I’m looking through you, where did you go?
I thought I knew you, what did I know?
You don’t look different, but you have changed;
I’m looking through you, you’re not the same.
(The Beatles: McCartney and Lennon)
All in all, liberals were happier when he was opaque. Since January 2009, we have been confused by the disconnect between Candidate Obama’s words, and President Obama’s actions. The two Obamas often seemed as different as Dorian Gray and his portrait up in the attic. The public Mr. Gray seemed smooth, even charming. But he wasn’t. Meanwhile, out of sight, that picture stored in his attic devolved into a grotesque and twisted picture of the real Dorian Gray.
The rhetoric of Candidate Obama and his speech writers was brilliant, crafted to win the Left and enough of the Center to put him in office. We loved to think he represented hope and change we could believe in, where whistleblowers were embraced as democracy’s necessary critics. We believed our nation could regain much of the respect it had lost over the past 30 years, and especially since G.W. Bush’s disastrous presidency. We could again become that “city on a hill” where the quality of our truth, compassion and justice could become a beacon to the rest of the world. We would bring our soldiers home from the “dumb” war in Iraq – which Mr. Obama had voted against repeatedly as a Senator. We would give our citizens single payer or at least public option health care. We would restore our failing schools to their earlier days of excellence. We would respect international law and the consensus of good people everywhere. And so on.
It seemed too good to be true, and it was. Since taking office, Mr. Obama’s actions have – with a few significant exceptions like supporting gay marriage – showed him to be a great friend to rich corporations, a hand puppet of the military-industrial-congressional complex, and of Big Money in all its forms. To oversee the greedy banking industry, he brought men from Wall Street who had played active parts in disabling our economy and sending an economic tsunami throughout the world. It seemed like recruiting foxes to guard the henhouse. Why would he do that? He helped offload a trillion dollars lost by Wall Street’s casino capitalism – and he loaded it on the backs of taxpayers, letting the bankers return to their greedy high-stakes gambling and their self-flattering bonuses that showed the country who controlled whom. Why? Then he singled out Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric – America’s largest corporation — as his favorite, the CEO he appointed to head up his “Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.”
Mr. Obama didn’t mention that GE paid no income tax in 2010, and even claimed a $3.2 billion tax rebate from those of us who pay taxes. GE’s giant department of tax lawyers has been called the world’s best tax law firm. So Mr. Immelt is a symbol of … what? — corporate greed, combined with selfish indifference to the US, where it took $5 billion in profit last year – plus the $3.2 billion bonus we the taxpayers gave them? Perhaps it’s unfair to pick on GE, which is just one of the 83 corporations in the top 100 that reportedly paid no tax last year. We taxpayers pay their taxes, though of course we don’t have enough money to pay them – which leads, in a tortured kind of logic, to the government deciding to cut the social services and safety nets that keep millions more of us from sliding down into what is looking like our new permanent underclass – like India’s Untouchables.
For those of us who stayed in denial longest, it hurt like hell to see that President Obama was a Trojan Horse. What a compelling Trojan Horse he made! Liberals were dizzy at the sight of a brilliant black man in the White House, and his beautiful family as the new cast of Camelot.
Yet, Obama had caved in without even a fight on the single-payer or public option national health care plan. The United States was, and still is, the only developed nation on earth that sees health care as a commodity available only to those who can afford our exorbitant health care prices – sometimes for second-rate health care. Obama actually escalated some of G.W. Bush’s foolish wars of choice, and increased government secrecy. Obama even put out a hit on an American citizen, and claimed the right to arrest, hold indefinitely, torture or kill anyone he chose, without charges, a trial or conviction. It is so deeply embarrassing to have our country, at the direction of our President, hold whistleblower Bradley Manning in a style of solitary confinement that several who have seen or heard of it describe as torture. To hear some of our elected and appointed officials speak of wanting to kill Manning now – without the unnecessary bother of a trial. These were the kind of stories a lot of us grew up hearing about the former Soviet Union, Chairman Mao’s China, Chile’s dictator Pinochet (put into office by our CIA), or the bloody Shah of Iran (ditto). We were raised to be proud we lived in a country where this could never happen. And so on.
Now Mr. Obama’s people are threatening to arrest, imprison and – it goes without saying – torture the Australian citizen Julian Assange, for doing what our Fourth Estate is supposed to be doing. There is no mention of arresting the NY Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel or the other leading world newspapers who, like Assange, published classified documents sent to them by others. We have become an embarrassment to much of the civilized world. Who would have guessed it?
For many around the world, the (current) Last Straw came last month, when Obama ordered his first use of a veto during more than two years of his presidency. As Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab wrote on February 19:
Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN raised her hand vetoing a UN Security Council resolution condemning Jewish settlements. The resolution supported by 14 countries including US allies repeated the exact same language that the Obama administration has said to the Israelis, to the Palestinians and to the public. Calling Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories illegal is reflecting the reality of international law. The World Court at the Hague has said that Israel’s activities in the occupied territories are illegal.
Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern studies at the University of San Francisco gathered sound bites from several commentators (which I have included here).
Zunes says Obama shares G.W. Bush’s contempt for international law, placing him to the right of even the conservative governments of Great Britain and France. And “despite his distinguished legal background, Obama has demonstrated … he has even less respect for the law than Richard Nixon.”
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for Human Rights Watch said that Mr. Obama “wants to tell the Arab world in his speeches that he opposes settlements, but he won’t let the Security Council tell Israel to stop them in a legally binding way.”
Gideon Levy wrote in Haaritrz that Obama’s veto “was a veto against the chance and promise of change, a veto against hope.” Irony just drips off that one, but no more than it drips off the spectacle of the U.S. making war against Israel’s enemies in the Middle East, bankrupting our economy – and cutting social safety nets for the regular citizens who pay taxes, rather than multi-billion dollar corporations that don’t.
Obama’s veto also puts him to the right of liberal and moderate Jews. Israeli journalist Ami Kaufman wrote angrily in the Jerusalem Post that “The US has lost any ounce of credibility it had left with this latest move.” Others note that this veto shows that the US cannot be trusted to mediate any peace process in the Middle East.
Obama even offered the gift of $3 billion of “security incentives and fighter jets” to Israel if they would just put off building new (illegal) settlements for 90 days — money it’s probably safe to bet Israel will get anyway. Yes, AIPAC has enough connections and behind-the-scenes clout to make life miserable for Mr. Obama. But allowing the selfish wishes of a special interest group to trump concern for the United States? Doesn’t this land in the general ballpark of treason?
It at least lands in the lap of deception. What’s on display before the rest of the world is not only Obama’s duplicity, but the duplicity of our nation, as he offers glib rationalizations for our invasions of countries with a lot of oil – countries that are also among Israel’s enemies.
Finally, President Obama’s talk and his walk can be brought together only by understanding that his talk is for sedating the Left and Center, while his walk serves the far right wing, both in Israel and in the U.S.
Paraphrasing the Roman Seneca of twenty centuries ago (who said it about religion): to the wise, political rhetoric is false; to the masses, it is true; and for the rulers, it is useful.
In a sad way, we’re glad to have at last the transparency, Mr. President. But we’re looking through you – you’re not the same.