Obama Has Lost Me (December 21, 2010)

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As we approach the imminent conclusion of 2010, an increasing number of liberals that comprise the leftmost wing of the Democratic party are being drowned by waves of nostalgia for November 2008. This was the time, immediately following the historic election of President Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American Commander-in-Chief, courier for the messages of “hope” and “change” that were to be the hallmarks of the country’s future, when lawmakers from both parties alternately believed in or feared a permanent Democratic majority. In that moment Obama, flush with bold new initiatives in the aftermath of eight years of Bush administration mismanagement, seemed infallible.

On the other hand, the Republican party, which struggled mightily to formulate a message or strategy under the McCain/Palin ticket, appeared to be destined for banishment. Leaders of the GOP publicly and privately indicated that the party faced the Herculean task of finding a platform and voice that could appeal to the mainstream middle. Obviously endless war, permanent tax cuts and corporate favoritism had fallen out of favor.

What a difference 24 months can make. This past week witnessed the two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts, up to and including those for the wealthiest two percent of Americans. While Obama has stated that this “compromise” was only reached in the face of an unprecedented Great Recession, a need to eliminate tax code uncertainty so that businesses could once again begin to hire, and the private sector to spend, I don’t think there’s a policy wonk living of any political stripe who genuinely believes the addition of another $880 billion to our national debt will have that effect. For example, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who often seemed to act throughout the W years as the little more than Bush’s financial yes man, was characterized by NPR in July as believing “the Bush tax cuts should be allowed to lapse. Greenspan, who as the nation’s top central banker in 2001 and 2003, pushed for the Bush tax cuts, now says that was a mistake.”

Tax cuts for cash hoarders at the top have little to no simulative effect on the economy. We’ve listened to the experts say the same thing over again, yet the Obama team would still have us believe that this recent demonstration of Republican blackmail, and Democratic capitulation, “brings hope for hiring and growth.” When I entered the booth in 2008 and cast a deliberate vote for “hope,” this sort of cynical gift giving to the rich, while keeping fingers crossed for a positive outcome, was not what I had in mind.

Meanwhile Vice-President Joe Biden insists that the administration will do the right thing and end this decade-long Treasury robbing in 2012, a Presidential election year, because somehow, you know, the economy will get better. “We will be able to make the case much more clearly that spending $700 billion over 10 years to extend tax cuts for people whose income averages well over a million dollars does not make sense,” Biden said, according to an AP report. Can I see a show of hands of those who believe the rich will willingly give up their booty as an altruistic measure, when and if the unemployment rate creeps back toward 5%? The President will face the same situation in two years – give into Right wing demands or suffer the electoral consequences. The President may be a good man at his core, but he is still a politician.

Mirroring the pragmatism of our indecisive leader, I can believe Obama to be a decent, learned human who truly wants to do right by his country, yet not like his chosen methods, or the results produced by his extreme rationalism one little bit. Somehow the energized 2008 Democratic base has seen it’s party’s messaging morph from an affirmative and spirited “Yes, we can!” to Joe Biden’s claim on this past Sunday’s Meet the Press that “politics is all in the art of the possible.” The problem is, this shift in mission statement was decided upon without the input of the most impassioned liberals who carried Obama to office on their shoulders in the first place.

The President’s positions on so many issues that once seemed black and white to his team, including energy and climate change, immigration policy and defense spending, have become so nuanced, so rife with Washington-speak about “concern” and “commitment,” that it is presently very difficult to distinguish between the regimes of Bush 43 and Obama 44. Iraq and Afghanistan? We are still there, with no reason to believe we’ll be out anytime soon. More brave soldiers lost, and more trillions we don’t have to spend will be thrown at our twin Waterloos. BP and Big Oil? I don’t want to revisit the Gulf spill of this past summer because the administration’s ineptitude is still too painful, but it’s clear the barons remain in charge. Infrastructure? I live in Chicago and the last time I checked, the bridges around me will still crumbling and I have no access to high speed rail.

I and my fellow disenchanted liberals will not be bought off with the passage of the Affordable Health Care for America Act of 2009, mainly because, beyond allowing young adults to remain on their parent’s plans until the age of 26, it’s hard to see how the situation has improved. Insurance premiums continue to skyrocket, with deductibles that nearly guarantee a childless married couple (in my case) will never receive benefits. We wanted the Public Option because nothing less will force real change in the insurance industry.

Ditto for the long overdue repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy as pertains to gays and lesbians serving openly in the armed forces. While this piece of human rights legislation finally passed both houses of Congress over the weekend, the process took way too long. When you have the support of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the backing of two-thirds of the American people, and a bipartisan legislative coalition behind the overturn of the ban, and it still takes two years to get it done, something is wrong. I have a sneaking suspicion, and I am not alone in this feeling, that our leader isn’t terribly concerned with advancing the fight for equality amongst GLBT citizens. Yet within days of the rabid liberal disappointment following the tax cut deal, DADT is old news. Isn’t that a coincidence?

Can the President win his Left base back between now and November 2012? That remains to be seen. However, if history teaches us anything, there is reason for pessimism about Obama’s return to beatific, Everyman fighting form. There are so many dire issues which require the President’s action, many of which I have mentioned earlier in this essay, yet election cycles tend to bring out the very worst in “safety first” legislative development.

I know it’s pathetically idealistic, but dammit, I feel betrayed. A vote always matters, but I truly believed, way back in 2008, that I was casting my ballot FOR something, not just in opposition to the other guy, which was the takeway of my 2000 and 2004 experiences. I drank the Obama Kool-Aid in heavy doses, and now, as is the case with any hangover, I am left with nausea and regret.

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