Please drop the “weak Obama” meme

Published online 4 December 2010.

Folks, this is not a winner.  We can’t be arguing that, because Obama hasn’t caved to OUR desires, that there is some sort of personality flaw in him, that he’s “weak” or “cowardly” or whatever.

Please don’t use this meme.  It’s become a dog-whistle.  Discuss policy.  Discuss constructive action.

Millions of people around the world have been hurt by neoliberal policies.  Millions more will be hurt here in the US, because there is no organized opposition to neoliberalism here.  Discuss neoliberalism.

I’m not going to name names, here — but we’ve got people calling the President “cowardly” or “weak” or “confused” or whatever, because the President does not repeal DADT or caves in on health insurance reform or finance reform or the recommendations of the Catfood Commission or on repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy or whatever.  Let’s be clear about that what this meme really means.

The immediate impression is that the accuser has assumed what is to be shown.  “Because Obama does not cave in to MY desires, he must be caving in to the Blue Dogs/ Republicans/ whomever.”  Obama is “weak” because the arguer assumed it beforehand.

Would you like to make a good impression on others who might not necessarily share your outlook on life?  Perhaps you have degrees in psychology and can tell us something new about Obama’s personality?

The “weak Obama” arguments share the flaw I exposed in this diary.  They devolve the discussion unto a divisive critique of personality when real, effective politics takes place in discourse about issues.

The Commander-In-Chief is the most powerful man in the world.  Glenn Greenwald debunked the “weak Obama” meme back in June.  Why repeat it?

Dear debaters of Obama: If you must, please try to stick with policy arguments.  As I said before, in this diary, Obama:

supports the capitalist system at the least appropriate time in history.

Barack Obama is a consummate professional.  He has reached the peak of respectability for his field: becoming President.  His experience as a community organizer is doubtless coming into play in his performance as President.  His resume is vast.  He’s a nice guy, deserving of all of blackwaterdog’s best picture diaries.

His agenda, however, deserves scrutiny.  In the arguments I have been using here, there is a central flaw to this agenda: it promotes neoliberal capitalism in a time in which the contradictions of the capitalist system are widening.  I am not going to get into the reasons why this is so; I’m sure there are good ones.  Here is how I see this playing out:

  • There was a bank bailout that further enriched the rich and finance reform that  won’t stop them from tanking the economy again.  Generally, then, Obama has allowed the producers of money, the banks, to consolidate their hold on the economy (as David Harvey put it).
  • We will see more of an out-of-control military industrial complex as it continues to rain down suffering upon Afghanistan and Yemen and Somalia and Pakistan and wherever else they’re fighting wars and won’t tell us.  Thus the program of global conquest continues, as does the military-industrial complex’s stranglehold upon the Federal budget.
  • Through Congress, Obama brokered the passage of a “health insurance reform” bill which leaves its enforcement provisions up to bankrupt states while imposing (fortunately rather small) mandate penalties on those who refuse to buy.  Here Obama, by cutting deals with the hospitals and the insurers, replaced one insurance game with another.  Now, it is indeed true that there are beneficent aspects to the new PPACA game — the expansion of Medicaid access in 2014 (which may or may not mean actual access to care) comes to mind — but we are still looking at a game in which predatory insurance companies which profit off of denials of access to care are allowed to do so unchallenged by any public option.  This time, moreover, they will be under permanent subsidy from a fund collected through the assessment of various mandate penalties.
  • Obama’s Catfood Commission, which has operated as a disciplinary cudgel against welfare state activism and which will be allowed to influence his 2012 budget proposal.
  • The White House’s insistence on the use of targeted assassinations, indefinite detentions, and so on, as part of the repertoire of an out-of-control military industrial complex.
  • Arne Duncan’s Race To The Top programs, as further giveaways to corporate influence over the schools as it had taken a quantum leap under Bush II.
  • Congress’ failure to even consider abrupt climate change legislation, without really much prodding from the Administration.  One needs to consider in this regard the dire situation which any plan to deal with abrupt climate change will face once the decision has been made to actually do something effective about it.
  • The ineffectiveness of the 2009 stimulus, as a way of establishing 10% unemployment and 20% underemployment as the “new normal.”  This seems in keeping with the revolution of lowered expectations which has transformed the government’s relationship with the public since Reagan.

The history of neoliberalism is detailed in short by many authors, from Levy and Dumenil to Robert Brenner to Harry Shutt to Kees van der Pijl.  They’re all saying the same thing: we now have a system of political economy in which everything else is thrown overboard, piece by piece, to protect the regime of corporate profits in an era in which global growth is in decline.  It’s been this way for 35 years now, and “politics” has become a matter of dog whistles.

Now, to be sure, Obama has done so many things while in office that many of them do indeed help people.  Start with Lilly Ledbetter and credit card reform if you like.  The complaints about Obama, however, all point to one underlying reality — Obama has facilitated the regime of neoliberal governance, with the perpetuation of enormous disparities in wealth that all that implies, and along the historical trajectory of neoliberal decline discussed by the authors listed above.

Don’t kid yourself, people.  We’re going to be struggling with neoliberalism for quite some time to come, as evidenced by the fact that we have done so little about it so far.  We will be busy feeding the hungry, finding shelter for the homeless, and forming local, autonomous, and consensus-based affinity groups to deal with spreading poverty and climate disaster on top of the job flight occuring now due to neoliberal policy.  It will be time to live what we believe.  The corporations will meanwhile be able to buy government for some time to come with their newfound sense of profit.  In the real world of the very near future, then, the neoliberal leadership may help people here and there, perhaps with Obama’s good graces, but they generally won’t interfere with corporate rule or the maintenance of the profit rate (amidst declines in the average growth rate) which had become government’s primary mission in this era (beginning thirty years ago, if not earlier).

Arguing that “Obama is weak” because he won’t do what you want, then, is a denigration of Obama and a misconstruction of his purpose, and a distraction from the real work at hand.  Obama is, moreover, not weak.  It is certainly not for anyone to say, given so small a possibility of a primary challenger, never mind the possibility of a successful one with the audacity to oppose neoliberalism.  Let’s drop the meme, shall we?


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