Is Barack Obama a “Manchurian Republican”?

[ cross-posted at Daily Kos ]

Are you a Manchurian Republican? When we sent money to your campaign and went door-to-door to get out the vote and made phone calls for Obama for America, were we helping elect a (soft) Republican? If not, then prove you’re a Democrat.

Thus begins our latest letter to the president. More riveting excerpts below. We suspect it will get more attention from you, gentle readers, than from the Oval Office.

We posed the Manchurian question in a letter written in frustration after Obama’s failure to stand up firmly against extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2%; his silence amid chatter about curtailing or privatizing Social Security and Medicare; his chronic lack of any definite, robust job-creation plan for Main Street (Wall Street’s been taken care of); and, the hottest-burning frustration just now, his repeated capitulations to our Republican tormentors and his . . . captors? Friends? BFFs?

The letter was sent after his post–midterm election summit meeting last week with McConnell and Boehner—the meeting that had been scheduled earlier but was abruptly canceled by the GOP leaders because of unspecified “scheduling conflicts,” a slap in the president’s face. Once the “no compromise” Republicans deigned to meet with the chief executive, he apologized for not having reached out to them more in the past two years. (We don’t know yet whether he crawled in to that meeting on his hands and knees; the White House press office has not replied to our inquiries.) Just the day before the meeting, Obama had announced his cynical decision to freeze federal workers’ pay for the next two years in order to save $5 billion—less than the U.S. spends in Afghanistan every month. Does he not realize that taking away these workers’ income, besides being morally wrong, also reduces their spending power and thus sets the economy back even further? (This is why unemployment benefits are stimulative to the economy generally.) Politically astute, too: what a way to win federal workers’ votes in 2012. What will he do when Republicans actually shut down the government, as they’ve been chattering about doing for months now? Find “common ground”?

Alas, the president was not at home to read our letter as it rolled off the White House fax machine because he was off on a secret visit to the troops in Afghanistan. He left town even though Congress was in the middle of voting on whether to extend the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts—a decision that, if the GOP has its way, would add $700 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years. Was he there to tell the troops the war’s over and now the federal deficit will be reduced by some $70 billion per year? Just kidding. (Iraq is at least another $65 billion or so per year.) (Congressional Research Service figures.)

In the original book and film versions of The Manchurian Candidate, you may recall, an American soldier captured in the Korean War, the son of a prominent political family, is brainwashed to become an assassin who can be “activated” at a later time by the communist enemy to kill an American candidate (to be determined as needed). We could have also used the word “stealth Republican,” but conservatives with microphones and blogs have speculated aloud (always loud) that “Barack Hussein Obama” might be some kind of “Manchurian socialist” (if only!) or communist or stealth Muslim programmed to pervert the American Way. For example, there is a book titled The Manchurian President: Barack Obama’s Ties to Communists, Socialists and Other Anti-American Extremists; our view, however, goes in quite the other direction.

Our letter—perhaps being read by the president at this very moment—continues:

Will you please stop repeating your maddening “spirit of cooperation” happy talk every time the GOP sticks a knife in you? . . . For four years the GOP has been demanding 60 votes for the most ordinary bills in the Senate. Now they’ve issued a letter [signed by all 42 GOP senators] saying they’ll hold all legislation hostage to extend tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires—essentially putting on paper what they’ve been doing in practice—and you say, once again, that “people of good will can come together.” Congressional Republicans are not people of good will. The nation is being damaged, seriously, gravely, by your refusal to stand and fight.

You are the one who must take the lead and embolden the congressional Democrats in holding the line against an extension of tax cuts for the upper 2 percent. We’re only talking about a 4% tax increase! It’s sickening to see you outsourcing the leadership to Geithner and Jack Lew to work out a deal with Congress. We didn’t elect Geithner and Lew to lead.

You make premature concessions and get nothing in return. You did it on the stimulus bill and you did it on health care reform—and what did you get from the GOP? When you met with McConnell and Boehner, did you tell them they’d better not block extending unemployment insurance and that you’re only in favor of extending tax cuts on the lower 98%? Did you extract any concessions before you announced a wage freeze on federal employees?

Democrats lost in the midterm elections because Democrats—beginning with you—do not fight back against the Republican’s lies. You lamely decry some vague (bipartisan?) “Washington spin cycle” and refuse to call out the liars by party or name—except once when you named Boehner in a campaign speech, a bit late in the game.

Democrats must protect Social Security and Medicare: no cuts to Social Security or Medicare or other social safety-net programs. Cut defense, raise taxes; do not let the conservatives inflict more pain on the poor and middle class! And you have to take the lead. Not Geithner, not Jack Lew.

Regarding the Manchurian question, we’ve been thinking along these lines for some time, suspecting we might have been duped by a silver tongue and a million-dollar smile. The evidence mounts. Our suspicions are only intensified by reading The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism (2010) by Roger D. Hodge.

One of the harshest things Obama can say about George W. Bush in his campaign manifesto is that the Republicans “cannot govern.” Indeed, Obama goes out of his way to be gracious toward a man who exploited a devastating terrorist attack in an attempt to establish a permanent monopoly on political power for his party, a president who on false pretenses led the United States into an insane, never-ending war, who made torture an explicit and proud policy of the United States, illegally spied on American Citizens, and abandoned the writ of habeas corpus, one of the foundational principles of republican liberty. Despite these clear acts of tyranny, Obama doesn’t ‘consider George Bush a bad man.’ . . . . The problem with the Republicans, according to Obama [in The Audacity of Hope], is not so much that the substance of their policies but their style. He finds their divisiveness offensive and objectionable. (36)

And you may recall these remarks from January 2008:

I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America. . . . He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. . . . I think he tapped into what people were already feeling. Which is we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.

No one seems to know where Obama is going, what his purpose is anymore. It’s pretty clear that his response to the midterm “shellacking” is not going to be a return to basic Democratic party principles, and he’s still not interested in being the Democrat in Chief. As Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. has written, “Obama seems to have decided that showing how conciliatory he can be is more important than making clear where he stands. . . . Obama’s party is in this fix because neither he nor  congressional Democrats could agree on what to do about the Bush tax cuts when they held the initiative—and now Democrats have no idea where Obama will go next” (“Where Is Obama Going?”). He continues to spend more time appeasing Republicans—whose sole, stated object is to make him a one-termer and to win infinite tax cuts for the upper 2 percent of America than standing up for the middle class he promised to defend.

Harry Truman one said there are 14 or 15 million Americans who have the resources to have representatives in Washington to protect their interests, and that the interests of the great mass of the other people, the hundred and fifty or sixty million, is the responsibility of the President of the United States. And I propose to fulfill it.

John F. Kennedy to the United Auto Workers, May 8, 1962 (quoted in James W. Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, p. 142)

Resentment can erode the foundations of trust, can burn away like acid the bonds of affection and the political capital that any politician, no matter how charismatic, establishes between himself and the public. If this president were to stand up on his hind legs and go on television to declare that the Bush tax cuts will end, that the nation cannot afford to add another $700 billion to the national debt already built up by the Republican party over the last ten years; if he were to remind the people (and the pundits) that the nation is suffering at least 10% unemployment, and at least 15 million are unemployed; that the richest 1% already own almost 24% of income, and that in the past 30 years more than 4/5 of the total increase in American incomes has gone to the richest 1%—if he were to stand up and remind the public of which party got us into this mess and what he is trying to do to get us out of the ditch, then the public would be behind him and the wavering Democrats might have more calcium in their backbones to stand up with him and refuse to allow an unaffordable extension of tax cuts for the upper 2 percent.

But will he do anything like this? We do not hope. (We are looking for a Shepard Fairey–like poster that reads “Hopeless.”)

More seriously, though, we are looking for a strong progressive authentic Democrat to run against Obama from the left, as Huey “Share Our Wealth” Long was challenging FDR before the 1936 election (admittedly a very different scenario). In that direction we do have some hope.






Is Barack Obama a “Manchurian Republican”?