Publisher's Note — December 14, 2011, 12:16 pm

President Obama Richly Deserves To Be Dumped

John R. MacArthur is publisher of Harper’s Magazine and author of the book You Can’t Be President: The Outrageous Barriers to Democracy in America. This column originally appeared in the Providence Journal on December 14, 2011.

As evidence of a failed Obama presidency accumulates, criticism of his administration is mounting from liberal Democrats who have too much moral authority to be ignored.

Most prominent among these critics is veteran journalist Bill Moyers, whose October address to a Public Citizen gathering puts the lie to our barely Democratic president’s populist pantomime, acted out last week in a Kansas speech decrying the plight of “innocent, hardworking Americans.” In his talk, Moyers quoted an authentic Kansas populist, Mary Elizabeth Lease, who in 1890 declared, “Wall Street owns the country…. Money rules…. The [political] parties lie to us and the political speakers mislead us.”

A former aide to Lyndon Johnson who knows politics from the inside, Moyers then delivered the coup de grace: “[Lease] should see us now. John Boehner calls on the bankers, holds out his cup, and offers them total obeisance from the House majority if only they fill it. Barack Obama criticizes bankers as fat cats, then invites them to dine at a pricey New York restaurant where the tasting menu runs to $195 a person.”

As it happens, Moyers’s remarks anticipated the trenchant question posed in an interview by another prominent liberal, Barbara Ehrenreich, just after billionaire Michael Bloomberg and mayors of other cities cleared public spaces of Occupy Wall Street protesters: “Where in all this was Obama? Why couldn’t he have picked up the phone and called the mayors of Portland and Oakland and said: ‘Go easy on these people. They represent the anger and aspirations of the majority.’ Would that have been so difficult?” Well, yes, particularly if your principal occupation is shaking down bankers and brokers for campaign donations on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

By now it should be obvious that the system, and the Democratic Party, run Obama, not the other way around. Under this arrangement, the president carries out his duties as pre-eminent party functionary—fundraising being at the top of his list of responsibilities—and defers on legislation, leaving it to corrupt Democratic barons such as Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), devoted friend of the insurance, pharmaceutical, and banking crowd, and sworn enemy of reform.

As Ron Suskind’s book “Confidence Men” confirms, there was never any question of doing things differently. Describing the then president-elect’s choice of economic advisers, he notes, “Obama, after all, had selected for his top domestic officials two men [Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner] whose actions [in the Clinton Administration] had contributed to the very financial disaster they were hired to solve.” These anti-reform appointments did not go unnoticed by party regulars, even though they were ignored by Obama groupies. “I don’t understand how you could do this,” Suskind quotes Sen. Byron Dorgan (D., N.D.) saying to Obama. “You’ve picked the wrong people!”

The “wrong people” included Rahm Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago, and his replacement as White House chief of staff, William Daley; both of these advisers were four-star generals within the Chicago Democratic machine who cut their teeth in Washington during the campaign to pass that job-killer North American Free Trade Agreement and who later worked for investment banks. But Obama’s hypocrisy in Osawatomie, Kansas, set a new standard in deception. Among other things, his speech blamed “regulators who were supposed to warn us about the dangers of all this [the unfettered sales of bundled mortgages], but looked the other way or didn’t have the authority to look at all. It was wrong. It combined the breathtaking greed of a few with irresponsibility all across the system.”

What’s truly breathtaking is the president’s gall, his stunning contempt for political history and contemporary reality. Besides neglecting to mention Democratic complicity in the debacle of 2008, he failed to point out that derivatives trading remains largely unregulated while the Securities and Exchange Commission awaits “public comment on a detailed implementation plan” for future regulation. In other words, until the banking and brokerage lobbies have had their say with John Boehner, Max Baucus, and Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner. Meanwhile, the administration steadfastly opposes a restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act, the New Deal law that reduced outlandish speculation by separating commercial and investment banks. In 1999, it was Summers and Geithner, led by Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin (much admired by Obama), who persuaded Congress to repeal this crucial impediment to Wall Street recklessness.

And then there’s Afghanistan. Obama should be condemned for escalating this grotesquely expensive, destructive, and self-defeating war. Thoroughly discredited by analysts on both the left and the right, the Afghan madness seems to bore liberals who once would have marched against Vietnam. I suggest they watch the brilliant new documentary “Hell and Back Again” to enhance their knowledge of the war’s casualties. The pitiful story of Marine sergeant Nathan Harris ought to make them furious at our commander in chief; shouldn’t it also spark an intra-party revolt?

I urge people who haven’t given up on politics to examine the career of Allard Lowenstein. Lowenstein founded the Dump Johnson movement in 1967 and, against all odds, persuaded Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota to launch a Democratic primary challenge against the incumbent president over the issue of Vietnam. His example, I hope, might inspire someone to challenge another Democratic incumbent who has forfeited the trust of the people.

You may say it’s too late, that Obama is impregnable. Consider Gene McCarthy’s obscurity on November 30, 1967, when he announced his insurgent crusade. At the time, many Americans confused him with Senator Joe McCarthy (R., Wis.), the notorious communist hunter, and in January 1968 a Gallup poll showed him winning just 12 percent of the votes in a presidential election. But on March 12, McCarthy nearly beat Johnson in the New Hampshire primary. The opposition was galvanized, Robert Kennedy jumped into the race, LBJ announced he would not seek re-election, and American democracy was revived.

Granted, there are big differences between 1968 and 2012 — for one thing, there’s no military draft to frighten the young — but the great issues are the same: an immoral war and a merciless money power. Moreover, high unemployment and the dominance of Wall Street do frighten the young. They need a tribune.

In November 1967, before he announced his candidacy, McCarthy told an audience of college students, “There is deep anxiety and alienation among a large number of people…. Someone must give these groups entrance back into the political processes. We may lose, but at least in the process of fighting within the political framework, we’ll have reduced the alienation.” Two days later, in remarks that would have pertained just as well to the current Occupy Wall Street movement, he said, “Party unity is not a sufficient excuse for silence” and Vietnam was “not the kind of political controversy which should be left to a children’s crusade or to those not directly involved in politics. It should rather be taken up by adult political leaders and activists in America.”

Are there any adults left in the Democratic Party?

Share
Single Page

More from John R. MacArthur:

Publisher's Note October 5, 2017, 11:31 am

A Sad Heritage

Publisher's Note August 11, 2017, 5:34 pm

Le Chagrin

“Could I not avoid Trump and his bullshit, not even by crossing the Atlantic Ocean?”

Publisher's Note July 11, 2017, 4:15 pm

Living with Trump

“Loathing for Trump makes people forget that, among other horrors, a coalition of Republicans and Democrats has already wasted around $3.7 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan, sacrificed the lives of nearly 7,000 American soldiers, and wounded more than 52,000.”

Get access to 167 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

November 2017

Monumental Error

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Star Search

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Pushing the Limit

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Bumpy Ride

Bad Dog

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Preaching to The Choir

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Monumental Error·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In 1899, the art critic Layton Crippen complained in the New York Times that private donors and committees had been permitted to run amok, erecting all across the city a large number of “painfully ugly monuments.” The very worst statues had been dumped in Central Park. “The sculptures go as far toward spoiling the Park as it is possible to spoil it,” he wrote. Even worse, he lamented, no organization had “power of removal” to correct the damage that was being done.

Illustration by Steve Brodner
Article
Star Search·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On December 3, 2016, less than a month after Donald Trump was elected president, Amanda Litman sat alone on the porch of a bungalow in Costa Rica, thinking about the future of the Democratic Party. As Hillary Clinton’s director of email marketing, Litman raised $180 million and recruited 500,000 volunteers over the course of the campaign. She had arrived at the Javits Center on Election Night, arms full of cheap beer for the campaign staff, minutes before the pundits on TV announced that Clinton had lost Wisconsin. Later that night, on her cab ride home to Brooklyn, Litman asked the driver to pull over so she could throw up.

Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Pushing the Limit·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In the early Eighties, Andy King, the coach of the Seawolves, a swim club in Danville, California, instructed Debra Denithorne, aged twelve, to do doubles — to practice in the morning and the afternoon. King told Denithorne’s parents that he saw in her the potential to receive a college scholarship, and even to compete in the Olympics. Tall swimmers have an advantage in the water, and by the time Denithorne turned thirteen, she was five foot eight. She dropped soccer and a religious group to spend more time at the pool.

Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Bumpy Ride·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

One sunny winter afternoon in western Michigan, I took a ride with Leon Slater, a slight sixty-four-year-old man with a neatly trimmed white beard and intense eyes behind his spectacles. He wore a faded blue baseball cap, so formed to his head that it seemed he slept with it on. Brickyard Road, the street in front of Slater’s home, was a mess of soupy dirt and water-filled craters. The muffler of his mud-splattered maroon pickup was loose, and exhaust fumes choked the cab. He gripped the wheel with hands leathery not from age but from decades moving earth with big machines for a living. What followed was a tooth-jarring tour of Muskegon County’s rural roads, which looked as though they’d been carpet-bombed.

Photograph by David Emitt Adams
Article
Bad Dog·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Abby was a breech birth but in the thirty-one years since then most everything has been pretty smooth. Sweet kid, not a lot of trouble. None of them were. Jack and Stevie set a good example, and she followed. Top grades, all the way through. Got on well with others but took her share of meanness here and there, so she stayed thoughtful and kind. There were a few curfew or partying things and some boys before she was ready, and there was one time on a school trip to Chicago that she and some other kids got caught smoking crack cocaine, but that was so weird it almost proved the rule. No big hiccups, master’s in ecology, good state job that lets her do half time but keep benefits while Rose is little.

Illustration by Katherine Streeter

Estimated portion of French citizens with radical-Islamist beliefs who grew up in Muslim families:

1/5

Human hands are more primitive than chimp hands.

Trump declared flashlights obsolete as he handed them out to Puerto Ricans, 90 percent of whom had no electricity in their homes; and tweeted that he wouldn’t keep providing federal hurricane relief “forever” to Puerto Rico, a US territory that the secretary of energy referred to as a “country.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Report — From the June 2013 issue

How to Make Your Own AR-15

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

Subscribe Today