Saturday, May 7, 2011

Voodoo You Can Believe In:
The Obama domination of the news cycle

After the seemingly spontaneous, billionaire organized, billionaire funded, nominally working class tea bagger movement gave us a congress November past in which, according to conventional wisdom, 32 percent of its members owe their offices to tea bagger support, Republicans for months controlled the news headlines and the agenda in Washington, and John Boehner, the new and newly empowered House Speaker, became a household word.

But since Barak Obama announced he was seeking a second term early last month, the US president, in a stunning display of PR acumen, and exhibiting a masterful understanding of the national mood, has been in almost complete control of the news headlines. Along the way he has cast Republicans as loonies and heartless extremists and backed them into a small, stinky corner using the same budget issues they had been making headlines with month after month.

Obama still has some ground to make up in some key Midwestern swing states he won in 2008, but his ability to control the news and the agenda in the past month might be a preview of the upcoming presidential election, and i
f the US economy halfway cooperates, Obama should have an easy time being reelected. 

In transitioning from his governing role to his campaigner mode, he has begun to work a form of voodoo on the news media and the public. I am no Obama fan, but I mean voodoo in an admiring sense, in the sense that in the ways he uses the media and his political, organizing and speaking gifts, he is better than anyone since Bill Clinton, that other master of self promotion. Maybe even better. Clinton had a Ross Perot to drain away conservative support in both his elections.

Obama opened his campaign on April 4. It made the headlines, but didn't attract much followup coverage, and most of that focused on the billion dollars in campaign contributions he hopes to raise, most of which will come from the wealthy. This news may have inspired awe in his legions of 2008 supporters, but also might have left them wondering where they fit into the picture, if at all.

The next day, however, Paul Ryan, a previously little known Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the US House of Representatives budget committee, announced the Republicans' budget plan, which, among its many disgusting features would do away with Social Security and Medicare and give more tax cuts to the already barely taxed rich. It was an acceleration of Reaganomics, the attack on the working class. Ryan became an instant media star. He was seen and heard everywhere.

Obama made short work of Ryan and the Republican budget plan. In a populist sounding speech on April 13, reversing his practice since being elected of going along with whatever conservatives wanted, he simply pointed out some of the nefarious effects of the Republicans' plan and pledged to protect retirement benefits for the working class. He said nothing about reversing Reaganomics or his long standing support of it.

With those few words, however, Ryan was sent back into obscurity. Not much has been heard since of the Republican budget plan, and a shift began to occur in the way the media frames issues.

There is always a small but steady stream of stories in the mainstream media by conscientious reporters about corporate greed, corporate favoritism in the tax code, about the rough ride the working class is having. They never get much play, but because of Obama's remarks, stories of this nature, such as that Exxon paid no taxes the prior year and indeed got a refund from the government, or that oil companies and other corporations collectively get billions in annual subsidies from the government, were suddenly mentioned more, got more prominent play, and had a longer life span.

The Republicans still have not adapted. They managed to get back into the headlines for one day, but only when Speaker Boehner made noises about agreeing to curtail the billions in government subsidies to oil companies.

Obama, perhaps satisfied with the effect of that one speech, or perhaps not wanting the populist current to get or of hand, has not come forth with any more populism. The election, after all, is 20 months off. But he has continued on a roll. He, Obama himself, has been the news, except for a few days when the huge outbreak of global warming induced tornadoes hit the South.

After a day of news about the storms and resulting destruction and loss of life, Obama flew to Alabama to jump in front of the cameras and deliver appropriately empathetic remarks, and present himself in start contrast to George W Bush, who, especially southerners still recall responded to Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed New Orleans and also killed hundreds of mostly poor people, by attending a ceremony at which he was awarded a gold plated guitar, and when complaints about his indifference to the disaster, and the government's lack of response to it, became overwhelming, flew over the devastated area on his way back to the White House from his winter home in Texas.

Next, Obama put on the birth certificate show. There has always been a low keyed rumble about his birth status. All along, Obama had his birth certificate. He could have released it at any time. But he didn't, until Donald Trump, who has his own genius for self promotion and headline grabbing and who used the "birther" issue to vault himself to the top of Republican presidential nominee polls, got way out on a limb with the issue and took a good percentage of the US population with him; but,, importantly, that part that will never, under any circumstances, vote for Obama. Only when it was most effective did Obama release his birth certificate and cause birthers to look ridiculous.

Then came the Osama bin Laden assassination. That occurred last weekend, and nothing so far, not even the first Republican presidential hopeful debate in on Thursday, has even for a day pushed it from the top spot in the news.

It has been a text book example of media manipulation. As the initial media frenzy of the first two days began to give way to questions about why bin Laden wasn't captured, why his body wasn't brought back as proof, CIA Director Leon Pinetta stepped in to assert that pictures of a dead bin Laden would be released. As those headlines began to crest, leaks about an internal White House debate over whether to release the pictures trickled out, and finally Obama announced that no, the picture won't be released. He was probably smiling and patting his vest pocket where, like his birth certificate, the pictures will remain until he really needs them. Meanwhile, the same story is still the main headlines, thanks to the steadily leaking details about the initial raid and of what was found in the computers and documents taken from the bin Laden compound. It has been a breathtaking demonstration.

And it has been breathtaking to see the change, from Boehner to Obama, and from an Obama in the White House, seeing only his advisors, to Obama the campaigner, the Public Relations genius, the champion of the people once again.

Partly, this is so awe inspiring because after he is safely reelected, we can expect a repeat of what he did his first two years in office. He will send the Left, Progressives and the working class millions, who will once more buy into his soaring rhetoric and propel him to power, back to their respective corners while he, with the help of a few moderate and conservative Democrats, and the Republicans, tend to their rich backers' interests, helping them to increase their wealth by way of their savage, ongoing attack on the working class, whose members will continue their downward slide toward "third world" living standards, and the US Imperial Empire will continue to extract wealth from the rest of the world under its current economic-military form of domination, destruction and murder.

But from now until the election, it will be fun to be pulled along with the tide that follows in Obama's wake, to enjoy the occasional snippet of populist rhetoric, to watch the Republicans flail about trying to find a response. And they will flail about because there is no response, once it is revealed, as Obama did in his speech, that the emperor has no clothes, that no mater how you cast it, the attack on the working class is an attack on the working class. They simply cannot argue with the resulting pain and insecurity and the loss of the so called American Dream we the people are experiencing. Once the illusion that the free market is free and creates prosperity for all, an illusion created with the help of the puffs of racism and Islamophobia and the appeals to patriotism, once is all brushed away by a few remarks by the president, there is no defense for Reaganomics.

I will enjoy it, and, unfortunately, will probably end up voting for Obama again. I voted for Hillary Clinton in the New Mexico presidential primary in 2008. I knew then what Obama was. Hillary is really no different. She would have been for the ruling class and for Empire, but at least you knew what you were getting. She is not a hypocrite. I also had sympathy for Hillary, after the relentless savaging of her person-hood at the hands of Republicans for the previous eight years.

There is always talk on the Left about withholding one's vote, or about voting for an alternative, like Ralph Nader. I appreciate those sentiments.

Another thing I consider is that there are certain advantages to the Republicans being in power. It brings out the oppositional social movements, who are always co-opted by the Democrats. We of the Left also like to say that if Republicans control government long enough, people will eventually see what conservatism is all about. That may be true up to a point. But as things get worse, it is simply that much easier to bait working people with racism and fear. It is easier to divide us. One also can argue that the more Democrats are associated with our decline, the more quickly they will be discredited and the sooner people will understand that they are not the representatives of the working class. And when Republicans are in power, they get the blame for the decline of the United States, which will continue. But oppositional social movements are limited because they are Reformist, and therefore fighting a losing battle, and recall how easily Republicans have shifted blame for the Bush deficits to Obama.

The reason I continue to vote Democratic is not so much because there is an argument for it, or because the Democrats are the lesser of two evils, but simply because of my fear of Republicans and of what they want to do to me. And in the end, uprisings, those spontaneous manifestations of our natures that have always occurred and always will, uprisings like we are seeing in the Middle East and North Africa, have nothing to do with political parties. Barak Obama couldn't start an uprising, couldn't inspire one, or stand in its way. He can only get reelected.


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