Obama: Campaign Promises vs Actions

Clarence Jones has a thoughtful piece over at the Huffington Post on whether Obama has lived up to his campaign promises.  My friend Marco asked me to take a look at it, and a rather long email turned into this post.

The article itself suggests Obama’s achievements with the stimulus, health care reform, and DADT merit recognition.  Surely even a baby step in the right deserves acknowledgement, but within the bigger picture.  A baby step is amazing because for a baby its a big deal.  Obama campaigned successfully as a bit more than a political infant – in fact he had to to counter his relative inexperience.

In fact Obama campaigned not just as an experienced and effective politician, but as a different kind of politician.  One who was not beholden to special interests and lobbyists.  A pro-transparency Presidency.  In addition to specific policy goals like the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and Health Care Reform, Obama brought an army of young progressives into the political arena.  Much of that leading edge that pushed Obama into office was made up of enthusiastic hard working young people – who were able to mount a ground game of get out the vote in states that had previously never been “competitive”.

That enthusiasm is now dead – with grave implications for Obama’s 2012 run.

To re-ignite even a portion of that enthusiasm Obama is going to have to work against his past 2 years in office.  For all his accomplishments come with a heavy price tag – one paid with the core message of his campaign.

Health Care reform passed, but not without the public option and meaningful regulation of big-Pharma off the table before negotiations even began.

A stimulus passed, but one that came without meaningful regulation of the financial industry to ensure protection against a repeat crash.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell passed, but not without Congress stepping up to the plate even as Obama played it cool and cowardly.  His comments about gay marriage during an eventual signing of the bill are either a sophisticated if cynical ploy to publicly convert to a believer in equal rights – or are the public outing of a centrist with theocratic tendencies seeing the writing on the wall.

His administration’s actions on Wikileaks amount to an assault on Journalism.

Obama has preserved renditions and has a record on secrecy that would make George W Bush proud.

In some cases – as Clarence Jones notes – Obama has met his campaign promises.  However the places where he failed are central to his promise to be a different kind of politician.  He promised to be open and free from lobbyists.  He promised his inexperience would not translate into an inability to be effective in office.

Yet here he is – making closed door deals with lobbyists, clamping down on efforts to shine a light into the workings of government, and showing the negotiating skills of a puppy having his belly scratched.  This is not the man who brought thousands of excited young people into politics for the first time – ready to work long hours to get out the vote.  This is a man who will face an uphill battle in 2012 as the forces of insanity gather on the right to mount a vociferous Republican opponent and a crazed and energetic base to count on.  Obama stands poised to march into that battle with a smaller base – and one with less energy and enthusiasm.

The question is “what do Obama’s actions spell for 2012?”, and the answer is not victory.  If we want to avoid President Palin, Romney or Huckabee in 2012, we need to find a way to fix that.

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