President Obama has had a sterling record of winning elections but not an impressive record in getting legislation through the United States Congress. Much was accomplished during the opening quarter of his presidency when his Party had control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. At the beginning of the second quarter, Barack Obama and the Democratic Party lost their majority in the House of Representatives and the President’s legislative agenda came to a screeching halt.
The first two years of the Obama presidency were immensely productive. President Obama rode into town at a time when the American economy, through the shenanigans of Wall Street speculators, plunged the world economy into what we now call the Great Recession. The stimulus package of nigh $800 billion was decisive in avoiding another Great Depression that the world experienced in the 1930s.
The stimulus package temporarily widened the fiscal deficit which exploded to over $1 trillion dollars. But since then, the deficit has been reduced to less than $500 billion, still excessive but the expansion of the economy has reduced the deficit in relationship to the GDP ratio.
The American economy has recovered much quicker than the European Union which is still experiencing economic stagnation or tepid growth. The instability in the Ukraine and the imposition of sanctions against Putin’s Russia has not helped the economic recovery in Europe.
What has been remarkable about the economic recovery in the United States is that the renewed economic growth has trickled up to the upper 10 percent although mostly to the upper 1 percent. Less than 5 percent has trickled down to the vast majority of American workers. Wages have remained stagnant and low-income workers have seen their standard of living deteriorate. As a result of the trickle up phenomenon, the poverty needle rather than moving down has remained embarrassingly high, encompassing 46 million Americans. Another 50 million exist barely above official government poverty threshold.
Economists like Thomas Picketty, the French scholar in his work Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century, points out that we have entered into a new gilded age as existed in the 1920s before the onset of the Great Depression in the 1980s. American society has become less democratic and a new oligarchy comprised of old wealth and newly acquired wealth use their control of money and media to establish political and economic hegemony.
The American electorate is oblivious to this entrenched inequality. The public opinion polls show great confusion and the American electorate is fluttering around like a chicken without a head. The electorate lashes out at the governmental impasse, damns the unequal distribution of wealth but remains encased in conventional silos. There is sentiment to kick out the bums but in the November election that is fast approaching, they will return a majority of Republicans to control the House and there is a strong possibility that the Republicans could take charge of the Senate.
We see this persistent confusion in regards to the Affordable Care Act. Only 41 percent of Americans support the Affordable Care Act while 52 percent disapprove. Canada, our next door neighbor has universal health coverage delivered far more inexpensively than medical care in the United States yet there is no mass demand coming from below to provide universal health care. Twenty-six states because of naked political opportunism continue to deprive poor American citizens of the right to expanded Medicaid. The subservience and ignorance of the American electorate is lamentable.
In the first term of his presidency, Barack Obama refrained from tackling the broken immigration situation. In the second half of his presidency, the Senate passed a punitive but acceptable immigration bill that had bi-partisan support but the House refused to consider immigration. The House under the Republicans since 2010 has become noteworthy for their witch-hunting and shutting down the government last year October. The leadership speaks of job creation but has failed to pass the President’s job bill or to pass a long term highway construction legislation. The United States Congress has become a do-nothing legislative body.
The electorate is incredible fickle. It was the de-regulation of the financial and banking systems that led to the excesses in the mortgage housing industry that created the bubble that precipitated the economic collapse in 2008. Astonishingly, recent opinion polls have revealed that a majority of the electorate trust the stewardship of the American economy to the Republicans.
Barack Obama’s hope was that in the last quarter of his presidency, he would successfully wind down America’s commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the rise of ISIS has put a spoke in those wheels. Americans have been alarmed at the beheading of two American journalists and the atrocities of the expanded Islamic state. What we are observing in the Middle East is the crisis of Islamic civilization and we have reaped the bloody harvest of religious fanaticism. America has the military wherewithal to excise the spreading cancer of ISIS but the larger issues of Islam and the modern world has to be settled by the indigenous people of the region.
As the President pointed out in his address to the General Assembly in September, the fratricidal war between Sunni and Shia must be succeeded by a culture of religious tolerance. Islamic clerics and scholars must create the ethos that thwarts Islamic extremists from festering. This will not occur overnight and will take decades to work through.
America is not in the business of beheading its own citizens but we are far from having a sophisticated electorate. The electorate is oblivious to the new gilded age and is busy fighting shadows in their self-constructed caves. President Obama has tried to bring some clarity to the critical issues confronting American civilization. He has been able to win elections in 2008 and 2012 but off year presidential elections beginning in 2010 have limited the impact of his presidency.