Gore Vidal was once asked if there was anything at all he liked about Ronald Reagan. “Well, he does have a nice head of hair,” Vidal quipped with trademark condescension.
So far, I’m afraid the same kind of thing can be said about Barack Obama. He certainly can give a good speech, he has a nice smile, and, of course, in comparison to George W. Bush, he seems like a tabernacle of wisdom and sophistication.
Unfortunately, that’s only in comparison to Bush, a standard that could not be much lower-unless you include serial killers and child abusers. But if you compare Obama now to what people expected of him during the presidential election, he not only comes up short, but he’s quickly becoming a major disappointment to the millions of Americans who voted for him.
Consider his record so far: 1) Has sold out to Wall Street at the expense of Main Street. 2) Is in the process of selling out to the insurance companies and pharmaceutical industry with a watered-down health care bill instead of “Medicare for All.” 3) Is in no hurry to get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan when a majority of Americans want us out of both countries ASAP. 4) Is promoting a woefully inadequate cap and trade program instead of setting up a dynamic renewable energy strategy that would create millions of green jobs and clean up the environment at a much faster pace. 5) Is letting the Israel//Palestinian issue founder instead of playing hardball with both parties. And finally, he’s not actively pushing for prosecution against George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for lying about the reasons to go to war in Iraq and their authorization for using torture on prisoners.
Now I won’t say that he hasn’t done anything substantial. He has made some progress on issues like the environment, medical marijuana, and economic stimulus, and he has repaired America’s image in the eyes of the world. But people expected a lot more. They expected radical surgery, not a face lift or a tummy tuck. And they certainly didn’t expect him to capitulate to the moneyed interests of the country and be led around on a leash by rich elitists like Rahm Emanuel, Tim Geithner, and Larry Summers.
The question is, can Obama still redeem himself? Yes, but time is running out. Unemployment is over 10% and rising; independent voters are disillusioned and jumping ship; and his current approval ratings have fallen below 50%. What’s more, the right wing of the Republican Party, which has hated him from the very beginning, is doing everything but storming the White House with pitch forks. On the other side, liberals and progressives are beginning to chalk him off as just another Big Business sellout a la Bill Clinton.
Add all this up and he has about six months to turn things around before it’s too late. There already have been several multiple shootings and suicides across the country from desperate Americans who have gone postal because of financial problems. And more and more people are buying guns and gold and silver and talking about the end of the world in 2012.
Of course one can’t blame Obama for the miserable set of economic and social conditions he inherited from Bush. But he’s stuck with them, and they require real solutions and a sense of fairness and shared sacrifice. Instead what Americans have learned fait accompli is that the financial scam artists of Wall Street, the same ones who caused the economic meltdown to begin with, are walking away with billions of dollars in bonuses at taxpayer expense as Americans continue to lose their homes and jobs.
Americans thought Obama was going to change this paradigm. They thought he was for “the average person,” the single mother who lacks decent health care, the loyal company man who got laid off and can’t find another job, the family that lost their home to foreclosure.
Instead all they see is Obama smiling and making grand speeches while he cavorts with the power elite and tells the masses to buck up and be patient. Not much in the way of hope or change there. Not much different than what George W. Bush did for eight years.
But there is one big difference. After eight years of Bush and his gang of free market cutthroats fleecing average Americans and driving the country into bankruptcy (while at the same time enriching the upper one percent of the population beyond their wildest dreams), the economic situation in the U.S. is much worse. And Americans are much more impatient and angry.
And if Obama doesn’t have some type of spiritual epiphany soon and do the right thing, he will not only be hated and vilified by the very people who elected him, but he will become even less popular than George W. Bush.
And what then?