[To Terry]. Eight years ago midnight New Year's Eve, I watched fireworks flying across the remote mountains with a queasiness in my belly as the world's economies melted down and Obama prepared to assume the presidency, and I meditated and prayed for his success as only an atheist can do, feeling that if the elements could pull together in some kind of Shakespearean concoction, we'd find a way out of this madness.
It's been a maddening 8 years with occasional somewhat neutered success. The bailout that extended the tax breaks "stimulus" madness, retaining trader bonuses, forked stimulus cash straight to banks that never got used, diverged into largely unpunished mortgage theft after the dust had settled, and as a side-show had Washington bean counters combing over Detroit business trying to understand cars only in terms of cashflow, investors (gotta give the previous owners 100 cents on the dollar), and retirement plans. The health care that'd been derived from Hillary's campaign turned into an industry-friendly mixed cocktail, only after 2 years of favors and invites to all the objectors that never quite showed up in the end. That Nebraskan Senator who helped shove the no-abortion-benefits into the package and then got voted out of office anyway - all those Blue Dogs are gone now, but Obama still played the deficit scold compromise game with the Republicans that they largely won, tying hands for greater social programs. Rahm made it clear that unions no longer had a sure place at the table.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq didn't quite end, while our involvement in Syria was pumped up with no obvious end-goal, while our involvement in Yemen and Somalia has played on behind the scenes with largely negative consequences to civilians. Counterproductive as Libya seems, at least it ended quickly and had some obvious justifiable logic and allied backing, while Donbas and the Russian sanctions appear the only - but quite significant - striking success in limiting Russia, despite its backwater involvement in Syria and South Sudan.
And Israel - despite a bit of pushback from Obama, Bibi's always had a backdoor open straight to Republican leadership and a good part of Democratic. The sight of presidential candidates showing up in Israel to seek official backing and donors rather perverted our self-image of independence. The Iran nuke deal ended years of sanctions over overhyped fears while not quite ending the sanctions. Over 8 years Obama largely carried out military and diplomatic action that solidified Israel's dominance in the region and over our political structure, while gaining the scorn of its leader (and the ever hypocritical Republican party).
We've continued our jacking up the CIA, NSA & FBI's snooping powers in light of a very few terrorist attacks in the US and France, even as Snowden's leaks confirmed a level of outside-the-rules activity and security agency whack-a-mole that Emptywheel had been tattling on for years. "The Surge" made sure Iraq became Obama's war, and thus ISIS is no longer the result of say Bremer's rashly firing the Ba'ath officers along with the poorly planned occupation to begin with. Rule #1: no Republican ever goes properly tarnished.
Black Lives Matter as protest against increasing unwarranted police violence on blacks has come under Obama's watch. The Flint water debacle as well. As earlier was the hit job on ACORN. A black jobs program to counter blacks' greater suffering from the meltdown was never forthcoming - America seemingly had to be colorblind in job stimulus, while being anything but in everything else. The recent spate of laws targeting blacks' access to the polls met with little organized federal response.
The icing on the cake was of course the theft of Obama's final Supreme Court pick with absolutely no repercussions for the consistently emboldened Republicans - well, would have been had not the Russian hacks and GOP obstruction overturned the election to become the icing on icing.
Obama came out this week and declared he could have put together a 3rd triumphant campaign, and sadly that's probably true. His campaigning with Michelle this autumn reminded me of how different things might have been had he not folded the grassroots organization in 2008 just after he won, if he'd fought for Jim Martin in his Dec 2008 runoff, and campaigned hard for Democrats in 2010, 2012, 2014, how his lukewarm selection of Debbie Wasserman Schultz came to dominate the negative image of the DNC over the last 5 years and ensure its ineffectiveness in prior and recent critical campaigns (the DCCC not much better). Somehow with the world's most amazing GOTV effort in 2008 we failed to convert that infrastructure into a long-lasting national infrastructure that would counter and surpass Republican inroads at the state and congressional levels. Succinctly, we elected a President twice, and that's about it.
Oddly, Obama became much of what his supporters said Hillary was in 2008, and largely she inherited the same image Groundhog Day-style in 2016 while Obama will ride out as a team player that he never quite was, and a popular figure despite compromising and playing it safe more than Hillary ever did.
Despite people thinking she was anointed for the Presidency yet again - not quite accurate in light of reports of Obama backing the insurance-industry fav, Biden, and his withheld blessing until June 2016 - she had 2 unpalatable choices in 2015. One was running as an anti-incumbent, which would immediately turn off much of the Democratic black base, reviving largely perceived though doubtful charges of racism from 2008 and denying herself much of the official party structure that was focused around Obama, with no other serious party leaders in sight, along with building the impression of unfaithful, in-it-for-herself, power-hungry maven that had been a staple of Hillary hate since forever.
Or she could have wrapped herself in the Obama Administration's successes, which did include pulling us out of the crash & rescuing the economy, adopting ACA/Obamacare, and killing Osama bin Laden. (Along with LGBT marriage, which for the most part happened outside the still-evolving Obama).
But these 2nd achievements were double-edged. Obamacare is hated and a magnet for GOP scorn and propaganda, certainly far past it deserves, but the hundreds of millions spent in attacking it make for powerful persuasion. While Republicans have largely folded on gay marriage, it's still one of the prime horses in its family values stable (including the war on transgender bathrooms), and a major source of funding outrage over our moral decline. On immigration, Obama deported more illegal immigrants than Bush did, while his rapprochement to Raul Castro's Cuba was much more hated by Cuban-Americans than most election commentators have come to acknowledge. Killing Osama bin Laden was too close to killing Qaddafi - a not terribly bad thing in-and-of itself, especially in light of Arab Spring and at least at the insistence and backing of key allies, but not enough to make it palatable to the Democratic left. TPP was to finally be the pivot towards Asia, balancing China's trade and production hegemony over the Asia-Pacific with the needs and access for other countries - but put in too industry-pandering provisions to pass the smell test of fairness. (Ironically, Hillary's gotten much more credit for our foreign policy the last 4 years than John Kerry, her successor, or Obama her chief - her appearance of power obviously in play, at least when convenient to say so).
Worst however was the economic bailout. Stimulus for individuals had been provided in a way that the average person didn't acknowledge, while the Wall Street-friendly embrace of the bailout and followup money bombs created a justifiable scorn for anything Manhattan. Ignored by many about what Wikileaks divulged was an email from Citigroup to Podesta (then Obama's transition co-chair) picking ALL of Obama's key Cabinet positions*. To think Hillary was pilloried for 3 speeches she was paid for. To be even-handed, Congress also welcomed Jamie Dymon not even as a prodigal son but more as a scyon of financial wisdom, ignoring his malfeasance and screwups and the way he burned through money that wasn't his.
[*N.B. - since Wikileaks leaks aren't confirmed, it is possible that this gem isn't real or exact. Caveat emptor.]
Deep in the heart of Wall Street madness was the repeal of Glass-Steagal, done during the Bill Clinton years, and symbolic of a time of growing financial and stock exchange influence (heady days for Freddie and Fannie Mae as well). Yet it's hard to imagine the average Joe caring about an obscure piece of financial legislation had mortgage theft and robo-signing not happened, affecting 1 out of every 250 households, and at least with some billions in fines, but as usual only a fraction of the damage and with "white-collar crimes", nobody having to take personal responsibility. It's hard to imagine 1
Yes, Hillary for optics shouldn't have given 3 paid private speeches to such controversial banks, and Obama & Trump shouldn't fill their official cabinets with the spawn of these organizations in charge of enforcing the much more basic financial regulations than Glass-Steagal. Which in the end will be held accountable?
But in the end, it's the public that's on the hook - the individuals in the street who bear responsibility, as Milan Kundera wrote of those caught up in the joy of the '68 Prague Spring and the subsequent roll-in of Soviet tanks that crushed the thaw and sent a generation underground. Americans have a surfeit of information, opinion, options, freedoms to exploit. Yet still they manage to mangle basic tests of relevant information and truth, befuddled by obviously tainted and biased sources on the road to self-delusion. There is no hope to providing concrete proposals and well thought-out plans to those intent on wallowing in partisanship and simple selective (and false) information. There is no hope in building up a track record of achievements when years of effort can be decimated by minutes if not seconds of hackneyed hatchet jobs. We're not talking about choosing class president or rooting for the Super Bowl - these are matters affecting war, health, employment, takehome pay, access to education, safety from killing in the streets, and even issues of marrying and whether to have children.
I'm struggling to come up with an antidote to the madness, an intelligent useful explanation for what might have happened, an adult's guide to survival or even a children's fable that turns meanness and ignorance and greed and mendaciousness into something tolerable that can be overcome. All I can come up with is money & power hunger at the top combined with spite and envy and fear and yes some unmet needs at the bottom has created an almost insurmountable toxic stew instead of a melting pot, though in a cautiously optimistic note we can say we won the majority while holding on to our souls and ethics. It's a largely Pyrrhic victory, a type we've become accustomed to celebrating and can't afford any more of - but with careful cultivation and organizing and reaching out, maybe we can salvage a glimmer of hope, and a success that matters in both practical and moral terms. Until then existence seems rather tainted, if not for us personally, for those who are affected by our whims and vitriol and sheer bizarreness. Time to work.