A particularly egregious myth that has emerged in recent years is the claim that Barack Obama was a socialist president. In reality the Obama administration implemented only a single policy that could be regarded as socialist during his entire eight-year term in office. That was the stimulus package in 2009 which has been chipped away at ever since and has had no lasting benefit to the American people. The policy for which he is given the most credit, the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) is by no means socialist; it is a giveaway to the private insurance companies.
Obama deserves credit for preventing the US from collapsing into financial oblivion. He inherited an economy that had been pillaged by the Bush administration, with its reckless privatisation and deregulation, unchecked spending during its illegal invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq with a largely privatised military, and the Bush tax cuts, which alone increased the debt by almost two trillion dollars. The following clip by Keith Olbermann provides an excellent summary of the atrocities committed by the Bush administration. It is important to qualify this with the understanding that the Obama administration did nothing about the out-of-control financial sector, setting the scene for another financial collapse (which many indicators point to being imminent).
What the Obama administration can be credited for
In terms of domestic policy improvements, Obama is known by progressives as the “5% president”. He can be credited for a small amount of positive change, but it was minuscule compared to the devastation wrought by the Bush administration and continued in other ways by the Obama administration. Below is a list of some helpful policies that the Obama administration can be credited for. Note that each of these has a “but” attached to it:
- A stimulus package was implemented but it was too small and made no difference to the long term well-being of the American people;
- An attempt was made to regulate the Real Estate Industry with the passage of the Dodd-Frank bill, but it is a terribly poor substitute for Glass-Steagall and did little to curb the fraud and excesses of the financial sector;
- Two Supreme Court justices were appointed that were not lunatic right wing fanatics, but they paled in comparison to the progressive justices that they replaced;
- A small number of environmental regulations were put in place, but at the same time Obama accelerated fracking, reversed oil-export limits, approved drilling in the Arctic, and did nothing to prosecute those responsible for the large number of oil spills, including the BP Gulf disaster in 2010;
- The unemployment rate was reduced, but the jobs that were created were not of the same quality as those that were lost. For example, if one lost a high-paying factory job and instead got a job flipping burgers in a fast-food franchise, it would still count as a reduction in the unemployment figures.
- The deficit was substantially reduced, but it was done on the backs of the working and middle classes and not the upper classes who were responsible for the deficit in the first place.
What is more important for the trajectory of the US are what the Obama administration failed to achieve and its contributions towards US policy becoming more right wing extremist and its people more politically polarised. A list of the most egregious examples is provided below:
- The illegal occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan were allowed to continue;
- The illegal torture facility in Guantanamo Bay was not closed down; some captives now in their 17th year of imprisonment with no trial or due process;
- Nobody was prosecuted for torture and other war crimes committed by the Bush administration;
- Nothing was done to address the institutional racism within the police or to marginalise the growing overt racism within the population;
- Nobody was prosecuted for the rampant fraud committed by the financial sector that lead to the global financial crisis;
- The illegal actions committed by the police were allowed to continue with impunity, enabling their escalation;
- Nothing was done to address right wing terrorism, which continued to escalate;
- Nothing was done to prevent the CIA from illegally spying on US citizens;
- A third Supreme Court seat was allowed to be delayed for an unprecedented year before the Republicans claimed it with a lunatic corporatist in 2017.
Making things worse
Failing to implement important policies to halt the dangerous trajectory of the US is bad enough, but it needs to be compiled with the actions performed by the Obama administration to accelerate the pathway to destruction. Here is a list of the worst of these:
- The number of US wars increased from two to seven;
- The Bush Tax cuts, originally implemented with a sunset clause, were made permanent;
- The number of drone strikes was vastly expanded, slaughtering thousands of civilians across eight countries;
- The gun problem was allowed to expand, despite a series of shocking massacres throughout the Obama presidency;
- The government increased its violent crackdown on protesters, with atrocities committed at Zucotti Park and Standing Rock, to name just two;
- The Occupy Wall Street Movement was violently crushed by militant police;
- The arrests and prosecutions of protesters and whistle blowers was escalated, expanding to include journalists;
- The Democratic Party was defunded and its organisation dismantled;
- An attempt was made to force through the international atrocity called the Trans Pacific Partnership. Fortunately the clock ran out before it was ratified.
Don’t blame the Republicans
When one challenges the Obama administration for its failure to shift the US towards the centre, the standard response is that it was forced into inaction by the Republicans who controlled the house and threatened the Senate with endless filibusters. This is not correct. For the first two years of Obama’s presidency the Democrats controlled the Presidency and the House, and had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Even after Ted Kennedy’s seat was lost to a Republican the Democrats still had a large majority in the Senate and could have forced the Republicans to physically perform every filibuster, but instead they caved at only the threat of them. The House was lost later in 2010, presumably because Democratic voters were frustrated by the lack of action by their Party. The Senate was lost in 2014, and finally the Presidency in 2016. There are many mechanisms that the majority party in either house can use to force through policy, as the Republicans are now showing with their egregious deconstruction of the middle and lower classes. The most plausible reason why it did not happen is because the Democrats, including Obama, did not have the will to make it happen. Recent actions of the Democratic Party provide strong evidence that they actively prevented populist socialist change from occurring and continue to do so. For example, just a few days before this this blog posting the Senate Democrats cut a deal to fully fund Trump’s wall and 55 House Democrats joined Republicans to give Trump unprecedented warrantless spying powers. In the Senate, 18 Democratic Senators crossed the floor to deny further discussion on the warrantless spying bill, and it looks certain to pass the Senate in due course.
Damage to the Democratic Party
Very few discuss the role played by the Obama administration in destroying the Democratic Party. It is as yet unclear whether this was by design, incompetence, or apathy, but Obama led the Democrats off a cliff that may take several election cycles to recover from, if they ever do.
After Obama won the 2008 election he transferred resources (staffing, funding, etc) from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to his own personal campaign “Organizing for America” (formerly called “Obama for America”). He then arranged for Clinton’s primary campaign debts to be covered by Democratic fundraisers, creating a growing financial crisis within the Party. In 2009 he fired Howard Dean as the DNC chairman, whose 50 state strategy won the Democrats the House in 2006 and the filibuster-proof Senate and Presidency in 2008. After a couple of years with Tim Kaine as the DNC chair, Obama inserted Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a corporate shill who was deeply unpopular within and without the DNC and was terrible at selling the message of the Democrats to the public. It is generally accepted that she was appointed because she represented “old money” in southern Florida and was a heavy fundraiser from big money, including from the controversial predatory pay day lenders.
The Democrats immediately began losing, first in 2010 with the loss of the filibuster-proof Senate after the passing of Ted Kennedy, and then the loss of the House in the mid-terms later that year. In 2012 Obama won a second term, but the Democrats had lost almost 1000 seats countrywide, in 2014 they lost the senate, and in 2016 they lost the presidency.
Meanwhile, Organizing for America became a ghost operation. It was actively dismantled and the voters left disillusioned and disappointed in Obama and angry at the Democrats.
After the 2012 election Obama arranged for the DNC to pay off his election debts once again, adding to their own electoral debts, leaving it on the brink of economic disaster by 2015. We now know that at around this time Hillary Clinton struck a secret deal with the Democrats to help them out of their financial predicament in exchange for her acting as a leveraged buyer. Clinton was given the power to decide on hiring and firing, how the money was spent, and, of course, who will be the candidate for President. The Obama administration actively coordinated with the Clinton campaign and Obama personally helped clear the field for Clinton. He fought against Elizabeth Warren becoming the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (that she created), spoke out against Bernie Sanders on several occasions, and personally discouraged Joe Biden from running.
His final gift for the Party was to override its attempts to reform and intercede in the leadership elections to ensure that his corporate stooge, Tom Perez, became its chairman.
As we mentioned in the last blog posting, in 2016 the Democrats were wiped out across the map and their party is in shambles. It is important not to deny the critical role that Obama played in this desolation.
While Obama should be credited as the president who prevented America from falling off the cliff of financial catastrophe, he did leave the country still teetering on the brink, having done practically nothing to prevent it from happening again. Domestically he increased fracking and drilling, increased the surveillance state, and cracked down mercilessly on left wing protesters and pubic dissent. In terms of foreign policy, Obama should be remembered as the Drone King who was the first President in US history to oversee two terms with America at constant war. The final analysis is that he was just another right wing corporatist whose administration successfully swindled the American people, once again.