Which also happen to
be stupid remarks. As I have wondered aloud previously, just who
exactly does Barack Obama think will be voting for him in 2012?
The right? Golly, that seems unlikely. They don't even
think the sonuvabitch is an American. The center? He punted
away these voters three months into his presidency, chiefly over fiscal
issues, and they're not coming back. This loss was largely unnecessary,
but it nicely highlights the values, results and ineptitude of the White
House. Anyhow, take away the right and the middle and that leaves
the rest of us worthless whiners, out here on the professional left.
Sure, prolly a lot of liberals will vote for this guy again, especially
when they see their foaming-at-the-mouth other option nominated by the
GOP. But is that supposed to represent a winning coalition?
Two-thirds of the twenty percent of Americans who self-describe as liberals
voting half-heartedly for Obama's reelection because the other choice
is too horrible to imagine? Is that their vision of a ringing
endorsement? As for me - and I think I speak for many others
here - I'd rather eat metal than vote for Obama in 2012. I'd
rather shit bricks. Big, rough, rocky ones. I'm not sure
if I'll ever vote for another Democrat again for the rest of my life,
but if I do it sure won't be this pathetic punk.

Yet all of this appears
to be quite lost on the White House, where the reigning dogma is that
they're doing wonderful things and dummies on the right and now the
left (oh, and the middle too) just don't recognize it. It's
all perfectly clear when you're inside the bubble.

And, in fairness, there
is some bit of reason to see the world in this fashion. A large
part of how we measure the success of presidents involves the degree
to which they are able to fulfill their legislative agendas. This
president has put through Congress three major, difficult, bills -
the stimulus package, the health care bill, and the financial reform
act - which gives the outward appearance of outstanding and unusually
strong success.

But, of course, appearances
are often deceptive. As in this case. This is, in fact,
a failed presidency - and tragically so. Here are ten reasons

First, Obama has indeed
shepherded through Congress several major pieces of legislation.
No doubt. But the bills are crap. It's like the difference
between a sperm donor and a dad who has actively raised a kid for twenty
years. You can accurately label both 'father', but they are
very different animals. Similarly, you can push through Congress
massive bills which do many things, and accurately call them 'stimulus'
or 'health care reform' or 'financial reform', but that doesn't
make them quality legislation.

And, in fact, these were
not. Yes, Obama did in fact get health care legislation through
Congress, and yes, it does include some necessary and beneficial changes.
But otherwise this was a lousy bill. The fact that the insurance
industry applauded it in the end (and, indeed, the president cut a secret
deal with them from the very start) tells you everything you need to
know about who were the winners here (hint: you are in that other
category). This legislation took everything that's fundamentally
broken with American health care - namely, the whole for-profit modality
of the system - and exacerbated it expansively, forcing thirty to
forty million Americans to buy this useless predatory product, and stealing
money from Medicare in order to pay for it. Moreover, there is
nothing within the legislation to contain the escalating costs of health
care delivery in America, or to prevent insurance companies from just
jacking up their rates. Recently the president was seen wagging
his finger at the industry, trying to prevent them from doing just that.
Can you imagine the laughs they have inside corporate headquarters across
America at the expense of this rube?

The same is true of the
two other major bills associated with this presidency. The stimulus
bill was a grab-bag of pork and Republican tax cuts which was wholly
insufficient in scale and entirely unfocused on projects that would
actually stimulate the economy. Yes, it seems very likely that
things would be worse now than had the bill not been passed, but is
that our current standard of presidential achievement? "Life
is bad, my fellow Americans, but it would be worse without me"?
Likewise, there are some good items in the financial reform bill, but
it fundamentally doesn't address the problems that got us where we
are and will therefore take us down even further on the next iteration.
Wall Street is reportedly happy with this package, which, again, tells
you just about all you need to know. Think about it. Imagine
that Congress had passed legislation on criminal penalties for sexual
assault that left serial rapists applauding the quality of their work.
Get the picture?

The second reason that
the Obama presidency is tanking has to do with the process by which
the president moved these bills. The White House displayed ineptitude
that could make Keystone Kops wince. They make pinatas seem like the new standard of proactive
advocacy by comparison. This president evidently sees Mr. Bill
as his model for self-actualization. And so he holds endless negotiating
sessions with every rapacious barbarian and grotesque freak in the American
political system (and nobody does political sickos quite like we do),
even as those same folks quite literally label him a granny killer,
a socialist and a fascist. And then, of course, after a year of
cutting deals with these monsters, watering down the bills to meet their
requirements, while completely stiff-arming progressives, none of them
vote for his bills anyhow. Meanwhile, the president, the Democratic
Party, the progressive agenda, and the country have all been deeply
damaged by the dithering dummkopf in the White House. Are you
really surprised that we're not excited about your legislative achievements,
Mr. Gibbs, after you put us through such a tortuous process only to
yield such detritus, the legislative equivalent of junk bonds?

But it actually gets
worse. The fundamental reason that Obama is producing lousy legislation
- and the third reason his presidency is failing - is because he
is serving the wrong masters. Anyone who thinks that he or his
pals in the Democratic Party are any less whores of the corporate oligarchy
in this country than are the Reptilicans is living in the 1930s.
Obama, like Clinton before him, and like Reid and Pelosi and even Barney
Frank, know who their constituents are, and it sure ain't you and
me. This is a president who wrote health care legislation that
will massively enrich predatory insurance companies which contribute
nothing to the actual delivery of health care. This is an administration
that continued to let BP and other oil companies run wild and unregulated,
both before and after the Gulf spill. These guys are going to
hugely increase offshore drilling. They gave away public funds
to bail out Wall Street thieves, one hundred cents on the dollar, after
those nice men wrecked the global economy. This presidency keeps
feeding the military-industrial complex ever more and more, setting
new records for 'defense' spending. And on and on. I
hope the president and his professional mouthpiece can forgive us progressives
for not getting excited about yet another administration that - even
in the midst of the worst economic times since the Great Depression
- continues to serve the American oligarchy and leaves the rest of
the country out flapping in the wind. Maybe that makes us seem
from inside the White House bubble like we're a bunch of fussy, demanding
cranks. So be it. People are dying out here in the real
world, while the wealthiest among us are blowing out all records for
the accumulation of wealth, and the hyper-polarization of class in America
marches on unabated.

But what really is most
laughable about Gibbs' remarks is how he has confused legislating
with solving people's problems. And, after all, that's what
people expect from a president. No one gives a damn how many bills
he can ram through Congress or how hard it is to get it done.
Odd as it may seem, what people want is results. Talk about needing
drug-testing, do the folks in the White House really think that the
public is happy about the state of the economy now? Do they really
think that passing a stimulus bill - even a good one - is necessarily
the same as creating jobs? It's a real measure of the insularity
(or desperation) of these fools that the president is running around
these days talking happy talk about how the economy is in recovery mode,
at exactly the same moment that the tapped-out Fed is reaching deeper
than ever into its bag of tricks seeking unconventional tools to stimulate
an economy that they overtly admit is heading southward again.
The same lunacy applies to Obama's other legislative 'achievements'.
Which one of us is on drugs here? Robert Gibbs for thinking we
should all be pumped about being forced to buy health insurance when
the legislation actually kicks in in 2014, or that we should be excited
about how Wall Street criminals remain as unregulated as ever?
Or those of us sitting out here in the real world, experiencing zero
change in our lives as a product of this presidency?

But there's more to
what Obama has done than simply legislation, and this gives us reason
number five for why progressives think the guy sucks. He's massively
increased America's commitment to a war in Afghanistan that might
have made sense at one time, but now gives every appearance of being
a poorly executed attempt to achieve objectives that would likely be
completely impossible, were they ever to be adequately defined.
He has staffed his economic team with almost no one who isn't an acolyte
of Robber Rubin and his kleptocratic klan of legalized Wall Street Madoffs.
He's appointed what appear to be careerist nothingburger vague moderates
to key Supreme Court justice positions, at a time when the twisted mutants
who form the majority of the Court are going absolutely off the rails,
without any sort of constraint. He's actually gone to court
defending the Defense of Marriage Act. He has made claims for
executive power and national security-based intrusions on civil liberties
that could make John Yoo blanch. Every time the right runs a smear
campaign against some low-ranking individual in the administration he
immediately capitulates and has them fired. The administration
has radically increased the offshore areas available for oil drilling
in ways that environmentalists never thought Dick Cheney would contemplate.

And there's more still
where all that came from. But a sixth reason that the Obama administration
is not impressing progressives has less to do with what it's done
and more to do with what it hasn't. Somehow, Harry Truman could
integrate the military racially, but Obama can't seem to do the same
for gays. Nor can he close Guantanamo either, well after he promised he would
do so. And despite the fact that Russia is quite literally on
fire now (and this is just the beginning of the fun that is to come),
this guy can't do anything about global warming. What's worse
is that he isn't even seriously trying. But perhaps the most
glaring omission of all right now is the president's absence without
leave on behalf of the struggling people of his country. He has
no plan for economic stimulus, and he couldn't possibly get one through
Congress at this point anyhow, having blown his political capital on
the first one which was both too small and not remotely focused enough.
My favorite of all, though, is his near silence on the most basic decency
of unemployment insurance. The utter-scum-with-human-DNA otherwise
known as American conservatives have been running around at a time of
huge and genuine public suffering talking about how we can't afford
to continue meager unemployment benefits for lowlifes who are just too
lazy to work. And this president, who never seems to get animated
about anything, can't even muster sufficient compassion and outrage
to rise to the defense of the millions of poor slobs being ground under
the wheels of this Government Sachs Depression. Of course progressives
are disenchanted with Barack Obama. On so many key issues, we
can't even find the guy.

Of course, all this adds
up to disaster for the president as well as the rest of us, a seventh
very fine explanation for why we professional lefties - who, after
all, have no jobs and nothing else to do - gripe about the Great One,
his amazing achievements notwithstanding. Do they actually not
notice in the White House, that Barack Obama's job approval rating
has sunk by twenty points since he came into office? Are they
really not aware that they have facilitated the revival of a Republican
Party that less than two years ago was rightly (pardon the pun) on death's
door? Are they actually not cognizant of the fact that voters
are about to reward their accomplishments by smashing Democrats everywhere
next November, likely causing them to give up control of the House,
possibly the Senate, and lots of state legislative and gubernatorial
positions that will be key to redistricting for the next ten years?
Have they not asked themselves why so many Democratic candidates across
the country are busy, uh, doing laundry, when the president flies into
town to campaign on their behalf? I'm sorry, but if this is
a democracy (and that's a debate that must be reserved as the subject
of another essay, or ten), then isn't the ultimate measure of how
you're doing just how it plays in Peoria? Don't we know without
question whether the administration is succeeding just by looking at
these figures? Yes, we more or less do, and it ain't a pretty

But don't get me wrong.
It would be fair to say that I couldn't care less what happens to
Obama, Pelosi, Reid, Geithner, Summers and that whole lot, except that
it's not quite true - I would actually like to see them smacked
upside the head for their treason (and I choose my words carefully here)
against the American people at a time of such great need. But
the reason that their sinking prospects nevertheless remains so troubling
to progressives is twofold. First, because what will replace these
professional failures will actually be worse. In many ways there
isn't much difference between the parties, but at least Democrats
don't seem to feel the need to start wars so frequently, or slash
taxes on the rich so much, adding to the national debt so significantly.
At least they don't embarrass the country so thoroughly abroad.
That's the first way, Mr. Gibbs, in which your failure translates
into our punishment. The other is that because you've been such
boobs in office, and because you've let the lunatic right (which is
the only kind there is any more) falsely paint you as liberals, socialists
and every other kind of mad creature from left field, you've managed
to do great damage to the marketing prospects of real progressive ideas
and badly needed solutions, damage that is likely to be around for a
very long time. Great work, fellas. Thanks so much for pissing
in our pond.

A ninth reason why Obama
has left his erstwhile base empty-handed and exasperated is because
he refuses to grab the reins of an institution he profoundly misunderstands.
I'm sick of this administration and its apologists - some of them
nominally progressive - impatiently explaining to hopelessly naive
lefties like myself how Obama has only (only!) sixty Democrats in the
Senate and an equal percentage in the House, and how the very, very
bad men of the right constantly say many unpleasant things about Mr.
Happyface, tearing him down with supreme unfairness. Gee, I don't
really remember this being a problem for the last president, who often
had no majorities in Congress. Or for Reagan or Johnson or Franklin
Roosevelt. Why? Because they understood the nature of the

It's all about the
bully pulpit. You don't sit there like a can or corn waiting
for the likes of Sarah Palin to take a Louisville Slugger upside your
freakin' head. You don't park yourself in the White House
and fret about the lack of public support for your policies. You
don't attack your base for insufficient obsequiousness. What
you do is go out there and you sell your program to the public, insisting
that people demand Congress acts the way you want them to. And
then you go to Congress and you twist the limbs of those little freaks
out of their sockets. Hell, you can even rip their arms right
off their shoulders and use them to vote on the bill yourself.
In short, you get the job done. You create the reality you need
to achieve the goals of your administration. The Obama people
are astonishingly inept at this, and thus he has become the most passive
president in memory, something right out of the nineteenth century.
Which explains why even when they win a legislative battle, they lose.
A yawning, indifferent public, never mobilized behind your agenda in
the first place, isn't going to notice when you pass big legislation,
even if it happened to be good stuff - which this is decidedly not.
Ironically, Republicans get this concept all too well. They've
been wielding the bully pulpit like masters of the craft, and they don't
even own it right now. This tells you everything you need to know
about why Obama's presidency is sinking, along with the country's
welfare and progressives' aspirations with it.

The upshot of all this
is that yes, Barack Obama is in fact quite a bit like George W. Bush.
Except, of course, that Bush and his people were only cowardly when
it came to fighting America's wars themselves, as opposed to sending
other kids off to do it. Obama, on the other hand, can't even
muster a bit of courage to use the office with which he's been entrusted.
Otherwise, though - policywise - Gibbs is completely wrong in his
indignation directed at lefties for thinking Obama is like Bush.
His war policies are like Bush's. His state power, national
security and civil liberties policies are like Bush's and maybe worse.
He said he wanted to close Gitmo but hasn't, just as Bush did.
His "fierce urgency of now" seems to have settled in for a long
nappy-time when it comes civil rights for gays, just like with Bush.
He serves America's oligarchy just as fully as Bush did, Geithner
and Summers stepping right in where Snow and Paulson once stood.
He's doing nothing about the most urgent issue of our time, or any
time - global warming - just as Bush also fiddled while the planet

So, yeah, Robert, we
do say that your boss is hardly distinguishable from his predecessor
because, in every way that counts, he is hardly distinguishable from
his predecessor. I don't particularly care that Obama smiles
where Bush smirked. I don't really give a damn that Obama is
doing war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq while Bush did them in Iraq
and Afghanistan. These are nuances on nuances. When it comes
to actual policy and effective governance, this presidency has been
every bit the regressive disaster as was Bush's or Clinton's or
Reagan's - but more so because now the country is deeply mired in
crises brought on by the last three decades of these abysmal policies.

And so I confess that
I'm not all that psyched when I see the press secretary of a failed
president lecturing the people who put him into office, following two
years of betraying them while cutting deals with the scariest predatory
monsters in the country.

And I especially don't
want to hear it from folks who don't have the good sense to have good
sense about themselves and their record. Obama recently gave himself
a grade of "incomplete" for his presidency, but said he has a "pretty
good track record". Last year it was a B+, with an A- after
health care passed. He's certainly entitled to his opinion,
which his fawning press secretary and other White House staff no doubt
share in spades. It's just that no one else does.

Maybe if Obama was up
twenty points instead of down that many, maybe if he was adored by a
grateful public, maybe if he was poised to increase his party's majorities
in Congress rather than turn over control of both houses to people like
Sharon Angle and Rand Paul, maybe if he was genuinely changing the country
for the better - maybe then he'd have a soapbox to stand on and
lecture the left.

Until then, it's not

And you're the problem,
Mr. Gibbs, not us progressives with the integrity to speak honestly
about the transparency of your emperor boss's new clothes.

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