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Thinking about Obama five years on

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This interview with David Sirota about Don’t Look Up included the following claim:

(Before we get to that I’m contractually obligated to say something about Don’t Look Up as a film, so here’s my take: It’s a classic good-bad movie in the sense of a film that has some genuinely thought-provoking features and some amusing bits of satire, but it doesn’t really work aesthetically in the end because it’s extremely difficult to walk the line between overt farce and straight social critique. In this regard it suffers badly by comparison to Dr. Strangelove, the classic entrant in this genre that does what Don’t Look Up is trying to do, only far more effectively and coherently and funnily. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming).

[T]here was all this political energy in 2008 and that it could go in many different directions. It could go right-wing. It could go progressive. It was always unpredictable.

I think it actually went in a productive direction in that 2008 election. People were sick of the Bush administration, which was really a horrific administration, and they actually voted for change. What happened next is one of the biggest tragedies in history that we don’t necessarily recognize as one of the biggest tragedies in history.

The Obama administration came in with this huge mandate and made a series of decisions to use that mandate to try to prop up the current system, to try to just preserve it for a little bit longer. Top-down bailouts, not bailouts that helped actual homeowners, and so on. If you don’t really try to deliver for working people, if you only try to prop back up the system, ultimately that ends up helping the opportunists, the right-wing authoritarian opportunists. And I think there is a direct line from the reaction to that financial crisis to the rise of Donald Trump.

I understand that Sirota is something of a jackass, but I do think this particular claim is worth ruminating through at least a couple of bloggy stomachs. So:

Preparatory to anything else, the ACA was a massive accomplishment, and anybody who denies this can be safely ignored. Beyond that though, how are we to evaluate the triumphs and failures of the Obama administration, now that we have the benefit of the beginnings of some sort of preliminary historical distance from it?

I do think that any such evaluation needs to take into account what has become much clearer in retrospect, which is that electing a black president is something that by itself pushed 35% (?) of the electorate into a kind of apparently semi-permanent fugue state about how they were “losing” their country in some profoundly catastrophic way. And the virulence of that reaction had real consequences for what the Obama administration could and couldn’t accomplish.

Electing him was, for demographic reasons, such a radical act that this radicalism — the radicalism of not being totally racist apparently — tended, I think, to push an administration already primed to be fairly moderate and establishment-regarding (you don’t elect the former president of the Harvard Law Review to lead even the mildest sort of revolution) to be even more so, given that everything that Obama did would be interpreted by the unhinged 35% as further confirmation that Those People were turning the Shining City on a Hill into a P-Funk concert or what have you.

Anyway that’s my first cut at answering this question. I’m pretty sure you all have thoughts, and I really want to hear them, as I haven’t thought about this much yet, and seems like a very important question to chew over, especially at the present extraordinarily fraught moment in American history.

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