Barack Obama was never the progressive ideologue many of his supporters hoped he’d be. He ran as a fairly centrist, cautious candidate, and that’s how he’s governed.
Though to his credit, he’s been office for less than a year, and he’s already decided to blow most of his political capital on a party-line vote to reform healthcare, something his predecessor George W. Bush never dared to try with, say, Social Security.
But because healthcare doesn’t include a public option, thus leaving the for-profit insurers to make a fortune on the great insuring of America, and because Wall Street reform seems to have faded into memory, and because Obama’s Afghanistan strategy is the same as the last guy’s, a growing faction of the left is seriously angry at the President.
Nowhere is this more evident than at the popular “netroots” site Firedoglake, which has taken to teaming up with Grover Norquist (of all people) to attack The White House.
The times call for a leader of Churchillian or Rooseveltian magnitude; what we have instead is a cautious risk-averse manager. Bold progressives must fill the leadership vacuum in order to restore and support a vibrant US middle class.
When he confronted a world-wide economic collapse not of his making last winter, BHO and his team facilitated the deployment of bailout packages to industries and financial institutions judged “too big to fail.” These bailouts supplemented the TARP monies being disbursed to big banks that had been initiated by his predecessor. Though some market economists decreed that these “too big to fail” enterprises should have been allowed to do just that, the President wisely decided to immediately stop the bleeding in order to avoid catastrophic consequences down the economic “food chain” rather than hew to doctrinaire free market theories.
As banks and markets stabilised, attention turned to getting the consumer economy back on track, with arguments more or less boiling down to laissez faire versus massive government intervention. BHO’s decision to embrace modest stimulus enraged libertarians and conservatives who wanted to let the Free Market reign and disappointed progressive liberals who identified the need for a momentous government employment initiative that would restart and sustain the nation’s economic engine while preparing our infrastructure for the next generation in a changing energy environment.
BHO’s demonstrated personal need to achieve consensus during crisis and his failure to assert bold leadership on economic recovery and employment set the stage for the health care debate. In order to avoid alienating big campaign donors he allowed the playing field to shift to a focus on major health insurers and pharmaceutical companies (with their incestuous big bank brothers and sisters cheering from the sidelines). They were able, with the complicity of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, to exploit BHO’s self-imposed Christmas 2009 deadline and his apparently congenital aversion to conflict (expressed as the goal of a “bipartisan” bill, which he did not achieve anyway!).
Among other things, the site is going hard after Rahm Emanuel, urging an investigation of his time at Freddie Mac (FRE). (To be honest, we’re not sure there’s much of an investigation needed. The GSEs were basically big gravy trains for Democratic pals and pols, and even if he did nothing wrong while there, the whole setup turned out to be a national disgrace).
As we look back on the year, this development is probably one of the bigger surprises we’ve seen. Parties always ahve internal divisions, even the GOP right now (check out the Florida Senate primary).
But given the wave of popularity Obama came in on, and frankly the adoration of so many, who compared him to JFK or FDR, this is something of a shock, though as Atlantic Political reporter Marc Ambinder points out, it’s probably a healthy shock.
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