What Obama is Missing
I know everyone is going to yell at me for writing this now. I can hear it now, “We’re trying to win an election! You’re not helping! Criticizing Democrats now is akin to getting into bed with Karl Rove!” Ok, I hope not the last one, that sounds creepy, but you get the point.
The reality is while a lot of people are talking, we’re actually doing something. Along with PCCC and DFA, we are participating in TurkOutTheVote.com. That is part of their larger effort at CallOutTheVote.com to get people who care to volunteer and make calls to turn out the vote for strong progressives. Please help in that effort if you have any free time. Some of the elections are very close and talking to real voters helps tremendously.
Now, the reason I’m writing a piece critical of Obama at this point is because I just saw an excellent interview Jon Stewart had with him on The Daily Show. In fact, I thought it was the best interview of the president I have ever seen (my detailed analysis of the interview is here).
Stewart got him to address real, substantive criticism of his record for the first time. Almost everyone else that has interviewed him has either wildly misstated the case or challenged him from the right. Stewart asked all of the right questions. And the answers were very informative. This is what I learned.
Unfortunately, Obama doesn’t get it. He’s not alone; almost the entire Washington media doesn’t understand what the hell we’re talking about when we say change. Obama said that he got 90% of what we wanted in health care reform and that people are complaining we didn’t get the other 10%. I totally disagree with him on the percentages (I think it was closer to 40%), but that misses the whole point.
We’re not quibbling over legislative compromises. For example, I would have given the NRA exemption and every other exemption that was proposed to pass the DISCLOSE act. We’re not stupid, we understand the need to compromise and the fact that of course you can’t get all of what you want.
The real issue isn’t whether you changed some provisions and didn’t change others; it’s whether you changed the system or not. That’s the change we were looking for.
So, in the case of health care, as long as there was some effort to break the health insurance monopoly we would have all jumped in. We didn’t need single payer, we didn’t need Medicare buy-in for everyone, we didn’t even need the public option for everyone (all of those would have been great, but we were nowhere near them in this political cimate). We just needed something, something to start changing the broken system.
We would have settled for Medicare buy-in starting at age 55. We would have settled for the public option that only applied for 5% of the country, the last proposal. There were no wild demands, no mythical inflexible progressives demanding 100%. We just didn’t want the core of the system to be exactly as it was before. And unfortunately it is.
Yes, we got more coverage for more people. I’m not discounting the good sides of the bill, but at the same time you can’t be purposely dense to what we’re saying. Private health insurance is still our only option, drug companies still have massive monopolies, our premiums are still going up and we are still at the mercy of these corporations.
But health care is just an example; the real heart of the issue is how our elections are financed. The lobbyists are killing us. The Democratic voters hate them and so do the Republican voters. They buy our politicians and corrupt the whole system. That is what the Tea Party protestors are most angry about at their core (73% of Tea Party supporters are against the Citizens United decision that allows for corporations to spend unlimited money on elections). That is what progressives are most angry about at their core (86% of liberals are against Citizens United). The system is broken. Our politicians don’t work for us. Our representatives don’t represent us. That is what we wanted to change!
And what was done about that? Nearly nothing! Yes, Obama administration brought a little more transparency to the process initially (though after Citizens United we’ve taken a giant step backwards – and that’s a part of why that is one of the most unpopular decisions in Supreme Court history). Yes, the administration mostly banned lobbyists for working for them directly. But there was no major piece of legislation to fix the heart of the system.
If we continue to let special interests, corporate interests and lobbyists buy our politicians, there’s no hope on any of the issues. Then Obama is right, the best we could hope for is a little bit of change in the different fields. If you accept that false premise, then Obama did the best he could do within those constraints.
But we didn’t elect him to accept that premise, we elected him to change that premise. That was the change we were waiting for – and didn’t get.
Unfortunately, based on President Obama’s answers to Jon Stewart he still doesn’t get it and has no intentions of pushing that agenda in the next two years. And he will probably be just as flummoxed then as to why people aren’t satisfied with his efforts. Your timidity isn’t based on your specific policy proposals; it’s based on your lack of vision.
If he fought tooth and nail for complete public financing of elections in the next two years, even if he didn’t win, we would all back him 100%. We don’t need 100% success, but we do need you to at least head in the right direction. And we need you to understand what we meant by change.