In the first two years of his presidency, Obama let down progressives completely. His apologists had to deal with two major and awkward issues for the president: his failure to push for the public option (Medicare for all), and his failure to carry out his campaign promise and allow the tax cuts for the rich to expire.
His spin doctors tried to make Obama look good by blaming Congress for everything bad that happened, and then claiming that Obama did as well as any president could do for the 99%. The spin doctors even took into account that Obama had Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate, although they would prefer we didn’t remember that.
There's a lot they would prefer we'd forget, because it is beyond spin: Obama’s gutting of the Nuremberg Code, his failure to prosecute the CEO banksters who caused the economic collapse, and his escalation of the hopeless war that maims and kills our own military and creates enemies in Afghanistan. For progressives, these are serious failings in a president, and Obama’s spin doctors could not blame them on Congress.
Let’s examine the two awkward violations of campaign promises that the spin doctors do claim were the fault of Congress: Obamacare and tax cuts for the 1%.
We are currently being told that Obamacare demonstrates that Obama climbed the summit on behalf of the 99%. That’s what the Irish call “codswallop.” To celebrate Obama for Obamacare is like praising a fit and skilled mountain climber who had his base camps set up for him to climb Mount Everest and then, at the last minute, chose to fly back to New Hampshire to hike up Mount Washington.
The Everest of health care for the 99% was “public option” —roughly, Medicare for all Americans. It would be less expensive. All citizens, regardless of pre-existing conditions, would be covered. Businesses would no longer be burdened with health care plans. Medical paperwork for billing would be reduced to a minimum. Car insurance could cost much less, since there would no longer be the need for a medical component. The only losers in the public option would be insurance corporations.
A clear majority of Americans favored the public option. If Obama had given a talk to the nation from the Oval Office, and explained how the public option would save money for the American people, that no one would be disallowed because of pre-existing conditions, and that he needed some help to persuade a few Democrat senators to get the option passed, the public would have demanded its passage.
Obama’s apologists want us to believe that whatever Obama did, the recalcitrant senators would still have blocked the public option from a vote by the Senate. Although this is difficult to believe, given the power of public demands, this is completely irrelevant to the issue.
The issue is that Obama never put the office of the president behind the public option.
Instead, he formulated a plan that locked in profits and customers for insurance companies. The public option died offstage. Obamacare requires that citizens must purchase private insurance, and that if they don’t, they pay a penalty to the IRS. Millions of Americans feel they cannot afford the insurance and will pay the penalties. Automobile insurance continues to require medical premiums. Corporate insurance was victorious, and the 99% learned that we do not have an advocate in the White House.
Obama also failed to use his oratorical skills to explain the pure economic disaster of extending tax cuts for the rich in a prime time Oval Office speech.
Instead, behind closed doors, in a meeting which excluded the Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Obama not only extended the tax cuts, but also approved a huge decrease in inheritance taxes for the wealthy. After the furious Democratic House learned of his actions, Obama had to push back against Nancy Pelosi to get the Democratic House to agree to these tax cuts, which the House opposed. Had he clearly informed the public of the disastrous numbers for the economic welfare of the nation, the public, who were already opposed to extending these tax cuts, would have put enormous pressure on the Republicans who wanted them.
Obama's spin doctors try to get Obama off the hook by pointing out that the Republicans threatened him: if Obama wouldn't give in on taxes, then they would let unemployment insurance run out for 1.2 million American workers just before Christmas.
Forget for a moment that this provides no rationale for the hefty decrease in inheritance taxes for the rich. Instead, call to mind Obama's greatest skill: he is a great speaker.
Obama had the oratorical talents to explain to the public, in a prime time Oval Office speech, the purely economic merits of Unemployment Insurance Extensions. He had the facts to support him. A Labor Department committee, appointed during the Bush administration, proved that unemployment insurance had already been a boost to the economy during the recession. Unemployment insurance payments had kept the GDP $315 billion higher than it would have been, prevented 1.8 million jobs being lost, and provided an effective multiplier effect on the economy. “For every dollar spent on unemployment insurance, the report finds an increase in economic activity of two dollars.”
As Nancy Pelosi explained, “it [unemployment insurance] injects demand into the economy, it creates jobs to help reduce the deficit."
The public outcry this talk would have generated would likely have forced enough Republicans to be willing to extend unemployment payments. But we’ll never know. Obama never made that speech. When it came time for Obama to stand up for the 99% using his oratorical skills, the president was missing in action.
The powerful conclusion from this analysis is that the excuse "Congress made Obama do it" has no traction on either of these central issues.
The president did not fight for the 99%. This is the same Obama who, without any congressional pressure, chose financial insider Timothy Geithner as his Secretary of Treasury. This is the same Obama who, all on his own, escalated the war in Afghanistan. Each of these decisions were his alone and do reveal the Obama’s agenda. For these reasons (and others, as I argued previously) Obama has failed the 99%.
In contrast, progressive candidate Jill Stein “supports single-payer universal health care and preventive care for all.” For her, “health care is a right, not a privilege.” On taxes, Jill Stein favors exempting “people earning less than $25,000 per year and families earning less than $50,000 per year (adjusted for inflation) from the federal and state income taxes.” She also favors exempting “food, clothing, prescription medications, other necessities and second-hand goods from sales taxes.” She supports “fair taxes for corporations and the wealthy” and the “end [of] corporate welfare.”
In the final article in this series, I will bring into my analysis the other third party candidates with an emphasis on Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president.