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The Progressive

Barack Obama and the Fading of Hope

Whither has it fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now the glory and the dream?
—William Wordsworth

Face it: A lot of people fooled themselves. When Barack Obama was running for President, and when he won, people filled his empty but gift-wrapped box labeled “Hope” with huge dreams of a better America.

We wanted him to be a mix of Martin Luther King and FDR, but the odds always were that he would be a mix of Bill Clinton and George Bush the First, and so it has turned out, with a little George Bush the Second thrown in for bad measure and Jimmy Carter for good.

Some of the disappointment stems from self-deception, a willful stuffing of the ears during the campaign. Repeatedly, he told us he was going to take troops from Iraq and send them to Afghanistan.

That was one promise he kept.

No, he wasn’t just saying that to get elected. He wasn’t talking right so he could move left. He actually was on the right, at least as far as Afghanistan goes.

But it goes further, much further.

Take his State of the Union Address.

Did we need Barack Obama to say “the true engine of job creation will always be America’s businesses”?

Did we need Barack Obama to give corporations, big and small, more tax breaks, when even John McCain’s top economist recognizes that such tax breaks are among the least effective ways to get the economy moving again?

Did we need Barack Obama to come out for an across-the-board spending freeze, exempting the Pentagon, of course?

Did we need Barack Obama to dwell on the “burdens facing the middle class” while barely mentioning the burdens of those in poverty?

Did we need Barack Obama to issue an Executive Order to establish a commission that will pave the way for slashing Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security?

Did we need Barack Obama to come out for nuclear power? (He has since established, by Executive Order, a blue ribbon commission to study how to move forward with this, too.)

Did we need Barack Obama to advocate offshore oil drilling—and clean coal, as if there were such a thing?

Did we need Barack Obama to threaten Iran?

He talked about improving the nation’s image abroad, but he’s been disastrously ineffectual in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which lies at the heart of our sullied reputation.

In Latin America, he showed his true colors by failing to throw his weight behind restoring President Zelaya in Honduras and by signing a military base agreement with Colombia.

And for all his talk about ending torture, the United States is still disappearing people into black sites in Afghanistan—and still torturing them there. (See Anand Gopal’s horrifying report)

On civil liberties, his record is extremely mixed, and that’s being generous. The ACLU just put out a report, “America Unrestored,” that goes item by item.

Suffice it to say that he’s done nothing to prohibit the warrantless spying that was the hallmark of the Bush Administration. He’s done nothing to end the Secret Service’s use of “free speech zones.” And he continues to assert the right to hold people, indefinitely, without charge.

On the economy, he baked half a loaf of stimulus, even when he was warned by Nobel Prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman and the brilliant economist Dean Baker that a full loaf was needed to prevent 10 percent unemployment. And Obama surrounded himself with Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, and Ben Bernanke, the architects of disaster and bailouts. (Not for a moment do I believe that Obama “hated” the bank bailout. “We all hated it,” he said. Meaning Democrats and Republicans, alike. Square that with Sen. Durbin’s comment, “The banks own this place.”)

And on health care, he took the best proposal—single payer—off the table at the start and never, ever even put the second best proposal on the table, which would have been Medicare for All Who Want It. The bill he favors is a giveaway to the insurance industry.


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Sure, he’s done some good things:

He lifted the global gag rule that prohibited NGOs receiving U.S. funds from even discussing abortion.

He signed the U.N. declaration on gay rights.

He’s trying to lift “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

He lifted the ban on immigrants with HIV.

He gave protection to transgender federal employees and hired Amanda Simpson in the Commerce Department, the first openly transgender Presidential appointee.

He promoted stem cell research.

He supported preventive health.

He deemphasized the war on drugs and instructed federal prosecutors not to go after medical marijuana users and providers.

Instead, Justice Department lawyers are once again going after civil rights violators, including Phoenix Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Obama recognized global warming, he let states impose stiffer carbon standards, and the EPA designated carbon dioxide as a health hazard.

He supported net neutrality.

He publicly defended workers’ rights to organize.

He’s made the government more open and transparent and responsive to FOIA requests.

He canceled the F-22.

He canceled missiles in Poland and the radar system in the Czech Republic.

He gave a great speech in Cairo.

He’s getting U.S. troops out of Iraq.

He’s pushing to reduce nuclear weapons.

And he appointed Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

All this is not nothing.

But it doesn’t amount—it doesn’t come close to amounting—to the kind of change people hoped to get from Obama, and the kind of change this country desperately needs.

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Matthew Rothschild

Matthew Rothschild

Matthew Rothschild is senior editor of The Progressive magazine.

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