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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Leading From the Back

Obama Accepts 21st Century View of Gay Marriage

In the BDSM world the phrase “topping from the bottom” means conditional submission: when the sub questions or disobeys the instructions of his or her dom. Subverting the submissive role defeats the whole purpose of a BDSM relationship; it is thus frowned upon.

President Obama frequently engages in the political equivalent: leading from the back.

True leaders lead. They declare what society needs and tells it what it should want. Leaders anticipate what is possible. They open the space where long-held dreams intersect with current reality, allowing progress. “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail,” Emerson advised.

The role of a leader has been clearly defined since the first time a member of a clan convinced his tribe they should follow him if they wanted to find more food. So why has it been so long since we Americans had real one?

In recent decades we have had two kinds of political leaders, bullies and followers. Beginning with Nixon but more so with Reagan and George W. Bush, Republican presidents have been bullies. Unwilling or unable to achieve the consensus of the majority for their radical agendas, they got what they wanted by any means necessary—corrupting the electoral process, lying, smearing opponents, and fear-mongering.

The Democrats—Carter, Clinton, and Obama—have been followers, and thus far less effectual. Leaders from the back.

Carter was the proto-triangulator, tacking right as a hawk on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iran hostage crisis, while ignoring his liberal supporters. Clinton famously relied on toe-sucking Machiavellian pollster Dick Morris to develop stances and market memes that synced up exactly with public opinion on micro mini wedge issues. Both men left office without any major accomplishments—unless you count their sellouts to the Right (beginning “Reagan”‘s defense build-up, NAFTA, welfare reform).

Obama’s decision to come out in favor of gay marriage is classic Morris-style “leading from the back.”

“Public support for same-sex marriage is growing at a pace that surprises even professional pollsters as older generations of voters who tend to be strongly opposed are supplanted by younger ones who are just as strongly in favor,” notes The New York Times. “Same-sex couples are featured in some of the most popular shows on television, without controversy.”

No wonder: the latest Pew Research poll shows that 47 percent of voters support gay marriage, versus 43 percent against. (Among swing voters—of more interest to the Obama campaign—support is 47-to-39 percent in favor.)

“I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage,” Obama said days before the 2008 election. At that time, Americans were running 40-to-56 percent against allowing same-sex couples to wed.

I can’t read his mind, but I bet Obama was OK with gay marriage in 2008. Like most other educated people. Cynically and wrongly, he sided with anti-gay bigots because he thought it would help him win.

The president’s change of ideological heart was painfully awkward. “I have hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient,” he told ABC. “I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people the word ‘marriage’ was something that invokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth.”

But now that’s changed, he said. “It is important for me personally to go ahead and affirm that same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

If Obama was a real leader, he wouldn’t care about offending “a lot of people”—i.e., right-wing homophobes. He would have gotten out front of the issue four years ago, when it mattered. The truth is, Vice President Joe Biden’s unscripted remarks a few days ago forced the issue.

Maybe Biden has the makings of a leader.

Six states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay weddings. True, the president’s statement may hasten the demise of the vile Defense of Marriage Act, which blocks federal recognition of gay marriage (and which Obama’s Justice Department defended in June 2009). But it comes too late to be meaningful.

Gay marriage was a historical inevitability before Obama spoke.

That hasn’t changed.

“For thousands of supporters who donated, canvassed and phone-banked to help elect Barack Obama, this is a powerful reminder of why we felt so passionately about this president in the first place,” said Michael Keegan, president of People for the American Way, a pro-Democratic Party interest group.

Maybe so. I don’t see it that way. I see a nation that led itself on this issue. The public debated and thought and finally, at long last, concluded that gays and lesbians deserve equal treatment before the law.

Obama didn’t lead us. We led him.

So tell me—what good is he, exactly?

(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Democrats Occupy Occupy

MoveOn Co-opts OWS Rhetoric, Dilutes Its Message

If Democrats were doing their jobs, there wouldn’t be an Occupy movement.

The last 40 years has left liberals and progressives without a party and working people without an advocate. The party of FDR, JFK and LBJ abandoned its principles, embracing and voting along with Reagan and two Bushes. Clinton’s biggest accomplishments, NAFTA and welfare reform, were GOP platform planks. These New Democrats were indistinguishable from Republicans, waging optional wars, exporting jobs overseas and coddling corrupt CEOs while the rest of us—disconnected from power, our needs repeatedly ignored—sat and watched in silent rage.

Barack Obama is merely the latest of these phony Democrats. He’s the most recent in a line of corporate stooges going back to Jimmy Carter.

The Occupiers revolted under Obama’s watch for two reasons. The gap between the promise of his soaring rhetoric and the basic indecency of his cold-blooded disregard for the poor and unemployed was too awful to ignore. Moreover, the post-2008 economic collapse pushed a dam of insults and pain and anger that had built up over years past its breaking point.

Haphazard and disorganized and ad hoc, the Occupy movement is an imperfect, spontaneous response that fills a yawning demand gap in the American marketplace of ideas. For the first time since 1972, the spectrum of Left from liberalism to progressivism to socialism to communism to left anarchism has an audience (if not much of an organization).

Now the very same Democrats who killed liberalism and blocked leftists from candidacies, appointments, even the slightest participation in discussion—are trying to co-opt the Occupy movement.

MoveOn.org, which began as a plea for the U.S. to “move on” during Bill Clinton’s impeachment for perjury, claims to be an independent, progressive activist group. It’s really a shill for center-right Democratic politicians like Obama, whom MoveOn endorsed in the 2008 primaries against Hillary Clinton, who was running to Obama’s left.

All decision-making within the Occupations is consensus-based. Nothing gets approved or done before it has been exhaustedly debated; actions must be approved by 90 to 100% of Occupiers at General Assemblies. It can be arduous.

Without respect for Occupy’s process, MoveOn brazenly stole the movement’s best-known meme for its November 17th “We Are The 99%” event. And no one said boo.

Some Occupier friends were flattered.

Idiots.

Why didn’t MoveOn ask permission from the Occupy movement? Because they wouldn’t have gotten it. “We’re just days from the Super Committee’s deadline to propose more cuts for the 99% or increased taxes for the 1%,” reads MoveOn’s ersatz Occupy “event.”

“So come out and help increase the pressure on Congress to tax Wall Street to create millions of jobs.”

Um, no. Lobbying Congress directly contradicts a fundamental tenet of the movement that began with Occupy Wall Street. Occupy doesn’t lobby. Occupy doesn’t endorse either of the corporate political parties. Occupy doesn’t care about this bill or that amendment. Occupy does not participate in stupid elections in which both candidates work for the 1%. Occupy exists in order to figure out how to get rid of the existing system and what should replace it.

What MoveOn did was shameful. They ought to apologize. Donating a year or two’s worth of their contributions to the Occupations would be small penance. Given how little MoveOn has accomplished since its founding, Occupy would likely make better use of the cash.

On December 7th it was the turn of another Democratic “Astroturf” organization, the “American Dream Movement,” to lift the Occupy movement’s radical rhetoric to promote a very different, milquetoast agenda.

The American Dream Movement was co-founded in June 2011 by former Obama political advisor Van Jones and—turning up like a bad penny!—MoveOn.org.

A written statement for the ADM’s “Take Back the Capitol” threatened to “make Wall Street pay” for enriching the richest 1% and to “track down those responsible for crashing the economy and causing millions of 99%-ers to lose their jobs and homes—while failing to pay their fair share of taxes.”

Sounds like Occupy. Which is great.

Somewhat less than awesome is the content of the “Take Back the Capitol”: begging Congressmen who ought to awaiting trial for corruption and treason for a few crumbs off the corporate table.

“Throughout Tuesday, demonstrators visited the offices of about 99 House and Senate members, from both parties, and most were refused meetings with lawmakers,” reported NPR.

Duh.

What part of “we hate you” do these ACM fools not get?

Robert Townsend, an unemployed 48-year-old man from Milwaukee, managed to meet his Congressman, Republican Thomas Petri. “We asked him if he would vote for the jobs bill. He was evasive on that. And I asked him, ‘Tell me something positive that you’re doing for Wisconsin that will put us back to work.’ He mentioned something in Oshkosh, but that’s mostly for military people. He really didn’t have much of an answer. It’s like he had no commitment to addressing this problem.”

Double duh.

If Congress were responsive, if Democrats or Republicans cared about us or our needs, if Obama and his colleagues spent a tenth as much time and money on the unemployed as they do golfing and bombing and invading and shoveling trillions of dollars at Wall Street bankers, we wouldn’t need an Occupy movement.

But we won’t have one for long. Not if Occupy lets itself get Occupied by MoveOn and the Democrats.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Fight the Powerlessness

The Left’s Case for Boycotting Obama in November 2012

Three years in, it’s obvious to all but the most willfully obtuse liberals and progressives that their 2008 votes for Obama have not paid off.

The president blames obstructionist Republicans for his lack of action on, well, everything. His blame-the-GOP argument would be plausible if not for one thing: Before the Republicans swept the 2010 midterms, Obama had enormous political capital, a supportive media and Democratic control of both houses of Congress.

Had Obama wanted, he could have governed to the left. Far to the left. To the left of FDR.

Remember how scared we were? The economy was in freefall. We lost 600,000 jobs the month he took office. We would have gone along with anything he asked for, including a new WPA program and permanent jobless benefits.

He didn’t ask.

Obama didn’t govern like a liberal because he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to because he’s not a liberal.

Many progressives are angry. They want to send Obama and his fellow phony Democrats a message next November. But they don’t know how to counter the central argument of the two-party trap.

It goes like this:

“Voting for Obama sucks. He’s just going to do more stuff I hate, like bailing out banksters and starting more wars while ignoring the terrible economy. But what else can I do? I can’t vote for some science-denying, Bible-thumping Republican ignoramus who’d be even worse.

“Not voting? That’s almost as bad as voting Republican. With so much at stake, there’s no choice but to hold my nose and vote Democratic.”

This powerful argument has kept liberals in the Democratic fold since 1976, when Jimmy Carter pushed the party to the right with his huge defense build-up.

Fear of a GOP nation drove them to vote for Bill Clinton, even though his major accomplishments—welfare reform, NAFTA and the WTO—were right-wing.

There’s always something at stake. Every election is “one of the most important elections of our lifetimes.” As a result, there hasn’t been a liberal presidential nominee for 40 years. Mainly, this is because liberal voters are willing to vote for right-wing Democrats.

A lot of liberals, feeling even more conned than usual, are asking me how to counter the two-party trap argument.

Here’s what I tell them:

First and foremost, your vote (or lack thereof) cannot and will not put Rick Perry or Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin in the White House. It’s simple statistics. By definition you can only change one vote: your own. And no state’s electoral votes have ever come down to a single vote.

No election in U.S. history has ever come down to one vote. Not even a local one.

Even in Florida in 2000, the outcome hinged on about 150 ballots. I don’t care how big your family or circle of friends is—you are not going to change 75 or more votes one way or the other. Mathematically speaking, your vote is purely symbolic.

Point two: Democratic Party strategists take liberal voters for granted. Don’t take my word for it; check out books by Washington insiders like former Clinton pollster Dick Morris and “The Political Brain” author Drew Westen. Democratic leaders obsess over “Reagan Democrats,” “soccer moms,” “security moms” or whatever catchphrase equates to “swing voter” during a given year—people who might vote Republican one election, Democratic the next. That’s why “Democrats” run as—and govern like—Republicans.

As for liberals, progressives and leftists, Democrats ask: Where else are they going to go?

Refusing to vote for Obama answers their question: If you don’t stop taking us for granted, we will take our votes elsewhere—whether to the Republicans, a third party, or limbo, boycotting the process altogether.

Point three: Voting for immoral leaders makes you immoral.

It’s one thing to be duped, as liberals were by Carter in 1976. It’s another to knowingly vote for a politician you know or at least strongly suspect will promulgate policies you believe are wrong—which is exactly what most liberals did when they voted for Obama in 2008.

Most Americans and the vast majority of lefties were against the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. During the campaign Obama pledged to send even more troops there. From a moral standpoint, the blood of every Afghan wounded or killed after January 2009 is on the hands of those of us who pulled a lever, pushed a button or punched a chad for Barack Obama. (That includes me.)

Obama lied about other issues. He promised to close Gitmo, to push for a real healthcare plan (one with a public option), and to withdraw from Iraq. Now, however, we know that he lied.

Knowing what you know now, a vote for Obama in 2012 would be an enthusiastic vote of support for torture, extrajudicial assassinations, drone attacks, corporate healthcare, doing nothing about jobs and staying in Iraq. Your eyes are open. A liberal who votes for Obama would be directly responsible for the torture, the killings, and the suicides of the desperately unemployed.

The two-party trap is the sort of sick game that sadistic concentration camp guards like to play.

“I’m going to shoot this old man or this little boy. You decide which. If you refuse to choose, I’ll shoot both.”

There is only way to deal with ideological terrorists:

Don’t.

Let evil scum do what they like. You can’t stop them anyway. If the guard shoots both the man and the boy, it’s a terrible crime—but the blood is all on his hands.

For a progressive, voting for Obama is like asking the camp guard to shoot one person rather than two. In the short run, it seems like the right decision. In the long run, the man and the boy die—and it’ll partly be your fault,

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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