Just two years after the end of disastrous and corrupt presidency of George W. Bush, Democrats were dealt a shellacking in the midterm elections of 2010. In 2014 control of both houses of Congress was handed over to extremist Republicans.
In recent days President Obama is openly attacking progressives in the Democratic Party over their opposition to the fast-tracking of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. This trade deal -- which would allow international corporations to sue the US to obtain compensation for lost future profits due to regulations and laws -- is opposed by organized labor, by environmentalists, by progressives, and, in fact, by most Democrats in Congress.
President Obama has denied that the trade deal is secret, but in fact it is secret. The public cannot view it, though Wikileaks leaked a chapter, and there are tight restrictions on how members of Congress can view it. As Politico reports, "If you want to hear the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal the Obama administration is hoping to pass, you've got to be a member of Congress, and you've got to go to classified briefings and leave your staff and cellphone at the door."
Margot E. Kaminski wrote in this New York Times op-ed:
[T]he draft text is classified by the United States government. Even if current negotiations over the trade agreement end with no deal, the draft chapter will still remain classified for four years as national security information. The initial version of an agreement projected by the government to affect millions of Americans will remain a secret until long after meaningful public debate is possible.
Even the most starry-eyed supporter of President Obama must now be having second thoughts about the policy choices and political smarts of the leader of the Democratic Party.
What went wrong?
The myth that Obama was forced to compromise
Defenders of the President will claim that he was forced to compromise because of the unrelenting opposition of Republicans and conservative Democrats.
It is true that conservatives and their well-heeled supporters launched a massive propaganda campaign against the President and the Democrats; and Republicans in Congress opposed, often unanimously, virtually every policy proposal coming from the Democrats. As a consequence, many Democratic bills died in the Senate, due to filibusters, and bills that did pass Congress, such as the Affordable Care Act, were badly compromised.
In the elections in 2010, 2012, and 2014, Democratic candidates were burdened with defending, or ignoring, a poorly designed monstrosity of a health care bill that failed to rein in costs, that pleased nobody, and that was, at best, a small improvement over the existing health care framework. To a large extent, ACA was a gift to the insurance, pharmaceutical, and hospital industries. The bungled launch of the national ACA website further reinforced GOP talking points about the inefficiency and haplessness of government. The ACA pandered to anti-choice politicians, by making it illegal for ACA-related health care plans to cover elective abortions. And organized Labor disliked the ACA because it removed incentives for joining unions and made union members subsidize insurance companies. (See Brendan Williams book C ompromised: The Affordable Care Act and the Politics of Defeat for a detailed expose of the Obama administration's failings in the area of health care reform.)
In short, the President's centrism, his failure to lead, his quickness to compromise, his failure to prosecute criminality in the Bush administration and on Wall Street, and his unwillingness to decisively break with conservative policies and framing confused and alienated supporters and voters, and allowed our opponents to portray the Democrats as servants of the rich and the powerful.
You needn't take my word for it. The President himself said, "My policies are so mainstream that if I had set the same policies ... back in the 1980s, I would be considered a moderate Republican."
Why can't our political system deliver quality candidates?
I was once an ardent Obama supporter
Before I enumerate the the ways in which Obama betrayed Democratic principles, I want to point out that I am no radical leftist. In 2008 I donated hundreds of dollars and hundreds of hours to the campaign of candidate Barack Obama. When he won on Nov. 4, 2008, I texted "Happy day!" to my brother.
Within a year I had sorely regretted my support for Obama. I wrote articles, submitted resolutions, and advocated for accountability, to save the Democratic Party from looming catastrophe.
How President Obama betrayed Democrats
President Obama violated Democratic ideals and aided Republicans by:
- Escalating and widening the disastrous, corrupt war in Afghanistan, causing attacks on civilians, cover-ups, and further hardship and casualties for our troops (bin Laden is dead, and al Qaeda is elsewhere -- why are we even there?).
- Threatening war with Iran (though more recently his has been a voice of moderation).
- Secretly sending special forces to 75 countries -- see this article.
- Expanding drone attacks, causing many civilian deaths.
- Supporting neo-Nazis in the civil war in the Ukraine and surrounding Russia with NATO forces.
- Authorizing assassination without trial, even of US citizens.
- Increasing total defense spending to nearly a trillion dollars a year.
- Authorizing an attack on Libya without prior authorization from Congress, in violation of the War Powers Act.
- Twice delaying the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and continuing the use of private mercenaries.
- Continuing overseas rendition, torture, the Guantanamo prison, and domestic spying;
- Choosing as his health care proposal a plan designed by the Heritage Institute; it enriches insurance companies and fails to contain a public option, not to mention single-payer.
- Choosing conservative Democrat Max Baucus, his advisor Jim Messina, and the other members of the Gang of Six to design the Senate's health care compromise; Baucus had brokered the passage of George W. Bush's 2001 tax cuts and 2003 Medicare prescription drug plan, and had spent the better part of the Bush presidency cutting deals with Republicans and infuriating fellow Democrats. Other transgressions included voting for the war in Iraq, the energy bill, the bankruptcy bill and to confirm Supreme Court Justice John Roberts. (source). Jim Messina later became a chief campaign strategist for David Cameron and the UK Tories; see Former Obama Campaign Manager Led Austerity-Loving Tories to Victory.
- Extending President Bush's unjust bailouts of the banks and Wall Street.
- Failing to prosecute criminality in the banking industry (see Eric Holder: The Reason Robert Rubin Isn't Behind Bars).
- Proposing a budget deal more regressive than Pres. Reagan's (see evidence).
- Opposing a bill that would have imposed windfall taxes on Wall Street bonuses.
- Surrounding himself with military, legal, policy, and economic advisers held-over from the Bush Administration and from the right wing of the Democratic Party.
- Allowing the Affordable Care Act to contain anti-labor provisions ("Union health trusts will actually have to pay a temporary tax to subsidize private insurance companies selling individual coverage on the exchanges." [source], and "It is no exaggeration to imagine the ACA having the effect of destroying unions, by destroying the incentive to be in them [Compromised: The Affordable Care Act and the Politics of Defeat]).
- Allowing many of the architects of the Affordable Care Act to obtain employment with health industry corporations after leaving government service (source: Compromised, ibid).
- Allowing the FBI, under the direction of Bush hold-over Robert Mueller, to spy on domestic peace activists and to raid their homes, as reported here and here.
- Cutting back-room deals with Big Pharma and Big Insurance that eliminated a public option, prevented re-importation of medicines, and benefited the corrupt and inefficient health industry, in violation of his campaign promise (see also this).
- Repeatedly firing progressive staff members, including Van Jones and Shirley Sherrod, based on distorted right-wing smear campaigns, without giving the accused a chance to defend themselves.
- Allowing anti-choice provisions to be included in health care reform, despite his campaign pledge to "make preserving women's rights under Roe v. Wade a priority as president".
- Disallowing single-payer advocates a seat at the negotiating table (unclear whether Obama himself made this decision) and reneging on his promise to support a public option.
- Supporting assassination of an American citizen residing overseas; see Glenn Greenwald's analysis.
- Failing to support the Employee Free Choice Act, despite union support during his election and his promise to "to fight for the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act".
- Proposing to open sensitive coastal areas to offshore oil drilling.
- Favoring $50 billion in government subsidies for nuclear power but not for green energy.
- Announcing in November, 2010 a two-year freeze on federal workers' wages. "This action -- negligible in its effect on the federal deficit -- affixed the presidential seal of approval to the strategy of handing workers the bill -- and the blame -- for the economic havoc caused by Wall Street fraud, corporate tax relief and war" (souce).
- Expanding the definition of terror to include domestic nonviolent civil disobedience, see this article.
- Working with Republicans in the Deficit Commission to gut Social Security, relying on false claims of pending insolvency, and ignoring the option of eliminating the income cap on social security taxes (see this and this and the editorial Whacking the Old Folks from the June 7, 2010 issue of The Nation).
- Supporting corporatist, conservative Democrat Blanche Lincoln against progressive challenger Bill Halter in the Arkansas Senate race; see Biden Sends Fundraising E-Mail For Blanche Lincoln.
- Failing to push for meaningful action about climate change at the Copenhagen conference.
- Appointing pesticide pusher Islam Siddiqui as chief agricultural negotiator in the office of the US trade representative.
- Supporting the court martial of Bradley Manning, who leaked the "Collateral Murder video" and documents about the war in Afgahnistan; see also this.
- Pushing for strong enforcement of federal marijuana statutes US vows marijuana enforcement regardless of California vote, Medical Marijuana Industry Is Unnerved by U.S. Crackdown ("Medical marijuana advocates accuse the Obama administration of going back on earlier promises not to go after groups abiding by local laws."); see also this article and this article. "The president campaigned on the promise that he'd stop federal raids on medical marijuana operations that were in compliance with state laws, a vow that Attorney General Eric Holder repeated after the election. But then the Obama administration raided more than 100 dispensaries in its first three years and is now poised to outpace the Bush administration's crackdown record." (source)
- Overseeing the merger of Comcast and NBC Universal, despite his June 2008 statement: "I strongly favor diversity of ownership of outlets and protection against the excessive concentration of power in the hands of any one corporation, interest or small group. I strongly believe that all citizens should be able to receive information from the broadest range of sources. I feel that media consolidation during the Bush administration has had the effect of eliminating a lot of the diversity of information sources available to persons who have to rely on more traditional information sources, such as radio and television broadcasts and newspapers."
- Prosecuting whistle-blower Thomas Drake, who exposed fraud, corruption, and illegal surveillance in the NSA "Trailblazer" program; "Even neo-conservative secrecy advocate Gabe Schoenfeld, whose far-flung idea it was to use the Espionage Act to prosecute leakers, calls Obama's conduct 'draconian.'" (See The New Yorker's Damning Dissection of "Leak" Prosecution of Thomas Drake);
See Obama's Crackdown on Whistleblowers.
- Nominating George Beck as US Attorney in Alabama (see Obama Proposes a Wretched Nominee for Controversial U.S. Attorney Post).
- Approving the use of taxpayer funds for religious schools (Solicitor general surprises justices in religious schools case)
- Compromising with Republicans on extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich; Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said this about the estate tax provision included in the tax cut compromise: "We had the president -- George W. Bush -- we couldn't get it done then and we're getting it done here."
- Choosing JP Morgan banker Bill Daley as chief of staff, despite Daley's approval by the Chamber of Commerce, "Daley publicly pushed the line that Obama and the Democrats overreached with healthcare reform; opposed the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency....[and] kvetched about the electoral plight of centrist Democrats in a December 2009 Washington Post op-ed." (source)
- Failing to support Wisconsin workers whose collective bargaining rights were taken away by Governor Walker, the Koch brothers, and Republican legislators. This despite his earlier promises to support workers. See Shoes for President Obama.
- Failing to prosecute Bush-era crimes, thereby aiding Republicans and allowing them to hide the truth about their policies from the American people ("...the incredible lengths to which Obama has gone in his crusade to fully protect Bush, Cheney, and their co-conspirators, an effort that has included making threats to England should it be so uncouth as to reveal any evidence of wrongdoing", from An Honest Look at Obama's First Year); see also Obama, Press Ignore GOPer Use of DOJ to Cheat Voters, Taxpayers; WikiLeaks has now revealed that Obama worked behind the scenes to prevent the Spanish judge from prosecuting Bush &ammp; Cheney for war crimes; '"The only people Obama has prosecuted are the whistle-blowers" .
- Compromising early and unnecessarily on raising the debt ceiling. "President Obama initially tried to strike a 'Grand Bargain' with Republicans over taxes and spending. To do so, he not only chose not to make an issue of G.O.P. extortion, he offered extraordinary concessions on Democratic priorities: an increase in the age of Medicare eligibility, sharp spending cuts and only small revenue increases. As The Times's Nate Silver pointed out, Mr. Obama effectively staked out a position that was not only far to the right of the average voter's preferences, it was if anything a bit to the right of the average Republican voter's preferences." (Paul Krugman); "It is now beyond dispute that President Obama not only favours, but is the leading force in Washington pushing for, serious benefit cuts to both social security and Medicare." (Glenn Greenwald);
- Suspending a federal scientist for publishing a paper about the effect of climate change on Arctic wildlife (see Federal polar bear scientist back on the job).
- Blocking investigation of foreclosure fraud; see Why is the Obama Administration Trying to Block Investigation of Foreclosure Fraud? and this.
- Backing down on strengthening Bush-era smog standards, despite EPA director Lisa Jackson's statement that the current standards are "not legally defensible given the scientific evidence on the record" of dangers to human health" (source). In rejecting the stronger standards, Obama repeated Republican talking points by citing "the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty" -- despite "the EPA's own studies show that a tighter standard could have created $17 billion in economic benefits" (source; see also here).
- Supporting free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, despite the opposition of many Democrats and despite the approval of most Republicans (Trade Deals Wed Obama to Republicans as Democrats Vow to Oppose).
- Allowing a contractor working for pipeline developer TransCandada to conduct the environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline (source).
- "Siding with insurers rather than patients, the Obama administration also changed the rules to prevent patients from appealing contractual disputes, such as a particular service or medication is covered in a policy." (source).
- Deciding not to investigate possible police brutality in the crackdown on Occupy Oakland; see Despite Iraq Vet's Cracked Skull, DoJ Sees No Evil in Occupy Crackdown.
- Pressuring state attorney generals to accept a deal with Wall Street companies that, in the view of many, largely exonerates the criminals on Wall Street (see See Glenn Greenwald at about 54:00).
- Trying, but failing, to extend the occupation of Iraq (see (Ibid, 57:00)).
- Illegally defunding WikiLeaks, without due process (see (Ibid, 59:00)).
- Overseeing the coordinated crackdown on Occupy protesters (Ibid, 59:00).
- Restricting access to the morning after pill (see Health Secretary blocks wider access to morning-after pill).
- Being "just as zealous as George Bush in stripping away environmental, health and safety protection at the behest of industry" (source).
- Nominating Jerome Powell to serve on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. "Powel served as the undersecretary for finance under the president George H. W. Bush and was a partner of The Carlyle Group. The Carlyle Group is a massive private equity firm and one of the largest defense contractors in the world" (source).
- Failing to pursue prosecution of big banks for robo-signing (see Insight: Top Justice officials connected to mortgage banks).
- Negotiating a free trade agreement, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership: "TPP has been under negotiation for three years and, unlike in past trade negotiations, Congress has been denied access by the executive branch to the draft agreement text. The few TPP texts that have leaked suggest that TPP would not only replicate the job - offshoring investor protections of NAFTA but expand on them while also undermining Buy American procurement policy, imported food safety rules and medicine price containment policies" (source); see also this.
- Agreeing to a "fiscal cliff" deal on New Year's Day, 2013 that made permanent 82% of the Bush tax cuts. The deal lowers tax rates for incomes up to $400,000/$450,000 instead of $200,000/$250,000. (Rep. Adam Smith said that the compromise made in return for an agreement by Republicans on a two month delay before sequestration kicks in).
- Giving Shell Oil approval to drill beneath the Arctic Ocean off Alaska and blocking global action in Copenhagen and Durban (RootsAction). "The Obama administration on Monday gave conditional approval to allow Shell to start drilling for oil off the Alaskan coast this summer, a major victory for the petroleum industry and a devastating blow to environmentalists." -- source: New York Times.
- Selecting John Brennan as the nominee to head the CIA; see As Brennan Tapped for CIA, Case of Somali Detainees Highlights Obama's Embrace of Secret Renditions.
- Loosening media ownership rules; see Obama Administration Seeks to Strengthen Rupert Murdoch.
- Nominating Jack Lew for Treasury Secretary (see Failure of Epic Proportions": Treasury Nominee Jack Lew's Pro-Bank, Austerity, Deregulation Legacy).
- Nominating Ernest Minz for secretary of energy; see Energy Nominee Ernest Moniz Criticized for Backing Fracking & Nuclear Power; Ties to BP, GE, Saudis;':w
- Appealing a federal judge's ruling that lifted age restrictions on the morning-after pill (see Women's health groups slam Obama administration's decision to appeal morning-after pill ruling).
- Nominating Tom Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry, to run the FCC (see Uh-Oh: AT&T and Comcast Are Ecstatic About the FCC's New Chairman).
- Nominating former Obama fundraiser Penny Pritzker for Commerce secretary, despite her family's history anti-unionism and shady, subprime business dealings (see also this; as Brendan Williams wrote, "Upon President Obama nominating billionaie, union-fighting hotel heiress Penny Pritzker as commerce secretary, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote that it '[t]urns out the wealthy didn't lose the 2012 election; rather, the Republican rich lost to the Democratic rich.'").
- Personally intervening to stop Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, from pardoning Abdulelah Haider Shaye, "a Yemni jounralist who in 2009 revealed a US airstrike that killed fourteen women and twenty-one children" (source: The Nation, March 25, 2013, p. 3).
- Nominating Jason Furman for Chief of the Council of Economic Advisers; the American Enterprise Institute says of Furman: "He has written on the importance of fiscal discipline, the need to undertake entitlement reform sooner rather than later, the role of international trade in improving living standards, and the benefits of Wal-Mart in boosting living standards for low-income Americans." (source: Jason Furman would serve with distinction as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers).
- Calling for extradition of whistle blower Edward Snowden.
- Signing "into law the $633 billion defense authorization bill despite provisions that block any attempt to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center and try detainees on US soil" (source).
- Choosing Larry Summers as front-runner to head the Federal Reserve, despite Summers' ties to the worst Wall Street abuses (Congressional Dems forced Obama to nominate Janet Yellen instead).
- Weakening public education: "A feature of the Obama presidency has been his campaign against the American public school system, eating way at the foundations of elementary education." (source).
- Nomimating Ted Mitchell, a supporter of privatization of education, to become Under Secretary of the Department of Education ("an alarming sign that the administration is favoring greater privatization of public education".(
- Appointing conservative judges to the federal courts ("According to a February analysis by the Alliance for Justice, a coalition of environmental, consumer, civil rights, and women's groups, 70 percent of Obama's judicial nominees are former corporate attorneys. " Obama's Judicial Nominees: Liberals Are Upset With Them, Too).
- Threatening to jail veteran New York Times reporter James Risen if he doesn't reveal a confidential source; a recent report by the Committee to Protect Journalists shows that the Obama administration's efforts to prosecute leaks and control information are the most aggressive since the Nixon era.
- Nominating Antonio Weiss, a former Wall Street investment banker, as Treasury Undersecretary for Domestic Finance; as reported here, Weiss helped Burger King merge with a Canadian company to avoid paying its fair share of U.S. taxes.
- Nominating anti-abortion legislator Michael Boggs to be a federal district court judge.
- Running HAMP (the Home Affordability Modification Program) in a way that benefited bankers, not homeowners, contrary to earlier agreements. David Dayen in American Prospect, winter 2015, writes, "HAMP cannot be justified by the usual Obama-era logic, that it represented the best possible outcome in a captured Washington with Republican obstruction and supermajority hurdles.... It was entirely a product of the administration's economic team, working with the financial industry...".
- Supporting high-stakes testing that weakens public education and unions.
- Working with Republicans in Congress to pass the TPP against the opposition of labor, environmentalists, and most Democrats (Obama vows to help pro-trade Democrats fight off the left wing).
- Comparing progressives such as Elizabeth Warren to Sarah Palin because of the progressives' opposition to the TPP trade deal (Obama goes after Warren: 'She's absolutely wrong' on trade and Obama's war with Elizabeth Warren is heating up). As The Other 98% said of this, "When President Obama campaigned for office, he promised to reverse NAFTA on dozens of occasions. Now, he's using his recent popularity to attack his own party from the headquarters of a sweatshop corporation [Nike in Oregeon]. If only Obama worked as hard preventing people from losing their homes or jailing banksters..."
- Distorting the truth about the secrecy of the TPP. Obama said: "When I keep on hearing people repeating this notion that it's 'secret,' I gotta say, it's dishonest, And it's concerning when I see friends of mine resorting to these kinds of tactics." In fact, the text of deal is not open to public and is viewable by members of Congress only with heavy restrictions.
- Supporting charter schools, which are destructive of public education and the interests of teachers; see As Obama Admin Seeks More Funding for Charter Schools, Questions Raised over Billions Already Spent.
Why do grassroot Dems put up with it?
For fear of empowering the Republicans; because they're uniformed; because they believe the nice-sounding rhetoric coming from corporate Dems; and because it's almost impossible to convince Democrats to oppose a sitting Democratic president. I was accused of aiding the racist wingnuts and birthers who attack Obama from the right. It pains me to no end when Obama supporters hold onto their delusion that the President is a friend of the people.