Thursday, February 11, 2010

Features, Bugs, and the Democrats

Steve Fraser has written an interesting piece comparing Barack Obama and Franklin D. Roosevelt after a year in their respective presidencies:

Their rhetoric was similar. How did they end up in such different places, going in such different directions as their first year in office ended? Why did one president take an historic and extraordinary path and the other head into the quagmire?

This is a remarkable tale which Steve Fraser tells in his usual striking fashion, examining three key steps Roosevelt took: separating commercial and investment banking (while Obama simply shored up Wall Street), creating the Tennesee Valley Administration which competed successfully with private utility companies (while Obama's public health option went down the tubes and the insurance companies emerged triumphant), and creating millions of jobs through direct government intervention (while Obama's jobs plan relies on funneling tax relief to business).
As manifestly depressing as this kind of thing is, it also brings me relief in a perverse way. Glennzilla has the same effect frequently, especially when he describes the ways and extent to which Obama-Biden has perpetuated and ratified the most disgraceful excesses of Bush-Cheney.

Maybe it's because I'm assured I'm not crazy to be so disappointed (putting it mildly) with Obama. More exactly it lets me drop the pretense that Obama is ever going to be anything more than what he keeps showing himself to be, just another center-right order taker, as far from the FDR-Paul Wellstone-Bernie Sanders wing of American politics as, well, far too many corporatist Democrats.

Obama is not inept, he's not blundering, he's not failing to do this or do that -- we are seeing features, not bugs.

As always, this confers no excuses. The president remains bound to the Constitution -- this president and every president to come, without exception. He and other elected political figures remain bound to the commitments they made while campaigning. No amount of pissing on supporters will change these realities. And as always, if Obama and the Democrats break out of this pattern and forcefully pursue a progressive initiative or two -- even if the pursuit fails in the end from something other than the usual studied pusillanimity -- I will gleefully rush forward to declare how wrong I was to misread them.

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