Barack Obama has a vision for a changed politics, honoring a preacher John McCain might have chosen with the opening prayer for his inauguration. This is his way of reaching out to all Americans, reaching out to wary Republicans while leaving many of his supporters behind. This is standard old Democratic big tent politics, no great change in policy here. No hesitation to flout international law by bombing Pakistan, not just the requisite dose of bellicose rhetoric for the campaign. Smarting Republicans will not be easily charmed, nor those who supported Obama reluctantly, not their first choice. Sometimes the tent is too big, when efforts to straddle the elusive center matter more than its principles.
Change is coming, but who will benefit? In the name of economic hardship everyone will be asked to sacrifice, but that is not facing the real issues. The model of economics underlying modern capitalism is rabidly self-destructive. This latest bubble bursting was not so hard to predict. Obama has better plans, such as open government, lifting the abortion gag rule, more emphasis on diplomacy and alliances, more careful treatment of prisoners of war, first steps toward nuclear disarmament and a more sustainable way of life, a White House Council on Women and Girls, a White House organic garden, various other reforms, not trifles but nothing radical or unexpected. It remains to be seen what actions will spring from those plans. Among his bad plans are:
Expanding the war on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Taking his time winding down the war on Iraq. Defending Israeli and US war crimes, flouting international law. Stressing patriotism and maintaining military supremacy, claiming our way of life gives USA the moral high ground to project power around the world . Expanding the armed forces and NATO. Clean coal. Any role for nuclear power other than rapid phaseout. Faith-based initiatives. Abstinence as part of sex education, and new restrictions on abortions under mental distress. Promoting agrofuels and genetically engineered crops. Throwing good money after bad, keeping bankrupt crooks afloat. Using any of those extreme executive powers seized by Bush and Cheney with the Patriot Act and its follow ups, while letting them off the hook for their crimes. Promoting reversion to Clinton policies and people as the change we need. Promoting triangulation, selling out core constituencies, as continuity and bipartisanship. Promoting a food safety bill that as written, could ruin small and organic farmers by requiring them to take safety measures prompted by reckless agribusiness practices. Most of these bad plans were readily predictable, within the first weeks of his term.
Among many better plans he will not take on:
Reducing military spending to a minimum necessary to end all occupations, close or turn over all foreign bases, clean up the toxic messes the military-industrial complex has left in its wake, provide a realistic defense against potential invasion, get an international campaign going to decommission all nuclear weapons, research facilities, and power plants, and other indefensible weapons and research programs. Substantial luxury taxes on socially costly indulgences, such as junk food, tobacco, alcoholic beverages and other recreational drugs, unsupportive shoes, cosmetics and cosmetic surgery, unnecessary toxicity or pollution, sexist imagery, resource hogging, solely speculative transactions. Firing Jon Favreau, chief Obama speechwriter featured in a picture on Facebook of his gleeful mug and another Obama staffer groping a Hillary Clinton mockup. Firing the lot of military industrial friendly bureaucrats Obama picked to implement his plans. Abolishing slavery of all kinds, including sexual, and making it an important human rights issue around the world. Abolishing poverty by funding appropriate shelter, nutrition, health care, rehabilitation, education, day care for everyone who wants or needs it, so nobody has to remain stuck in a bad job, relationship, or sexual slavery to survive. Teaching boys thoroughly there is nothing salutary, manly, or legal about raping, battering, harassing, or buying women as part of comprehensive sex education. Banning dress codes requiring women to wear cosmetics or constricting or revealing clothing. Abolishing genetic engineering and cloning, at least outside the laboratory, as examples of science going too far, violating the precautionary principle. Getting toxic chemicals out of food, water, air as fast as possible. Stop subsidizing big agribusiness. Stop logging old growth and using wood for purposes where substitution is easy, such as paper. Nullify the free trade agreements, World Trade Organization, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Federal Reserve Bank. Forget about biofuels, from corn or high tech. The focus on embryonic stem cells is misplaced, since other sources are more promising and less trouble. The focus on prescription drugs is misplaced, since other means are often more promising and less trouble. The focus on metaphorical wars is worse than misplaced, but expected of leaders of an empire.
Examples of misplaced focus abound, since the economic model is corrupted at its source by its assumptions about the value and meaning of hierarchy, capital, competition, incorporation, life itself. Capitalism has long been not about free markets or competition, but has devolved into bailing out insolvent companies too big to fail. That such could exist violates the principle of a competitive free market. The system is not even true to its own principles, let alone principles that affirm life, but will be defended to the last breath by the new leadership as well as the old. The system has revealed its fatal core rot. Let the institutions that deserve to fail die by their sword, unbridled debt and undeserved abusive power. There could be fulfilling work for all, but not under these fundamentally messed up conventional models.
Priorities as well as values and principles of those models are all backwards, designed and working to preserve power and privilege, not for common people. Obama will try to have it both ways, but his plans are too little, too late to do much about this mess. He thinks part of the answer is people acting more responsibly. This has some relevance, but the models underlying the way of life he touts as needing no apology encouraged rich people acting irresponsibly to get the world economy into this bind, inventing vehicles for reckless speculation fueled by cheap debt. Breaking up all the companies too big to fail might seem inconceivable, but it was not so long ago that these were denounced as monopolistic, and forced to split into multiple companies. Antitrust legislation was passed for good reasons, though enforcement has been lax, as a rule. Corporations used to be set up for specific purposes requiring a pool of capital. The idea of a corporate bottom line of short-term profit is among modern corruptions that make such a mockery of competitive free enterprise and fair play.
Those ideals Obama touts so proudly are sullied by blood. Some of that blood is already on his hands, authorizing full speed ahead on the Pakistan front, and hardly a word of protest at the rampage in Gaza. Democrats run scared from the soft on terror label, showing why the nation will not regain the moral high ground it squandered after blowback struck home. Obama was the last hope of Pakistanis to avoid confrontation over the raids, but he wasted no time dashing that, leaving the people of Pakistan to wonder how much worse could things get now that their neighbor and its people hiding in Pakistan are to be the central front of the war. It seems people in Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are still fair game for the war on terror, because they are sheltering terrorists, and who knows what Obama will do about Iran when his vaunted tough diplomacy gets nowhere. Is this a war on terror, or of terror? Is this a vision for healing, or is that just a mirage created by a master of illusion? Obama exudes confidence his plans will work. If they accomplish anything, it will be when the business cycle has run its course, or when he is forced by harsh reality to give radical ideas a chance.
Competition for dominance was bound to produce bad consequences, because it is a distorted fundamental value of warlike cultures. It may seem innocuous if one does not think too hard about it. Competition could be about other things, like being the best one can be, providing a better product or service, finding a better way to do or look at anything, honing a skill or talent, building on what works to make it better, and so on. In and of itself, competition is not a bad thing, but warlike culture makes it vicious, cutthroat, cannibalistic, dog eat dog, racist, me first and the hell with whoever or whatever gets in the way, men feeling entitled to rape, assault, harass, devalue, and buy women. The concept of power is closely tied to this valuation of dominance. Power over others is a heady emotion, enabling the atrocities of war and all sorts of other symptoms of this rotten culture, though its practitioners prattle endlessly on their good intentions. Power that empowers is internal, creative, inspiring, passionate, furiously resisting abuse of power. This kind of power is out of political power, but would turn politics as we know it on its head. People with integrity of character and vision could do that, but politics as we know it rejects them as idealistic impractical radicals whose ideas are ivory tower utopian fantasies that could never work. Instead politics presents mainstream versions of pragmatism, conventional wisdom, which can only appear to work through illusions and bubbles, motivated by fear and greed. Where is the sense of perspective in that, looking out for future generations? Unfortunately politicians have learned how to fake concern about the future to convince people how much they care. It remains to be seen what Obama will try, but his initial forays to deal with this colossal mess he inherited are surface treatment desperation measures cloaked in a cool confident manner, as if confidence in him could be the new bubble to obscure what really must be worked through.