This review was originally published by OpEdNews.
By Herbert Calhoun
Is it a Presidency or a Nation that is in Peril?
This is the book I thought I was buying when I bought the “valentine to Obama” by Jonathan Alter called “The “Promise.” Alter’s book, disappointingly, proved to be little more than a gift-wrapped package of apologies for Obama’s meager accomplishments so far: all done without any serious policy analysis. Incredibly, Alter makes Timothy Geithner into a hero?
Not so here. In this carefully researched nuanced brief, Kuttner is not afraid to call a spade a spade. He puts his analysis where his mouth is, and in doing so, provides some serious behind-the-scenes revelations about the cabal responsible for the financial collapse, albeit from an avowedly progressive perspective. Thank god however, this did not turn out to be just another Obama apologia. As a “born-again ex-Obama supporter,” I share the author’s main concern: That our new President has spent all of his political capital chasing the “phantom of bipartisanism” by “hacking,” “tacking” and “triangulating” his way to the right. In the process, he has had to cozy up to the Wall Street crowd, led by Bill Clinton’s buddy, Robert Rubin, and at the same time, has found it expedient to jettison his base — the progressives (like me) who “went to the well” for him during the election. Kuttner main point is that once we progressives have elected Obama, it is still our duty to help keep him honest? Well, excuse me? I thought that was precisely why we elected him?
Why is it that the Republicans do not have to “keep their elected officials” ideologically honest, when we democrats do? Why do, once we have elected them, they get the religious bug to want to move to the “non-existent center?” All of a sudden, once elected, democrats (but not Republicans) have found the new (non-existent) religion of bipartisanism? The American political system has finally become an ideological zero-sum game with no overlap.
So far, the Obama “rope-dope-for-hope” move to the center has gotten us nothing but an expanded insurance system written in big Pharma’s sweet spot. And even though Obama gave away the store — all of the items important to his base like the single-payer system, and the public option, etc. he netted a total of three Republican votes? Stripped of its progressive features, I feel like Obama used his bipartisanism to pee on our leg and tell us it was raining? Some kind of bipartinsanism that was?
Here, Kuttner has taken us deep into the bowels of the entire system of high-level financial corruption, and has made it about as transparent and as clear as it is ever likely to get in the U.S. Only the two hour pod cast by “This American Life” on the same subject has come close to making it clearer. What is NOT made so clear in this book however, is why Obama had to do it: why he had to ignore his base and move to the right where he got nothing in return? Is he just a “closet” neocon himself? Or, is he just paying back his ‘Big Dog” donors for their campaign contributions? Or, is it as his ex-Minister said: “Obama is just another Chicago politician?” Or does he think he can just continue to finesse us (his base) until 2012 rolls around and then give us a symbolic “song and a tap dance,” show up in a few Black churches, with a new sheaf of “pretty speeches” and we’ll just snap back in line? No chance this time.
Whatever is the correct answer, I agree with this author: that we are now in a multigenerational “Reagan type trickle-down holding pattern;” another Cheney/Bush jobless recovery. I also agree with him that we progressives need to get up off our duffs, stand up on our hind legs and bark back at Osama’s “rope-a-dope-for-hope strategy.” Its time to take to the streets and let the White House know we are not going to be “stiffed” any longer. Here Kuttner has identified the ringleader as Bill Clinton’s financial guru, Robert Rubin. But I believe it is clear that the Rubin crowd, simply are picking the low hanging fruit: There simply were too few disincentives NOT to join the deregulated Wall Street orgy already in progress with Cheney/Bush. Said differently, they simply stole a couple of plays from the Cheney/Bush playbook. And voila, since the financial rescue package, it’s been déjà vu all over again: continuing risky bets with our money, while the wall street pirates run out the “front door” with their pockets filled with mega-buck bonuses. For them, it is much more profitable to use our “TARP money” for risky credit default swaps that generate mega-million bonuses, than to lend to small banks that could then finance jobs for a speedy recovery. What happened to the idea of a common good on Wall Street?
So forget Osama’s photo ops, we must continue to keep our eyes on the donut and not on the hole: What we see today, most flagrantly exposed in the Gulf oil spill, is just more of the same greedy, mean-spirited, shortsighted and short-term bottom line-at-all-cost piracy that we saw during the Cheney/Bush years. Only this time it’s signed in blood in Osama’s name, underwritten by his tendency to turn his head the other way and give us a new limp-wristed “pep talk.” If this is hope that we can believe in, that audacious hope that he spoke of during the run up to the election, then we are as likely as not to see another serious crash in the economy before Obama’s term ends. And Barrack Obama knows it.
It’s the Corruption Stupid!
There is no way to fix what ails America from Osama’s limp-wristed “audacious hope rope-a-dope” position: that is, with media spin, pretty speeches, demagoging the other side, and photo opts. What ails America is systemic corruption, as far as the eye can see. I know it; Obama knows it, and the American people know it.
The reason Wall Street is back up and “humming” while main street is still in the “intensive care” ward, and the “real” unemployment rate still hovers around 20 percent with no relief in sight, is the same reason we cannot fix the “credit default swaps;” it is the same reason the U.S Supreme Court expanded corporate contributions to a First Amendment right at a time that credit default swaps and illicit corporate money are the two key issues causing all of the nation’s financial woes. It is the same reason that we have the Gulf oil spill: lax regulations bought and paid for by “Corporate USA Unlimited.”
The systemic dysfunction in American politics is this: no matter how deep our problems get, the ruling cliques just keep using their illicit contributions to redefine their own crimes as “legal” and then, like a Mack truck, they just keep on running over the American people. In short, corporate corruption has eaten away the “protective coating” around America’s democracy, and as a result, it is not only Obama’s presidency that is in peril, our very system of democracy is seriously in peril as well. We are lethally exposed to a systemic evil that continues to metastasize.
Kuttner ends his very pessimistic analysis on an optimistic note. But his heart is not in it. He knows that while we thought we had elected a thoroughbred — an intelligent leader with a backbone and a couple of cahones – what we got instead is just another Chicago politician. With the gulf oil crisis exposing his weaknesses and political nakedness even further, Obama has no choice but to bounce off the ropes trying to fight back as best he can. However, I believe it is too late. This President, for all the hope we had vested in him, is proving that he has been tarred with the same “corruption brush” that the Cheney/Bush crowd left us.
Kuttner has shown me enough. If Ben Bernanke begins two days of testimony before Congress Wednesday. WSJ’s David Wessel says if lawmakers can abandon their partisan politics, there’s one big question they need to ask the Fed chairman. I am recalling my 2008 vote for Obama and am opening up a new “Rev Jeremiah Wright Institute for Political Reform” (across the street from Oprah’s Harpo Enterprises). Nevertheless, this is a great book, for Kuttner shows here that while the American people may be down and out and almost powerless to change the system, we are not at all fools. Five stars.
Herbert Calhoun is a Retired Foreign Service Officer and past Manager of Political and Military Affairs at the US Department of State. For a brief time an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Denver and the University of Washington at Seattle. A graduate of the National War College and a Phd from the University of Southern California.