Tony Obama: A Guide to Gas, Greed and Gold

A progressive young leader sweeps into power on a tide of euphoria, consigning a discredited right-wing regime to history. He promises huge changes to his jubilant supporters, vowing to re-shape politics and govern for the benefit of the ordinary and the oppressed, not for the mega-rich who waxed fat under his predecessors. Adoring profiles of the new leader fill the media, portraying him with his wife and children as they settle into their roles at the heart of national life. But alas! In the years ahead, he will deliver crushing disappointment to his supporters while channeling lots more money to the mega-rich.

I’ve just described the election of the gasbag lawyer Tony Blair in 1997. But I could just as well have been describing the election of the gasbag lawyer Barack Obama in 2008. The resemblance between the two men is uncanny, right down to the pathological narcissism, the repulsive, grasping wives and the rumours about secret homosexuality. But the chief resemblance is that both men are lying conmen who promised the moon and delivered hot air.

I saw it coming with Blair: after his victory in 1997, I commented on the euphoria by inventing a new dating system. In a letter to a friend, I said it was now 1 Anno Blairi, the First Year of Tony. It was obvious that Blair would never deliver the miracles he loudly promised. And he didn’t. When Barack Obama first appeared in the British media, I realized that he was a tinted version of Blair, full of fine words and fake promises. So I knew what was ahead once he was elected.

But the mega-minds at the Guardian were fooled by both gasbags. They were beside themselves with ecstasy when Obama was elected in 2008. Then the truth about their Mocha Messiah slowly began to sink in. It’s taken years, but one by one they’ve left the cult. Gary Younge, the Guardian’s chief Black intellectual, has just asked a question that would have seemed utterly blasphemous in 2008:

Barack Obama has now been in power for longer than [Lyndon] Johnson was, and the question remains: “What the hell’s his presidency for?” His second term has been characterised by a profound sense of drift in principle and policy. … In December, even as he pursued one whistleblower, Edward Snowden and kept another, Chelsea Manning, incarcerated, he told the crowd at Nelson Mandela’s funeral: “There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people.”

If there was a plot, he’s lost it. If there was a point, few can remember it. If he had a big idea, he shrank it. If there’s a moral compass powerful enough to guide such contradictions to more consistent waters, it is in urgent need of being reset.

… His ascent to power had meaning. It’s his presence in power that lacks purpose. … “If you’re going to be president, then I guess you obviously want to be in the history books,” said Susan Aylward, a frustrated Obama supporter in Akron, Ohio, shortly before the last election. “So what does he want to be in the history books for? I don’t quite know the answer to that yet.” Sadly, it seems, neither does he. (What the hell is Barack Obama’s presidency for?, The Guardian, 23rd February 2014)

So Younge thinks that Obama’s “ascent to power had meaning.” What meaning was that? Well, it was a chance for people like Younge to support something they could wholeheartedly believe in: the splendour of themselves. Like Blair before him, Obama cunningly turned himself into a mirror for his supporters’ narcissism. A vote for Obama was a vote for oneself — a symbol of one’s decency, compassion and profound commitment to building a better, fairer world, free of prejudice and oppression. That’s how conmen work: they exploit greed and gullibility. Liberals are greedy to feed their own narcissism. That’s why they voted so eagerly for Blair in the UK and for Obama in the US.

In both cases, liberals slowly realized that they’d been conned. Like Blair, Obama has disappointed huge numbers of people. But he hasn’t disappointed the ones who matter. And like Blair, he can expect his reward when he leaves office:

Tony Blair earned £20m in just one year advising business bosses and foreign governments

Tony Blair earned more than £20 million last year [2011] from advising business chiefs and foreign governments, it was reported yesterday. The former Prime Minister’s income since leaving Downing Street has been shrouded in mystery, but the new figure emerged during an interview with Mr Blair by Financial Times editor Lionel Barber.

The size of the former Labour leader’s income is certain to provoke fresh criticism of his money-making exploits since he left office, even though he has insisted he pays 50 per cent income tax on all his earnings. He told Mr Barber, who interviewed him in Jerusalem, that the money was ploughed back into his philanthropic ventures, adding: ‘The purpose is not to make money. It is to make a difference.’ (Tony Blair earned £20m in just one year advising business bosses and foreign governments, The Daily Mail, 30th June 2012)

Blair was interviewed in Israel about his millions. It’s now like a second home to him and he was back earlier this year to pay fulsome tribute to Ariel Sharon: “The same iron determination he took to the field of war he took to the chamber of diplomacy. Bold. Unorthodox. Unyielding.” Blair’s attachment to Israel has a direct link with his huge and growing wealth. He was put into power to serve the interests of a small but very powerful minority. He is now being rewarded for his service. Obama was put into power by the same minority and can expect the same reward:

Writer Toni Morrison famously dubbed Bill Clinton “the first black president” – a title he fervently embraced. Abner Mikva, the Chicago Democratic Party stalwart and former Clinton White House counsel, offers a variation on that theme. “If Clinton was our first black president, then Barack Obama is our first Jewish president,” says Mikva, who was among the first to spot the potential of the skinny young law school graduate with the odd name.

“I use a Yiddish expression, yiddishe neshuma, to describe him,” explains Mikva. “It means a Jewish soul. It’s an expression my mother used. It means a sensitive, sympathetic personality, someone who understands where you are coming from.” …

Mikva and his friend Newton Minow, the former Federal Communications Commission chairman and Kennedy-era New Frontiersman, were there at the beginning. Minow first heard about Obama in 1988 from his daughter Martha, a professor at Harvard, where Obama was studying law. Minow, senior counsel at Sidley Austin, offered him an internship and later a permanent job at the white-shoe firm, but Obama declined, saying he was planning to go into politics.

When Obama graduated, Mikva, then a U.S. appeals court judge in Washington, tried to lure him with a prestigious clerkship, but Obama turned him down too. That, according to Mikva, took some chutzpah. Both Mikva and Minow say they sensed back then that Obama was something special. They made a point of staying in touch.

Obama’s circle of Jewish patrons and advisers widened further in 1992 when he became involved in a voter registration drive that brought him into contact with Bettylu Saltzman, a liberal activist (and daughter of the late Philip Klutznick, a former commerce secretary and shopping mall developer). Saltzman says she knew from the moment she met Obama that he would someday be president. She introduced him to David Axelrod, who saw something similar.

Axelrod designed the strategy in which Obama first won the backing of White liberals and then reached out to Blacks. Jews made up a significant number of the first constituency.

“As Jews got to know him, they recognized a kindred spirit, not someone who came down from Mars,” Mikva said. Rabbi Arnold Wolf, of KAM Isaiah Israel synagogue across the street from Obama’s Chicago home, was another early backer. Like Mikva, he sees what he called Obama’s “Jewish side.”

“Obama is from nowhere and everywhere — just like the Jews. He’s black, he’s white, he’s American, he’s Asian, he’s African — and so are we,” Wolf said.

Certainly, Obama is comfortable with Jews, especially Jews from Chicago. Axelrod will remain at his side as senior adviser, and Rep. Rahm Emanuel will be White House chief of staff. Billionaire Penny Pritzker, who has known Obama since the mid-1990s and served as his campaign finance chairwoman, was said to be under consideration for commerce secretary until she took herself out of the running. (Barack Obama: The first Jewish president? Chicago circle nurtured him all the way to the top, The Chicago Tribune, 12th December 2008)