You won’t be able to see this article unless you subscribe to Matt Taibbi’s Substack column (some other pieces there are free), but this is certainly worth reading, as it’s the strongest attack I’ve seen by a non-Republican on Obama and his legacy. You can click on the title, but it will just take you an excerpt of his piece—granted, an excerpt worth reading. But it’s worth reading the whole thing.
Taibbi is well acquainted with the doings of Obama, for he reported on the man for Rolling Stone and has been following him closely ever since. And, unlike most of us (well, at least unlike me), he never saw Obama as a lodestar of hope, but spotted him for a grifter from nearly the outset. And this has only been confirmed by Obama’s grasping behavior since he left office.
Click below, and I’ll fill in some of the the rest.
As you probably know, Obama threw himself a fancy 60th birthday party at his mansion on Martha’s Vineyard, inviting a galaxy of stars from both the political and entertainment world. But then he realized that there was a pandemic on, and his advisors told him to cut back the festivities. And so many people were disinvited. As Taibbi notes:
A former president flying half the world’s celebrities to spend three days in a maskless ring-kissing romp at a $12 million Martha’s Vineyard mansion, at a moment when only a federal eviction ban prevented the outbreak of a national homelessness crisis, was already an all-time “Fuck the Optics” news event, and that was before the curveball. Because of what even the New York Times called “growing concerns” over how gross the mega-party looked, not least for the Joe Biden administration burdened with asking the nation for sober sacrifice while his ex-boss raised the roof with movie stars in tropical shirts, advisers prevailed upon the 44th president to reconsider the bacchanal. But characteristically, hilariously, Obama didn’t cancel his party, he merely uninvited those he considered less important, who happened to be almost entirely his most trusted former aides.
Cast out, the Times said, were “the majority of former Obama administration officials… who generally credit themselves with helping create the Obama legacy,” including former top aide David Axelrod, who’d just called Obama an “apostle of hope” in the Washington Post and sat for a three-hour HBO documentary deep-throat of his ex-boss. Remaining on the list were celeb couples Chrissy Teigen and John Legend, as well as Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union, along with Steven Spielberg, George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, Questlove, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Don Cheadle, and other Fabulous People, who drank “top shelf liquor,” puffed stogies, and hit the links at the Vineyard Golf Club (membership fee: $350,000). An early report that Pearl Jam had been hired to perform was later refuted. Eddie Vedder would just be there, but not to play.
I have been disturbed by Obama’s efforts to rake in the cash since he became President, an increasingly accepted effort of ex-Presidents. You may argue that he’s entitled to do that, to get a $65 million advance on his book and buy a $12 million mansion on Martha’s Vineyard (the Vineyard, for chrissake!), and charge $400,000 per speech (remember when people criticized Hillary Clinton for charging half of that?). And yes, capitalism allows it all. But compare that to Jimmy Carter, who lives in a modest house, drives a modest car, and, at 96, still hammers nails in houses for Habitat for Humanity. Who do you admire more? Who has lived his principles better?
Not only that, but the people who really helped Obama govern—folks like Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, and (apparently) Nancy Pelosi—were disinvited when the guest list was pared, while George Clooney, Tom Hanks, and Chrissy Teigen and John Legend (for chrissakes) were still invited. That is the sign of a man who prizes star power more than his legacy.
But I don’t have a tenth of the knowledge that Taibbi has about Obama’s political machinations, so I’ll just give a few quotes. Taibbi is particularly disturbed by Obama’s cronyism and cozying up to banks and business, but I won’t get into that. I can’t evaluate his claims, but I put them out there for you to see and judge.
Obviously, getting rich and not giving a shit anymore is the birthright of every American. But this wasn’t supposed to be in the script for Obama, whose remarkable heel turn has been obscured by the Trump years, which incidentally were at least party his fault. The history books and the still-starstruck press will let him skate on this, but they shouldn’t.
Obama was set up to be the greatest of American heroes, but proved to be a common swindler and one of the great political liars of all time — he fooled us all. Moreover, his remarkably vacuous post-presidency is proving true everything Trump said in 2016 about the grasping Washington politicians whose only motives are personal enrichment, and who’d do anything, even attend his wedding, for a buck. Trump’s point was that he, Trump, was already swinishly rich, while politicians have only one thing to sell to get the upper class status they crave: us.
Obama did that. He sold us out, and it’s time to start talking about the role he played in bringing about the hopeless cynical mess that is modern America.
One example of cronyism:
Many Democrats remember vaguely that the early Obama years were a disappointment, but the disappointment has been glazed over by a propaganda point: it wasn’t his fault. Tilting at the windmill of a corrupt Washington establishment, his talk about learning to “disagree without being disagreeable” shattered by viciously obstructionist Republicans and race-baiting Fox audiences, Obama accomplished what he could, which wasn’t much.
The reality is much more grotesque. Obama sold out the instant he moved into the White House, before the likes of Mitch McConnell even had a chance to figure in the picture.
Example: as mentioned here before, Obama as a candidate had run an ad denouncing Louisiana’s Democratic congressman Billy Tauzin for taking a $2 million job at the the drug lobby firm PhRMA right after passing a monster prescription drug handout bill. “That’s an example of the same old game-playing in Washington,” Obama said, in an ad called, Billy. “I don’t want to learn how to play the game better. I want to put an end to the game-playing.”
Immediately after Obama took office — between February 4th and July 22nd of 2009, to be exact — “Billy” became a regular visitor to the White House, visiting an average of once every 15 days. Those meetings culminated in a deal struck between the Obama White House and PhRMA, in which the trade group would donate $150 million to lobby for the passage of Obamacare, and Obama in return would abandon two of his key campaign pledges (among other things): allowing Medicare to negotiate pharmaceutical prices in bulk, and allowing citizens to import cheaper drugs from Canada. Right out of the gate, Obama’s signature bill was built atop the exact slimeball game-playing, with the exact slimeball players, he pledged to avoid.
Every politician breaks promises, but the issue with many of Obama’s long list of reversals was not failure but betrayal, in the most profound and devastating sense of the word. I was relatively a booster of Obama in 2008, but once assigned to cover the financial crisis found myself stunned at choices he made, beginning with the appalling decision to invite still-employed Citigroup officials to run his economic transition. This move led to one of the more breathtakingly corrupt deals in modern presidential history, one the press gave almost a complete pass. I heard about it from a senior Democratic Party official, a great believer in Obama who was flabbergasted by the lack of press attention and still I think hopeful on some level that the King simply didn’t know what was going on at his court.
But wait! There’s more!
I could go on about Obama’s betrayals and broken promises, which included the expansion by the gentle constitutional lawyer of both a brutal drone murder program and a vast illegal surveillance operation, the instantly violated pledge to have no registered lobbyists in the White House (Obama brought former Goldman lobbyist Mark Patterson in to serve as Deputy to Tim Geithner right after inauguration), the ignored promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, the waived plan to “put on a comfortable pair of shoes” and walk with union members in a picket line (he never did this), the decision to make the Bush tax cuts permanent while blowing off promises to lift the payroll tax cap above $250,000 or end the carried interest tax break, the repeated use of the Espionage Act to bully non-compliant reporters and their sources, and so on, and so on.
Just yesterday the Washington Post published an excerpt from a new book about the “baldfaced” deception of December 28, 2014, when Obama furled the green flag of coalition forces in Afghanistan to mark the supposed end of our “combat mission” there, in what he called a “milestone for our country.” This was despite the fact that the Administration never had any intention of leaving Afghanistan, and didn’t, and systematically covered up our failures there.
The approval of drone strikes and the failure to close Gitmo particularly upset me. But I kept my mouth shut.
And I want to show this:
This was before I knew that Obama would immediately start monetizing his name with a battery of $400,000-per-hour speeches to Wall Street, and also before I knew the incredible details of his May, 2016 trip to Flint, Michigan. The city had been plagued by outbreaks of Legionnaire’s Disease and lead poisoning, with children sickened with neurological and behavioral problems, after years of drinking and bathing in poisoned water in as pure an example of sociopathic negligence as we’ve seen in American governance. Flint was true Evremonde politics, the kind of gross mistreatment that inspires revolutions, leaving people with nothing but rage for their injured children.
When Obama came to town, residents of the predominantly black city expected him to ride to the rescue by declaring a federal disaster and sending in FEMA for a cleanup. Instead, he told a story about how he was sure he ate lead paint as a kid (and turned out fine!), then took a micro-sip of Flint water, as if to show how safe it was. When the assembled gasped in horror, he chuckled with annoyance, “This is a feisty crowd tonight!” After, he held a quick presser where he repeated the sipping trick and zipped back to Air Force One in his limo. The scene is as close to pure political evil as you’ll ever see on stage”.
You be the judge about whether this is evil. It’s sure not good “optics”! It does seem slimy. And yes, it is a stunt:
And Taibbi’s ending:
. . . Obama has been ostentatious in his near-total disinterest in the country he left behind, showing almost no public leadership in five of the most difficult years of its history, holstering his legendary communications skills during years of spiraling acrimony and division.
Worse, Obama has now displaced the Clintons as the ultimate example of the modern political profiteer. We now automatically assume Senators and presidents will spend their retirements pursuing every conceivable moneymaking opportunity while living lives of hoggish exclusivity. No more Jimmy Carters living in $167,000 homes, driving 1983 Mercury Capris and volunteering to build houses in between negotiating African peace treaties. The White House is now first and foremost a seat of financial power, its occupant by design an apprentice member of the 1%, who’s expected to accept full entrance into the wealth archipelago upon exit.
Trump won in 2016 because America preferred someone who was already a pig to someone merely on the way to being one. The country didn’t reach that level of cynicism on its own. Disillusionment has a cost, and Barack Obama transforming from symbol of hope and possibility to whatever he is now — to a shallow, conceited, Fat Elvis version of a neoliberal washout — has been a hell of a blow, whether America’s ready to admit it or not.
Now these are Taibbi’s views, not mine, but I have to say that the monetization of Obama’s post-Presidency has irked me a great deal. Every time I walk past his house in Kenwood, which is on my regular walking route, I think about how we all expected him to move back to Chicago, but now he lounges in a mansion on Martha’s Vineyard and schmoozes with movie stars.
You may also want to read this takedown of Birthdaygate by Maureen Dowd in the NYT, a piece I highlighted yesterday. Click on the screenshot: