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The increasingly demented Right can’t stop Obama

Barack Obama’s latest declaration on climate change is the third in a highly successful three-pronged domestic policy agenda. And that drives the Republican establishment — and their lunatic Tea Party cousins — nuts.

Good god, when I try and assess the doings of Barack Obama, I understand the premise of those made-for-TV-true life telemovies, when the just-married wife (played by the actress you get when you can’t get the actress you get when you can’t get Diane Lane) ignores all the signs that her tightly wound orthodontist husband is a serial killer. “Just going for a 1am jog, darling. Have you seen my gaffer tape and chloroform mask?”

The President of the Republic, whose domestic record I would still defend, is also the ruler of an Empire, run through a synergy of total surveillance and mass assassination. This neat division can’t be sustained, of course; since the revelations by Edward Snowden, we know with certainty what we always suspected — that total external surveillance has been turned inwards, to treat the American public as a suspicious group with regard to the American state.

How much Obama, or anyone outside the National Security Agency, knew of the specific nature of such surveillance remains to be seen, but there can be no doubt that he knew of the general outline — and reform was only prompted by the Snowden papers. Worse still is the interconnected drone program, which uses “metadata” — non-content traffic analysis of calls to and from “known” al-Qaeda leaders — to choose its targets. Conceivably, you could be killed for repeatedly ringing the wrong number.

What is truly dangerous about this is how efficient it is, and how effective an imperial president Obama is. George W. Bush, with the Iraq War, did more to raise up the republic against the empire than just about anyone could have done. Obama, by making it invisible and American casualty-free, has made it acceptable again. Bush invaded two countries; Obama has violently extended the US state across half-a-dozen boundaries.

There’s no real denying that he is the most efficient and effective warrior president in this regard since Eisenhower. Yet this will not be recognised until long after he has left the White House. American liberals will not acknowledge it because it gives the lie to the idea that Obama is a real break in the imperial succession (as I noted in 2008, he never claimed he would be other than an imperial president); the Right cannot acknowledge that he is the judicious conservative that two Bushes and a Reagan failed to be.

Indeed, Reagan was a hippie compared to this guy. No matter how sanguine one can be about the realities of presidential power, the unique mix of surveillance, robotics and assassination Obama has streamlined and stabilised is something else.

And yet, and yet …. the difference about Obama as far as domestic politics goes is that he’s been willing to do the big things that just about any other Democrat on offer in the last two decades would have ducked — or, as with the Clintons’ ’90s healthcare plan, let go down to certain defeat, to be buried forever. Obamacare has extended better healthcare to tens of millions who had none at all, or very poor options. It has put the principle of universality at the centre of American life and created an army of people who have something to lose from a Republican victory.

The second, barely noticed, major move was to tie the 2009-10 stimulus package to union recognition, which has allowed unions to shore up their position against right-wing union-busting state governments. Now the third part has been an announcement of the target of a 30% cut in US carbon emissions from power plants by 2030 and a change in the way that the Environmental Protection Agency operates in order to enforce such changes. As American economist Jeffrey Sachs notes, it will be criticised as either too little or too much — but it is about as much as can be achieved using executive power only, since there is no chance the hard-right Republican-dominated House of Representatives would agree to anything like it.

Such moves are part of what Obama announced last year — that he would use executive power to push through as much of an agenda as he could against the resistance of a House that has passed less legislation than any in living memory. That announcement — “I have a phone and I have a pen” — sent the Right into a frenzy and began a push from the “Tea Party” (i.e. the shadowy-moneyed Republican Right) for impeachment. Despite the political disaster of the government shutdown, for which the House was blamed, such calls have only increased, as the Right has constructed any and all executive action as “illegal” or unconstitutional.

Some of these accusations are not without grounds, though they are very minor. Obama, like all presidents, uses “signing statements” — documents specifying how the government will interpret wiggly bits within new laws — to exploit loopholes in execution. Thus, elements of the Obamacare roll-out have been delayed for political reasons on fairly tendentious grounds. George W. Bush set a new standard of looseness for signing statements, and Obama has continued it, in places — for the Right, this amounts to an overthrow of the constitution and the self-crowning of “King Obama”, as Fox News styles it. There was no chance the Republican leadership would go near this as impeachment grounds — but then came the killing of the US ambassador to Libya and three others in Benghazi, and a degree of ineptitude and spinning of the news set in train a right-wing obsession with the story, which has now lasted more than a year.

The sense of a wily, traitorous President with some nihilistic agenda to destroy American power became necessary to explain this curious non-acceptance of the Tea Party message.”

Benghazi” was simply a more broadly appearing version of birtherism; it offered “proof” that Obama’s desire was to have Americans killed by Muslims. Demoted as a cause when the deadline for Obamacare loomed in March, it was promoted once again when the benchmark of 7 million signups was achieved and passed. When it began to flag, cover-ups of lethal maladministration at the mid-level of the massive Veterans’ Affairs Department (which runs as a huge socialised medical system — one that no Republican will touch) became a new scandal. Forty excess deaths had resulted from waiting-list manipulation — part of the 40,000 or so preventable deaths in US healthcare per year — but it once again helped to advance the idea that Obama liked to kill soldiers.

By now it was obvious that the Right had become addicted to scandal — mainstream Right Republicans were being prodded into it by further Right Tea Partiers, threatening them in primary contests for this year’s mid-terms. The latter’s attachment to these were simply delusional. The public had unaccountably failed to rise up and storm the White House — the sense of a wily, traitorous President with some nihilistic agenda to destroy American power became necessary to explain this curious non-acceptance of the Tea Party message. And the impeachment talk grew louder — especially as it appears the GOP will increase their majority in the House in the mid-terms (due to low turn out of independent voters and “low-information” Democrats in off-presidential elections).

Impeachment, it should be noted, is not the sacking of a president, it is the act of committing a president to trial. The House impeaches, the Senate runs the trial. To convict the president in an impeachment, a two-thirds majority is required. Even if the Republicans win a simple majority in November, winning a Senate trial against Obama is out of the question. So if such a push occurred, it would be largely dictated by the Republican mainstream’s desperate desire to fight off its increasingly demented Right.There is no doubt that the Obama camp take such a threat seriously, since such a move would be so wildly unpredictable. The White Houses’s strong domestic line — wind up extant wars, avoid confrontation, focus on the domestic — cuts with the grain of the public. Impeachment on spurious grounds may serve as a final exasperation of a wider swathe of the public with the Republicans (including such moderates as remain). But it could also suggest no-smoke-without-etc, especially if a Benghazi-based impeachment could target Hillary Clinton as well.

But it is also now possible that the Obama camp are now using the GOP’s appetite for scandal against them — witness the prisoner swap for the sole US Afghan POW, Bowe Bergdahl. The main purpose of this was as part of wrapping up the Afghan war. The secondary purpose is to test the constitutionality of some legal blocks the Congress put on the White House unilaterally releasing Gitmo prisoners. Even The Wall Street Journal thinks these laws are unconstitutional — the release of five Taliban dares the Congress to challenge the move in the Supreme Court.

But one wonders if there is a third level to this: to get the Republicans embroiled in an utterly confused campaign against Obama’s actions, where they line up against the return of an American. Like many who signed up in the aftermath of 9/11, Bergdahl was a confused and lied-to young man, who discovered, in Afghanistan, what military occupation really involves. He may have deserted; he certainly denounced the US in letters. Yet the public just want the war over, over, over — so it is quite possible that even the spectacle of fellow soldiers denouncing him does not reflect badly on Obama’s actions. Conversely, Republicans have backed themselves into implicitly arguing that we should leave Bergdahl there — and continue the war indefinitely, one presumes. It is part of the Right’s increasing celebration of an idealised soldiery, over against the bedraggled and all-too-human reality. Bergdahl can become a focus for the deep disdain the Right display for actual soldiers, for their failure to live up to the quasi-fascist ideal they’re converging on.

Is it possible that this is not, as it may look, a team Obama stuff-up, but a measure of their confidence that the Right have become a self-defeating cult whose scandal-mania should be fed? Is it a return of the NUBO* principle — both in terms of advancing progressive causes. And of course, the other thing. Because, unnoticed below all this, is the announcement that the US will leave 10,000 troops behind in Afghanistan.

*Never Underestimate Barack Obama, for new arrivals

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  • 1
    Saugoof
    Posted Wednesday, 4 June 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been quite fascinated and amused by the American right to try and turn Benghazi into a scandal, any sort of scandal. Sort of like The Australian’s obsession with Julia Gillard’s union slush fund where repeating it over and over and over eventually has many people convinced that there must be something there.
    My assumption is that they want to keep this alive in anticipation of a Hillary Clinton run for the white house. And hidden in that is the truly sad thing about it. This is not about 4 people being being killed, it is purely about crafting a stick to beat Hillary with.

  • 2
    SusieQ
    Posted Wednesday, 4 June 2014 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Good point Saugoof - the Republicans seem to be running scared already and Hilary hasn’t even said she’ll run - look at all the dirt they are throwing about her health etc etc
    Good analysis GR.

  • 3
    AR
    Posted Wednesday, 4 June 2014 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Grundle illustrates the puzzle that arose post WWII -
    “Why are amerikans?”.
    I’ve never found the easy response, “somebody has to be” adequate.
    If they are the, a, any answer then it must have been a really, rilly dumb question.

  • 4
    paddy
    Posted Wednesday, 4 June 2014 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Nice summary Guy.
    It’s interesting (if a little scary) to observe just how insane the tea party can get.

  • 5
    Kevin Herbert
    Posted Wednesday, 4 June 2014 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    This is yet again shallow analysis of the current political dynamic in the US, which avoids mentioning those five (5) lobby groups which are actually controlling the political debate.

    Obama, the GOP & the Democrats & both Houses of Congress are stooges who have little or no control over what outcomes are arrived at in DC. This Rundle piece is like live coverage of an AFL Grand Final, drawn only from interviews with the spectators.

    The use of the Tea Party bogeyman as an explanation for a part of the dynamic, again shows just how far from reality Australian media commentary on US Federal politics has sunk.

  • 6
    stuart richardson
    Posted Wednesday, 4 June 2014 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    Well said, Kevin. One wonders whether the commentator (and commentors) would agree that ‘standing down’ a rescue team that had the time and resources to succeed (in Benghazi) is a ‘scandal’ or not? Perhaps only if those in need of help were of a similar political bent.

  • 7
    Liamj
    Posted Wednesday, 4 June 2014 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    Its cute of Kevin Herbet to slam Rundle for not mentioning “those five (5) lobby groups which are actually controlling the political debate” … and then not mention them himself.

    Are we supposed to guess, or is this secret knowledge reserved only for Oz tea party zealots?

  • 8
    Ken Lambert
    Posted Wednesday, 4 June 2014 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    The Tea Party right is pretty looney tune but Guy is on weak ground suggesting Obama made a good deal swapping 5 Taliban for a deserter.

    All young men in war are lied to and confused….few of them desert. The man in question will do Obama no good at all.

    Obama is doing all this stuff too late. He’s had nearly 6 years…he does not do the politics of bought politicians well, when he is one himself. He was bought by the weakened unions representing the education and public service employees and to a lesser extent trial lawyers and liberal celebrities, and to a very small degree the 95% of blacks who voted for him.

    He should know how to deal in this world where nearly all politicians are owned by business, unions or some interest group.

  • 9
    morkk
    Posted Wednesday, 4 June 2014 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    stuart richardson - you’re wrong: the ‘stand down’ story is a hoax: see http://mediamatters.org/blog/2013/12/15/cia-testimony-destroys-benghazi-stand-down-hoax/197276

  • 10
    Andybob
    Posted Thursday, 5 June 2014 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    Ok, I’ll bite:
    Arms
    Oil and Gas
    Israel
    National Rifle Association
    National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

  • 11
    Andybob
    Posted Thursday, 5 June 2014 at 12:09 am | Permalink

    Possibly

    Drug companies
    Hollywood (copyright owners)

    should get an honorable mention.

  • 12
    aichjay
    Posted Thursday, 5 June 2014 at 12:53 am | Permalink

    AR poses the question “Why are amerikans?”.
    I have discovered the answer to this question, and any other about them involving “Why”, is the simple:
    “Because Freedom.”

  • 13
    AR
    Posted Thursday, 5 June 2014 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    aichjay - go tell it on a mountain, or perhaps to the largest prison population (on this particular planet),the 50Mreliant on foodstamps, the minimum wage workers - reliant on tips to eat,one of the most inequitable, socially immobile, oligarchic societies which spends more on weapons that the rest of the world combined with the worst literacy, neo-natal rates in the OECD.
    But hey, as the sign above the gates of Gitmo put it, “Honour Bound to Defend Freedom” which surpasses “Arbeit Macht Frei” in the meaningless yet threatening stakes.

  • 14
    Kevin Herbert
    Posted Thursday, 5 June 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    liam j & andybob:

    They are: the US bankers/Wall St, the MIC (which includes the comparatively puny NRA), the Health, MSM & AIPAC lobby groups.

    AIPAC’s inclusion in the post Jimmy Carter era is based on its now permanent role as the Congressional attack dog for the whole group, eliminating on the ground, any real political threat to their joint/several interests.

    For historical background, start by reading up on C Wright Mills The Power Elite (1956) which “…describes the relationships among the political, military, and economic elites, noting that they share a common world view; that power rests in the centralization of authority within the elites of society” Mann, Douglas (2007). Understanding society : a survey of modern social theory. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

    Dwight D Eisenhower publicly warned of their burgeoning grip on total societal power in the US in his farewell address:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8y06NSBBRtY

    Recently a Princeton academic published a new version of the C Wright Mills power elite power pyramid…with the Congress & the President demoted to the middle power rung of influence.

    However, the net has scared the shit of the 5, and they’re currently scrambling to regain their former complete control of all key economic & political narratives, as they had for at least the nearly 50 years until the net’s arrival early this century.

    I was alerted to their existence in the late 60’s at Melb Uni…however, due to the overwhelming effect on personal political choice by widespread MSM propaganda, particularly as TV evolved in the 70’s, I didn’t wake up to just how much control this group had, until the arrival of the net.

    My view would have been dismissed up until around 2005, as yet another conspiracy theory…..but not anymore. and that’s why US politics of the Rand Paul/Alan Grayson mould, is on the steep rise, particularly among young voters who realise that they’re going to be paying off the huge US foreign debt for most of their lives, unless there’s some radical changes to Federal policies. The 2016 US Presidential contest will be the first ever contested where the MSM’s role will be considerably watered down.

    Finally, the MSM’s construct of the Tea Party as the loony right, serves to dismiss any person whom they want to destroy i.e. take one clearly loony Michelle Bachmann, and drop say, a Rand Paul into her camp regularly, and the seeds of disinformation take over to destroy his credibility.

    Clearly the ‘5’ are Trotskyites…and to think they call themselves ‘neocons’…nothing could be further from the truth…check out Ron Paul’s 2003 speech to the US House of Reps where he lines them up one on one…it’s on You Tube.

  • 15
    Jimmyhaz
    Posted Thursday, 5 June 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    I’ve always thought that the Republican obsession with Benghazi as a pre-emptive strike against Hillary Clinton, and her seemingly inevitable 2016 Democratic presidential bid.

    It seems to be a desperate attempt to get something to stick on a candidate that currently enjoys double-digit leads over all Republican hopefuls (sans Jeb Bush, but I can’t see the ‘Pubs running a Bush so soon).

  • 16
    Liamj
    Posted Thursday, 5 June 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    @ KevinH - libertarians, pffft, what are you doing on this socialist internet & wheres that hyperinflation apocalypse promised since the 80s? And “the 5 are Trotskyites..” is just silly, what has the MIC ever done for the dictatorship of the proletariat?

  • 17
    Kevin Herbert
    Posted Thursday, 5 June 2014 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    Liamj:

    you’ll have to speak in terms we actually can comprehend if you want to continue the discussion.

    The answer to your one proposition, re the MIC is that it bankrolls the said dictatorship along with the other 4 groups.

  • 18
    stuart richardson
    Posted Friday, 6 June 2014 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Morkk, lolz.The CIA testimony, reported on Fox News. I can only assume you speak in jest, sir!

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