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There is plenty more that can be said about Barack Obama turning out to be a disappointment as President. It could fill a book. I am not saying that Obama is not better than John McCain. McCain's well known anger problem is so deep that some military leaders think he should not have his finger on the button.1 But if you think Obama is the Second Coming of Lincoln, let me briefly mention a few other issues you should think about:
Obama talks about a middle class tax cut, but how can the federal government afford it when it is spending about 12 billion dollars a month on war and when this war is estimated to cost a total of 5-7 trillion dollars, counting health care for the veterans and interest on the debt the government has rolled up to wage this war?2 Obama wants to end the war in Iraq, but he wants to do that so that we have more forces to send to Afghanistan and quite possibly Iran. And how can he afford to cut taxes when the government is spending 700 billion dollars to bail out Wall Street, a bail out both he and McCain supported? A bailout the cost of which rose to 850 billion dollars by virtue of the sweeteners and extenders (sounds like junk food) that the bill contained to convince certain "Congresscritters" (Thank you, Jim Hightower!) to vote for it.
Obama talks about health care reform, but his plan, like Hillary Clinton's and like John McCain's, maintains the hegemony of the insurance companies. Obama is promising to push employers to cover more Americans as part of his health care proposal. He would require larger companies provide insurance to employees or contribute toward the cost of a national plan, while giving small businesses a tax credit to entice them to offer coverage to their workers.3
Anything short of driving those parasites out of the system is not true reform. Anything short of a national single-payer system that is not-for-profit, covers everybody, and takes the direct burden off employers is not reform. (During the wage and price freeze of WWII, employers were allowed to compete for employees via fringe benefits, and that is how our employer-based health care system came about. But that war and its wage and price freeze are long over and we have been stuck with this system). And to make matters worse, politicians, including Obama, think that employer-based health care is a good idea even as the concept of working 40 years for a large employer who provided a good health care plan and good retirement benefits is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Read the newspapers or watch or listen to the news on TV, radio or the Internet. It is a common story: More employers are demanding that workers pick up higher and higher health insurance premiums, retiree health benefits are being cut, and pension programs are being changed from defined benefit, based on seniority and salary, to defined contribution, which places more of the risk of portfolio management on the worker. How's your 401(k) doing lately?4
Think about it: why should a person's health care access depend on having a certain kind of job or being in the immediate family of someone who has a certain kind of job? Health care is something we all need, whether or not we are employed. (As a friend of mine has said to me many times, an unemployed person may need the health care the most!) And why should an employer bear the costs of administering and contributing to such a plan, especially if that company competes with companies abroad that have national health care? Wouldn't we have smoother labor-management relations if health benefits were not an issue?
Obama will be good around some of the fringes, which, I acknowledge, may not be fringes if you are directly involved in the issue. But I consider any issue that could be termed an "identity politics,"or "wedge" issue to be a "fringe" issue compared to the huge economic, environmental, and war-peace issues this country faces. And if you really think about it, these "wedge" issues are symptoms of the larger problems. Take, for example, immigration. Illegal immigration is a result of economic policies that ruin the chances of people to build lives for themselves and their families in their native countries, coupled with the demand in the United States for exploitable labor that will work for less than Americans who want "living wages" and health benefits. It is an economic problem that manifests as a racial conflict as American workers turning against the latest wave of immigrants, especially when the economy is in a downturn. It is not a new phenomenon. There used to be signs that said "Irish need not apply."5 And it will go on as long as Americans look at it in the narrow "identity politics" "Us vs Them way" instead of asking why these policies exist and who they serve.
Likewise, the abortion issue, which, for all its moral questions, is really about the larger issue of control. (If you don't believe in abortion, don't have one and support medically-correct sex education, better birth control, and adoption, so that the need for abortion is decreased). Obama will appoint to the Supreme Court one or more judges who will probably not vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. (I say "probably not" because you just never know what will happen when a person puts on those black robes and faces an actual case). Although it is a widely held belief that Roe v. Wade legalized abortion on a federal level, the actual function of the decision only set a precedent invalidating most state laws restricting abortion. The decision failed to declare abortion a "social right and need of all women" and, rather, was based upon broad concepts of "medical necessity" and rights to privacy. The language of the decision left open numerous exceptions by which states could legally limit access to abortion.6 Will Obama do anything about the fact that abortion is not accessible to many women now because of the cost or the lack of service providers in many counties, or because some states restriction abortion through such methods as parental notification laws? Can he, as president, if the matter is in state hands?
Obama will move to end the discriminatory "Don't Ask. Don't Tell." policy in the military. But that is because he is a pragmatist, not because he is a crusader against discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people. The policy is costing the military thousands of highly trained personnel at a time when the Armed Forces are overextended. The number of convicted felons who enlisted in the U.S. military almost doubled in the past three years, rising from 824 felons in fiscal year 2004 to 1,605 in fiscal year 2006. The data indicate that from 2003 through 2006, the military recruited 4,230 convicted felons to enlist under the "moral waivers" program, which enables otherwise unqualified candidates to serve. In addition, 43,977 individuals convicted of serious misdemeanors such as assault were recruited to enlist under the moral waivers program during that period, as were 58,561 illegal drug abusers.7
At the same time, according to a report prepared by the Government Accountability Office, nearly 800 people with skills deemed "mission-critical" by the Pentagon have been dismissed under DADT. This figure includes 268 in intelligence, 57 in combat engineering, 331 in medical service delivery, and more than 322 language experts, at least 58 of whom specialized in Arabic. It is counterproductive to military readiness to discharge qualified gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members at the same time that we are filling ranks with service members brought in under the moral waivers program.8
If Obama is such a change, where is his call for the repeal of the Patriot Act? He was not in the Senate at the time of the original Patriot Act but he voted for Patriot Act II. Where is his statement that our criminal justice system can handle terrorism suspects and his call for the repeal of the Military Commissions Act? Where is his repudiation of the term "enemy combatant"? Where is his repudiation of the practice of "signing statements" that Bush uses to opt out of the mandates of Congress in a bill?
If Obama is such a change, why does the Democratic Party platform have a section called "Secure the Homeland" adopting the same emotive term, carrying Nazi baggage,9 that the current Bush administration as used to justify destroying our constitutional rights?10 A president who truly wishes to change the course of this country will dismantle the machinery of dictatorship and martial law that has been building up over several administrations but that has been "on steroids" since W. has been in power. I am not convinced Obama will do that. His not using it himself does not really set a new course if it is left in place for a successor.
So what's a voter to do?
First of all, VOTE! Voting is not a panacea. But we should vote because The Powers That Be don't want us to do so. The fewer people who vote, the easier is it to rig an election. Also, in this country, not voting does not send a clear message of dissatisfaction with the system. In other countries where there are many parties and party leaders urge their people to boycott an election, you get the idea that the boycott was effective when the voters don't turn up at the polls. However, when you have the two-headed-one-party system, that urges people to vote, even while hatching vote suppression schemes,11 non-voting is easily mistaken for apathy.
Second, do what you can to make sure your vote and all the votes in your precinct are counted. Here's a few ideas. Visit OurVoteLive.org for information. You can can call 1-866-OurVote (1-866-687-8683) toll free if you have any problems or questions. Give yourself plenty of time, and bring a chair, an umbrella, water, food, whatever you need to withstand a long wait, especially if you vote in a heavily minority or student district. Check with your Secretary of State's office online to see if your employer is required to give you time off for voting. For example, California Elections Code sec. 14000 provides for two hours paid leave. You can take more time if you need to, but you will only be paid for two hours. If you have such a rule in your state, consider leaving work early so you can get to the polls. If you are in Georgia or Indiana, bring your driver's license or state non-driver's ID. Wherever you are, insist on a provisional ballot if there is a question about your eligibility. If you can be at the polling place when it closes, stick around to watch the count. If citizen exit pollers at your precinct ask you to participate, cooperate with them. The citizen exit poll is a necessary check on the system, designed to verify, rather than predict results.12