By Leslie Savan, The Nation. Posted May 23, 2009.
While we’re enthralled by Obama’s elegance and reason, Cheney waits like a troll under a bridge, watching for the slightest misstep.
As rational, soaring, and adult-ready as Barack Obama’s speech before the shrine of the Constitution in the National Archives was — and, in contrast, as full of retreaded lies as Dick Cheney’s Personal Prosecution Protection Plan before the rightwing American Enterprise Institute was — the former vice was already hanging ten on a fear wave. The day before, the Republicans drew a blind fear response from the Democratically controlled Senate, which voted 90-6 against funding the closing of Guantanamo.
With that vote, the Dems returned to their customary defensive crouch. But it’s not entirely their fault. Obama’s White House made a basic mistake when it failed to recognize that if you leave a bunch of beaten dogs alone in the backyard for a week with the person who beat them, they’ll whine and mewl and suck up to that abusive master all over again.
It doesn’t matter that Cheney is on the other side of the fence now and can no longer hurt them. Old habits die hard, and it takes a firm hand to get a yellow dog up out of the middle of the road and home where it belongs.
Where was Obama as video of orange-garbed Gitmo prisoners were being splayed across TV for the past few weeks? The fandango about the suspected terrorists (or simply “the terrorists,” as most media call them) spiraled into deeper and deeper sinkholes of illogic with each passing day. Gitmoers, we were told, are going to bust outta the local jail, or worse, assemble Islamofacist gangs while in Supermax solitary lockdown; then they’ll hold a habeas corpus carved out of soap to some hapless guard’s head and walk out into the sunny suburbs, scot-free. Never mind that they’re not U.S. citizens and have not a scintilla of a chance to be legally released among the citizenry.
Nonetheless, the cowed Dems ran at the very prospect of ads like the Senate Republican web spot that went up earlier this month (and that Rachel Maddow skewered beautifully), or this one, a sort of Daisy Girl Goes to Gitmo, released today by RNC:
In his speech, Obama sympathized with the quaking souls of his fellow Party members, saying, “These issues are fodder for 30-second commercials and direct-mail pieces that are designed to frighten. I get it.”
Get a grip, European-style socialists! There’s plenty of evidence that the American people want to turn the page on all that fear and doubt. A vast majority desperately wants Barack Obama to be their knight in shining armor, hoping he will modestly rewrite the social contract in a way that eases their economic burdens, gets us out of wars we can’t afford, and moves toward the universal health care that every other developed country takes for granted.
But if we’re supposed to have his back, then he’s got to have ours as well. And as long as Obama lets bankers and their friends, like Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers, stay in power, Americans will have nagging doubts about who’s on whose side.
This is where domestic and national security issues come together in a single Gordian Knot. Watching Cheney’s sneering performance, the thought hit home that the real power in America doesn’t come from the barrel of a gun but from the threat of a pink slip. Sure, Wall Street is unpopular now, resented and derided around the world, but Cheney’s very persistence on the stage (and the lickspittle obeisance he got from much of the media, which raised him to be Obama’s — and not, say, Bobby Jindal’s — split-screen equal) was a warning that FDR’s “malefactors of great wealth” are still standing just behind the curtain.
Remember: Not a single major banking chief has been fired for the financial scandals yet; Geithner recently announced that no caps will be placed on executive salaries; and his nominee for the number-two post at the Treasury Department is Neal Wolin, who helped write the bank deregulations that triggered the capitalist collapse in the first place. If the people can’t feel certain that Obama’s going to defend them from such gimlet-eyed sharks, they’re going to be less likely to stand up to Cheney when he plays scary organ music about our physical safety.
Of course, neither Obama nor Cheney spoke directly about the banking bailouts or rising unemployment Thursday morning. But the back-to-back speeches make clear how much of Obama’s foreign policy depends on the success of his domestic economic agenda, and vice versa. Sure, Cheney’s lies were preposterous, as Lawrence O’Donnell energetically noted immediately after the speech:
But Cheney’s aura of authority — complete with rising poll numbers! — is no lie: It stems not only from his masterful fear-mongering, but from the fact that he still speaks from the commanding heights of the ecomony. The former CEO of Halliburton who devised U.S. energy policy with a secret cabal of oil executives represents the industrial and financial elite, whose largesse paid for the microphone he used at AEI. What many of us heard as Cheney talked about “enhanced interrogation techniques,” 9/11, and security for das Homeland was the suggestion that, ultimately, he could still hire or fire us all.
We’re beginning to see the limits of Obama’s moderation, the checks it puts on just how effective a Chief Protector he can be for the middle-class, much less for the poor. While we look on enthralled by Obama’s elegance and calm reason, Cheney waits like a troll under the bridge, watching for the slightest misstep. What I fear is that Obama hasn’t made enough of a change from the Bush-Cheney-Paulsen economic model to keep us from falling back into a financial Charybdis.
Leslie Savan is the author of Slam Dunks and No-Brainers: Language in Your Life, the Media, Business, Politics, and, Like, Whatever.