10 July 2008

Pssst! They're still not getting it 'at the top'

Many people outside the United States interpret the Obama presidential bid as an indication that a majority of Americans have finally acknowledged the cruel stupidity of the Bush administration and are determined to improve U.S. relations with the rest of the world. The presidential candidacy of a Black man in a land that enslaved Black people for 250 years is a powerful symbol of redemption for many people. The candidacy of Hillary Clinton, even if she was the wife of former president, was additional symbolic evidence that America had finally seen the light.

Today, almost eight years after “victory” in an election that couldn’t pass international standards, it is painfully evident that the Bush administration used the 9/11 attacks as a green light to unleash the most catastrophic episode of social and political engineering in American history and one from which the national economy may never fully recover. The Republican Party controlled the White House and both houses of Congress for six straight years and had the most acquiescent “opposition party” of the 20th century. The chief executive appointed two new members, including the Chief Justice, to the Supreme Court. The Republicans even have their own broadcasting network, Fox (you’ll notice I avoided using the word news). Yet what successes did they achieve with that unbridled level of power? I challenge any backer of this president to come up with one achievement by this administration, just one, for which there is broad-based public support.

Returning to this country last month after teaching in a Central Asia for two years, I was hoping to see some evidence that the “conservative” voices in the news/entertainment media who blindly backed this administration from one mean-spirited blunder to the next would be scurrying underneath the nearest rock to lick the wounds of their well-deserved shame in silent isolation. Yet the war-mongers, status-quo apologists, the purveyors of hate and fear haven’t skipped a beat. In fact, while Bush is likely on his way out, the paleo-conservatives and neo-conservatives have become the very “mainstream media” they still like to rail against. Last week the windbag Rush Limbaugh was rewarded by Clear Channel Radio with a $400 million contract extension for eight years. Sorry, but you can’t claim to be an outsider with a paycheck of that size.

In the meantime, Obama, who presumptively earned the nomination of his party by claiming to be a departure from the past, has been racing to right as tries to reposition himself as just another politician by, for example, his blind support for Israel, joining in the saber-rattling against Iran, rejecting public campaign financing that he once pledged to abide by, and with his support for a major expansion of the government’s surveillance powers that was championed by none other the George Bush himself. And if that wasn’t enough indication of how little has changed, last week, as Americans collectively agonize over record gasoline prices, Obama engaged in a discussion with GOP candidate John McCain about whether the Congress should approve off-shore oil drilling. Even Pres. Bush, the oil industry’s second best friend after Vice President Cheney, has publicly stated that the United States is “addicted” to oil and that alterative sources must be developed. Obama should have simply dismissed any talk of off-shore oil drilling as more of the same failed policies of the past. He could have shifted the focus by elevating the role conservation can play in reducing our nation’s energy dependency, by proposing to force the automobile industry to implement higher mileage standards, or by taxing the oil industry’s windfall profits as a means to fund alternative energy development. But he didn’t.

There is abundant evidence at the grassroots that Americans want better government and a more just economy, but, sadly, there is precious little indication of that shift at national political levels.