Monday, February 21, 2011

Change we can believe in - Deconstructing the Obama Myth

I find it fascinating that Obama’s opponents are certain that he is a far left radical. Perhaps they are only focusing on the rhetoric of this extraordinarily eloquent man rather than looking at the actual evidence that can be harvested from his time in congress and his current tenure as President.

There is a large gap between the rhetoric of Obama and the actions of Obama the politician. In his speeches, both on the campaign trail and in office, he often comes across as a left leaning populist champion. But, the truth of the matter is that Obama is every bit “business as usual” despite his often over the top promises of transformation and change we can believe in. If Obama had not succumbed to business as usual he would not have been able to finance his campaign in the first place. His most ardent supporters seem to ignore this. It is important to note that Goldman Sachs is his no. two campaign investor. How can that not be “business as usual?”

Obama emerged early on as my candidate of choice. I stand by that decision and most likely will feel compelled to cast my vote for his reelection. But, I also was quite vocal about his rock star persona that got him tossed up on a pedestal as if he was the promised one, a political messiah or second coming of James Madison. None of that was true and I kept warning everyone that if we allow this to continue many of us would be sorely disappointed and even disillusioned before too long. No one can live up to the image that Obama and his handler’s created.

The Myth of Popularity

The reality of Obama is that he is intelligent, well educated and well meaning. He is handsome and has a beautiful charming wife and two lovely daughters. By all counts they are the quintessential family unit. Perhaps, even the poster family for traditional family values although the far right might not like to concede that based on ideological differences. I like the man. You would hope so given that I voted for him. But, he is far from the president of my dreams. I wasn’t expecting it. For my part casting a vote for Obama was the lesser of the two evils and not a vote of confidence.

Obama’s chief talent is speaking and writing. He is a superb orator; a master of the craft when compared to McCain or former President George W. Bush, who’s linguistic and semantic missteps are legendary. By comparison Obama appears to be a giant among American political leaders. The fact is Obama is one hell of a campaigner, but as a policy maker he is, at best, mediocre. His time in congress proved him to be pliable to investors, lobbyists and a bit of a flip-flopper on issues. Being well spoken and intelligent does not necessarily guarantee a great leader.

Men with lesser native abilities and eloquence have occupied the Oval Office and led this country quite well. A beloved and ardently adored leader may be populist, but not all leaders are popular. George W Bush was a circus of buffoonery and yet was a leader in ways Obama has yet to be (forget for a moment my leftist friends that we have policy and moral disagreements with the man). Popularity certainly plays an important role in the things that politicians and their advisors care about – image, approval ratings and electability – but, seldom says anything about their actual leadership abilities.

None other that the great lion of Britain, Winston Churchill, if he were alive today, would verify this truth of leadership that unpopular leaders can lead well. Churchill’s popularity with the public was a bit of a roller coaster. History shows that prior to World War II the British subjects reviled their future Prime Minister as something of a war monger. His strong anti-Nazi rhetoric and warning that Hitler must be dealt with was met with derision.

As a War Time leader Churchill was extremely popular. Then the post war election of 1945 saw him losing the election to Clement Atlee of the Labor Party. Yet, who today could really say Churchill was not as a great a leader as any democracy has ever had? And speaking of oratorical skills – Churchill is at the top along with FDR, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama in their skills of speaking to the populace and galvanizing the trust of a nation behind them.

Popularity is often a myth created by the media as in the case of Ronald Reagan. Looking at his approval ratings for his two terms in office he was not remarkable, yet his speaking abilities made him seem that way. Two decades later, George W. Bush would become one of the most “unpopular leaders” of our time with sub par speaking skills and yet managed to serve two terms.

Who Elected Obama?

Obama sold himself to the American people as a liberal reformer. But, he has been anything other than that despite his botched attempt at health care reform that is now under siege. As an ardent supporter of health care reform and a believer in singer payer as the potentially best solution, I believed that Obama’s biggest mistake was to lead too early on in his presidency with this issue despite how desperately we need it. It was a strategical misstep that allowed conservative activists of the Tea Party and the GOP to galvanize the fear of a nation to help them regain lost power.

No doubt that there is much in this porcine health care legislation that should be defeated. It is more costly than a reform should be and really does not address the twin issues of affordability and sustainability. Supporters incorrectly have adopted a “something is better than nothing” attitude. Because of it we have lost quite a bit of real estate and Obama is on shaky ground. He has yet to exhibit the ability to correct his course and turn failure around as did Bill Clinton.

The debacle over health care reform demonstrated clearly that Obama forget who elected him. The absurd punditry of Beck, Limbaugh and Coulter opine endlessly to the eager and paranoid far right who believe that Obama is a left wing socialist conspiracy to undermine our Constitution and to impose a total European style socialist democracy on an unwilling American populace. The most ridiculous conspiracy theorists continue to debunk Obama’s eligibility status to be president even though it has been proven time and time again that he was, indeed, born in the United States and is a naturalized citizen. There is often no proof that will convince a conspiracy minded person to relinquish their most cherished paranoid mythologies. Other conspiracies include that Obama is a secret Muslim and has connections with Bill Sayers, the notorious college professor and former member of the now defunct Weathermen - a radical far left group in the early and mid 1970’s. All of this due to a one time $200 donation to an early Obama campaign by Sayers and that both men once served on the same committee in Chicago.

Yet, if one really looks at the actions of Obama the politician he is really not far left at all. The more his career advanced the more centrist he became. In fact, Obama has taken one lesson from the Clinton administration despite his failure to examine the strategic importance of health care reform – a president must lead from the center (wherever that might be during his tenure) if he has a chance at getting anything meaningful done. Once again we have business as usual.

So who actually elected Obama? If not the far left and progressives than who elected this man? We have opined ourselves from the beginning that Obama was not the darling of the far left or even progressives. They had plenty of concerns about who Obama was and what he would do. Given the number of progressive newsletters that fill my email inbox and postal box I would say they still do and the concerns are growing by the minute.

Some might suggest that blacks and Hispanics, that came out in record numbers, helped boost Obama into office. They did play a role. But, there are conservative Latino and Black caucuses and committees that, while proud of his accomplishment as a man of color, did not and do not subscribe to his policy agenda. In the end the so-called minority vote did not ensure his election.

Obama won due to the most hardly fought after voting demographic – the so-called “Swing Voters,” the often silent majority of moderates who do not have a preferred party allegiance and, in fact, have a growing cynicism about partisan politics in general. These, largely middle class and upper middle class folks taxed to death and concerned over the tanking economy and financial securities were fed up with years of seemingly failed conservative fiscal policies decided something needed to be done. They were losing their homes and their retirements and often their jobs. They feared the mounting federal deficit as Congress continued to spend money on Homeland Security and two unwinnable and expensive wars.

Swing voters are a fickle group. They often have the most to lose and are not swayed often by political rhetoric. The wealthy elite can weather the capricious storm on the political landscape and the very poor or working class has very little at all. These groups can afford the ideological certitude of politicking. It’s the middle class, rightly considered the backbone of America, that find themselves sliding toward the lower end of their class group and into financial devastation.

The mistake that pundits on the far right make is that they deem America to be this out of control liberal nation. However, as any progressive can attest we are quite conservative all around. There is an underpinning of conservative values that is part of our collective consciousness. Most people today assume that liberal is just what might be referred to as “social liberalism,” but even that is not entirely true given the trouble same sex couples have in getting the same basic rights that their heterosexual counterparts enjoy. The list goes on.

In the end the middle class swing voters and moderate GOP defectors, fearing for their livelihoods and futures took a risk on Obama. They were also the same people who delivered the GOP and Tea Party to Congress in the mid-terms. The confidence they had in Obama was replaced by increased fear and, in part, to the crazy over the top rhetoric of the far right. There has been very little in terms of common sense the past two years politically and both parties have failed to genuinely step up and lead.

What did Obama Forget?

The economy! Obama forget that it was the economy that got him elected. It wasn’t health care reform, repealing don’t ask don’t tell or even the costly war effort despite its horrific impact on the federal budget. It was Wall Street. Main Street felt betrayed. Certainly health care and DADT are important issues, but they were secondary. Obama failed to lead in regards to the economy first.

Yes, the middle class is concerned about the rising cost of health care. But, they are not, as a group, completely sold on government legislative solutions. Some of it is a misguided fear of socialism, but mostly it is a lack of knowledge. The mistakenly believe that if they have a secure job and financial future the cost of their health care will resolve itself. They miss many of the underlying issues that are leading us to a system collapse. This is partly due to effective campaign against health care reform by the insurance lobby and their far right patsies.

Obama seems to take his successful campaign for the presidency for granted. However, in August 2008 as the Republican National Convention was closing having nominated Senator John McCain the fledgling race was a statistical dead heat between the two candidates. Even McCain’s impetuous choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate didn’t prove to be problematic at first, although later she would prove to be one of many campaign errors that tanked McCain’s campaign. It was the meltdown of the lending industry and the near collapse of Wall Street that propelled Obama forward faster than a pig covered in grease. But, to date Obama has done little to distinguish himself from his predecessor.

The Reality of Change we can believe in

My argument for sometime has been that Obama is nothing more than a centrist Democrat who has more in common with the so-called Blue Dog Dems than with the more radical or progressive elements of the party. Former Democrat turned Independent Senator Joe Lieberman was Obama’s mentor in his early days in congress. Obama, along with his mentor Lieberman and John “the wrong war at the wrong time” Kerry was an adamant supporter of the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan. The difference is that Lieberman has stayed the course with his support while both Obama and Kerry changed their polemics when it became politically expedient to do so. Kerry, got called on his hypocrisy while Obama’s was hardly noticed except by his biggest opponents, and only barely so.

The mendacity of campaign promises is they are often made by well-intentioned leaders who don’t have the capacity to guarantee they will be implemented. The reality is that the candidate ends up telling his or her constituents what they want or need to hear in order for them to get elected. This is especially true for the office of president. A challenger to the incumbent or, as was the situation in 2008, where we had two candidates who have never occupied the Oval office making promises without all the information.

I cautioned my more hopeful friends at the time that Obama’s campaign promises regarding Iraq would most likely look radically different to him on his first day in office once he suddenly had access to Intel he had not had previously. Sadly, no one seemed to notice that Obama actually never promised to bring our troops home and end the war. What he suggested was that he was going to shift our effort toward Afghanistan. But, many took his promise of a timetable to bring our troops out of Iraq as a promise to end the war effort. In this regard Obama has lived up to some of the promises he made on the campaign trail.

Halfway through his presidency this black hole in our federal deficit crisis continues to threaten our nation’s solvency allowing the GOP to go after – at long last – their moral enemies such as Planned Parenthood, NPR and PBS among other things. Social Security and Medicare – also thorns to the GOP – are dangerously close to receiving potentially fatal budget cuts. Yet, the real problems have yet to be addressed. It is true that Social Security and Medicare is the biggest chunk of the federal budget, yet they hardly caused the current crisis, but no one is talking about that. We forget that when the Clown Prince of the Democratic Party – Bill Clinton – left office we had a national budgetary surplus. In only 8 years the GOP and the Bush administration managed to rack up the debt. Two years into his presidency Obama has failed to plug the holes and his bipartisan deficit committee is recommending dangerous budget cuts to vital programs.

I know it’s easy to blame the Tea Party and the GOP for the current nightmare. Certainly they have a large share of culpability. I hold them mostly responsible for the out of control rhetoric and fear mongering from their most bellicose and loquacious pundits at their fringes and the more fanatic of the Tea Party enthusiasts who all but drowned out the more reasonable and libertarian voices that originally gave impetus to the movement. But, the democrats and specifically Obama have failed to lead.

Yes the GOP placed a lot of stumbling blocks in their way, but it was not the fringe element that gave back power to the GOP. It was the mainstream swing vote crowd who still struggling economically began to wake up and see a president that was hardly different from our former one. This will be a bitter pill for those liberals who cling desperately to their hatred of our former president.

Obama has all but assured the end of New Deal legislation, but that is unsurprising given that among his top 20 campaign investors are lobbyists for high finance. Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley have all contributed handsomely to Obama’s campaign. Ironically, Goldman Sachs was among the corporate backers of FDR’s New Deal program originally.

Once again a bitter pill to swallow, but to simply leave the blame on the doorstep of the GOP is disingenuous. They have been loud and aggressive to be certain, but then the Democrats arrogantly assumed they could ram anything they want through congress. They have learned a hard lesson. I knew we were in trouble when Obama made some concessions regarding the Bush Tax cuts. Fiscally Obama has not proven himself to be different from George W. Bush. It makes me wonder why I have criticized Dennis Kucinich so much. Now there’s a progressive Democrat if there ever was one.

Dennis Kucinich brings me to our final point and that is in regards to the essence of republican liberty as conceived by our founding fathers and championed so tirelessly by James Madison himself. Recently the Democratic gadfly Dennis Kucinich worked with conservatives from the Tea Party to defeat three of the provisions of the Patriot Act. This illustrates another failure of the Obama administration, which is to deal with the erosion of constitutionally protected civil liberties that have occurred since 9/11/2001.

Under Obama Guantanamo remains open and even though water boarding has been abandoned the Obama administration still sanctions other torturous interrogation methods such as sleep deprivation. Homeland Security and the questionable Patriot Act remain in tact. Under Obama’s watch security measures have even been increased and have become more invasive.

Where is Obama’s commitment to ending politics as mere business and return it to a mission oriented enterprise? What about his tough rhetoric on lobbyists? Well…lobbyists played a role in financing his campaign. That is not all, under Obama NAFTA has been expanded, more jobs are disappearing overseas and trade agreements remained unbalanced. That was to be expected given Obama’s lack of foreign policy expertise.

Ultimately, in the final analysis of the past two years we have a president who looked a lot like a leftist, progressive champion (to the gullible) but seems to find substance in many Republican policies, enough so that he is simply repackaging them and reselling them to a tired and fearful populace hungry for change they are not truly getting.

In the end the biggest mistake Obama’s opponents made was to be so damn loud. They were right to be concerned, but not for the reasons they believed. Rather than implementing an agenda of sustainable liberal change he has defaulted to the standard centrist agenda pursued by Republicans and conservative Democrats. Policies that have already proven to be problematic and ineffective – if the GOP had been less noisome and more cooperative they would still have ended up where they are today, with their power base increasing. Today things are the same as before. Oil companies influence energy policy and corporate lobbyists still pull the strings.

I, for one, am thoroughly disgusted.

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