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President Obama's Complete Dismissal of the Progressive Agenda

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In 2007 and 2008 Senator Barack Obama ran for the office of President on a platform of change; "change we can believe in", as he repeatedly claimed.

Many progressives donated money to candidate Barack Obama's campaign, and they voted enthusiastically for Barack Obama in the 2008 election, myself included. The reason why many of us cannot bring ourselves to vote for President Obama this November is that he did not bring that promised change to Washington, in fact, he doubled down on most of the Bush/Cheney era policies that progressives despised. Progressive policies were never even discussed.

So setting aside what the President says about his agenda on the campaign trail, let's take a look at his record over the last 3 and a half years and some of the reasons why so many progressives are looking for alternatives this coming November.

1) President Obama lets the Republicans frame the debates: President Barack Obama has let the Republicans frame the debates that have occupied our political space. One of the major weapons in a president's arsenal is the bully pulpit, and the preeminent position afforded to define the policy debates and set the stage for our national discourse. Rather than seizing that opportunity for progressive causes, and to undo the damage done by President Bush, President Obama has allowed the Republicans to fight every battle on their own turf. No attempts were made to shift the debate, for example from "healthcare reform" to "Medicare for all". We never heard the other side of the argument; we only heard about private insurance reform and insurance mandates.

The political debate in Congress, on TV and in the news media has shifted substantially to the right and this has continued in no small part because the first Democrat to occupy the White House after George W. Bush made no attempt whatsoever to take to the national stage and reframe our debates from a progressive perspective. Indeed, President Obama did not even attempt to frame the debate at some reasonable center of the political spectrum. Only talk of national security, "job creation" through reduced corporate taxes and reduced regulation, and debt reduction through "entitlement reform". Hardly a progressive to-do list.

For progressives it does not matter whether President Obama is weak and incapable of countering the Republican's rhetoric and agenda, or if he is actually more in tune with Republican ideas than he would like us to believe, the outcomes for progressives are exactly the same. Republican framed debates, Republican inspired legislation, and policies that progressives have been fighting against all of their political lives.

2) It is impossible for Democrats in Congress to oppose bad White House policies: A major problem with having a Democratic President who governs like a conservative is that Democrats in Congress cannot oppose harmful policies that the White House and congressional Republicans support. President Obama has worked closely with Wall Street, lobbyists and multinational corporations to help Republicans implement conservative legislation which has essentially crippled any potential Democratic opposition from the remaining liberal and moderate Democrats. So now when President Obama proposes opening up the Arctic and other very sensitive marine ecosystems to more oil and gas drilling, despite the BP oil spill disaster, it is virtually impossible for moderate and liberal Democrats in congress to do anything other than concede. The oil companies and their lobbyists want it, the Republicans want it and the Democratic President wants it, so it becomes very easy for Democrats in congress to do the wrong thing to avoid a fight with the oil lobby and their own leader. The same is true for elective wars, drone strikes, tax breaks for the rich, cutting Social Security and Medicare, and indefinite detention without trial. How can these things be opposed by liberal congressional Democrats and Independents when President Obama supports them? As long as President Obama is in office progressive causes will be non-starters.

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It has been said "Only Nixon could go to China", referring to the fact that it is easier for Republican politicians to do liberal things, and easier for Democratic politicians to do conservative things. Think of how much more Democratic opposition there would have been to NAFTA, killing the Glass-Steagall Act, or ending welfare if a Republican had been president rather than Democrat Bill Clinton. The same is true for President Obama and increased military spending, drone wars, warrantless wiretapping and prosecution of whistleblowers. Because this is not the typical course for a Democrat, there is very little opposition to these ideas within the government. If Romney were president, the opposition level for these harmful policies would undoubtedly increase. Perhaps President Obama will be remembered in a similar fashion with the phrase "Only Obama could have started the global drone wars".  

3) Considering the elections in 2014 and 2016: President Obama presided over one of the largest shifts in the makeup of Congress in 2010, with 63 House seats changing from Democrat to Republican, the largest change since 1948. In state legislative races Republicans gained 680 seats, the largest change in history. All of this happened only two years after the country's financial system was nearly destroyed by Republican policies under President Bush. This was clearly due in part to lack of enthusiasm from the progressive base of the Democratic Party resulting from President Obama's rightward shift in policies. President Obama's conservative policies and lack of support for progressive causes gave the base very little reason to come out to vote in 2010, and this low turnout will be repeated in 2012 and 2014 with President Obama in the White House, possibly putting both houses of Congress squarely in Republican hands and continuing the rightward shift in American politics.

This coming election is a great experiment for President Obama and the corporate Democrats - can they effectively ignore their voting base, and then use negative attack ads against Romney to drive enough Democrats out to vote for the lesser of evils? If President Obama wins this election he and his advisors will conclude that their triangulation strategy worked, and that the Democratic base had nowhere else to go. They will take the win as an indication that the base of the party can be used and abused, and will still come out to vote for their pro-corporate, pro-war candidates.

If President Obama loses the election, which seems unlikely, the Republicans will be denied their favorite political target of attack, who also just happens to be their willing compromiser-in-chief, giving them everything they ask for, and more. It may ironically turn out to be a major blow to Republican causes if President Obama loses the election.

4) Moral and ethical issues: President Obama has pursued policies that many progressives find destructive and even immoral. The drastic escalation of the war in Afghanistan, despite the obvious impossibility of creating a stable, secure state there, is at best a major political blunder, and at worst an immoral waste of tens of thousands of human lives while also resulting in immense human suffering and costing untold billions in taxpayer dollars - money that could have been spent in this country. His dramatic expansion of drone strikes, despite the fact that he knows that surgical killing from the skies is another impossible goal, may even constitute a war crime, especially considering that civilian contractors are often involved in the exercise of this deadly force outside of declared combat zones. The civilian deaths caused by these wide-ranging drone strikes cannot be ignored or minimized, and especially alarming are the reports that secondary drone strikes were used to attack rescuers sent to the scenes of previous drone strikes. It is absurdly hypocritical to suggest that these policies were immoral under President Bush, but acceptable in their vastly expanded scope under President Obama because he is a Democrat.

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Many other Obama administration policies also raise ethical considerations including tax breaks for the rich while talking about cutting social programs for the middle class and poor. Indefinite detention without trial is clearly anti-constitutional, and to some it certainly crosses critical ethical boundaries as well. Extrajudicial assassinations cross all ethical and moral boundaries.

The Obama administration says they only want to look forward when questioned about Bush administration wrongdoing or Wall Street excesses, but they are more than willing to look backward when prosecuting whistleblowers. The Obama team long ago made the political calculation to snub progressive ideals and go for the money and power on Wall Street and in the military, and give up any pretense of playing to the base. For many progressives a vote for Obama is a vote for policies they find personally abhorrent, and a betrayal of their ethical, moral and political values.

5) Obama's conservative agenda: Senator Obama ran for president on a platform that repudiated Bush administration policies, but President Obama's political agenda can be summed up as a resounding acceptance of and nearly seamless continuation of Bush era policies. This policy continuity is not due to Republican pressure, but instead flows from the White House itself. The Democratic base elected Obama with one thing in mind -- to undo the damage that the Bush/Cheney administration had done to this country, and to reverse those destructive policies. But rather than reverse course, President Obama put his foot on the gas pedal and went full speed ahead. In many cases President Obama has gone further than the Bush administration, for example in the wide expansion of the drone attacks across the greater Middle East and the extra-judicial assassination of people abroad, including American citizens.

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John R. Moffett PhD is a research neuroscientist in the Washington, DC area. Dr. Moffett's main area of research focuses on the brain metabolite N-acetylaspartate, and an associated genetic disorder known as Canavan disease.

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I've been saying it too. Very well said. If o... by Don Caldarazzo on Tuesday, Oct 23, 2012 at 5:10:30 PM
Keep talking like that, and some Fed might scrawl ... by Hooker Jay on Thursday, Oct 25, 2012 at 1:10:15 PM
There is an old joke about a man that frequently p... by Textynn N on Tuesday, Oct 23, 2012 at 5:26:28 PM
A fake and a liar, just like his twin: Mitt Romney... by Herbert Calhoun on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 11:01:22 AM
I'd quibble with the notion that this is "our" pro... by Art Costa on Thursday, Oct 25, 2012 at 2:26:16 PM
Thank you for a well-written explanation of why a ... by Blaine Kinsey on Tuesday, Oct 23, 2012 at 7:31:16 PM
on some friends' FB statuses who are proclaiming t... by Lois Gagnon on Tuesday, Oct 23, 2012 at 7:32:26 PM
I don't disagree with your assessments but I do ... by Kevin Tully on Tuesday, Oct 23, 2012 at 9:29:45 PM
Progressives are in the minority.  They all t... by Doc McCoy on Tuesday, Oct 23, 2012 at 11:54:29 PM
I would agree with you there if "extremism" was be... by crispy on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 1:05:46 AM
All parties should and must participate in N... by crispy on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 1:19:50 AM
However I'm not sure I totally agree with this:"Th... by Kevin Tully on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 7:56:12 AM
The liberals are not as uncopromising as the conse... by kappie on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 8:23:53 AM
There is a saying among arbitrators and judges tha... by James Hadstate on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 4:24:42 PM
of this article instead of jumping on the band wag... by michael payne on Thursday, Oct 25, 2012 at 4:18:29 PM
Yes Obama did some good things. So did Nixon and R... by Rob Kall on Friday, Oct 26, 2012 at 9:39:33 AM
the vacuity of voting for the lesser of two evils ... by Robert S. Becker on Friday, Oct 26, 2012 at 10:26:10 AM
Democratic is an adjective thus the correct term i... by Lois Gagnon on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 6:16:10 PM
Kevin, if you read my article carefully, you'd hav... by John Moffett on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 7:26:50 AM
an enabler to the Rights politics because he is bl... by Kevin Tully on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 8:11:15 AM
Wrong comment. Obama is not warmongering. He was... by BFalcon on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 9:08:44 AM
... in no way, shame, or form can non-voters ever ... by Hooker Jay on Thursday, Oct 25, 2012 at 1:48:54 PM
I just wish I could have understood it.... by Kevin Tully on Thursday, Oct 25, 2012 at 11:06:52 PM
For all of you with convenient amnesia about Obama... by Hunter McClain on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 12:50:38 AM
could have easily be found in the drawers of the s... by crispy on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 1:30:36 AM
For not abusing executive orders like Bush the Sec... by BFalcon on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 5:00:57 AM
Conservatives like you have no respect for freedom... by kappie on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 8:04:59 AM
People are killed, not assassinated. Comparison w... by BFalcon on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 9:01:46 AM
Actually too idiotic to warrant reply but I'll do ... by Hunter McClain on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 9:17:11 PM
To distill to essence, you're an idiot. Strong me... by Hunter McClain on Friday, Oct 26, 2012 at 11:13:38 PM
to close Gitmo.  It was the simple fact that ... by Doc McCoy on Saturday, Oct 27, 2012 at 2:45:03 AM
This is, when you break it all down, a glass half ... by Kevin Tully on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 8:15:02 AM
I forgot to congratulate the author: this is one o... by crispy on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 1:33:55 AM
but in all fairness I wrote  the Year of a Co... by Mark Sashine on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 9:05:15 AM
In Amerika, we always read and follow label instru... by Ned Lud on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 7:11:16 AM
I agree whole-heartedly with this article. It shou... by Mary Wentworth on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 9:14:57 AM
Pak Alert Press American jobs are going to contin... by Lance Ciepiela on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 10:17:44 AM
A devastatingly clear, well-resea... by Herbert Calhoun on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 11:30:55 AM
And risk giving the GOP two more seats on the Supr... by Hunter McClain on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 9:29:28 PM
well said.... by frang on Thursday, Oct 25, 2012 at 4:23:15 PM
As you all know, Obama is just a puppet. of Wall S... by Deborah Dills on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 12:51:55 PM
Thank you for helping me to 'get it'... Now I bett... by warren currier on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 3:46:40 PM
Why not Gary Johnson - the Libertarian party candi... by Philip Pease on Thursday, Oct 25, 2012 at 11:51:19 AM
Every four years we can ask ourselves this questio... by Jim Arnold on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 6:33:51 PM
No 3rd party president could get anything done wit... by Doc McCoy on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 9:01:48 PM
John Moffett has done a fine job showing the short... by Stephen Unger on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 9:01:23 PM
 As a very far Left Progressive , I just want... by Deborah Dills on Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 at 10:50:52 PM
Everyone likes to talk about how hard the republic... by Adam Smith on Thursday, Oct 25, 2012 at 12:09:17 AM
I will vote Jill Stein - because she stands for pr... by Philip Pease on Thursday, Oct 25, 2012 at 11:29:54 AM
After reading all the comments I want to add one m... by Philip Pease on Thursday, Oct 25, 2012 at 12:43:16 PM
"Polls clearly show Congress, the President, and t... by frang on Thursday, Oct 25, 2012 at 4:42:35 PM
Vote for Obomber to get senseless wars and corpora... by Robert James on Thursday, Oct 25, 2012 at 4:56:31 PM
What a pleasure to read such a lucid and logical e... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, Oct 25, 2012 at 5:02:41 PM
thing to say about Romney and the Republicans. Why... by michael payne on Thursday, Oct 25, 2012 at 6:36:08 PM
and many others on this site and you will see equa... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, Oct 25, 2012 at 7:07:44 PM
"This is not a list of trivial grievances - these ... by John Rachel on Monday, Oct 29, 2012 at 2:00:53 AM