Obama’s Delusion, David Bromwich’s essay on the slowly unfolding disaster that is the Obama presidency, is about the best thing I have read to date on the subject. It’s more charitable than I tend to be towards the current ruling party and its head, and at the same time more damning.
Blame goes in all directions: to the right-wing noise machine and the unseemly machinations of Limbaugh, Cheney, Bob Woodward and the generals; and also, to Obama himself, whose political instincts are shown pretty convincingly to amount to a delusion.
Yet he is also encumbered by the natural wish of the moderate to hold himself close to all the establishments at once: military, financial, legislative, commercial. Ideally, he would like to inspire everyone and to offend no one. But the conceit of accommodating one’s enemies inch by inch to attain bipartisan consensus seems with Obama almost a delusion in the literal sense: a fixed false belief. How did it come to possess so clever a man?
Worthy of note, this beautiful and concise characterization of the opposition party:
The Republican Party of 2009 is a powerful piece of contrary testimony. It has become the party of wars and jails, and its moral physiognomy is captured by the faces of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, faces hard to match outside Cruikshank’s drawings of Dickens’s villains, hard as nails and mean as dirt and with an issue still up their sleeve when wars wind down and the jails are full: a sworn hostility towards immigrants and ‘aliens’.
(Even his supporters would probably be content to see “money is speech” engraved on McConnell’s tomb. It’s an epithet the unpleasant man who represents my woebegone state seems perversely proud of. “Hard as nails and mean as dirt” seems more apt.)
As for Obama himself, it would be hard to find a better chronology of the president’s serial missteps than you’ll find here. And there are plenty of harsh words left over for the “prosperous neoliberal consensus,” something with which Bromwich, who teaches at Yale, is intimately familiar:
Equality in the United States in the early 21st century has become a gospel preached by the liberal elite to a populace who feel they have no stake in equality. Since the Reagan presidency and the dismemberment of the labour unions, America has not known a popular voice against the privilege of the large corporations. Yet without such a voice from below, all the benevolent programmes that can be theorised, lacking the ground note of genuine indignation, have turned into lumbering ‘designs’ espoused by the enlightened for moral reasons that ordinary people can hardly remember. The gambling ethic has planted itself deep in the America psyche – deeper now than it was in 1849 or 1928. Little has been inherited of the welfare-state doctrine of distributed risk and social insurance. The architects of liberal domestic policy, put in this false position, make easy prey for the generalised slander that says that all non-private plans for anything are hypocritical.
This is not a pretty picture, and Bromwich concludes in an unsatisfactory manner, by addressing only one of the many traps faced by the president. This particular trap, Afghanistan, is the one most of Obama’s own making. “The best imaginable result just now, given the tightness of the trap, may be ostensible co-operation with the generals, accompanied by a set of questions that lays the groundwork for refusal of the next escalation. But in wars there is always a deep beneath the lowest deep, and the ambushes and accidents tend towards savagery much more than conciliation.”