Even before Barack Obama is half way through his second term you can tell how woeful his legacy will be. Thomas Frank in Salon has written a cutting piece Right-wing obstruction could have been fought: An ineffective and gutless presidency’s legacy is a failure mocking the likely highlights of the Obama Presidential Library.
The task of museums, like that of history generally, is to document periods of great change. The task facing the makers of the Obama museum, however, will be pretty much exactly the opposite: how to document a time when America should have changed but didn’t. Its project will be to explain an age when every aspect of societal breakdown was out in the open and the old platitudes could no longer paper it over—when the meritocracy was clearly corrupt, when the financial system had devolved into organized thievery, when everyone knew that the politicians were bought and the worst criminals went unprosecuted and the middle class was in a state of collapse and the newspaper pundits were like street performers miming “seriousness” for an audience that had lost its taste for mime and seriousness both. It was a time when every thinking person could see that the reigning ideology had failed, that an epoch had ended, that the shitty consensus ideas of the 1980s had finally caved in—and when an unlikely champion arose from the mean streets of Chicago to keep the whole thing propped up nevertheless.
The Obama team, as the president once announced to a delegation of investment bankers, was “the only thing between you and the pitchforks,” and in retrospect these words seem not only to have been a correct assessment of the situation at the moment but a credo for his entire term in office. For my money, they should be carved in stone over the entrance to his monument: Barack Obama as the one-man rescue squad for an economic order that had aroused the fury of the world. Better: Obama as the awesomely talented doctor who kept the corpse of a dead philosophy lumbering along despite it all.
Frank makes the case that the impasse in Congress is a convenient excuse for maintaining the status quo.
A man of conviction would have faced his opposition down and appealed directly to the people. The man elected on the hope of millions of Americans and billions worldwide for systemic change in the US and global financial system as well as a change to less arrogance and belligerance in the way the US treated the rest of the world, has delivered nothing.
He has withdrawn troops and replaced them with killer drones and a Tuesday “kill list”; he has not closed Guantanamo; he has persecuted and prosecuted more whistle blowers than anyone before him; he has turned the US intelligence services into an Orwellian information gathering nightmare; he has not prosecuted a single Wall Street CEO and rather than reforming the financial system that bought about the GFC, he has employed the guys that caused it to reboot it in an even more comprehensive “too big to fail” form; he has done nothing to bring Israel to the negotiating table; he continues to support despotic and corrupt regimes all over the world; and his Obamacare health reforms are a shambolic mish mash of half hearted measures miles from the publicly funded health systems of most western countries. But he sure can deliver a nice speech!
No one should be surprised. As anyone in Africa can tell you, being black is no barrier to being populist but screwing over your “brothers”. I linked in a earlier post to a prescient speech by John Pilger in 2009, just after Obama was elected to his first term. In the post I noted;
It would be fair to say many 2008 supporters have been disappointed with how little change there has been under America’s first black President. They shouldn’t have been. All the signs were there that Barrack Obama was far from a reformer or Washington outsider. He has taken more campaign contributions from the financial industry than any other politician in the last 20 years. He went to the same elite Universities, belonged to many of the same clubs as the rest of America’s financial and political elite. To anyone looking objectively at his record, apart from being black, he was as mainstream status quo as they come. Martin Luther King Jr he is not.
One critic of Obama before the 2008 election was veteran journalist and documentary maker John Pilger. It is hard to argue with his analysis of Obama as a runaway marketing success but a real life fake. Yes he has a winning smile, the slow walk, the slow deep voice but what has he accomplished from his list of purported intentions in 2008.
He’s a marketing dream. But like Calvin Klein or Benetton he is a brand that promises something special, something exciting, almost risque, as if he might be radical, as if he might enact change. He makes people feel good. He’s a post modern man with no political baggage. And all that’s fake. – John Pilger 2009
The full speech is below and well worth a listen. The short version is in the earlier post. See too Cornel West’s criticism of Obama over his 2012 swearing in speech using Martin Luther King’s bible. West also refers to Obama as a war criminal.