The self-absorption of America's ruling class

Party elites whine anonymously to Politico about trivial slights by Obama

By Glenn Greenwald
Published November 8, 2010 11:09AM (EST)

(updated below)

This morning we have a living, breathing embodiment of America's political culture and its ruling class:  a prototypical featured article in Politico by Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei which "reports" on the widespread anger at President Obama from -- as they put it -- "virtually every group that matters in American politics."  Who, to Politico, are the only groups that matter in American politics?  "Congressional Democrats. . .  Democratic state party leaders . . . . Democratic lobbyists . . . business leaders  . . . Republicans."  And of what does this "reporting" consist?  A bunch of petulant, cowardly royal court functionaries -- hiding as always behind "journalistic" anonymity -- whining in Politico about a series of petty ceremonial slights.  That's what makes this article such a perfect exhibit of our self-absorbed political culture, and this article will undoubtedly shape much cable news chatter for today at least.

With a massive unemployment crisis, millions of foreclosures, rampant elite lawlessness and plundering, and pervasive, severe anxiety over America's decline, this is what the "groups that matter in American politics" are anonymously complaining about:

- In July, Obama was visiting GM and Chrysler plans in the Detroit area and invited the local House member - but other Democratic lawmakers who stood to benefit from the exposure were left in the cold.

- When Obama was giving the commencement address in the University of Michigan's "Big House" stadium last May, he mingled in the home-team locker room with university deans and regents. Across the tunnel, in the visitor’s locker room, several members of Michigan’s Democratic congressional delegation -- including Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin and House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. -- waited patiently.

Some had brought grandchildren so they could get their picture taken with the president. But they never got to see him. Obama didn't cross the tunnel to see the lawmakers.

- In June, during an East Room reception for top supporters at Ford's Theatre, several of the attendees were disappointed that they didn’t get to shake the president's hand and take a photo, as they had in the past. Instead, Obama greeted a few people down front, reaching over a rope line.

"People thought they were going to a reception with the president, not a campaign event," one attendee recalled.

- One veteran Democrat recalled a group of Obama donors who were chatting at last December’s State Department holiday party, hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "Half of them were upset because they had not been invited to a White House party," this Democrat recalled. "The (other) half was upset because they had been invited to the White House, and were kept behind a rope line instead of getting to greet the president."

- The president invited Senate chairs and ranking members over for dinner in March 2009, but came in after they were seated and went back to the residence without shaking hands or visiting each table. . . .

Other executives complained that Obama did not do enough outreach, even after the friction became clear. And executives who did get an audience complain that he is too often behind a podium, not doing the off-the-record question-and-answer sessions that would make them feel more involved and maybe promote understanding between the two sides.

There, ladies and gentlemen, is the mentality of the "groups that matter in American politics."  That's what these people are worried about and focused on.  Some of the anti-Obama grievances cited by Politico are marginally less trivial though still on the level of political process complaints (rhetorical and communication failures on the part of the White House).  But almost all of them are voiced anonymously.  That Wall Street and other financial executives have spent the last year petulantly complaining about how unfairly they are treated -- as their wealth continues to boom while the rest of the population suffers -- was, in my view, one of the year's most vivid expressions of the degradation of America's political culture.  That "the groups that matter" are preoccupied with these sorts of prerogative-denying slights -- while Politico gives them front-page anonymity to whine about those grievances -- is definitely another.  We have the country we have because of the character of the people who run it.

* * * * * 

This is my absolute last week to finish my book and posting will therefore be light and erratic -- though not non-existent -- until next Monday.  

For now, one other event worth noting:  Lindsey Graham became the latest leading American official to prove that Iran is ruled by extremist, crazed and bellicose leaders who threaten other nations with aggression when he suggested that the U.S. would and should attack Iran "not to just neutralize their nuclear program, but to sink their navy, destroy their air force and deliver a decisive blow to the Revolutionary Guard, in other words neuter that regime."  Aren't those mullahs totally unstable and radical?  Interestingly, though, while Graham "predicted Republican support for more aggressive U.S. involvement in the world," he also "acknowledged that some new members of Congress, particularly those elected under the tea party banner, are likely to have different foreign policy views. . . . The Republican Party is going to have two wings . . . .The isolationist wing, and the wing led by [Sen. John] McCain [Ariz.], Graham and [Sen. Jeff] Sessions [Ala.] that says you'd better stay involved in the world because if you do disengage, you'll regret it." 

I'm not convinced at all that these Tea Party candidates will remotely impede American aggression:  not a single successful one of those candidates questioned, let alone opposed, the attack on Iraq, advocated for withdrawal from Afghanistan, or opposed any of the Bush/Obama executive power abuses, and more important, much of the Tea Party movement is driven by the type of crazed anti-Muslim bigotry which drives those policies.  But, interestingly, Senator-elect Rand Paul this weekend told ABC News that controlling the deficit requires real cuts to America's military spending -- a view which only a minority of Democrats are willing to express -- and also told Sam Husseini that we've been going to war too lightly and without the declarations of war and Congressional involvement which the Constitution requires.  With reports this weekend that the U.S. is operating drones in Yemen -- yet another country in which we're now waging war under the direction of the Nobel Peace laureate -- it is clear that neither the Republican nor Democratic leadership is even close to impeding American imperial adventurism.  If it is to be challenged, it will be from a combination of more severe economic distress and an ad hoc alliance from the more marginalized factions in both parties.


UPDATE:  Tomorrow night (Tuesday) at 10:35 pm, I'll be on Lawrence O'Donnell's MSNBC show to continue the "discussion" that we had on Morning Joe last Friday (which I wrote about here).  We tried to do it tonight but the logistics didn't work out; I hope and expect the conversation will be constructive.

Glenn Greenwald

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