Obama’s dipped below 50% in public approval, which — so the pollsters tell us — is nothing particularly unusual for a new president at this stage of the game. This week, he’s scheduled to announce that that he’s ordering 34,000 more troops to head for Afghanistan.
I heard someone on NPR say this was Obama’s straddle between General Stan McChrystal’s original demand for 50,000 troops and those who have been imploring Obama to nix further deployments and bring all the troops home. In other words we have a typical Obama compromise, making gestures designed to please everybody, but all the while intent upon going along with Business As Usual. Take his performance on Guantánamo. Pledge to close it down, then drag your feet, continue secret renditions of captives to other prisons like Bagram and finally engineer the forced resignation of Gregory Craig, the White House counsel who was trying to close Guantánamo which will remain open until every remaining prisoner can be sent to replications of that hell hole somewhere else.
Such decisions are coming thick and fast. Right before Thanksgiving came news that the Obama administration has decided not to sign an international convention banning land mines which now has support from more than 150 countries. Yes, there was a land-mine policy “review” by the Administration, now denounced by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy as “cursory and halfhearted.” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told the press last Tuesday that US defense requirements really require landmines and Obama is going to stay with the Bush policy, though — here’s the Obamian compromise — the US government is, for the first time, sending an official observer to a session of the International Convention, meeting just last weekend in Cartagena, Colombia. This will come as a great comfort to the relatives of those thousands — half of them children — blown to bits each year by landmines littering war-torn landscapes across the globe.
Obama’s blend of chill opportunism, draped in high-minded verbiage, is beginning to rile some liberals — the same way Jimmy Carter’s similar mix did 30 years ago. A bellwether here is the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd. She has turned in two recent acrid columns on the President in the last month. Having spent months in the vanguard of the Democrats’ favorite blood sport, flaying Sarah Palin, Dowd suddenly declared that Palin at least speaks from the heart and that Obama should take some lessons from the former governor of Alaska in how to connect with ordinary people at the level of genuine emotional conviction.
Then this week Dowd wrote an even sharper column charging Obama with callous lack of loyalty to political supporters such as Greg Craig, who jumped ship from the Clinton campaign last year and did Obama great service. Dowd also scored Obama’s signal lack of gratitude to Caroline Kennedy, whose endorsement of Obama last year gave him a powerful lift at a crucial stage in the race.
So yes, there’s discontent and disillusion on the liberal and progressive side but will this translate into political difficulties for Obama? Probably not. Obama can drench with Roundup the crop of hopes he planted last year and the liberal sector will still stay true and delude themselves that hope — though dormant — still lives. Where else are the liberals to go? Blacks will never desert him in significant numbers. And remember, the progressive crowd stuck with Clinton through the gutting of welfare, the effective death penalty act, an appalling immigration bill and a hundred other presumptive “final blows.” Remember how Labor tied itself to the Clinton mast?
Like Clinton, Obama is unconcerned by the anguish to his left, and doubtless counts any denunciation from this quarter as a political asset. His target is the independents who put him in the White House and who deserted him in the November elections in states like Virginia. Independents, so the pollsters claim, are worried by the deficit. They think Obama’s efforts to rekindle the economy and create jobs have been far too prodigal. They want austerity budgets, even as the liberals shout for a new stimulus bill, as the jobless total rises.
Obama is already triangulating, just as Clinton did from the moment in 1993 he enlisted Congressional Republicans to push through the North American Free Trade Agreement, in the teeth of many Democrats in the House, a political chapter well described on CounterPunch.org on Thanksgiving Day by Jeff Cohen. As Dominic Behan’s song goes, “The auld Triangle goes jingle jangle along the banks of the Royal Canal.” It will certainly jangle if Democrats in Congress mount any serious opposition to his expansion of the war in Afghanistan.
Having an adulterer and a moron at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for eight years apiece, plus Dick Cheney down the corridor, spoiled us. Which side of Bill’s head did Hillary hit with the lamp? Would George fight his way to the end of the sentence in his daily battles with the English language?
These days tranquility reigns — or seems to — in the Obamas’ private quarters. Senior White House staffers remain loyal and tight-lipped. Small wonder Jay Leno’s nightly show is sagging. There was nothing to make jokes about, at least until Sarah Palin went on her book tour.
Carter was another Democratic president who didn’t drink or fornicate or steal. But he had Brother Billy and the colorful Bert Lance as his director of OMB, already mired in southern Gothic scandal by the middle of Carter’s first year in office. He had the late Hamilton Jordan as his chief of staff, getting drunk at state dinners and making lewd verbal overtures to the wife of the Egyptian ambassador. Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel may be foul-mouthed, but thus far he’s run a ship offering about as much drama as the upper executive tier of an insurance company in Ames, Iowa.
Politics are getting ever more swinishly and dully predictable by the day too, as the idealists watch their expectations trickle all too swiftly through the hour glass. Visions of a decent state-backed public system of health insurance have — in the current bills — predictably mutated into their polar opposite: enforcement of compulsory purchase of private health coverage — the “reform” imposed by those insurance executives in Ames — and an Obama-backed hike in health insurance costs for low-income seniors, as devastatingly described by Mary Lynn Cramer in her piece on CounterPunch.org last week: “Health Reform and the Skinning of Seniors.”
The prospect is cheerless — looking more and more like the boring, respectable, lethal corporate rule of the Eisenhower years, which was when I first heard Brendan Behan singing his brother’s song amid boisterous Christmas revels in Luggala, county Wicklow, as I traipsed around Ooonagh Oranmore’s dinner table asking guests to sign my autograph book. It came to hand the other day, and after Oonagh’s name came a little verse to me from Lucian Freud, though he signed it Frucian Leud:
“How many miles to the fortune Isles? Scarce a one! Fortune smiles And may she smile on You.”