Obama and the Vision Thing

by A. Jay Adler on October 3, 2011
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New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street in New ...

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The big news of the weekend – bigger than the rise of Pizza Pie Guy in the John Birch Society’s GOP’s hot-air-balloon derby – is the growing rebellion against Wall Street. Occupy Wall Street may have been organized by the vanguard of diffuse, unfocused anarchy-romancing antiestablishmentarians railing against “the system,” but they have been much more disciplined and less destructive than historically (there’s a story in that – what reporter will tell it?) and, most importantly, they have captured a spirit in the land. In addition, less noticeably, the largest state by far in the Union, California, via its attorney general, Kamala Harris, has joined some other important states – New York, Massachusetts, and several others – in withdrawing from the federally-sponsored 50-state effort to negotiate a settlement with banks over foreclosure fraud. The withdrawing states do not want to give the banks a pass on future criminal liability.

In the bank fraud matter, as in some other very large areas, President Obama’s fundamentally moderate nature, his basic establishmentarianism, leads him to fail at some visionary realizations – or makes him, at least, too timid to articulate and pursue them.

Liberal critics of Obama need to remind themselves – passionately – over the next year of just how much is different now from what would have been had Obama not gained the presidency. The Tea Party GOP makes plain how different the country will be if he loses it. He will, in one or two terms, have accomplished genuine and historic liberal aims. But for all his soaring and sometimes billowy rhetoric, he has not, as needs to be done, re-imagined the nation in the post Cold War world.

Obama will have extricated the country from Iraq, and he will have done it responsibly. He has set the stage for, and aggressively pursued, the transition in Afghanistan from counter-insurgency to counter-terrorism. But the right’s blustery advocacy of continued action in those nations is expressive of the greater imperial culture that emerged from the Cold War around the U.S. military presence around the world. No responsible liberal leader (that means, for instance, not Dennis Kucinich) has articulated how the U.S. can maintain a strong military stance against the world’s malevolent forces, yet nonetheless reconfigure and reduce the martial presence in the world that is both a financial drain and inevitably provocative of resentment. Obama has not done it either. In fact, representing the establishment, he has specifically chosen not to pursue a policy of accountability toward those who designed and executed the Bush administration torture regime, which had it been active in any other nation independent of our interests, the U.S. would have condemned.

Obama has similarly chosen not to use the Wall Street-and-government crony-capitalism crisis of 2008 as the event upon which to envision the correction of the three-decade conservative-GOP drive toward American plutocracy. He sought instead, in his more moderate fashion, to save Wall Street in order to save Main Street so that their relationship, rather than collapse, could be maintained in almost precisely the manner it existed before.

The American imperial presence in the world and American plutocracy are what ail the nation. The great leader so many hoped Obama would be – like FDR – would have had this vision and acted it on it. So far, instead, he has been one president among many, liberal, yes, thanks for that, but not transformative, not even in line of sight of the transformation.

If Occupy Wall Street can inspire a liberal, middle-class, and working class uprising – just the uprising, without even a new organization, which the people behind the demonstrations cannot effectively themselves constitute – then Obama may have the chance: he may have a chance to overcome the 2009 summer town hall and Tea Party demonization of him from which he has never recovered. He would have a chance to shape a popular movement into a substantive vision of the future for the nation beyond the rousing speeches. His last opportunity for greatness – and not just, at best, modest policy-wonkish successes – lies in the next year and half, even the next couple of months. After that his time will be past, even really past.

AJA

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