When Barack Obama took office in 2009 it was on the wave of a massive Democratic Party upsurge. The Bush administration was a disaster for the American people, with its reckless destruction of public infrastructure and the environment, instigation in illegal torture programs, erosion of human rights, and the collapse of the economy with massive giveaways to the rich and unchecked military expansionism. Keith Olbermann (back when he was good) provides an excellent summary of the Bush years, which can be found here.
The Democratic Party of January 2009 had control of the Presidency, the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. The American people had given his party such a large majority that Obama and the Democrats could enact any policy they wished without any tangible resistance from the Republicans. The American people provided this authority on Obama’s promise of socialist change. A promise that he and the Democrats violated viciously.
Under Obama’s leadership, the Democratic Party lost the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, 1100 seats, 70% of all state legislatures, and 15 million members. Let us explore how a man with such promise could lead to such terrible disaster.
The dark forces that propelled Obama into the spotlight
When observing from a distance, it appears that Obama was an amazing force of nature who came out of political obscurity to out-manoeuvre the most politically astute players in the country to become the leader of the party and the president. Had the following been known ahead of time, however, the public may have not been so hasty to place its hopes with him. Much of the following is from this article by Greg Palast.
Sometime in 2004, while Barack Obama was an Illinois State senator, he received a visit from long-term friend and billionaire Penny Pritzker. Pritzker and her family were fined $460 million by the Federal Government in 2001 for the predatory actions of their loan-shark company called Superior. Pritzker introduced Obama to Robert Rubin, who is a former chairman of Goldman Sachs and of Citibank and, of course, Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton. In return for vast financial support, Obama agreed to Rubin’s (and Citibank’s) cabinet picks, including Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner. Pritzker became the Finance Chair of Obama’s campaign and raised three-quarters of a billion dollars in the 2008 race.
Upon becoming president, Obama immediately delivered on his promises to his paymasters. He appointed Geithner as Treasury Secretary and Summers as chairman of his national economic council. We now know, thanks to Wikileaks, that a large proportion of Obama’s cabinet was hand-picked by Citibank in October 2008 (right before it received the largest share of the bailout from the federal government during the financial collapse). He tried to get Pritzker appointed as Commerce Secretary but she withdrew in light of new allegations about more illegal practices involving nursing homes owned by her family. Finally, after winning the 2012 election and no longer having a need to present a fake front to his voters, Obama finally appointed Pritzker to the role in 2013.
As an aside, yes the despicable Pritzker family is still heavily involved in politics. Her brother, J.B. Pritzker, recently bought the Democratic nomination to run as governor of Illinois.
During Obama’s two terms in office, none of the major financial institutions were held responsible for their activities, criminal or otherwise, that led to the global financial crisis. The economic recovery that is so acclaimed by the establishment went almost exclusively to the top 1%, and the gap between the rich and poor widened to a level not seen since the gilded age.
Much of the credit for the surge of the Democratic Party in the late 2000s can be attributed to Howard Dean, who became the Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 2005. His 50-state strategy focused on providing resources to every state, including those that were deemed unwinnable by the party bureaucracy. The policy produced positive results quickly, with the Democrats winning the House in 2006 in their largest seat gain since 1974. They also claimed enough seats in the Senate to reach a 49-49 split with the Republicans, but effectively claimed control of the Senate through two Independent senators who caucused with them. In the 2008 election they won an additional eight Senate seats and claimed an additional two in the months following the election, taking their total to the filibuster-proof majority of 60. In the House they won 257 seats vs the Republicans 178, increasing their majority by 21 seats, and 32 states had Democratic governors.
In the wave of such tremendous success, President Obama and the Democratic leadership wasted no time in throwing it all away.
Obama’s first move was to reallocate critical resources away from the DNC. He transferred staffing, funding, and other resources to his own personal campaign “Organizing for America”, which was called “Obama for America” during the election. He then arranged for the debts incurred by Hillary Clinton’s primary campaign in 2008 to be covered by Democratic fundraisers. These actions burdened the party with enormous debts which, coupled with its own electoral debts, began the sharp spiral into financial crisis.
His next move was to thank Howard Dean for his vastly successful campaign by firing him as DNC chair and, after a couple of years with the hopelessly inept Tim Kaine (yes, THAT Tim Kaine), appointed Debbie Wasserman Schultz. This choice was baffling to much of the Democratic leadership, as Wasserman Schultz was a terrible manager, deeply unpopular and was a widely recognised corporate shill. She was regarded as being “terrible on TV” and would risk harming the party every time she appeared in the media to try and sell the Democratic message, which she ended up doing often. It is widely believed that the sole reason for her appointment was because she was a heavy fundraiser from big money and wasn’t particularly scrupulous about where it came from. She has had a long relationship with the predatory pay day lenders, for example.
Over the next few years, Organizing for America was neglected and dismantled. It was utilised to help get Obama re-elected in 2012, but even by then it had lost its political will and, especially, its grassroots support.
The consequences for the Democratic Party were immediate. In 2010 it lost its filibuster-proof majority in the Senate when it failed to retain the seat in Massachusetts after the passing of Ted Kennedy. The DNC and Obama for America, assuming that the election was an easy win, did minimal campaigning in the state, and its candidate was outperformed by Republican Scott Brown, an imbecile with deep ties to Wall Street (who is now the US ambassador to New Zealand – and still can’t escape controversy). The only two things the party accomplished in those two years were the stimulus package for which it deserves a small amount of positive credit (despite it being full of pork), and what is now called Obamacare, which does not. Obamacare was crafted by the far right-wing Heritage Foundation in the 1980s and is about as far from socialised healthcare as you could imagine.
The Democrats did not have to wait long for their next disaster which came a few months later in the 2010 midterms. There the Democrats lost control of the House, six senate seats, and six governorships. At the state level they lost twenty chambers nationwide.
They managed gains in both House and Senate in the 2012 elections and although they also had some gains at the state level they did lose another governorship.
Just as the Democrats were beginning to reclaim some of their lost territory Obama dealt them another blow, arranging once again for the DNC to pay off his election debts.
In 2014 the Democrats lost eight seats in the Senate, yielding control to the Republicans. They lost another 13 seats in the House, and another three governorships. At the State level they lost all of the gains from 2012 and then some, with the number of Republican-controlled state reaching 67; the smallest number of Democratically controlled state legislatures since before the Civil War.
Finally in 2016 the presidency was lost.
In summary, under Obama and the Democratic leadership the party lost the House, the Senate, most of the governorships and over 70% of all state legislatures. To make matters even worse, the Republicans succeeded in exploiting Democratic ineptitude and held off on the appointment of a Supreme Court nomination for an unprecedented 293 days so that it could appoint its own choice after winning the presidency. Their choice, Neil Gorsuch, is another lunatic right wing corporatist to replace the former lunatic that passed away, thereby ensuring that the balance of power in the Supreme Court will remain firmly in the hands of the rabid right wing.
Hillary Clinton buys the Democratic Party
By 2015 Obama’s gross incompetence and personal corruption had led the Democrats to the edge of financial disaster. Thanks to former DNC chair Donna Brazile, we now know that a secret deal was reached between Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party (or rather a deal between campaign manager Robbie Mook and Debbie Wasserman Schultz). Clinton’s campaign paid off the $24 million debt left by Obama in exchange for her seizing complete control of the party. Clinton had the final say over hiring and firing, total control over the party’s finances, strategy, and communications. The Clinton campaign kept the DNC on a strict financial allowance, releasing the bare minimum required to keep the party running during a time where it was supposed to be ramping up its efforts to get its members elected. Clinton also took the opportunity to launder money through the state parties for her own purposes, thereby ensuring their political slaughter in the 2016 election.
What’s more, the agreement was reached in August 2015, long before the start of the Democratic primaries. This means that the primary elections were rigged from the very start. There was no way that the Democratic Party could permit anybody but its leveraged buyer to be its presidential nominee. Bernie Sanders didn’t stand a chance.
One would think that after leading the Democrats to such terrible disaster that Obama and Clinton would have a minutae of decency and leave the party alone, but they were not done with the Democrats yet. This is a topic of the next blog post.
An unmitigated disaster
By almost every measure, the Obama presidency was a colossal failure. He led his party to political ruin, exploited it into financial ruin, accelerated the distribution of wealth to the donor classes and dismantling the public infrastructure, continued the oppression of empire at home and abroad, and left his voters in worse financial shape than they were when he took office.
It is fair to say that the Democratic Party was not worth saving by the time Obama became president. His terms in office, however, did assure that there would be no redemption for the party any time soon and it enabled the hostile takeover of the party by the neoliberal Clinton faction, who retain firm control today.
Don’t judge the American people too harshly for Donald Trump. In light of the absolute corruption of the Democratic Party by Obama and Clinton, can you really blame the voters for making a different choice?