The Open Dimension

Commentary on social issues; politics; religion and spirituality

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Location: Laguna Hills, California, United States

I am a semi-retired psychotherapist/psychiatric social worker and certified hypnotherapist. Originally a practicing attorney, I changed careers during the 1980's. My interests include history, constitutional law, Hindustani classical music, yoga, meditation and spirituality.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

President Barack Obama: What's With the Man?

I supported Barack Obama’s candidacy and voted for him. When he won the election I was as elated as anyone. I posted a blog after his victory describing him as a kind of magician who had accomplished what would have been considered the near-impossible not very long ago. Do I regret having supported Obama? No. He was clearly the best choice. I don’t want to think of what the consequences of a McCain victory would have been. And Hillary Clinton? I thought- and still think- that her hawkishness and her tendency to over-compromise with the corporate elite gave a hollow ring to her populist rhetoric. Unfortunately, I am beginning to think that the difference between Hillary Clinton and Obama was more a function of his rhetorical style than his actuality.

Something is wrong. And there were signs; although after eight years of Bush I chose not to scrutinize them very closely: Although it was undeniable that Obama had opposed the war in Iraq from its inception, his proposed withdrawal schedule seemed too lengthy and his plan to send additional troops to Afghanistan was troubling. I convinced myself that, despite the length of time involved, there would be significant troop withdrawals from Iraq soon after the inauguration and that the increments in Afghanistan would be very limited and tactically selective. Both of those suppositions have proven to be unfounded.

Then there was the appointment of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense. Gates had been brought in by Bush to clean up the image of the Iraq war after Rumsfeld had bungled the job to the point that the Republicans had tanked in the congressional elections. He certainly had not been appointed by Bush as an integral part of a plan to end the war. Bush clearly had no intention of doing that. His intention was to keep extending the war, but to make it appear more “feasible” to the American public. So what was Obama going to do with Gates? I think we’re finding out now. I have referred to it as “reformulation.” Same-old, same-old seems to be what it’s all about. The war goes on as usual for- at least- two more years with significant troop withdrawals left to the very end of the proposed period of time. And I say “proposed” because there’s enough wiggle-room for Obama to extend this war indefinitely. The weapons manufacturers and the war- provisions suppliers must be pleased with these developments; but should we be? And should we be necessarily happy about his proposal to increase the military by over 90,000 troops? Maybe, but have we questioned this enough? The increase will result in scores of billions of dollars for the defense industry. But, other than that, what is the advantage? Are we still in the Cold War? We need to ask more questions and more follow-up questions.

President Obama has begun delivering speeches from military bases talking about “victory with honor.” Does that remind you of anyone? What is with this man?

Obama’s plan for economic recovery seems to be on the right track, if any track can be right, given the seriousness of the disaster brought about by Republican laissez-faire corporatism. But even on the domestic side, Obama seems to be blowing with the wind all too often.

It is certainly true that Obama’s campaign made the record in terms of contributions of small donors. But we can’t forget that he got massive corporate support. As standard as that may be in American politics, we can’t cast the fact aside. The health-insurance companies were a significant source of support. My understanding is that initially Obama favored single-payer health insurance- in other words basically Medicare for everyone more or less on the European and Canadian model. He changed rather rapidly to favoring health-insurance subsidies. Why? I’m not sure; and I don’t recall that he ever offered a cogent explanation. This month the President is holding a summit on healthcare and to date no advocate of single-payer insurance has been invited to participate. Why not one voice for single-payer? It’s the solution that every other urbanized democracy has arrived at. Shouldn’t it at least have a voice? What is with this man?

Then there’s the matter of usuriously high interest rates. It wasn’t that long ago that lenders would have been thrown in the clink for a good long time for charging the interest rates that they routinely charge now. There used to be usury laws. Now usury is the law. Credit- card companies can raise rates exorbitantly and virtually at will. There have been some efforts to curb them; but no attempt to clearly impose enforceable caps. Why hasn’t Obama taken the lead in this area? Why is big finance still in the driver’s seat here? This is hardly just a minor issue to the millions of Americans being pinned to the wall by accumulating interest on their debts. What is with this man?

There was another issue that came up during the campaign that raised some eyebrows but was rather quickly forgotten. I’m referring to Obama’s turn-around on the issue of spying by the telecom companies. Bush and his corporate constitution- smashing cronies were proposing immunity for the telecom companies which had spied on their customers’ communications at the government’s behest. Why did Obama give in and vote for Bush’s gift to the telecom industry? It seemed strange at the time and it’s waxing a lot stranger now in light of subsequent developments. Who benefited by Obama’s decision, other than the telecom companies?

I am very concerned. And I have a lot of questions. And I think we all should have a lot of questions. And I’m going to come right out and ask the main question: Have we put into office just another agent of the military-industrial complex? A great rhetorician but basically the same-old? I hope not, but the signs are becoming more-and-more problematic. The most ominous sign to me is what I perceive to be the distinct possibility that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be extended not only for much too long but indefinitely. And on the domestic side, the deference being extended by Obama to big business and big finance seem to be at appreciable variance to the tone he projected during the campaign.

I have not reached a conclusion at this point. But I think we need to assume an attitude toward President Obama that is generally supportive but much more questioning and critical when appropriate. I think there has been a tendency to allow elation to cloud objective inquiry. There is too much at stake here for us to allow ourselves to be blinded by the light of victory. It is either a real victory or not. We have to find out. And we have to translate our discoveries into effective action.

Oh, and a word about the corporate-media liberals: I usually watch Olbermann’s and Maddow’s nightly programs. Last evening I turned both of them off after about fifteen minutes through sheer boredom. How many times do we have to be presented with a play-by-play account of the Republicans’ latest idiocies? Do I really want to see extended depictions of such lights of the universe as Limbaugh and Cantor and Gingrich engaging in their ridiculous antics? An informatively brief summary would be sufficient, particularly at dinner-time. My stomach is strong, but not quite that strong. We know what they are. No convincing is needed. And positive feedback regarding President Obama’s stimulus plan is fine; and it’s important to know what the provisions are and the pros and cons. But the anthems of praise are getting a bit tedious. The polls show that the country is rather inclined to give him a chance. So, again, who needs the convincing? It seems to me that the public would be better served by regularly encouraging the President to do what we elected him to do, particularly in view of the fact that there are forces- and very powerful forces- working very hard to do the opposite. Move-On turned into nothing more than an Obama fan-club. It would be unfortunate if the few remaining intelligent media outlets turned out the same.