The Whipping Boy

The Whipping Boy

After all this time, it's finally become clear how the American public really relates to Barak Obama: he's a stand-in for their pent-up hatred against George W. Bush.

For the right-wing: Bush's tenure saw the largest expansion of the federal government in generations. Two wars, one based on cooked up intelligence about "weapons of mass destruction." The birth of a new surveillance state, beginning with the passage of the Patriot Act, put into law not long after the attacks of 9/11. "Extraordinary renditions", black out sites, torture. Literally hundreds of millions of dollars unaccounted for in Iraq. The explosive growth of contractors and the outsourcing of the military that had more of the former in war theaters than actual active duty personnel. And last but not least: the astonishing amount of government spending that has added significantly to the nation's debt.

For the left-wing: they all warned that Hillary Clinton was going to be Bush's third term. Surprise, surprise: Obama has kept almost all of Bush's foreign policies in place. Drone strikes, the growing tentacles of the surveillance state. You see among the left-wing a more concerted effort to express their displeasure against Obama, one that certainly comes from having been cowed during Bush's presidency. And that helps explain the utter disgust emanating from certain leftist circles that Obama is really Bush's third term after all, and the unsaid subtext (but definitely unrepentant attitude) that perhaps Hillary was the better choice in 2008.

Two psychodramas with a basis in the Bush years. Not a single right-winger had ever questioned Bush's expansion of the federal government and the loss of oversight for dangerous policies like rendition and the existence of black sites throughout the world. Not a single right-winger openly questioned the Patriot Act and its curtailing of individual rights. They all remained silent. It was only on 23 January 2009 that they suddenly found their voice. Now they started noticing the swollen deficit. Now they noticed the con game that is Wall Street and its destruction of the economy. Now they started talking about their guns being taken away, something far more likely under the Patriot Act than could ever be contemplated now. The growth of self-identified militia groups has rocketed ever since Obama took office, and in the last few years, the ugly rhetoric about the government taking away one's guns has gotten worse. But again: these people were all stunningly quiet during the Bush years. To call it hypocrisy is not credible: it's a pathology rooted in the politics of fear for which they are famous victims. They dared not question the government following 9/11 and they numbly went along with all the things for which they now claim opposition. It's easy for them to be against those things, of course, because Obama has become their whipping boy for their failure to accept what was happening to the country during Bush's years in the White House. And most of all, they don't want to admit their complicity. (This may partly explain the sudden cries of "secession", something that would have been unthinkable at any time outside of the Civil War).

This brings up the most famous representation of the self-loathing in the American public: the Tea Party. This is a so-called movement with its genesis in being "taxed enough already." It is a colossal lie as well. Individual taxes had already been low, and Obama kept the Bush tax cuts in place because the economy had tanked. Fact is, these tax cuts came in their paychecks, not a rebate check like the two that Bush had issued. This undermines the Tea Party's self-identification as being "fiscally conservative." They somehow could not figure out that their paycheck was slightly larger and plan accordingly: now they're turning around and claiming they were "taxed enough already"? Exactly how? Let me illustrate it personally: I claim three dependents during the year. I don't have three dependents; I just don't want to give the government an interest free loan. But, come April 15, I write out the check for the taxes I owe.

Except a funny thing happened: I was getting money back. A nice chunk of change. That can only have occurred if my tax rate was lower, even with those three dependents. So I adjusted accordingly, my withholding. If I was being overtaxed, claiming those three dependents wouldn't have worked at all: I should have still owed a lot more money than previous years. This is how I personally know the idea that middle-class people like myself were **not** being overtaxed. But oh no, this poisonous lie spread far and wide to the point where people who were getting squeezed because of their own non-fiscally conservative ways started believing it was because they were being "taxed enough already." And no matter how many times you heard the phrase "Bush era tax cuts," these people still convinced themselves Obama was raising their taxes the same day he took office. Out of joyous spite, no less.

To make matters worse, these folks started blaming poor people for their own economic downturn. The fingers were pointed at individuals who purchased homes they really couldn't afford, ignoring the reality of how banks and other financial institutions suckered folks into achieving the American Dream: owning a home. Suddenly, it was these people, not Wall Street, not the banks, who had ruined everything for everybody, including the delusional Tea Party types who pretended they had just arrived on the planet fully formed the previous day. This poisonous hatred still persists, only today in the form of bashing undocumented immigrants and people on food stamps.

I have seen hatred against a president before, including Bush, but any reasonable person should admit that the level of hatred against Obama is striking and frightening. It's even beyond what I saw with Clinton, and it's been endlessly exploited by the Republican Party, who have never really paid any price for their Big Government expansion and deficit-busting spending during the Bush presidency. And it's a strategy that's worked fairly well for them: 2010 witnessed a resurgence in phony populist officials who descended on Washington D.C. like a plague of locusts. And the funny thing about locusts: they devour everything, including their own. The Tea Party has caused endless headaches for the GOP, who remain terrified that they will be primaried if they aren't sufficiently conservative (read intransigent) enough. In a way, the emergence of the Tea Party strong enough to threaten the mainstream Republican party is also a by-product of the pent-up anger and frustration of the Bush years.

I've focused on the right-wing more than their leftist counterparts because the attitudes towards the president as a replacement for Bush are much more defined with former than the latter. But for leftists, their disappointment with Obama has been more along the lines of his failure to conform to their wildly unreasonable expectations. Left-wingers wanted a complete exorcism of the Bush years, something that Obama was not inclined to do out of the gate. (Ever see any trial of anyone who got us involved in Iraq with the faulty intelligence? Me neither). Lefties wanted Wall Street to be punished: that didn't happen. Guantánamo still remains open. Drone strikes have trebled under Obama. And all of this discontent seemed to reach a crescendo with the crisis in Syria: Obama opted for a strike *if* Congress approved it. This has--as of this writing--resulted in an unexpected turn of events in what appears to be a political solution for dealing with Syrian chemical weapons. But before this happened, you would have been stinking drunk if you took a shot every time you heard Syria being compared with Iraq. Leftists were treating it as if military action in Syria was identical to Iraq. And they were quick to make Obama out like Bush.

Both the right- and left-wing have approached Obama through the prism of their issues with Bush. The right-wing is the more fascinating of the two, namely because of the intense pathological hatred for the president, one that exceeds the contempt their left-wing adversaries ever had for Bush. And given the extremely toxic nature of political discourse in this country, it's unlikely things will get any better.