During a recent appearance on Pacifica radio’s Democracy Now!, former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold openly criticized President Barack Obama’s decision to accept campaign contributions from Super PACs. Feingold succinctly characterized the president’s reversal on taking Super PAC money: “It’s not just bad policy. It’s also dumb strategy."
Feingold’s point is well taken. Obama’s acceptance of Super PAC contributions flies in the face of his stated opposition to the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision – a ruling that opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate campaign contributions. This reversal may come back to haunt the president, especially as he and the Democrats attempt to capitalize on the popular discontent articulated by the Occupy movement.
Recently named co-chair to the president’s re-election committee, Feingold’s criticism is welcome, if not quite newsworthy for mainstream press outlets to report. Nevertheless, for a great many progressives, Feingold’s qualified support for Obama has an all too familiar ring to it. It’s the sound of the Democratic Party’s “lesser of two evils” campaign strategy.
"To date, there hasn’t been much outcry against Obama’s militarism from his GOP rivals. And you sure haven’t heard much debate about it in the establishment press. Nor from rank and file Democrats, let alone progressives like Russ Feingold."
In a wide-ranging interview with Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman, Feingold’s criticism of the Obama re-election strategy extended to the president’s handling of the Afghan war, as well as then-Senator Obama’s flip flop on the question of granting immunity to the telecommunications industry for their role in domestic surveillance under the Bush administration.
Refreshing as it is to hear a progressive critique of Obama’s record, Feingold pulled a few punches. For example, when Goodman pressed him on the president’s record on civil liberties, he said: “I am disappointed in his commitment to civil liberties at this point. He needs to get his game back on that,” adding, “And here’s the thing: it’s not like you can really accuse Barack Obama of being soft on terrorism.”
No. Obama isn’t soft on terrorism. His growing appetite for drone warfare and extra-judicial killing may have endeared him to the hawks in both the Republican and Democratic parties. But he’s hardly the principled champion of civil liberties and the rule of law that he ran on in 2008.
And for all his talk of transparency, Obama’s been making life more, not less, difficult for whistleblowers – a disturbing trend Linda Greene examined in the June 24, 2011, edition of The Bloomington Alternative.
Equally troubling, Obama’s recently announced military strategy – ostensibly a budget-cutting effort that retains a robust national defense – is actually a provocative and dangerous plan to expand American empire well into the 21st century. Feingold’s fellow Wisconsinite, Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive magazine, has one of the more clear-eyed assessments of Obama’s “defense” strategy – what the Pentagon calls “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense.”
“The title itself is none to subtle about America’s hegemonic goal,” Rothschild notes, adding that Obama’s military posture “relies more brazenly on nuclear weapons. It is belligerent toward Iran. It escalates tensions with China. And it incorporates the military more than ever into domestic law enforcement.”
To date, there hasn’t been much outcry against Obama’s militarism from his GOP rivals. And you sure haven’t heard much debate about it in the establishment press. Nor from rank and file Democrats, let alone progressives like Russ Feingold.
In short, Obama’s hawkish approach to foreign policy is in keeping with the “lesser of two evils” stratagem that corporate Democrats have relied upon for at least a quarter century, the results of which are plain to see. As the United States relies on military might to assure its place as global hegemon, the 1 percent reaps enormous benefits, while the rest of us endure America’s precipitous decline here at home.
Welcome to Obama’s re-election campaign strategy: endless war abroad, a declining standard of living at home and the eclipse of the rule of law. He can’t lose. We already have.
Kevin Howley is associate professor of media studies at DePauw University.