An Autopsy of a Political Suicide
NEW YORK--It's the day after the Republican sweep we all knew was coming. If Obama had any dignity, if he was honest with himself and with us, he would resign. It's abundantly clear that he isn't up to the job.
But you don't become president by being honest or dignified. So now it's wound-licking time. The President and his cronies are comforting each other. "It's not your fault the economy sucks," a Yes Man reassures Obama, sinking his heels into the new Oval Office carpet. "It was like that when we got here."
Do they scratch him behind his ears? They should. It feels nice.
"It was the poor economy--not the wisdom of the Republicans' ideas or the brilliance of their tactics--that assured they would retake control of the House," coos MarketWatch's Rex Nutting. Which is true. And doesn't matter.
Democrats are taking solace in history. It's the midterms! The party that holds the White House always loses seats in Congress. Look at Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. They suffered midterm defeats, then roared back to landslide reelection wins two years later. Not to worry! The voters will vote against the other party next time! Which is also true. And also doesn't matter.
In the broken-down shambles of the excuse for a political system we have in the United States, there's only one stage of grief: denial.
Barack Obama may well be reelected in 2012. Considering that the current GOP frontrunners are Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney, the odds favor him. But the Obama experiment is effectively dead. There will be no change, and so there is no hope.
Remember what happened to Clinton after the "Republican Revolution" sweep of 1994? He spent 1995 locked in a bizarre "co-presidency" with House Speaker Newt Gingrich before figuring out that his "partner" was more interested in obstructionist sabotage than bipartisanship.
Obama is heading down the same bloody path with John Boehner.
But Clinton did get that second term. During which he accomplished many things, such as...um...well, he did get impeached. Does that count?
I don't understand why presidents want to get reelected. No president since FDR has gotten much done after his first term. Must be an ego thing. Either that, or it's cool to have your own chef.
If Obama was going to shine, it was going to be during 2009. Elected by a sizable margin with an undeniable, media-backed mandate for change during a severe economic crisis he could exploit to push through his agenda, Obama also enjoyed the rare luxury of a Democratic House of Representatives and a nearly filibuster-proof Democratic Senate.
So what does he have to show for that marvelous gift? Three major items:
One: a healthcare overhaul that increases premiums and insurance company profits, and doesn't include the public option he and everyone else said was absolutely essential. The good news is, the Republicans will probably repeal or defund this monster before it takes effect.
Two: a financial reform package no one knows about. Which is just as well, since it doesn't crack down on the banksters.
Three: more dead Afghans.
They're not much, but I hope Obama is proud of them. That's as good as he's going to get from now on.
What killed the Obama presidency? Political suicide. There were several death blows:
First and foremost, the economy. 60 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of Republicans told exit pollsters that the lack of jobs was their number-one issue. Obama never proposed a jobs program. He gave trillions of taxdollars to thieving banksters who ought to have been arrested instead, then tried to pass off this outrageous giveaway as economic stimulus. To make things worse, he stuck with an impossibly absurd argument: more people would have lost their jobs without it.
Even if the phony stimulus stopped things from getting worse--and it didn't--people don't care. They want the 20 percent of Americans who already lost their jobs--their friends, spouses, children and parents--to find new ones. Obama never addressed that.
He didn't even try.
Second, he alienated his base. He didn't even know who his base was.
Obama's campaign was a potent mix of vague pabulum ("hope," "change") and, when he deigned to specify, center-right specifics (stop torture but expand the war against Afghanistan, bipartisan cooperation with the Republicans, no gay marriage, etc.). The problem was that the vagueness that helped him cobble together a winning coalition of leftist and independent voters made it impossible for him govern. Leftists got turned off when he doubled down in Afghanistan and refused to close Guantánamo; independents are notoriously fickle anyway.
If Obama's advisors had been smart, they would have recognized two truths, one old and one new. The old truth is that the safest time to deliver to your base is the first year of a presidency; the passage of time allows the anger of the moderates to cool in time for the next election. The new truth for Obama was that his base comprised liberals who actually disagreed with much of what he stood for but had paid more attention to the "hope" and "change" posters than to his platform. He didn't understand that.
Moreover, the world changed between September and November of 2008. Global capitalism collapsed. Millions of Americans lost their jobs and their homes during the next year. Wall Street, bankers, big business, the golden boys of the previous century, were discredited--but unpunished for their countless sins. By mid-2009 America had become a left-wing country, not in the media but among the citizenry, telling polls that their preferred economic system was socialism.
Team Obama didn't understand that. They still don't.
The inarticulate rage of the inchoate Tea Party caught the president by surprise. Neither Obama nor the political clones that form his center-right cabinet can see that in a binary political culture anger gravitates to the opposite pole. If Obama were Republican, the Tea Party would be identified with the left.
The takeaway is anger, not ideology. People are pissed. They hate the bailouts, but the bailouts aren't the main point. More than anything else, the American people are angry that their government doesn't even pretend to give a damn about them.
(Ted Rall is the author of "The Anti-American Manifesto." His website is tedrall.com.)
- Ronald Reagan
- An Autopsy of a Political Suicide
- Oval Office carpet
- Yes Man
- the midterms