Where it all went wrong

Well, here we are. The third July 4 of the Obama Administration. Crazy people talked of as potential presidents. Less than a month away from the first default in US history (an act of both economic and moral bankruptcy). And how is the first “liberal” (nay, Socialist!) president since LBJ handling it?

The President has stayed true to his political philosophy: Split the baby!

In Gustave Doré’s illustration, King Solomon stops the policy before the baby was split. Mark Halperin would probably call him a “dick.”

This “philosophy” which is the rallying cry of Washington “pundits” (who remain steadfastly “moderate” so that they will lose as little readership or as few sources as possible for writers who have nothing to say) is a misreading of a Biblical story. I frankly give these people credit by calling it a misreading. They have as small a ratio of input to output as can be expected from people who are paid for operating a keyboard. Most of that input, by the way, is simply acquired by “CTRL + c” en route to “CTRL + v.” No neural networks are disturbed in the process.

In the Biblical story, however, the wise King Solomon resolves a dispute between women claiming to be the mother of a certain baby by ordering it to be split and part given to each one. And here’s the tricky part for those who espouse the “split the baby” philosophy: Solomon ordered it not to have the baby split, but rather to find out who the true mother was. And it worked. And the baby was not split! And a “just” decision (imagine that concept!) was arrived at.

But this is all too subtle for those whose cell phone vibrates while they chat with other pundits and play on their Blackberry. So the story is understood superficially.

It’s a good thing these public intellectuals are unfamiliar with Ancient Greek stories. Otherwise, the streets would probably run with blood.

But why would the President and his advisers care one whit what these thinkers write? No one else does. (Each other excepted, of course. They drone on as part of a hive, after all.)

Evidently—and this took me quite a while to get my head around as well—they actually care about what these people think! It hurts their feelings when David Brooks says bad things, however qualified and convoluted, about them. They have framed pictures of the late David Broder on their desks. Mark Halperin cut them deeply this week. They fear that Ross Douthat might include in his next book about what he thought when chicks were throwing themselves on him at Harvard something they did while high at a party. In short, they desperately want to be considered “reasonable” and “moderate” by those who regularly have their thoughts, such as they are, displayed in the pages of The New York Times, the Washington Post, Time Magazine and The Atlantic (not to mention cable news, and, frankly, let’s not). Better a thousand torturers walk free than they be considered “partisan.” These moderates, after all, are writing the first draft of history.

From Right to Far Right: Moderates like John King define the middle: Blackberry or iPod? Great taste or less filling? Cyanide or wrist slash?

Funny I should mention torturers this Fourth. Last week, the Justice Department announced that of the hundreds of persons involved in the Bush Administration’s regime of international torture in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, Eastern Europe and who knows where else (assisted by totalitarian regimes throughout the world), only two cases will be investigated for violations of basic laws of human rights. George W. Bush openly admitted that he ordered torture; and as a result can no longer set foot in a civilized country. Dick Cheney taunted the Obama Administration to prosecute him. He, like the rest of the regime of war criminals, are now free to strut their contempt for international law, as long as they stay in the land of the free.

But this is old news. We live under a regime that believes the President can order the assassination of an American citizen, which not only endorses the torture of dissidents before trial but disposes of those who criticize the policy, and will go down in history as “solving” our security problem the same way the police acting for the Bureau of Indian Affairs “solved” the Sitting Bull problem. This is a President who defines “hostilities” in the War Powers Act as excluding the use of drone missiles. Even though drone missiles are now are chief weapon when we are engaged in authorized “hostilities.”

I have to admit I strongly supported this man two and a half years ago for two reasons. One, he studied constitutional law at Harvard and went on to lecture on the subject. Two, as a Columbia undergraduate he must have read Aeschylus (it being part of the required core humanities program). I must now sadly admit that a person can do both of those things (or at least the Gilberts and Cliff Notes version of them) and remain morally bankrupt.

But that’s old news. Past war crimes by this and the previous administrations are, by definition, past. It’s time to move on. We elected a man who promised change not to look back, but to look forward.

What about domestic affairs? This President was going to bring change we can believe in. So, on the impending default front, is he going to defend the liberal victories of the last half of the Twentieth Century? The short answer is, no. Everything must be on the table to obtain the borrowing resolution to support the budget that the Congress passed and the President signed (in a substantially reduced form).

But surely the President put up the good fight. Just like he did when the Bush tax cuts were about to expire. Or when the budget resolution was going to fail.

The answer is, just like those cases. If the President was “negotiating” to save the budget he signed, he did it in the strangest of ways. The President must know by now that to negotiate with the Republicans, the party of the extreme right, the party that has vowed to bring him down, he is negotiating with crazies. They begin with the most extreme position and hope to get as much as possible in compromise. The President should know this. It’s how it’s been since his first effort: the stimulus package where he agreed to the GOP demand for tax cuts as well as spending. And when they got what they wanted, they voted against it anyway.

So how does the President negotiate with these crazies to avert the first default in US history? Like in all other cases, he begins by meeting them more than half way. Then he will negotiate further to the right. His starting position was to closed the gap with 3-to-1 in spending cuts to tax increases. After two years he doesn’t learn, you say? No, this is in fact the core of  Obama “policy.” According to the Los Angeles Times: “Administration officials defend that move, saying the president began discussions at what one senior official called a ‘realistic starting point,’ not one designed to maximize his bargaining position.” Why would he want to “maximize his bargaining position”? It’s not like Medicare, Social Security or any other part of the soon to be unravelled social net in this country is worth a piffle compared to a rich man’s margin tax rate. What is good for the American people is not the outcome, of course, but that this President look “reasonable” to the beltway pundits.

So, what can an American patriot conclude on this Fourth of July? It appears that we have a President who is far to the right of the Bush Administration on matters of national security and war making and at best ineffectual on domestic and economic matters. It is likely, however, given the domestic and economic team he selected that he loses no sleep over the loss of Medicare, Social Security and other social net programs. The important thing is that he stands in the middle, however far to the right that keeps moving, given his own style.

We will shortly see a half century of progress evaporate, not because the right-wing won, but because we were fooled into trusting our future to a politician with no moral center. And his greatest argument for re-election will be that he is slightly better than the people he negotiates with.

Happy Independence Day. If you read the Declaration today, make sure you skip over some of the items in the bill of particulars: they will remind you too much of modern “centrist” policy.

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