God bless San Francisco for its first-in-the-nation plastic bag ban and for insurgent issuing of same-sex marriage licenses. But all too often the Bay Area’s leftist fury only creates an ideologically isolated enclave of rich liberals, where soft drinks are banned from city buildings, animals are classified as independent entities not “owned” by anyone and an ordinance guarantees sunshine for all. This kind of sanctimonious attitude was on display last week when President Barack Obama was confronted by a band of petulant progressives asking not what they could do for their country but what their country could do for them.
Naomi Pitcairn, a 51-year-old self-described “artist/trust fund brat,” paid $76,000 of the $105,000 it took to get 10 demonstrators into a fundraising dinner with Obama. “Mr. President, we wrote you a song,” Pitcairn announced, before removing her jacket to reveal a “Free Bradley Manning” t-shirt.
A sampling of the lyrics they sang in unison: “It takes a lot of Benjamins to run a campaign / I paid my dues, where's our change? / We'll vote for you in 2012, yes that's true / Look at the Republicans — what else can we do? / Even though we don't know if we'll retain our liberties / In what you seem content to call a free country.”
(I imagine they would have followed up with a number from Hair but knew that would give the Secret Service just cause to open fire.)
Apparently, Pitcairn was disappointed the $6,900 she donated to Obama in 2008 didn’t allow her to set the agenda for the whole damn country. As for Manning, the Army private accused of providing documents to WikiLeaks, Obama put forth this far-right position: “He broke the law.”
The failures and letdowns of the Obama administration are enough to frustrate any supporter. The president gave up on the public healthcare option, signed an expansion of the Bush tax plan, has not pushed for the reinstitution of post-Great Depression bank regulations, kept the Guantánamo Bay prison camp open and is holding military trials there and denounced none of the extra-constitutional powers claimed by George W. Bush.
But anyone who says Obama has brought no change has forgotten what it was like to live under a government with no shame. The Bush/Cheney regime pushed a radical agenda of religious dogma as public policy, perpetual warfare, extreme secrecy, the dismantling of Social Security, deficit-engorging tax cuts for the super-rich and deregulation of business to the point of governmental negligence — all done with Karl Rove-style politics. Their plan was not new. Since the rich, powerful and uptight declared a “culture war” on the rest of us, the U.S. has lived with a dangerous, delusional right-wing influence. And Republicans in Congress and in governors’ offices are still pushing Bush’s fuck-the-poor-and-middle-class agenda.
The difference between now and three years ago is we have a president who is trying to put out the fire of right-wing societal destruction, not fan the flames. It’d be great if Obama supported same-sex marriage. But he did record a YouTube message to encourage gay youth; the previous president was active in the culture that repressed them. Obama begrudgedly renewed the Bush tax plan; Bush implemented it. Obama was forced to keep Gitmo open; Bush opened it. Obama is struggling to save the social safety net; Bush worked to destroy it. Obama’s plan to reduce health care burdens on individuals is highly flawed; Bush had no plan. No matter how slowly, our government is headed in a better direction. That’s change.
Even if his first 27 months provided too few concrete changes, the president of the United States shouldn’t have to take shit from whiners who contribute nothing but a check every four years. And someone who spends $76,000 (which Bradley Manning’s defense fund would have probably accepted) on a flash mob has no right telling someone else he hasn’t used his resources to do enough good in the world.