When President Obama was elected he had several key things going for him:
- He wasn’t the Republican heir to George W Bush
- He represented a party that stood for economic issues near and dear to the vast majority of the voting public
- He promised to cut down on lobbying and corruption
- He was a brilliant public speaker
- He promised to fight bipartisan bickering and give us a functioning government
Based on the combination of his anti-lobbying anti-partisan approach, he framed himself successfully as a new kind of politician. He was able to excite his party base with his oratory, his youthful energy, and the fact that he wasn’t George W Bush in a nation decidedly sick of the man. He didn’t just win, Obama enjoyed a telling victory in 2008.
Let’s look at those same points now.
Obama isn’t the Republican heir to George W Bush
Still true, but only because he has become the Democratic heir to George W Bush, and Dick Cheney (Glenn Greenwald @ Salon):
But the crux of Bush/Cheney radicalism — the mindset and policies that caused much of the controversy — continues and has even been strengthened. Gen. Hayden put it best, as quoted by The Washington Times:
“You’ve got state secrets, targeted killings, indefinite detention, renditions, the opposition to extending the right of habeas corpus to prisoners at Bagram [in Afghanistan],” Mr. Hayden said, listing the continuities. “And although it is slightly different, Obama has been as aggressive as President Bush in defending prerogatives about who he has to inform in Congress for executive covert action.”
And that list, impressive though it is, doesn’t even include the due-process-free assassination hit lists of American citizens, the sweeping executive power and secrecy theories used to justify it, the multi-tiered, “state-always-wins” justice system the Obama DOJ concocted for detainees, the vastly more aggressive war on whistleblowers and press freedoms, or the new presidential immunity doctrines his DOJ has invented. Critically, this continuity extends beyond specific policies into the underlying sloganeering mentality in which they’re based: we’re in a Global War; the whole Earth is the Battlefield; the Terrorists want to kill us because they’re intrinsically Evil (not in reaction to anything we do); we’re justified in doing anything and everything to eradicate Them; the President’s overarching obligation (contrary to his Constitutional oath) is to keep us Safe; this should all be kept secret from us; we can’t be bothered with obsolete dogma like Due Process and Warrants, etc. etc.
He’s extended the same Bush Tax cuts he campaigned against. In fact his rush to compromise and fiscal conservatism masquerading as bipartisan centrism has been so severe that it has crushed the second key thing he had going for him.
Obama represents a party that defends the economic interests of working people
With revenue cut and war/terror spending increasing, there was bound to be a collision. Couple that with the President’s obsessive need to appear as the bi-partisan philosopher-king, and you get negotiation tactics so inviting to the opposition it makes John Boehner look like a teary Jack Donaghy.
The quaint term “austerity measures” doesn’t capture the human cost of paying for tax cuts and tax evasions for wealthy individuals and large corporations. Those cuts are already being felt, and will be even more severe when 2012 rolls around. They aren’t just budget cuts, they are deep cuts into the voting base for Democrats across the country, and those cuts are going to badly injure Obama’s re-election chances. (John Amato @ Crooks and Liars):
Every poll shows quite clearly that even Republican voters do not want a cut in these benefits.
If Sperling’s argument is about reforming Social Security and Medicare without taking away from them, then OK, but that’s not what I’m reading here. Do these creatures only listen to Villager gasbags who want working-class Americans to be the only people to “share” the sacrifice and suffer in America after Wall Streeters and their partners caused the Great Recession?
Obama is casting himself as the friend of the wealthy and the enemy of the working class at a time he needs to do the opposite. His hands are tied by his bipartisan image at a time he desperately needs to break free. But you get the sense he likes it that way. Obama has become the willing prisoner of a small aspect of his election campaign – unable and unwilling to break free and become true to what he ran for. This is especially clear when one considers lobbying.
Obama promised to cut down the influence of lobbyists and K-Street
- Given away concessions to the pharmaceutical lobby before the health care fight began
- Hired RIAA lawyers for the Justice Department
- Publicly attacked lobbyists, then turned around and gave them access
- Hired the chief executive of GE – a company that attacks unions and paid nothing in taxes
- Hired a Raytheon lobbyist for Deputy Defense Secretary
- Hired a number of lobbyists throughout his administration
All of this casts his much touted ethics reform in such a harsh light the reform isn’t even visible to the voting public anymore.
Where does this leave us?
Obama is still fighting the supposedly good fight on being bipartisan. As Digby has observed over and over, this is a one sided battle. The Republicans – down to their votes – don’t give a damn about being bipartisan and compromising. They care about winning. That imbalance will surely lead to the Democrats losing. Obama is still an amazing public speaker but with the way he’s been running things you have to ask – who is going to go hear him speak?
Regardless of whether the religious right, the corporations, or the tea party are able to exert enough influence to secure the Republican nomination in 2012 one thing is clear. If Obama doesn’t change course they will secure more than just the primary.