January 26, 2014
This won’t take up much space. The headlines in the NY Times today is: “Obama Pursuing a Modest Agenda in State of the Union.” And here is one paragraph in that story:
“After five years in office, Mr. Obama has, by his own account, come to feel acutely the limits on his power and the shrinking horizons before him — all of which make his nationally televised speech to Congress on Tuesday a critical opportunity to drive an agenda that may yet shape his legacy.”
Ah yes, the “modest agenda” in pursuit of “his legacy.” Well, as near as I can tell Obama’s agenda has been and will remain preserving the status quo as nearly as he can. And this is not because of “the limits on his power and the shrinking horizons before him.” [But how do horizons “shrink?” Just wondering.] No, it is because this is what he chooses to do and has been doing since he was elected in 2008. Of course, he pretends otherwise, playing the “oh, we politicians are so powerless, what else could we do” card!
Except at the margins, it is almost impossible to distinguish the Obama presidency from the Bush II presidency. We still torture or facilitate torture; we still are at war in Afghanistan, the allegedly “good war” started by Shrub; we still are bailing out Wall Street and almost no one has gone to jail or prison for the recent “recession.” I am sure you can think of other ways in which the Obama presidency has done little more than continue the Shrub presidency.
And why does this seem like a weird assessment? To me, it is pretty simple: We are taught, in a host of ways, that politics is about change, about “reform.” But in fact, most of our politics is about maintaining the status quo and this rather simple, and all too common political phenomenon – those who have power and status want to keep it – is overlooked for the most part by our commentators and is disguised by our political class, as if there were a big difference between most of the commentators and our political class.
And so we go on thinking, reading, and saying that Obama, for example, has an “agenda” for change that will make his “legacy” as a “great president.” In point of fact, however, he is just another ambitious politician, the kind of politician that the founders thought would populate their new, “large, commercial republic” to a good end. Well, as one of my colleagues said a long time ago about a my characterization of him as “fucking nuts:” “Well, Peter, you got it half right!” We are inundated with the ambitious but the results? Not so good.