27 June 2012

David Bromwich on Obama in the LRB: "A Bad President"

David Bromwich writes on Obama in the current London Review of Books, and it is as good an expression of general liberal disappointment as I have ever seen. Thankfully, neither does it succumb to bitterness.
And yet there is no alternative to Obama. Supporters who realise that he is not what he seemed in 2008 are reduced to saying (as two of them, a historian and a lawyer, said to me separately in the last few days): ‘He’s not a good president, and doesn’t deserve to be re-elected, but he must be re-elected.’ The short name for the reason is Mitt Romney, the longer and truer name is what the Republican Party has become. It is the party of wars, prisons and the ever expanding riches of the very rich. Romney’s foreign policy advisers are graduates of the workshop of Dick Cheney and the various American outworks of the Likud or the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute. These people – including Cofer Black, Michael Chertoff, Robert Kagan and Dan Senor – have their eyes on a goal beyond victory in Syria and Iran: they look forward to a militarised approach to Russia and China. As for Romney’s economic ideas, every backward step towards the finance economy of 1920 which Obama has worked halfheartedly to impede, Romney will push to achieve with the greatest vigour. Even if he were otherwise disposed, the ideology of his party commits him to policies of a regressive order that will surpass Reagan.

The Obama presidency has gone far to complete the destruction of New Deal politics which began when Bill Clinton brought Wall Street into the White House. The right won the political wars of the last two generations, the left won the culture wars, and we are now in a position to measure the gain and loss. On the one hand, greater tolerance of mixed marriages, the enforced habit of not showing race prejudice in public, gay rights. On the other hand, most Americans today with modest means and a modest chance in life are swayed by the gambling ethic: they speak in the commercial patois – which many of their grandparents would have scorned – of the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ and the ‘American dream’. Obama did nothing to change this. He tried to wield the language of the dream more effectively than his opponents: a gambit that can now be seen to have failed.
The whole thing is worth reading. It doesn't indulge in wailing or anger. Rather, it is a sober and intelligent assessment of where we have been, and where we can go. Check the whole thing out.

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