Anger turns to Despair

The Political Pagan thanks his readers for their comments on the last post about Obama, and wishes to clarify a few points. First of all, PoP` (as the Political Pagan is sometimes referred to; not to be confused with "Pol Pot," though the pronunciation is indeed similar) is well aware that Obama never promised during his campaign or since to wind down the war in Afghanistan as he did with the American occupation of Iraq. However, PoPa did not think that Obama would follow quite so Bushian (or Cheney-esque) a path, or try so hard to be seen as John McCain's little brown brother, in making war his top priority.

Obama has refused to stand up and fight for important domestic initiatives like a public works-job creation program or a health insurance "public option," instead giving every indication that he is willing to bargain away 50-75% of anything that he believes or once believed in. On the health reform issue, he promised from an early point in the discussions that he would make sure that whatever reform emerged would be "revenue-neutral," a position that ensured we would end up with a watered-down, corporate-friendly piece of shit, which is what we are now left with, after months of fruitless negotiations conspicuously lacking in strong Presidential leadership.

If Obama had been willing to make a strong moral argument for national health care, for example, "As Americans, we are our brothers' and sisters' keepers, we have a moral responsibility to take care of each other, and so I am going to insist on a robust national health care policy that takes care of every American, whether powerful interests like the health insurance lobby like it or not," it would have been a much stronger case for serious health care reform. Instead, he let himself and his party get boxed into a fiscal cul-de-sac that cut off any serious hope of reform: "We will achieve health care reform as long as it does not cost anything." Well, you get what you pay for. Ever since that moment, the main point of opposition to any such reform has been that whatever plan is put forward will be "too expensive," will "bust the budget," etc. The same cost-conscious logic was allowed to strip last winter's economic stimulus plan of job-creating schemes, which might have given some real money and real hope to the growing hordes of unemployed, underemployed and foreclosed Americans.

This concern with so-called "fiscal responsibility" would be an easier pill to swallow if it were also applied to another major area of government expenditure, military spending. Here, however, cost is no object, and budget-busting is no crime. While every health care reform plan put forward has been run through the rigorous number-crunching mill of the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) to have its future costs dissected, the costs of Obama's escalation of the war effort in Afghanistan have been strangely exempt from such cost-conscious critiques. The lesson the American public is taught is this: national health care and jobs creation programs cannot be allowed, because they are too expensive, but the war in Afghanistan, including its worrisome expansion into Pakistan via CIA and JSOC drone attacks, is worth every billion.

This is where Obama most infuriates and disappoints PoPa. I see a terrible imbalance in his priorities, giving half-hearted support and weak-kneed leadership for domestic programs, but going to the mat for unlimited war. If the President had been as definite and insistent about health care or job creation programs as he has been about expanding the war in Afghanistan, it might have helped sway the corporate ass-kissing democrats in Congress to support such initiatives rather than look for ways to undermine them while pretending to support them. Imagine if Obama had gone before Congress and said, "I will veto any health care plan that does not include a public option," with the kind of decisiveness he showed in defending his Afghan war policy at West Point and in Oslo.

In short, Obama's greater emphasis on military spending than domestic programs is NOT what he campaigned on. He gave every impression we were going to get something very different from Bush policies, and instead, what we are getting is Bush in blackface. Let's not forget that the corporate and financial bail-outs began under Bush, and have been continued without any great modification under Obama. After a year of horrible unemployment and unending foreclosures, Obama has not produced much in the way of new policies or programs dramatically different from those of his predecessor. As an educator, PoPa has very sadly conclused that their education policies are nearly indistinguishable, looking to increased standardized testing and charter schools as magic bullet solutions, rather than facing the larger issues of chronic underfunding of education across the country.

Both Presidents, as well as Clinton before them, have proven to be all too beholden to corporate interests, whether these be the corporate interests of Wall Street, or those of the military-industrial complex from Blackwater to Halliburton, and all too willing to reply to the problems of economically stressed Americans with flimsy promises and optimistic rhetoric divorced from concrete action. When Obama had his chat with the heads of the leading financial service and banking companies, and urged them to do more to lend to small businesses to create more jobs, I had a sickening sense of deja vu. This is just the kind of thing Bush used to do. It makes for nice public relations, but is there anything else to it?

PoPa also feels that Obama is sadly contradicting himself on his former desire to move American foreign policy into a more diplomatic and multilateral, less militaristic and unilateral direction. His insistence that Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran must do what America wants, and never mind their own political, economic and national security concerns and needs, is not exactly a shining example of multilateral diplomacy. Sure, he is doing some of that, but as long as he pursues a war-mongering policy in Afghanistan, his Nobel Peace Prize is going to become an increasingly ironic honor.

Obama and Bush, buddies in war. Eisenhower was right: "Beware the military industrial complex." I don't think we need to have elections anymore. Just have the Supreme Court appoint a President from the military, and a Vice-President from Wall Street, and the result will be much like what we now refer to as "democracy."

Anger at Obama

Dear Readers,

The Political Pagan is now able to return to life after more than a month of being snowed in by multiple projects and responsibilities, from the always-exhausting business of college teaching to attending the American Academy of Religion conference in the lovely Canadian city of Montreal.

The PP has also been weighed down psychologically by a sense of anger and despair about the increasingly militaristic direction of the Obama administration. Now he will give voice to these feelings.

At a time when America is in economic free-fall, with increasing numbers of unemployed living on the slender lifeline of unemployment compensation, foreclosures on mortgages continuing to drive people out of their homes, and health care reform increasingly devolving into a Christmas gift for the health care and insurance industries that makes this year's Goldman-Sachs bonuses seem paltry by comparison, the brilliant idea of the "Hope and Change" President is to double our troop commitment to the quagmire of Afghanistan, and to actually accept the Nobel Peace Prize with a pro-war speech.

Not many weeks back, this blog had words of praise for Barack Obama as representing a change from the warmongering ways of the Bush-Cheney regime toward a more diplomatic, intelligent, and collaborative foreign policy. This author now deeply regrets and wishes to apologize to his readers for those words of praise. Obama seem to be doing all that he can to take up the mantle of "War President" from the ashes of the Bush presidency.

It is becoming clear that Obama's obsession with being a "bipartisan" leader, "reaching across the aisle" and so forth, includes being willing to act like a neo-con Republican when it comes to foreign policy and the use of military force abroad. It is an open question whether Obama really believes that this military adventure in Afghanistan is actually going to produce any worthwhile results in that beleaguered, divided and demoralized country, with its long history of rising up and fighting to the death against foreign occupation and aggression. What seems more clear is that Obama hopes to win the support of Republicans, or at least conservative-learning independent voters, by devoting resources to the one kind of government program that conservatives and Republicans can always be relied upon to enthusiastically support: the use of military force.

And the cynical political calculation of this anything-but-idealistic President is paying off. Though Republicans in both houses of Congress have generally been the "Party of NO" in refusing to support ANY domestic policy initiative put forward by Obama and the Democrats, when he made his West Point speech kissing up to the pro-war side of American society, these same Republicans suddenly had words of praise and a new tone of respect for Obama. Their one complaint was Obama's mention of an eighteen month deadline to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, following the initial escalation of 30,000 extra troops. Obama's people quickly mollified the voices of discontent with the time limit by explaining that the deadline was nothing hard and fast, just a goal that might have to be modified.

One thing curiously missing from the Republicans' enthusiasm for Obama's expanded Afghan war effort was any concern about the cost. This was really striking. For months, Republicans have been screaming and shouting that we cannot possibly afford any large-scale expansion of national health care because it would be too expensive, it would bust the budget, push the deficit to a breaking point, place an unbearable burden on future generations, and so on. However, when the Afghan escalation was proposed, with a price tag of an extra $30 billion per year beyond the already considerable costs of the existing war effort, not a word of concern was raised by Republicans or conservatives about costs, burdens or deficits. War, you see, is ALWAYS worth paying for. A blank check for the military is the secret soft spot of the so-called deficit hawks, and a blatant demonstration of disgusting hypocrisy--"we can't afford to do anything" versus "no limits, no worries"--to anyone concerned with the sad state and unmet needs of American society.

It is becoming painfully clear to this Political Pagan that America is a dying empire. In our death-throes, we are able to do one thing only: thrash and smash around the world with our immense military might, even as conditions inside America get worse and worse, and the country falls farther and farther behind other countries in terms of education, health, medical care, infrastructure, and technology, except for military technology where we still are #1, since we spend as much as the next 20 countries put together.

Many other countries have better education, transportation, health care and retirement systems, but who cares? We have Arlington National Cemetery with line after line of headstones commemorating our valiant soldiers. Who needs a functioning society when you can have a great military cemetery? What fool would trade in the world's greatest military for silly things like health care, schools with adequate funding and technologically up-to-date mass transit systems? What idiot would propose government-funded employment programs like the WPA of the last great Depression/Recession to provide work for our legions of unemployed young people, when we can instead shepherd the young into our armed forces and our prisons?

This author feels deeply betrayed by President Obama, and deeply depressed by the strongly-rooted militarism of American society. It is hard to see any hope right now. Obama was our last chance for a fresh start, and increasingly, it feels like the winner of the 2008 election was not the "Obama" that his supporters were hoping for, but Bush. The Bush legacy of pro-Wall Street, pro-war, anti-social assistance policies lives on. Obama is making some changes here and there, nice small things, but the big picture remains fundamentally Bushian.

This blog apologizes for its past praise of Obama. A man who claims to respect Martin Luther King and Gandhi while bowing to the every wish and whim of jingoistic militarists is no friend of peace. He should NOT have been given the Nobel award. Judging from the pained faces of those forced to listen to his appalling speech in Oslo, I think many of the members of the Nobel committee are feeling much the same way.

This blog today is all Politics and no Paganism; so be it. Readers of past entries know that the author is much concerned with how certain forms of Paganism show a militaristic tendency. This will be discussed more in future.