A recent issue of GQ magazine contained an interview with Jeff Bridges. I didn’t find it particularly enlightening, especially for an actor who has such politically-intriguing films to his credit such as Cutter’s Way, Winter Kills and Arlington Road—the kind of provocative subject matter that most actors with image issues stay away from, yet stay in memory long after one has forgotten last summer’s forgettable blockbuster. Did this choice of films reflect an appreciation of his late father’s experiences in the 1950s during the House Un-American Activities Committee investigations? Although Lloyd Bridges was not officially blacklisted for membership in the Actors Lab, which supposedly had members who were communists, he was “graylisted”—meaning that for a time major studios would refuse to employ him because of his alleged anti-American affiliations; later in life, he would be affiliated with the World Federalist movement, which envisions a “one-world” government that would be better equipped to tackle the various afflictions that are a consequence of human activity. It would have been interesting to hear the son’s reflections on the father’s political philosophy. Instead, the interviewer seemed more interesting in Jeff’s ’ “The Dude” persona, which I found rather corny to begin with.
But there was one interesting tidbit in the interview. Bridges gave George W. Bush a back-handed compliment, observing that even if his policies were of questionable worth, at least he had a comprehensible “vision”—unlike Al Gore or John Kerry, who Bridges regarded as “flip-floppers.” Bush never altered his vision, never admitted to mistakes: He was always “right.” Of course, it’s easy to be “right” if all you believe in is tax cuts, deregulation and invading other countries. But that is not governing; while Bush was busy playing armchair warrior, he didn’t seem much concerned about what was happening in the rest of the country. He gave kept the power elite happy by giving them huge tax cuts and keeping a blind eye to their vices, while leaving Karl Rove to handle potential troublemakers elsewhere. Republicans don’t govern—they “preside” as in over a plantation. As we saw in the handling of Hurricane Katrina, domestic crises are something Bush wasn’t very good at; such problems he passed on to Barack Obama—and the Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats made sure it remained Obama’s “problem.” The GQ interviewer did nudge Bridges into offering a criticism of Obama, but he didn’t quite bite. He wouldn’t criticize Obama directly, but did say that although people should want the president to succeed—but if they so desire they can choose someone else in another two years.
That Bridges would not critique the rhetoric of the right and its total opposition to anything Obama wanted to accomplish is rather telling. I don’t know if he’s a closet Republican or is simply disappointed in Obama. But one must ask themselves how exactly did Obama disappoint them? Obama told you what he was going to do, and for the most part did exactly what he said he was going to do. You might have expected more, but given the almost complete opposition of the Republicans and their desire to destroy Obama at the cost of their credibility, expecting “more” was more than unrealistic. The reality is that the 111th Congress was one of the most productive in recent history, something the media would never tell you that; they were too busy giving fringe-right fanatics every opportunity to vent while utterly failing to analyze what they were really up to, failed to point out what good had been accomplished despite Republican obstructionism. That everything the Obama and the last session of Congress accomplished was hated by the Republicans should tell you that they must have done something right.
The fact is that Obama did most of what he promised to do—nothing more and nothing less. Yes, we were disappointed that there was no public option in the health care bill, and yes we were disappointed that he did not pull out of Afghanistan—but we already knew all of that going in, didn’t we? He told us that during the 2008 campaign. He promised health care reform, but not necessarily a public option: Check. He told us that he was going to shift military resources from Iraq to Afghanistan: Check. He told us he wanted a stimulus bill passed: Check. He told us that credit card reform was on the table: Check. He told us that us that we were going to have finance reform: Not what we really needed, but check nonetheless. He told us he was going to push a job-saving bailout for the domestic auto manufacturers: Check—and they are inching toward profitability again.
The problem, as must be pointed out again and again, is with people who were hearing things, or tried push their ideology on Obama, and with a media that allowed right-wing crackpots and teabaggers to define negatively his very real accomplishments. While the health care reform law was hardly the radical legislation the right made it out to be, the media in general refused to call Republicans to account to explain why they thought the various abuses by the insurance industry should not remedied. Today, Obama’s principle problem is the slow pace of employment growth, but unemployment has always taken time to rebound after a major recession; but given rising corporate profits and job-creation in overseas markets rather than domestically, what we did see in the past election cycle was the deliberate corporate interference in the legitimate political process at the expense of working people. Again, the media does not attempt to analyze this probability, merely repeating what their corporate paymasters tell them is allowable to say.
The “other” problem Obama has is simple: He’s a Democrat, and he’s black. For most whites, when you mix the two together, you get a threat to white “privilege.” Obama attempted to show that what he was doing would help all Americans, but many people were congenitally unable to believe that. They just saw a black bogeyman out to rob them. For many whites, there was nothing save turn Uncle Tom like Clarence Thomas that would satisfy them. If Obama was a white man, maybe more people would believe that he had everyone’s interests in mind. But when the right—with the aid of an unquestioning media—threw around terms like “communism” and “socialism” about, in the minds of many paranoids this meant “leveling” with other races—meaning, somehow, a lessening of the power of white privilege; that’s just the way these people think. The right knew how to take advantage of this paranoia for cynical political gain, and it didn’t help Obama that he was at the same time taking a battering from the progressive left for not pleasing them. As they say, Obama is between a rock and hard place: He tries to please everyone, and subsequently no one is “pleased.” Maybe that is the cost of governing, which as I said before, is something that Republicans are not particularly good at.