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Ear to the Ground

Thomas Frank: ‘An Ineffective and Gutless Presidency’s Legacy Is Failure’

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Posted on Jul 22, 2014

White House/Pete Souza

The Salon columnist imagines President Obama’s inevitable library, and how it will cope with the transition of “an unlikely champion” of the masses to “the only thing between [Wall Street] and the pitchforks.”

Thomas Frank in Salon:

In approaching this subject, let us first address the historical situation of the Obama administration. The task of museums, like that of history generally, is to document periods of great change. The task facing the makers of the Obama museum, however, will be pretty much exactly the opposite: how to document a time when America should have changed but didn’t. Its project will be to explain an age when every aspect of societal breakdown was out in the open and the old platitudes could no longer paper it over—when the meritocracy was clearly corrupt, when the financial system had devolved into organized thievery, when everyone knew that the politicians were bought and the worst criminals went unprosecuted and the middle class was in a state of collapse and the newspaper pundits were like street performers miming “seriousness” for an audience that had lost its taste for mime and seriousness both. It was a time when every thinking person could see that the reigning ideology had failed, that an epoch had ended, that the shitty consensus ideas of the 1980s had finally caved in—and when an unlikely champion arose from the mean streets of Chicago to keep the whole thing propped up nevertheless.

The Obama team, as the president once announced to a delegation of investment bankers, was “the only thing between you and the pitchforks,” and in retrospect these words seem not only to have been a correct assessment of the situation at the moment but a credo for his entire term in office. For my money, they should be carved in stone over the entrance to his monument: Barack Obama as the one-man rescue squad for an economic order that had aroused the fury of the world. Better: Obama as the awesomely talented doctor who kept the corpse of a dead philosophy lumbering along despite it all.

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Frank goes on to argue that “there were plenty of things Obama’s Democrats could have done that might have put the right out of business once and for all,” but instead the president, when not selling out his movement for change, obsessively pursued the phony Washington ideal of bipartisanship and consensus.

And that, the columnist predicts, will be the overall theme of the Barack Obama Presidential Library, coupled with tales of “the terrifying Right-Wing Other,” necessary to explain how the leader of such a popular movement was so effectively stymied. The alternative explanation, that the president was unwilling, unable and unnerved, would not do in such a venue.

Related: Listen to Thomas Frank on Truthdig Radio below (Frank enters about 43 minutes in):

—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer

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