Thursday, October 3, 2013

President Obama: How I Learned to Start Worrying and Hate the Grand Bargain

Warning: this is a long post, much longer than those I will do in the future. This will serve as my thesis of what I see is the most important thing I can do with this blog: Examine the effects of corruption in government. To give an overview of this can’t be done in a short length.

First and foremost, before people get mad, let me be clear on something. I realize the American political reality that we have a two party system. I completely and totally agree that an Obama presidency is unquestionably more preferable than a McCain or Romney presidency. Please keep in mind that what follows isn't to say we should raise a one-finger salute to the Democratic Party and vote Green. Instead, I want to make clear what I think is the true danger we are facing in the Obama Presidency. Republican obstructionism has largely contributed to this, but does not excuse Obama destroying many progressive causes in his Presidency.

Read more of my liberal heresy below the fold.

In his first two years, Obama's signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act, was systematically dismantled by filibuster abuse in the Senate, and not just by Republicans. Former war hawk pro-corporate Democrat turned Independent Senator and Droopy-Dog doppelganger Joe Lieberman not only killed the Public Option (which was the closest thing to single payer we could likely hope to get in this country), he also personally killed the Medicare buy-in and the lowering of the eligibility age. This is mostly thanks to Rahm Emanuel, whose practice of appeasement would make Neville Chamberlain angrily mutter to himself in the corner. And how did the Barack Obama led Democratic party respond to Joe Lieberman, who, after campaigning for John McCain in 2008, had repeatedly sabotaged and joined in Republican filibuster abuse and destroyed the best chance to truly modernize our broken healthcare system? They let him keep his Senate Committee Chairmanship. Obama actually reached out to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid not to remove Lieberman's chairmanship. It's because Obama doesn't focus on legislation, but rather on elections. By ensuring that Senators and House members do not have to vote for something that may negatively affect their campaign contributions, the primary goal of the Democratic Party, getting reelected at all cost, are met.  This is the first rule of the Obama Administration: never use leverage if there’s any risk involved.

Let's not forget the Affordable Care Act's main provisions are pulled straight from the right wing Heritage Foundation as an alternative to Hillary Clinton's plan in the 1990s. All of the sudden, what used to be a far right wing idea is now considered a left wing idea. This is the second rule of the Obama Administration: start from compromise and work right.

This isn't the only time Obama has towed a 1990 Republican Party line. There was also the failed Cap and Trade legislation, which mimicked the largely successful 1990 Amendment to the Clean Air Act that limited sulfur dioxide emissions. This was, again, another Republican idea that Obama adopted (which, of course, Republicans then referred to as a communist takeover of the energy industry), continuing a trend of starting from a position of compromise and giving Republicans more from there; this time, however, Republicans decided most wasn't enough, and the bill died a slow quiet death. In fairness, Obama has actually taken a hardline stance lately on climate change, using the EPA to enact strict carbon capture policies on newly constructed power plants. Credit where it is due, Obama is doing the right thing here. I will be more than happy to say Obama is doing the right thing when he is. However, it is even more important to note when he does the wrong thing.

Consider the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013 (or "Monsanto Protection Act"). This bill prevents people from suing any producer of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) regardless if it causes any health issues in the future. Now, the dangers of GMOs are in fact largely overblown at present, but since when does it help the American people to effectively bar any class action lawsuits against a firm that very well could cause damage in the future? Yet Obama quietly signed the bill into law without ever speaking publicly on it. Because if he didn't, the 2016 Democratic nominee likely wouldn't get as many contributions from Monsanto. This alone should prove Obama is a corporatist far more than a progressive.

13 civilians died in this drone strike in Yemen (via Guardian)
And can we all agree that preemptive or punitive war is the antithesis of progressive thinking? Let’s stop pretending we aren't at war in Pakistan and Yemen already. Plus we’re still at war in Afghanistan. Oh, but I’m sure we’ll withdraw in Obama’s first term. Oh wait, I’m sure we’ll withdraw in 2014. Well, except for the military support we plan to provide past 2014.

Look, I get it. Republicans are actively preventing anything from being done. We're facing a government shutdown because of the obstructionism of Republicans. After all, you can't debate determined insanity. I get it. But with two words, I can prove Obama is eager to give Republicans a giant win just so they can earn their bipartisanship merit badge. Grand Bargain.

The Grand Bargain is a plan for Democrats to get tiny increases in taxes on high income earners to help address our deficit. An idea, I'm sure, no one reading this blog sees as an inherently bad thing. However, that is the only thing progressives win on in this "bargain." One controversial element is "chained CPI", which is, in short, a method to change the way the consumer price index is calculated in order to limit the growth of Social Security spending (i.e., benefits) so that it does not keep up with inflation. Effectively, the single person poverty guideline would drop nearly $1000 in today's dollars relative to where it would be otherwise by 2043. In short, they're robbing you. The only solace we can take is that Republicans are so extreme now, they would rather shut down the government than get only 90% of what they want. But that is a very cold solace.

Remember, Democrats fought tooth and nail when Bush was President to prevent Social Security from being privatized. Who could imagine that same party would, less than a decade later, be on the verge of making historic cuts to benefits? I question if this would even be possible under a McCain presidency. Additionally, Obama has already offered cuts to Medicare. Obama is even publicly offering Republicans more corporate tax cuts, a prospect that should make every progressive go crazy.

1-one percent of the one percent in Fed Ex field
What 28% of all campaign donations look like.
This is the system. Money wins. The candidate that has the most money wins over 85% of House races, and over 80% of Senate races every year going back to 2002, with that number in House races swelling to 95%. This is even worse when you consider that ~32,000 people donated over one quarter of all campaign donations in 2012 for the entire nation. For perspective, there are about two and a half times that many people at your typical Notre Dame home football game. In this stage of politics, how can the average people ever hope to win? Obama is well aware of this, and knows how the game is played. And he has no desire to change it.


Money in politics should be the first issue talked about in every single progressive circle. It should dominate news headlines. The spotlight should be on representatives and lobbyists every single night. But most importantly, we can’t think this is something just Republicans do. Eleanor Holmes Norton is a very vocal spokesperson (I don’t say representative because she can’t vote) for many progressive causes. Yet she too will beg corporate donors for money to keep her seat. Until we win this fight, we’re doomed to lose almost all the others.

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