Barack Obama reacted reflexively to Monday's orchestration of angry calls to the White House by lefties outraged at his latest grand accommodation with the GOP, spending much of his Tuesday press conference attempting a limp smack-down of Left Democrats. Oozing condescension and a certain cattiness, Obama dismissed Democratic critics for playing "games" while he did what was necessary to wring an unemployment benefits extension from the Republicans. As Obama tells it, he stood like a pragmatic rock - if one can imagine such a thing - between the Republican "hostage-takers" and the "purist" and "sanctimonious" Democrats - a party of one.
The president harkened back to "the debate that we had during health care" when much of his party complained that he was too "willing to compromise" with Republicans and bargained away the public option. Actually, Obama was determined from the start of his presidency to conspire with Republicans and corporate leaders to derail any possibility of a bill that might set the stage for single-payer legislation in 2009 or some future Congress. Instead, Obama protected private insurers by locking them so tightly into the system that it will be near impossible to dislodge them in the foreseeable future. Obama accomplished this, not just by ruthlessly marginalizing single-payer supporters, but also by choosing his own congressional operatives and effectively bypassing Democratic leadership - much the same m.o. as in his latest "compromise" with the GOP. He wielded the power of the White House and the false lure of bipartisanism to utterly smash the left half of his party, deriding the dwindling "public option" holdouts as starry-eyed perfectionists who had become the enemies of the good - a performance he reprised on Tuesday in lambasting critics of deal with the GOP on taxes on the rich.
In the course of the long health care battle - a struggle waged entirely within Democratic ranks -Obama let the air out of the Democratic balloon, and the GOP steadily rose from its valley of near-death. The Republicans wound up conceding nothing on health care, while their corporate patrons won more than they could have dared imagine back on Election Day, 2008, when it seemed that single-payer was an idea whose time had come.
The health care victory that Obama still celebrates was a defeat of fellow Democrats by the combination of a solid Republican minority, the right wing of congressional Democrats, and Obama's White House. This is Obama's formula for governance - what I call his "comfort zone" - a political space previously inhabited by Bill Clinton. Whatever the Clintons and Obama think about each other on the personal level, they have together laid a great money pipeline that flows from Wall Street to the coffers of corporate Democrats - most dramatically, bankrolling much of Obama's $700 million presidential campaign. In return, Obama reinstated the Clinton finance capitalist team that had a decade earlier reversed Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal banking regulations. Obama turned the Wall Streeters loose to engineer the greatest transfer of wealth in human history - an ongoing project that has in less than two years transformed the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve into sugar daddies and guarantors of finance capital, worldwide, at a cost of tens of trillions of dollars. The bailouts have melded with and overshadowed in the public mind Obama's tepid 2009 stimulus, so that Republicans can speak effectively of the two phenomena as if they are the same thing - a trick made much easier by the fact that Obama also rhetorically linked the bailouts and stimulus as one-two Democratic economic punches.
With the Democrat Party, particularly the First Black President, so thoroughly and deservedly identified with Wall Street, the Republicans were empowered to pull off what would have previously been thought impossible: the GOP's brown-shirted wing, the white supremacist-based Tea Party, which purports to abhor government and, therefore, regulation, claimed with some success to be the anti-bailout, anti-Wall Street party. Meanwhile, Obama guided the Democrats to pass a fraudulent financial regulation bill that left the derivatives casino-economy intact, if not more strongly entrenched.
The Great Recession, which by all historical rights should have sent the Republicans into eclipse for a generation, instead saw a miraculous GOP rebound that left the Democrats shattered and pitifully incoherent. That's the real big picture of Obama's brief presidency - a period of breathtaking dissolution of the Democratic Party as Obama facilitated the swallowing whole of the American state by Wall Street.
Obama doesn't really want folks to take the long view of his time in office. His modus operandi after every debacle is to claim to have rescued bits and pieces of the Democratic agenda from GOP savaging: a health care bill that, in total, is worse than none at all, a financial "reform" unworthy of the name. He early in his term set in motion his infernal deficit reduction commission, knowing it would attack social spending across the board, so that he could later "rescue" selected programs from extinction and claim saviorhood. Obama will claim to have "saved" extension of unemployment benefits by this week's "compromise" with the Republican minority in the lame duck Congress when, in reality, it is Obama's center-right modalities of governance and back-channel dealings that have allowed the GOP minority to behave like a majority.
The overarching truth of the last two years Is that Obama has been at constant war with the New Deal and the left hemisphere of his party, acting as Wall Street's Trojan Horse in the White House. Tuesday's press conference starred an unrepentant, unreconstructed, center-right, corporate operative who sees his primary duty as destroying what remains of the Democrat's progressive legacy. And the first term of the disaster is less than half over.