Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Politics:  Time for Liberals to Give up Hope on Barack Obama?

The specific charge sheet against Obama could run for several pages and then several more. On the economy, the president is blamed for a lack of ambition, for passing a stimulus package of $787bn that, say the critics, should have been nearly twice the size. Obama erred, too, by allowing Democrats in Congress to write the stimulus bill, packing it with pet schemes and pork that would do little to get the economy moving. In an attempt to win Republican support — which never came — he also weighed down the bill with too many tax cuts. The result was action that was simply incomplete, leaving unemployment hovering around the 9% mark for most of Obama's presidency.

Former admirers say he was too weak on the banks, failing to declare war on those who had caused the 2008 crash. The clues were there in his senior appointments. While some liberals had fantasised about a dream ticket of Nobel laureate Paul Krugman and former labour secretary Robert Reich, Obama filled his two key economic posts with Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner, both schooled by Robert Rubin, former co-chair of Goldman Sachs. Obama did legislate on financial reform, but the bill did not go far enough, with no restoration of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall act, which had previously separated casino and retail banking. Nor was there any action to cap the pay of top executives, even in companies majority-owned by the US government. It's not that Obama fought and lost on these issues. In most cases, he did not even fight.

His signature achievement, the passage of healthcare reform, also dismayed as many liberals as it delighted, chiefly because Obama surrendered on the so-called public option which, while not exactly establishing an American [British] NHS, would have at least offered a government-run insurance programme as an alternative to the private sector. That made Obama's bill no more radical than one proposed decades earlier by Richard Nixon, or the one passed by a certain Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts.

In his inaugural address Obama spoke often and poetically on climate change. He vowed to "harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories". But there has been no action and not even any serious advocacy. Aware that Republicans do not even believe there is an energy problem, he has shied away from offering a solution.

For much more, see Barack Obama's Presidency, Three Years on — Is It Time to Give up Hope? by Jonathan Freedland, January 19, 2012 at guardian.co.uk.

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