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 utterly risible “candidates” for the Republican nomination entered the fray. While the establishment media has myopically focused on the long slog of a horse race that is the primaries, it is often difficult to discover that there are other things going on in the world. The average broadcast on Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN ineluctably devotes the majority of its airtime to discussing 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 subsequent similar coverage of the presidential race may make Chuck Todd’s heart palpitate, 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 the primetime cable new shows, that this election is about the future of the country and presents two stark contrasts for the economic trajectory of America. Most informed Americans realize that our politics are a sham, in a sense they are outside of politics. What progressives and leftists must ask themselves this election is can we vote for President Obama in good conscience?
It is difficult to adequately decipher the causes of the manifest failure of the Obama administration to implement progressive initiatives. Are these failures endogenous to President Obama? In other words, is he really the milquetoast, bipartisan-craving centrist (even center-right) politician that we have seen over the past three years? Or has the obduracy of the Republicans in Congress and the pathetic, spineless Democrats 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 President Obama has pursued a whole host of policy initiatives, particularly and ironically, given that Obama was once a professor of constitutional law, in regards to civil liberties, which 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. Moreover, one must wonder whether Obama ever even meant to implement a more progressive healthcare initiative. Richard Kirsch, the former director of the advocacy group Health Care for America Now 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 the administration attempts to require religiously affiliated universities and hospitals to provide for contraception in their healthcare packages demonstrates the true absurdity of employer-based healthcare. If there was a single-payer system, as in most of the Western world, 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 at senior level positions Obama’s administration has maintained the neoliberal course. The very people who helped craft 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? More or less, nothing. The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which was 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 is one of the unquestioned causes of the Great Recession.