Is Obama Going To Force Leftists To The Center?

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February 1, 2010 · Posted in Commentary 


A few weeks back, word got out that Obama’s been feeling tired. After a win by a rather peculiar former male model named Scott Brown of the Massachusetts senate seat of the late Ted Kennedy, a lot of the rest of us got tired. Especially when it was immediately followed by the Supreme Court giving away the store to the corporations. So the fact that Kennedy’s going to be replaced by a bank and insurance company megaphone shouldn’t be surprising.

Now the media and the Republicans—don’t be fooled into thinking the two aren’t the same, and have always been the same despite all the blather about a so-called Liberal Media—are talking about a Conservative Renaissance.

I prefer to think that Howard Dean’s view of it was about right. Brown won the election because about 18 percent of the liberal followers of the Democratic party were mad that the Healthcare plan didn’t include a real public option.

These folks already have public health in their state. They wanted to improve it by adding a public option.

Dean didn’t say this, but I will. Calling someone a Nazi is harsh, yet Republicans nowadays embrace parts of the Nazi ideology, which is a peculiar mixing of racism and phony populism. In hard times like we got, it sometimes works. Just hope that Abraham Lincoln’s remark that you can fool some people some of the time, but never all people all the time, is really true.

So yeah, we’re feeling tired. It looks like the jig is up. We’re not going to get real change in this country–not any time soon, anyway.

I will give Obama the right to have felt a bit tired back a few weeks ago, given the mess he inherited. If he wasn’t tired at the end of his first year in office, you’d know that he wasn’t really trying to fix it.

I have never seen a country so devastated by its own rapacious rulers as this one. I suppose there have been many other similar examples of the phenomenon in history, but Obama will find his match in the circumstances.

I’m not fond of Obama’s desire to have a romp in the hay with this country’s right wing. It’s meaningless to talk about healthcare reform if you don’t curb the power of the pharmaceutical and insurance companies who are a big part of the reason healthcare is such a disaster in this country.

I’m also not thrilled about the Afghanistan war, which is really about Pakistan, of course. Still, Obama is a progressive, especially when compared to what we’ll get instead if the Republicans really regain control.

For the sake of argument, I’ll grant Obama’s is what he appears to be. He’s a slightly left-of-center Democrat, a man you have to take very seriously. He’s genuinely a profound intellectual and author in his own right, who’s going to do things that will displease me. And he certainly will never satisfy Cindy Sheehan Michael Moore, Amy Goodman, Bill Maher or Lionel Rolfe. No American president could remain president if he did satisfy the likes of us.

I think his left critics need to grant that Obama is a sincere progressive. And he’s a thoughtful man.

As he once put in a thoughtful moment, “I’m a pretty progressive fellow.” In European terms, Obama is a kind of right of center social democrat. Mild stuff, for all the talk of the rabid right. And the left.

He is governing from the political center, with a shade of the left, and the argument that this is the only way the country can be governed at the moment probably has some truth to it. Unlike the Republicans, Obama even has certain leftist leanings.

He’s had some accomplishment in the face of the devastation wrought by the naked rule of the Republican Plutocrats for nearly a decade. Even if he ultimately only nudges into the picture only the most modest amount of reform, that will be something.

This nation has suffered mightily ever since Ronald Reagan began his flight from the New Deal by championing voodoo economics and nostrums. It isn’t that his ideas amounted to anything, but that his psychology included a dislike of the poor because he himself had come from the poor. This produced that peculiar psychology and a vicious ideology known as Reaganomics.

Until Reagan, it was widely understood that the New Deal contained important lessons about the vicissitudes of unbridled capitalism.

Reagan’s obfuscation was based on the fact that he was genuinely quite stupid but very mean. He was not capable of real thinking. I met Ronald Reagan on a few occasions. The secret of his political beliefs was that it didn’t really matter what he believed. He always had been essentially senile. When he talked about his wartime experiences as an Air Force pilot during World War II, critics pointed out that the only place he ever flew a fighter plane was in pilot training films made on a sound stage in Culver City. And he made that mistake not because he was such a great actor, so focused on his role as a training pilot was he, but because he didn’t know from fantasy.

Reagan suffered from dementia and senility as a relatively young man, maybe even before a cabal of Southern California Republican kingmakers put their bets on him and eventually made him President. Maybe they anointed him just because he was senile, and more easily manipulated.

So Reagan was a war hero, or a deep-thinking secret pipe-smoking intellectual, to hear it from the Right. But all he really was was a yahoo. The Yahoo tradition which continues to this day in Sarah Palin.

The day that Obama was accepting the Nobel Peace Prize Sarah Palin’s approval ratings had somehow zoomed to being only one point less than Obama’s, or so said CNN and USA Today. I find that hard to believe, but the audacity of hate is always amazing.

Here we have the snow and ice breaking under Sarah Palin’s feet, the polar bears are drowning, and at the South Pole, even the penguins are imperiled.

Still, she says there’s no such thing as global warming, or at least that people have any input into it. Her Chutzpah comes from her profound ignorance of everything, believing a lot of things that stop just this short of declaring the earth is flat.

Obama talked about war and peace as he accepted the Nobel prize while Palin babbled to an appreciative media audience back in America. At the same time, the President was supported by a bare majority in sending more troops to Afghanistan, the problem being the majority were Republicans and Independents, while Democrats were decidedly cool to the notion.

Still, you can’t say Obama has done nothing. Passenger trains are getting big improvements, and high speed trains will probably be here inside a decade. Even Wall Street has been affected. In order to keep thieving and stealing in the time honored ways of the past, the primate predators in charge of Wall Street are starting to give back TARP money because Obama has insisted that bankers who took taxpayer money can’t have outrageous salaries for the bosses any longer.

Unemployment insurance has been extended, and COBRAs have been paid for people who’ve been fired so at least they keep their health care. No Republican would have done these things.

Dean spoke about an incremental effort to establish healthcare. When the Social Security law was first passed, it was a terribly flawed document. But over time, it grew and improved and become an important part of America’s social infrastructure.

The Military-Industrial-Complex was created in this time as well. But such is the reality of the world. As Obama noted in his Nobel Prize speech, there are, in fact, wars that you have to fight and wars you don’t have to fight. He, of course, mentioned Hitler.

Obama also pontificated a bit on American Exceptionalism, and said in effect as the United States president, he upheld that value.

But we do need to learn a lot from Europe, in matters like finance and medical care and workers rights. America no longer has the most powerful nuclear accelerator and collider. The Japanese lead the world in robots. China increasingly so in alternative energy. Our exceptionalism is wearing thin, very thin, despite some of Mr. Obama’s remarks in Oslo.

He noted how much Ghandi and especially Martin Luther King Jr., had proclaimed the truth when they said, “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there’s nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naive — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

And then his punchline: “But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.”

Of course, this may be an argument against bipartisanship. Regard the Republicans as Al Qaeda. You must defeat them, not try to be friends with them.

America was a land formed in revolution against Monarchy, and that is a very great thing. It’s the thing that will always keep me from the center, except very pragmatically. It’s the thing that sometimes make America an essentially progressive force upon rare occasion.


Lionel Rolfe is the author of two new books, “Reflections From Elsewhere” and “Presidents & Near Presidents I Have Known,” as well as such oldies but goodies as “Literary L.A.,” and “The Uncommon Friendship of Yaltah Menuhin and Willa Cather.,” all of them featured on



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