President Obama’s administration has been nothing if not controversial. His impromptu statement on Trayvon Martin is a good example. In it he is articulate, reasonable, aware and pragmatic as has been his hallmark. In the end however it is more rhetoric than action and even that has kicked up dust. The right would have us believe that there is no racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, access to voting, education, life chances or health care when the statistics tell us otherwise.  Yet they maintain that this discrimination is not racism but calling America on its discrimination is racism.  It is an Orwellian world in which the word is what the deed is not.

The right hates Obama with a passion that not only opposes his policies but demonstrates a personal animosity that may be unprecedented for any president. The Republican party opposes not only his policies but those of their own that he supports and parrots back to them, simply because he says them. Progressives on the left  oppose him because many of his policies (drone strikes, firm support of Wall Street, looking for compromises with the right wing) break campaign promises or are at best centrist and at worst moderately conservative themselves. Black progressives point to his failure to address issues in the black community where the last recession has wiped out black wealth and structural changes in the economy have produced greater, still growing inequality. African Americans gave him over 90% of their vote yet he has done little specifically for the black community. He has rarely gotten his moderate agenda passed let alone a progressive one. He did get some health care reform passed but even that is a bastardization that is far from the single payer health service that most progressives would endorse. Even so the Republicans keep trying to repeal it when even the health insurers should endorse it. The modest gun control measures he introduced went down to failure at a time when an overwhelming  majority of people, outside the NRA and Republicans in Congress, were in favor of it.

What makes progressives believe that even if Obama heeded the better angels of his nature to advocate a progressive agenda, that he could get it passed by a right wing Congress?  Whether the right wing conservatives have a majority or not such an agenda has a snowball’s chance in hell of even getting heard let alone passage. Even when the right wingers are in the minority they use filibusters, cloture and demagoguery to stop that agenda cold. So let’s be clear: Obama is not a progressive.  In the good old days he would have been a pragmatic moderate Republican.  Hoping he will be more is hoping frogs fly. His modest proposals even though kowtowing to the right are difficult if not impossible to get passed.  He has drunk the balanced budget Kool-Aid and though he wants to balance it at a higher level of spending and taxation, his is still a budget that doesn’t put people, let alone the black community, first. Conservative Republicans will  continue to try to tie Obama in knots over molehill scandals when they have no ideas other than opposing everything Obama does. They shout about  lower taxes or balanced budgets while the middle class goes to hell, infrastructure collapses, and inequality increases.

We should look at Obama not as a failed progressive but as the lesser of two evils or a defensive gesture to prevent the crazies from winning. One can look at the glass as nine tenths empty or one tenth full.  He can be a step along the way if we learn the lesson his campaign taught us.  There is a hidden power in grassroots organization as the election demographics change. Criticism from the left will never make Obama into something that he’s not.  I am not calling for it to stop because it does influence him on things he can change by executive order or through the power of his presidential pulpit e.g. don’t ask, don’t tell in the military.  His endorsement of gay marriage does signal that his opinion can change. He will not however lead us to the promised land.  We have to get there for ourselves with grass roots organizing to finally get a Congress that represents the will of the people. I know it’s an uphill battle.  If Elizabeth Warren has to fight like hell in a liberal state like Massachusetts then we know it’s going to be harder in other states and almost impossible in conservative states. Actions that shape the 2014 and subsequent Congressional elections will decide if even moderate reforms can become law. I do not know or even care to speculate on who the next president will be although I would doubt that such a person would have support and Teflon within the black community like Obama. Regardless of who it is we need to have more progressives like Bernie Sanders, Barney Frank and Elizabeth Warren in Congress.  We need to have the Congressional Black Caucus taken seriously by their peers, and we need to have an effective coalition with Latino and women members to offset the old boy’s club that is Congress.  That however is where the real battle is, not the battle over Obama.

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2 Responses to “The Battle Over Obama”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Some thirty years ago I took a a graduate course at UT Austin about Democracy and Development in Latin America. The theory at the time was this: Latin American governments were notoriously fragile and ineffective because the distribution of wealth was so out of balance, causing, to some extent, a ‘zero sum game”in politics. This meant that the party out of power simply had to keep the party in power from being able to do anything substantive to improve conditions. They would blame the paralysis on the governing policy…and swing the vote in their own direction in the next election. The inability of any party to create some greater economic parity within the population would maintain discontent among voters. Economic and political gridlock might create ineffective governments, but those holding true economic power didn’t care as long as it benefitted their interests.

    The stable democracy of the United States was attributed to a strong middle class, better distribution of wealth, and a two party system that compromised for the benefit of all. I keep wondering what the current theories have to say now that our political and economic system functions increasingly like those ‘unstable’ ‘undeveloped’ countries…

  2. Randy says:

    My how times change. I wonder if Republicans realize the dangers of turning us into the very kind of democracy they condemn are they too short-sighted to see.


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