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Archive for the ‘Principled Progressive’ Category

Political limbo: when lame duck meets reluctant transition

Posted by kelliasworld on January 5, 2009

Ah, this is the winter of our political discontent, caught in the limbo between the ending of an 8 year presidency and the inauguration of another which could last for another 8. There is a terrible disconnect between the continuity of our national problems, both domestic and the foreign, and the possible or probable alteration of the policies by means of which we have dealt (or failed to deal) with those problems. The retiring or lame duck administration is reluctant to undertake any policies (except perhaps for matters like presidential pardons or the alteration of administrative environmental regulations) that may be abandoned as soon as the incoming administration takes over. For their part, the administration-to-be is unlikely to propose policy changes before they have taken the reins of power by means of which they can hopefully secure adoption of those proposals. As Barack Obama said in refusing to comment on the current Israeli assault on Gaza: “there’s only one President at a time.” I would argue, to contrary, that in this as every political transition period in U.S. history there is NO President, no one with the power and the motive to assume definitive leadership in dealing with our problems, both domestic and foreign.

This political limbo is of course most acutely expressed in the area of foreign policy, in which there seems to be a conventional understanding that, in such matters, the United States must stand united in support of a singular version of U.S. foreign policy. If a U.S. leader like Jesse Jackson or (more currently) Cynthia McKinney makes a public foray into a version du jour of the endless conflict in the Middle East, that act will be treated as a violation of that understanding of public unanimity despite differences in viewpoint or intention of different persons and parties. The Gaza situation demonstrates the deadly effect of the transition limbo: an effect of which, I have no doubt, Israeli leaders were quite aware and of which they were quite prepared to take advantage, based on the timing of an invasion that could have come almost anytime since Gaza exercised its sovereign right to choose a government controlled by Hamas three years ago. The Bush administration, engaged in the proverbial “rush for the bus” in which sports teams out of title contention at the end of the season play out their schedule with minimal interest or involvement, is hardly likely to interrupt its bogus victory lap in the Middle East by getting involved in anything beyond moral sputterings about how this stuff has got to stop.

Well, that’s the lame duck part of the limbo; the reluctant transition is a little harder to explain. Obama, his chosen cabinet and staff and most of his supporters seem to be continuing their agenda of muting any criticism or even positive suggestion for the new administration on the apparent assumption that, like “nothing was the same” (supposedly but wrongly believed) after 9/11/01, nothing will be the same after 1/20/09 as morning comes (again) to America and we get a “fresh start” on our problems,. both domestic and foreign.

Where domestic policy is concerned, there is actually little pretense that the economic “crisis” into which we have entered will be much different before and after 1/20, and Obama

has made it abundantly clear that he will not act on a chaste “one President at a time” assumption as his administration has moved forward with bailout and economic stimulus in recognition, perhaps, of the fact that there will be only a cosmetic change as the neo-conservatives of the Bush administration are replaced by the Clinton-era Chicago school economists of the Obama one.

In foreign policy the Obama administration could and urgently should take the same kind of activist role that they have adopted in the area of domestic economic policy. True, Obama cannot and perhaps should not advocate specific U.S. military actions like (what needs to be done) the denial to Israel of the military hardware used in the assault on Gaza. But he definitely could and should articulate a principle of foreign policy with regard to the Middle East that looks like something more than the “lopsided” support of Israel which some Arab leaders are accusing Condoleezza Rice of displaying. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict can never be settled by acknowledging an unquestioning right of Israel to commit whatever acts it chooses against what it deems as existential threats by Palestinians. Yet this is exactly what Bush and Obama, Rice and Hillary Clinton, almost with one voice, have pronounced as the sole basis of U.S. Middle East “policy.”

Please don’t tell me that it will be “soon enough” after Obama takes office for him to articulate and practice a less lop-sided “doctrine.” In its dealing with Jewish settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank, Israel has perfected the fine art of creating “facts on the ground” (i.e, settlers located in Arab land) with which governments will have to deal after the fact. As Obama will “inherit” the consequences of ongoing foreign policy decisions (or non-decisions) of the Bush administration (remember how JFK “inherited” the already-planned Bay of Pigs operation from Eisenhower?), he has every motive and civic responsibility to begin to exercise leadership in articulating a post-imperialist policy that will embrace conflict resolution not only in the Middle East but wherever the tentacles of U.S. imperialism are spread. People throughout the Arab world, many of whom were treated by Al Jazeera with juxtaposed images of the “pecs and abs” displayed by Obama at his Hawaiian vacation idyll with images of Gaza under siege and attack are looking exactly for that leadership. The Americans who elected him to the presidency should expect no less.

Jerry D. Rose – Editor, The Sun State Activist


Posted in Israel, Jerry D. Rose, Obama, Palestine, Principled Progressive | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Obama Apologetics: From “lesser evil” to “Give the guy a chance.

Posted by kelliasworld on November 30, 2008

Jerry D. Rose – Editor, The Sun State Activist

During the presidential campaign, any complaints about the lack of a progressive focus in Barack Obama’s stances on public issues were deflected with the observation that those of the Republican ticket were so much worse, so that progressives were morally obligated to vote for the Democratic one as the “lesser of the two evils.”  The response to that argument was repeated by many commentators innumerable times: that if you continue to vote for the lesser evil election cycle after election cycle, you are going to be confronted every time with an “evil” choice, in a Dantean hell kind of perpetual misery.  To little avail did we make these arguments, as the voters trooped to the polls and those who needed to hold their noses as they voted for the Democratic ticket held their noses and participated in the glorious “historic victory” that is still being celebrated.

The other argument, being played in the background of the dominant lesser evil theme, was that Obama’s lack of expressed support for progressive positions was simply a strategic decision to avoid alienating the “center” of American political thinking, without whose support he had no chance of being elected.  In this view, what’s the use of voting for an ideological “purist” (like, say, a Dennis Kucinich or Mike Gravel) whose views were too “far out” to make them “electable?”  So Obama and later his team-mate Biden had to be shrewd enough to seem to be centrist in their views, when their “hearts” were with the left. So “give the guys a chance,” a chance to be elected after which their true progressive colors would be allowed to emerge.

After the election and in the current transition period, that secondary “give the guy a chance” motif has now blossomed into the favorite theme of Obama apologetics.  The main occasion for this change has been the fact that Obama has been busily filling his staff and cabinet appointments, some already made and some others still in the usual “float” stage of names being “prominently mentioned” for appointment to government posts.  There is very clearly a pattern in these announced and anticipated appointments that, as Jerome Grossman for example notes, have not included a single “liberal” amongst them. The announced and floated names are almost entirely “experienced” figures, mostly re-treads from the Clinton administration, with a token Bush holdover in the (still floated) re-appointment of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense. Ideologically, the appointments focused on domestic policy have been overwhelmingly (maybe exclusively) from the camp of neo-liberal proponents of the Chicago school of economics; while foreign policy-oriented ones have been drawn from the decidedly hawkish figures of presidential administrations from Jimmy Carter to Bush II.  Since folks the likes of “Progressive for Obama” had promised during the campaign to hold Obama’s “feet to the fire” of progressive views, some of them have stoked up a bit of fire to criticize those nominations.

But not yet, apparently, are many Obama apologists ready to participate in the stoking of that fire.  “Give the guy a chance” now becomes their fall-back apologetic position. ”Wait til he’s in office and starts to make some decisions before you start your fire,” they say.  In politics as in marriage, aren’t people entitled to a “honeymoon” before they have to deal with the conflicts likely to pervade any country as any marriage?  We have yet to “celebrate” the historic victory with an historic inauguration on January 20.  Why be a wet blanket on the national euphoria during this transition period? There’ll be time enough for critique after we celebrate yet another “New Deal.”

Like the lesser evil theme, the “give the guy a chance” one has its own minor theme that is vital to supporting the melody.  This is the idea, promoted by Obama himself, who deflects any concern about the ideological character of his appointment choices by saying that these men and women are, after all, only advisers to him and that it is his “vision” as President that will determine his actions in that office: a variation of GW Bush’s definition of himself as the “decider.”  Obama says in effect: “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” pay attention only to what I, the Wizard of Oz, am telling you about my marvelous powers to grant the wishes of the heart to every supplicant.  Now I have a really hard time thinking of figures of the stature of Robert Gates, Hillary Clinton and Paul Volcker as simply “techno-crats” whose experience will allow them to carry out the dictates of their President.  If anything, Obama’s “vision” (or lack thereof) is being demonstrated with every one of his personal choices from Biden as running mate to the yet-to-be-announced ones of Gates and Clinton.  Perhaps the kool-aid imagery used to castigate Obama supporters for their lesser-evilism should be replaced, as attention turns to what Obama will actually do in office, to a different imagery of people somehow disposed to  the Wizard’s mandate which can be translated into modern vernacular as “what are you going to believe, what I tell you or your own lying eyes?”

Sure, I’m willing to “give the guy a chance,” a chance that is to respond to progressive expectations for his administration that are actually the expectations of most of the American people.  That expectation is not that he “rule from the center,” but that he rule from the consensus of the American people that Wall Street and the Pentagon should not be the all-determining institutions of our society.  If Obama appoints mostly bankers and military hawks to his administration, this tells me that his “vision” is really the vision of bankers and hawks, not the vision of the rest of us. I’ve been accused “cynicism” on internet comment strings for this sort of view, but I actually see these views as arising from a “hopelessly” idealistic tendency to think and speak as a “principled progressive.”

Posted in Jerry D. Rose, Obama, Principled Progressive, The Sunshine Activist | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »