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The Ricky Ray Rector President

Oh my god.

Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.

This is far worse than I thought.

I’ve been struggling to understand the implosion of the Obama presidency over the last two years, trying to peel back the layers of the theoretical onion, looking for an explanation as to how this could have happened.

How does somebody with managerial and strategic skills brilliant enough to come from out of nowhere and win the presidency, wresting it away from at least two lions of the political establishment, run such a stupid and failing White House?

How does somebody with the guts to go into the consummately ugly ring of presidential campaigning, and the perseverance to stay in there taking shots for two years straight, manage to turn around and become such a coward, especially after he’s been handed the most powerful position in the world?

How does somebody with the communications skills of a Lincoln or a Kennedy wind up sitting by silently, while the worst elements of American society define him in the most disgustingly pejorative terms imaginable?

What the hell is going on here?

There are lots of theories.

Obama himself has argued that many people saw the campaign he ran as far more perfect than it was.  There is some truth to this, especially since when the Republicans really came out swinging against him, in August and September of 2008, he sat there – like any good Democrat would – paralyzed and unresponsive. 

The result was that McCain – even with the pathetically unprepared Sarah Palin attached to his hip – drew nearly even with Obama in the polls at that point.  That fact becomes all the more amazing considering that McCain was the Republican nominee, and the country was incredibly sick of Republican rule, having barely survived it for eight years running.  But that’s what happened, and arguably had it not been for the economic implosion on Bush’s watch that fall, Obama’s miracle campaign would have miraculously managed to sit back and silently snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Still, though, Obama ran a pretty flawless campaign.  And he overcame some substantial hurdles, in some cases with a grace that elevated American politics in ways not seen for decades.  And he came from near obscurity to win the election (in 2000 – just eight years before he became the party’s nominee and was elected president – he couldn’t even get admitted to the Democratic convention), and defeat two politicians who were handicapped as far more likely to win, just a year prior.  That’s pretty amazing talent.

Another theory would suggest that shrinking cowardice is simply endemic to the contemporary Democratic Party.  Ever since George McGovern’s electoral fiasco of 1972, Democrats seem to have decided that being a pinata is somehow the preferred persona for members of their party to adopt.  Or maybe they’re just satisfied to govern in between the cycles of Republican catastrophe, when voters give them the keys to the car only because letting the drunken malevolent teenagers of the GOP continue to drive has become just too awful to consider.  But that concept never made a lot of sense to me.  People like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama invested enormous energy and grit to realize a lifetime ambition of becoming president of the country.  Why would such individuals all of a sudden morph into Missy Milquetoasts?

Perhaps a better explanation for the failure of Obama and his ilk to fight hard for the country’s welfare and for progressive values is that he is no progressive at all.  I’ve been arguing that for a long time, and he is certainly helping to reaffirm that notion right now by appealing a federal court decision ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a policy which he claims to oppose.  But, in fact, the Obama ideology ship sailed a long time ago.  He previously also went to court defending the Defense of Marriage Act.  He bailed out Wall Street a hundred pennies on the dollar, and demanded nothing of them in return.  He has tripled the US presence in Afghanistan, and is bombing the snot out of Pakistan.  He has not closed Guantanamo, and has an even worse record on civil liberties than Bush and Cheney did.  His health care bill is a total gift to insurance corporations, and now we’ve just learned from Tom Daschle that the president had never considered the public option at all, having cut a deal with those corporations in advance promising that there would be no such component in the legislation.  And so on, and so on.  Stupid voters make the erroneous assumption that politicians like Bill Clinton are liberal because they are Democrats, and because the right and the media keep telling them that these guys are liberals.  Most of the country has now done the same for Obama, but of course the opposite is true. 

So maybe the explanation for his failed presidency is simply that he has adopted the same regressive policies that have been killing the country for three decades now.

Of course, that might just be because his politics happen to be lousy.  Or – according to another theory – his presidency might suck because he is beholden to the same oligarchical interests as just about everyone else in Washington.  Barack Obama let BP completely run amok, before and after the Gulf disaster.  He also has received about $80,000 in campaign contributions from them over the last half-decade, more than any other American politician.  Maybe that’s a coincidence, but I don’t think so.  Similarly, Wall Street poured tons of money into his campaign, while he gave them nearly everything they could have dreamed of, and staffed his economic team with all the slimy little Goldman Sachs geckos he could find.  Was that an accident?  Doesn’t seem likely.  In other words, maybe Obama’s failures are hard to explain because they aren’t failures at all.  Maybe he is serving his plutocratic masters quite well, thank you very much.

All these are possible explanations for the unexpected meltdown of this presidency.  But I have another theory now.  An ‘Oh my god’ theory.

Remember Ricky Ray Rector?  He was the poor SOB with an IQ of about 70, who was put to death by the State of Arkansas in 1992.  Governor Bill Clinton flew home off the campaign trail to supervise the state’s murder, so that he could show the voting public that he was just as capable of ruthless ugliness in the name of serving his own interests as any Republican ever was.  Americans like that in a president.  We like our president to be just like us – not some elite snob with that whole ethics thing going on, or all that other effete East Coast superiority shit (see, for example:  “Bush, George W.”).  Anyway, poor Ricky Ray was so out of it that, just before they fried him, he asked the prison guards if they would save the pecan pie from his last meal so that he could have it “later”.  Didn’t matter to Wild Bill.  He made a public spectacle of flipping the switch on a guy who didn’t have a clue of what was about to hit him.  (And why not, either?  So some dummy on death row had to die for him to get to the White House – so what?  What’s wrong with that? 

Heck, in Clinton’s second race, he cut millions of people off welfare in order to win.  Ricky Ray was small potatoes when it comes to presidential roadkill.)

Anyhow, keep Ricky Ray Rector in mind as you read the following passage from a New York Times article about to be published, based on an interview with one Barack Obama of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C.:  “In an hour-long interview with the Times’s White House correspondent, Peter Baker, Mr. Obama predicted that his political rivals would either be chastened by falling short of their electoral goals or burdened with the new responsibility that comes from achieving them.  ‘It may be that regardless of what happens after this election, they feel more responsible, either because they didn’t do as well as they anticipated, and so the strategy of just saying no to everything and sitting on the sidelines and throwing bombs didn’t work for them,’ Mr. Obama said.  ‘Or they did reasonably well, in which case the American people are going to be looking to them to offer serious proposals and work with me in a serious way.’

Say what?!?!

Oh my god.

Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.

Now I have a new theory explaining the failure of the Obama presidency:  This is the Ricky Ray Rector of presidents.

This guy managed to get through the last two decades without noticing just what the vicious thugs of the Republican Party are entirely capable of.

This guy lived through the last two years of his own sinking presidency without noticing what these sick freaks have already been doing to him personally at every juncture.

This guy is completely unaware that multiple Republicans poised to take control of the House – some of whom will have gavels in one hand and blank subpoenas in the other – have already come out and made clear that they will run this White House ragged by investigating it over every scandal they can possibly invent.

This guy does not realize that some of them are literally already talking about impeachment.

This guy is the Ricky Ray Rector of presidents.  He is about to be subjected to a cosmic-scale buggering of epic proportions, and he’s still talking about “working with” Attilla’s Army of the GOP, and hoping that the Hitler Youth across the aisle might “feel more responsible” after they have achieved their goal of wrecking him and his party, precisely by means of wanton irresponsibility.

Oh my god.

I know that presidents can famously be trapped inside a bubble of insularity, but this is something altogether frightening.  This cat is utterly in denial.  This is no longer just a matter of being a slow learner.  This is no longer a matter of some kumbaya obsession to offer lovely bipartisanship cookies to a pack of ferocious, starving jungle tigers.  If Barack Obama thinks that getting shellacked in November is going to make his life better – never mind ours – this president can no longer be said to be rational.  I mean this quite seriously.  The above passage suggests to me that our president is fully delusional.

Even Obama’s top political advisor seems to be waking up to a glimmer of reality, although he is ridiculously late in doing so.  Cynthia Tucker writes that, “In an interview last week in his West Wing office, David Axelrod, one of Obama’s closest advisers, acknowledged that the administration had been surprised by the unified Republican resistance to the president’s agenda.  ‘We had the idea that, particularly in a time of national crisis, there would be more of an inclination to work together.  Well, I think we miscalculated,’ Axelrod said.”

Yeah?  You think, Dave?  Hey, maybe you did miscalculate there just a bit, now that you mention it.

It gets worse: 

“I think the Republicans have been diabolically clever about how they’ve portrayed this.  They stood on the sidelines and made a decision that ‘we’re going to let him wrestle with this mess that we created.  And then in two years we can try and hang him with it.”

I dunno.  Maybe it’s diabolically clever to wreck an entire country of 300 million people for narrow partisan gain, or maybe it’s just diabolical.  And pathologically cynical.  And stunningly sick.

But I do know two things for sure.  One is that these monsters made clear their intentions from the very beginning.  First by their voting pattern on every bill the Democrats put forward, despite that Democrats wouldn’t know liberalism if it slapped them upside the head, and despite that Republicans voted against many of the very bills that they had previously supported or even co-sponsored in some cases.  They also made clear their intentions by means of their rhetoric, trashing the president to the point of questioning his nationality, and literally accusing him of being a granny killer.  And they announced themselves as well by overtly stating, as Senator Jim DeMint – among the sickest of the sick – did, early on, that their strategy would be precisely what Axelrod describes.

So, given all those clear indications, just exactly how astonishingly stupid do you have to be, Dave, to be figuring this out only now?

Except that, actually, you guys still are not!  Even today.  Whatever Axelrod might say, his boss is still talking about working with these animals.  Still fantasizing that they’ll play ball with him.  And worst of all, somehow imagining that, following their crushing defeat of him in November, they will somehow be more inclined to be nice to him than in the past.  Or that their rabid tea bagger constituents would allow them to cooperate with a president they see as Satan, Stalin, Hitler and some gay guy all rolled into one, anyhow.  Are you freakin’ kidding me?!?!

This has to be some sort of wicked twisted curse, some kind of Greek tragedy or something. 

After eight years of Bush and his party dragging the country over the cliff, now we are shackled to Neville Pollyanna Chamberlain Milquetoast, who is busy laying plans for tea and crumpets with the tea party mob who seek to annihilate him, and – for many of them – not just metaphorically either.

That means that during the next two years of multiple continuing national crises, we will be treated to standing by and watching some sort of insane WWE political wrestling match between two leviathans:  One, which is murderously vicious and represents the predatory elite oligarchy ripping off the country at every turn, and the other, which is pathetically feeble and represents the predatory elite oligarchy ripping off the country at every turn.

America is so over.  Imagine how they must laugh at us over noodles in Beijing.  I just cringe for this country every day, with each worse-yet news report from the front lines of a political system that makes full-blown dysfunctionality seem like a panacea by comparison.  There seems to be no bottom to the well of our stupidity and greed and hypocrisy and insistence on committing national suicide.

Yep, America is surely over.  But, goddam it, does it have to be this embarrassing?

I keep trying not to write any more rants about the failings of Barack Obama.  I’m sick of hearing myself say it.  But every time I vow to avoid the topic, some new development like this interview comes along and just blows me away.

I could not possibly care less about the fate of the Democratic Party, and increasingly I feel that way about the country too, both of which manifestly deserve their fate.

But, that said, Democrats can now no longer avoid recognizing that they have a self-destructive (and self-destructing) fool at the helm of the party, and they will be forced to decide whether they are really dumb enough to run this loser for a second term in 2012.

That’s up to them, and one reason that I don’t care is that, even if they do dump him, they are highly unlikely to choose anyone who is more than slightly better ideologically than Barack Obama, or anyone who has more than a marginal bit of additional spine.  I can’t even think of who that could be in the party.

But maybe Democrats could have the decency to find someone who can at least recognize the difference between the electric chair, on the one hand, and the electrical parade at Disneyland, on the other.

Would that be asking too much?

Meanwhile, somebody get this idiot his pecan pie.

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David Michael Green

David Michael Green

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.

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