Barack ObamaÂs second swearing-in as president will not produce anything approaching the awesome pilgrimage Â the ÂGreat Black HajjÂ Â that swarmed around him on January 20, 2009. Most African Americans experienced the last inauguration as a new beginning, a collective grabbing of the gold ring, a fantasia on the National Mall.
Few caught the meaning of his coded messages of impending austerity Â a careful telegraphing of his intentions to gut Franklin RooseveltÂs New Deal and Lyndon JohnsonÂs Great Society programs. ÂOur time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions Â that time has surely passed," the new president told the tearfully joyous throng, only a handful of whom understood that the Ânarrow interestsÂ he referred to was them, and that Obama had already made the Âunpleasant decisionÂ to launch an all-out assault on the social safety net.
Not that his plans were a secret. In the preceding weeks, Obama had informed the editorial boards of the New York Times and the Washington Post that Âentitlement reformÂ Â the Republican code word for cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid Â was high on his agenda. But, Black folks were so transfixed by the miracle of the First Black President, most failed to comprehend simple English.
Four years later, it is impossible not to hear the tolling of the bell. As early as mid-February, the pending debt ceiling impasse will provide another opportunity to take the axe to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Only fools believe that Obama will resist the impulse, since to do so would be to repudiate his entire first term in office. With methodical calculation, Obama laid the groundwork for a grand austerity bargain, beginning with his handpicked Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Commission.
The Âfiscal cliffÂ was a trap set jointly by Obama and the GOP in the summer of 2011, after their deal for $4 trillion in cuts foundered on the issue of modest tax increases on the rich. With this monthÂs agreement to make BushÂs tax cuts permanent for 98 percent of the public, Obama and the RepublicansÂ positions are closer than ever. All that is required for Obama to achieve his true legacy Â to drive a stake in the heart of whatÂs left of social welfare in the U.S. Â is to marginalize hard core Tea Party budget purists and, much more importantly, bludgeon the ÂleftÂ wing of the Democrats into line, which has always been ObamaÂs job in the corporate political division of labor.
The odds are that Obama and his Republican tag-teammates will triumph. In many ways, they already have. By embracing the notion that the deficit is the nationÂs number one problem, Obama has firmly embedded the logic of austerity Â which is the logic of Wall Street Â into Democratic Party politics.
No wonder the Democratic Leadership Council folded in 2011. Having served as the partyÂs corporate center of gravity since its founding by Bill Clinton, Al Gore and other white, largely southern Democrats in the Eighties to blunt Black and union influence, the DLCÂs mission has been completed by a Black Democrat (who first came to my attention when I found his name on the DLCÂs membership list in the summer of 2003).
The imminent consummation of ObamaÂs grand bargain was on display for all to see in last yearÂs first presidential debate. As Maya Rockeymoore, the brilliant young Black political scientist who heads up Global Policy Solutions points out in this weekÂs edition of Black Agenda Radio, ÂI think the president did not make a Freudian slip when he said that he and Mitt Romney actually agree on Social Security.Â The notion that Obama would turn ÂleftÂ in his second term is nonsense, said Rockeymoore, an expert on entitlements. ÂThe reality is, the first term Obama is the second term Obama. That is his disposition, that is his ideology, that is where heÂs at. HeÂs a centrist to his heart.Â
Actually, he’s a center-right Democrat who has positioned himself at the pivot of Wall StreetÂs political project. Even the New York TimesÂ David Sanger recognized ObamaÂs true orientation, back in late November of 2008, as the president-elect was assembling his cabinet. Sanger meant it as a kind of compliment on his choice of advisors, which Âsuggest[ed] that Mr. Obama is planning to govern from the center-right of his party, surrounding himself with pragmatists rather than ideologues.Â
At his first inauguration, Obama chastised Americans for Âour collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age." He was making the case for cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, a choice that 80 percent of Americans, and virtually the totality of the Black American polity, reject. But, for Obama, then and now, the popular will is nothing but Âworn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics." Wall StreetÂs choices are all that counts.
So, who won the election? And why should Black folks regard the outcome as some kind of collective victory? What bullet did we dodge?
January 9, 2013