A Squandered Presidency, Not Quite, But Not Transformational Either

Just 18 months into the Obama Presidency, the verdict of the academy is already beginning to take shape. This summer has seen an array of assessments specifically on Barack Obama and his Administration and more generally on the triumph of corporate politics in the Age of Obama.

Apart from the Jonathan Alter book The Promise: President Obama, Year One, which was published in May and the forthcoming Paul Street book The Empire's New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power which will be released next month, the assessments have been in op-eds or essays in scholarly journals and leftist publications. And again apart from the Alter book, the assessments have been more critical than glowing. The Street book, from what I've heard, promises to be an evisceration of the Obama Presidency. Not surprising given that Paul Street is one of the nation's leading radical historians along with Mike Davis. 

The Alter work, of which I have only read excerpts, while praising the young President isn't exactly a tribute either. According to Michiko Kakutani's review in the New York Times, "Alter gives this White House a mixed grade so far on achieving its policy goals, working with a highly politicized Congress and communicating with the public." Tim Rutten's review in the Los Angeles Times finds Alter "sympathetic to the President's goals" while casting "a cold eye on his most vociferous political antagonists" and yet "independent enough to criticize the administration's — and the chief executive's — shortcomings." Alter, of course, has known the President nearly two decades or put another way the pair have been acquainted nearly half their lives. If your friends aren't willing to raise their voices on your behalf, who will? 

While the right is populated by sycophantic obstreperous propagandists who inhabit the rive droit of the Potomac think tanks that are wholly servile to the interests of the American corporate-led oligarchy and seemingly allergic to facts, the left, to begin with, lacks that vast corporate-funded infrastructure. Even if they did possess it, the left is hardly going to countenance such a wholesale capitulation to longstanding Democratic goals that the Obama Administration has set aside.

While the vitriol may emanate from the right, some of harshest rebukes have come from the left. The President can brush off being called a socialist but the appellation of a Bush third term clearly stings. Newt Gingrich, a career politician with presidential ambitions, can call him "the most radical president in American history" and "potentially, the most dangerous" urging the GOP faithful and indeed all "patriotic Americans" to resist the President's "secular, socialist machine" and Obama says not a word. But Glenn Greenwald and Dylan Ratigan, two journalists, discuss the President's targeting of American citizens with extrajudicial executions on a television programme and that unleashes the volcanic wrath of Robert Gibbs

The litany of progressive complaints slip off the tongue effortlessly. Single payer didn't have a prayer much less a hearing. The public option wasn't an option. Lip service to LGTB goals but not much real movement even when the opportunity arises to make a definitive stand. Leaving Iraq is defined as garrisoning 50,000 troops indefinitely. With each new boot on the ground in Afghanistan, the Taliban only has spread like a wild fire across the country returning to the north after a nine year absence even as General Petraeus assures us that we are turning the tide. Guantánamo, still open and now hosting the trial of a child soldier. The Patriot Act extended without tighter privacy protection for US citizens. The Employee Free Choice Act all but forgotten. Comprehensive immigration reform indefinitely delayed even as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency expects to deport about 400,000 people this fiscal year, nearly 10 percent above the Bush administration's 2008 total and 25 percent more than were deported in 2007. Comprehensive climate and energy legislation stalled with public support melting away faster than Greenland glacier. The financial sector reform law still doesn't solve the Too Big to Fail problem thus all but guaranteeing another bailout when our high rolling casinos overextend themselves as they inevitably will. The initial trepidation over the appointment of 18 unrepresentative, inordinately wealthy individuals to the recently formed National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is now giving away to outright despair at the thought that the President as he finds his fiscal religion might be willing to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and the elderly.

While one wants to be supportive of the Administration, it is increasingly difficult to do so when one senses that things are seriously amiss. Even the Center for American Progress' John Podesta, the former Clinton Chief of Staff who headed the Obama Transition that filled the key posts in the Administration, has said that the White House had lost the narrative by the end of this first year in office.

He's not the only one. When Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, a center-left publication, asked leading liberal progressives thinkers to assess President Obama's performance this past April, a recurrent theme among the nine contributors was a fear that the Administration had lost control of the all important economic debate. Robert Reich, President Clinton's Labor secretary, lamented that Obama's failure to provide "a larger narrative" to explain the causes of the crash and his response to it had left the public "susceptible to [conservative] arguments that its problems were founded in 'Big Government.'

Here's how Ronald Brownstein of the National Journal summarized the debate among many of the nation's leading progressive voices:

The fear among the Democracy contributors is that against this disciplined assault the White House is suffering from what could be called a "narrative gap." By which they mean that the White House has inadvertently allowed Republicans to shift public discontent from business to government by not working more doggedly to link President George W. Bush's anti-regulation, tax-cutting policies not only to the 2008 meltdown but also to the economy's meager performance over his entire tenure. (During Bush's two terms, the economy created only one-fourth as many jobs as it did under Clinton; poverty rose sharply; and the median family income declined, after rising 14 percent under Clinton.)

Among those who haven't taken their quills to penning paeans to the virtues of Barack the Great Disappointment are Frank Rich, Michael Tomansky, Eric Alterman, Joe Klein, Brad Carson, David Swanson, Danielle Allen, Michael Walzer and Barbara Ehrenreich. All have published essays - devastating critiques of varying degrees - on Obama the man and Obama the President over this the summer of our discontent. Even if they express some sympathy for his plight given the condition of the country he inherited, these voices point more to the bad and the ugly than to the good the Administration has accomplished. Progressive economists like Robert Reich, Dean Baker, Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman continue to bemoan the President's economic policies often wondering if the President and his economic team gets the magnitude of our malaise. Others befuddled by the President's lackadaisical approach to the severity of the crisis include Simon Johnson, Felix Salmon, Nouriel Roubini and Martin Wolf.

In mid-August, David Aaron Miller, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs at Princeton and an advisor on Mid-East issues to six Secretaries of State, took to the pages of the Los Angeles Times to argue that President Obama, like most of our consequential presidents, arrived at the right time, but unlike them, he may have badly misread his moment, and the country's mood.

First, he was convinced that the country was so badly served by his Republican predecessor that most Americans understood the need for sweeping change and were prepared to support it. Second, he misread his crisis: the recession. That crisis, though severe to be sure, was not so nation-encumbering that it forced the political system out of fear or desperation to become more pliable. When combined with a Republican Party determined to say no to just about anything, transformative change has proved difficult indeed.

Besides, Obama isn't FDR. He wasn't as skilled, as grounded in the American experience or, frankly, as likable as Roosevelt, and so he hasn't come to serve as a repository of the nation's trust and confidence. FDR, like Obama, was hated by many, but he was also beloved by millions.

Finally, unlike some of his predecessors who grounded change in values that many Americans found familiar and functional, Obama hasn't found a unifying message situated in an American experience that is universally shared. Part of Obama's problem is his uniqueness: His professorial, detached and cool-to-cold nature, the racial prejudice against him and his outlier background make him a different kind of president than most Americans have known.

Ultimately, David Aaron Miller accuses the President of overreach writing that "Obama may have had no choice but to introduce a large stimulus bill to stop the economic bleeding, but healthcare reform (and the way it was done) represented an overreach and stressed a political system that was already dysfunctional." Frankly, I'd argue that the problem has been more of an underreach and a piecemeal approach to his Presidency. He was never going to placate the right but that was where he largely expended his efforts to little avail and with fewer results as time went on. In his capricious courting of the amendable right, he willingly sacrificed much of the progressive agenda thus souring his own base. In this ever-deepening debacle, the critical independent center sees only the disarray and dysfunction that Obama was elected to fix.

And yet despite the disarray and dysfunction, the Administration has been remarkably successful in getting its legislative agenda and its political proposals, even if watered down, enacted. PolitiFact.com, a database of the St. Petersburg Times that won a Pulitzer Prize for its fact-checking of the 2008 campaign, has catalogued 502 promises that candidate Obama made during the campaign. At the 18 month mark the totals of the so-called 'Obameter' showed that he had kept 121 of them - 91 had been accomplished at the one year mark - and made progress on another 240. Twenty-two campaign promises have been broken, 39 compromised while 81 others remain stalled.

Some of the 22 promises broken are of little electoral consequence. They include a failure to recognize the Turkish genocide of Armenians in 1915 and the failure to double the Peace Corps to 16,000 by its 50th anniversary in 2011. The President also backtracked on giving an annual "State of the World" address on global security issues and a "State of our Energy Future" that might have helped with messaging but still not matters of earth-shattering importance. Others are more significant breaches. These include a failure to ensure Federal contracts over $25,000 are submitted to a competitive bidding proces,  a failure to lift the ban on imported prescription drugs, a failure to reduce earmarks to 1994 levels, a failure to carry the negotiations of health care reform in public sessions televised on C-SPAN, a failure to eliminate all income taxation of seniors making less than $50,000 per year, a failure to enact tougher rules against the revolving door for lobbyists and former officials and a failure to use "the bully pulpit to urge states to treat same-sex couples with full equality in their family and adoption laws." 

Still, the achievements of this Administration are significant. Legislatively speaking, only Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson surpassed the legislative record of Barack Hussein Obama. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was the first major act of Congress signed into law by President restoring workers' rights to challenge illegal wage discrimination in the Federal courts. It is a seminal piece of legislation.

Whatever the faults of the health care reform, the law will require insurance companies "to cover pre-existing conditions so all Americans, regardless of their health status or history, can get comprehensive benefits at fair and stable premiums" and will expand eligibility for the Medicaid and SCHIP programs so as to ensure that these programs continue to serve their critical safety net function. The Administration also closed the 'doughnut hole' in the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Program that had impacted seniors with more than $2,250 but less than $5,100 in annual drug costs. Approximately 4 million seniors hit the doughnut hole in 2006. Taken together, this is the most important advance in American healthcare legislation since the 1960s.

Other promises kept include increasing the funding of Small Business Administration programs that provide capital to minority-owned businesses; the adoption of the economic substance doctrine, a policy that states that tax changes must have significant economic justification; the establishment of credit card bill of rights; fully funding the Veterans Administration; fully funding the Violence Against Women Act; a renegotiating of the START treaty with Russia that will make meaning cuts to the world's nuclear arsenal; and expansion of the Pell Grant programme. These are real noteworthy achievements and are just a handful of the very real accomplishments of this Administration.

But are these accomplishments transformative? Well, the answer depends on how one defines transformative. The legislation enacted this session of Congress and signed into law by the President is broad, sweeping and will affect all Americans and I think largely for the better. Only the irrational deranged right begs to differ on the better part. But there is a difference between transformative legislation and a transformative presidency.

There's another line in David Aaron Miller's op-ed that merits attention. He writes "all great transformers wrap their actions in values and ideals that, while bold, are also familiar and consistent with those of the nation's story." I think that is certainly true. Politics is values and when political issues are framed within moral principles progressive ideas earn a remarkable degree of acceptance.

A transformative presidency requires a change in values, a subverting of the dominant paradigm for a new paradigm. Transformative presidents have been rare. I'd argue just six - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.

Washington, being first, set critical precedents, but just as importantly, Washington deepened nascent Republican values in the new Republic that feared a return of monarchical government. Jefferson moved the country away from Hamiltonian Federalism winning the argument, at least temporarily, on the nature of government. Jackson changed the country getting Americans to think differently about who they were as a people. While the first major expansion of the suffrage came during the Presidency of James Monroe, it was Jackson who benefitted as he injected populism and notions of democracy into the American political arena. Jackson is a befuddling array of contradictions: even as he denounced big government, Jackson expanded executive power creating a template for future presidents; even as Jackson preached the rule of the people, he was autocratic; even as he espoused local governance, his Nullification Proclamation put the Union ahead the extremism of states' rights. Lincoln changed how we viewed the Union and our concept of nationhood. Before Lincoln and the Civil War, it was the United States are; after Lincoln, it was the United States is. Roosevelt and Reagan each transformed the way Americans thought about the legitimate role of government. Roosevelt demonstrated the power of the government to effect positive change in the lives of Americans; Reagan made government inherently the enemy. There's one common thread amongst these Presidents, they were all willing to take on their political enemies. Jefferson, Jackson, Roosevelt and Reagan, in particular, did not shrink from political combat. Indeed, they thrived on it.

Other Presidents have had enduring legacies but their terms in office did not involve a shift in values. In this category, I'd include James K. Polk, Ulysses S. Grant, Chester A. Arthur (the most underrated President in American history), Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. For Grant and Bush, it was a negative enduring legacy, Nixon a mixed one, the others positive legacies. Obama seems likely to join this group: a positive legacy but not a transformative one.

Even by his own standard of why Barack Obama ran for office in the first place, he has failed to deliver on his stated goals for his Presidency.

I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness – a certain audacity – to this announcement. I know I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.

The genius of our founders is that they designed a system of government that can be changed. And we should take heart, because we've changed this country before. In the face of tyranny, a band of patriots brought an Empire to its knees. In the face of secession, we unified a nation and set the captives free. In the face of Depression, we put people back to work and lifted millions out of poverty. We welcomed immigrants to our shores, we opened railroads to the west, we landed a man on the moon, and we heard a King's call to let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what's needed to be done. Today we are called once more – and it is time for our generation to answer that call.

For that is our unyielding faith – that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it.

That's what Abraham Lincoln understood. He had his doubts. He had his defeats. He had his setbacks. But through his will and his words, he moved a nation and helped free a people. It is because of the millions who rallied to his cause that we are no longer divided, North and South, slave and free. It is because men and women of every race, from every walk of life, continued to march for freedom long after Lincoln was laid to rest, that today we have the chance to face the challenges of this millennium together, as one people – as Americans.

All of us know what those challenges are today – a war with no end, a dependence on oil that threatens our future, schools where too many children aren't learning, and families struggling paycheck to paycheck despite working as hard as they can. We know the challenges. We've heard them. We've talked about them for years.

What's stopped us from meeting these challenges is not the absence of sound policies and sensible plans. What's stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics – the ease with which we're distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems.

The sum of those seven paragraphs is that Barack Obama ran to change the way Washington works and to overcome the smallness of our politics. If that's his standard for success, he certainly hasn't succeeded. Washington is as dysfunctional and polarized as ever. Our politics are evermore petty. Fifty-five percent of Americans think he is a socialist; 18 percent think him a Muslim; and 27 percent of Americans think he was born outside the United States. These numbers speak vividly to the smallness of our politics. It's not that this is his fault, it is that he is blind to its cause and moreover seemingly unwillingly to engage the blood sport of politics even as he risks being mistaken for a corpse. 

Still, the tragedy of Barack Obama is that on that cold day back in February of 2007, he also said something else quite noteworthy that pointed to what was required of a transformative leader. He was running not just to change the process in Washington but also the nature of our civic involvement:

After all, every four years, candidates from both parties make similar promises, and I expect this year will be no different. All of us running for president will travel around the country offering ten-point plans and making grand speeches; all of us will trumpet those qualities we believe make us uniquely qualified to lead the country. But too many times, after the election is over, and the confetti is swept away, all those promises fade from memory, and the lobbyists and the special interests move in, and people turn away, disappointed as before, left to struggle on their own.

That is why this campaign can't only be about me. It must be about us – it must be about what we can do together. This campaign must be the occasion, the vehicle, of your hopes, and your dreams. It will take your time, your energy, and your advice – to push us forward when we're doing right, and to let us know when we're not. This campaign has to be about reclaiming the meaning of citizenship, restoring our sense of common purpose, and realizing that few obstacles can withstand the power of millions of voices calling for change.

It is the deepest of ironies that the only mass movement to emerge during the Obama Presidency is a right-wing pseudo populist anti-government movement largely underwritten by libertarian corporatist interests. It's even more peculiar because of one the most forceful speeches of the primary was delivered not by Barack but by his wife, Michelle, at UCLA on the eve of California primary.

Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.

Having built one of the most energizing and politically savvy campaign coalitions in a generation, it is perplexing that Team Obama sidelined the Team that swept him to power. Here you have the first Democrat to win the White House with more than half the popular vote since 1964 and instead of launching the second Liberal Republic, he retreats to the Oval Office as if he were some detached observer of the body politic and not its leading actor. The fact is that Barack didn't require anyone to work or shed their cynicism. Thanks to his complete and utter naïveté about the nature of the American right, his approach to governing galvanized his opponents while his inability to use the bully pulpit of his office and engage in confrontational politics effectively failed to energize those who elected him to office.

Back in December 2008 when we were still basking in the afterglow of electoral victory, Jon Meacham, the author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House on the Charlie Rose Show compared Andrew Jackson with Barack Obama. Said Meacham, "I think the Obama connection (with a transformative Jackson) is this understanding of political narrative and the power of engaging your supporters in a constant conservation." In this, Obama has failed to live to his promise and squandered his potential to be a truly transformative President. He'll leave a potent legacy but his inattention to the economy - and the narrative of how we got here - is going to set back the cause of liberalism.

Mike Lux over at Open Left noted what a failed Obama Presidency would mean back in October 2008:

Some progressives might argue that Obama isn't really a progressive anyway, so why should we care about whether his Presidency fails. I couldn't disagree with that more strongly. Obama, being a Democrat, is going to be perceived by Americans as a representative of the progressive cause. Even if he governs as a centrist or even center-right President, he will still be seen by Republicans and the media as a progressive, and his failure would be seen as a progressive failure. Don't think so? It's happened before, not that long ago: Jimmy Carter was the most conservative Democratic President in the 20th century on economic issues, embracing deregulation and fiscal austerity. But when he failed, Republicans ran for a generation- quite successfully- on attacking the failed liberalism of Carter.

Then there's something John Podesta, the last Clinton Chief of Staff, noted before Obama won the election. Should Obama win, he should not try to solve problems one by one- first, get the economy on track, next deal with health care, next with energy, etc.- instead should put together an economic package that makes progress across the board. Pity then that John Podesta wasn't Obama's first Chief of Staff.

Tags: Obama Administration, US Economy, US History, John Podesta (all tags)



RE: A Squandered Presidency, Not Quite, But Not Transformational Either

I've been reading posts on this blog for years, but your commentary is driving me away. Stop complaining and instead try to organize local groups to support the agenda that you want. Obama has to govern and answer countless Republican spin that the media report as facts, and you wonder why he doesn't do more. Speak the truth to all your neighbors and those who are not in your narrow comfort zone - try to change their minds, so Obama can do more of what you want. The Republicans have been successful in telling their lies, and Obama can't spend all his time answering them or there would be no time left to run the country. His domestic agenda was pretty heavy in legislative terms, and then there was Iraq, Iran, North Korea, relations with Russia...obviously he should have ignored all that. Your commentary has been, so far, pretty useless. Figure out what can REALLY be done in this climate and try to work for it as an individual and a member of your community. 

by bigcatlover 2010-08-27 09:26AM | 0 recs

I understand being sick of progressives complaining, but Charles' post seemed comprehensive, fair, intelligent and pretty detailed given the medium.

This wasn't just some normal rant that many commenter's (including myself) have posted on here.

And identifying problems are the first step to fixing them and not repeating mistakes.

by jeopardy 2010-08-27 12:09PM | 2 recs
Excellent Commentary

This is a very good evaluation of the Obama presidency.

Instead of continuing his populist campaign that involved and engaged millions of Americans, Obama fired all of his organizers, then retreated to the Oval office, and began cutting backroom deals with all the powerful interests. Not only is this very undemocratic and anti-progressive, it is stupid politically. The special interests don't want to cut a deal with progressives, they want to replace progressives with their own guys so they continue extracting money from the middle-class and poor and dominating the world. Obama turned his back on progressives. Instead of a transformative, populist progressive presidency, he is muddling through and the nation is paying for it with continuing stupid wars, a faltering economy, and an evermore polluted environment. Instead of bringing people together, he has allowed an even more polarized situation to develop.

President Obama was naive to think the Right would not attack him and naive to think that the corporate-friendly policies of DLC Democrats would solve any of our real problems. Our country was ready for real change – overturning the Right-wing military-corporate oligarchy that dominates our country. We were desperate for real leadership. Obama's misguided leadership squandered a chance to make transformative change.

by RandomNonviolence 2010-08-27 10:27AM | 0 recs
At best now

Obama turns out to be like William McKinley. Here's a good summary of how that looked pre Nov 2008 by Paul Rosenberg, but here we are now with that being the best-case scenario. Certainly the way that Obama lined up with the banks right off the bat gave that inclination of the common direction.

by Jerome Armstrong 2010-08-27 10:34AM | 0 recs
Big Cat Lover just doesn't get it

The thrust of Lemos' analysis is that Obama energized millions to rally around a progressive change in the way the nation was being governed, yet once he took office, failed to keep that energy and involvement going. So many of us truly expected him to be an exceptional president, if only he would have carried out the philosophies of his campaign as he promised he would. Unfortunately, he did not.

The dire times and economic situation left him by Pres. Bush called for bold, extreme measures, but more importantly, the demanded bold, innovative leadership. I would venture that the vast majority of us who voted for him thoroughly expected that is they kind of leadership we would get once he assumed office. We were to be sorely disappointed. Within months of taking over, he began making his back room deals with corporations, Wall Street, Big PhRMA, the health insurance giants, and began rather early on to send quite clear signals about whose side he was going to come down on. His promises for the most transparent administration ever were dashed when he took up the mantle of entrenched Washington, Beltway politics -- the very politics he had railed against while running for office.

When the Health Care debate began to be enjoined, he rather quickly made it clear which side he was going to promote, and it wasn't the progressive, change-we-can-believe-in call to arms he ran on in the campaign. The reason he began to lose the middle and his base is because more and more he was being seen as a president lacking in strong leadership qualities, one more inclined to kowtow to the opposition despite their hartred of him and avowed determination to bring him and his administration down. Calls were made repeatedly that he should stand up to these attacks and show strong FDR type leadership, using his bully pulpit, using his power of the White House to reign in wayward Democrats, and take his message to the people to enlist them in advancing the causes they voted for him to accomplish in the first place. Instead, he chose repeatedly to hide behind his "aloofness," his determination to somehow make bipartisanship work, even in the face of near total Republican intransigence.

As the Summer of 2009 arrived and the corporate enemies of his agenda began to rally their forces with the nascent "Tea Party patriots," he still failed to see the need to step forward and provide an alternate and viable reality. He still refused to lead. And that is the underlying theme of Charles Lemos' article: Obama came to office with the public squarely behind him (some 70% of Americans supported his policies and his administration during the early months of his presidency). But he squandared all of that by advancing watered down, largely ignored or politically maligned compromises that as Lemos said, turned off his base and disillusioned the centrists who had taken a chance on him in 2008. When he needed to show strong leadership, he hid inside the bubble and allowed himself to be repeatedly slapped down by the Republicans and those whose only agenda was his destruction. He bunkered down and kept trying to make public showings of how HE was going to work hard to advance bipartisanship, even if such bipartisanship was patently unworkable and unavailable to him. It does take two to dance, and the Republican party was not willing to dance; they merely wanted to trip him everytime he tried to invite them to the dance floor, but he stupidly kept trying again and again, long after it was clear no one was going to dance with him from the other side of the aisle.

So the real indictment of his administration is not that he didn't have good ideas, or not that he didn't make some major accomplishments. The real indictment of his administration is that he failed in providing real leadership when it was the most important thing the country needed. He accepted compromises that pleased almost no one -- not his activist, progressive base; not the rapidly deserting moderates and centrists who had taken a chance on him; and certainly not the obstreperous, lying Right that made it their goal to make him a failed president no matter how much they had to lie or harm the country in advancing their own political agenda. Obama just seemed oblivious to all that. And when the tide began to turn, and his policies and public approval and support began to slide precipitously, instead of regrouping and rethinking his methods, he instead began to blame the very constituents who wanted to see him succeed and see the country succeed.

In the end, it is his own undoing that has brought him, and by extension, the rest of the nation, to this unfortunate point where now all attempts at real change, progressive change are stymied, and in a few short weeks, will be stopped completely in their tracks when the Republicans take back control of the House and possibly the Senate. None of this need ever have happened if Obama had been the leader the times and the country demanded. Why he chose to abnegate all the great promises he made that energized the nation and led to his overwhelming victory in November 2008 will be the stuff of many analytical books for generations to come. But in the meantime, our country suffers mightily, our party is in the doldrums, and a renascent Rightwing is poised to retake control (inconceivable in the early months of 2009!), and all the progress we might have made in this country will be stopped in its tracks.

For this we have only President Obama to blame. He could have led us like FDR, like Lincoln, even like Moses to a new land full of promise and innovation, but he chose instead to just continue the 'more of the same' politics he had once said he was against. Instead of listening to the people who put him in office, again as he had said he would do, he chose instead to listen to the entrenched politicians and lobbyists and corporate masters in Washington DC, thereby guaranteeing that the vast base of supporters of his campaign would become disillusioned and turned off from the politics of usual they had hoped to see brought to an end. We needed a strong, capable, vibrant leader, but in the end, we got a president with good ideas who sidelined those ideas time and time again for perceived political expediency -- the old ways of Washington that sickens the body politic of his nation, and that fueled the rise of an alternative Tea Party voice that looks more and more likely to win its arguments, with some exceptions of course, than will the President and his supporters who had once had such high hopes. In the end, it truly was and is about real leadership, and in this area, Obama has been proven mightily to be lacking.

by mcarnes 2010-08-27 12:30PM | 5 recs
RE: Big Cat Lover just doesn't get it

Excellent comment, a post in its own.

by Jerome Armstrong 2010-08-27 01:02PM | 0 recs
RE: Big Cat Lover just doesn't get it

Moses? Really? 

As for FDR and Lincoln maybe you should read up on them, the reality is quite different from the myth. Lincoln in particular was reviled by the abolitionists and ultra-unionists, at least in the first few years of his presidency.

by vecky 2010-08-27 08:30PM | 0 recs
Stephen Walt echoes my sentiments

Does Obama still trust his team?


Let me reiterate, I don't want to get into the speculation if Obama has shown leadership or not, but given his legislative accomplishments and his falling ratings, one has to ask why this disconnect? Part of this is self-inflicted. The job of surrogates in any administration is to fight for the administration. Obama does not have surrogates. Biden just lacks the charisma required for his office, and his political adviser Axelrod is more concerned with maintaining the "brand Obama", which means bipartisanship at any cost . So in the face of stiff, intransigent and mindless Republican oppostion, he has staked a centrist position which means triangulating on every contentious issue, whether it be immigration, abortion, gay rights, religious rights etc. Alter in his very sycophantic way calls it "no distractions", but triangulation by any other name will still mean triangulation.

To this you can add the extremely misguided idea of consolidating all organizations into one, and the WH basically dictates to its big donors who they can and can not donate to. So during the Health Care debate when progressives decided to pressure vascillating Democrats into supporting the public option, we had the WH calling them "f-ing retards", while behind the scene they gave up the public option to the insurance industry without a fight.

Similar concessions were made for all other legislations without a fight. We have a credit card bill of rights, but the credit card companies can still increase their rates as much as they like without consequences. We have a financial reform bill that does not breakup big banks, or reinstate Glass-Steagall, but rather enshrines too big to fail. We had a stimulus package, which everyone and their grandmothers said was too small, but in a misguided effort to get a few Republican votes, the WH decided to keep it small; and guess what we find out that while it did stem the bleeding, it did not quite achieve it's objective, which was kick start the economy and create new jobs.

So here we are another August. Last August while Axelrod was tending to brand Obama, Rahm and Geithner were assuring the Wall Street donors that they won't be punished, a narrative took hold that this administration is partisan, profligate and unprincipled. The OFA was missing in action and now that narrative is what's guiding this fall's election. So in retrospect with an apathetic base tired of being kicked around by the people whom they worked to get elected, a President who seems oddly aloof, a dismal economy and a narrative that has attached itself to this administration (however unfair that may be), it is time this President got some new advisers and ditched his current Chicago group, who are really out of their depths in Washington.

by tarheel74 2010-08-27 01:39PM | 2 recs
RE: Stephen Walt echoes my sentiments

Biden just lacks the charisma required for his office

When was the last time we had a charismatic Veep?

Surely not the last vice president. Not Gore, Quayle, or GHWB.

by jeopardy 2010-08-27 01:57PM | 0 recs
RE: Stephen Walt echoes my sentiments

Well for Gore and GHWB, the Presidents were both larger than life personalities. Moreover, both Clinton and Reagan had war-rooms and they never shied away from a full-on confrontation. But being the guy succeeding Dick Cheney, Biden has been exceptionally quiet, either because of his personality or by design. Whatever it might be, given the general demeanor of the President, his advisers and his VP we have a pretty non-confrontational and largely uncharismatic administration. So they shouldn't blame the base for lack of enthusiasm.

by tarheel74 2010-08-27 04:02PM | 0 recs
Oh - he's transfomed alright

I'm done with him and have been since he sold my wife and me out to the insurance companies.

Thanks for nothing Barry. Now go away.

by Tboy 2010-08-27 02:35PM | 0 recs
I have seen and had ENOUGH failure from the progressive side of politics.

I have seen and had ENOUGH failure from the progressive side of politics.  ENOUGH! I want progressives to succeed. We cannot play nice with conservatives. I save my compassion for the poor, the unemployed, the retired elderly and disabled and the disenfranchised. This failure comes from the REFUSAL to use boycotts against conservatives and their friends by progressives suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. In fact I now refuse to help so called progressive organizations that will not boycott the friends of conservatives in order to put pressure on the conservatives to do as we demand.

I do not have compassion for bull headed conservatives bent on ruining other people's lives.

The way we do not play nice involves what Gandhi would do, namely shun those and their friends who seek to ruin other people's lives. I did not originate boycotts but I appear new in adapting the boycott to political and legislative outcomes.

I have created the following strategies for getting other legislation and it appears easy to create something as I had for busting up the deal between google and Verizon. I cannot easily drop Verizon but I wrote to Google and told them I stropped using their search engine and other products and I told them that I will get other people to contact them to threaten a huge boycott of them until they capitulate to our demands that they stop that deal with Verizon!


I have created a new legislative political party: The Liberal Democratic Party of the United States.

We do not raise money.

We do not handle money.

We do not break up your Party. You remain in your own chosen party for the purpose of elections but you also join mine for the purpose of getting needed legislation and political action.

We tell you how not to spend your money and get legislation for
not spending money with well known conservative contributors.

It costs nothing to join this party but some of your day
sending these emails and getting many others to send these emails.

We can get progressive legislation with a new strategy.

Please pass this email to your friends as soon as possible. Thank you.

Instead of petitioning a corporate corrupted congress for legislation, petition the corporate friends of conservatives in both the GOPranos and the Democratic party for legislation and include a boycott threat in your email petitions as you see below. Spread the word please.

You can find the full list of emails here


by WWW.DEMOCRATZ.ORG 2010-08-27 06:41PM | 0 recs
RE: I have seen and had ENOUGH failure from the progressive side of politics.

I'm not sure what services you receive from Verizon but if you're looking for a cell phone company, try Credo Mobile.


by Charles Lemos 2010-08-27 07:34PM | 0 recs
His biggest mistake......

may be reappointing Bernanke, who won't lift a finger on the economy.  

by esconded 2010-08-27 08:03PM | 0 recs
He needs a primary opponent

You listed Reagan as transformative ~ I'd agree.

What's been forgotten or never mentioned is that Reagan was willing to take on a sitting President of his own Party and clearly articulate that which you noted:that government is the enemy.

I certainly do not in any way shape or form agree with Reagan and I would suggest that what the majority of people were voting for in 2008 was a rejection of that premise and the willingness through their votes which encompassed the entire government to have government, once again,work for them, the citizens, .

Barack Obama has given us the middle way, middle road, and that is not what the times are calling for, namely:a rejection of the conservative philosophy which landed us in this nightmare~high unemployment, lost homes,  lost savings, corroded infrastructure, no regulation, no oversight, the selling off of our system of government.

He, just like Carter, deserves a primary opponent because the Democratic Party is at war with itself~ you can't keep asking the base to get you elected and then ignore and bash it for 4 years. Until it is resolved all we have done is keep resurrecting the "Reagan Democrats'

Who do you think voted for Scott Brown? Or stayed home when they could have voted for Martha Coakley?

The fault is not in the voters,'dear mydd readers, but in our DLC candidates.


by merbex 2010-08-28 10:31AM | 1 recs


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