11th Dimensional Chess & Social Movements

Cross-posted at Daily Kos

I hope the title of this diary will cause people to think.

It should be clear to many that although I voted for Obama in the election, he was not my choice to be the nominee.  Despite the rhetoric of his campaign, I saw him from the start as too closely connected to those at The Hamilton Project, the entrenched, corporate sector that holds too tight on power.  What bothered me most was that the marketing said the opposite.  He is now elected, so what matters today and in the future is his performance and what it means to Democrats and Americans.

Yesterday I watched the latest episode of Bill Moyers with Robert Kuttner and Matt Taibbi.

Watching and listening to the conversation, I wondered to myself how it was possible for someone who many told us was playing 11th dimensional chess to screw up the health “reform” situation (not to mention some other important issues) so badly.  More important, what are the ramifications.  The answer came from Robert Kuttner, and if you keep reading, you will discover.

But first, let’s look at the screw-up.  The so-called reform bill that passes will take years to be fully enacted, and no one knows how effective it will be to solve the problem.  But this is clear, to the insurance, drug and medical industries, it will be a windfall, and rather than becoming a human right as in all other developed countries (even non-developed ones) and as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, health care will remain a commodity.

Getting back to the politics of the situation, here is how bad the chess game was played.  According to Kuttner, who I think states the problem accurately:

Well, it’s so far from what I think is necessary that I don’t think it’s a it’s a good bill. But I think if it goes down, just because of the optics of the situation and the way the Republicans have framed this as a make or break moment for President Obama, it will make it easier for the Republicans to take control of Congress in 2010. It will make Obama even more gun-shy about promoting reform. It will create even more political paralysis. It will embolden the republicans to block what this President is trying to do, some of which is good, at every turn. So I would hold my nose and vote for it.

There it is in a nutshell.  Unless one believes that Obama did this on purpose, to try and ingratiate himself with the entrenched powers of the insurance, drug and medical industries so that he could get their campaign dollars (which I might add would be cynicism, not hope), he has played this into a virtual political disaster, particularly from a progressive perspective.

Of course, I suppose if you want to live in Fantasyland, then you can believe this overall strategy was done well.  But to me, and others, it portends a belief we held, well before Clinton ever said so, that Obama was not ready.  These matters were not played like a chessmaster.  Yet now he is president and with him ride our fortunes.

Besides the experience factor, criticism can be made of the way that Obama campaigned as compared with his actions once in office.  (See Badabing’s recent diary:  Will The Real Barack Obama Please Stand Up?)  There is plenty of evidence to sustain the claim that Obama’s campaign was a first and foremost about marketing, to create expectations in the public.  But hope and change seems not reflected by his critical first appointments of Emanuel and the Rubinites, or his nonsensical positions on fundamental issues like civil liberties, Wall Street versus Main Street, or in the nontransparent health reform partnerships with the enemies of true reform (they realize they profit win or lose).

Anyway, we who criticize get accused of many things because we raise these matters, these disconnects, even though Obama himself said:

But when our laws, our leaders or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expression of patriotism.

It seems, however, that a segment of his hardcore supporters were absent that day.  So it goes.  Since the stakes are too high, however, repeated personal attacks and character assassination are insignificant, especially when compared with the need to raise awareness.  And sure enough, some of his more fair-minded supporters have started to see things in a different light.

So what are the real stakes?  Again, I turn to Kuttner:

I think there are periods of American history when the political system rises to the occasion. It certainly did with the civil rights movement. It certainly did in the 1930s. But there’s no guarantee that it’s going to come out the way it needs their come out. So I wouldn’t give up on the political system. I mean, you have to keep fighting and working to rebuild democracy. Democracy is the only possible counterweight to concentrated financial power. And ideally, that takes a great president rendezvousing with a social movement. One way or another, there is going to be a social movement. Because so many people are hurting, and so many people are feeling correctly that Wall Street is getting too much and Main Street is getting too little. And if it’s not a progressive social movement that articulates the frustration and the reform program, you know that the right wing is going to do it. And that, I think, is what ought to be scaring us silly.

Think about that for a moment.  Who will lead the coming social movement?  The Left or the Right?  That, to me, is the real question.  It is also the issue that fuels my dissent.

Let’s look back.  What were the the elections of 2006 and 2008 about?  To me, the electorate spoke loudly that they were and remain ready, thirsty for change.  Not on a small scale.  They see the system is broken.  I was therefore disappointed when Obama did not go straight to the people and create a wave for single payer.  The majority wanted to change the health system that exists, but he did not even lift a finger in this regard.  Rather than endeavor to mobilize forces necessary to lead a true social movement, he instead retreated to that space of comfort held by Washington insiders.

He had done this before.  Look at Paul Street’s article, Obama, As Predicted where the sources are replete.  A more concrete example of retreat is seen is Street’s more recent article, Life is Simple in a Fake Democracy, in the following passage:

When Obama gives a big speech claiming to be the first president to have passed real health reform in the U.S., we can be sure, he won’t say anything about the following comments he made as a state senator in the early summer of 2003 to the Illinois AFL-CIO:

“I happen to be a proponent of a single payer universal health care program. I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that’s what Jim is talking about when he says everybody in, nobody out. A single payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that’s what I’d like to see. But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately. Because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House.”

This remarkable statement was made just prior Obama’s realization that he had a serious shot at national office – a realization that sharpened his willingness to subordinate himself to what Edward S. Herman and David Peterson Peterson call “the unelected dictatorship of money.” That behind-the-scenes tyranny “vets the nominees of the Republican and Democratic parties, reducing the options available to U.S. citizens to two candidates, neither of whom can change the foreign or domestic priorities of the imperial U.S. regime.”

This is what we are up against.  And in dealing with this anti-progressive force, amid the gloom that has arisen over Obama’s lackluster performance regarding fundamental issues, perhaps there is still a way, and some hope, as Kuttner concludes:

Right. And you’ve got to play hardball against these guys now. I do not want to leave this show with your viewers thinking this has been just a council of despair. So will you allow me to play Pollyanna for 30 seconds? Because I think this guy is nothing if not a work in progress. He’s nothing if not a learner. And I think there is a chance. I don’t think I would bet my life on it but I think there’s a possibility that by the fall of 2010, looking down the barrel of a real election blowout, you could see him change course, if only for reasons of expediency, but hopefully for reasons of principle as well, if he feels that the public doesn’t have confidence that he is delivering the kind of recovery that the public needs. This is a guy who is a very smart, complicated man. And I think don’t speak too soon, for the wheel’s still in spin. I don’t want to totally give up.

Neither do I want to give up.  Otherwise, I would have stopped pushing long ago.  It’s easier to write comments here that agree with.  People like back slapping.  Those who miss the point of why people dissent miss something very important.  In any event, it is Obama who must decide, the sooner the better, to change course and attempt to gather the public behind him in earnest and create a real social movement.  This is his key to become a great president in the mold of Lincoln or FDR.  Throwing his lot with entrenched powers will not only continue to lead us astray, but will destroy him in the eyes of the public.  Even worst, it will allow the other side, the dark side, to capture the coming social movement.  It’s easier for them.  They do not call to our better, collective nature, but to self-interested individualism as the means to fulfillment.

I will reiterate.  My hopes are with Obama, and with this country, perhaps I dare say even more than the many who blindly cheer him on in spite of the disconnects he has shown, more than they will ever realize.  Like me, many who offer strong dissent are not hoping to destroy Obama.  We are not right wingers.  We are the opposite.  We just believe that Obama could have, should have, made more of a real difference by trusting the people who trusted him.  It’s not too late.  He needs to change course.  He needs to follow the campaign rhetoric and cast his lot with the people.  Only then can he lead the social movement that will inevitably be upon us.  Only then can he stop the other side from grasping the energy of this coming movement.  

The tea bagger phenomenon will only continue to grow because it feeds into the pain, despair and growing belief among people that the broken system needs an answer and remedy.  They know how to prey on fears.  They are better at building fires.  Will the change be ours or theirs?  

I therefore close by asking, will Obama actually learn to play chess in time, or at all?


    • TomP on December 21, 2009 at 15:37

    The corporations bought both “change” movements.  

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