My first foray into blogging was when, halfway into Obama’s first term, I wrote a long article titled Little Hope for Change: A Summary of the Bush-Obama Legacy, which my friend Tim Page turned into the website Obama the Conservative. It was a blog that featured just this single, periodically updated article, nearly 20,000 words long, with obsessively detailed sources and citations (totaling about 500), organized by topic into a navigable table of contents. The piece followed the format “Bush did — Obama said — Obama did”: the aim was to make an airtight case that the differences between the Republican villain most hated by liberals, and their most revered hero, were almost entirely cosmetic.
The blog was soon attracting several thousand new visitors each month. Early on during Obama’s presidency, it was still controversial to argue that Obama is the antithesis of the progressive values that figure prominently into his PR talk. We eventually abandoned the project, once the most delusional phase of liberal cognitive dissonance had waned. It was, all in all, a pretty depressing undertaking, but I do believe it had some value as a case study on the state of our two-party system, and I still run into it in unexpected places. To mark the inauguration of the most vile president the US has ever seen, I thought it would be pertinent to post a reminder of this old article here, along with a few observations.
1) From the start, the feedback we received for OTC was demoralizing. In the comments section, the piece mostly received praise — from the figurative choir at the sermon. But many people on the self-identified left would communicate to me privately that they had serious objections to the whole project. It was never anything substantive — there are no factual mistakes in the piece, and little by way of explicit editorializing, which is probably why so little of the criticism was ever posted publicly in the comments. Some of the most fierce denunciations came from people who didn’t even bother to read it.
Having been on the receiving end of this kind of zealous tribalism, watching the Democratic party devolve into a foaming pig manure explosion, and witnessing the subsequent utter lack of collective introspection, is sad but not surprising. If the party can’t admit what a terrible idea it was to try and sell Hillary Clinton as an alternative (!) to the untenable status quo, forget about Democrats ever coming to terms with what a particularly disastrous succession the last two presidencies made. If Bush took the most decisive turn towards a fascist America, Obama’s eight years were the coup de grâce that normalized his predecessor’s most radical policies. Trump seems like a logical continuation of this trend.
2) The main objective of Obama the Conservative was to provide a striking case study on the state of American two-party politics. But what could be a better demonstration than the events of 2016 that the US system is more akin to one-party rule? The past year saw both parties simultaneously sink into a crisis, meaning that the competition between the two is not a zero-sum game.
3) Both Obama and Trump came into power promising radical change. Our best hope is that Trump is as full of shit as Obama was. Unfortunately, the Republicans seem to have a much more gutsy approach to policy-making. The Empire has now replaced its liberal used car salesman with a what-you-see-is-what-you-get leader. But an even more terrifying scenario — and a totally plausible one — is that he could be followed by another faux-progressive copycat, an Obama 2.0, a fascist who talks the liberal talk, who takes Trump’s Muslim registry or his internment camps or whatever else might be on the cards, and gives them a nice woke veneer.