Listeners have responded to my frequent rebukes of three progressive KRXA radio personalities for failing even to acknowledge much less decry the Obama administration’s policy of appeasing right-wing elements in Congress and media. Some express as much anger at the President as I do. Others say Obama is probably doing the best he can under tough circumstances and, even if he isn’t, denouncing our current military adventures in the Middle East, the health care bill, or the recent tax compromise will help America’s enemy win back the White House just as it regained the House of Representatives in November. In light of these polarized reactions, it is incumbent on me to explain why I find the daily apologia issued by Stephanie Miller and Randi Rhodes and Hal Sparks’ weekly encomium for our democratic President so dispiriting and misplaced.
Politics is the art of the possible and accordingly, as the President frequently says, we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. In other words, liberals who are trying to do what’s right and who are beholden only to their constituents and the Constitution must often make deals with seriously compromised Republicans and blue-dogs. If the President were truly pursuing policies that are helping or will help our country regain its footing, then I would be more willing to tolerate areas where we disagree such as his refusal to date to support the legalization of same-sex marriage.
But, on virtually every front, it seems that Obama is unwilling to attempt more than cosmetic changes to the legal and economic stranglehold that a tiny group of very wealthy people have on America: A stranglehold that has choked off our once might manufacturing base, hollowed out the American middle class, and put us in debt to the totalitarian Chinese state. Sometimes, Obama’s actions may have made or will make things worse.
For example, by mandating the purchase of insurance, Obama’s vaunted health care bill creates millions of new customers for the very insurance companies that routinely deny preventive care for healthy Americans and needed treatments for sick ones. While, the law will probably help some of us out and, on balance, is probably better than what we had previously, this is far from assured. What is certain is that private for-profit health insurance companies have solidified their position at the top of the health care food chain with the poor and unhealthy at the very bottom. And, rather than demanding that health insurance purchasers have real choice through a “public option,” the President made clear from the beginning that he would sign a bill that did not include one and attacked via proxy, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel as “retards”, those who called it essential.
Like the new health care legislation, Obama’s tax compromise which Randi appears to love, Hal Sparks has praised, and Stephanie refuses to condemn will redistribute what’s left of the middle-class’s wealth to the top as the government becomes more in debt and less able to avoid being drowned in the bathtub. The biggest losers are the poor. Given this history, it is difficult to take seriously claims that the President is a friend to the American middle and working classes. Even more improbable is any assertion that he is a liberal or a friend to liberals.
Still, this President is certainly better than any Republican would be and his two appointments to the Supreme Court – especially Sonia Sotomayor – have been quite good so shouldn’t we hold our collective liberal nose and present a united front in support of him as Randi, Stephanie, and Hal Sparks condescendingly urge us to do. After all, we don’t want to help the Republican Presidential candidate in 2012 do we? We don’t. But defending Obama at every turn is not a solution.
First of all, our criticisms aren’t why the Democrats lost ground in the last election. It was the defection of independents who had supported Obama in 2008 that turned the House red. Liberals voted in about the same numbers and for democrats as we did two years ago. Independents whose economic circumstances have either worsened or remained precarious jumped the democratic ship. These self-described moderates certainly weren’t put off by disenchanted liberals, angry labor leaders, or disappointed gay activists. Instead, a very weak economy, a President who did not appear to be fighting to bring back American jobs, a media cowed by the right wing, and enormous corporate funds liberated by the Supreme Court to broadcast lies about democratic candidates did the job.
More importantly, if we on the left do not challenge Obama when he bends his knee to corporate interests and right-wing extremists then the meme that Obama is a liberal will be enshrined in our political zeitgeist. This outcome would damage liberals for generations because Obama’s consistent compromises are damaging our country and will prevent a true recovery and middle class renaissance. Why should moderates and the politically inastute believe anything we liberals say if we champion a President whose policies are not effective?
In order to maintain credibility and to demonstrate that we do know what we are talking about, we must loudly condemn tax cuts for the rich, free trade agreements, and health care reform bills that do not reform the system. What we cannot do is line up in support of a President who praises conservatives and claims that working with corporatists, theocrats, and militarists can move our country forward.