So much for 2010 as the year of mutiny, when the American people rose up and said, “Enough! Throw the bums out!” As the dust finally clears after the midterm elections, and the bodies are hauled from the field of battle, guess what? It was all so predictable. The safest thing to be in 2010 was an incumbent.
Out of 435 seats, 351 incumbents will be returning to the House in January. In the Senate, out of 100 seats, 77 incumbents will return in January. As the libertarian Joel Hirschorn puts it, “Welcome back to the reality of America's delusional democracy where career politicians will continue to foster a corrupt, inefficient and dysfunctional government because that is what the two-party plutocracy and its supporters want for their own selfish reasons.”
Now it's on to 2012, through a largely familiar political landscape, right down to Sarah Palin telling ABC TV and the New York Times that yes, she might just go all the way and run for the Republican presidential nomination.
The possibility of a Palin run is just about the only ray of sunshine currently available to Barack Obama, now mesmerized by the verdict of the press — that the people have spoken and the President must “move to the center.” Onto the butcher block must go entitlements — Medicare, Social Security. The sky darkens with vultures eager to pick the people's bones.
As Obama reviews his options, which way will he head? He's already supplied the answer. He'll try to broker deals to reach “common ground” with the Republicans, the strategy that destroyed those first two years of opportunity. Even many of Obama’s diehard fans are beginning to say that the guy hasn’t a backbone, no capacity to stand and fight.
What do the next two years hold? Already there are desperate urgings from progressives for Obama to hold the line. Already there are the omens of a steady stream of concessions by Obama to the right.
There's hardly any countervailing pressure for him to do otherwise. The president has no fixed principles of political economy, and who is at his elbow in the White House? Not the Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis. Not that splendid radical Elizabeth Warren, whose Consumer Financial Protection Bureau the Republicans are already scheduling for destruction. Next to Obama is Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, the bankers' lapdog, whom the president holds in high esteem.
Any hope that outgoing economic advisor Lawrence Summers might be replaced by someone of progressive cast has already been dashed by the news that the seedy Roger Altman is in the running to succeed him. Altman is an investment banker, a former deputy treasury secretary during the Clinton administration. The White House press office sends out signals that, in the words of a Washington Post news story, the president “is looking for someone from the business community to redeem the president in the eyes of corporate America.”
Now there’s an encouraging signal to Obama’s base, which is organized labor and black America — for whom he did precisely nothing in his first two years! Imagine the galvanizing effect, if the White House let it be known that Joe Stiglitz was under consideration to replace Summers.
In the months ahead, as Obama parleys amiably with the right on budgetary discipline and deficit reduction, the anger of the progressives will mount. At some point a champion of the left will step forward to challenge him in the primaries. This futile charade will expire at the 2012 Democratic National Convention amid the rallying cry of “unity.”
The left must abandon the doomed ritual of squeaking timid reproaches to Obama, only to have the counselors at Obama’s elbow contemptuously dismiss them, as did Rahm Emanuel, who correctly divined their near-zero capacity for effective challenge. Two more years, of the same downward slide, courtesy of bipartisanship and “working together”? No way. Enough of dreary predictability. Let’s have a real mutiny against Obamian rightward drift. The time is not six months or a year down the road. The time is now.
Next week: A new champion for the left?