President Obama’s second inaugural address was a barnstormer: aggressive, expressing a strong liberal vision, even merely progressive. Where was this man four years ago, when he actually had a chance of enacting the policies he said that he favored? Back then, he was a right wing accommodationist. Nobody really knows what’s going on inside his head, but it’s a fair guess that like a lot of other Democrats he only fight hard when he knows he can’t really win.
In Politics, It’s a Wild Wild Weird World
Hunter S. Thompson said: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” But what do you do when things go from weird to completely psychedelic?
The political landscape at the beginning of the second term of America’s first biracial president – in the usual historical sense, calling him black kind of requires an asterisk – is a messed up, topsy-turvy, bass-ackwards place.
There is the president’s newfound liberal rhetoric, even going so far as to namecheck gays and lesbians in his Inaugural Address. Did anyone tell him or members of the media that Stonewall was an actual riot, that endorsing this landmark of liberation is to endorse violent revolutionary change? He came off as something as a peacenik, implying that he would be willing to talk to, say, Iran. How does that square with his onslaught of drones, a campaign that increasingly looks like a grim Vietnam-style war of attrition?
But it’s his timing I can’t figure.
Back in 2009, when he came into the White House with an overwhelming mandate for radical change in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, when he enjoyed Democratic control of both houses of Congress, when the Republicans were so whipped that opinion writers for the Wall Street Journal wondered aloud whether there was a future for the GOP, he tacked right. Now that obstructionist Republicans control the House, ordinary citizens have settled into a grouchy state of permanent discontent amid downward mobility and shrinking expectations, when there’s absolutely no reason to expect to get anything big or bold accomplished, the dude is breaking out as some sort of crazy progressive?
Then there’s the bizarre realignment of the two major parties.
Leading Republicans, spooked by the election results, polls that show that the voters of the future are liberal on gays, abortion and other social issues, and possibly from finally having picked up dogeared copies of the prescient tome The Emerging Democratic Majority at Books-a-Million, are freaking out in the weirdest possible way. Something has to be done! But not if it requires compromising on our core values. Um, guys…white guys…old white guys…the problem is that the voters don’t like Republican core values. Or you personally. So what is to be done? Something!
You almost have to feel sorry for Republicans. Sure, they started a bunch of crazy wars that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people, and they opened a string of concentration camps around the world, and they rolled back 800 years of cherished civil liberties that go back to the Magna Carta. But it’s sad to watch the mighty crash like a dictator’s statue pulled down by invading Marines. Not only is a sorta black man in the White House, all the GOP’s classic election-stealing tricks – corrupting the Supreme Court, bullying recount officials with paid thugs, moving voting booths out of minority neighborhoods – aren’t enough to close the growing gap between their obsolete stances and an increasingly left-leaning electorate. Now they’re so desperate that they’re even flirting with rejiggering the Electoral College, an institution that historically benefits Republicans, in order to suck out two or three more terms with them in control of the House – forget the Senate – before fading away into Whig-like oblivion as the Democrats retaliate.
Not to say that the Democrats are walking the straight and narrow road of sanity.
Americans of all political stripes say there’s one issue that consumes them most. One thing that they think about all the time. Something personal, something that affects everything else. Happily, it’s something that the government not only can do something about, but has been able to address many times in the past. I am talking about, obviously, the economy. Unemployment. Underemployment. The fact that there are no jobs. And that the jobs that are being created are all crappy. Or are in another country. Americans have been remarkably consistent about this. It would be hard to think of another time when people told pollsters for four years in a row that the same issue was the number one issue in the country. Whatever his other challenges, President Obama certainly doesn’t have to wonder about what’s on our minds.
So what is his second-term agenda? Given that his laissez-faire approach to the economic collapse throughout his first term basically involved golfing a lot while hoping that magical market forces would revive on their own, you might think that he would focus in like a laser-guided drone on the economy – you know, the number one most important issue to most Americans – this time around. But no, everyone’s telling us that Obama’s ambitious second-term agenda is – wait for it – gun control, immigration and climate change.
Don’t get me wrong: one of the great tragedies of the last dozen years was that Al Gore, one of the few American politicians who understands the gravity and imminent threat of global warming, didn’t get to exercise the presidential powers he earned at the ballot box. Though I will be shocked! shocked! shocked! if Obama’s proposals rise above the level of the usual too little/too late/too vested in corporate profits to curb industrialization, it’s nice to see the issue get lip service. Restoring sanity to America’s immigration system – can’t get in legally, so sneak in and hide out for 15 or 20 years until the next amnesty – is long overdue. Though, again, I wouldn’t be surprised if we just end up with another Reagan-style amnesty that doesn’t open up the doors to a lot more legal immigrants. Gun control of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, of course, is just boilerplate post-Sandy Hook elementary school massacre reactionism.
Fortunately, at least one of these issues will probably resolve itself. Already there are fewer illegals trying to sneak into the United States across the border from Mexico because the economy here is so terrible. Who is going to want to come to an impoverished nation full of gun nuts shooting at each other underwater?
Still, it’s disconcerting to watch smug Democrats lord it over clueless Republicans when the only difference between the two parties is one of tone. Republicans let you know that they hate you. Democrats talk nice and then let you down. Neither party gives a damn about the fact that you haven’t gotten a raise in 30 years. How can they? Their contributors are the top executives of the corporations who’ve been lining their pockets at your expense.
One of these days, you’ve got to think that the people are going to notice.
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL