The Obama Dilemma
On March 21, 2012, 3:46 PM by Adam Gallagher
Can the left vote for Obama in 2012 with good conscience?
It is time again for the quadrennial absurdity of the American presidential race. In reality, it began as far back as last summer as the slew of risible “candidates” for the Republican nomination entered the fray. While the establishment media myopically focuses on the long slog of a horse race that is the primaries, it is often difficult to discover the other things going on in the world. The average broadcast on Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN consistently devotes the majority of its airtime to the inequities and megalomania of Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum’s sweater vests, or Mitt Romney’s automaton personality – often ignoring Ron Paul, the only principled, yet deeply flawed candidate. Now this coverage of the seemingly meaningless rigmarole of the Republican primary and the similar upcoming coverage of the presidential race may make Chuck Todd’s heart palpitate, but it does a massive disservice to everyone else. We will be told over and over again, from the editorial pages of the New York Times to primetime cable new shows, that this election is about the future of the country and presents two stark contrasts for the trajectory of America. While some Americans increasingly recognize that our electoral politics are a sham, progressives and leftists must ask themselves if they can vote for President Obama in good conscience.
It is difficult to fully understand the causes of the manifest failure of the Obama administration to implement progressive initiatives. Are these failures endogenous to President Obama? Is he really the tepid, bipartisan-craving centrist (even center-right) politician that we have seen over the past three years? Or has the obduracy of the Republicans and the pathetic, spineless Democrats in Congress presented an insurmountable stumbling block to the advancement of his agenda?
To my mind, it is likely a combination of the two. To be sure, the posture of Republicans, who have declared their primary goal to be defeating President Obama in 2012, has been cynical, opportunistic and overtly self-serving. Yet Obama has pursued a host of policy initiatives that have been anything but progressive. Even many of Obama’s ostensible legislative successes have been a mixed-bag at best.
Let’s look at the Affordable Care Act, also known in Republican lexicon as “Obamacare.” While an additional 30 million Americans receiving healthcare is laudable and an important step in rectifying the maladies of the American healthcare system, it is also a boondoggle for the healthcare industry. One must wonder whether Obama even entertained the possibility of a more progressive healthcare initiative. Richard Kirsch, the former director of the advocacy group Health Care for America Now has asserted has asserted that the Obama administration only used the public option as a bargaining chip. According to Kirsch, “The White House had negotiated a number of deals with the health industry, designed to win their support for reform, including agreeing to oppose a robust public option, which would have the greatest clout to control how much providers got paid.” Rather than exerting a strong push for a public option, the “weak-kneed” White House was content to use the public option as leverage to get something, anything, passed. The recent kerfuffle over administration attempts to require religiously affiliated universities and hospitals to cover contraception in their healthcare packages demonstrates the true absurdity of employer-based healthcare. If there was a single-payer system such controversies would not exist. In any case, the healthcare battle is just a microcosm of the Obama presidency: a backroom capitulation to corporate power masquerading as a public confrontation.
Obama’s response to the financial crisis has arguably been even worse. It was clear what direction his administration would take from the beginning. By appointing people like Larry Summers and Tim Geithner to senior level positions, Obama maintained the neoliberal course. The very people who helped create the crisis are now those we are relying on to remedy it. Not a single executive from any of the major financial institutions has been prosecuted or even indicted for their dubious and morally reckless activity. Meanwhile, millions of Americans have had their homes foreclosed upon and millions of others continued to be mired in life-changing levels of debt. But the banks, well, they received billions in bailout money and continue to hand out millions in bonuses and have seen record profit levels. What has Obama’s response been? Nothing, more or less. The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, meant to clamp down on the banks, is a rather innocuous little piece of legislation. Indeed, it does not even regulate the derivatives market that was one of the unquestioned causes of the Great Recession.
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