Barack Obama, the slithery junior senator from Illinois, is ensuring himself a steady diet of publicity by refusing to take his name out of consideration as a possible candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. We're entering the timeframe when all such aspirants have to decide whether they can find the requisite money and political base. Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, the obvious peace candidate, has already decided he can't.
It's a no-brainer for Obama to excite the political commentators by waving a "maybe" flag. It keeps the spotlight on him, and piles up political capital, whatever he decides to do.
But that means that, for months if not years, we'll have to endure Obamaspeak: a pulp of boosterism about the American dream, interspersed with homilies about "putting factionalism and party divisions behind us and moving on." I used to think Sen. Joe Lieberman was the man whose words I'd least like to be force-fed at top volume if I was chained next to a loudspeaker in Camp Gitmo; but Obama, who on entering the U.S. Senate picked Lieberman as his mentor, is worse. I've never heard a politician so desperate not to offend conventional elite opinion while pretending to be fearless and forthright.
More than a year has passed since Democratic Rep. Jack Murtha, a former House Armed Services committee chair, gave a savage jolt to the White House when he publicly delivered the actual opinion of the generals.
"I believe we need to turn Iraq over to the Iraqis," Murtha declared. "All of Iraq must know that Iraq is free, free from a United States occupation. And I believe this will send a signal to the Sunnis to join the political process."
And, who knows, if Murtha's counsel had been followed, maybe it would have saved Iraq from the horrors now unfolding. But Democrats fled Murtha, few with more transparent calculation than Obama, who voyaged to the Council on Foreign Relations on Nov. 22, 2005, to soothe the assembled elites.
"The president," counseled Obama, "could take the politics out of Iraq once and for all if he would simply go on television and say to the American people, ‘Yes, we made mistakes." He called on the U.S. to reduce but not withdraw its "military footprint" in Iraq, while keeping its eyes on the prize, "to defeat the insurgency."
Some Democrats working for challenger Ned Lamont in the recent Senate race in Connecticut are bitter that Obama sided with the eventual victor, Lieberman, running as an independent. (In contrast, Hillary Clinton gets good reviews from Lamont workers for doing what she could for their man.)
These hard feelings go back to March 2005, when Obama traveled to Connecticut to hail the pro-war Lieberman to the state's Democrats. Obama, who runs a huge political fund-raising operation in Washington, knows where the money is, in the right-center segment of the political landscape inhabited by the Democratic Leadership Council.
That's why he picked Lieberman, a DLC icon, as his mentor. The new arrival in Washington wanted to send a swift signal to the corporate powers and party donors that here was no boat-rocker from Chicago, but a safe pair of hands and an obedient pair of heels. His vote in favor of "tort reform," keenly savored by the corporate world, drove home the point.
In his advance to the high table, Obama is diligently divesting himself of all legitimate claims to being any sort of popular champion. Instead, he's just another safe black, like Condoleezza Rice (whom Obama voted to confirm). The Empire relishes such servants.
And so Obama, a self-proclaimed educator in constitutional law, voted to close off any filibuster of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito and fled Feingold's motion to censure the president. Obama also voted yes to final passage of the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act, unlike 10 of his Democratic colleagues.
This week, many Americans have stared aghast at the photos of Jose Padilla, manacled hand and foot, blinded by special goggles, being escorted by his U.S. military jailers from his isolation cell to the dentist. His lawyers say his horrible treatment - four years of total isolation and sensory deprivation - have rendered him incapable of defending himself. He's obviously been subjected to torture, akin to what's been meted out to "enemy combatants" at the U.S. concentration camp at Guantanamo.
Last year, Illinois' senior Sen. Dick Durbin bravely likened conditions at Guantanamo to those in a Nazi- or Stalin-era camp. This was one of Durbin's finer moments, as he read an FBI man's eyewitness account of having entered interview rooms "to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more."
"If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime - Pol Pot or others - that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners. It is not too late. I hope we will learn from history. I hope we will change course."
The right-wing mad-dog crowd jumped on Durbin, and eventually he paid the penalty of having to eat crow on the Senate floor. His fellow senator from Illinois, Obama, did not support him in any way.
Obama had his finger stuck in the wind, as always. He bends to every breeze, as soon as he identifies it as coming from a career-threatening quarter. This man is no leader.