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"Shallow Throat": Is Obama Turning Into Bush Lite?

By Bernard Weiner
Co-Editor, The Crisis Papers

May 27, 2009

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Maybe this happens to you, too. You go away on vacation for a few months, come back and sort through your snail/email and back copies of magazines and 'net stories, only to find that a good share of the mail is third-class junk/spam and not all that much has changed in the news.

That's the way I feel these days. After pumping out about 300 essays since 9/11, recently I took a three-month leave from regularly publishing political analyses in order to reconnect with other aspects of my life, in particular to focus on three major creative projects: a new play (in February), a photo exhibit of new work (April), and a music concert based on my poetry (May).

Now I'm back, sort of, only to find that much of the political news remains the same as when I took my creative break: Obama is maintaining his high national approval ratings as he moves his agenda forward, the clueless Republicans continue as little more than the obstructionist Party of No. But there were some shiftings beginning to happen in Washington that I didn't fully understand.

So I arranged a meeting with "Shallow Throat" -- the moderate Republican mole formerly high up in the Bush Administration, who had been such a helpful source in the past** -- hoping that the blanks in my knowledge while I was absent from the political scene for three months could be filled in. We met at a noisy end-of-the-Metro-line café.

"So much of what President Obama is doing is right on track with the good things he promised to do during the campaign," I said, "so I am mystified why, in the past few months, he has moved away from other important positions he took as a candidate on a wide variety of subjects: canceling the promised release of more torture photos, defending CheneyBush's 'state secrets' positions in court, ratcheting up the war in Afghanistan big time, agreeing to 'military commissions' for show trials of terror suspects, keeping the murders of interrogated detainees out of the news, continuing the "renditions" program, allowing for "permanent incarceration" of top terrorist suspects, etc. etc. All of this caving to rightist positions makes him look like a typical political chameleon or, worse still, a hypocrite, or even worse, not much better than Bush Lite."

"I gather," said ST, "that you're talking about his willingness to give Bush and Cheney and the crew a total walk on their unconstitutional behavior and on their war-crimes, and even to repeat some of those deviations from American values. It seems that you and your liberal friends believe that on these issues he is selling out his principles and his base."


"Exactly," I replied. "The law is explicit: If you know of a felony (such as state-sponsored torture) and refuse to report it to the appropriate authorities for action, or impede investigations by covering up the evidence, you can be charged as an accessory after the fact in those crimes -- domestically and in international courts. I still support Obama and the great bulk of what he's trying to do domestically, but I need to try to understand why on earth Obama is behaving this way. Hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of the lies, deceptions and illegal activities of the previous administration, and Obama, by doing nothing, is letting them all walk away from their crimes, setting a terrible precedent for more law-breaking by future presidents and their underlings."

"Well," said Shallow Throat, "since I'm not in the Obama Administration, I'm sure I know less than your Democrat friends in power. But I've got some reasonable speculations based on the scuttlebutt I'm picking up and my own sense of how the Beltway operates.

"First of all, it's essential to realize that Obama is not an ideologue. He has ideals and goals, to be sure, but as you yourself wrote repeatedly during the campaign, he's mostly a pragmatist with some liberal leanings. As a realist, he knows there is a big difference between the nation at large, where he and his programs are massively popular, and the D.C. island, where his policies have to battle the dragons of big-money/corporatist interests and win approval in a Congress beholden to those interests.

"Obama knows he can't do it all, can't fix the economy and everything else as well, in one fell swoop. He wants to get a few major initiatives enacted into law during these first two years -- health-care reform, for sure -- and he needs some Republican votes. So he's, in effect, trying to take national-security concerns out of the equation -- torture, war-crimes, terrorism, military tribunals, surveillance -- in order to smooth the way toward passage in Congress of his major agenda items. He isn't kidding when he says he doesn't want his first term to get bogged down by turning to time- and energy-consuming investigations into the nefarious crimes of the Cheney/Bush-era.

"But Obama simply doesn't yet understand how things work in Washington. The partisan politics of any situation will always out -- starting with damaging leaks -- especially so in a situation where the opposition, in this case the Republicans, is looking for anything to wound and take down Obama and the Democrats. Hell, they've already announced their opposition to his nominee to the Supreme Court and that person hasn't even been named yet! And they are ratcheting up attacks on Obama and his proxies, or are trying to, on national-security issues."


"That's what I don't get," I said. "What can the Republicans hope to gain by playing this obstructionist game and by using the despised, half-mad Dick Cheney as their spokesman? Surely, they read the polls. The American people are not buying the extreme politics those guys are selling. So why wouldn't the Republicans make some alterations in their leadership and policies and move more toward the center?"

"You are so naive sometimes, Bernie," said Shallow Throat. "My party, still under the control of the extremist Neanderthals, is buying time, bolstering their base, while waiting (and working) for Obama to fail. The leaders of the party, who enjoyed the perqs of power for the past eight years, are not about to give them up without a fight. They still think their brand of 'pure' conservatism can climb back into power in the foreseeable future, maybe as early as 2010. So, they're continuing the politics of destruction, of obstructionism, more sliming of their opposition as the 'Democrat Socialist Party,' for example.

"They're willing to take the hit for seeming stupidly partisan now, in the hope that when Obama stumbles and falls -- perhaps when the unemployment and credit and foreclosure situations are bad enough next year to cause a genuine Depression -- the public will lose its enchantment for the guy, and, with no other viable alternative out there on the horizon, the voters will turn back to the Republicans for stability and prosperity and 'tough love'. That's why the GOP leadership has no room under their restricted tent for us moderate conservatives. That clown at the head of our party, Michael Steele, says he welcomes everyone into the Republican Party, including us moderates, as long as we don't try to change it. That's the idiotic point of view of our GOP leaders these days. I'm embarrassed for our party every time Cheney and Limbaugh and Gingrich and Boehner and Steele open their mouths."


"The other side of that issue," I said, "is that Obama is being pummeled by forces within his own party by Blue Dog Democrats and so-called 'moderate' Dem Senators and House members. If they all stood together against the Republicans, more could get done faster. But, regardless of what their personal motives and ambitions might be, they are effectively acting in concert with the Republicans in messing up Obama's momentum and policies, the result of which is that little of moment gets done. Yes, we can't."

"And," said Shallow Throat, taking a swig of a Dos Equis, "the result of this behavior by the likes of Bayh and Lieberman and Baucus and the rest in the Senate, and the Blue Dogs in the House, is to join Limbaugh and Gingrich and Boehner and that baggage-laden crew in trying to ensure that Obama does not succeed with any major initiative. Reminds one of Will Rogers' famous statement: 'I'm not a member of any organized party. I'm a Democrat'."

"OK," I replied, "Let's suppose that you're right about Obama's motivation for pulling back on so many hot-button national-security issues in order to smooth the way to get his health-care reforms and other such legislation through Congress. What does such behavior bring him? It seems clear to me that no matter what Obama does in the way of intended mollification of the GOP, the Republicans, having no positive programs to offer, are going to attack him brutally anyway; he might as well fight for what he really believes in, yes?"

ST smiled. "Millions of you liberals went into the presidential campaign thinking you had a progressive ally in Obama. You raised your expectations of him so high because you wanted to believe that at last, some real structural changes would be made once he got to the White House. I hope you now are coming to realize that Obama is in no way interested in upsetting the elite forces in place. Just look at his embrace and protection of the very financial institutions that took the economy into the toilet, and his acceptance of the neo-cons' American exceptionalist foreign/military policy.

"In short, Obama is no revolutionary, no anti-capitalist, no verbal bomb-thrower -- even if the far-right chooses to label him and his policies 'socialist' and 'Nazi-like' and 'communist' and so on; that's how desperate they are to find some awful epithet that will stick and drag him down. No, he's just a politician, one whose heart may be in the right place on a good many issues, but willing to sell out his grandmother (and his liberal base) if he has to in order to get a few decent pieces of legislation passed and another term in office."


"So what would you advise progressive Democrats and moderate Republicans to do?" I asked. "Neither one seems able to affect the course of their party's leaders. And so nothing much changes in America, and the forces in control of the status quo continue to prevail. Having lost a good share of their retirement funds, maybe even their jobs and homes, more people will grow disenchanted about the possibility for meaningful change in this country, grow tired of the usual partisan games and corruptions, and will drop out of the political process of democracy with a 'curse on both their houses' mentality. Anger, despair, frustration will grow. Whether that translates into violent, proto-revolutionary opposition is unclear."

"I can speak to the moderate-Republican part of that question," said Shallow Throat. "Our course must be to build up our alliances and forces and hope that the self-destruction of the GOP continues so that if the Republicans once again lose the national election in 2010, the extremists will be forced out and we can re-assume control of our party. Our moderate center-right policies, devoid of all the extremist rhetoric, will look attractive once more to a huge swatch of the American public -- independents, moderate former Democrats, libertarians, conservative-but-not-crazy-conservative Republicans."

"But," I responded, "your plan only works if after yet another humiliating defeat at the polls in 2010, the GOP leaders either resign or are pushed out by you moderate conservatives. What if they simply continue to hold on and rule in their self-destructive way?"

"I'd say if things don't change for the better after the midterm election in 2010, then we moderate Republicans will be in pretty much the same situation that you progressive Democrats might be in as well: disenchanted with your party leaders, that is to say Obama and Reed and Pelosi and Rahm catering to the powerful corporatist elites who benefit from the status quo and are not likely to make substantive changes to help out ordinary citizens.

"It might well be time for a mass withdrawal from the traditional two parties and the founding of a true and powerful big-tent populist third party, one that could attract a huge upswelling of support from a wide variety of sources from both left and right. If 2012 is the right time to run such an insurgent third-party candidacy, one with the real possibility of winning (or, at the least, picking up 35% or more of the vote), the time to start thinking seriously about such a prospect is fast approaching.

"But, for many, it's way too early to make any serious moves in that direction as both the moderates in the GOP and the progressives in the Democratic Party seem still willing to fight for dominance/powerful influence within their respective parties. Not until they are humiliatingly unsuccessful will they be open to the idea of jumping ship and planting the seeds for a grassroots campaign to create a viable third party.

"Until then, prepare for some uplifting victories and many distressing defeats." And with that, Shallow Throat left the cafe, leaving me with a hard pit in my stomach as I contemplated what I'd just heard.

**To read earlier conversations with the Shallow Throat character, go here.


Copyright 2009, by Bernard Weiner


Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington State, 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). To comment: crisispapers@hotmail.com .



Crisis Papers editors, Partridge & Weiner, are available for public speaking appearances