It was a stunning spectacle yesterday afternoon when former President Clinton took the podium from President Obama in the White House briefing room to help shove the Obama-GOP tax deal down the throats of Democratic activists and Congress members.
It was a fitting spectacle too (carried live on CNN) – since Bill Clinton paved the way in teaching how a Democratic president can win battles through the votes not of his own party but the Republicans.
Remember NAFTA, the trade deal loved by big business and Republicans – and opposed by Democratic constituencies like unions, environmentalists and consumer advocates? Clinton passed NAFTA with the votes of nearly 80 percent of GOP senators and almost 70 percent of House Republicans. Meanwhile, House Democrats opposed NAFTA by more than 3 to 2.
More than a year ago, I warned (“Get Ready for the Obama/GOP Alliance”) that Obama would follow Clinton’s lead in winning some of his biggest fights by allying with the GOP against his own base.
Following a long period of White House lecturing and name-calling (“the professional left,” “f**king retarded”) aimed at the activists who put him in the Oval Office, Obama has again shafted his base and broken a promise, this time on tax breaks for the rich.
Look for another Obama/GOP alliance if Democrats in Congress find their voices over Obama’s bloody, costly, unwinnable folly in Afghanistan.
These kinds of deals can become habit-forming. After NAFTA, Clinton went on to other bipartisan deals – cutting welfare for the poor while extending welfare to the media conglomerates in 1996, and concluding his tenure with deregulatory giveaways to the investment banks that directly led to the financial meltdown of 2008.
And Obama seems to have less backbone and firm principles than even Bill Clinton – even more prone to a Stockholm syndrome-tendency to cozy up to his Republican batterers.
So it was quite a scene yesterday, with CNN pundits almost giddy that the gray ghost of pro-corporate “bipartisan compromise” was back at the White House.
Meanwhile, independent Bernie Sanders was electrifying much of the country by railing for 8 and a half hours in the Senate against the wealthy getting billions in tax breaks while deficit-hawks take aim at Social Security and other vital programs.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only American fantasizing that one day a fighting independent like Bernie would be in the White House.
Instead, with Obama, we seem to be getting the best Republican president since… well… since Clinton.
Jeff Cohen is a journalist, media critic and founding director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College. In 1986, he founded the media watch group FAIR. His latest book is “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media”. He was a “Donahue” senior producer at MSNBC, and an on-air commentator on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. His columns have been published in dozens of dailies, including USA Today, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and Atlanta Constitution – and on independent sites such as CommonDreams, Truthout and AlterNet. In the mid-1990s, he co-wrote the nationally syndicated “Media Beat” column (with Norman Solomon), which appeared in such dailies as Seattle Times, Cleveland Plain Dealer and Minneapolis Star Tribune. In 2003, he was the communications director of the Kucinich for President campaign.