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Who is Barack Obama Really? An Examination of Obama's Domestic Policies

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Dennis Loo     Permalink
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Thus, if the GOP has adopted more and more extreme right-wing policies in order to distinguish themselves from Obama (and pronouncing nonsense such as that Obama's a Socialist), it has been at least in part because Obama has been Clinton-redux by embracing Republican policies and thereby forcing the Republicans to distinguish themselves from Obama by moving to ludicrously extreme positions. It is a measure of how right-wing Obama has been in his policies that the GOP has had to become so ridiculously and hysterically noxious to put some distance between themselves and him.

That doesn't make Obama the sane one and the Republicans the insane ones. It means that as Obama has gone one better than Bush and Cheney did by moving further to the right, in specific ways that I will next lay out, he has taken the whole government further to the right because the GOP isn't going to respond by positioning itself to the left of Obama.

Now, I need to say right here that this isn't actually exactly how things work because no individual has the power to move the entire government a certain direction. But if one adopts the position that individual leaders are that meaningful and that getting one individual into the White House is going to matter that much versus another individual, then you have to logically and correspondingly argue that Obama has been single-handedly responsible for the right-wing, extremist turn in the U.S. government.

Remember that it was Obama who after soundly defeating McCain/Palin in 2008, leading a Democratic sweep that brought them not only the White House but majority control of both the House and Senate, and who therefore had a mandate and capacity to undo key elements of the Bush years. Instead of using this mandate, he insisted on governing in a "bipartisan" manner, even before the Democrats lost control over both houses of Congress in the 2010 election. "Bipartisan" in this case meant letting the Republicans, who were the much diminished minority party, veto everything except Obamacare. And with Obamacare, Obama allowed the Republicans to fan the flames of the Tea Party movement.

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As I wrote in my book, Globalization and the Demolition of Society (2011):

"Because Bush and Cheney's reign provoked such widespread anger, rescuing the system's legitimacy fell to their successors. The financial debacle sealed the GOP ticket's chances and Obama rode into office with the hopes of millions. Since Obama's election two things stand out. First, Obama and the Democratic Party leadership are intent upon governing in a 'bipartisan' manner, irrespective of the fact that the GOP was soundly repudiated at the polls for Congress in 2006 and for the White House and Congress in 2008. Obama and the Democrats were thus given a mandate to override what the GOP had been and what it currently stands for.

"Irrespective of the fact that Obama had the votes in Congress and the support of a large majority of people in the country for that agenda, and that he could thereby have effected a government single-payer health insurance plan, ended the wars, assured a woman's right to abortion, and implemented other policies regardless of Republican opposition (both because he had the votes for closure and because he could rally public opinion to isolate Republicans who stood in the way), Obama chose not to do these things and instead sought common ground with the defeated party. This strategy has only weakened the Democratic Party and strengthened the Right, most visibly in the rise of the Tea Parties and in the 2010 mid-term election results." (p. 184)

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Obamacare is what Obama touts as his single most important domestic initiative. And while requiring everyone to be covered is better in some respects than allowing some people who are employed to go uncovered, what Obama did with his health care plan was prevent a single payer plan and a government option in insurance from being implemented. Either single-payer or a government option would mean that the HMOs would no longer be the huge ticks getting fat on the superfluous middleman role that they play between the patient and health care providers. What Obama did is no great feat when you consider what he could have done with his mandate by overriding any GOP objections using his majority in Congress, the bully pulpit of the White House, and the fact that a majority of Americans (59% according to a 2009 NYT/CBS poll wanted single-payer, with only 32% wanting private insurance coverage only).

Obama is like someone who takes your $500 to get you a deal on a refrigerator, comes back and gives you one that cost $200 but has no change for you because he says that he got robbed of $300 on his way to buy the appliance for you. When you object that you think this is a fishy story, he says, "but at least I convinced the robber that he should only take $300 and not all $500. I mean, imagine what would happen if I wasn't here and you had to rely on the guy who robbed $300 of your money? Why, you'd be out of all $500 and have no refrigerator!"

Mass Incarceration and the Status of Black and Poor People

This is an area that for some peculiar reason Obama gets kudos from so-called progressives, kudos that are completely undeserved. Perhaps it's because he's the first black president and people who are not paying sufficient attention think that his election by itself means that the conditions of racist oppression of black people must be better. Their conditions are not better; the opposite is the case.

While there are more black faces in high places, Obama's face included, this is not something that Obama had any role in bringing about, except insofar as his own black ambition brought him into the presidency (apologies to Madonna's "Blonde Ambition" tour name). No, the shameful existence of New York City's Stop and Frisk policies which explicitly target black youth for police shakedowns solely because of their color, about which Obama has had not a word of criticism for, the world record breaking mass incarceration of blacks and Latinos, the conditions of outright torture that exist for those whose crime is being black or Latino and/or poor, the ongoing murder by cop policies of these same people, the zero net worth and rapidly declining economic status of the poor who are increasingly plunged into more desperate circumstances by the malignant nature of neoliberal policies, these are all occurring under President Barack Hussein Obama. While Obama did express distress over the murder of Trayvon Martin, he was silent about Oscar Grant and all of the other murders-by-police and by vigilantes going on.

When Obama has had occasion to address these issues, he has scolded black parents and black men in particular, and talked about helping people like his poor grandmother who without Social Security would have had nothing, but his policies say something else altogether.

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Civil Liberties and Due Process

When the infamous National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 was being considered by Congress and before it was signed into law by Obama, Obama's White House itself asked for the bill to include American citizens among those who could have their rights and their citizenship stripped from them after being merely accused by someone in the military of being a terrorist or of being involved somehow with terrorists. In other words, this bill was made even more reactionary upon Obama's specific request. Even without including American citizens the bill is atrocious, but Obama made it even more right-wing.

When Obama signed the NDAA on New Year's Eve, he stated that he would never use it to imprison an American citizen. But if you don't intend to use it and don't want any subsequent president to use it against an American citizen, then why not veto the bill? Why ask for it to include American citizens in the first place? As Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, the NDAA merely extends unfettered and unconstitutional powers to the military which the Obama White House itself has already been exercising. Indeed, Obama's expressed initial reluctance to sign the NDAA was based upon his objections that it might interfere with the White House's powers, not that it was a repressive and fascist law that suspends due process and allows the government to detain people without charges indefinitely, merely upon an accusation. The standard in the war of terror is now, under Barack Obama, guilty until proven innocent. But you aren't even necessarily going to be given the chance to prove that you are innocent because you can be detained without charge indefinitely. And even if you do get your chance before a military tribunal or court of law and are adjudicated as innocent, Obama has declared that he might hold you if he thinks you might do something in the future -- see under "Indefinite and 'Preventive' Detention'" below.

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Cal Poly Pomona Sociology Professor. Author of "Globalization and the Demolition of Society," co-editor/author (with Peter Phillips) of "Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney." National Steering Committee Member of the World Can't (more...)

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