By Paul Street
One of my little online entertainments this year has been to ask my social media network a question: “So, what’s Obama up to lately?”
I want to know, but I haven’t had the stomach to follow the man once he left the White House.
Truth be told, I burned out on Obama years ago.
I called him out as a corporate, neoliberal imperialist and a de facto white supremacist (as ironic as that might sound given his technical blackness) from the beginning of the nationwide “Obamas” phenomenon in the summer of 2004.Empire’s New Clothes
From 2006 through 2011, I dedicated inordinate research and writing to the “BaRockstar.” Prior to his 2009 inauguration (an event I found likely once George W. Bush defeated John F. Kerry in 2004), I tried to warn progressives (and anyone else who would listen) about Obama’s coming presidential service to the rich and powerful, their global empire and the white majority’s desire to deny the continuing power of anti-black racism in the United States. I collected my warnings in a 2008 book that bore the deceptively neutral title “Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics.”
I continued to follow Obama closely. In 2010, my next book, “The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power,” detailed his dutiful fealty to the nation’s “deep state” masters of capital and empire (and to white majority opinion on race) during his first year in the White House. This volume exhaustively refuted partisan Democrats who insisted that Obama really wanted to do progressive things but was prevented from that by a Republican Congress. It was a nonsensical claim. Year One Obama had just won the presidency with a great voter mandate for progressive change and had a Democratic Congress. He could have steered well to the wide left of his corporate-center-right trajectory if he’d wanted. But he didn’t want to, consistent with Adolph Reed Jr.’s dead-on description of Obama after the future president first won elected office in Illinois:
In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program—the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance.
By acting in accord with Reed’s retrospectively haunting early description, the “deeply conservative” President Obama ironically helped create the very Republican “Tea Party” Congress his loyal liberal defenders were then able to cite as the excuse for his right-wing policymaking. Governing progressively in 2009 and 2010 would have been good politics for the Democrats. It might well have pre-empted the “Teapublican” victories of 2010.
You’ve Got to Meet Real Socialists
But that’s not what “Wall Street Barry” was about. He was a Hamilton Project, Robert Rubin-sponsored actor who never would have gotten the elite backing he needed to prevail had he been the peoples’ champion so many voters dreamed him to be.
Obama set new Wall Street election fundraising records for a reason in 2008. “It’s not always clear what Obama’s financial backers want,” Ken Silverstein noted in a fall 2006 Harper’s Magazine report titled “Obama, Inc.,” “but it seems safe to conclude that his campaign contributors are not interested merely in clean government and political reform. … On condition of anonymity, one Washington lobbyist I spoke with was willing to point out the obvious: that big donors would not be helping out Obama if they didn’t see him as a ‘player.’ The lobbyist added: ‘What’s the dollar value of a starry-eyed idealist?’ ”
After his 2012 re-election, Obama spoke at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council. “When you go to other countries,” Obama told the corporate chieftains, “the political divisions are so much more stark and wider. Here in America, the difference between Democrats and Republicans—we’re fighting inside the 40-yard lines. … People call me a socialist sometimes. But no, you’ve got to meet real socialists. [Laughter.] I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health care reform is based on the private marketplace.”
It was what the socialist writer and activist Danny Katch called “a touching ruling class moment.”
The warm feelings made good capitalist sense. Fully 95 percent of the nation’s new income went to the top 1 percent during Obama’s first term. Obama won his second term partly by appropriating populist rhetoric from an Occupy Wall Street movement he’d helped dismantle with infiltration and force in the fall and winter of 2011. He did this after keeping Wall Street so comfortably bailed out and restored that plutocracy could reach the point where the top U.S. thousandth owned more wealth than the bottom U.S. 90 percent.