In 2008 Barack Obama won Advertising Age’s Marketer of the Year award with 36.1 percent of the votes of the nation’s hucksters. Running against a tarnished brand B (McCain got 4.5 percent in the same competition), Obama was able to coast to victory with vaporous promises about change. Now, four years later, the advertising campaign for his re-election faces a number of obstacles, not the least of which is the depressed economy that is becoming harder to pin on the Bush administration.
On December 6th 2011, Obama gave a speech that many liberals hoped would serve as Brand Obama for 2012. Through its hailing of Teddy Roosevelt’s economic nationalism, it prompted Salon.com’s Steve Kornacki to write: “His embrace of defiant, populist messaging also represents a final, definitive break with the bipartisan-friendly political style that defined Obama’s rise to power and the first two-and-a-half years of his presidency.” That had a very short shelf-life, however, made even shorter by economic realities. After a brief period of relative optimism tied to the “green shoots” of recovery, the woes of the Great Recession continued into 2012 and forced the hucksters running Obama’s re-election campaign to hoist a new message up the flagpole and see if anyone would salute.
That new message amounted to undraping a 60 foot tall bronze statue of Obama as muscular Commander-in-Chief after the fashion of Reagan chopping wood or George W. Bush in a flight suit. If those precious swing voters, perceived as white and centrist, could not be assuaged by a non-existent recovery, then maybe they would vote for Obama since he was able to deliver on at least another element of Teddy Roosevelt’s record, namely his willingness to use the “big stick” against weaker nations.
The campaign kicked into high gear with a speech that the president gave on Memorial Day a couple of weeks ago. It is filled with what the great Edmund Wilson called “patriotic gore”. This paragraph, in particular, sounds like it could have been lifted from the preview to a Rambo movie:
You persevered though some of the most brutal conditions ever faced by Americans in war. The suffocating heat. The drenching monsoon rains. An enemy that could come out of nowhere and vanish just as quickly. Some of the most intense urban combat in history, and battles for a single hill that could rage for weeks. Let it be said — in those hellholes like Briarpatch, and the Zoo and the Hanoi Hilton — our Vietnam POWs didn’t simply endure; you wrote one of the most extraordinary stories of bravery and integrity in the annals of military history.
Activist Jack A. Smith, an editor at the radical newsweekly The Guardian in the 1960s who soldiers on for the cause of peace in upstate N.Y., commented on Vietnam war revisionism in the Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter:
The Pentagon has just launched a multi-year national public relations campaign to justify, glorify and honor Washington’s catastrophic, aggressive and losing war against Vietnam — America’s most controversial and unpopular military conflict.
President Barack Obama opened the militarist event, which was overwhelmingly approved by Congress four years ago, during a speech at the Vietnam Wall on Memorial Day, May 28. The entire campaign, which will consist of tens of thousands of events over the next 13 years, is ostensibly intended to “finally honor” the U.S. troops who fought in Vietnam. The last troops were evacuated nearly 40 years ago.
One of the more disgusting passages in this altogether disgusting speech had to do with the peace movement’s alleged abuse of returning GI’s:
You were sometimes blamed for misdeeds of a few, when the honorable service of the many should have been praised. You came home and sometimes were denigrated, when you should have been celebrated. It was a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened. And that’s why here today we resolve that it will not happen again.
David Sirota, one of the nation’s more principled liberals and hence a trenchant critic of Obama, told Salon.com readers:
It’s undeniable that chronic underfunding of the Veterans Administration unduly harmed Vietnam-era soldiers. However, that lamentable failure was not what Obama was referring to. As the president who escalated the Vietnam-esque war in Afghanistan, he was making a larger argument. Deliberately parroting Rambo’s claim about “a quiet war against all the soldiers returning,” he was asserting that America, as a whole, spat on soldiers when they came home — even though there’s no proof that this happened on any mass scale.
In his exhaustive book titled “The Spitting Image,” Vietnam vet and Holy Cross professor Jerry Lembcke documents veterans who claim they were spat on by antiwar protestors, but he found no physical evidence (photographs, news reports, etc.) that these transgressions actually occurred. His findings are supported by surveys of his fellow Vietnam veterans as they came home.
Keep in mind that Obama’s speech sounds exactly like the kind of thing that John McCain would have written–a product of his captivity in Vietnam and his yahoo Republican Party politics. That this Ivy League “liberal” could spew out the same kind of rightwing bullshit, while in all likelihood knowing that it is bullshit, epitomizes the political impasse facing voters. You vote for someone enlightened and you end up with a Chuck Norris wannabe. It really doesn’t matter what you voted for, after all. The people who run the country have their own agenda and it doesn’t include you.
The day before Obama’s speech, Chris Hayes—a contributor to the Nation Magazine and one of the magazine’s more intelligent writers—mused about the word hero on his Saturday morning MSNBC show:
I feel… uncomfortable, about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism, you know, hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers, and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.
Despite the tentative and unguarded quality of his remarks, Hayes became the target of an orchestrated rightwing campaign that treated him as if he were Bill Maher telling his ABC television audience shortly after 9/11 that the men who flew jets into the WTC and Pentagon were not cowardly at all. The real cowards were in fact men who dispatched cruise missiles from the safety of their command posts thousands of miles away. Hayes did a Maoist style self-criticism and unlike Bill Maher, who preferred to gut it out, still has his job. You can be sure that if he intends to keep it, he will have to watch what he says. That is how our free country operates.
Just one day after this rancid speech, the N.Y. Times reported that Obama sends drones to against alleged enemies of America on the basis of a secret “kill list”. Written by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, it was widely perceived as part and parcel of the “big stick” rebranding. They wrote:
Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.
“He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go,” said Thomas E. Donilon, his national security adviser. “His view is that he’s responsible for the position of the United States in the world.” He added, “He’s determined to keep the tether pretty short.”
Nothing else in Mr. Obama’s first term has baffled liberal supporters and confounded conservative critics alike as his aggressive counterterrorism record. His actions have often remained inscrutable, obscured by awkward secrecy rules, polarized political commentary and the president’s own deep reserve.
In the immediate aftermath of the publication of the article, the White House has been clamoring for the arrest for espionage of those responsible for the leak about the “kill list”. Republicans imply that perhaps it is President himself who should be behind bars since it was fairly obvious that the article was meant, like the Memorial Day speech, to burnish his reputation as cold-blooded killer—something supposedly that endears him to swing voters. In Human Events, a rightwing magazine, long-time rightwing activist Gary Bauer called on his co-thinkers for their take on all this:
Many legislators see politics in the leaks. Rep. Peter King said, “It has to be for [Obama’s] reelection. They can deny it all they want. But it would require a suspension of disbelief to believe it’s not being done for political purposes.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said, “I don’t think you have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what is going on here. You’ve had three leaks of intelligence that paint the president as a strong leader.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told CBS, “This is the most highly classified information and it’s now been leaked by the administration at the highest levels at the White House and that’s not acceptable.”
As part of the rebranding exercise, “Sixty Minutes” ran a profile on Leon Panetta, Obama’s Secretary of Defense and former CIA director last Sunday night. Although I didn’t watch it, I can thank Glenn Greenwald for having taken a good dose of anti-nausea medicine and writing up a commentary on “13 uninterrupted minutes of drooling propaganda: Leon Panetta, the tough-minded, patriotic renaissance man who kills Evil Men to protect us all, and does it all with a heart of gold.”
Scott Pelley, a bland and unctuous figure well suited to this kind of interview, was nailed to the wall alongside Panetta:
Much of the interview consisted of Pelley waxing admiringly over all the James-Bond-looking gadgets on Panetta’s plane, or what he called Panetta’s “flying command post” (just as Brian Williams, with boyish excitement, pointed out that the White House Situation Room even has a clock that always shows the time of whatever time zone in which the President is found!). Because Panetta’s plane is the venue from which the U.S. would launch a nuclear attack, it is called the “Doomsday Plane.” As the CBS camera surveyed all of the machinery on the Doomsday Plane with close-ups of the crisply uniformed soldiers operating it, Pelley unleashed my favorite lines:
The Doomsday Plane is laden with secret gear. We can’t show you most of it. It’s so heavy the Air Force re-fueled it twice in the night’s sky over the Atlantic.
It turned out the lightest thing on board: the heart of the man with a world of worry. Leon Panetta is rarely far from an eyelid-collapsing, eye-shaking belly laugh.
And to people around him, it’s reassuring: with lives at stake, he stays in touch with his humanity.
And where he came from.
Now, admittedly, this kind of garbage has been part of the Obama administration from the very beginning, but it has been escalated recently in order to increase his reelection odds. In an April poll conducted by the Washington Post, 47 percent of those polled viewed Obama as best for stopping terrorism, while only 40 percent gave the nod to Romney. By the same token, the opinion on “creating jobs” is not quite as favorable, with a 46 to 43 percent split. That being said, independents think Romney is better on economic issues, a problem for the reelection team. Maybe we can expect war on Iran to help swing them in the other direction.
In fact, that is pretty much what is happening now according to a June 1 N.Y. Times article titled “Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran” by David Sanger. Sanger is the author of a new book titled “Comfort and Conceal” on Obama’s foreign policy that this article gives you a flavor for. Sanger, like Pelley, is intent on flattering the war-makers, so much so that even Thomas Rick’s NY Times book review took exception to:
The virtue of this book — its foundation of White House sources who give the author insiders’ material like a transcript of Mr. Obama’s last telephone call with the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak — is also its weakness. That is, Mr. Sanger shows us the world through the eyes of Mr. Obama, Mr. Donilon and those around him. But he also tends to depict Washington and the world as they see it.
From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons, according to participants in the program.
Mr. Obama decided to accelerate the attacks — begun in the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games — even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed it to escape Iran’s Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet. Computer security experts who began studying the worm, which had been developed by the United States and Israel, gave it a name: Stuxnet.
At a tense meeting in the White House Situation Room within days of the worm’s “escape,” Mr. Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency at the time, Leon E. Panetta, considered whether America’s most ambitious attempt to slow the progress of Iran’s nuclear efforts had been fatally compromised.
Inquiring minds, of course, would also ask whether the U.S. was also involved with assassinations against Iran’s scientists as well. For those who believe that Israel is behind all of these attacks and dragging the U.S. behind it, it might be good that they get reminded that the U.S. is the dog and Israel merely the tail.
This is the same Obama who said that “the United States will respond to hostile acts in cyberspace as we would any other threat to our country”, namely through “military force”. In other words, might makes right, the guiding principle of Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency. This is the opening paragraph of Roosevelt’s “Winning of the West”:
During the past three centuries the spread of the English-speaking peoples in the world’s waste spaces has been not only the most striking feature in the world’s history, but also the event of all others most far reaching in its effects and its importance.
This is the true legacy of Roosevelt’s presidency that Barack Obama is helping to keep alive.