September 21, 2010

the gaga factor

Unsurprisingly, just when campaigning for the November midterms heats up Brand Obama rediscovers some “populist tone and rhetoric.” Some vague talk about fairness, and about certain people paying their share, and how his mother and grandmother worked hard and saved to make ends meet, and...voilà! I guess for some perhaps. Yet as Jim Newell from The Gawker dares to ask, “And how is it ‘populist’ to talk about your own family's struggles with cash in the past? It's just a good piece of tried-and-true campaign rhetoric.” Indeed one need not be some crazed malcontent radical Kucinich hugging “professional leftist” to concur with Newell’s obvious yet telling insight:

 “This may be nitpicky, but there's a strange, almost condescending problem here when a message like ‘We need to make sure the middle class doesn't disappear’ is labeled as ‘populist’ or ‘fiery,’ instead of, say, ‘responsible’ or ‘confident.’”

Yet nitpicky it is not, Jim Newell hear you me, especially considering the failure de jour of Obama and the Democrats: not repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. As reported by WaPo, this “high-profile failure” has “left some advocates of repeal feeling burned” and angry at the White House and the Democrats “for not acting sooner.” The report also quotes Richard Soccarides, an activist who served as an adviser to Bill Clinton on gay rights. According to Soccarides, “The Democrats have been against ‘don't ask, don't tell’ for more than a decade and why we allowed this law to remain in effect for another two years is beyond me,” adding that “Washington-based gay rights groups made a decision early on that they were better off going along with the president's timeline and that right now that looks like a serious miscalculation.”

As per the Gaga factor? Just consider “Is Lady Gaga a Better Politician than Barack Obama?” by Nick Baumann and David Corn in Mother Jones.  

“While Obama was raising money for Democratic Pennsylvania Senate candidate Joe Sestak, who trails in the polls, Gaga was in Maine, crusading for DADT repeal. The previous week, she had created a YouTube video addressed to the whole Senate that urged repeal. At the time of the vote on Tuesday, it had nearly 1.7 million views. In the days prior to the vote, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs couldn't manage even a single tweet about the fight at hand. And the White House did not use Obama's Twitter feed or the White House blog to highlight the vote.”

Baumann and Corn conclude by writing…  

“The Obama administration has not yet figured out how to make Republicans pay a political cost for obstructionism. But the White House has rarely tried to slam Republicans. (When Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a liberal Democrat from Ohio, said he was a solid no vote on the health care bill, Obama was in his district that week to pressure him, and Kucinich flipped.) This week, Lady Gaga did her best with the ladies from Maine. She didn't turn them, but she did succeed in putting them on the hot seat. And after all, she's just a pop star, not the president. But the next time the White House wants to break a filibuster, it might consider going Gaga.”

So no matter how much liberals and progressives may want to cling to Hope and Change they will eventually have to concede, sometime in the next two years if not this fall, that Obama is not a populist but a brand and a campaigner who is simply too pragmatic and corporatist to challenge the very corporatist party which groomed him for political power, let alone fight the GOP. And without real demands made by progressive organizations across the political landscape, and not just electorally, Obama and the New Democrats will only continue to acquiesce to deeply entrenched financial and corporate structures, give or take a speech now and then, as the Republicans and Tea Party people pull further to the right. Its really that simple. It always has been.

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