Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Interview with Fernando Solanas on the Social Power of Film

by Chuleenan Svetvilas

Fernando Solanas has not only been a filmmaker but he has also served as a representative in Argentina’s national parliament. In 2002, the veteran director began filming A Social Genocide, which was released in 2004. The Dignity of the Nobodies, his second documentary about Argentina, screened in the San Francisco International Film Festival in 2006. Chuleenan Svetvilas interviewed Solanas in San Francisco. This interview originally appeared in the July 2006 issue of DOX the magazine of the European Documentary Network.

Nearly 40 years ago, you directed The Hour of the Furnaces and then you and Octavio Getino wrote your manifesto “Towards a Third Cinema.” In your manifesto, you say that documentary “is perhaps the main basis for revolutionary filmmaking.” What do you think is the role of the documentary filmmaker today?

He plays a great role, culturally, socially, and politically. The majority of our countries live in “mediated” democracies, where the media has an importance greater than universities or political parties in the formation of public opinion and in the public imagination. That is a society where the majority of public opinion is very strongly informed by the news media. And the media are responsible for some great tragedies. It is a very violent machinery of censorship. And the vast majority of the media are private firms financed by advertising.

In this country [the United States], like Argentina, the advertising is actually inside of the news stories, that is to say that they have financed the programs and they determine the content. In Europe, it’s not so much that way, there’s a stricter division between advertising and content. In Argentina, it’s really a tragedy, the media have made the public believe some enormous lies. To put it in a phrase, the public doesn’t have a good source of information from the news media. And that is why today there is a growing audience that goes to a movie theater to see a documentary. This was not the case ten years ago. Because they are finding information that they cannot find anywhere else. So, I think that good documentaries are treating issues that have been censored, social themes or historic social occurrences and stories that have essentially been censored out of existence, themes of social reality and of war.

In “Towards a Third Cinema,” you also mentioned that “revolutionary cinema is not passive,” but it “attempts to intervene in a situation providing thrust or rectification.” How involved were you with the people you filmed in The Dignity of the Nobodies?

This is an open film in that it helps those who intervene, but there is no end to the dignity of these people. There is no resolution of their situations. When you look at the end of the film, some have been resolved and some haven’t. In the characters of the Dignity of the Nobodies, there are people of all stripes. Some people belong to no political party, they are just social activists. There are some activists who belong to different leftist groups. For example, some were just social activists like the two women hospital workers are union activists and that’s about it.

As to the relationship that I have to the people in the film, people like me, everybody likes me. I’m a public figure. They all know me. “Ciao, Pino,” they say. So when I tell people I want to film them, they are very happy and they invite me to have mate (tea) at their house. It’s not so much because they are relating to me politically. They know that I defend their interests in a general way. And they know that I make films that represent what they think and feel.

The Dignity of the Nobodies is your second film about Argentina and you intend to do three more films about your country. What inspired you to do this ambitious project?

Fernando Solanas: As I got deeper into A Social Genocide, a film about the exceptional crisis that the country was experiencing, I saw it would be impossible to make one film with all that material. So the concept was born that the first one would be about the politics of power--how did we get into this situation? The second film was born out of the ending of the first one. The ending of the first film is a synthesis of ten years of a popular struggle against the situation. So but for the audience, what remains, what they see is the masses of people in activities like demonstrations. So what was lacking there was humanity. Who are all these people? How do they think? What do they feel?

So that’s where the idea was born of putting a magnifying glass on the people that formed the individual parts of this mass. And in this first film I got to know some people who were playing a huge influential role in these uprisings but were anonymous. I was tempted to make an advocacy film based on some of those stories. But then people would ask, “What am I seeing here, is this reality or is it fiction?”

So what this has actually turned into is a great testimony about the life of my country in this era. I did not invent the stories of “the nobodies.” This is a film made by someone as a historian, a chronicler of this struggle. I know that these films are going to stay around as references of a social reality. And now, because this is my profession as a filmmaker I have also attempted to make a good film. However, it could maybe not be a great film but still have the same value as a testimony. So working like this. five ideas came about. And that’s as far as I can say.

What is the audience response in Argentina to your documentaries?

Solanas: The audience is divided. The people who are in the film and the people who agree with the film, they love it. It is their expression; it’s their film. And the people who don’t agree with it, despise it, and they won’t go see it. This debate started even way back with The Hour of the Furnaces (1968) where some people were saying we should make a film to inform everyone, to inform the public but we knew that that was not what we were going to make. We were going to make a film of opinion. We were going to state our case and it would be signed. People would know that it was our opinion, just like an article in the newspaper is signed. Society is divided. There are a large number of people who are undecided. And they hear that a film like this is a good film, [The Dignity of the Nobodies] won prizes and so they overcome their prejudice against the film and they go see it.

How did you find the people in the stories in The Dignity of the Nobodies?

Solanas: I found them while I was filming A Social Genocide--in the neighborhoods. Everyday I get 10 or 15 invitations to show the film and talk about it in this or that neighborhood, which I could not possibly do or I couldn’t be making films. I have been getting to know these people and their wonderful stories. I had about 40 or 50 stories to choose from and there were probably another 100 that were just as good that were lying around. So I tried to choose stories that were a little different from one another. There are not only just picketers without work. Since I already have a story about unemployed picketers, I had to also get a story about workers that were employed and very well organized. But the whole story of my country is not just [about] the unemployed and the unionized but there are the workers in the public sector. You have the story of the teacher who lives in poverty and yet he’s a public school teacher or the middle class guy who writes and delivers packages on his motorcycle.

Then there are the women in the countryside who own small parcels of land – the typical rural petite bourgeoisie. They do not have a good education. They are not cultured. Women in a situation like this never get involved in social issues. But when their husbands got sick, and they realized their land was going to be sold out from under them, they defended what they had. So a woman like Lucy, back in ’94, she started to fight the auctions of the bankrupt farmers and I filmed her in 2004 and 2005. A person like that really emerged in that ten-year period. In the film you will see them singing the national anthem. But there’s something else you don’t see in the film. In the beginning, they tried to disrupt the auctions by praying out loud—“Our Father who art in Heaven”— but since they don’t really believe in God anyway, it wasn’t very effective, so they started singing the national anthem to disrupt the auctions. It was out of total naïveté. It’s not because they had such a well-formed political strategy.

Where did the footage of the farm auctions come from?

Most of the auctions are archival footage. The only auction I filmed is the one that’s at the very end of the film. Mid-April last year when the film was already edited and I was just getting into the final cut, somebody called me on the phone about another auction. I could never go to the auctions because they are in such remote areas. But on this occasion there was an auction 150 kilometers from where I lived. My first reaction was, “Well what do I need this for? The film’s already over.” But the women insisted, so I went and that is the final sequence 27 April 2005. I went into the auction just like any other TV station in the town. We filmed the whole thing. It was such a powerful scene that it ended up as the finale of the film.

Some of the stories in Dignity of the Nobodies are of people who are surviving everyday.

I observe them a lot and spend a lot of time with them. I taped them in preparation for filming and sometimes when I come back to film, it’s not as good as what I got when I was just observing. In something like this, things are never really prepared--that’s why you always have to take your camera. Sometimes you take your camera not because you are going to film but just because what you observe with your camera is so amazing.

For example, in the death of Darío Santillán, the unemployed man that the police shoot and kill. The beginning and the end [of that part of the film] are archival. And the images of him at the train station where he was dying, they were archival. There were probably 50 video cameras there for that event and probably another 200 still cameras. The police commissioner made an official statement that they had nothing to do with the death of Darío Santillán and it was other unemployed people who had shot him. But because we have freedom of the press, the following day, every daily newspaper showed a series of photographs that clearly showed that it was the police that shot him to death, not to mention the video footage. So in that particular chapter of the film, that was what was archival and everything else I shot myself.

The following day I went to the memorial observance in the neighborhood where Darío Santillán was from. I was the only person with a camera that they allowed to go inside and film the funeral. All the footage of him in the coffin is unique. I went around and filmed his friends and his girlfriend. His story was born with the event of his death. Starting with the enormity of that event is what made me go to the funeral. I went back to film another day to see him, not only through the eyes of his activist friends, but through the eyes of his girlfriend. And I got a little more and a little more and I kept going back day after day. I didn’t know those people before but they received me with great affection.

What’s happening with your other films on Argentina?

The third, fourth, and fifth films are pretty far along. And the third [Argentina Latente (Latent Argentina)] will be finished in September or October. The fourth one [La Tierra Sublevada (The Roused Land)] six or seven months later. The fifth one perhaps May or June next year.

Chuleenan Svetvilas is a writer and editor based in Oakland, California. Her writings on film have appeared in Dox, Documentary, and Release Print magazines.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Politics of Lying and the Culture of Deceit in Obama's America: The Rule of Damaged Politics

by Henry A. Giroux
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

21 September 2009

Lies are often much more plausible, more appealing to reason, than reality, since the liar has the great advantage of knowing beforehand what the audience wishes or expects to hear.
--Hannah Arendt[1]

In the current American political landscape, truth is not merely misrepresented or falsified; it is overtly mocked. As is well known, the Bush administration repeatedly lied to the American public, furthering a legacy of government mistrust while carrying the practice of distortion to new and almost unimaginable heights. Even now, almost a year after Bush left office, it is difficult to forgot the lies and government-sponsored deceits in which it was claimed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, Iraq was making deals with al-Qaeda and, perhaps the most infamous of all, the United States did not engage in torture. Unlike many former administrations, the Bush administration was engaged in pure political theater,[2] giving new meaning to Hannah Arendt's claim that "Truthfulness has never been counted among the political virtues, and lies have always been regarded as justifiable tools in political dealings."[3] For instance, when the government wasn't lying to promote dangerous policies, it willfully produced and circulated fake news reports in order to provide the illusion that the lies and the policies that flowed from them were supported by selective members of the media and the larger public. The Bush deceits and lies were almost never challenged by right-wing media "patriots," who were too busy denouncing as un-American anyone who questioned Bush's official stream of deception and deceit. Ironically, some of these pundits were actually on the government payroll for spreading the intellectual equivalent of junk food. And some of them were actually being paid by the Bush government to make such claims.

In such circumstances, language loses any viable sense of referentiality, while lying, misrepresentation and the deliberate denial of truth become acceptable practices firmly entrenched in the wild West of talk radio, cable television and the dominant media. Fact finding, arguments bolstered by evidence and informed analysis have always been fragile entities, but they risk annihilation in a culture in which it becomes difficult to distinguish between an opinion and an argument. Knowledge is increasingly controlled by a handful of corporations and public relations firms and is systemically cleansed of any complexity. Lying and deceitfulness are all too often viewed as just another acceptable tactic in what has become most visibly the pathology of politics and a theater of cruelty dominated by a growing chorus of media hatemongers inflaming an authoritarian populist rage laced with a not too subtle bigotry.[4] Truth increasingly becomes the enemy of democracy because it does not support the spectacle and the reduction of citizens either to mere dupes of power or commodities. Ignorance is no longer a liability in a culture in which lying, deceit and misinformation blur the boundaries between informed judgments and the histrionics of a shouting individual or mob. Talk radio and television talk show screamers, in particular, seem to delight in repeating claims that have been discredited in the public arena, demonstrating a barely disguised contempt for both the truth and any viable vestige of journalism. These lies and deceits go beyond the classic political gambit, beyond the Watergate-style cover up, beyond the comic "I did not have sex with that woman." The lies and deceptions that are spewed out everyday from the right-wing teaching machines - from newspapers and radio shows to broadcast media and the Internet - capitalize on both the mobilizing power of the spectacle, the increasing impatience with reason and an obsession with what Susan J. Douglas describes as the use of the "provocative sound bites over investigative reporting, misinformation over fact."[5] Lying and deception have become so commonplace in the dominant press that such practices appear to have no moral significance and provoke few misgivings, even when they have important political consequences. In the age of public relations managers and talk show experts, we are witnessing the demise of public life. At a time when education is reduced to training workers and is stripped of any civic ideals and critical practices, it becomes unfashionable for the public to think critically. Rather than intelligence uniting us, a collective ignorance of politics, culture, the arts, history and important social issues, as Mark Slouka points out, "gives us a sense of community, it confers citizenship."[6] Our political passivity is underscored by a paucity of intellectual engagement, just as the need for discrete judgment and informed analysis fall prey to a culture of watching, a culture of illusion and circus tricks. Shame over the lying and ignorance that now shape our cultural politics has become a source of national pride - witness the pathetic response to Joe Wilson's outburst against President Obama. Or, for that matter, the celebrated and populist response to Sarah Palin's lies about death panels, which are seized upon not because they distort the truth and reveal the dishonesty and vileness of political opportunism - while also undermining a viable health care bill - but because they tap into a sea of growing anger and hyped-up ignorance and ratchet up poll ratings. Lying and deceit have become the stuff of spectacle and are on full display in a society where gossip and celebrity culture rule. In this instance, the consequences of lying are reduced to a matter of prurience rather than public concern, becoming a source of private injury on the part of a Hollywood star or producing the individual humiliation of public figure such as John Edwards.

The widespread acceptance of lying and deceit is not merely suggestive of a commodified and ubiquitous corporate-driven electronic culture that displays an utter contempt for morality and social needs: It is also registers the existence of a troubling form of infantilization and depoliticization. Lying as common sense and deceit as politics-as-usual joins the embrace of provocation in a coupling that empties politics and agency of any substance and feeds into a corporate state and militarized culture in which matters of judgment, thoughtfulness, morality and compassion seem to disappear from public view. What is the social cost of such flight from reality, if not the death of democratic politics, critical thought and civic agency? When a society loses sight of the distinction between fact and fiction, truth-telling and lying, what happens is that truth, critical thought and fact finding as conditions of democracy are rendered trivial and reduced to a collection of mere platitudes, which in turn reinforces moral indifference and political impotence. Under such circumstances, language actually becomes the mechanism for promoting political powerlessness. Lying and deceit are no longer limited to merely substituting falsehoods for the truth; they now performatively constitute their own truth, promoting celebrity culture, right-wing paranoia and modes of government and corporate power freed from any sense of accountability.

While all governments resort to misrepresentations and lies, we appear to have entered a brave new world in which lies, distortions and exaggerations have become so commonplace that when something is said by a politician, it is often meant to suggest its opposite, and without either irony or apology. As lies and deceit become a matter of policy, language loses its grip on reality, and the resulting indeterminacy of meaning is often used by politicians and others to embrace positions that change from one moment to the next. Witness Dick Cheney, who once referred to torture as "enhanced interrogation" so as to sugarcoat its brutality, and then appeared on national television in 2009 only to defend torture by arguing that if such practices work, they are perfectly justified, even if they violate the law. This is the same Cheney who, appearing on the May 31, 2005, "Larry King Live" show, attempted to repudiate charges of government torture by claiming, without irony, that the detainees "have been well treated, treated humanely and decently." This type of discourse recalls George Orwell's dystopian world of "1984" in which the Ministry of Truth produces lies and the Ministry of Love tortures people. Remember when the Bush administration used the "Healthy Forest Initiative" to give loggers access to protected wilderness areas or the "Clear Skies Initiative" to enable greater industrial air pollution? President Obama also indulges in this kind of semantic dishonesty when he substitutes "prolonged detention" for the much maligned "preventive detention" policies he inherited from the Bush-Cheney regime. While Obama is not Bush, the use of this type of duplicitous language calls to mind the Orwellian nightmare in which "war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength."

When lying and deceit become normalized in a culture, they not only serve as an index of how low we have fallen as a literate society, but also demonstrate the degree to which language and education have become corrupted, tied to corporate and political power and sabotaged by rigid ideologies as part of a growing authoritarianism that uses the educational force of the culture, the means of communication and the sites in which information circulate to mobilize ignorance among a misinformed citizenry, all the while supporting reactionary policies. Especially since the horrible events of 9/11, Americans have been encouraged to identify with a militaristic way of life, to suspend their ability to read the word and world critically, to treat corporate and government power in almost religious terms and to view a culture of questioning as something alien and poisonous to American society. Shared fears rather than shared responsibilities now mobilize angry mobs and gun-toting imbeciles, who are praised as "real" Americans. Fear bolstered by lies and manufactured deceptions makes us immune to even the most obvious moral indecencies, such as the use of taser guns on kids in schools. Nobody notices or cares - and one cause and casualty of all of this moral indifference is that language has been emptied of its critical content just as the public spaces that make it possible are disappearing into the arms of corporations, advertisers and other powerful institutions that show nothing but contempt for either the public sphere or the kind of critical literacy that gives it meaning.

Obama's presence on the national political scene gave literacy, language and critical thought a newfound sense of dignity, interlaced as they were with a vision of hope, justice and possibility - and reasonable arguments about the varied crises America faced and civilized. Such practices as Obama compromised, if not surrendered, some of his principles to those individuals and groups that live in the vocabulary of duplicity, the idealism that shaped his language began to look like just another falsehood when measured against his continuation of a number of Bush-like policies. In this case, the politics of distortions and misrepresentations that Obama's lack of integrity has produced may prove to be even more dangerous than what we got under Bush because it wraps itself in a moralism that seems uplifting and hopeful while it supports policies that reward the rich, reduce schools to testing centers and continue to waste lives and money on wars that should have ended when Obama assumed his presidency. Obama claims he is for peace, and yet the United States is the largest arms dealer in the world. He claims he wants to reduce the deficit, but spends billions on the defense industry and wars abroad. He says he wants everyone to have access to decent health care, but makes backroom deals with powerful pharmaceutical companies. Orwell's ghost haunts this new president and the country at large. Reducing the critical power of language has been crucial to this effort. Under such circumstances, democracy as either a moral referent or a political ideal appears to have lost any vestige of credibility. The politics of lying and the culture of deceit are inextricably related to a theater of cruelty and modes of corrupt power in which politics is reduced to a ritualized incantation, just as matters of governance are removed from real struggles over meaning and power.

Beyond disinformation and disguise, the politics of lying and the culture of deceit trade in and abet the rhetoric of fear in order to manipulate the public into a state of servile political dependency and unquestioning ideological support. Fear and its attendant use of moral panic not only create a rhetorical umbrella to promote right-wing ideological agendas (increased military spending, tax relief for the financial and corporate elite, privatization, market-driven reforms and religious intolerance), but also contribute to a sense of helplessness and cynicism throughout the body politic. The collapse of any vestige of critical literacy, reason and sustained debate gives way to falsehoods and forms of ignorance that find expression in the often racist discourse of what Bob Herbert calls "the moronic maestros of right wing radio and TV,"[7] endlessly haranguing the public to resist any vestige of reason. How else to explain the actions of parents who refuse to let their children listen to a speech on education by - Should I say it? - an African-American President? How else to fathom the dominant media repeating uncritically the views of right-wing groups that portray Obama as Hitler or Lenin, or consistently making references that compare him to a gorilla or indulge in other crude racist references - in recent days, these groups have been given ample media attention, as if their opinions are not simply ventriloquizing the worst species of ignorance and racism.

The politics of lying and the culture of deceit are wrapped in the logic of absolute certainty, an ominous harbinger of a kind of illiteracy in which one no longer has to be accountable for justifying opinions, claims or alleged arguments. Stripped of accountability, language finds its final resting place in a culture of deceit in which lying either is accepted as a political strategy or is viewed as simply another normalized aspect of everyday life. The lack of criticism surrounding both government practices and corporations that now exercise unparalleled forms of power is more than shameful; it is an utter capitulation to an Orwellian rhetoric that only thinly veils an egregious form of authoritarianism and racism. In the face of such events, we must develop a critical discourse to address the gap between rhetoric and deeds of those who hold economic, political and social power. As Hannah Arendt has argued, debate is central to a democratic politics, along with the public space in which individuals can argue, exercise critical judgment and clarify their relationship to democratic values and public commitments. Critical consciousness and autonomy are, after all, not merely the stuff of political awareness, but what makes democratic accountability possible in the first place. They are also the foundation and precondition for individuals, parents, community groups and social movements to mobilize against such political and moral corruptions. Democracy is fragile, and its fate is always uncertain, but during the last decade we have witnessed those in commanding political and corporate positions exhibit an utter disregard for the truth, morality and critical debate. The Enron template of lying and deception has turned an ethos of dialogue and persuasion into its opposite: dogmatism and propaganda. In doing so, the American public has been bombarded by a discourse of fear, hate and racism, coupled with a politics of lying that undermines any viable vestige of a democratic ethos. We now find ourselves living in a society in which right-wing extremists not only wage a war against the truth, but also seek to render human beings less than fully human by taking away their desire for justice, spiritual meaning, freedom and individuality.

Politics must become more attentive to those everyday conditions that have allowed the American public to remain complicitous with such barbaric policies and practices. Exposing the underlying conditions and symptoms of a culture of lying and deceit is both a political and a pedagogical task that demands that people speak out and break through the haze of official discourse, media-induced amnesia and the fear-producing lies of corrupt politicians and the swelling ranks of hatemongers. The politics of lying and deceit at the current historical moment offers up the specter of not just government abuse, mob hysteria and potential violence, but also an incipient authoritarianism, one that avidly seeks to eliminate intelligent deliberation, informed public discussion, engaged criticism and the very possibility of freedom and a vital democratic politics. The spirit of critique is meaningless without literacy and an informed public. For such a public to flourish, it must be supported with public debate and informed agents capable of becoming both a witness to injustice and a force for transforming those political, economic and institutional conditions that impose silence and perpetuate human suffering. The distortions, misrepresentations and lies that have become an integral part of American culture present a serious threat to an aspiring democracy because they further what John Dewey called the "eclipse of the public," just as they empty politics of its democratic values, meanings and possibilities. The hate, extremism and pathology that have come to define our national political and popular landscapes - heard repeatedly in the prattle of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, to name only two of the most popular examples - are legitimated by an appeal to absolute certainty, which becomes the backdrop against which a politics of lying and a culture of deceit, fear, cruelty and repression flourish. We are witnessing in the politics of lying and the culture of deceit a disconnection between language and social responsibility, politics and critical education, market interests and democratic values, and privately felt pain and joys and larger public considerations. And this undermining of the value of human dignity, truth, dialogue and critical thought is the offspring of a debate over much more than simply meaning and language, or even the widespread legitimacy of individual and institutional ignorance and corruption. At its core, it is a debate about power and those corporate and political interests that create the conditions in which lying becomes acceptable and deceit commonplace - those forces that have the power to frame in increasingly narrow ways the conventions, norms, language and relations through which we relate to ourselves and others. How we define ourselves as a nation cannot be separated from the language we value, inhabit and use to shape our understanding of others and the world in which we want to live. As the language of critique, civic responsibility, political courage and democracy disappears along with sustained investments in schools, media, and other elements of a formative culture that keeps an aspiring democracy alive, we lose the spaces and capacities to imagine a future in which language, literacy and hope are on the side of justice, rather than on the side of hate, willful ignorance and widespread injustice.


1. Hannah Arendt, "Lying in Politics," in "Crisis of the Republic" (New York: Harvest/HBJ Books, 1969), p. 6

2. Frank Rich, "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (New York: Penguin, 2007).

3. Ibid., Hannah Arendt, "Lying in Politics," p. 4.

4. See Bob Herbert's courageous article, "The Scourge Persists," New York Times (September 19, 2009), p. A17.

5. Susan J. Douglas, "Killing Granny with the Laziness Bias," In These Times (September 17, 2009). Online at:

6. Mark Slouka, "A Quibble," Harper's Magazine (February 2009), p. 9.

7. Ibid., Herbert, "The Scourge Persists," p. 17.

Henry A. Giroux holds the Global TV Network chair in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Canada. Related work: Henry A. Giroux, "The Mouse that Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence" (Lanham: Rowman and Lilttlefield, 2001). His most recent books include "Take Back Higher Education" (co-authored with Susan Searls Giroux, 2006), "The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex" (2007) and "Against the Terror of Neoliberalism: Politics Beyond the Age of Greed" (2008). His newest book, "Youth in a Suspect Society: Beyond the Politics of Disposability," will be published by Palgrave Mcmillan in 2009. Henry A. Giroux's latest book, "Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability?," has just been published by Palgrave Macmillan



An excellent, accurate, and fair analysis. I hope the President is listening for both his sake and ours. Otherwise we will all soon be in even deeper trouble than we already are...


Obama's Presidency Isn't Too Big to Fail
by Robert Scheer
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
21 September 2009

A president has only so much capital to expend, both in tax dollars and public tolerance, and Barack Obama is dangerously overdrawn. He has tried to have it all on three fronts, and his administration is in serious danger of going bankrupt. He has blundered into a deepening quagmire in Afghanistan, has continued the Bush policy of buying off Wall Street hustlers instead of confronting them and is now on the cusp of bargaining away the so-called public option, the reform component of his health care program.

Those are not happy sentences to write for one who is still on the e-mail list of campaign supporters urged to back the president in the face of attacks that are stupidly small-minded. But to remain silent about his errors, just because most of his critics are so vile, is hardly an example of constructive concern for him or the country.

Yes, Obama was presented with a series of crises not of his making but for which he is now being held accountable. He is not a "socialist" who grew the federal budget to astronomical proportions. That is the legacy of George W. Bush, who raised the military budget to its highest level since World War II despite the end of the Cold War and the lack of a formidable military opponent — a legacy of debt compounded by Bush's decision to first ignore the banking meltdown and then to engage in a welfare-for-Wall-Street bailout. And it was Bush who gave the pharmaceutical companies the gift of a very expensive government subsidy for seniors' drugs.

But what is nerve-racking about Obama is that even though he campaigned against Bush's follies, he has now embraced them. He hasn't yet managed to significantly reduce the U.S. obligation in Iraq and has committed to making a potentially costlier error by ratcheting up America's "nation-building" role in Afghanistan.

Just as he was burdened with the Afghanistan situation, Obama was saddled with a banking crisis he didn't cause, and the worst that can be said of his attempted solutions to the financial mess is that they were inherited from Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. But Obama, who raised questions before his election about the propriety of a plan that would rescue the banks but ignore the plight of ordinary folks, has adopted that very approach as president. He elevated Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner, the two Democrats most closely aligned with Paulson's policy, to top positions in his government.

Obama's proposed new regulations, while containing some kind words about better informing consumers, do not portend any breakup of the "too big to fail companies" whose problems were permitted to fester by previous deregulatory measures. His answer is to increase the regulatory capacities of the Federal Reserve, which failed to use its already existing and considerable powers to avoid the debacle.

The promise is that next time the Fed will behave better. As Obama put it Monday, "So our plan would put the cost of a firm's failures on those who own its stock and loaned it money. And if taxpayers ever had to step in again to prevent a second Great Depression, the financial industry will have to pay the taxpayer back every cent."

Why not now? And why has he accepted the Wall Street line that all this represents a "collective failure," as if the con men and the conned had equal responsibility? According to Obama: "It was a failure of responsibility that led homebuyers and derivative traders alike to take reckless risks that they couldn't afford to take. It was a collective failure of responsibility in Washington, on Wall Street and across America that led to the near-collapse of our financial system one year ago."

Hogwash. The chicanery of the financial system, securitizing highly suspect mortgages, was codified into laws that made the hustle legal.

That insistence on equating the swindled with the swindlers is also what is wrong with the evolving health care reform plan. The assumption from the beginning, when Obama reached out to insurance companies to come up with a deal, was that they had the interest of their customers at heart. They don't, and it is the purpose of government regulation in the area of health as well as banking to even the scales between the powerful corporations and the consumers from whom they profit. That is the purpose of a public option worth its name.

Without a government program as a check on medical costs, Obama will end up with a variant of the Massachusetts program, one that forces consumers to sign up with private insurers and costs 33 percent more than the national average. He will have furthered the Bush legacy of cultivating an ever more expensive big government without improving how the people are served.