THE BLOG
04/15/2013 10:53 am ET Updated Jun 13, 2013

A Progressive's View: Obama Doesn't Much Care About the Public's Welfare

Barack Obama has proven, throughout his Presidency, that he cares little about the public's welfare.

For example, Allen Frances noted, on April 12th, that Obama's new federal budget devotes $235 million to creating a program hiring expensive mental health professionals to go into our schools so as to identify children who are likely to do crazy Adam-Lanza-type things, even though all scientific studies show that such a goal isn't even nearly possible to achieve, given the present too-crude state of our current scientific knowledge of the actual precursors of such crazy behaviors as Lanza's Newtown shootings. Clearly, Obama is proposing that $235 million waste in order to appeal to the NRA, which claims that guns aren't the problem in such shootings, and that crazy people who need to be quarantined in advance are the problem - no matter that it simply cannot be done. In other words, Obama is attempting here to appeal to ignorant extremist right-wing gun-lovers, and he's even proposing to use our tax-dollars for his futile political appeal to the far-right. He thereby signals that he accepts the NRA's framing of the problem of these homicidal gun-outbursts. He not only weakens his own case, he uses our taxpayer money to do it. This is the type of "leader" he is: he confuses the public on important issues, by pandering to false conservative premises, and he thereby encourages the general public to accept those false premises, even while he also proposes some policies (such as reasonable gun-controls) that are based upon opposite (and scientifically sound) premises. So, even when he talks liberalism, he actually encourages conservatism, at a deeper level: the level of underlying assumptions.

Other examples of such mushy hypocritical pandering abound from him. For example, when he was first preparing to run for the U.S. Senate, he told the AFL-CIO on 30 June 2003, "I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer health care system ... that's what I'd like to see." But then, when he finally became President and he was supposedly negotiating with Republicans in order to achieve a public option (which is only an option for a government-run insurance plan to be included in his health-insurance "exchanges"), he actually blocked the many Democrats on Capitol Hill who were hoping to push a single-payer bill in Congress as being the liberal position against which congressional Republicans would need to negotiate in order to be able to settle ultimately for inclusion of a public option in these "exchanges." And, so, naturally, Obama didn't get even the public option that had been a hallmark of his (and of every other Democratic candidate's) Presidential campaign. He didn't push Republicans for even the public option; so, what he got instead from Congress - and still without any Republican votes - was a nationalized version of Massachusetts' Republican Romneycare. And yet Republicans hounded him mercilessly for even that, as being "government-run health care" and "death panels." He got nothing from all of his "negotiations" with the Republicans, except that he blocked congressional Democratic progressives from having significant input into the process.

And then, there's Obama's proposal to the nation, which he made on April 10th, to cut Social Security benefits, as his way to fund the federal deficits that are being caused by the collapse in federal tax-collections after the 2008 Wall Street crash and the ongoing federal bailouts of the Wall Street mega-banks, which banks had defrauded homeowners and MBS investors and so actually caused that crash and those federal deficits that he's now trying to recoup from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

One of the reasons why congressional Democrats have been shocked at Obama's commitment to cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, is that prior to his being elected as President in 2008, he had (even if only intermittently) championed the progressive proposal on Social Security, which was to eliminate the approximately $100,000 earnings-cap on income that's taxed by the "FICA" or Social Security tax, so that all income, no matter how large, would get taxed into Social Security. For example, the even-more conservative Democrat Hillary Clinton attacked Obama during the 2007 and 2008 Presidential primary debates, precisely for this progressive proposal of his.

During the debate on 16 April 2008, just before the crucial Pennsylvania primary, occurred this exchange:

CLINTON: I'm certainly against one of Senator Obama's ideas, which is to lift the cap on the payroll tax, because that would impose additional taxes on people who are educators, police officers, firefighters and the like. [Here, she was using the same basic argument that Republicans do against taxes that are targeted at the rich: saying that 'Small businessmen' - here 'firefighters' etc. - will get hit hard by this new tax.' This is a standard conservative debating tactic that she was using, to deceive the audience against a progressive proposal.] ...

OBAMA: That's why I would look at potentially exempting [them].

Obama here didn't point out to the audience that Clinton was using a standard conservative debating ploy, but he instead simply accepted her conservative and false framing of this issue, and then proceeded to weaken his own progressive proposal into confusing mush, so as to make it harder for her to attack, yet without his actually defending it.

Even earlier, the two of them had debated this, such as on 15 November 2007 in Las Vegas; and, on that particular occasion, Obama had instead stuck by his progressive guns on this matter:

CLINTON: I do not want to fix the problems of Social Security on the backs of middle class families. ... If you lift the cap completely, that is a $1 trillion tax increase. ...

OBAMA: Understand that only 6% of Americans make more than $97,000 - so 6% is not on the middle class; it's the upper class.

That time, he flat-out rejected her false (and conservative) framing of the issue. But, until he was elected as President, he didn't actually have any fixed position on this important matter.

For example: In a 7 July 2004 press release (while he was still only a member of the Illinois state senate), Obama headlined "Increase Retirement Security," and he said: "The best way for our government to help ensure that every American can retire with dignity is to provide incentives for middle class families to save for the future. My Working Families Savings Accounts plan gives working men and women earning up to $50,000 per year the opportunity to put money in a retirement plan, whether it's an IRA or an employee based 401(k), and have that money matched with a 50 percent tax credit for contributions up to $2,000." Basically, this proposal was in line with George W. Bush's proposed privatization of Social Security - it was treating the government's retirement insurance scheme, known as "Social Security," as being instead a private investment scheme (which it is not, and never was). At that time, he was signaling to Wall Street that he would be the type of "Democrat" they could do business with.

So: Until only shortly before Obama became President, he was actually just "winging it" on major policy issues, and he didn't really have any ideological commitment that was coherent or carefully thought-out. Until he became President, he wanted simply to become President; he didn't have an ideology - or at least none that was thought-out, consistent, or aimed at any goal other than his gaining more power.

Once he was elected, however, he did think this issue through, and he quickly decided that he would need to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, in order to enable the Wall Street bailouts to continue, such as to fund the purchase of $40 billion each month of the Wall-Street-generated mortgage backed securities (MBS) - $480 billion per year of these "toxic assets" - by the N.Y. Federal Reserve Bank that Timothy Geithner used to run. (While Geithner was there, he arranged that all of these federal purchases would pay 100 cents on the dollar, full face-value, to the Wall Street banks, for these "toxic assets" that still remained on their books, even though the market value of these assets was only a fraction of that. That's the man Obama chose to become his Treasury Secretary.)

On 16 January 2009, four days before Obama became President, Michael D. Shear headlined in the Washington Post, "Obama Pledges Entitlement Reform," and he reported about "a wide-ranging 70 minute interview with Washington Post reporters and editors," in which Obama endorsed efforts by congressional Republicans, and "the Blue Dog Coalition of fiscally conservative Democrats," to cut Social Security and Medicare. Progressives were already disturbed at what their friends in Congress were leaking to them about Obama's strong commitment to doing this, and so a few blog posts were issued to ring alarm bells publicly about it. Paul Rosenberg at openleft.com headlined on January 17th (three days before Obama's Inauguration), regarding "Obama"s 'Mandate' To Slash Medicare, Medicaid & Social Security," and he presented polls showing that the public not only didn't want to cut any of these programs, but that 74% wanted Medicare and Medicare spending increased, and 62% wanted SS spending increased. Even 65% of self-declared "conservative" Americans wanted the medical programs increased, and 62% of them wanted SS spending increased. To Obama, his plan to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, so as to fund the Wall Street bailout, was an act of political courage. (In his interview with the Washington Post, he "pledged to expend political capital on the issue.") It was his long-term plan, even though the polls showed widespread opposition to it by the public. This was a matter not of expediency, but of conscience, for him: he needed to find some way to fund both the ongoing Wall Street bailouts, and the massive federal debt that would be caused by the 2008 Wall Street crash and its resulting plunge in federal tax-collections; and this "balanced approach," of tax hikes and spending cuts, would be his solution to both problems.

Only after Obama was elected President and hired Wall Streeters such as Timothy Geithner and Eric Holder to run the Treasury and Justice Departments, and then soon thereafter he offered congressional Republicans his trade of "entitlement" cuts for top-end tax-hikes, did it become clear that his top priority would actually be the welfare of the executives, and the bondholders, and the stockholders, of the Wall Street firms, and not the welfare of the American taxpaying public. But he has been consistent about his priorities ever since he first entered the White House. That's when he showed the stuff he's actually made of.

Obama is a moderate Republican who merely wears the verbal garb of a "Democrat." That's the reason why, increasingly, it is congressional Democrats, rather than congressional Republicans, who are voting against his legislative proposals.

The only way out of this conservative entrapment of the White House, even by phony progressive Presidents negotiating with authentic conservatives, is for Democratic voters to refuse to vote for any other than a consistent progressive in Democratic presidential primaries: that's Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Alan Grayson, or Bernie Sanders - whichever one of them wants to run and becomes the first of these four to enter the Democratic Party Presidential contest so as to prevent Hillary Clinton from winning the nomination by default as her being simply the most corrupt and thus best-financed Democratic candidate. If Democratic progressives fail to unite and stay behind one-and-the-same progressive (whichever one of these four is the first to enter), then 2016 will end up being, yet again, a choice between a conservative Democrat and a fascist Republican, just as was the case in both 2008 and 2012. The political range between conservatism and fascism encompasses less than half of America's electorate: Republicans plus around half of independents. It shouldn't obtain a lock-hold on the White House, which it already has done for some time now. America is falling increasingly behind other countries in international rankings. Our national decline must stop soon, or else it won't stop at all. The Democratic primaries for the 2016 election will be crucial.

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Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They"re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST"S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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