The Audacity of Barack Obama
Here’s a few facts regarding the society over which Barack Obama presides: inequality is probably higher than any time in US history; median wages have steadily declined since the 1970’s despite great rises in productivity and corporate profits; the bottom 80% of the population control just 7% of financial wealth; unemployment is at near depression levels; workers have never had less security; states and local governments are slashing services throughout the country; income tax rates are at their lowest level since the end of World War II and on the highest incomes are about half of where they were in the 60’s and 70’s; most major corporations pay little or no income tax.
No time in American history would seem more ripe for the progressive cause. Yet Obama is absent from the stage. His administration consists almost completely of Wall Street cronies, corporate executives, and holdovers from the neoliberal Clinton regime. His policies and rhetoric can be pulled directly from Ronald Reagan or more relevantly for today, Herbert Hoover.
In his press conference yesterday, Obama said he’s “willing to take down domestic spending to the lowest percentage of our overall economy since Dwight Eisenhower”. Do we need any clearer demonstration of the uselessness of his party and the ongoing degeneration of democracy in the US?
Obama then had the audacity to lecture us on how a progressive should think.
…if you are a progressive, you should be concerned about debt and deficit just as much as if you’re a conservative. And the reason is because if the only thing we’re talking about over the next year, two years, five years, is debt and deficits, then it’s very hard to start talking about how do we make investments in community colleges so that our kids are trained, how do we actually rebuild $2 trillion worth of crumbling infrastructure.
If you care about making investments in our kids and making investments in our infrastructure and making investments in basic research, then you should want our fiscal house in order, so that every time we propose a new initiative somebody doesn’t just throw up their hands and say, “Ah, more big spending, more government.”
It would be very helpful for us to be able to say to the American people, our fiscal house is in order. And so now the question is what should we be doing to win the future and make ourselves more competitive and create more jobs, and what aspects of what government is doing are a waste and we should eliminate. And that’s the kind of debate that I’d like to have.
What a shallow vision of progressivism! “Investments” in community colleges, “investments” in infrastructure, “investments” in basic research all to make us more “competitive”. This is the language of the CEO and MBA, not a progressive. Progressives, first of all, should not be concerned about deficits and the debt since these are mere monetary accounting items having no relevance. That we need the approval of the bond market in order to spend is a regressive conservative ideology having no objective basis. If spending is insufficient to create a widespread prosperity equal to our technological capacity, then sound economics and simple morality demands that spending increase. Reducing spending to Eisenhower levels has been the goal of all regressive conservatives and cannot remotely be considered progressive.
A progressive, non-radical program would seek to restore income taxes to the same levels as the 60’s and 70’s. It would guarantee everyone a decent job, as Franklin Roosevelt proposed in the 40’s. It would expand, not cut, social security, medicare, and medicaid benefits and utterly reject any notion that workers or retirees should reduce living standards at a time of unprecedented production capacity. It would slash the military industrial complex that’s been responsible for the endless series of wars beginning in Korea, through Vietnam, to the current adventures in the middle east. It would consider nationalizing or tightly regulating the mega-corporations that control in oligopolistic fashion most industries of the world, based on the non-radical widely accepted economic logic that monopoly-like power should not exist unchecked. And the list goes on and on.
The point is Obama is not a progressive. Given the demands of the time, Obama is firmly positioned with the regressive defenders of the status quo. He’s performed admirably in that regard, effectively holding back the forces of progressive change and, given that the only institutional political choice in 2012 is between him and a Republican, crushing hope.
That he pretends to be a progressive is the height of hypocrisy.