The Ambiguous Legacy of Barack Obama
There is much for which to credit Barack Obama, from the creation of national health insurance and the stimulus legislation (in spite of their many limitations), through the more recent agreement with Iran, the opening up to Cuba, and the recently concluding international climate agreement. And there is much to criticize, from his failure to hold anyone responsible for the disastrous invasion of Iraq and the systematic use of torture, to the uncompromising pursuant and punishment of any and all whistleblowers, and the vastly expanded deportation of documented individuals.
But the most fundamental failure of his administration, to my mind, was his almost constitutional incapacity to recognize and respond to the all out ideological warfare that has been orchestrated by a Republican Party that has been captured by the Radical Right, joined to his corporate economic vision and program that has contributed to the ideological legitimation and institutional empowerment of right-wing political economics.
His corporate liberal agenda was signaled from the outset be his choice of Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, and Alton Goosby, as his key economic advisors. This was followed not only by a refusal to hold any of the corporate crooks responsible for the Great Recession, but by his unmitigated support for the Bush-Paulsen bailout – with practically no strings attached – of the banking community. He thus “owned” the corporate bailout, which fueled a widespread popular outrage, and vitalized the emergence of the Tea Party (itself financed and operating in the service of that very corporate agenda.)
That “conservative” economic agenda was further legitimated by Obama’s acceptance of the bogus concern with the deficit, which found additional expression in his creation of the Simpson-Bowles Commission to orchestrate the right-wing corporate attack on the so-called “entitlements” of Social Security and Medicare — with the camouflage of trying to “reform” them to address the claimed future shortfall.
It was this right-wing economic ideology and program, focused around the primacy of the deficit and the ideological opposition to universal health care, that set the stage for the overwhelming right-wing successes in 2010 that gave Republicans such overwhelming control of Congress and state governments, allowing them to effectively gerrymander their institutional electoral control of the House of Representatives and many state governments for the foreseeable future. And Obama now seeks to cap off this corporate economic agenda with the outrageous assault on democratic self-government and our domestic economy that is the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership.
It is these positions that have both fueled and popularly legitimated the right-wing corporate and Tea Party movements, and initially demoralized American progressives. It was thanks, first to Occupy, and then to Elizabeth Warren and now Bernie Sanders, who have re-lit the flame for the Progressive left. And it will be for our national organizations to build on this momentum to carry these movements into 2016 and beyond, as we fight an uphill battle against the right-wing ideology, media, and institutional corporate and political infrastructure. Of these efforts, more next time.