The Stealth Hard-Liner and the Stealth Liberal

obama change we can believe inBy Robert Aber

STEALTH (stĕlth) n. 1. The act of moving, proceeding, or acting in a covert way.
2. The quality or characteristic of being furtive or covert.
3. Archaic. The act of stealing.
adj. 1. Not disclosing one’s true ideology, affiliations, or positions: a stealth candidate.

Veteran’s Day first occurred to me when it was called Armistice Day. The President’s speeches were filled with phrases like “I am a fighting liberal!” and “Even my little dog Fala hates whoa!”  This forever sealed my vote for his owner 15-years hence when I’d be 21. Things change. Like my continuing wish that Barack Obama turns outs to be a Stealth Liberal. Because I’m about put my wish into the public domain, doing this might be to sprint smack into the Brick Wall of Unnecessary Compromise.

In 1975, the late Hunter S. Thompson backed Jimmy Carter in his Great Leap of Faith and wrote:

“The idea of covering even the early stages of the cynical and increasingly retrograde campaign has already plunged me into a condition bordering on terminal despair, and if I thought I might have to stay with these people all the way to November I would change my name and seek work as a professional alligator poacher in the swamps around Lake Okeechobee.”  –Hunter S. Thompson, “Jimmy Carter and the Great Leap of Faith”

We know that the leap didn’t end well.

Early on, President Obama met with the GOP Congressional Caucus. There was none of LBJ’s Grab-‘Em-By-The-Buttonhole-And-Let-Us-Reason-Together.  Barack’s style is jokey charm with a flash of Harvard Law Review smarts. This tactic got him icy stares, silence and no support from the crazy-pants GOP opposition.

Corporate media coverage of Obama’s treasury team prompted financial-writer Ed Harrison to deem him more akin to Herbert Hoover than to FDR.  Harrison is black, exasperated and was the earliest Obama supporter. My own ‘hood connections remain. “Yes We Can!” is fast becoming “WTF?” A years-long friend of my sweet bride telephoned this week frantic over losing her home. Seeing what can be done, if anything, is as good a way I know to honor America’s war dead. Again: Barack Obama: Stealth Liberal? Please add dumb luck to ‘Hopefully’ and crossed fingers.

Reader posts may or may not arrive with nearly all asking one question: “Have you-lost-your-damn mind?” Let’s cut to the chase.

On November 7th, veteran journalist Michael Collins discussed the US Supreme Court’s agreement to hear arguments in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [FEC].

“The Supreme Court surprised many when it agreed to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that enforced key sections of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (McCain-Feingold) — Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (FEC). In January 2008, the Federal District Court, District of Columbia upheld an FEC action that barred Citizens United, a right wing nonprofit corporation, from airing an extended attack on Hillary Clinton called Hillary: The Movie.

Collins’ article was especially disturbing to COTO readers who, judging by the quality of the alarm and number of hits, accurately judged the hearing to be potentially an enormous setback to American democracy and a great leap forward for mega-corporations.

In the May 25th New Yorker, Jeff Toobin profiled Chief Justice John Roberts. The article deserves your closest attention. The subtitle beneath “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and Justice Roberts’ photo is “The Supreme Court’s Stealth Hard-Liner.” Toobin reveals his subject as brilliant, affable and friendly with an Obama-like gift of putting everyone at ease. Roberts is no “originalist” but rather an advocate of judicial restraint. Both terminologies and their implications I defer to the lawyerly Jeff Toobin to clarify:

“Originalists… believe that the Constitution should be interpreted in line with the intentions and beliefs of its framers…. Originalists and judicial-restraint conservatives generally reach similar conclusions on legal issues, but their reasoning differs.”

Toobin is a lawyer; I’m not. One week and several hundred dollars spent at West LA College of Law leaves me appropriately humbled. On the other hand, 38-years of Experimental-Design, Clinical Psychology and Dispute Resolution gives one a better-than-random idea of human expectation and variables that can and often do affect situational outcomes. Jeff Toobin’s portrait of Justice Roberts is that of absolute conservative goal orientation with an exquisite sense of the correct word[s] delivered at the correct time[s].

I don’t pretend to legal expertise. I do know something about decision-making and the manner by which a given decision is reached. How it’s possible to exclude Chief Justice Roberts from approving if not actively persuading the Court to hear Citizens United is unknown to me. A people-savvy Chief Justice with a letter-perfect history of favoring established power over the individual can and does augment his agenda with friendly persuasion while savaging the opposition.

In Citizens United, the contest between individual versus corporate primacy was made by President Barack Obama’s solicitor general, Elena Kagan, who made the Federal Election Commission’s case by saying:

“An individual can be the wealthiest person in the world but few of us – maybe some – but few of us are only our economic interests. We have beliefs, we have convictions; we have likes and dislikes. Corporations engage the political process in an entirely different way and this is what makes them so much more damaging.”

Kagan barely got these words out before Chief Justice John Roberts retorted:

“A large corporation, just like an individual, has many diverse interests. A corporation may want to support a particular candidate, but they may be concerned just as you say about what their shareholders are going to think about that. They may be concerned that the shareholders would rather they spend their money doing something else. The idea that corporations are different than individuals in that respect, I just don’t think holds up.”

As my UCLA Poli Sci prof told us, “The law is what the Supreme Court says it is.” What’s the bet Professor Peter Townsend never dreamt we’d come to this? 

Toobin makes an eloquent case for John Roberts being the Stealth Hard-Line Corporatist. Will Barack Obama become a Stealth Liberal?  Fasten your seatbelts,” said Betty Davis in All About Eve. “It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

Updated 11/13/09 to correct a misquote. Much apology to Ed Harrison and appreciation for his comment below.

3 responses to “The Stealth Hard-Liner and the Stealth Liberal

  1. I am the writer you reference who actually wrote about the comparisons between Obama and Hoover. While I am troubled about where we are currently headed, I would not label Obama the Black Herbert Hoover nor would I consider him a stealth liberal.

    What I see happening is this:

    We have just had an economic shock of depressionary proportions. Comparisons to the Great Depression are not misplaced. Where Barack Obama is concerned, he needs to realize that his situation is more akin to Herbert Hoover’s i.e. nearer the beginning of the economic shock than FDR’s, closer to the tail end of the massive depressionary slide to 1933.

    When Obama came into office, comparisons to FDR were made and he seems to have taken these to heart assuming that most of the carnage was done. This caused him not to take enough remedial action both on unemployment and banking.

    However, we have seen unemployment skyrocket and, despite recapitalization, the banking sector is still weak – a weakness which will be more apparent in a subsequent recession (one which we hope we can delay).

    Has Obama been a stealth liberal. Hardly. It is Nancy Pelosi who is more in line with a liberal agenda. Obama is following a more ‘business-friendly’ approach which has seen him bail out banks, car companies, give sops to the health care and drug lobbies and provide all manner of other stimulus in order to maintain the status quo.

    This may be beneficial for the owners of the present businesses, but it is not ‘business-friendly’ in that it just keeps zombie companies alive and prevents the necessary adjustments in the economy. It is also not ‘liberal’ nor ‘stealth-liberal’

  2. Obama-as-stealth-liberal probably resonates with the more-hope-than-sense crowd, tho. The ugly fact that both parties are Corporate parties is just too repulsive for most to contemplate. We have been seduced, plundered and are about to be abandoned. We’re yet to see if bipedalism is still an American trait, what with bend-over being the most common political position. But the people have surprised elites before.

    Pelosi is no Liberal, unless you mean Neo-Liberal, Ed. Neo-cons and Neo-libs are both elitist groups and you won’t find a populist notion in either.


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