Saturday, December 5, 2009

Rumbles of Discontent

Well, here we are barreling full tilt toward the end of year, having survived the gigantic pothole in the road that is Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving Day is not that bad, it is what comes immediately afterward that makes my eyes bug. There's this little thing called "Black Friday," the start of the Christmas shopping season, and the day when we're all supposed to go completely berserk and shop 'til we puke.

I'm becoming more convinced each year that Black Friday is another of those media-created, media-driven non-events. The reason why that day gets weirder and more intense each year is that the media whips people up in a frenzy, just about forcing them to believe there is some kind of genetic imperative to go out and spend money. If there wasn't a huge amount of media coverage - much ado about nothing - I think "Black Friday" would be just another day. The same thing happens, to a less extent, with "Cyber Monday" when everyone does their online shopping. Do we really need the media telling us this?

The day before Thanksgiving one of the local TV stations had a story about these two Phoenix-area housewives planning their assault on the stores and malls on Black Friday. It showed them combing through newspaper and online ads, making copious notations about where the bargains were, Mapquesting their travel routes and timing their shopping sprees down to the minute, starting at 4am. The only thing that was planned with more attention to detail and meticulous organization was the Allied invasion of Normandy in World War II.

But nearly hidden under all the consumerist hysteria is another story. The first year of Barack Obama's term in office will be over in a little more than a month, and it seems a number of his supporters are starting to feel a little buyer's remorse. Obama was swept into office by a wide-ranging coalition of liberals, progressives, moderates and a whole rainbow of ethnic and racial factions. His message had always been one of change, and he portrayed himself as the agent of that change, an outsider who will come in and throw the status-quo and entrenched special-interests out on their ears. Unfortunately, precious little of the promised change has been delivered.

And now, people are beginning to talk. The progressively-inclined Bill Maher on his HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher, took Obama to task several times for his lack of meaningful progress on front-burner issues like health care, energy policy, and the closing of Guantanamo. Filmmaker Michael Moore, a prominent progressive who has gleefully taken on the gun lobby, the health care industries and George Bush, complained loudly that Obama is following his predecessor and stepping up the war in Afghanistan, and instead of pulling out and bringing the troops home as promised, recently announced plans to deploy 30,000+ more soldiers to that benighted country. And most recently, the excellent writer Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone magazine analyzed the Obama administration's response to the economic meltdown which almost bankrupted this country. Taibbi ruefully points out that the advisors Obama chose to lead the nation out of the current mess were precisely the ones who caused the mess in the first place, and that by itself will guarantee that critically-needed financial reform will be impossible. In fact, laws and regulations are being written right now that will consolidate and institutionalize the power of Wall Street and their stranglehold on Washington.

There are so many dire problems facing us right now, and it's becoming more and more apparent that Obama just is not measuring up to the task. In my opinion a crucial, if not fatal, mistake he made early on was thinking that he was going to somehow convince the Republicans to join him in bipartisan unity and help solve the problems together. One thing he apparently ignored was the fact that the Republicans had nothing to lose after their catastrophic loss in the 2008 elections and had no motivation to pitch in and help. After all, things could not be any worse for them. Obama just doesn't get it - the Republican party has been taken over by the fundamentalists and the conservatives and they never, ever compromise on anything. It's either their way or no way at all, and they are perfectly willing to let the country falter and fail in spectacular fashion if they don't get their way.

Obama has very clearly moved to the center of the political spectrum, hoping that would somehow make him more palatable to the far-right conservatives, but their deep-seated hatred of him and everything he does makes that impossible. Obama has shown a really frustrating willingness to do anything to please people who smile in his face and then turn around and lambaste him on conservative talk radio. What he should have done was slammed the door in the face of the Republican party, and told them when they are willing to come around and stop acting like they're trying to destroy this country, they would be welcomed back. Otherwise, go away and stay away.

There really is a lot at stake right now. If Obama fails and all his major initiatives - health care, financial reform, foreign policy - turn into crap, the Democrats will find themselves exiled into the wilderness by an American electorate who will be fighting mad that they've been sold down the river. They were promised so much in terms of change and got nothing, and they will be pissed. That will open the floodgates for the Mitt Romneys, the Sarah Palins, the Mike Huckabees, the Newt Gingriches, and every other loathsome right-wing creep who will come crawling out of every sewer and cesspool around, all pushing and shoving their way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC.

And that would be the icing on a very big, very disastrous cake.

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