Barack Obama leaves liberals broken-hearted

How can he accept the Nobel peace prize and yet refuse to sign the landmine ban?

Column LAST UPDATED AT 07:36 ON Thu 10 Dec 2009
Alexander Cockburn

A friend down the coast here in California called Wednesday to say that her mother Grace, 95, had fallen, cracked her ribs and told her daughters, "That's it. I'm checking out." She's given up eating. I remembered all the arguments I'd had down the years with the old lady – a perennial optimist about Democrats when it came to assessing the likelihood that Carter, or Clinton or Obama would ever actually serve up the progressive banquets they'd pledged on the campaign trail.
 
"Tell your mother that at least she won't have to put up with me saying 'I told you so, about Obama'," I said. Her daughter gave a deep, sad sigh. She too has been a loyal liberal Democrat all her life and now, she said, Obama was breaking her heart. So many high hopes, and here's a man accepting the Novel peace prize with one hand, while signing deployment orders with the other, sending 30,000 more young soldiers to Afghanistan.

 Here's a man who can't even toss the progressives the one peanut a year they need to keep them happy. Obama's refusal on the eve of Thanksgiving a fortnight ago to sign the US on to the landmine ban was the breaking-point for many.

The American Medical Association did a study saying that an estimated 24,000 people, mainly civilians, are killed or ripped apart by landmines and "unexploded ordinance" (cluster bombs) each year across the world. Mostly the victims are the rural poor, many of them children. As a senator, Barack Obama voted for the ban; as president, he's against it.

With Obama there is a disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality

Looking at these numbers it's a fairly safe bet to say that somewhere in the world, even as Obama rolled out the fine phrases about Martin Luther King and the peace lovers, some kids the same age as Obama's two daughters were killed or crippled by a landmine.
 
Obama could have tossed the peanut through the bars, and ratified the ban. The liberals would have cheered and then Obama could have told Rahm Emanuel to pass the word along to Congress that he'd much prefer the legislators not ratify his decision.

But Obama's too chicken to risk a gesture like that. What people are suddenly realising is that with Obama there is an absolute disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality. Is it cynicism?

My own feeling is that Obama has spent so much of his life putting on the various acts necessary to get ahead in the world of powerful, rich white people that deception and self-deception have become innate and instinctive, several steps beyond the self-conscious crudities of manipulation. He has no sense of shame. He can say, as he did in his Afghan War speech, "Our union was founded in resistance to oppression," then smile at his wife, descendant of oppressed slaves.
 
He has a picture of Muhammad Ali above his desk. On November 19 he wrote a tribute to Ali in USA Today praising "The Greatest" for "his unique ability to summon extraordinary strength and courage in the face of adversity, to navigate the storm and never lose his way".
 
Did Obama feel any disconnect between this tribute to the most famous draft resister in US history and the fact that at the very moment he was approving his speechwriter's draft of the piece for USA Today he was pondering drafts of a speech announcing he was widening the war in Afghanistan?
 
Dave Zirin, a fine sports writer, put it well in a piece called 'Message to Obama – You Can't Have Muhammad Ali'. He wrote: "Would that Muhammad Ali still had his voice. Would that Parkinson's disease and dementia had not robbed us of his razor-sharp tongue... But I think we can safely guess what the Champ would say in the face of Obama's war. We can safely guess, because he said it perfectly four decades ago:
 
"'Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No, I'm not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over.'"
 
Every day now I meet sad and angry people in this progressive part of northern California, furious at themselves at having believed in Obama, at a time in those early primaries and fundraisers last year when he needed them to believe. They kept on believing through most of this year, even as Obama threw one pledge after another out the window.

After the landmine sell-out and the 30,000 deployment they've got nothing to hold on to, except for the blacks, most of whom will stay with Obama till the end, holding on to the straightforward assumption that "He's doing the best he can under the circumstances" – those "circumstances" being white people.
 
Maybe the 95-year old Grace, a white woman, will slip away, also feeling that Obama is doing the best he can "under the circumstances" of the American empire, leaving younger, less blithe spirits with the thought that the sourest truth about Obama is that he's not doing the best he can "under the circumstances", that in fact he's really a sleazeball.
 
Any president has the power to do something decent once in a while, even if it's declaring a marine sanctuary, which was Jimmy Carter's last act as president. Bill Clinton finally offended Hollywood liberals by refusing to pardon Leonard Peltier, something he could have done at of the stroke of the same pen he used to sign the pardon for Marc Rich, the billionaire crook fugitive from justice.

Hollywood is still with Obama. If he was shot tomorrow, Oliver Stone would rush to make a movie saying Obama was killed by the Pentagon because of his pledge to pull the troops out of Afghanistan two years from now.
 
Hopes die hard, but Obama is doing a sound job of assassinating them with all due dispatch.

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