PDHblog This is a place for members of Progressive Democrats of Hawai‘i to express their thoughts, hopes and exasperations about political happenings.

July 17, 2011

Obama is Not Progressive

Thinking or hoping otherwise will not make this statement any less true. Barack Obama is not progressive. For my part, I never believed he was and one only need look at his time in office thus far for evidence.

Let’s start with health care, if only because the issue is at, or near, the top of my priority list. While it’s true there are some good things in the Affordable Health Care Act, like extending to 26 the age under which parents can choose to continue to cover their children, or eliminating the ability of insurance companies to deny coverage because of a preexisting condition, there’s no denying that when it’s all said and done, it is little more than a massive handout to health insurance companies.

While on the campaign trial, Obama said he’d prefer a single-payer-type system of health care if he had his choice, but when the debate on health care reform was in full swing in 2009, he denied making any such statement. And while there was some lip service from the White House paid to a “public option” to compete with private insurance, no such option was remotely considered seriously, despite polls which consistently showed a majority of Americans supported such an option.

Locally, Organizing for America (OFA, Obama’s political arm and formerly Obama for America) held a number of events to hear from the community and asked those in attendance to support the President’s plan for health care. And while the vast majority (if not all) of those attending the events were either for a single-payer system, a public option, or both, it was clear that OFA and the President weren’t interested so much in hearing from the public as they were in being able to say they had support for the proposed health care plan among the grassroots. Any such push up from the grassroots, at least here in Hawaii, was ignored in favor of the appearance of support for the proposal Obama was pushing.

Moving to the “war on terror,” I think it’s fair to say, at least, that Obama has been no better than Bush was. As a Senator and Presidential candidate, Obama was against the war in Iraq and promised that, if he became President, he would withdraw our troops from Iraq and bring them home. Well, he’s largely failed to do so. While he officially called an end to the Iraq war in 2010, we still have as many as 50,000 troops in the country, not to mention the countless contractors, and it appears the U.S. will, at least for the foreseeable future, maintain a sizable military presence and will continue to spend billions of dollars there on the military.

In Afghanistan, Obama has sent more troops to support that war, which is now the longest in U.S. history. And though the “surge” there has ended, we will continue to have over 100,000 troops on the ground.

What’s more, the military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, continues to house numerous prisoners, terrorists suspects, and those who the administration claim are a threat to the country, despite Obama’s insistance during the campaign that he would close the prison facility there and relocate those prisoners to other locations. In fact, late last year, Congress included provisions making the closing of the detention facility even more difficult in a defense authorization bill that Obama chose not to veto.

Finally, with respect to the “war on terror,” Obama has kept largely intact the domestic spying program put in place by the Bush Administration. Presidential candidate Obama decried this program and the abuse of executive power in this arena, but President Obama has continue this program and, arguably, has embraced Bush’s view of executive authority.

He isn’t any better on “economic justice.” Obama has been a staunch advocate for the corporate elite, for Wall Street, and for “fair trade.” Under his watch, the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy have been extended, bail-outs were given to the very financial institutions that were the cause of our current economic crisis, while the middle and working classes continue to shrink and sink further into poverty.

Only now, during the debate to raise the country’s debt ceiling, has Obama shown any glimmer of interest in raising taxes on the wealthy and closing tax loopholes for the largest and most profitable corporations. One might take this as a sign that he’s finally beginning to fight for the middle class, but you must keep in mind his proposal also includes deep cuts to social programs like Medicare and Social Security, not to mention that he’s gearing up for reelection and knows he’ll have a difficult time without progressives standing in his corner.

Finally, I want to just touch on the Citizens United SCOTUS decision. While Obama publicly decried the decision and warned of the damage the unfettered flood of corporate money will cause to our democracy, he’s done nothing (that I’m aware of) in the way of introducing legislation that would begin to address the problem. What’s more, he’s bragged how he plans to raise $1 billion for his 2012 reelection bid; that sounds to me like he’s more interested in taking advantage of this new political reality than he is in correcting it.

I could go on, but I hope you get the point.


  1. I would prefer Bernie Sanders, but I remember 2002. I supported Al Gore, but many progressives went for Nader and the result was disastrous. Bush packed the Supreme Court with conservatives who later opened the floodgates for corporate money into politics. This will set us back 100 years.

    Comment by George — July 17, 2011 @ 11:52 am

  2. I meant to say 2000.

    Comment by George — July 17, 2011 @ 11:53 am

  3. I’m not surprised at Obama being as pragmatic as he is. What I am surprised is that progressives can be as optimistic about legislation when Congress is very weak and divided. I think that Obama has gotten the best that he can get, and we should appreciate the effort if not the results. We’ll probably see him get more progressive this coming election if we can get a good settlement for the debt limit talks. It’s alarming the size of the budget reductions, but OTOH tax revenues will save a lot of entitlements. This is the time to do it since Republicans will only compromise in the face of a crisis.

    Comment by Al — July 17, 2011 @ 2:24 pm

  4. Al, pragmatic isn’t the word I’d use, obviously. Rather than putting up a fight for the principles of the Democratic Party, for the middle and working classes, he’s time and again “folded” under even the slightest pressure of unpopular Republican proposals. Late last year (or early this year, I don’t remember exactly) when Obama, without any fight we could see, agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts in exchange for extending unemployment and other benefits. He did this against and without really consulting with his fellow Democrats in Congress. What’s more, he had the public on his side. Public opinion, especially when it overwhelming supports your position, can be a powerful negotiating tool. Still, time and again, Obama has refused to use this tool and has instead rolled over.

    The same can be said about his abandonment of a public option in his health care plan.

    With regard to the debt ceiling debate. What Obama is willing to give away in entitlements FAR outweighs what he’s asking for in taxes (closing loopholes rather than “raising” taxes). The Republicans aren’t compromising. They’re asking for the whole store, nothing less. That they’re willing to continue to deny a compromise that gets them almost everything they want should show how little they truly care about the average American. Even with Obama’s “pragmatic compromise,” working and middle class Americans, the poor and elderly, are going to feel it more any the corporate elite.

    If I saw Obama was starting from a place to strength and ending in a compromise, I’d call it pragmatism. But his actions aren’t so much pragmatism as either cowardice, or an incredible eagerness to kowtow to Wall Street.

    Progressives generally aren’t happy, at all, with him and while I expect they’ll swallow hard, hold their nose and vote for him, I don’t expect he’ll have nearly the same level of grassroots support as he did in 2008. That he’s said he’s going to raise $1 billion for his campaign, shows me how little he thinks he needs, or how little he truly cares about progressives, the working or middle classes. This will be a campaign in which he gets ALL his money from Wall Street while he tours the country trying to sell the same populist agenda as he did in 2008. I, for one, didn’t buy it then, but I suspect FAR fewer people will buy it this time around.

    Comment by frosty — July 20, 2011 @ 9:56 am

  5. Actually, I think that he is constantly consulting with House and Senate leaders even with respect to the tax cuts last year. It was an election year and Congressmen could not sell the idea of ending the Bush cuts. In the short run we want to increase demand by decreasing taxes (except on the wealthiest).

    I find passing the health care bill a great accomplishment even if it has no public option. It will help to prevent loss of health care to millions. We’re still going in the right direction.

    I think that Progressives will support him a lot more if Republicans will compromise on tax credits, and exemptions, and deductions. I suspect that we will default and it will be the first test of our new banking bill. There will be no bail out funds for banks as the President has promised because of the moral hazard when the US defaults on its debt and banks fold.

    Comment by Al — July 26, 2011 @ 12:04 am

  6. That’s not my recollection, Al. I quick and dirty google search didn’t provide anything really substantive, but the couple of articles I read seemed to imply Obama “went at it alone.” A statement from Harry Reid was made, essentially to that effect. Additionally, if you look at the recent debt ceiling negotiations, it’s clear that the Senate was, until the last few days, almost entirely cut out of the talks between Obama and Boehner.

    To say it was an election year and that “Congressmen could not sell the idea of ending the Bush cuts” is simply incorrect. Polls taken at the time showed, pretty consistently that the large majority of Americans supported ending the tax cuts for the rich. Obama could have put pressure on the Republicans, taking to the bully pulpit in a press conference (similarly to what he’s done with respect to the debt ceiling debate) and decrying their eagerness to protect the rich at the expense of the middle classes and the unemployed.

    Instead, he abdicated the high ground with virtually no fight, allowing the Republicans to declare victory to their base and wealthy conservative donors (the koch brothers, among others). Ultimately, Obama’s abdication allowed his to also, maybe quietly, raise money from many of the same wealthy donors.

    For its part, PDA (our national “parent” organization) has been doing a good job of pressuring Democrats not to give in on the social program cuts supported by the administration. The Senate seems to be taking a much stronger position with respect to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and I’m not as confident as you seem to be that progressives will embrace Obama as they did in 2008. Sure, they’ll probably vote for him, but I wouldn’t expect a groundswell of support in the form of work or donations.

    Comment by frosty — July 26, 2011 @ 10:45 am

  7. It’s refreshing seeing Democrats willing to discuss whether they think a particular candidate is right for them, despite being in the same political party.

    Comment by Robert — September 26, 2012 @ 10:37 pm

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