There’s No There There: Our Hollow President Obama

by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash

Obama-zuccotti-parkJust what exactly does President Obama whole-heartedly believe in?

It's not Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. He was prepared to whittle away at all three of them in order to make a Grand Bargain with the GOP about our debt.

It's not peace: he's still fighting for no good reason in Afghanistan.

It's not the rule of law or habeas corpus: he's still got the extra-legal prison obscenity at Guantanamo Bay going.

It's not transparency: his administration goes after whistle-blowers like no other.

It's not a humane immigration policy: he deports more immigrants than any administration.

It's not justice: he didn't go after the Bushies who promoted torture, nor did he prosecute the fraudsters of Wall Street who ruined our economy.

It's not gay rights: he still doesn't agree with gay marriage.

It's not the labor movement: he never pushed for Card Check and he ignored the grassroots fight over union negotiating rights in Ohio and other heartland states (what if he had marched with them as he promised in his campaign? just imagine the galvanizing effect on labor, the Dems and himself).

It's not basic progressive principles, like Medicare for all, or at minimum a public option to give folks a real healthcare choice.

It's not even his own progressive base, who worked hard to elect him, and whom he and his acolytes disdain as “the professional left.”

It's not anything. In fact, it's nothing. President Barack Obama has a shell, but not a core. He's not a man of principle. He's a man of expedience. A so-called pragmatist.

In other words, he's our first thoroughly post-modern president. There is no objective truth: everything is relative, plural and contextual. Obama mistrusts ideology from a very unique perspective: he has no ideology of his own.


If he believes in anything, it is the paragraph that made him instantly famous:

“Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there's the United States of America. The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we've got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.”

Now just stop and think for a moment how utterly meaningless this is. It sounds awful good, but it's less factual than most actresses' tits.

There's a reason we have two parties in America: the Republican Party, who disdain the poor, and the Democratic Party, who feel sorry for the poor. There's a reason the Republican Party gave us the Iraq War (which the Democrats never would have), and the Democratic Party gave us the New Deal (which the Republicans never would have).

We have the party of the clenched fist versus the party of the open hand. This is our traditional political divide.

But if you're Obama, you see no such divide. So you see no real struggle over first principles. Anything is negotiable. Republicans believe they're negotiating principles, because they have them: so they don't back down, on principle. It's easy for Obama to back down: he doesn't think he's negotiating principles, because he doesn't have them. He thinks he's negotiating details.


The reason Obama is not a fighter is that he doesn't believe in anything worth fighting for.

The other reason is that believes he has no enemies to fight against.

Yep, President Obama doesn't think he has enemies. Really, he doesn't. A great line from Shakespeare's Richard III springs to mind: “Hast thou not spirit to curse thine enemy?” Think of the great spirit with which his enemies curse Obama: you weren't even born in America, you alien socialist. Think of how Obama curses them back — never.

Listen to FDR fighting for his re-election:

“For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up. We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace — business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.”

There's some spirit for you. That's some excellent cursing. Now listen to Obama fighting for his party in the 2010 mid-term elections:

“The other side drove the economy into the ditch, and we’ve been down there and putting on our boots, and it’s muddy, and it’s hot, and there are bugs swarming, and we’ve been pushing and shoving and sweating, trying to get this car out of the ditch. And the Republicans have been standing there, sipping on a Slurpee, watching us and saying, you’re not pushing hard enough, or you’re not pushing the right way. Well, come down and help. No, no, no, you go ahead. Finally, we get the car up on level ground, and it is — it’s kind of dinged up. I mean, it wasn’t good for the car to be driven into the ditch. And it needs some body work, it needs a tune-up, it needs a carwash, but it’s moving. Suddenly we get a tap on the shoulder and the Republicans say, ‘We want the keys back.' You can’t have the keys back. You can’t drive. That’s why we were in the ditch. And as soon as they get into power, they will throw that car right back in reverse. There’s a reason why, when you want to go forward, you put it into ‘D,’ and when you go backward, it goes into ‘R’.”

This is so good-natured, it's kind of moronic as an election strategy. You don't win elections by poking gentle fun at your opponents. You don't whip up election fervor with witty banter. Politics is a bloodsport, not a comedy slam.

FDR understood politics. Obama doesn't. He thinks deep-down, everyone is like him, with a core of sweet reasonableness. He doesn't hate his enemies.


Obama's biggest problem is his charm. He is the original Prince Charming: his charm — pretty smile, pretty words — got him all the way to the White House, and he thinks he can corral everyone with it as he tries to govern.

Not the GOP, buddy. Poor sap Obama doesn't recognize unreason. If he did, he would have gone to war with the Republicans from day one as President, like they did with him. If Obama understood politics, he could have used his first year in office to crush the Republican Party for 20 years. They were down and out and thoroughly discredited, and a few good stomps of the boot could've settled their hash for decades. Reagan never tired of running down Carter, and it got him re-elected. Obama could have labeled the GOP as stinkers again and again, demonized them to hell and gone, and he would have cut them like a cancer from our body politic. He could have eviscerated Fox News. He could have branded the Republicans forever as the big spending party. The wasteful people. The selfish people. The nuts. The crazies. Heck, even more than two years on, America still blames Bush, and not Obama, for our bad economy. Obama could have been a force for good in this world if, besides being President, he had acted like the leader of the Democratic Party, and used his pulpit to eviscerate the GOP on his party's behalf.

But instead, Obama went to bat for the memory of his Mom. She had had a lot of trouble with our healthcare system in her last years so, against the advice of all his advisors, he put all his energy into healthcare reform (a Republican reform plan, in which he negotiated away the public option immediately even though he acted as though he were pushing for it). After that, he had nothing left. He won one for his Mom, and shot his whole wad. That was the end of it. He'd emptied his gonads.


I can remember only three occasions where I thought Obama acted like the semblance of a progressive, and all three of them turned out to be meaningless.

The first one was after Republican Scott Brown took Ted Kennedy's safe Massachusetts seat, and in a panic, Obama trotted out Paul Volcker and said he was going to institute the “Volcker Rule,” i.e. separate conventional banking from investment banking, i.e. build a wall between those who lend out money to fuel business and do something socially useful, and those who borrow money to speculate and do something useless. Didn't happen.

The second time was when he said, during the disastrous 2011 debt ceiling negotiations: “They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that’s paid for by asking 30 seniors to each pay $6,000 more in health costs? That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I am president.”

Wanna bet? You really believe it's not going to happen on his watch? You really believe the GOP can't come up with some harsher demand that will make Obama happily “negotiate” an extension of the Bush tax cuts?

The third time was the so-called “American Jobs Act” speech in September 2011, when Obama combatively promised to veto anything that doesn't include tax increases for anyone making over a million a year, the so-called “Buffett Rule.” He said: “And I will veto any bill that changes benefits for those who rely on Medicare BUT does not raise serious revenues by asking the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to pay their fair share.” (See how he's willing to trade cuts in Medicare benefits for taxes on rich people.)

Well, the “Volcker Rule” didn't happen — so are you expecting the “Buffett Rule” to happen?

We have to face the fact that smart as he is, Obama can be awful dumb. He let the Tea Party frame the conversation about his health reform plan, for chrissake. How dumb is that? He lets others frame the game. A smart politician doesn't play the other guy's game. He changes the game. He makes his game the only game to play. Obama promised us change, and what did he do? Instead of changing the paradigm, he slotted right into it, like a prisoner raising his hands to the handcuffs.

Because of Obama's dumb political instincts, we now live in a Tea Party world. Can you imagine that? Obama let a bunch of crazies hijack the political conversation.

Obama is not the strong, bold leader we thought he would be. He doesn't lead at all, not from behind or anywhere else. Our country is rudderless.

Don't look to Obama for actual big bold action. Look to him for big bold gestures, and big bold speeches, for sure, but when it comes to on-the-ground results, he's a ninny of an incremental inch-by-inch timid cautious bent-over fuck-me-hard-don't-worry-I-won't-fuck-you-back pussy-footing pragmatist pushover. As Machiavelli argued, “fortune more often submits to those who act boldly than to those who proceed in calculating fashion.”

Truth be told, we're living in George Bush's third term. Obama is doing everything George Bush would've done. He hasn't changed a damn thing. The few health insurance changes (no more pre-existing conditions, no more kicking you out when you get sick) haven't even kicked in yet. Change you can believe in? Give me a break. What we have is no change nobody believes in.


OK. So far I've been pulling punches. Now let's get down to two really bad things about Obama.

He's so stuck up the asses of the elite he hardly remembers how his mother worked hard for the poor in Indonesia. He has basically shat on her memory. If she were alive today, she'd give him what for. His whole life has been a classic suckup. He never had to fight for anything. He charmed himself into the elite, and he's very happy to be ensconced there. He's one of those guys who climb to the top by sucking up to everyone. Another Wall Street Sell-Out Apparatnik.

Obama has Bill Clinton's problem: he's a struggling boy whose ambition, brains and work ethic got him co-opted into the rich man's club.

Unlike some other presidents — FDR, JFK — Obama was not born rich and privileged. Though he did have a white grandmother and grandfather who doted on him and got him into Hawaii's most pukka high school.

FDR knew how to fight the elite, because he was born insider-privileged; they were his own kind. In fact, FDR relished taking on the smugness of his own class. Like when he said in that speech I quoted before: “They are unanimous in their hate for me. And I welcome their hatred!”

Obama can never enjoy that special relish, because he was born outsider-struggling and aspirant. It's difficult for a kid like him to start fighting the guys who only a few years ago welcomed him into their exclusive club. The born-struggling guy is inclined to be their house slave forever, like Bill Clinton is. Stymied by his gratitude to them, relieved at his escape from his struggling origins, a guy like Clinton or Obama is happy to wear golden handcuffs.

Believe you me, before Obama launched his presidential campaign, many rich people had him over to their houses to make sure this bright young hope would serve their interests first and foremost if he ever got to be President. Goldman Sachs didn't become one of his biggest funders out of idealism. They checked him out. They had him over. He was vetted by the elite. He had to sing for his supper in the homes of the privileged. It was quid pro quo all the way. And with that many quids funneled his way, a lot of pro quos were expected and subsequently delivered.

Psychologically, Obama's up-from-nothing origins might have damned his fighting spirit. He may have used up all his fight just to get into the club.

It's not so easy to remember your community-organizer days when you're hitting the links with the rich and famous and knocking back highballs at the clubhouse. It's much easier to suggest a change in the wallpaper of the club than to move the whole damn club into the ghetto next door where the club members might actually do some good for society.

Can Obama break out of his golden prison, maybe in a second term? Can his gray childhood memories of the poor in Indonesia trump his more recent golden years at Harvard or the chewy taste of power in Washington?

Ain't happened yet. His record so far includes big victories for our embedded plutocracy, and teeny crumbs for our would-be democracy.

Basically he played us. And with his American Jobs Act, and promising to tax the rich, he's playing us yet again.


Let's face it, Obama is the greatest bullshitter of them all. Remember his campaign? All that hope and change BS?

When it came to bullshitting the American people, Obama was a master.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying he's a lying son-of-a-bitch or a hypocrite or a megalomaniac or an utter phoney (if he were those things, which his enemies believe he is, then he'd be mirroring who we are as a nation; and you wouldn't want to think that now, would you?).

In fact, Obama appears to be a fairly decent chap who is intellectually quite honest, if blinded by the privileged he moves among and has himself become. At the same time, however, he's an arch-bullshitter. One can be a figure of some moral probity and still be a worldclass bullshitter.

Moreover, I mean to go further than simply say that Obama can bullshit about how great our country is, and how decent our working people are, and what heroes our troops are, blah, blah, blah. All politicians lay these banal cliches on us like gravy on meatloaf, and none better than Obama.

I mean to say this:

Put your brain in drive and ponder the fact that Obama could go on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show in his campaign days and smile that wonderfully boyish and angelic smile of his, and without dropping a blip of sweat, he would instantly corral the often-cynical Jon Stewart and the audience in the studio and viewers all over the world into his warm aura of cosy and mutual to-and-fro ping-pong Donkey Kong we're-all-in-this-together bullshit. Obama cast a mocha-miasmic spell of benign nudging and winking, of being really self-effacing, of being in a mutual admiration society with everyone, of being quite meta about his appeal and the way we soak up his appeal, and then after those few minutes of being touched by the gift of his presence, of being bathed in the meta of his charm and his smile and his eloquence, and forgetting all your cares in those moments of being beguiled and seduced, you go away with a little warm glow lighting up your insides, and then maybe you send his campaign some money, or you go and vote for him, or you believe in the greatness of your country more than ever, or you go and share your little glow with a loved one or a stranger, because with a disarming smile like that, and a self-awareness like that, with both you and him consciously or subconsciously aware that he's pulling your chain ever so gently, with all that, you are pretty sure in your happy little glowing head that yes oh yes, Obama is the one to lead us all to the promised land awash in Cherry Garcia icecream, where the rain is made of Hershey Kisses and where happy penguins sing us all to sleep, and you indulge yourself in this cheery fantasy even though most of it is bullshit, because it is bullshit that you really WANT and NEED to believe in, that you are willing to suspend all your habitual disbelief to believe in, because what with all the shitty bullshit around it's a relief to swallow such ENJOYABLE bullshit, and that's the whole point.

Yes indeed, Obama's hope-and-change mantra was powerful bullshit.

I was one of the millions who cried when I first saw him in action on TV: delivering a speech to a rapt audience. He spoke to my heart; he restored my hope in America. I had immigrated to America 30 years ago from apartheid South Africa, choosing the US over Canada, the UK and Australia. Then the Supreme Court gave the country to Bush-Cheney, and it turned out that their country was not the country I'd picked. I'd chosen the land of freedom and opportunity, of great tech and constant innovation, of brilliant entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, of magnificent and many-splendored Manhattan where one can hear more languages than anywhere else on the planet, of tough New York City women who don't take the crap from men that women take in other countries and yet give better blowjobs than women in other countries, of can-do American gals and guys who look at a problem that would scare the daylights out of other cultures and say, hey, I've got an idea how we can lick this sucker.

This America, the America I loved, was not the America that Bush-Cheney created, an America of lies and war and torture and paranoia and fraud and no-bid contracts and entitlement and privileged chuckles and macho stupidity. Eight years of Bush-Cheney plunged me into despair about America, and then, wow, here comes Obama! The One! Yes! We Can! Hail the Sweepingness of the New Broom! Watch those Washington Stables Cleaned out More Spic and Span than the Conscience of a Nun! The Time has Come for Change in America!

Obama was the dude who gave me hope and confidence that America could be decent and kind and free and full of opportunity again. I was in such Bush-Cheney despair, I wanted badly to hear another song, and Obama sang that song beautifully, and stole my heart.

That was the core of Obama's appeal: in a time of darkness, he promised hope and change, and delivered his message with a gift of eloquence the world had last seen in Dr. King. Obama fed us warm, comforting, soaring and inspiring bullshit that moved us to the very bullshitted depths of our bullshittingest souls.

Being a nation of bullshitters, we're ready to follow whoever among us proves to be the best and brightest bullshitter of them all. That guy is Obama, the finest spinner of BS since Jesus told the meek they'll inherit the earth.

Here's the thing: I absolutely LOVE being bullshitted by Obama. Today, my biggest beef with him is that he has not laid any really excellent bullshit on me since he entered the White House. Quite the contrary, in fact.

That heart he stole from me has, after a great leap forward at the Inauguration, sneaked back into my chest where it's been knocked around and kicked about and elbowed to the right and bumped to the left and bashed to the bottom and booted high in the sky, and I'm still working on how to gather the pieces and what to do when I've rearranged them in a semblance of a heart (I must say, I got a little lift when he made his speech in Tucson after the Giffords shooting, but that was hardly enough to soothe my bereft-of-Obama-BS soul).


Here's another thing: part of Obama's disarming charm is that he is a nice black guy.

Yep. Not an angry, demanding, raging-against-the-man black guy. But a thoroughly bourgeois sweet black guy, with a sweet black family.

That accounts for a core quality of his appeal. He makes us all feel good about ourselves, and about America. Hey, here is this black dude running our country. How nice of us to give him the job. He's like Disraeli who got to run anti-semitic England.

I could go so far as to say that Obama cynically uses his blackness to masquerade as a liberal. But that could get me into big trouble. So I'm just putting it out there for you to ponder, that Obama's blackness is part of his con.

Here's a stupendous irony: do you recall Jesse Jackson with tears streaming down his face in Grant Park, when Obama made his speech after defeating John McCaine for the presidency?

Jesse, who worked alongside Dr King, was looking at a dream fulfilled. But how does Jesse feel now? Conflicted? Hey, Jesse is a progressive. Does he think Obama has furthered the progressive agenda as president? How does Jesse feel about the fact that — after this impossible dream of a black man as president came to pass — that maybe Obama is the greatest Uncle Tom who ever lived?

Come to think of it, Obama has done nothing for his own race, who voted for him 98%. Why? Maybe because he doesn't even believe he's a black man.

When he spoke to the Congressional Black Caucus in September 2011, he admonished them as follows: “I expect all of you to march with me and press on. Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes. Shake it off. Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying. We are going to press on. We've got work to do, CBC.”

He sure is using his blackness there. No white politician would've dared scold his black supporters like that.

But just look at the professorial arrogance he so easily reveals under his black cover. He's talking to his black compadres like he's talking to children. He thinks of his progressive base as balky brats, giving him grief over nothing much.


And he's so very, very wrong. What has Obama done for progressives? Seriously?

Now he's trying to bullshit us with his American Jobs Act, a puny political patchwork ploy of GOP-friendly pleasantries, packaged with a rallying cry to soak the rich. He's not even trying to make hay about the GOP trying to privatize Medicare with a voucher program. He took that winning strategy off the table when he defined himself as willing to bargain away Medicare benefits for compromises from the GOP. Now he's stuck with doing a “let's tax millionaires” campaign, something he has neglected to do all the time he's been in office.

He's got a new combative tone, the pundits say; he's being ballsy, and side-swiping the GOP here and there. Everyone hails his new posture.

But the man is just full of it. He has always governed to the right, and now, all of a sudden, folks think because of his changed tone, a little campaign bluster, he's all of a sudden putting on a slightly lefty hat like it's supposed to fit right between his big ears, and that this new hat will appeal to his progressive base.

Bullshit. Does he and his advisers think we're stupid?

It's safe to say we can write Obama off as a fighter for the American people. There would be very little difference between an Obama and a Romney presidency, except Romney might be more effective.


One of the worst things is that Obama has totally sucked at being the leader of the Democratic Party. He led his party to defeat in the midterm elections, and I can't think of anything he could do to bring them back to power in 2012. He might save his presidency if his GOP opponent is too crazy (Perry or Cain or Gingrich) or too dull (Romney) to unseat him, but he will let the party down again.

The Democratic Party is stuck with a leader who doesn't believe in or fight for key Democratic Party principles, and is prepared to bargain any of those principles away.

The Democratic Party is stuck with a cypher as a leader, a leader who isn't a leader.

The Democratic Party needs a firebrand, and Obama ain't it.

He never will be. He is the hollow man. He is the slipperiest customer of them all. Try to put your finger on what he stands for, and you come away with an empty hand. He's like candy floss. He looks like something great and fluffy and tasty to bite into, but when you do, he vanishes in your mouth.

That's Obama. Our Candy Floss President.

There's no there there, folks. He's an empty vessel, and whatever you pour in, leaks out.

Poor us. Poor America. Washington is broken, and the cog around which the broken wheel spins, our President, is a hollow core of nothing, a big fat zero sucked into an outer-space black hole. The wheel is spinning around empty air.

It won't really matter who you vote for in 2012, unless the GOP fields one of their crazies instead of Romney. Then it might make a teensy weensy difference.

The hollow man will be better than the crazy one.

Forsooth, gadzooks and gorblimey: all that talent, all that brilliance, all that charm, all that oratory, all that fine chocolate covering up a hollow center.

At the end of Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness, the compromised figure of Kurtz moans about what he has seen and done:

“The horror, the horror.”

As a nation, mired in our own darkness of the heart, we can whisper among ourselves about our oh-so-gifted, oh-so-hollow leader:

“The pity, the pity.”