Obama and the pathologies of American politics

In his first year in office, so far President Obama has shown disheartening continuity with the policies and personnel of his wretched predecessor. There has been no shift in foreign policy, other than a few rhetorical flourishes and small gestures; on the contrary, and for example, see Honduras, and the further American militarization of Colombia has exceeded Bush's imperialism.

At home, the care and feeding of subsidized corporations, of the big banks and Wall Street (whose record profits are back to 2006 levels!), and of the military-industrial-congressional complex retains its priority status. While what has been dashed are the needs, hopes and dreams of ordinary Americans ­— for decent jobs at a living wage and with paid vacations, for universal health care, for quality public education through the highest levels, for adequate affordable housing and, above all, for peace, for a foreign policy that does not privilege war and violence, but rather uses our strength and our highest values in working with other nations to solve our common global challenges.

Clearly, President Obama might have considered other advisers than precisely those whose advice and ideology are responsible for our nation's decline and our people's present sorry state. But, in fact, President Obama shares their views and ideology — this is why he was brought along in his political career and so richly backed during his candidacy, as John McCain enviously noted more than once. Follow the money.

And this brings us to one of the pathologies of American politics. In point of fact, we have a crippled democracy and a constitutional structure and system that effectively stifles and neuters the democratic voice.

Add to these factors the tight ideological control of the corporate mass media over the public mind and over the political agenda, along with the role of campaign contributions — overwhelmingly corporate — and we have a further huge anti-democratic disability. Of course, if we had publicly financed elections and other basic systemic reforms, things could be rather different.

As it is, some fervent supporters of President Obama hope that he will choose to be a one-term president. That is, as commander-in-chief, if he would end our Afghanistan and Iraqi engagements and others, and pull back from our military empire and set a different course for America, at home and abroad, his historical stature would be forever one of greatness.

But, of course, he would also be hounded out of office for being the only president ever to get out of an unwinnable and murderous war. As Garry Wills puts it, "Here is a goal no other president we can imagine would have a possibility of reaching. Presidents who just kick the can down the road are easy to come by. Lost lives and limbs are not" (see Nov. 3 New York Review of Books). Our republic has come to this end: We need an emperor willing (symbolically) to fall on his own sword to save the republic. If President Obama does so, then I will a bit be sorry I did not vote for him. Whatever, global climate catastrophe cannot be kicked down the road. We need a new politics and new political parties — quickly.

Gerald Cavanaugh is a retired professor of history and social theory who has lived in Ashland for 15 years.

Share This Story