Failed Empire

Chronicling the collapse of a failed society

Bob Herbert’s Deceptive Portrayal of our Presidents as Lovable Screw-ups

If you haven’t already read Bob Herbert’s latest column, I’d highly recommend it.  As a writer for the NY Times it is impossible to fully trust Herbert’s motives, but his columns generally seem to espouse genuine populist values – even if he is a little vague most of the time.  His latest column deals – somewhat indirectly – with Obama’s failure to live up to the myriad promises he appeared to make to the left during his campaign.  Like many other writers on the left – or, in the case of the NY times, the pseudo-left – Herbert implies that Obama is a decent, liberal-minded human being who is genuinely interested in helping average citizens.  However, he is continually thwarted in his attempts to reach his benevolent goals for various reasons; Herbert suggests that Obama has become enamored with “the impossible dream” of victory in both Iraq and Afghanistan, which is preventing him from fulfilling his domestic agenda.

In several instances, Herbert is spot on.  The following paragraphs, for example, are refreshingly candid and succinct:

“What’s needed now is the same thing that has been needed for the past two years and more, a bold plan to put millions of Americans back to work and paying taxes, and a careful, thoughtful, strategic but unequivocal withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.

If we don’t engage these two issues effectively, there is little hope of getting to the other enormous challenges facing the country, including the metastasizing presence of poverty, the worsening problems facing already chronically underperforming public schools, and the deteriorating economic and social conditions that have drained the vitality of so many cities, rust-belt communities and rural areas…

As a society, we’ve lost our way, and there is no chance of getting reoriented if we can’t find the courage to make some really tough decisions about warfare, taxes, public investment, the crying need to educate all young people, and the paramount importance of gainful employment as the cornerstone of a revitalized America.”

Herbert touches on some issues which are relatively taboo within the mainstream media:  unequivocal withdrawal from both Iraq and Afghanistan (wait, haven’t we already declared victory in Iraq?); widespread poverty; affordable college education; and the prospect of – perish the thought – raising taxes.  It is refreshing to see a columnist with a media organization as mainstream as the NY Times actually broaching some of the issues which are of utmost importance to ordinary Americans.   And there is actually a glimmer of hope here, because if we apply Chomsky’s propaganda model, it can be surmised that at least certain segments of the business ruling class are at least superficially interested in these issues as well – for their own selfish reasons, of course.

Where I find myself in disagreement with Herbert is his implicit characterization of all of our presidents being basically good-natured people who lose their way in the morass of Washington politics and entrenched interests.  He cites Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam War and George W. Bush’s two wars as being due to “the lure of the impossible dream,” as if genuine good intentions were at play in all of these armed conflicts.  Reagan is portrayed as a naive Washington outsider who fell prey to the “impossible dream” of lower taxes and a stronger defense – whatever that means – all while balancing the budget.

Reality speaks otherwise.  It is unwise to gauge a politician – or anyone, for that matter – by his/her publicly announced intentions.  Politicians are known for their snakelike ability to say one thing in order to please the masses, then do something entirely different behind the scenes.  We cannot accept the notion that, for example, Obama means well but continually fails.  Even if we cast aside the fact Obama actually promised very little during his campaign, he should be judged according to his performance, not what we perceive his intentions to be.  If we look at what he has accomplished during his time and office, and the kinds of people he has surrounded himself with, then we are able to more accurately gauge his intentions.

And the actions he has taken thus far in office speak quite clearly about the kind of politician Obama really is.  He is not a liberal with the interests of the common citizen setting his agenda.  He has done almost nothing to aid ordinary Americans, and I challenge anyone to prove otherwise.  With two years in office and Democratic control of both the House and the Senate, Obama could have accomplished much.  There is absolutely no reason why, by election day 2010, the following liberal laundry-list could not have been completed:  the end of both wars and the withdrawal of all US troops; the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and DOMA; the enactment of universal, single-payer health care (or, at the very least the existence of a public option); the closure of Guantanamo Bay and the cessation of extraordinary rendition; the enactment of genuine financial regulations; the introduction of a bill to curb college expenses; and the list goes on.

Why is it that none of these tasks were accomplished?  Even a single one of them would speak volumes for Obama as a genuine people’s president.  The fact that none of the aforementioned tasks have been achieved is a testament to the reality that Obama is – and I apologize if I’m getting repetitive – yet one more in a long line of corporatist presidents.

Those who are interested in genuine reform in our broken nation would be wise to abandon our sham of two-party system.  The Democrats do not represent us, and the nebulous “change” we sought in Obama will not come until we create it ourselves, in the form of an alternative political party that derives its power from the “silent majority” that is liberal America.  I wish I could say this will happen soon, but the sad state of political engagement in America tells me our long road through conservative purgatory is just beginning.

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4 responses to “Bob Herbert’s Deceptive Portrayal of our Presidents as Lovable Screw-ups

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