"Shallow Throat": Obama, the GOP and
By Bernard Weiner
Co-Editor, The Crisis Papers
March 24, 2010
With the Democrats running the show, the Republican mole
"Shallow Throat,"** now a high-priced political consultant, is no longer
positioned inside the government, but still has a wide network of
administration and party contacts, especially in the GOP. So using our usual
code, I asked for a meeting to get Shallow Throat's take on what is going on
in Washington a little more than a year after the new president was
As we walked on a shade-covered path near Bethesda, I said: "You know, the
same pattern tends to repeat itself when a non-insider becomes president,
such as a governor or one-term senator: As new occupants of the White House,
they tend to get rolled by the beltway elites until they figure out how
things work and how they want to combat that system to make it work for
them. It looks like Obama and his advisors have finally started to figure it
out, after a pretty rocky and uncertain first year."
"If you're referring to the health-care bill," said Shallow Throat, "one can
observe a lot from Obama's trajectory over the past 14 months.
Unfortunately, being a frightened centrist, he felt he needed 'cover'. And
so he tried for much too long -- maybe six to eight months too long -- to
lure some Republicans to his side. He refused to admit, until nearly too
late, that they'd already placed all their chips on taking him down,
breaking him, and nothing he could do or say to them would yield him what he
"Obama also took a page from Bill Clinton's playbook, and gave away the
store before the congressional battle even began. In order to get something,
anything, resembling serious reform, Obama made his secret deals with Big
Pharma, the hospitals, the insurance companies, and so on. The whole
health-care food chain was bought off to either gain their support or to
mute their criticisms. They will continue to rake in humongous amounts of
profit under the new system, so they're not all that unhappy."
THE POTOMAC VIRUS
"Why did Obama feel he needed to do that, especially so early?" I asked.
"For example, he took the 'public option' off the table while he was still
leading on his base for many months that he was all for it. That took the
heart out of the competitive aspect of the bill since there would be no
incentive for insurance companies to reduce their rates. And, I can tell you
from me and my friends that his sell-out on the public option took our
hearts out of wanting to be active in supporting this badly watered-down and
Shallow Throat gave me The Look I've come to know so well, the one that
suggests conversation with a political numbskull. "Look, Bernie, when Obama
entered the White House in January 2009, he realized he had been presented
with an economy on the brink of catastrophe. (There was even some suspicion
that the disaster might have been deliberate.) The whole thing could slide
over the cliff. Philosophically he may not have wanted to, but he found
himself with no wiggle room except to continue the Bush bailout policies and
to appoint experts complicit in the economic meltdown. This was a bad sign
of his willingness to go along to get along. He was getting suctioned into
the Beltway Bubble, was catching the Potomac disease. Make no waves, keep
the power brokers on your side, you might need them on other issues later.
"To Obama and his campaign advisors facing this formidable political power
leviathan in Washington, it looked as if they could never get a health-care
plan of any sweep. Obama had been hailed as a potential 'transformational
president" and here he was bogged down with CheneyBush economic policies and
foreign policy disasters. On top of that, the Republicans and their
even-further-right allies were attacking every day on every thing he said,
everything he did, and mostly attacking on things he didn't say or do --
just lies and hyperbole and destructive spin."
SELLING OUT THE "PUBLIC OPTION"
"So, put yourself in his place, thinking you might never get a second term
and a chance to climb out from the disaster pit your predecessor left you in
unless you were able to accomplish at least one major item on your agenda.
Health care was that do-or-die item, at least a chance to get the
controversial issue of national health-care reform inside the tent of
respectability, which would provide a place to build from in future years.
"Obama and his main advisers (read: Rahm) believed the public would never
accept single-payer or public option. This was a bad misreading of the
public mood, as either of those, especially the latter, could have been sold
had they had the courage and will to do so. Instead, Obama chose to make his
shadow deals with the health-care oligarchs, keep those secret arrangements
out of the conversation, and get what he could get. The result is the
jerry-rigged bill that is now the law of the land, achieved (just barely) at
a very high price."
I responded: "Are you saying that Obama is really far more progressive than
we think but was reined in by Rahm and the others? That he otherwise would
have been much more willing to take on the forces of true power in D.C. and
the country? I sincerely doubt it; he's a creature of those very forces."
"No," said Shallow Throat. "What I am saying is that you and your liberal
friends would have done well to remember that Obama is not an ideologue and
never has been. He's a pragmatist. He'll sacrifice a lot, compromise a lot,
give his base the back of his hand, to get something vaguely in the
direction he'd like to go. The ultimate incrementalist. That's the irony of
the GOP screaming that his health-care reform bill is 'socialist' and
'tyrannical"' and 'Nazicommie." It's the usual weak Obama middle-of-the-road
mish-mash. What terrifies the GOP leaders is that, as the program unfolds,
everyone will see how non-threatening it is and turn on the Republicans for
lying to them and taking them down the road to defeat and irrelevance."
GOP CONTINUES THE BIG-POT GAMBLE
"One would think that maybe the GOP leaders would have learned to bend just
a little bit as a result of this major defeat," I said, "but for whatever
reason, they've decided to stagger on in the same self-defeating mode."
"You gotta think like they think, Bernie," said Shallow Throat, "not how
you'd like them to think. So they've got no positive program, no ideas the
public really wants to accept; that's all true. But they also came just
inches away from breaking Obama and the Democrats with their policy of
obstructionism, demagoguery, outright lies, stirring up the militias and Tea
Party rabble. Why shouldn't they go all in, to use the betting terminology?
"In addition, they're anticipating huge gains in the November election,
maybe even taking over the House again. Why shouldn't they just continue
doing what they're doing?: More crazy talk from their shock troops (Beck,
Limbaugh, Palin, Hannity, Coulter, Savage, Malkin, Bachman, et al.) More
demagoguery from the Congressional Hard Rightists. More incitement of the
militias and Tea Party types, you never know what might happen.
"Besides, you're missing the point. If you can't assume power until sometime
down the line, you mess up the other guy's game so that he can't govern.
Remember? The Republicans did that to Bill Clinton; if they had been lucky
enough to convict him in the Senate, great. But by impeaching him they had
accomplished their main goal of breaking whatever momentum Clinton had and
made sure he couldn't be an effective president. Obama is the current
target. Mess him up, cripple his programs, refuse his nominees, drown him in
major and petty complaints and smears, take him to court, whatever. If and
when he falters, push him into the mud and make sure he stays there."
RIDING THE EXTREMIST TIGER
"And is that where he was supposed to be," I asked, "as a result of his
anticipated defeat on health-care reform?"
"Exactly," said Shallow Throat. "That was to be the first foundational stone
to be removed; the rest would follow. Now I have no idea if his health-care
reforms and savings will pan out over time -- my guess is that many of them
won't. But that wasn't the point. It was the spear thrown into the
Obama/Democratic gears that was at issue. Even you disgruntled, angry
lefties eventually came around and supported the bill; you finally saw that
health-care reform had become the central battleground and that if the Dems
lost on this one issue, you all would have lost a lot more than that.
Besides, the principle of a right to decent health-care is now inside the
tent of normal politics, and more progressive changes can be made over the
"Provided, that is, you survive, and can figure out a way to properly frame
the extremist Republican shitstorm that's coming your way. And whether and
when the Republicans get eaten by the violent, dangerous tiger they're
riding that they've called into existence."
And with that, Shallow Throat ran out of the park, leaving me there
pondering what I think was Good News mixed in with some Very Bad.
Copyright 2010 by Bernard Weiner
**To read more 2002-2009 conversations
with the Shallow Throat character,
Bernard Weiner, a poet/playwright and Ph.D. in government & international
relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked
as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for two decades, and
currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org).