Leftist ‘Bath Water’ Party Wrong on Obama. 9 Facts on FDR, Truman, LBJ Show Why.
Obama | April 30, 2011 by Stacie B. | 23 Comments
These days, Obama-denial is almost hip. With only 27 months in the history books, some fair-weather liberals are letting their tunnel-vision focus on unfulfilled expectations cloud Obama’s historical accomplishments. These left-wing absolutists want to toss out Obama along with the Republican-polluted bath water. I call them the “Bath Water Party.”
Let me be crystal clear: There is a major difference between a rational person who criticizes Obama to encourage him to do better and an “Obama-denier,” who is marked with complete and utter contempt for the President and chronic disappointment even with his victories.
You don’t belong to this group – unless you put a negative spin on his positive accomplishments and mock people who use facts and context to defend the President. The Bath Water Party is a small, extremist sect that does not encompass people who challenge Obama on fair ground.
BWP Tip-Off: Obama-deniers call you an “apologist” if you defend Obama against misinformed criticisms or add context to his actions. They hold Obama to a unique and idealized standard and they are remarkably unaware of that fact. The Bath Water Party has idealized Progressivism so extremely that the term no longer applies to Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, or Lyndon B. Johnson, as well as Obama (see analysis of these four Presidents below).
BWP Flaws: The Bath Water Party sees everything in black and white. They seem to take for granted that a flawless Progressive leader exists and that this person could beat back Republicans better than Obama. And they completely underplay the power of Republicans to influence the legislative process – power the GOP draws not only from the corporate lobby but also from the misguided mandate of conservative voters.
I stand up to these Obama-deniers because I think it’s detrimental to the nation to reject broad, balanced views of Obama’s Presidency. I see the potential for the Bath Water Party to cut liberals’ political weight, just as Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget is splintering Republicans – and I think it could do harm to our chances in 2012.
Accountability: Don’t jump to the conclusion that I want to hide and dismiss Obama’s shortcomings. I agree we should hold Obama accountable and put pressure on him to:
be more transparent,
further distance himself from George W. Bush’s detainee policies and reassert his allegiance to human rights,
end the war in Afghanistan,
protect natural farming,
stop raids on state-legal medical marijuana dispensaries,
put more of his weight behind gun safety and limits on magazine size,
work more rapidly to redistribute wealth and power, and
install more Progressives in top policy-making posts.
Nevertheless, by any rational assessment of the facts laid out below, Obama is an accomplished Progressive President. “Yet the only Americans fired up by the changes he has delivered,” writes Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson, “are Republicans and Tea Partiers hell-bent on reversing them.”
Enemies: Don’t let Obama’s disappointments conceal the perils of not supporting the President. Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, Rick Snyder, John Kasich, Allen West, the GOP, Karl Rove, the Koch brothers, climate change deniers, FOX News, John Boehner, the conglomerate of lobbyists who will stop at nothing to repeal health care and financial reform – these are the true and cunning enemies. Not Obama.
Corporate America and their GOP henchmen would like nothing better than the help of short-sighted liberals in ousting the most Progressive President we’ve had in many decades.
No Perspective + Lack of Context + Assumptions = The Bath Water Party
I will quickly flesh out my concept of the Bath Water Party before comparing Obama with the Progressive touchstones of the 20th century. I’ve seen Bath Water Partiers – again, who differ greatly from reality-based critics – make such self-indulgent and counter-productive comments as:
We should “withhold” our votes from Democrats “unless they make huge and widespread concessions to us.”
It “felt amazing” to withdraw my support and pledge allegiance against the Democrats.
The Bath Water Party would rather be right in a vacuum than do what’s right in reality. They value intangible principles over verifiable outcomes. They think they can demand everything they want, pout when they don’t get it, and refuse any compromise. These attitudes aren’t consistent with the principle of democracy, but they are remarkably consistent with the behavior of the Tea Party.
Tea Party Protest
Tea Party: Tea Partiers take information out of context and they don’t revise their assumptions when encountered with facts. For instance, the Tea Party believes that taxes under Obama are higher than under George W. Bush (not true) and they blame the huge budgetary deficit on Obama – not on the trillions of dollars Bush spent on Iraq, large tax breaks for the wealthy, and an unpaid-for prescription drug program. There’s also Bush’s regulatory irresponsibility that led to economic disaster and the need for a depression-zapping stimulus.
Bath Water Party: The BWP also holds misconceptions at the heart of its Obama-denial. For instance, a recent Daily Kos article jumped to lavishly incorrect conclusions. On the 2011 budget deal made earlier this month, the blogger claimed that “When the Republicans get nine concessions to our one, there was no compromise.”
In fact, the “38.5 billion” compromise on reducing spending was enormously inflated. The actual amount cut from 2011 spending was $352 million (or 1 percent of $38.5 billion). Even over five years (and we still have time to refund some of those programs if the Democrats prevail in 2012) the spending reduction amounts to just $20-25 billion (51-64 percent of $38.5 billion).
Obama absorbed much of the impact of Republican Machiavellianism. I think he embarrassed Republicans desperate to appease the Tea Party. And he opened himself up to criticism that he wasn’t serious about deficit reduction in order to protect Progressive priorities, like services for the poor, education, clean air, public radio, and Planned Parenthood.
To be fair, this Daily Kos blog on “apologists” was published over the weekend before the media had reported the details of the negotiation. The blogger, like many Bath Water Partiers, arrived at incorrect conclusions based on a mix of incomplete facts and assumptions. And the author did not update the article when more facts came to light.
Misguided Beliefs of Tea Party: "Socialism is Slavery"
What’s even more disturbing: Even after the full details on the negotiation emerged, writers such as Glenn Greenwald ignored the full facts in order to craft the same biased argument (that Obama failed and Republicans won). Legitimate media sites (such as Salon and Alternet) both published the piece. (Read another Progressive’s rebuttal of Greenwald’s article here.)
Furthermore, the Bath Water Party doesn’t understand that isolated facts don’t add up to whole truths. They only admit information that confirms their preconceived notions and block out the rest. (I present both positive and negative information for a holistic view of Obama below.) Their thought process is as flawed as people who see the isolated fact that the African-American children score lower on achievement tests and then generate the incorrect assumption that these kids are less intelligent without considering the wider context.
The bottom line: Obama-deniers don’t seem to care for context or any fully informed analysis of the facts, which is why they won’t like the essay on Progressivism below. (Update: While most people have responded well to this research-based analysis, the few who identify themselves with the Bath Water Party are calling it “spam” and “propaganda.” I’ll leave it to you to decide.)
But I didn’t write this for people who are married to the narrative that Obama is worthless – I wrote it for those who like to base their opinions on a full understanding of the facts.
Obama Vs. the Progressive Big Three: FDR, Truman & LBJ
The Bath Water Party repudiates Obama for failing to embody the Progressive “ideal,” which is partly based on the presidencies of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson.
Here’s my nine-part explanation of why the Bath Water Party’s template for the perfect Progressive leader is not so perfect:
1. War-Making is Ugly, Ditto for Illegitimate Coups
Obama’s wars aren’t pretty, but neither were those of his Progressive counterparts. FDR, Truman, & LBJ all launched or continued major wars in our nation’s history – the latter two Presidents didn’t even seem to feel regret about carrying out the unconscionable.
Truman initiating Korean involvement
The A-Bomb: Truman, who is seen as a Progressive pioneer, is responsible for a near apocalypse in two Japanese cities. Truman’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki resulted in 150,000-246,000 deaths within four months, almost all of them innocent civilians, not to mention the maimings and long-term illnesses. Many years later, Truman said about the bombings: “I have no regrets and, under the same circumstances, I would do it again.” Five years after WWII ended, Truman went to war in Korea, without the approval of Congress. That war left 33,741 U.S. troops dead.
Many Progressives hold up LBJ – the sharp-tongued, pushy Progressive procurer – as a model of how Obama should behave. Johnson’s persuasive, domineering style was legendary and it helped him push through the Civil Rights Act, Medicare and Medicaid, new environmental protections, increased education funding, and even a “War on Poverty.” Yet, his hard-nosed style came at a very high price – too high, some Progressives might say.
Vietnam Flip-Flop: Running for his first elected term in 1964, Johnson said on Vietnam: “Our response…will be limited…We seek no wider war,” thereby presenting himself as a peace candidate. Johnson increased troop numbers in Vietnam from 16,000 under JFK to 536,000 by 1968. That thirty-three-fold increase in troops greatly exceeds Obama’s four-fold increase in troops to Afghanistan since assuming office. I don’t intend to make light of the current war – I am simply pointing out the quantitative difference between Johnson’s and Obama’s foreign policies.
As for casualties, more than 31,000 Americans died in Vietnam under LBJ’s watch, with American fatalities totaling 58,000 throughout the entire war. Over three million Vietnamese perished, two-thirds of those were civilians. Since Obama took office, our death toll in both Iraq and Afghanistan is approaching 1,200, less than four percent of LBJ’s total. Roughly 4,746 Afghan civilians died in 2009 and 2010, including both pro- and anti-government forces. While Obama has significantly increased troop presence in Afghanistan (with Karzai’s cooperation), he has fulfilled his campaign promise to end the war in Iraq. (We do seem to have a habit of keeping 50,000 troops installed as a peace-keeping presence.)
Tough Guy: LBJ (center)
Illegal Coups: LBJ believed he had the right to intervene unilaterally to support the overthrow of left-wing, democratically elected President Juan Bosch of the Dominican Republic and João Goulart of Brazil in order to maintain authoritarian, anti-communist rulers in Latin America.
Despite conspiracy theories to the contrary, Obama has only supported the removal of authoritarians who murder unarmed civilians in Libya, Yemen and Syria. Obama also doesn’t go to war unilaterally, nor does he support coups of democratically elected leaders, as George W. Bush did in Venezuela. (Get facts on Obama’s careful, at-a-distance response to the Honduran coup by clicking for a NYT article here.)
2. Obama Retreating from, Not Rescinding, Bush-Era POW Policy
LBJ was President in 1967 when the CIA began the “Phoenix Program” in Vietnam that allegedly carried out the torture and assassination of North Vietnamese enemies, but that’s as far as I will rehash Vietnam here. Instead, I want to contrast Obama’s imperfect prisoner of war policies with those of George W. Bush.
Torture: The issue of detainee rights remains controversial, and rightfully so. Obama, however, has made progress over George W. Bush. He closed the CIA’s secret “black site” prisons worldwide, save 20 “temporary” interrogations sites (such as the one at Bagram base), where detainees can be questioned for 14-63 days before being transferred. Obama eliminated water-boarding and other “unlisted” black-ops forms of torture. In the post-Bush era detainees complain of being “menaced” with cold rooms, sleep deprivation, and forced nudity. I am not saying this is appropriate – I am just pointing out the measurable progress from the previous administration.
The Disastrous Duo
THIS IS IMPORTANT: Do you know – really know – why Obama didn’t close GITMO or bring detainees to the U.S. for trial? He was BLOCKED by a 90-6 VETO-PROOF Senate vote that prohibited all detainee transfers to the U.S. or elsewhere (a result of Americans’ “not-in-my-backyard” protests). Knowing the facts, it’s completely irrational to hold the President (and not the Senate) responsible for keeping GITMO open. Still, I’ve observed about 80 percent of the liberal press commit the logical fallacy of blaming Obama.
I don’t pretend that there aren’t many just criticisms of Obama entangled within the Middle East mess:
Of the 172 remaining GITMO detainees (down from a high of 775 under Bush), Obama argues to hold some of these prisoners indefinitely without trial (others are pending release). Obama’s position is that he can impose “prolonged detention” on select suspected terrorists in order to prevent them from assumed future attacks on the U.S. People hear echos of Bush in this policy. In short, these prisoners are stuck because they were tortured under Bush and therefore evidence against them won’t stand up in trial. Obama did sign an executive order to permit GITMO prisoners “periodic reviews” of the legality of their detention, for whatever that’s worth.
Last year, Obama approved the targeted assassination of a U.S./Yemeni citizen without due process or trial. Anwar al-Awlaki was born in the U.S. and moved to Yemen when he was seven. The U.S. believes al-Awlaki is an active recruiter for the terrorist network and that he has “directly participated” in attacks against the U.S. Before Obama approved this assassination order, al-Awlaki was linked via email communication to Nidal Malik Hasan, who shot dead 34 people at Fort Hood in 2009. After the shooting, al-Awlaki apparently wrote that Hasan was a hero on his blog.
Whether you reluctantly accept – or wholeheartedly reject – al-Awlaki’s assassination and other suspects’ prolonged GITMO detentions depends on your tolerance for risk. If guilty prisoners are freed because they were tortured and then go on to kill U.S. civilians, are you okay with that? On the other hand, are you okay with holding potentially innocent people indefinitely?
Nat'l Security Team watching bin Laden raid
(Update: On May 1, 2011, the day after I originally published this post, Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed. I do wonder if this news is a relief to the Bath Water Party or if they believe Osama should have stood trial, as in the case of al-Awlaki. My opinion: I doubt bin Laden would have allowed himself to be taken alive.)
A final note on detainee rights: Obama may have lost some liberals forever due to the situation with Pfc. Bradley Manning, the U.S./British citizen who is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the website Wikileaks. Manning was held in solitary confinement at Quantico for 9 months in questionable conditions. The President said the Dept. of Defense told him these conditions were “appropriate” – many liberals vehemently disagree with that. Manning was transferred to the medium-security Leavenworth prison in April 2011 and was just declared fit to stand trial – no date is set.
3. Health Care Was a Perpetual Hot Potato Before Obama
Standing Together for Health Insurance Reform
People are so fixated on Obama bartering away the politically unviable public option (for which he gained the rest of the reform package in return) that they miss the bigger picture. Obama has come the closest to achieving a national health care program than any other President – EVER. Even FDR, the Progressive gold standard who established Social Security, big banking regulations, the Federal Housing Administration, pro-union/pro-worker reforms, and a giant economic stimulus, wouldn’t touch national health care with a ten-foot pole.
FDR backs down: In the 1930s, FDR invited a group of physicians and private interests to work with his other appointees on a proposal to add health care to the Social Security Act. The invited special interest group, called the Committee on the Costs of Medical Care (CCMC), worked mostly in secret, isolated from public input and debate. The committee ultimately recommended a watered-down proposal of giving federal subsidies to states for health care programs. However, “Roosevelt so feared attacks by the American Medical Association that he dropped health coverage [completely] from his New Deal agenda.” Truman also tried and failed to bring about national health care, as did Bill Clinton.
Obama’s plan covers 32 million previously uninsured Americans: Obama also invited industry to the bargaining table, but – unlike FDR, Truman, and Clinton – Obama didn’t walk away empty-handed. While Obama’s style appears overly compromising to the casual observer, he’s proven himself several times to be a shrewd maneuverer who produces results. All the Bath Water party sees is “corporatist.” Absolutists fail to consider that the most expedient way of appeasing liberals may not always be the best method of achieving long-lasting policy change.
Obama supports “the best possible proposal instead of the best imaginable proposal,” writes Andrew Romano in this month’s Newsweek. The president pushes his agenda, bargains some to build consensus, and then he takes the best deal he can get through Congress instead of deadlocking forward movement on the policy. His style may disappoint people who don’t understand that the Progressive policy path is taking step after step in the right direction, rather than expecting change to happen in one fell swoop. Obama described the passage of the health care reform bill by saying: “This isn’t radical reform, but it is major reform.”
Two Dems killed the public option: As an aside, if you’re really interested in laying blame for the death of the public option in the correct place, you should look squarely at two “Democrats:” Max Baucus (D-MT) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT). Baucus, the chairman of the Senate committee that drafted the law, received a $1.5 million “donation” from the health insurance lobby from 2007-2008, and another cool $1.5 million in previous years. Lieberman was the deciding vote at the time between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, and he vehemently and explicitly said he would vote against any health reform bill with the public option.
4. Truman Wasn’t Always Right on Labor Rights
During his campaign, Truman berated liberal candidates who were weak on workers’ rights, calling them “phony Democrats.” But Truman didn’t back up his pro-union campaign rhetoric when push came to shove.
Anti-Worker Antics: In 1946, Truman broke up a railway workers strike by threatening to draft strikers into the military, exhibiting complete hypocrisy on his pro-union campaign rhetoric – not to mention a total disregard of the workers’ civil rights. Truman’s handling of the 1952 steelworkers’ strike wasn’t much better. During the strike he issued an executive order authorizing government takeover of the steel mills. The steel companies’ appeal of Truman’s order made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which ultimately struck down as unconstitutional Truman’s attempt to nationalize the steel mills.
Truman also failed to stop the anti-union Taft–Hartley Act from passing. Congress overrode his veto of the bill, which established the “right-to-work” standard that supersedes workers’ right to organize and collectively bargain in some states. Surely Progressives at the time saw this as a monumental failure and embarrassment for Truman.
Comfortable Shoes: Can you imagine Obama threatening to draft striking workers into the military? But since Obama hasn’t picketed with Mid-Westerners, he’s perceived as full of hollow promises. Obama has hung too far back on speaking out against these Republican governors in recent months – I won’t deny that. However, Obama seems to be initiating a different plan of attack. This week Obama directed the labor board to investigate Boeing for possible union worker discrimination – effectively putting all companies on warning for similar actions.
5. Obama Beats Out FDR on Civil Rights, by a Landslide
Bad: FDR, for a People’s President, was a downright embarrassment on civil rights. His Social Security bill had built-in exclusions that exempted nearly half of the working population from benefits, namely two-thirds of African Americans and about half of women. Furthermore, FDR’s New Deal employment programs discriminated against blacks and he was too scared of political backlash to support either an anti-lynching bill or a bill to abolish the poll tax, despite urging from First Lady Eleanor.
Much better: Truman laid the ground work for the civil rights movement with three executive orders, which desegregated the military, prohibited racial discrimination against applicants for civil service positions, and ordered defense contractors to the armed forces to stop racial discrimination. Despite their historical significance, I’m willing to bet that some Progressives at the time saw Truman’s initial, critical moves as not good enough.
First Day on the Job
Pretty good: Obama is moving gay rights along as Truman moved African-American rights along – by setting the example first in the federal government. Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is similar to Truman’s military desegregation. Obama recently called on the Department of Justice to stop defending the “Defense of Marriage Act,” which paves the way for future marriage equality. He has also called on the United Nations to support gay rights and he’s authorized equal benefits for partners of gay and lesbian employees throughout the federal government.
Unseemly: Speaking of civil rights, LBJ, who helped bring about the historic Civil Rights Act, wasn’t an absolutist. He continued wire-tapping of Rev. Martin Luther King and even eavesdropped on King’s sexual encounters. When an assistant once defended King’s antiwar activities, LBJ exploded: “Goddammit, if only you could hear what that hypocritical preacher does sexually.” Despite once saying that “The worst thing in our society would be to not be able to pick up a phone for fear of it being tapped,” LBJ was known to wiretap others as well, including the Vietnamese friends of a Nixon associate.
6. Absolute Victories over Capitalism are Difficult to Achieve
Two big recessions: Although some critics blame the New Deal for extending the Great Depression, FDR’s New Deal recovery plan actually produced a slow but steady increase in GDP and a gradual decrease in unemployment (until a short double dip hit in 1937). We see parallels today in Obama’s recovery efforts – a gradual but fairly consistent turnaround. Within one year of Obama taking office, the economy began to grow again, unemployment rates started to taper down, private sector jobs increased, and GDP started making modest but steady improvements.
Zinn Zinger: Howard Zinn, a historian and author of A People’s History of the United States (an excellent read), published a startling negative view of FDR’s landmark New Deal:
“When the New Deal was over, capitalism remained intact. The rich still controlled the nation’s wealth, as well as its laws, courts, police, newspapers, churches, colleges. Enough help had been given to enough people to make Roosevelt a hero to millions, but the same system that had brought depression and crisis – the system of waste, of inequality, of concern for profit over human need – remained.”
What does it mean that even FDR, the superlative figurehead on the Progressive mantel, is accused of failing the people in order to support capitalism? For one, it means that Presidents face criticism no matter what they do. Also, it reminds us that, despite our best intentions, we can’t always legislate morality or anticipate the new avenues greed creates to feed its hunger.
Nevertheless, FDR and Obama both took forward action to correct the imbalance of wealth and power and won remarkable victories against the power of special interests.
7. One Man’s Sweeping Financial Reform is Another’s Shameless Bailout
The End of a Long Road: Signing a Bill
Frank-Dodd reform bill: Widely recognized as “the most sweeping overhaul of the nation’s financial regulatory system since the Great Depression,” financial reform created an independent consumer protection bureau; endowed the feds with the power to break apart large, failing institutions, virtually eliminating the potential for future taxpayer bailouts; established first-time-ever regulation of over-the-counter derivatives and asset-backed securities; and requires institutions to hold non-binding shareholder votes on executive compensation every three years.
The Securities and Exchange Commission looks poised to strictly enforce financial reform in its role as regulator. Since the law passed nine months ago, the SEC has already taken 17 actions just on clarifying and expanding new derivative laws, alongside a long list of other actions to implement the rest of the provisions.
The BBC reported: “The law is a major victory for Mr. Obama and the Democrats, who passed it with little Republican support after months of political wrangling. It was vehemently opposed by the financial services industry.” All the Bath Water party sees is a “corporatist” who didn’t go far enough. They say Obama’s reform is worthless because it didn’t reinstate the Glass-Stegall Act (repealed in 1999) – but they can’t explain concretely how Frank-Dodd won’t serve the same regulatory ends.
The chinks in Obama’s armor: Some liberals distrust Obama’s economic policy because of several seemingly poor appointments, including Ben Bernanke to stay on as Federal Reserve Chairman, Larry Summers to director of the Economic Council, and Timothy Geithner to Treasury Secretary. These appointments raise conflict of interest questions due to the men’s current or past relationships with big banking and their roles in crafting irresponsible financial regulatory policy under previous administrations. Obama could have scored with liberals by nominating more blameless people to top posts – or selecting a new, more Progressive chair to the Federal Reserve.
Still, it’s worth considering that:
On the scandal involving Geithner, Summers, and the Treasury’s bailout of AIG (who then went on to pay excessive bonuses), taxpayers have recouped almost all of the bailout money and AIG continues to make repayments. In fact, the U.S. Treasury reports that 70 percent of all TARP bailout money has been repaid.
While the means (or people) Obama uses may be counter-intuitive, we must also look at the ends (or actual reform) he achieves. Despite any unproven assumptions you may hold about Obama’s motives, he has produced measurable gains in health and financial reform. His approach signals his belief that you achieve lasting reform by not exempting industry from the table. Granted, his choices for top posts could have been more forward-leaning. That’s a fair criticism to make.
It’s pure conspiracy theory, however, to claim that Obama’s historic, second-time-in-a-century financial reform was a hoax engineered by Obama and dirty bankers to fool the American people into thinking government was changing the system while it secretly showered banks with more loopholes and giveaways. The fact that some liberals can irrationally hold this belief is proof that they already have made up their minds to refute, dismantle, negate and demonize any positive strides Obama makes.
8. Taxing the Rich is a Fool’s Errand without Congressional Backing
In 1935, FDR proposed the Wealth Tax Act that aimed to increase inheritance tax, establish a severely graduated income tax, and scale increased corporate taxes according to income. The result: Congress watered it down by dropping the inheritance tax and only mildly increasing the corporate tax.
In 1936, FDR tried again and actually passed an “undistributed profits” measure to encourage businesses to distribute profits in dividends and wages, instead of saving or reinvesting them. The result: The policy drew widespread and fierce criticism; Congress reduced the undistributed profits tax to 2.5 percent in 1938 and completely eliminated it in 1939.
In 1948, Congress succeeded in its third attempt to pass tax cuts for the wealthy, this time over Truman’s veto. Truman may have done what was humanly possible to prevent those tax cuts, but he did face controversy for pardoning at least two tax evaders: George Parr and George A. Caldwell.
Bush Tax Cuts: After voters gave control of the House of Representatives to Republicans in November 2010, the GOP proceeded to filibuster any and all legislation in order to force Democrats to surrender on extending the Bush tax cuts. The next month, Obama allowed the two-year extension in order to get important legislation moving again, including extending unemployment benefits for millions of jobless Americans, providing health benefits to 9/11 responders, and ratifying a nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia. It’s important to register that the Bush tax cut compromise would not have happened had enough liberal voters shown up to the polls in November 2010 to block Tea Party Republicans from taking the House.
Putting Progressive Policy closer to the green
Bear in mind that Obama’s policy is viewed as radical Socialism from the conservative side of the fence – meaning we have some things to be proud of. Last year, Obama extracted $20 billion from BP for the Gulf Coast oil spill victims (All the Bath Water party sees is “corporatist”). Just this year, Obama:
Struck back against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision by issuing an executive order requiring transparency on donations government contractors make to political campaigns.
Maximized a political opportunity by calling for repeal of federal big-oil subsidies.
Delivered a bold speech in which he denounced Republican values, stated that he “refuses” to renew Bush tax cuts again, and set a clear tone on social responsibility to guide the rest of his term(s). Specifically, Obama said:
The GOP budget proposal “is a vision that says even though America can’t afford to invest in education or clean energy; even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy…That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President…To those in my own party, I say that if we truly believe in a Progressive vision of our society, we have the obligation to prove that we can afford our commitments.”
9. Sometimes There are Three Alternatives: Compromise, Back Down or Get Pushed Out
The truth the Bath Water Party can’t seem to stomach is even the most admirable Progressive leaders, ones who’ve made considerable gains for the People, don’t have absolute power to design an idealized society or succeed in realizing every aspect of their vision.
Truman attempted to continue FDR’s tradition with what Truman called a “Fair Deal” program, which advocated national health insurance and an aggressive civil rights program. Congress did not back Truman’s proposals, even after Democratic gains in the 1948 election. Only one of Truman’s major Fair Deal bills, the Housing Act of 1949, was ever enacted.
Despite his aggressive, results-oriented style, LBJ couldn’t achieve everything he wanted either. After historic victories on the Civil Rights Act and Medicare, LBJ called for billions in additional spending on improving cities and a second federal civil rights law on housing – both measures failed. His “Great Society” programs had lost Congressional support.
"Irony" (the Senator in Illinois)
Expecting Obama to stick verbatim to campaign promises or rapidly and indiscriminately rip out the roots of capitalism points to an immature understanding of the legislative process. Presidents can’t force Congressional support. Without Congressional support, bills don’t pass – or they are quickly repealed.
Obama is wise enough to take a long view of history and realize that sometimes sticking to your guns means spinning your wheels.
These nine mini-analyses above point to the fact that you can’t pick and choose the best parts of past Progressive leaders and expect one man to embody them without any flaws.
I didn’t write this analysis to demonize FDR, Truman or LBJ or negate their positive accomplishments. Every President’s a whipping boy, pummeled with criticism from all sides: “He went too far … no, not far enough … he should have gone about it this way … .” And they all make big mistakes, depending on where you’re standing.
I used these comparisons to make the point that those who reject Obama wholesale do so without considering the broader context. Some may claim that I’m over-weighting the information that reflects negatively on the other Presidents – this may be true. However, I did so to demonstrate that the Bath Water Party builds its case against Obama also by over-emphasizing the negative and neglecting his accomplishments, motives, and leadership style.
If you still hate Obama, admit that you hate him because, so far, he hasn’t completely eclipsed the accomplishments and remedied the shortcomings of the three most Progressive Presidents of this century. Considering Obama’s only 27 months into his first term, he holds his own on Progressivism – you can even make the case that he excels in some areas for producing equal legislative results while owning fewer spectacular failures and being less militaristic.
It was “an absolute miracle” that Obama achieved as much legislatively as he did during his first two years, according to James Thurber, the director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. Obama has “adapted, preserved in trying circumstances and seen tremendous legislative successes,” Thurber told Open Secrets Blog, “These have been huge changes compared to usual.”
Real Threat: We should avoid the “bring down Obama” sideshow distraction to call more attention to the immense threats we face from Republicans. The GOP aims to increase corporate control over government and the courts, promote tax cut policies that widen class divisions, and repeal essential regulations, such as the 2010 financial reform and Clean Air laws.
Right Vs. Wrong: Whatever you may personally think of Obama, within the national political debate Obama stands for preserving social safety nets, maintaining consumer protections against industry greed, regulating pollution and advancing civil rights. Since Republicans oppose all of these policies, they will spend the next 556 days trying to brainwash voters into thinking that they should fear Obama’s “Socialist” or “Marxist demagoguery” rhetoric.
The GOP will continue to define the national debate as a battle of Freedom vs. Socialism, when in truth we are fighting a battle of Fascism vs. The People. If you allow Republicans to defeat Obama by declining to vote, you play into their hands and allow them to win this moral debate.
In response to Obama-deniers’ over-zealous reaction to any negative news about Obama, Huff Post reporter Miles Mogulescu, who doesn’t hesitate to call out Obama on questionable policy, wrote this:
“I gets numerous comments from people who believe they are progressive but say they will never vote for Obama or Democrats again, that they will stay home at the next election, or that they will vote for small third parties who have no chance of winning…Do people making these comments really think [this] would make things better…[that] they can abandon electoral politics and do nothing to prevent the Republicans from regaining power?”
The 2012 race is going to be close, and it will be waged on the grassroots battle grounds. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that someone more radical – or more effective – than Obama will win the White House in 2012. Hopefully one day it will happen, but first Obama has more Progressive roads to pave to make that possible.
What It Means to Be Progressive and Next Steps
Ask yourself if your attitude truly supports progress – in the sense of achieving actual positive outcomes.
Personal Responsibility: Instead of simply heckling, take responsibility for assisting the President in achieving the Progressive vision. Before you throw stones, ask yourself:
Did I stand up to insurance companies when they used $380 million and six lobbyists for every one member of Congress to defeat the public option?
Did I vote in the 2010 midterms for Democrats (or independents with a reasonable shot) – and encourage my circles to do the same?
Did I persistently badger my representatives to vote against the veto-proof defense bill that blocked GITMO’s closure?
Defining Progressive: Serious Progressive activists accept that we have serious work to do and that we won’t achieve our vision overnight. We aim to use our power to push through many small victories that add up to something great – and we don’t expect that our leaders will always agree with us. We know that Progressivism is not a single human being, but a movement generated by a collection of diverse people. We do not scoff, stamp our feet, or turn our backs on our allies. We work effectively within the system – because change emerges through building momentum from the inside. Help generate the political capital Obama needs to push the Progressive agenda. Educate, build public support, and put pressure on elected representatives to do what we think is right.
Discern what’s really wrong with our system, feel the disappointment and let it compel you to cooperative, concerted action. But don’t fold your arms, stomp your foot, hiss and boo. Don’t be so morally superior that you can’t admit to Obama’s positive accomplishments or see that our past Progressive icons had enormous flaws and defeats of their own.
I acknowledge that the facts and arguments presented here won’t penetrate the firewall of hard-core Bath Water Partiers, just like Obama’s long-form birth certificate didn’t convince hard-core birthers that he is an American. Instead, I am speaking to the rational, fact-appreciative people out there.
Next Steps: Please help mobilize grassroots efforts. Join with others and literally go out into the streets with pamphlets and charts to educate fellow citizens. Rail against Republican dogma. Help people see that we want “big” government if that’s what you call government intervention in corporate exploitation of the People. Extol the virtues of a Progressive budget and tax code, and how Progressive policy benefits the rest of the free world. Volunteer for voter registration drives. Write letters and sign petitions. Help get more Progressive leaders elected on the local, state, and Congressional levels so we are better positioned to change minds and alter policy. March on Washington.
Be the Change and Rock the Vote in 2012.