By Paul Hudon
Thanksgiving this year falls on the 24th, the eighth anniversary of the press conference when president-elect Obama announced his nomination of Tim Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury and Larry Summers as Director of the National Economic Council. And so for me, this Thanksgiving is the eighth anniversary of the day I gave up on the Democratic Party. I didn’t that day high-tail it to City Hall, change my registration to ‘non-aligned.’ Not then. In fact I don’t recall when that was. It might have been late as February aught nine, I just don’t know. But I’ve not ever regretted the decision, which stands in my mind clear as a sunrise over Marblehead, framed in the exact moment those two names came out of his mouth.
Nor have I ever, not for the span of a single breath, contemplated putting my name down on record as a Republican. (Give up alcohol, take up bleach. I don’t think so!)
What was it about the words Geithner and Summers decided me to cut loose from a lifetime as a registered Democrat? I wasn’t sure, not then, except that those names promised Rubin redux, and I was not going to subscribe to another four years of party allegiance where I cut and hedge until it was mostly allegiance and nothing of me as a citizen.
Clinton’s two terms were bracketed by the North American Free Trade Agreement (December 1993) and the Financial Services Modernization Act (November 1999). Between those two signings, Clinton gave us the Telecommunications Act of 1996. That privatized an array of formerly public airwaves and established a new range of rentes for corporate providers; and all of that, here’s the joke, in the name of fostering competition.
Soon after that press conference eight years ago, Obama, or was it David Axelrod, announced the decision to turn all the data accumulated by the campaign over to the Democratic National Committee. This came after the fact, it was corroboration not motivation. It confirmed my decision to quit the Democratic Party.
By all accounts, the Obama campaign of 2008 was a watershed event in the annals of American politics. A raft of innovations in communications, in data collection and processing were combined with intensive field work. A google search for ‘obama campaign 2008’ brings up a page dominated by the word ‘how.’ The pros stood and applauded. ‘Obama Wins! … Ad Age’s Marketer of the Year’ (http://adage.com/article/moy-2008/obama-wins-ad-age-s-marketer-year/131810/). ‘Marketing Pros and Agency Bigs Tap Barack Over Apple, Zappos.’ It was Axelrod of course, and a dozen other key players who were tapped by the pros and agency bigs. But that’s another issue.
The how of the campaign — call it the brain — was paired with the why — call that the heart. The heart was a gift of hope and the promise of change. That’s what the youth vote responded to in 2008. And that’s what was killed when Obama, Axelrod, or whoever, gave it up to the dead hand of the DNC. The party had another FDR moment and pissed it away.
Then came Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer at Justice, to keep Obama’s first administration on track. Both were snatched from Covington & Burling, one of D.C.’s high-end law firms. Breuer at C&B was paid to defend the same class of criminal he now swore under oath to prosecute at Justice. You’d think there could be a shadow of the possibility of conflict of loyalties in there, or anyway a situation fraught with complications. But not a bit of that shows; look at the record. Attorney Breuer was consistent in his loyalties, and now he’s back at C&B, still unfraught.
Obama and the Democratic Party did succeed with the Affordable Care Act (March 2010), a hard won campaign waged chiefly by Nancy Pelosi. Credit where credit is due. Yet, even here, with what has to be reckoned Obama’s signature achievement, he followed and abetted the party’s bias in favor of vested corporate interest. To former Democrats like myself, any Democrat actually who remembers the party before the Democratic Leadership Council led it down the garden path, the ACA did nothing so well as define and guarantee markets for the health insurance crowd. And, why not, extended patent protection and subsidies for big pharma as well.
The nadir of Obama’s first term came appropriately enough in the trough between his reelection and his second inauguration. On the 2nd of January 2013 he signed The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 making the temporary ‘Bush tax cuts’ (2001, 2003) permanent. In the shadowland between terms, maybe backdating the Act’s official title one year gave Obama an option to pretend he’d signed it when a second term was still at risk.
On 4 November 2008 I went to the polls figuring Obama had a seven percent chance of ‘turning it around,’ it being the party. (Seven percent is my standard guesstimate when I have no idea except I know the chance I’m looking for is remote.) I didn’t go in stupid. For one thing, I went knowing that Obama had outdone McCain at raising money on Wall Street. McCain, a septuagenerian, a cancer survivor, with the bear gutter on deck. In 2008 I voted Obama.
In 2012 I didn’t want to pass up the chance to vote for Elizabeth Warren. This year I had strong opinions about all four questions on the ballot. I went. Both times I voted Green.
Next time: The Silver Lining