Thursday, May 14, 2009

Toto, I’ve a Feeling We’re Not Out of Kansas Yet

I’m getting a new look at The Wizard of Oz. Right now, a fair-sized section of “hope you can believe in” has been pulled back to reveal the old quack Professor Marvel, who was hidden there all along—torture, surveillance, high finance, and (despite a recent epistolary assurance to the contrary) the same old same old in health care reform. (I don’t make predictions, but my guess is a good chunk of “reform” change will wind up in the pockets of insurance companies and big pharma—mind you, just a guess.)

I wouldn’t go so far as to deny that Obama has brought some Technicolor rays to our black-and-white world.

Sure, as far as same-sex marriage is concerned, we see some encouraging changes—on the state level (not federal)—from which, shamefully, in my opinion, the new wizard is holding himself just as aloof as the old wizard, under whose watch these state legislative and judicial reforms emerged. And, to be fair, the religious right no longer feel quite as empowered as they did a year ago in resisting these changes, despite a monstrous, shocking victory in California six months ago.

(It is good news indeed that my gay sisters and brothers who want to get married are increasingly enabled to do so—though, I should add, I personally have no desire to get married, and legal and economic inequities towards single people—gay or straight—remain unopposed.)

And while not having quite gotten around to dumping “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”—and even continuing to enforce it (ask Lt. Dan Choi!)—Obama still promises further inroads on gay rights … “some time.”

And, sure, the Guantanamo prison-slash-interrogation center is scheduled for closure in just eight months. Fantastic news for those of us with a feeling for human rights fresher than the year 1215! But, at present, closure of the infamous (and barely legal) detention center has no funding.

On the other hand, we have seen a proposed 15% cap on credit card interests defeated this week 60-33 in the Senate—denying indebted consumers the type of safety nets Washington is shitting itself to give to failing banks and other lending institutions. Twenty-one (21!) of the nay votes were Democrats; five more Democrats did not vote at all.

Not to suggest that, for one minute, I placed much confidence in the Democratic Party to stand up for the people against big capital … much less to Republican bullies and loudmouths.

Now, just like Bush, Obama is trying to block disclosure of photographs of Americans’ torture of detainees, on the understandable grounds that they may “inflame anti-American sentiment” (but only just as understandable now as when the Bush White House made the same argument). Meanwhile, the nation engaged this week in the “single deadliest US airstrike” on Afghanistan since 2001—one of a series of attacks designed ostensibly to weaken al-Qaeda while politically proving Obama’s commander-in-chief cojones. So 100 civilian lives have no anti-American propaganda potential?

Also out from behind the curtain is Obama’s indifference to US and international conventions in choosing not to go after the high-level members of the previous administration who blighted America’s global reputation and moral integrity by promoting and condoning inhuman and ineffective techniques of torture (including Cheney and Bush—as well as culpable Democrats).

The media, meanwhile, have responded to these revelations with little heart, brains, or courage … with the continues-to-amaze exception of stand-up comics!

Obama—God help me, I still like him (and do not in fact believe in God)—needs to put some ruby slippers on his rhetoric. And fast!

I admire the man’s style, manners, and his political savvy. But only what he says appeases the left; what he does appeases the right. In trying to show he’s no “socialist,” he panders to war-mongering, corporate capitalist interests. He panders with a great deal of dignity and wit, I have to admit, but it’s time for him to make direct and deliberate domestic and international policy changes of substance.

I can’t help but worry that Obama is squandering the window of opportunity he has had since February. The good news is that, for now, the far right and religious right are in shambles—but they are regrouping … fast … and with a vengeance.

My worst fear (hopefully groundless) is that their present whining over socialism, terrorist threats, higher taxes (after a tax cut, no less), teleprompters, and Dijon mustard will turn the tide entirely back to the dark ages many of us were hoping to escape.

The wicked witch could still use a good bucket of water—and the flying monkeys need a good talking to. Americans are ready for change, equality, liberation, hope, whatever you want to call it. But it (none of it) will come by following the same road we’ve been on for decades now already.

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