Election 2014  
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Election Over: 5 Hard Realities Progressive Have to Face About Obama

Democrats must start mobilizing their own agenda now. And the first step is to face the truth about Obama's record.

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The president’s Council of Economic Advisers will not admit it, but their default strategy for growth is to let American wages drop far enough to undercut foreign competition. That is the only possible policy rationale for Obama’s enthusiasm for the Trans Pacific Partnership, a further deregulation of trade that will strip away the last protections for American workers against a brutal global marketplace of dog-eat-dog.

3. Obamacare: Health care dead-end

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was a victory for corporate America. In exchange for giving up their rules against covering pre-existing conditions and agreeing to raise the age limit in which children could be covered under their parents’ policy, the health insurance corporations got the federal government to require every citizen to buy their product and commit to subsidizing those that can’t afford the price. The pharmaceutical industry received even stronger government protection of their price-gouging monopolies. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that there will still be 30 million uninsured Americans by the end of the decade. Tens of millions more will be under-insured as the companies are free to raise their premiums and deductibles.

Although it abandoned the public option, the White House whispers to Democrats that Obamacare will pave the way for single-payer. Fat chance. The bill was inspired by the right-wing Heritage Foundation and largely drafted by a former insurance company executive precisely to stop single-payer from ever happening. Meanwhile, the corporate dominated health care system will continue to be a huge drag on our global competitiveness and long-term fiscal health.

4. The Dodd-Frank fig leaf

The Wall Street Reform Act required more transparency in the securities markets and marginally expanded the regulatory bureaucracy. But it did little to prevent a future return to the reckless speculation that exploded the economy four years ago. The largest companies now have a bigger share of the financial markets than they had in 2008 and their “too-big-to-fail safety net” is even more explicit.

Perhaps most important, nothing has been done to lengthen the horizons of U.S. investors from short-term, get-rich-quick financial speculation to the long-term investment in producing things and high-value services in America.

5. Big Money and the Democrats

The last four years have proven conclusively that corporations—especially from Wall Street—now dominate the most important economic policy decisions of the Democratic Party. With the Supreme Court decision on Citizens United, the transformation from democracy to plutocracy is virtually complete. The corruption of our governing class goes beyond just campaign contributions. It can include the hint of a future job or lobbyist contract when you leave office, a hedge fund internship for your daughter, a stock market tip. But all this depends on your remaining in power, so nothing matches the importance of raising enough money to get yourself reelected.

Democratic leaders’ primary response to Citizens United has been a tepid proposal to require more transparency in campaign contributions. Even that, of course, could not succeed against Republican, and some Democratic, opposition. But even areas where the president could act alone—as with an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose political contributions or even filling vacant seats on the Federal Election Commission—Obama took a pass. In response to an interviewer’s question in August, he said that “in the longer term” we may need a constitutional amendment to undo Citizens United. He is right. But the “longer term” certainly means sometime after he leaves office.

According to the White House, discontent on the left with these and other issues (e.g., climate change, civil liberties, military spending) represents little more than the carping of left-wing purists who don’t understand the need for compromise. But in fact, it reflects the harsh reality that the president’s intentions do not nearly reach to the level of the country’s serious problems. So the stakes for the nation are enormous. Without a radical shift away from the policies of the last four years, living standards of most people in the United States will continue to drop, with potentially ugly social and political consequences.