Obama and the Establishment
A remarkable thing about Obama's election is that he had support from all progressives and a big grass-roots majority, while at the same time he earned the favor of much of the rich and powerful establishment. He probably could not have won without substantial establishment support, and it's not hard to figure out why he received it. After eight years of Bush-Cheney, the ship of state was so deeply mired in trouble that Obama's call for reform reached eager ears even among the high and mighty. Obama was able to inspire a people desperate for change, while assuring establishment supporters that he would be "responsible" and not turn things upside down.
Thus began a historic presidency, electrifying in its shattering of shameful Jim Crow precedents, full of hope for a bright new day of progressive reform.
So why is Obama having such a hard time? Why are so many initiatives stymied or watered down by compromise?
An obvious reason is the depth of the economic crisis that defies a quick fix. The hypocrites of the defeated Right blame all the accumulated ills on Obama. They work for and bank on his failure as their way back to political control.
Another dynamic is at work that makes change so difficult. The general support Obama gets from much of the establishment fractures when it comes to any particular measure of significant reform. It breaks on the rocks of any perceived threat to corporate profits. The welfare of the health insurance industry comes before universal health care. Oil and coal profits pay off in congressional sabotage of efforts to deal with alternate energy and climate change. Wall Street wants no regulation to interfere with its unsavory no-holds-barred financial gambling.
The same dynamic operates with regard to foreign policy, matters of war and peace. Despite widespread recognition that the US position in the world can no longer be based on the discredited assumption that "we" are the all powerful superpower, even limited efforts to adjust to reality run up against the military-industrial complex and entrenched imperial interests. So the commitment to the disastrous war in Afghanistan remains, and the general goes outside the chain-of-command to pressure a wavering White House to dig in even deeper. When Obama joins Latin-American governments in denouncing the military coup in Honduras, that position is undercut in compromise with demands of cold war die-hards of Yankee Imperialism. Similar vested interests rail against modest efforts to rein in settlements aimed at making Israel's occupation of Palestine permanent.
When it comes to moving forward on the promise of change, the common sense and "enlightenment" of some in the establishment is countered by the norms of the system of greed, privilege and power for the few over the many.
Where does that leave Obama and the groundswell that put him in the White House? A determined push back from the bottom up is the only way to keep the promise of change from being squandered issue by issue. That's being played out now on health care as the demand grows to reject and reverse deals that would surrender the public interest to the tyranny of the health insurance conglomerates.
Reform may have some shaky support in high places, but the only assurance is in the fight put up by the people who must have it.