All For Naught

In this Getty image, U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement at the Marine Corps Base in Kaneohe Bay Monday on a failed bid to blow up a US-bound transatlantic airliner on Christmas Day.

These are the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands,
they are not original with me,
If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing
or next to nothing.
If they do not enclose everything they are next to
If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle
they are nothing,
If they are not just as close as they are different
they are nothing.

---Walt Whitman

From the age of six I had a mania for drawing the form of things. By the time I was fifty, I had published an infinity of designs, but all that I have produced before the age of seventy is not worth taking into account. At seventy-three I have learned a little about the real structure of nature, of animals, plants, birds, fishes, and insects. In consequence, when I am eighty, I shall have made more progress, at ninety I shall penetrate the mystery of things, at a hundred I shall have reached a marvelous stage, and when I am a hundred and ten, everything I do, be it a dot or a line, will be alive.


Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

---The Red Queen

It's the time of summing up, and everybody wants to call it The 0 Decade. Zero. But as frustrating and maddening as these first 9 years of the millenium have been, mathematicians and meteorologists agree it takes 10 years to make a decade. So what's a group of 9 called? A nonet. None. Nine. Bah.

Alexander Cockburn's chilly summary at Truthout goes all the way back to 1970, and considers most jarringly what America would NOT be had Hinckley succeeded in killing Reagan. Other reviewers are content to tally up the social nothingness of the Bush 8 out of 9. But Obama is a major target of scrutiny...and that transparency must be getting the full X-ray treatment.

A week ago Sunday, Frank Rich declared Time Magazine's selection of Ben Bernanke as Man (in the sense of huMAN) of the Year was completely off the beam. His choice was Tiger Woods. Why? Because Tiger emerged absolutely as the best conman...and 2009 definitely was the Year of the Con. From Bernie Madoff to John Edwards, everybody was out to pick your pocket. And Obama? You betcha! "Though the American left and right don’t agree on much, they are both now coalescing around the suspicion that Obama’s brilliant presidential campaign was as hollow as Tiger’s public image — a marketing scam designed to camouflage either his covert anti-American radicalism (as the right sees it) or spineless timidity (as the left sees it)."

This morning Maureen Dowd may as well be working for Fox News as she refers to Barack Obama as an emotionless, "disembodied" Mister Spock. The current administration seems to share with the previous that it has the intelligence but doesn't have the intelligence. "If we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?"

I've had similar concerns about President Obama's performance this year...and I've posted them online. Yesterday morning on the radio, those of us with such doubts got a substantial scolding. It happened on the Stephanie Miller program, a radical piece of broadcasting even by morning show standards. We hear an hour of it every weekday morning, from 10 to 11, on the unlikely WAIS, 770 AM, in the Athens area. I feel an affinity for Stephanie because she also is from the Buffalo area, and has a quality of outrageous zaniness one acquires looking for excitement in Western New York on a Saturday night. I also remember her father fondly, US Representative William E. Miller, a moderate-to-liberal Republican, which was a rarity in Upstate politics. Mr. Miller ran for the vice presidency on Barry Goldwater's ticket in 1964, and Stephanie jokingly ran for president in 2008, with Goldwater's granddaughter as her running mate.

But Stephanie Miller and her whole crew are on holiday this week, so it was a guy subbing for her who took us Obama doubters to task yesterday. His name is Hal Sparks and he seems to show up a lot on her show. He has a rather odd resume so far but I thought his comments were right on. He challenged us grass rooters, who worked so hard last year and then went home after the election and put our feet up. Now we're moaning that after 11 months we haven't gotten what we want yet from Obama, and vowing to vote for Nader next time. Sparks reminds us it's a lot harder to build up after something has been torn down, and the President still needs grass roots support. That doesn't just mean arguing with the rednecks at work. It means encouraging congresspeople who still are in there pitching for the program. It means active engagement with those who aren't. He said the Democratic Party and Barack Obama need even more help from us now than before.

Well, I hadn't thought about it enough that way I guess. So my summary is more along the lines of checking out what campaign promises Obama really made in the summer and fall of 2008. Has he kept to those promises or not? Does he deserve my continued support? To find out I picked up issue 1064 of Rolling Stone which contained an excellent interview with the candidate on the very eve of the election. Interviewing was Eric Bates, one of the many editors of the magazine. I have to confess surprise that Barack Obama has been consistent in setting about to do exactly what he said he would. There isn't sharp focus in the banking area I must say, but clearly the administration now realizes any bailout money has got to go to smaller hometown banks to lend to small business. Americans have got to have jobs and the opening for creation is in the area of renewable energy. Gore has been saying this for a long time, but now we're hearing it from the White House...and such talk has got to be encouraged.

There are things we can do around our towns. Everywhere people are learning about energy audits and how to save money on changing lifestyles and retrofitting buildings and homes. Local schools and churches need community involvement in learning how to do this. People are wondering about sustainability and if you look around, you'll find meetings being held. Attend them. Get involved. That spirit of enthusiasm and optimism we had during the campaign is going on there. Young people are at work and they're spreading the word among peers who still are learning the basics.

The Naughts are gone, and Twenty-Ten is the start of the Teens. It's a time of vigorous growth and development. It's a time of risk. It's the time for dedication to lasting values. It's time to fall in love. It's a wonderful time to be alive. Let's get busy!

(Also posted at


  1. John Kennedy was in the White House three years. And we are still wondering what kind of president he would have been.

    Combine a huge hangover with the Bush years with a sense of constant national emergency, a mood cultivated by a greedy and frivolous corporate MSM, with the actual size of the enormous problems we and the world face, with the promising charisma Obama offered in the campaign along with enormous deficits stifling much needed spending, plus a powerful rightwing point of view, and we have the lack of patience, uncertainty, and disillusionment we see all around us today.

    I too am highly disturbed by Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan. I can see no sense in any of it and the war there is reminiscent of other senseless wars we have been in. Much too much too reminiscent.

    His choice of an economic team is unsettling too. These men believed in deregulation and there doesn’t appear to be much of a fight for necessary regulation and oversight in either the Congress or the White House.

    On healthcare Obama’s position may only reflect political realities. That case, at least, makes as much sense as any other theory. Conservative and reactionary forces are just too powerful in the Congress.

    He could take a more progressive stance on gay marriage and “don't’ ask don’t tell.”

    Fudging on Copenhagen was not a good idea. It revealed weakness and a lack of direction. Think healthcare has been a fight? This one regarding energy should be a whopper.

    Regarding homeland security Napolitano’s happy face was a serious error too. It only created doubt and more uncertainty. Are they too incompetent?

    But read some of the comments over at Truthdig or Common Dreams. There is a left out there which is ignorant, dogmatic, strident and blind. They are having a field day. (In fact, that left has always been around.)

    The fact is we need to elect more progressives. Enough to defeat the conservative Democrats in the Congress. We can have the most progressive and politically savvy president in the world, but without the votes he can get nowhere.

    But how to elect more progressives? If Obama fails, and he appears to be in danger of that, then blocks of American voters may become even more conservative. The Repubicans will say, see, this is what tax and spend socialism does for you. We need to cut taxes and deregulate. We need god and family values to return to our country. We need to go back to basics.

    This argument may not be too compelling for you and me. But it works with a lot of people. So we should perhaps be asking ourselves, how do we get through this wall? When Roosevelt became president in 1933 he had 68 Democratic senators and a huge majority in the House. Today there are six or seven conservative Democrats who can derail anything which needs to be passed in the Senate. That’s the simple reality.

    I think it is still too early to make any “final” judgment on Obama. What we should do is fight our enemies on the right, Democrats as well as Republicans, and collectively remind Obama of what needs to be done. Fierce hysterics - in an irrational national atmosphere cultivated by a corporate MSM - will help nothing.

    So I agree with Richard.... Keep trudging, working, and our eyes open. In that regard I suspect Jazzo is ahead of me. I just sit around and write these stupid messages.

  2. Well, I'm grateful for the comment...and certainly won't accept Quinty's reference to it as stupid. I really do recommend a reading of the Rolling Stone interview however. He seems almost entirely consistent to me.

    We need to remember that during the campaign progressives had doubts about him. Now that he is producing the presidency that we thought then probably would happen, we go around condemning him for not doing things he never represented himself as intending to do. I say let's be calm and organize our thinking!

    However, if one is intent on judging the first year severely, Jim Hightower's column yesterday provides a good model~~~

    "In my travels, I've heard many cries of despair from you good folks about the timorous Obama presidency. On issue after issue, it's been go-slow and don't-rock-the-corporate boat. 'Where's the "audacity of hope?"' people are asking. 'Where's the "change you can believe in?"'
    The answer is that in our country's democracy, audacity and change are where they've always resided: out there with you and me, at the grassroots level. For some reason, the guy who was elected by running from the outside is now trying to govern from the inside -- which is where change is taken to die."

    Jim then provides 6 things you can do about it---besides blogging and writing comments. :-)