Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Why So Shy, Mr President?

The President will be in the Bay Area today, and over the week-end.  As is his habit, he will eschew public events and instead work hard to leech campaign money from the liberal establishment in Marin and Silicon Valley (interest groups which, it is emerging, are growing more savvy at playing the dirty lobbying game by writing cheques to both parties).  

The President has long used California as a fly-up ATM, but the San Francisco Chronicle detailed just how little regard the President has for the Golden State’s voters and public.  The paper points out that this is the President’s twentieth trip to the state since he was inaugurated in 2009.  Thirteen of those have taken him to Northern California (by which the paper means the Bay Area...there is precious little campaign money for the President up towards the would-be State of Jefferson!), the most unabashedly left-wing part of the state, home to a combination of wealthy liberal advocates and  working class communities with a proud leftist tradition.

More shockingly, the Chronicle notes that “Obama hasn’t starred at a free event open to the public in the Bay Area since before the 2008 election, when—as a candidate—he held rallies and addressed thousands of voters in Oakland and Marin County”.

While this is initially surprising, after a bit more thought it is, perhaps, not so difficult to understand why the President might not want to face the public in what must be one of the country’s most stridently progressive metropolitan areas. 

After all, this is the President who has failed to hold anyone to account for the financial crimes which precipitated the global crisis and sent California’s housing market and economy into a tailspin.

He is the President who failed to press the appointment of our country’s working class’ staunchest defender, Elizabeth Warren, to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which she created.  His administration’s loss was our country’s gain, for now Warren (who would be a far more inspiring presidential candidate in 2016 than the neoconservative, neoliberal Hillary Clinton) serves in the Senate, waging a one-woman campaign to persuade Obama’s justice department to do its job and stop shielding extraordinary criminality. 

Our President has failed to denounce the prospect of the Keystone XL pipeline running through the United States (something about which he’s likely to get an earful even in tame Marin County).

Nor has he treated the creeping threat posed by climate change—a threat of particular concern for California, a veritable nation-state which is perched on a precarious environment at the edge of our physical world—with anything like the seriousness it deserves.

The President has expanded an ever-more pointless and destructive war in Afghanistan which has taken the lives of thousands of Americans and Afghans, expanding his war of terror to Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond, while engaging in a civil liberties grab and a defence of terror that would have done his criminal predecessor proud.

He has presided over a sweeping redefinition of war, a redefinition which occludes the possibility of Congressional oversight and casualises the devastating wars of imperial hubris which the United States already wages with such impunity. 

And all of this while overseeing the reduction of our public sphere, the ascendancy of corporate power, and the rise of Mammon.  Given the opportunity to support the grassroots Occupy movement nearly two years ago, our President instead edged nearer the corporate and financial interests which have already collared the Republican Party.  Unions in Wisconsin and students in California were given the cold shoulder by an administration which makes all the right noises when the sun is shining but is nowhere to be found when the going gets tough.

Instead of recognising and supporting the potential for a revitalisation of progressive politics in the United States, the President has chosen to endorse a morally agnostic, technocratic approach to politics, accepting the basic economic fundamentalism of the Republican Party and acceding to a harsh worldview which demands that we measure the price of everything and the value of nothing.

The President’s largely regressive politics are unlikely to sit well with either San Francisco’s eclectic liberalism or Oakland’s working class progressivism, and go a long way towards explaining his reticence to face our state’s public in a scenario where he might be taken to task for his disappointing where not destructive leadership.

Obama’s failure to address the needs and concerns of Californians presents the best argument for why the Golden State needs to work harder at making its own polity governable so that we are capable, if necessary, of bypassing an unresponsive federal government to renew, remake, and perhaps redefine the now-elusive California dream. 

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