Toward the End of Obama-time
The sun will rise next Wednesday on a new American landscape, the same way it rose on a new American landscape almost exactly two years ago.
That was the dawn of Obama-time. Millions of Americans had dined delightedly on Obama's rhetoric of dreams and preened at his homilies about the inherent moral greatness of the American people.
Obama and the Democrats triumphed at the polls. The pundits hailed a "tectonic shift" in our national politics, a registration of the fact that we had entered a "post-racial" era (a black Harvard prof coined that particular absurdity).
The realities of American politics don't change much from year to year. The "politics of division," which Obama denounced, are the faithful reflection of national divisions of wealth and resources, which are wider today than they have been at any time since the late 1920s.
In fact the "dream" died even before Obama was elected in November 2008. Already in September that year, Sen. Obama, like his opponent, Sen. McCain, had voted, at the behest of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson (formerly of Goldman Sachs) and of Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, for the bailout of the banks. Whatever the election result, there was to be no change in the architecture of financial power in America.
Two events are scheduled for next Tuesday. If we are to believe the polls, the voters will install Republicans as the new majority in the House of Representatives. A longer shot — they may even win the Senate.
If that happens, Obama will be in exactly the situation that Bill Clinton found himself on Nov. 9, 1994, the day after the Republicans won control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years.
Also on Tuesday, Bernanke and the Open Market Committee of the Federal Reserve Board will convene in Washington and decide on how much money to create — "quantitative easing" — and hand to the banks in order to lift the country out of a depression that has 30 million Americans either without a job or working part time. Their deliberations will be more consequential, at least in the short term, than the verdicts of the voters in the democratic contest.
The Nov. 2 election will at least settle a simple question: Will the tea party movement, as nutty a bunch as has diverted America since the Goldwater movement of 1964, have any sort of decisive political effect?
So far as the U.S. Senate is concerned, the tea party has been the prime factor in keeping Democrats in certain states in any sort of contention.
Even though persuasive detective work has established that a couple of oil millionaires from Wichita, Kan., the Koch brothers, have been sluicing money into tea party-related political organizations, one could make a convincing case that purely on the basis of cui bono — who stands to gain — the Democrats surely invented the tea party out of whole cloth.
If it weren't for bouncy tea party girl Christine O'Donnell, the Republicans would be counting victory in Delaware as a sure thing.
There are other states — Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Alaska and Kentucky — where Democrats may survive because of whacko performances by their tea party opponents.
If the tea party may yet save the Senate for the Democrats, in House races, its candidates may have had the effect of juicing up Republican voters with their joie de vivre. Contrary to a thousand contemptuous diatribes by Democrats, the tea party is a genuine political movement, channeling the fury and frustration of a huge slab of white Americans running small businesses — what used to be called the petit-bourgeoisie.
Some Democrats may buck the tide. In California, it looks very possible that next January, Jerry Brown will shake Arnold Schwarzenegger's hand and return to the job of governing California, a function he last exercised 27 years ago, in 1983.
If Brown prevails, this will be a huge shot in the arm for those who believe that against all the evidence, American voters can appreciate a candidate who spends $100 million less than his opponent and spent most of the year keeping his mouth shut.
In 1995, Bill Clinton clawed himself out of the political grave by the politics of triangulation — outflanking the Republicans from the right, while retaining the loyalty of his progressive base. Can Obama display the same resourcefulness?
Obama will display similar flexibility. The president's aides are already confiding that the White House will move right. The question is: Will his liberal base tolerate their hero colluding with Republicans in seeking to destroy Social Security and Medicare in the interests of political survival? If that is the course Obama takes, look for a serious challenge to him from another Democrat as we head toward 2012.
Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through www.counterpunch.com. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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