Obama as a One Term President: Implications for the Progressive Movement
Congresswoman Michele Bachman, the Tea Party firebrand from Minnesota, has declared her candidacy for the Republican Party nomination for President. She stole the show at CNN´s first Republican Primary Debate in New Hampshire by emphatically declaring: “President Obama is a one term President.” Unquestionably this has been the goal of the Grand Obstructionist Party (GOP) from the very first day of the Obama presidency. At every turn, the Republican Party, which is now tantamount to the Conservative Party, has blocked, obstructed and otherwise sought to ensure that President Obama would fail. Rabid radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh said as much. And, to galvanize Conservative opposition to the President´s health care reform bill, South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint openly urged his colleagues to make this issue Obama´s “Waterloo.”
Frankly, the tea leaves are not forecasting a favorable future for President Obama. After inching downward, unemployment has crept up to over 9% . The housing market is stalled, crippled by millions of foreclosures and the refusal of banks to aggressively work with homeowners to modify mortgages. The Federal Reserve has lowered its projections for GNP to a snail´s pace recovery. While millions of Americans languish in unemployment and joblessness, some for months if not years, the public discourse in Washington is being dominated by the Conservative´s demand for massive cuts in spending to reduce the national deficit and debt. Meanwhile 16 million children now live in poverty in the “richest nation in the world.” Consumer confidence is sagging and polls indicate that a sizeable segment of the electorate believes the country is heading in the wrong direction. After a bump in the polls following the elimination of Osama Bin Laden, President Obama´s approval rating has dipped below 50% again. Having been administered a “shellacking” by the electorate in the 2010 mid-term elections, there are ominous signs of an even more disastrous outcome for President Obama and the Democrats in 2012.
The question is can this political catastrophe be averted? If we take the measure of President Obama´s performance thus far, the indicators are not encouraging. A major problem is that Obama, who was an inspirational candidate, has proven to be a timid, largely uninspiring President. The “Audacity of Hope” has not translated into a demonstrated capacity to govern as a bold, visionary leader. To be sure, Obama was dealt a hand of crises unlike any since the Great Depression, a fact that did not deter the GOP from plotting his demise despite the scourge of maladies passed on by Bush-Cheney. But, under circumstances that demanded uplifting, bold/decisive leadership, Obama played into the hands of the Conservatives with his penchant for pragmatism and obsessive yearning for “bi-partisanship.” As a consequence he prematurely compromised on the Stimulus Package, settling for a dollar amount far short of what leading progressive economists like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich suggested was necessary to really generate a sustained economic recovery. He repeated this mistake with health care reform, not only refusing to stand up for Single Payer but sacrificing the concept of a public option without a fight. In the battle over the Budget, the President caved on his pledge not to renew the Bush tax cuts, giving the Conservative deficit/debt reduction hawks another victory despite the fact that his concession will actually add to the deficit/debt over the next 10 years. The President has drawn a” line in the sand” by pledging to prevent the privatization of Medicare and Social Security but there is concern that if the Conservatives play hard ball (as most assuredly they will), once again President Obama will yield rather than take a principled stand.
Nothing more than Obama´s lackluster performance on jobs illustrates his vulnerability to being defeated in 2012. Creating or fighting for jobs for the millions of unemployed should be the number one priority for the President entering a difficult election year. Indeed, this should long have been the focus for Obama. And, while no reasonable economist or political leader can dispute that the mushrooming national deficit and debt pose a serious long term threat to the health of the nation, the short term imperative is to put people back to work! There are numerous economists who contend that expending additional federal funds to create jobs will actually cut into the deficit and debt. This does not mean the long term deficit and debt can be ignored, it means an additional stimulus package can be funded without doing damage to the economy.
Rather than responding to the misery of the millions of unemployed by articulating the rationale for additional stimulus, Obama and the Democrats have cowered in the face of the Conservative´s demand for draconian cuts in government spending. Obama is blithely touring the country visiting businesses he believes illustrate how jobs will be generated in a retooled economy in the future. He seems oblivious to the economic and political reality that for the millions of unemployed, the future is now! If President Obama was the audacious leader many of us had hoped for, he would boldly put forth and fight for another stimulus package and the allocation of federal funds to support a million short term “public sector” jobs and defy the Conservatives to reject it. He might lose the battle in Congress but he would win the strategic struggle for the hearts and minds of the army of unemployed who would see the President resolutely fighting on their behalf. Obama should take the fight to the “obstructionists” and make them pay the price in 2012 as callous and cold hearted Conservatives, more concerned with protecting the interests of Wall Street than Main Street!
But of course this is wishful thinking. And, here-in is the challenge for the re-election of Obama. In composite the flaws and lapses of leadership cited have demoralized the Democratic base and alienated significant numbers of new voters who marched on ballot boxes in record numbers for “change we could believe in.” Liberal-left- progressives are particularly disenchanted. Obama will certainly win the majority of the Democratic base, but the danger is the intensity will not be there to mobilize the margins needed to carry states like Virginia, North Carolina and Florida that provided a cushion in the Electoral College in 2008. Obama´s magnificent campaign oratory will ring hollow in the face of the reality of his record of timid leadership. The election will boil down to bruising, nail biting contests in traditional “battleground states” like Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Missouri. On this playing field, Obama faces a decidedly uphill struggle. But, it is a struggle which must be won!
Some within the progressive movement will view this as a stunning conclusion. But in my judgment, for all of the disappointment and disaffection with Obama and the Democrats, it is not in the bset interest of the progressive movement to cede the election to the Conservatives. Obama´s health care reform bill fell far short of what I would have preferred, but millions of Americans who would have received nothing if the obstructionist had prevailed, at least have access to health care. Obama´s agenda on energy, greening the economy, the Consumer Protection Agency, Medicare and Social Security are much better than the policies being advanced by the obstructionists. Obama has appointed two moderates to the Supreme Court and workers will fare better because of the appointment of fair minded individuals to the National Labor Relations Board. At its core, much of the Obama agenda is decent, it´s just that too often he refuses to fight for what he believes — hence, the anger, frustration and disillusionment on the left.
However, in the broad sweep of history, election in 2012 is bigger than Obama. A conservative victory would pave the way for the consolidation of the “electoral coup” of 2000 which ushered in the Bush-Cheney era with all of its radical rightwing ideological underpinnings. With a Conservative President and perhaps control of the House and Senate, the fate of Medicare, Social Security will be sealed. Moreover, the “bully pulpit´ of the presidency will be used as a bludgeon to batter labor in an all out effort to undermine the right of workers to organize and maintain unions. And, we are only one Justice away from the solidification of the Supreme Court as an impregnable citadel of conservative ideology. It will be a “Plessy v. Ferguson moment,” where the highest Court in the land will sanction the reactionary agenda of the Conservatives.
The consequences of defeat of President Obama are not pretty. We will be forced into a life and death struggle against an even more ferocious assault on the culture of rights that generations fought, bled and died to bring into being. Therefore, progressives must be sober, clear and mature in devising a strategy for election 2012, one which mobilizes voters around an agenda far more transformative than that of Obama and the Democrats and puts pressure on them to move to the left. Our strategy must look beyond Obama, even as we tactically support his re-election to achieve our broader objectives.
To be continued… Part II – Beyond Obama and the Democrats: Galvanizing a Force for Progressive Change
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com . To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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