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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 10/23/12

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.

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.

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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