Wisdom from the Book of Samuels

On August 2, 2023, Tablet editor David Samuels interviewed David Garrow, author of Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama. On October 7, 2023, Hamas launched a massive attack on Israel and committed the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. In light of those events, and the recent attack on Israel directly from Iran, consider some of Samuels’ own statements during “The Obama Factor” interview:

I find Barack Obama deeply sympathetic as a person. I identify with him emotionally. Yet there was something about this fictional character that he created actually becoming president that helped precipitate the disaster that we are living through now.

Obama’s hostility to American exceptionalism also seemed linked to his hostility to Israel, or more specifically to America’s identification with Israel, which finally resulted in his determination during his second term to reach his agreement with Iran—an agreement with the main objective of integrating that country into America’s security architecture in the Middle East, while limiting Israel’s power in the region. Again, why?

The sheer amount of political capital and focus Obama put into achieving the JCPOA during his second term, to the near-exclusion of other goals, suggests that the deal was central to his politics. It also carries more than a whiff of the kind of politics in which the American Empire is seen not just as unexceptional, but also, in some ways, as actively evil. It was a politics born out of the confluence of the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement, which saw a racist war abroad being used to protect a racist power structure at home. That old alliance of civil rights, anti-imperialism, and identity politics made the Democratic Party that Obama positioned himself to lead—college-educated, corporate-controlled—seem cool, allowing it to use post-1960s radical ideology as a language to sell stuff.

In the absence of what was once American journalism, it is hard to know which portrait of Obama’s post-presidency is truer to life: Obama as a celebrity-obsessed would-be billionaire, or as a would-be American Castro, reshaping American society from his basement, in his sweats.

The election of Joe Biden in 2020 gave the Obamas even more reasons to stay in town. The whispers about Biden’s cognitive decline, which began during his bizarre COVID-sheltered basement campaign, were mostly dismissed as partisan attacks on a politician who had always been gaffe-ridden. Yet as President Biden continued to fall off bicycles, misremember basic names and facts, and mix long and increasingly weird passages of Dada-edque nonsense with autobiographical whoppers during his public appearances, it became hard not to wonder how poor the president’s capacities really were and who was actually making decisions in a White House staffed top to bottom with core Obama loyalists. When Obama turned up at the White House, staffers and the press crowded around him, leaving President Biden talking to the drapes—which is not a metaphor but a real thing that happened. (Samuels’ link)

I have heard from more than one source that there are regular meetings at Obama’s house in Kalorama involving top figures in the current White House, with Secret Service and cars outside. I don’t write about it because it’s not my lane. There are over a thousand reporters in Washington, and yet there are zero stakeouts of Obama’s mansion, if only to tell us who is coming and going. But he clearly has his oar in.

 The easy explanation, of course, is that Joe Biden is not running that part of his administration. Obama is. He doesn’t even have to pick up the phone because all of his people are already inside the White House. They hold the Iran file. Tony Blinken doesn’t.

Rob Malley is just one person. Brett McGurk. Dan Shapiro in Israel. Lisa Monaco in Justice. Susan Rice running domestic policy. It’s turtles all the way down. There are obviously large parts of White House policymaking that belong to Barack Obama because they’re staffed by his people, who worked for him and no doubt report back to him. Personnel is policy, as they say in Washington.

Which to me is a very odd and kind of spooky arrangement. Spooky, because it is happening outside the constitutional framework of the U.S. government, and yet somehow it’s been placed off the list of permitted subjects to report on. Which is a pretty good indicator of the extent to which the information we get, and public reactions to that information, is being successfully controlled. How and by whom remain open questions, the quick answer to which is that the American press has become a subset of partisan comms. 

What scared me back then was coming to understand that a new milieu had been created consisting of party operatives, the people in the FBI and the CIA who are carrying out White House policy, and the press. It is all one world now. And that’s something people still seem loathe to admit, even to themselves, in part because it puts them in a state of dissonance with this new kind of controlled consensus that the press maintains, which is obviously garbage. But if you question it, you’re some kind of nut.

But historically speaking, Jews are not, or were not, a particularly American obsession, except among some morons and leather fetishists on the right. But they are a major obsession on the periphery of the American empire, where envy and fear of the mythic role that Jews supposedly play in Washington, because of Israel, are defining emotions, regardless of the facts.

So how do you talk all this foundation-land, community-organizer shit and then preside over the transformation of the country into a Gilded Age oligarchy? Maybe I just answered my own question: Obama is the Magic Negro of the billionaire industrial complex. And targeting Jews as outsiders and pushing them outside the circle was the way that the Gilded Age oligarchy consolidated itself in America, back then and also now.

And so on. Look for Garrow’s statements in a future post.

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