November 5, 2012
The 2012 election is Tuesday. We face a choice between Barack Obama, a candidate whose Presidency we can examine and evaluate, and Mitt Romney, who is a dangerous cipher. My argument – made last week in “Progressive Case Against Obama“, is that progressives should evaluate these risks honestly, with a clear-headed analysis of Obama’s track record.This piece sparked a massive debate that has had both Obama loyalists and Republicans resort to outlandish name-calling, evidently as a result of their unwillingness or inability to address the issues raised.
It is remarkable to see the level to which Obama defenders have sunk. Let’s start with a basic problem – why is Obama in a tight race? Mitt Romney is more caricature than candidate, a horrifically cartoonish plutocrat whose campaign is staffed by people that allow secret tapings of obviously offensive statements. The Republican base finds Romney uninspiring, and Romney has been unable to provide one good reason to choose him except that he is not the incumbent. Yet, Barack Obama is in a dog fight with this clown. Why? It isn’t because a few critics are writing articles in places like Salon. The answer, if you look at the data, is that Barack Obama has been a terrible President and an enemy to progressives. Unemployment is high. American household income since the recovery started in 2009 has dropped 5%. Poverty has increased substantially. Home equity – the main store of wealth for the middle class – has dropped by $5-7 trillion, in contrast to the increase in financial asset values held by Obama’s friends and donors. And this was done explicitly through Obama’s policies.
Obama came into office with a massive mandate, overwhelming control of Congress, hundreds of billions of TARP money to play with, the ability to prosecute Wall Street executives and break their power, and the opportunity for a massive stimulus. Most importantly, the country was willing to follow – the public believed his calls for change. Yet, instead of restructuring the economy and doing obvious things like hardening infrastructure against global warming, he entrenched oligarchy. This was explicit. Obama broke a whole series of campaign promises that would have helped the middle class. These promises would have reduced household debt, raised the minimum wage, stopped outsourcing, and protected workers. He broke these promises for a reason – Barack Obama uses his power for what he believes in, and Barack Obama is a conservative technocrat. Obama sided with Wall Street. He probably made the foreclosure crisis worse with a series of programs designed to help banks but marketed to help homeowners. These were his policies, they reflected the views of his most valued advisors like Robert Rubin and his Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Moreover, he’s proud of this record – the only mistake he cites in his first term is inadequately communicating how effective he has been, focusing too much on getting the policy right.
And the result is inequality in income gains that is higher than that under George W. Bush. Most of Obama’s defenders refuse to acknowledge Obama’s role in this policy mess. He deserves credit for the auto bailout, but when it comes to the bank bailouts, hey he’s just one man. What could we possibly expect? Yet, reelecting this man to a Presidency that is hamstrung by the system is the most important thing in the world. In other words, just as they’ve been arguing for years, Obama is both entirely powerless and utterly essential.
Let’s examine a few articles to see the contortions certain progressives go to in order to defend Obama’s policies.