Given the choice…

A utopian response to the Obama administration

By , Sunday 7 August 2011 18.00 BST

A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at.

Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism

OK, it’s done, the party’s over. For the umpteenth time, President Obama rolled over. Call it capitulation, surrender or betrayal. He swallowed the economic suicide pill. There wasn’t even a sham battle before agreeing to the “grand bargain” to keep “our fiscal house in order”.

What’s the point of screaming at Obama that he’s backstabbed us – again? He is what we are: intelligent, articulate, tasteful, restrained and without guts. In 2008, we hungered for a Jesus of Nazareth to save us, and instead, we got Barack of Hyde Park, the University of Chicago’s stately, snooty enclave.

We got what we asked for, which is a rightwing Democratic administration in some ways more retrograde than Reagan or Nixon’s. This gets lost in a fog of insider jargon like “pragmatic” and “consensus”, or Obama’s tired catchphrases “let me be clear” when he’s at his foggiest and “it will not be easy” – meaning, we’re screwed. It’s hard to digest the truth, which is that Obama likes, and in his technocratic heart agrees with, the Republican economic diagnosis that what’s wrong with America is not six wars (and counting) or 17-24 million jobless – but us average fools upon whom the profligate government lavishes too much money on “entitlements” like social security (which we’ve paid for out of our own pockets).

The next battle’s high ground already conceded is the upcoming (and stacked) deficit “super commission”, a thinly disguised attack on the vulnerable poor – a designation that now includes a whole bunch of us who used to be middle-class. And now, having run out of steam and options, Obama, who has done almost nothing on mass unemployment, has embarked on that great dodge, an absurd “listening tour”.

Meanwhile, Obama’s contribution to the left has been to weaken it. From the day of his inauguration, antiwar activity in the US collapsed. In a little noticed study last April, a University of Michigan survey, by professors Michael Heaney and Fabio Rojas, concluded that the movement evaporated because its mainstay Democrats, lulled by Obama’s “second coming”, withdrew almost in a body. As Heaney said, “the election of Obama appeared to be a demobilising force … even in the face of his pro-war decisions.”

So, what’s the “utopian” response?

The great thing about being a utopian, as I am, is that you are never wrong. My pie-in-the-sky is inherently unprovable, like God’s existence or the Collatz 3n+1 Conjecture. You sense a better place is out there … somewhere, just beyond reach. Where sex is free and guiltless; a market economy serves the public good; CEOs get paid the same as trash collectors; and television is on for only 60 minutes a year.

So, utopianly, let’s do a Marty McFly and go back to Barack’s moment of glory on that cold sunny day on 20 January 2009, a ceremony attended by the largest crowd ever seen in Washington, DC. Outreach – to blacks, whites, browns, seniors and babies in prams, the disabled, veterans – was fantastic. Who can forget the “We Are One” concert from the Capitol steps where Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger and Aretha Franklin (in that fabulous Luke Song hat!) sang their hearts out? A new world a’coming!

We were strong then. The long nightmare was over. America was back on track. We were, in a phrase Obama borrows from Lincoln, “our better angels”.

That January 2009 day, the ghosts of Woody Guthrie and Rosa Parks hovered over a rainbow-coloured crowd dreaming of a real, repaired America. It’s probably best Woody and Rosa aren’t around now to notice that the one and only specific cut Obama agreed to spell out would deny graduate students the ability to defer interest on their federal loans until completing their degree. Millionaire tax subsidies, leave ’em alone. Money for wars, untouchable. Instead, go after true deficit criminals: those diabolical grad students!

The problem in a bad marriage – ours with Obama – is that the abused partner is terrified of leaving for an unknown, risky future. We’ve been battered so long, we can’t remember what it’s like to be fighting fit, free and independent. Some spouses never break out. I once had a much-married friend who boasted, “I never leave a wife on spec,” meaning he waited on a divorce until he’d lined up an alternative woman. But why wait for Ms Right before divorcing?

Last week, Obama urged his nine million followers to tweet their Republican representatives “to support a bipartisan solution to the deficit crisis”; that is, collude in cutting our own throats. But what if we – Democrats and independents and Republicans of good heart – tweet, email and phone the White House and to each of the 95 Democrats who voted “yes” (as opposed to the 95 progressive caucus “conscience Democrats” who voted no), that we’re sick of fooling around. No threats or promises, but we’re going elsewhere even if we don’t know where yet.

To update and paraphrase Harry S Truman, “Given the choice between a Republican and a Democrat who acts like a Republican, give ’em hell.” or or

Photograph from the Capitol during President Barack Obama’s inaugural address. or or

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