Ghost of Richard Nixon hovers over Barack Obama
Another rehashed vision of a golden America-that-could-be leaves Alexander Cockburn gloomy at the prospects for change
So many ghosts crowded the inauguration dais yesterday that it's not surprising Chief Justice Roberts flubbed his lines and had to be corrected by the man he was swearing in. Look over there on the right; that jowly fellow with the 5 o'clock shadow and the long upsweeping nose.
It's Richard Nixon on January 20, 1973! With the exception of Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, he'd swept every state in the union to win a second term in November's election.
Listen to him: "As we meet here today, we stand on the threshold of a new era of peace in the world." Yet American B-52s were still bombing Cambodia, as they had virtually throughout his administration. One-and-a-half years later he resigned, rather than face impeachment.
How things might turn for Obama, long on preachments, short on real change
Why, look - Nixon's smiling! He's just heard Obama call for "a new era of responsibility". He's remembering more lines from that second inaugural: "A person can be expected to act responsibly only if he has responsibility. This is human nature. So let us encourage individuals at home and nations abroad to do more for themselves, to decide more for themselves."
Perhaps Ghost Nixon is also smiling because, he can see, four or eight years down the road, how swiftly things might turn for Obama, long on preachments, short on real change, forever trimming before the wind.
Inaugural rhetoric is a currency forever debauched by JFK's appalling excesses in this department. The genre is tired. Pledges of a new day get their ritual airing. America is a beacon of freedom and virtue; a foe whose reach is long, whose wrath implacable.
Obama trod this familiar path, offering a mild version of blood-sweat-and-tears. "We understand that greatness is never a given," he said. "It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame."
I assume the talk of responsibility in this new era was a softening-up salvo. Five days before the inaugural (which may end up costing a thoroughly irresponsible $150m, much of it furnished by taxpayers) Obama told journalists at the Washington Post that he’s going to convene a "fiscal responsibility summit" in February. This is very bad news.
"Fiscal responsibility" in this context means only one thing – an attack on Social Security and Medicare. Sure enough, the Post wrote that Obama remarked that "some of the difficult choices - particularly in regards to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare - should be made on his watch. 'We've kicked this can down the road and now we are at the end of the road,' he said."
It's an invariable rule of inaugurals that at some point during the interminable proceedings some TV anchor will marvel out loud at the peaceful nature of the transition of power. So it was this time.
More than one commentator seemed stunned at the fact that Obama had not been forced to purchase the loyalty of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to furnish him shock troops to winkle Bush and Cheney out of the bunker at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Each time one feels the same gloom at these quadrennial displays of leader-lustBut peaceful transitions are invariably tranquil even at the rhetorical level, when those with a serious stake in the existing system are entirely confident that no change detrimental to their interests is going to take place when the new man takes over.
Big business soon got frightened by FDR and immediately started planning an armed coup. The tycoons recruited General Smedley Butler, who pretended an interest, then leaked the plan to the press.
Each time a new president strides forth, flourishing his inaugural menu of change, one feels the same gloom at these quadrennial displays of leader-lust.
Eight years of complaining about George Bush's arrogation of unconstitutional powers under the bizarre doctrine of the 'unitary executive' and here we have the national audience enthusiastically applauding yet another incoming president rattling off the I-will-do's as though there was no US Congress and he was Augustus Caesar.
The founders, whom Obama invoked in his opening line, produced a Constitution that gives the president, to quote Dana Nelson's useful new book Bad for Democracy: How the Presidency Undermines the Power of the People, "only a thin framework of explicit powers that belong solely to his office: for instance, the power to grant reprieve and pardons, and to fill any government vacancies during any Senate recess. His other enumerated powers are either shared... or secretarial and advisory."
Enough of the Commander-in-Chief. All we need is a decent pardoner and a good secretary who can email out the inaugural to interested parties. ·
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