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Evelyn Washington, Oakland
"The One Percent Doubles Down with Paul Ryan," Raising the Bar, 8/15
A Better Choice?
I hope Jay Youngdahl, who recently in his column dreaded expected appeals to rally behind President Obama, didn't mean all should now go out and vote for him because the Republican ticket is so dangerous, but at times it sounded like that. Jay seemed to be ignoring the facts that:
One: We are in an electoral college system, with voting by state. California is not a "swing state." There is no doubt Obama will win California, probably by multiple millions of votes. If the election is close, more California votes for Obama won't make the difference. They can only strengthen symbolic endorsement of his record.
Two: There are other choices on the ballot that actually support liberal values, most prominently Jill Stein of the Green Party. Many votes for Stein would signal support for such values. Extra votes for Obama will signal — what?
Obama won the Democratic nomination in 2008 with the votes of people who believed he would be a president with a clear progressive vision toward which he would "move the polls, not watch the polls."
"We are the ones we have been waiting for," he said. The question remains: For what? We're still waiting. Though Obama is obviously an extremely impressive individual, as far as a moral center, a social philosophy, he's made it pretty clear that whatever we may have thought we heard, Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers notwithstanding, he seems to like things pretty much the way they are.
The best predictor of a president's second term is the first. Obama has not led. He has no discernible significant plans for the next four years. Wouldn't he have mentioned them by now?
Some point to a difficult political environment as reason to support the president. But Obama was elected in 2008 with the strongest Democratic mandate since 1964: The largest percentage of the vote, the strongest control of Congress. He did, I'd argue, little with it while failing to connect with his base, so that mandate was reversed in 2010. The political environment, at least when Democrats had a majority, was one in which retreat was the first order of battle and no one made a case until elections were imminent, in which liberalism was weakly, rarely, uncertainly articulated, and — surprise! — it lost ground.
The most important thing a president has is the bully pulpit. What the president says and doesn't shapes the national conversation. President is a political job. A president who won't engage with his supporters, more or less continually, not just at election time, undermines his own side.
Statements by Obama's team that they worked at the "frontier of the politically possible" — whether to revive the economy, advance public health care, create jobs, or anything else — are transparently fraudulent. Obama has not even gone on TV, addressed the nation, told it what needs to be done and how we can help. Not during the health-care debate, nor during the stimulus debate, nor otherwise. That's apparently too old-fashioned, but what takes its place? Answering questions on social media? Kibitzing with celebrity journalists? It doesn't do the same thing.
By "tacking to the center," Democratic leaders like Obama reinforce by acquiescence the false assumptions that help corporate and imperial views dominate American political life and so over time weaken the side they at least claim to be on.
Yes, Obama's government extended unemployment compensation and cut social security taxes. His efforts may extend health insurance to many Americans — however under a hyper-regulated but still-private public utility model that, by failing to control costs and ignoring systemic problems, "kicks the can down the road" while discrediting public health-care solutions into the future, likely shaping a health system with at once the heart and efficiency of PG&E.
What Obama has sadly been best at is killing "America's enemies," mostly a bunch of guys in the hills of central Asia who see themselves fighting American domination of their world. This is even worse than it seems. At a time of no true global threat and massive budget deficits, he has ensured growing military budgets equaling those of the rest of the world. Obama has energetically put a liberal, Democratic, Third-World face on policies of domination across the world from the Middle East to Guantánamo. The corrective of a Democratic party skeptical of imperial adventures has been largely neutralized by Obama's presidency. Were you hoping for a president who might tell Americans they don't really need to dominate central Asia?
Meanwhile, no liberal economist can get near the White House. One may have thought in 2008 electing Obama might give Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz, or Robert Reich influence in managing the economy. Instead, he passed it largely to corporate Wall Street guys, perpetuating corporate economics and Wall Street impunity — not that that's helped the economy.
He has offered bailouts without responsibility — for corporations only, promoting an empty economic agenda of "out-competing the world," ignoring the poor and ever-advocating for the meaningless "middle class" with which all identify.
For those who support democratic and egalitarian values, any appeal for unified support for Obama now in a safe state like California sadly seems a little too much to evoke what George Bush called "the soft bigotry of low expectations."