Reluctantly, I part company with top labor leaders, the “left wing of organized labor,” and activist-filmmaker Michael Moore, for all still “trust” the president. I don’t question this report’s accuracy, last week from Randy Shaw, Beyond Chron’s editor-in-chief, only his comment, “labor’s trust of Obama appears to be genuinely reciprocated by the President.”
I don’t yet see much reciprocation, mindful of D. H. Lawrence’s line, “Never trust the teller. Trust the tale.” Obama’s “telling” is full of poise, personality, and eloquence, but what realized tales of action benefit union workers or offset falling membership – or relieve distressed blue-collar families, for that matter? What’s even on the domestic table for all of labor, now that health reform looks at best like a general no-decision between industry and patients?
Trust for me is not about feel-good, pie-in-the sky projections. Trust needs confirmation to sustain confidence partners or leaders advance mutual interests: it is, for the prudent, more about the past and present than future. Thus, surveying his Senate career, campaign, and eight months as president, I have less trust now than ever Obama will propose or achieve substantial, structural reforms. I don’t trust top Democrats have the independence, courage, or wisdom to restore good government, let alone the working middle-class. There are broken dikes untended well beyond New Orleans.
Where’s the beef for labor?
Why does big labor “trust” Obama, or the Democratic Party, except by default (not the worst defense)? Where’s the New Deal for non-auto workforces, or poor people outside New Orleans, or millions of hurting Main Streeters. Is $75 billion budgeted for foreclosure relief enough? Cash for Clunkers succeeded, but whether such costly subsidies simply enable staggering dinosaurs – or delay the worst – remains to be seen. Check out Obama broken promises; the president didn’t end income tax for seniors making less than $50K, toughen rules against revolving lobbyist doors, create a $3K new job tax credit, or allow penalty-free hardship withdrawals from retirement accounts. Over a trillion dollars for bankers and brokers, ungodly billions more for unpopular, failing wars – and small change for workers (modest tax cuts, health benefits for needy children). In short, average Americans feel besieged because they are besieged.
So far, this president and his party (it’s never just about Obama) are hitting under .200, timidly battling for their own agenda. Is this shocking from a low-achiever, ex-junior senator close to Big Ag (ethanol producers), coal and nuclear energy, softer on health care and more hawkish on Afghanistan in primaries than Hillary? Obama the ambitious politician won statewide office thanks to the Chicago machine, then brashly ran for Congress (and got thumped), before lucking out when his GOP Senate foe imploded. Notably, the president rode one premature anti-war comment into effective anti-Iraq rhetoric, wrote an elegant, cagey manifesto, The Audacity of Hope, gave a great ’04 Convention speech, and leaned right in Democratic primaries. No complaints or excuses, folks: what we got is what we saw, if we looked behind his glitzy, brilliant campaign.
How many who bet on Obama the reformer are counting winnings? Or those still hoping for often promised boldness? Politically, Obama’s risk-taking peaked 15 months ago, after dispatching Hillary (tougher vote-getter than any living Republican), then his steady march rightward to consensus, as if allergic to controversy. For lovers of irony, considering Obama’s extreme campaign caution (except in fundraising), his greatest, single gamble, a true long-shot, happened three years ago when this unknown threw his hat in the ring. That was this president’s chutzpah highpoint, bolder than anything since, especially today’s knee-jerk party and administration rulebook, “Play it safe, then punt when blitzed” (even by idiot teabaggers!). What contradicts this past and present won’t be prologue?
Greatness feeds, not chokes, on crises
I’ve been soliciting Obama loyalists – and readers – to stick up for the president. I don’t relish bashing incipient greatness. After all, I could be wrong. Yet my simple question, “What has Obama done that delights you?” has gone unanswered. Was the question tricky, too hard? All excuse low performance with inherited quagmires from Bush-Cheney’s Age of Cronyism, Ineptitude and Demagoguery (that’s A.C.I.D., burning from the inside). I concede birth calamities, but how does more of the same produce hope or change? Does Obama deserve lots of leeway because the problems are great? Isn’t the opposite more logical: the worse the conditions, the greater the pain, the more the hue and cry, then the greater the opportunity to renovate capitalism? Opportunity makes for greatness, not the other way around.
If Wall Street crashed from rotten, high-risk eggs in too few baskets, doesn’t further concentration into still fewer hands invite depression? When the predatory status quo turns into unregulated quo vadis (literally, “who goes there”?), won’t a great president defy, not subsidize establishment disasters? FDR was excoriated for taking on big banks and big business. Obama caves to budding monopolies in finance, colludes with Big Pharma, even props up corrupt governments in broken, no-win states instead of cutting counterproductive militarism. A third straight administration in denial, refusing to confront failed schemes and systems, is no improvement, nothing that deserves our hard-won trust.
Treating sickness, not symptoms
If saving capitalism is the goal, fine, but the price must include fixing conspicuous excesses with enlightened reforms, like Glass Stiegel. We have a government, and increasingly a country, ready for life support, and we’re arguing which aspirins to take. Don’t Bush’s plague of treacheries mock Obama’s cordial bedside manners, the band-aids delivered with a smile? Doesn’t survival depend on surgery, mandated after facing the causes of really big problems, especially the domestic delusion the business of America is catering to big business? Eventually, adults must confront the context and values behind huge meltdowns, the brutality of torture, and endless imperial wars – educating about terrorism, global warming, pandemics, endangered food production, and population growth.
Gridlock before apocalypse, with one party in power, defines paralysis, the opposite of the “can do” spirit informing every healthy nation. Otherwise, bank on getting steamrollered by lean and hungry nations that fund productivity, education in science and technology, infrastructure and workers’ skills – then master economic power, access to resources, and intellectual capital – as the U.S. of A. did for 150 years. External dangers aside, like those raising ocean levels, our own internal deluges from wrecked economic and political systems threaten our affluence – while leaders argue whether to pass out swim trunks, build a few life boats, or hope the wind changes. Teabaggers, I fear, are not our only citizens suffering from magic thinking.