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Monday, 28 December 2009 03:05

Dr. J.'s Commentary: President Obama and the Democratic Leadership Council

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Many of us on the Left, whether the Democratic Party Left or the Real Left, are becoming increasingly disturbed, upset, concerned, what-have-you, with the behavior of the president in office. Obama came into office promising to be a different kind of president. Although certain of our compatriots were not so easily taken in, many of us (including myself, I must admit) thought that he would be, certainly in comparison to Carter and Clinton. But there were straws in the wind that he might not be. Earlier on, I had even noted some of them myself. However, for a while during the first few months of Obama's term, I did get caught up in the rhetoric. I should have paid a lot more attention to those earlier thoughts, as it has turned out, and will briefly review of some of them here. This brings us to the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).

The DLC is the right-wing organization that has dominated Democratic Party politics and policies since it was founded in the 1980s by the likes of Bill Clinton and Richard Gephardt, joined in the 1990s by the likes of Joe Lieberman. One of its prominent political positions was that in order to win elections Democrats had to look as much like Republicans as possible. This reversed the long-held mantra of Harry Truman that if someone wants to vote for a Republican, they will indeed vote for him (or her), not for a Democrat trying to look like one. It now is becoming quite clear that the Obama Democratic Party has become quite stuck in this mode. Strong criticism for the likes of Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson (much less any of the Republicans who have since the beginning of his Administration announced that they were out to "bring him to his Waterloo" [or worse])? Well, no. Personal, kill-the-messenger-type, attacks on the likes of Howard Dean? You betcha.

The DLC was the engine behind the "free trade" push of the Clinton Administration, which did nothing but accelerate the export of capital and the jobs that go with it that began under Reagan. The DLC strongly supported Clinton's "welfare deform" act as well as his repeal of the Depression-era Glass-Steagal Act that kept separate investment and commercial banking, an initiative spearheaded by the man who is now Obama's principal economic policy person, Larry Summers. Currently, the DLC still clings to the Right. On its Web site, you can find its policy paper on health care reform that says in essence, forget about the public option. What we really need is health insurance regulation and "exchanges." You can even still find a 2005 paper by Will Marshall calling for "victory" in Iraq. And you can find a continued devotion to "free trade," as if enough U.S. manufacturing jobs had not already been sent abroad in search of higher profits.

Back in December 2007 on The Political Junkies.net (now TPJmagazine.us), I had this (slightly updated) to say in part about Obama and the DLC:

"As they have done in the past, the center-right Democratic Leadership Council is this time around running what in Standard-Breed (trotters and pacers) horse racing terminology is known as an 'entry.' One owner enters two horses and bettors can bet on the two together. If either one wins, places, or shows, the bettor collects. In 2004, the DLC entry was John Edwards and Richard Gephardt. . . . This time the DLC has an entry as well, but Edwards ain't part of it. . . . The DLC entry is -- yes, indeed, Clinton and Obama.

"They don't like each other much, and each does indeed want to be president. But their central philosophy is much the same and many of their policies are rather similar too. The philosophy is better articulated (and given a nice gloss) by Obama. But functionally, even though her rhetoric may be a bit harsher, Clinton is woven from the same fabric. And so, Obama talks about the 'politics of hope,' about 'bringing the country together,' about 'crossing the partisan divide,' as if the political problems facing our nation today are the result of a partisanship that both parties are responsible for, rather than the ultra, openly declared 'we-won't-support-anything-you-put-up' partisanship that the GOP could not survive without."

In Summer 2008, I ran a Commentary on BuzzFlash entitled "No Obamallusions." I noted that after he won the nomination, Obama seemed to be veering toward the Hillary Clinton positions on a number of issues and that he was drawing into his campaign a number of Clintonistas, such as Madeleine Albright, protégés of Robert Rubin. and even the old right-wing Democratic warhorse Zbigniew Brzezinski. But then last April on BuzzFlash, I revealed that I had been sucked in by Obama. In that column, I wrote: "It is overwhelmingly obvious that I was totally wrong about Barack Obama. He is the most traditionally 'Democratic' president since the pre-Vietnam War Lyndon Johnson." Ooops!

There were several commentators for that Commentary who took me apart for the above statement. Well, I have come to the conclusion that on the subject of Obama's true politics, they were right then and I was right the first time around. At the beginning of his administration, Obama seemed to be or at least seemed to be becoming a "different kind of Democrat," different that is from the Clinton-DLC type. But there are now too many DLC-type policies in place, from starting out with a stimulus package that was a compromise before he even put it on the table, to Afghanistan, to torture to saving the banks without extracting much of a change in behavior in return, to health care reform.

He is not entirely consistent, of course. EPA has taken a major position on carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Some good (and not-so-good) things are going on over at Interior. On Afghanistan, does it not seem that the major presenters of administration policy are Hillary Clinton, a prime DLCer, and Bob Gates, who would be a DLCer were he not a Republican? While Obama spoke about a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan, they both said not-so-fast. That's clearly a DLC-type policy. Either Obama is speaking with a forked tongue or he is not in charge.

Then there is the back-down on going after our homegrown torturers and their enablers. In fact, the Administration has entered an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the Prince of the Torture-enablers, John Yoo. Yes, administrations don't like to be subject to civil lawsuits over decisions they have made. But Yoo's policies enabled crimes against the Constitution which, in Article VI classifies Treaties, such as the Geneva Conventions, as the Supreme Law of the Land. That's a typical DLC "let's not make any trouble for people on the other side" policy. One of the monstrous ironies in this case is that during the Bush-Cheney years, Attorney General Holder was a Board Member of the American Constitution Society, an organization primarily of attorneys that strongly opposed the torture policies, the military commissions, the suspension of habeas corpus in "terrorism" cases, and the uses to which Guantanamo was put. (Full disclosure: I am a non-attorney long-time member of the ACS, and am very disappointed in Holder.) And now it is all very much out in the open on health care reform. The present mish-mash is very DLC-like, much, much less of any kind of a true reform package than even Clinton put on the table.

Unless Obama reverses course soon, he is going to face a serious challenge in the Democratic primaries in 2012, just as Carter did in 1980. Hopefully his opponent will not be someone as hobbled by personal conduct issues as Ted Kennedy was back then. Do I have someone in mind? Well, yes, but I ain't saying who quite yet. If Obama does retain the nomination, then he will face a serious third-party candidate and I am not talking about Ralph Nader or someone from the Green Party. I am talking about someone who would be well-funded and would stand a chance of winning, just as Abraham Lincoln did in a three-way race in 1860. Of course, that could pave the way for Sarah Palin, who right now is the odds-on favorite for Republican nomination no matter how many lies she tells. But for the preservation of Constitutional Democracy in our great nation, I believe this is a chance we have to take. Do I have someone in mind for that third-party nomination? Well, no. But he/she better be a grand candidate and better be able to raise lots of money. Otherwise it's a Second Civil War, either before or after a full-grown fascist takeover.

This Commentary is based in part on one of the same name by me that appeared on TPJmagazine on December 20, 2009.

Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for BuzzFlash, Dr. Jonas is also Managing Editor and a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Senior Columnist for The Greanville POST; a Contributor to TheHarderStuff newsletter; a Contributor to The Planetary Movement; and a Contributing Columnist for the Project for the Old American Century, POAC.