Who Did We Elect?

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Did we elect the wrong president?
by Jack Random
One year into the presidency of Barack Obama the mood on the left of the political spectrum is anything but celebratory.  With every compromise and disappointment the conviction behind the rationalization that he’s not as bad as Bush was or McCain would have been (while undoubtedly true) dissipates.  Iraq, Afghanistan, health care reform, job creation, Wall Street reform, government secrecy and accountability, on and on:  When will it end?  

The question that must eventually be asked has already pushed itself to the front of our minds:  Did we elect the wrong president?  

When we elected Barack Obama there were some rational reasons to believe he would be different.  While his opponents attacked his lack of national and international experience, it was precisely that lack of experience that enabled so many of us to believe he was not yet corrupted.  There was not enough time for him to sell out.  

Maybe we should have paid more attention to the fact that he was taking so much money from the banking and financial institutions.  Maybe we should have realized that this was the connection that made him a viable candidate for president.  It is unthinkable that no one in the financial sector saw what was coming.  They desperately needed a guarantee that the next president would be as generous and unquestioning as the last.  

“To the elites ordinary Americans are pretty much parasites.  Democratic party… leaders … are members of this elite.  They believe what the elites believe and they live within a world whose boundaries are formed by those beliefs.  And so, no, there is no ‘change’ you can believe in from this class of Democrats.  There is no ‘hope’ of an America which is better for ordinary people.”

- Ian Welsh, An Independent Voice                 

The massive bailout was necessary to avoid a catastrophic collapse of the world economy, the product of a bipartisan consensus on deregulation and free trade, but there can be little doubt that it was also payback.  Wall Street was on the Obama bandwagon before anyone else was.  Maybe that is why so little of the money went directly to public projects that would help rescue workers from the triple sting of unemployment, declining wages and mounting debt.  Maybe that is why so little attention was given to the federal mortgage modification program to save common folks from home foreclosure.  

While it is true that Obama campaigned on redirecting our anti-terrorism efforts from Iraq to Afghanistan, it is also true that Obama consistently emphasized diplomacy to distinguish him from the hard line approach of Hillary Clinton.  Where is that diplomacy now?  When he selected Clinton to be Secretary of State he assured his critics on the left that policy came from the White House yet there is to this date no substantial distinction from the policies of Obama and those of candidate Clinton.  

Candidate Obama favored a single payer health care system (a true national health care program) but that advocacy was gone before the first volley in the debate on health care reform.  He made sure the people would never hear from single payer advocates by blocking them from testifying in the opening sessions of congress.  In contrast with candidate Obama, who scored points by opposing an insurance mandate, the newly elected president supported a mandate from the start.  

Candidate Obama inspired us with hope and that must inevitably be his undoing.  He imbued in us the perhaps unrealistic belief that real change could come from a mainstream Democrat.  We forgot our history.  

We forgot that in America (and perhaps the world) real change only comes in the aftermath of cataclysmic events and at the conclusion of a long period of struggle.  The affirmation of democratic ideals in the 1800 election of Thomas Jefferson was in part the effect of the Shays’ and Whiskey Rebellions.  Recognition of the fundamental rights of labor came after decades of protest, strikes and brutal repression, highlighted by the Haymarket Affair in Chicago in 1886.  Antitrust laws came in the aftermath of economic breakdown and the New Deal followed the Great Depression.  

History also teaches us that after each advance there is a steady erosion of progress until the next cataclysmic event.  Whether it is health care, social security, voting rights, labor rights, civil liberties or civil rights, if we are not pushing forward and pushing hard then we are backing up under the constant pressure of the political and economic elite.  

Thus, after the enfranchisement of women and the voting rights act, we have seen an evolution in electoral politics that allows the manipulation of election results through unlimited campaign contributions, creative districting and the mass disenfranchisement of targeted populations.  

Thus, after securing the right to organize we have seen progressive limitations on labor unions and a resurgence of state “right to work” laws that effective nullify union effectiveness.  

Thus, in the years since the Great Depression, we have witnessed a rollback of public works, the evisceration of job training and the virtual elimination of a public safety net for hard times.  

Most recently we witnessed the kind of compromise that passes for health care reform – one that fulfills the demands of private insurers but fails to meet the basic needs of main street citizens.  

We expected nothing but regression from George W. Bush but we expected a lot more from Barack Obama.  Perhaps we were fooled.  Perhaps we elected the wrong president.  

Of course, who were the alternatives?  As a congressman from Ohio, Kucinich was a symbolic candidate from the beginning.  His was a message campaign that was worth delivering but it lacked viability.  Where was Russ Feingold, Barbara Boxer or Bernie Sanders, all of whom were eminently more qualified than either Obama or Clinton? Maybe they could not attract the kind of money that would have made them viable candidates in a national campaign.  Maybe the price of viability in the current system is integrity.  

What lies ahead we cannot know.  We only know that Obama is not the answer.  We may believe that he is doing the best he can in a hopelessly corrupt system or we may believe that he has himself become hopelessly corrupted.  Either way, the effect is disappointment.  

When he asked us to aim for the heavens, we expected more than a stone skipping over shallow waters.  

I am now in the familiar but unhappy position of wanting to be wrong:  

I do not believe we will withdraw from Iraq or Afghanistan while Barack Obama is president.  

I do not believe that any reform package that survives this congress to be signed by this president will on balance represent an advancement toward fulfilling the right of universal and affordable health care.  I believe that the cost of health care will continue to rise, breaking the backs of small businesses and forcing millions of already indebted Americans into bankruptcy.  

I do not believe that the ever-increasing gap between the elite and the working class will be reduced during this presidency.  With the demise of unions and an accelerated exportation of jobs I believe the poor will grow poorer, the wealthy wealthier and the middle class as we know it will all but vanish from American society.  

I do not believe that financial reforms, regulation and oversight will be sufficient to prevent yet another inevitable collapse and next time we will be unable to block the fall.  I believe that the same Wall Street minds that dreamed the house of cards that created Enron and the west coast energy crisis, the vaunted technology bubble and the recent real estate implosion are still in charge and have learned nothing of the error of their ways.  

I do not believe there will be any major environmental initiatives under this president.  There will be pilot programs and tax incentives that enable the president to claim he has done more than any president before him but that nevertheless fall well short of impacting global climate change.  The green economy he once spoke of will be placed on indefinite hold until the recovery is cast in platinum (i.e., not on his watch).  

I believe that any advances we make in civil rights or civil liberties will be without the president’s leadership.  

I do not believe we will be any closer to a lasting peace in any part of the world than we are today.  

On all accounts I hope I am wrong.  

Still, I do not believe we elected the wrong president.  Rather the president we elected is not the president we got.  


“Why Democrats Are Trying to Commit Electoral Suicide” by Ian Welsh, Common Dreams/Open Left, January 4, 2010.  


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