Stupidity and avarice, or… stupidity and avarice

One doesn’t need to go back very far in this blog to read how profoundly unhappy I am with Barack Obama.[1] I’ve been unhappy with his performance all along, but the truth is that he has been much, much worse than I anticipated in 2008, when even then, I decided I could not vote for him.[2] Yves Smith, at Naked Capitalism, captures a significant chunk of my feeling about Obama:

This election, despite [Mitt] Romney’s shambolic Presidential campaign (his London gaffes were epic), he’s running neck and neck with Obama. The fact that he has any hope is due to Obama’s fealty to big corporate interests, particularly banks, and his neoliberal instincts. In early 2009, with the financiers cowed and desperate, and the country eager for a new direction, Obama could have take far more decisive steps to right the economy. But again and again, Obama has sold out ordinary citizens, from folding on a proposal to tax to end the preferential treatment of incomes of private equity magnates (they structure their deals to get capital gains treatment when they have no capital at risk), to pushing through a mortgage settlement that did perilous little for borrowers but served as a back door bailout to banks, or his enriching Big Pharma and the health care insurer though the ACA.[3]

Then there’s Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank (I quote at length here; the entire article—and I suspect the book they’re promoting—is a very worthwhile read):

While Obama sells pristine idealism to the masses, he is at heart a calculating pragmatist, especially when it comes to advancing his own ambitions. Obama doesn’t want to be stained with defeat. It’s one reason he has walked away from pushing for a Palestinian state, after his Middle East envoy George Mitchell resigned in frustration. It’s why Obama stubbornly refused to insist on a public option for his atrocious health care bill. It’s why he backed off cap-and-trade and organized labor’s card check bill and the DREAM Act. . . .

Of course, Obama’s most grievous political wounds were self-inflicted, starting even before his election when he rushed back to Washington to help rescue Bush’s Wall Street bailout. This was perhaps the first real indication that the luminous campaign speeches about generational and systemic change masked the servile psyche of a man who was desperately yearning to be embraced by the nation’s political and financial elites. Instead of meeting with the victims of Wall Street predators or their advocates, like Elizabeth Warren and Ralph Nader, Obama fist-bumped with the brain trust of Goldman Sachs and schmoozed with the crème de la crème of K Street corporate lobbyists. In the end, Obama helped salvage some of the most venal and corrupt enterprises on Wall Street, agreed to shield their executives from prosecution for their financial crimes and, predictably, later got repaid with their scorn.

Thus the Obama revolution was over before it started, guttered by the politician’s overweening desire to prove himself to the grandees of the establishment. From there on, other promises, from confronting climate change to closing Gitmo, from ending torture to initiating a nationalized health care system, proved even easier to break.

Take the issue that had so vivified his campaign: ending the war on Iraq. Within weeks of taking office, Obama had been taken to the woodshed by Robert Gates and General David Petraeus and had returned to the White House bruised and humbled. The withdrawal would slowly proceed, but a sinister force would remain behind indefinitely, a lethal contingent of some 50,000 or so CIA operatives, special forces units, hunter-killer squads and ruthless private security details. Bush’s overt war quietly became a black op under Obama. Out of sight, out of mind.[4]

Finally, I wrote last year,

Yet right now, I’m seeing the presidential election in 2012 as the Republicans’ to lose. In his insistence on compromise as an opening position, Obama has undermined any moral justification for his claim to power. He has sold out to oligarchs, warmongers, and white evangelical Protestants; and he has unmasked, for all to see, the Democratic Party as reduced to the condition of Republican-wannabes. He and his administration have not only repeatedly betrayed his “base” but made highly visible their disdain for his “base.” The likelihood of his re-election depends on (as now seems probable) Republicans alienating everyone to the left of an incoherent hybrid of Ayn Rand, the upper reaches of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, Jerry Falwell, and Terry Jones (the pastor who burned the Quran). Holding on to power is Obama’s only visible reason for being in power.[5]

But as bad as Obama is, and as abjectly undeserving as he is of re-election, as Smith put it, “Romney may be determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of a possible victory.”[6] I knew this was going to be an interesting campaign year. But there’s no way I could have anticipated how interesting.

It has in fact been so interesting that I wrote an early draft of the research proposal for my dissertation based on the Republican primaries and used three of the candidates to illuminate factions of conservativism. (The research would seek to develop a taxonomy of conservative thinking.)[7] Though Romney’s now a pretty sure bet for the Republican nomination, the last few days have produced so many gaffes that the possibility—and at the moment, much to my dismay, I’d still call it a probability—that Romney may indeed be elected this November yields a true face-palm moment.[8] This is a man who has, in a few days, on—and just before—a trip to London, Israel, and Poland, demonstrated an intellectual capacity at about the level of Sarah Palin. It’s that incredibly, abominably bad. Romney is stupid.

I don’t have any reason at all to chase down and recite all the demonstrations of this stupidity. My sources in the preceding footnote do this admirably and, I must say, with a great deal more patience than I have.

And it is not like Obama’s been competent. After all, as stupid as many considered George W. Bush, Obama has embraced and extended his policies, even when they seem suicidally reckless.[9]

U.S. presidential candidates, 2012
U.S. presidential candidates’ political compass, 2012

U.S. presidential candidates, 2008-2012
Fig. 2: U.S. presidential candidates’ political compasses, 2008-2012. Barack Obama’s shift is traced in white, Joe Biden’s shift is traced in red, Mitt Romney’s shift is traced in orange, and John McCain’s shift is traced in yellow. Notice further that it is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition that a candidate be firmly in the authoritarian-right quadrant for the mainstream media to frame him/her as viable.

So U.S. voters, whose decision—to the extent that this is not yet another stolen election—this November, it must be remembered, will impact the entire world, have a choice between, on the barely left of Romney, Obama’s avarice and stupidity and, on the barely right of Obama, Romney’s avarice and stupidity. There just isn’t much difference otherwise, as current political compass indications illustrate (figure 1), and even if there were a reason to vote for Obama, he’s proven he stands for nothing, shifting his views wherever capitulation leads him, to a point where he is barely distinguishable from Romney (figure 2):

This is probably the least important Presidential election since the 1950s. As an experienced political hand told me, the two candidates are speaking not to the voters, but to the big money. They hold the same views, pursue the same policies, and are backed by similar interests. Mitt Romney implemented Obamacare in Massachusetts, or Obama implemented Romneycare nationally. Both are pro-choice or anti-choice as political needs change, both tend to be hawkish on foreign policy, both favor tax cuts for businesses, and both believe deeply in a corrupt technocratic establishment.[10]

I wouldn’t choose the phrasing that “this is probably the least important Presidential election since the 1950s.”[11] The office is—given its power over the entire world, whose population mostly has no say whatsoever in who is selected—too important. I would instead, given the implausibility of any third party candidate’s success, point to the election’s futility. This election is in no way what an Obama campaign official called “a chance to break the stalemate between two fundamentally different visions of how to grow the economy, create middle-class jobs, and pay down the debt.”[12] It is rather an expression of the insanity of those voters who continue, election cycle after election cycle, to accept the mainstream media’s framing as to which candidates are viable, and continue to vote for Democratic or Republican Party candidates in the hope that something will change.


  1. U.S. presidential candidates, 2012[13]
  2. U.S. presidential candidates, 2008-2012[14]
  1. [1]David Benfell, “Entitlement and elections,”, July 12, 2012,; David Benfell, “Pot, Kettle, Black,”, July 13, 2012,; David Benfell, “Conservatives have only themselves to blame,”, July 18, 2012,
  2. [2]David Benfell, “No way,”, July 9, 2008,
  3. [3]Yves Smith, “Is Romney Going to Repeat the Palin Strategy and Choose Florida’s Attorney General Pam Bondi?” Naked Capitalism, July 30, 2012,
  4. [4]Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank, “Barack Obama, Changeling,” Truthout, July 28, 2012,
  5. [5]David Benfell, “Analyzing the ‘rabid right’ and the prospects for a coherent outcome to the 2012 presidential election,”, May 1, 2011,
  6. [6]Smith, “Is Romney Going to Repeat the Palin Strategy and Choose Florida’s Attorney General Pam Bondi?”
  7. [7]David Benfell, “Research Proposal: Deconstructing Conservatism,”, April 20, 2012,
  8. [8]Juan Cole, “Romney, and Aryan Racial Theory as a basis for Foreign Policy,” Informed Comment, July 25, 2012,; Juan Cole, “Romney in the Land of the Anglo-Saxon Uncertain Olympics: Not Ready for Prime Time,” Informed Comment, July 27, 2012,; Juan Cole, “Romney on Jerusalem: A World of Hurt for America,” Informed Comment, July 30, 2012,; Sebastian Fischer, “Mitt Romney Flounders and Flubs His Way Through London,” Spiegel, July 27, 2012,; Justin Frank, “Why Mitt screws up,” Salon, July 28, 2012,; Sarah Kliff, “Romney praises health care in Israel, where research says ‘strong government influence’ has driven down costs,” Washington Post, July 30, 2012,; Paul Krugman, “Look Who’s Praising Socialized Medicine,” New York Times, July 30, 2012,; Rachel Weiner, “Romney’s London trip filled with stumbles. Does it matter?” Washington Post, July 27, 2012,
  9. [9]David Benfell, “How reckless is too reckless?”, June 22, 2011,
  10. [10]Matt Stoler, “Obama’s Second Term Agenda: Cutting Social Security, Medicare, and/or Medicaid,” Naked Capitalism, July 29, 2012,
  11. [11]Stoler, “Obama’s Second Term Agenda.”
  12. [12]Lucy Madison, “In dueling Ohio events, Obama, Romney to sell economic visions,” CBS News, June 14, 2012,
  13. [13]Political Compass, “The US Presidential Election 2012,” July 11, 2012,
  14. [14]David Benfell, “U.S. Presidential Candidates, 2008-2012,”, July 20, 2012,; Political Compass, “US Presidential Election 2008,” July 11, 2012,; Political Compass, “The US Presidential Election 2012,” July 11, 2012,

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