2016 promises to be a remarkable year. The election in November, the new president in, the current president out — well not exactly. The “old” president will be preparing the traditional defense of his presidency in the form of a doorstopper (AKA book) dumping fairy dust over his more nefarious policies and generally giving high marks to himself, his golfing buddies [rich corporatists] and his primary advisors. You know characters straight out of MacBeth like the three witches Samantha Power, Susan Rice and Secretary of State Clinton who took the old chestnut “responsibility2protect” to its cheesy finale in places like Libya (now a terrorist launching ground), Yemen (the poorest nation in the world now a wasteland – “A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,/And the dry stone no sound of water.” —T.S. Eliot). No doubt publishers have already begun the bidding war.
For brand Obama to survive beyond its capture of the 2008 Marketer of the Year Award from Advertising Age, and its 2009 grab for the gold in Stockholm — symbols of a weary public willing to jump on any bandwagon after eight years of “43”— some heavy duty scrubbing is in order for an eight year record of broken promises, war crimes, and assaults on the personal liberties of citizens and non-citizens alike. The book will be fascinating reading — how will he explain away the non-performance of AG Eric Holder, who never saw a corporate thug he could jail or his treasury secretary who was unaware he had to pay income taxes like the rest of us mugs and has spent a lifetime bending over for the banksters. As the gravy train neared its conclusion, these sharpies got out of Dodge to cushy sinecures rewarded with millions by a grateful oligarchy. Defending his immigration record, 2.5 hapless souls sent packing, his use of a 1917 immigration law passed by another delusional democrat out to bring peace by making war, his fiscal cliff bipartisan “deal” with a fascist-leaning bunch of Republicans that left the social safety net in tatters, his corporate welfare dodge affectionately known as Obamacare and a cornucopia of domestic and foreign blunders that have left the globe as unsafe as it has ever been. Yep it will sure make for compelling reading.
Lest his version goes unchallenged, we’ve prepared our own treatise on the enduring legacy of our 44th president from campaign promises to diverse groups —labor, those in need of health insurance, truth-seekers, peace activists, environmental justice adherents, detainees languishing in Guantanamo and those we call the 99% — to a presidency where the fair deal we were promised turned out to be a raw deal.
It’s L-word time. As his second term sputters to its finale, President Obama, like all presidents before him, is putting legacy considerations at the top of his to-do list. Historians of a liberal bent tread gingerly on the subject of his ranking a couple of decades hence in the pantheon of twentieth and twenty first century “leaders of the free world.” That he’ll beat out the man generally considered our overall worst president, Warren G. Harding, is generally conceded. Although Harding governed for only two years and didn’t have much of a chance to wreak havoc on the republic— Obama, on the other hand, has had eight years to get it wrong.
As a textbook example of how not to run the country, Harding is hardly alone when it comes to presidents that promised a whole lot more than they delivered. Prime examples in no particular order: Ronald Reagan, The Bushes 41 and 43, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Woodrow Wilson.
Were he a different kind of leader, Obama would ponder the question posed to New Yorkers by then-Mayor Ed Koch three decades ago – “How am I doing?” That particular speculation is terra incognito for this – or any other – leader of the sole superpower on the planet. The American people, on the other hand, have asked and answered that question and for 51% of them, a resounding “not very good at all.” [Rasmussen 2/8/2016]
“The big banks got bailed out but the middle class got left behind. Our economy works for Wall Street CEOs but not for the middle class. America isn’t supposed to only work for the top one percent.” [75% of the American people agreed with these statements in a 2011 Carville/Greenberg poll]
How did it all go so wrong for this man who seemed to have been groomed for the presidency since his days as an undergraduate at Columbia University? Fast backward to November 4, 2008, the night of his election as the first African American President. The hopes and dreams of a fractured nation living through the economic devastation of the sub-prime mortgage disaster, the moral and spiritual crisis of a war conducted on the basis of a series of lies, the growing economic inequality that consigned millions of Americans to a marginal existence while a tiny minority lived high on the hog poured into this new president who promised so much but was ultimately to deliver so little.
He won with a campaign that promised “hope and change,” and on the basis of its blend of grass roots seduction and heavy lifting among big money donors, Team Obama was named Advertising Age’s marketer of the year (2008). In fact the campaign was considered such a “slam dunk,” the marketing geniuses at the magazine awarded the prize in October, nearly a month before the election. This carefully orchestrated campaign was no Mr. Smith goes to Washington and lays out a principled and people-friendly agenda. At work here was a sophisticated social media construct that blended inspirational gimmicks, feel good politics, and a twenty-first century Eugene McCarthy youth movement. Commenting on the genius of the campaign, Angus Macauley, Rodale Marketing Systems pointed out: “[T]o see what he’s done, to be able to create a social network and do it in a way where its created the tools to let people get engaged very easily.” Discussing his positions on economic, social, and political issues wasn’t winning any prizes in that crowd. Or, it must be noted, in the decision-making of the majority of voters.
Grant Park in Chicago was the place to be on November 4, 2008, as President-elect Obama made his victory speech. More like a Chinese menu than a serious call to action, the president-elect made sure to touch on the economic devastation roiling his base. He spoke to “mothers and fathers who will lie awake after the children fall asleep and wonder how they’ll make the mortgage or pay their doctors’ bills or save enough for their child’s college education.“ Invoking Dr. King, and Sam Cooke, he highlighted his commitment to change: “But tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America” [Martin Luther King, Jr.] “It’s been a long time coming, but…change has come to America,” [Sam Cooke song] Later with Oprah’s tears falling like holy water blessing this revival meeting, Obama proclaimed the new era of people power: “Let us remember that, if this financial crisis taught us anything, it’s that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers.”
In a glorious finale, Obama hewed to the script of every politician on the victory podium and threw out a basketful of platitudes designed to warm the hearts of every hope-loving and change-believing acolyte in the audience. “This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to … promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm…that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts … we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.”
The Dark Night of the Soul
For the more cynical, disillusionment set in before the inauguration. On December 27, 2008, 24 days before the inauguration, Israel launched a murderous attack on the Gaza Strip that lasted 22 days ending two days before the inauguration. Coincidence? Or a gambit designed to demonstrate to the new president how expertly Israel pulls the strings of US Mid-East foreign policy and reinforcing the message of Israel’s impunity to either criticism or punishment — the same one received by the 11 administrations before his. Obama is nothing if not a fast learner. He “explained” his silence through his mouthpiece David Axelrod who piously noted “there is only one ruling president.” To make sure the Israelis didn’t spend sleepless nights worrying about the new administration’s fealty to its Israeli handlers, the ubiquitous Mr. Axelrod went on Meet the Press to set the record straight. Israel and the United States have a “special relationship,” indeed “an important bond.” Diving into the deep end of the pool, Axelrod assured the audience that Obama “plans to work closely with Israel. They are great allies of ours and the most important allies in the region.” What of the Palestinians? After it was clear there would be no abrupt departure from the official US love affair with Israel, Axelrod made a tiny concession: “This is the basic principle of his plan, but he will carry it out in a way that will promote peace and he will work on it together with the Israelis and Palestinians.”
Should we have expected more from a president who didn’t miss a beat on the campaign trail or as featured speaker at several AIPAC (American Israel Political Action Committee) meetings showcasing his public obeisance to Israel, “that there is a strong and deep commitment and connection to the Jewish community that should not be questioned,” took great pains to assure the Israeli press that he is fully committed to “Israel’s identity as a Jewish state,” told the UN to butt out “I will always stand up for Israel’s right to defend itself in the United Nations and around the world,” pledged that the US “should never seek to dictate what is best for Israel and their security interests.”
“To me it is a moral imperative to support and defend Israel, and… to ensure its long-term security by maintaining its qualitative military edge.” [Website statement from the democrats’ love child, Elizabeth Warren]
Speaking of all things Israel, Obama’s campaign rhetoric was a harbinger of his administration’s first foray into the thicket of Israel-US relations — appointing a misnamed “honest broker” to run the misguided “peace process.” Before that could happen, the Israelis took the hint and ceased Operation Cast Lead days before Obama wandered into the Oval Office. Israel’s cease fire also allowed Obama the “clean hands” necessary to squeak through the peace prize vetting process. In grateful thanks and unwilling to challenge the unwritten rule of unquestioned support for Israel, Obama kept the money spigot open: $3 billion annually for Israel’s defense (effectively killing two birds with one stone as most of the money went to some heavy hitters to his campaign war chest – the likes of Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed and the other dons in the defense world). He staffed his state department and UN seat with the official Israeli cheerleading squad: the divas of destruction Clinton, Power, and Rice. Martin Indyk, former ambassador to Israel, ex-deputy director of AIPAC (the Israel lobby) and founder of the Israel-centric think tank Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) became the honest broker Obama appointed to lead the “peace” negotiations in 2013-2014. With US honest brokers starting to look like ants at a picnic and the peace process leading to the second Israeli invasion of Gaza in five years, Martin Indyk, to no one’s surprise, resigned his commission and slunk off to projects closer to his heart such as vice president and director for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center which advertises itself as a think tank on Middle East policy but its Israel bias is evident in its policy pronouncements and in the credentials of its founder and chief funder Haim Saban described by the New York Times as a “tireless cheerleader for Israel.”
Obama’s campaign pledge to stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel is monumental if for no other reason than it is part of a select group of campaign promises he made – and kept! Others that might have substantially improved the lives of the vast majority of the American people bit the dust – from the podium to the grave.
“Under the US Constitution, the president is expressly and unavoidably bound to faithfully execute the laws.”[12/3/2008 op-ed Chicago Sun Times, law professor, Anthony D’Amato, Northwestern School of Law and Jordan J. Paust, former captain, JAG, and professor, U. Of Houston & JAG School.]
Promise one made and broken: Holding the Bush crew accountable for torture, warrantless wiretapping, rendition, suspension of habeas corpus and other “great crimes” which in the words of Georgetown law professor Jonathan Turley: “…if we don’t investigate this [Bush] administration for war crimes and illegality—particularly war crimes—someone else might. The fact is the rest of the world sees these as war crimes.” Appearing to not disagree (his standard campaign stance when faced with decisions he had no intention of making), President Obama “broadly condemned some counterterrorism tactics of the Bush administration and its claim that the measures were justified under executive powers. [“Obama Reluctant to Look Into Bush Programs” NY Times 1/11/2009]. Asked in a campaign speech in April, 2008, if he would consider appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the current administration, his reply left the door open a sliver “If crimes have been committed, they should be investigated.” A little more than a week before his inauguration, Obama proceeded to slam it shut. Appearing on This Week With George Stephanopoulos, Obama performed a historic backflip — one among many as candidate and President-elect Obama became President Obama. “I don’t believe anyone is above the law. One the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backward…My instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward we are doing the right thing…When it comes to national security what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past.” A theory of jurisprudence that undoubtedly the vast majority of the 2.2 million souls locked up in US prisons would eagerly second.
While the rest of the world, especially the Muslim world, looked on not a single Bush official in the administration, the FBI, the CIA or other federal agencies was called to the bar of justice. So much for the rule of law when it comes to ‘evildoers’ masquerading as leaders of the free world. As we will see, it was not the lawbreakers or those who created the protocols for the dirty business carried out by their underlings but government employees blowing the whistle on high crimes and misdemeanors who were treated to the Obama Justice Department’s “hang ‘em high” version of the rule of law. “The Bush people have been let off, the telecom companies got immunity. The only people Obama has prosecuted are the whistleblowers.” [Martin Klein, ex-AT&T employee who exposed illegal telecom wiretaps]
“A time comes when silence is betrayal…Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in times of war” [Martin Luther King, Jr., 4/4/1967]
As has been repeated ad nauseam, since becoming president in 2009, Obama has prosecuted more people as whistleblowers under the 1917 Espionage Act than all former presidents combined. James Goodale, chief counsel for the New York Times during the Pentagon Papers trial, characterized Obama’s stance toward journalists as “antediluvian, conservative, backwards. Worse than Nixon. He thinks that anyone who leaks is a spy…it’s cuckoo.” The comparison to Nixon is inescapable. Washington Post editor, Leonard Downie, Jr. in his 2013 report, “The Obama Administration and the Press,” for the Committee to Protect Journalism didn’t mince words: “The administration’s [Obama’s] war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration. In retrospect even President Bush for all the Darth Vadar-like manipulations of the press and public opinion during his tenure comes off smelling like a rose by comparison.“ [During the Bush administration] journalists were still able to engage knowledgeable officials at the highest levels in productive dialogue.” The sea change came in 2009 when the Obama administration made the crucial, if phony distinction between “waste, fraud and abuse” (permissible, considered whistle blowing) and “questionable government policies and actions, even if they could be illegal or unconstitutional.” (forbidden, considered leaking, punishable as espionage). Investigative reporter and journalist David Lindorff wrote the epilogue: “…the Obama administration has gone beyond even the Nixon administration in its fear of leaks and its efforts to control the story.”
“Such acts of courage and patriotism (government employees speaking out), which can sometimes save lives…should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing…” [Obama on the campaign trail, 2009]
Far from trying to hide the fallout created by a democratic administration turning its back on fundamental constitutional protections, treating leaks to the media as espionage, punishing anyone – journalists, activists, whistleblowers — for the crime of disagreeing with the government, the Obama 2012 campaign geniuses decided to celebrate them. Putting in place a “truth team,” they bragged about the six prosecutions (up to that point) that had already been undertaken, and on the theory that saying makes it so declared “President Obama has taken a firm approach to protecting our nation’s security and guarding information regarding operations that involve or affect our military and our allies.”
Change being the second half of Obama’s promise to his base (hope was taken care of when he won), what better way to operate than to update bad laws and make them worse. The Loyalty Oath program of 1947 (run by the democratic President Truman) fit the bill. Renamed the Insider Threat program in 2011 (AKA the Employee Snitch Network), it was created to unmask the multitude of spies Obama was convinced were lurking in government agencies handling sensitive national security information. Too bad J. Edgar had already gone to his reward. This was the kind of government work he cut his teeth on. The hunt for government spies targeted such high profile repositories of national security information as the Agriculture Department, the Social Security Administration, the Office of Education, the Justice Department, and the Peace Corps. Under its draconian provisions, the most suspect government employees were required to take loyalty oaths (the first and last loyalty oath program in America before 2011 was Harry Truman’s 1947 Executive Order 9835 issued to counter right wing claims that the democrats were “soft on Communism”). In one of those delicious ironies that puncture the Democrat’s undeserved reputation for protecting civil rights, Executive Order 9835 and its Loyalty Review Board were revoked by a republican, President Eisenhower, in Executive Order 10450 in 1953. When federal employees weren’t taking loyalty oaths, they were “required” to spy on other federal employees and “blow the whistle” on those who aroused suspicion. Having a bad hair day is not a good idea in the Obama administration. Employees who did not snitch on actual or potential leakers-cum-spies were subject to reprisal. One wonders when government employees had time to do their work.
Like every major piece of legislation… the law is not perfect. We’ve had to make adjustments along the way…” [Obama speech on the passage of the ACA, 4/1/2014]
Moving on to what Obama considers the highlight of his presidency: the passage of the Affordable Care Act where “making adjustments” is king. The law itself has been viewed in two ways: as a new era in affordable health care or massive corporate welfare to insurance companies. The creation of the ACA is littered with false hopes, phony assurances and downright lies. In two areas, the inclusion of a public option (virtually every poll of American public opinion showed majority support for a public option) and the promise of open transparent negotiations leading to the final bill, the message from Obama changed as he went from nominee to president elect to new (still massaging his base) president to president surrounded by his campaign heavy hitters (Big Pharma being one) demanding their ROI.
In 2007, when Obama was still stumping for the democratic nomination, he appeared on a radio program and assured listeners “Senator Clinton’s plan for healthcare, my plan, John Edwards’ plan are all similar in the sense that we set up a government plan alongside the private plans… And people can buy in.” In 2008 as candidate Obama, he repeated his pledge: “For those without health insurance I will establish a new public insurance program.” For those who don’t read lips, the 2008 Obama-Biden campaign website contained the following message in black and white: “any American will have the opportunity to enroll in [a] new public plan.” The assurances kept on coming after Obama was installed in the White House. On March 26, 2009 “…if you can’t obtain [health insurance] through a private plan, there is going to be a public plan available… In a speech to the American Medical Association on June 15, 2009, Obama was still hanging tough that there “needs to be a public option” in the health care bill. On July 7, 2009, the familiar backing away began. “I still believe …that one of the best ways to bring down costs, provide more choices and ensure quality is a public option…” His weekly radio address on July 17, 2009 momentarily dispelled doubts about his commitment — “any plan [I sign] must include a public option.” As late as September 20 in an interview with David Gregory, he proclaimed that a public option “should be a part of this [health care bill].” At the same time, he lashed out at naysayers who had read the tea leaves and pronounced the public option DOA.
Ten days later on September 30, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, Max “Big-healthcare-is-my-big-buddy” Baucus, announced that the public option was in fact dead. His rationale? “No one has been able to show me how we can count up to 60 votes with a public option.” Max Baucus may not be able to count votes but he excels at counting campaign contributions. No less an authority than the Washington Post set the record straight on the disappearing public option courtesy of the Finance Committee chairman, describing Baucus as the “leading recipient of Senate campaign contributions from the hospitals, insurers and other medical interest groups hoping to shape the [health care] legislation to their advantage.” This wasn’t the first time Baucus had shilled for the health care industry. In 2003, he sided with congressional republicans and the Bush administration and rammed a bill through congress that added prescription drug coverage to Medicare but neglected to tax rich Americans to fund it and prohibited Medicare from negotiating drug prices — to this day one of the biggest obstacles to controlling health care costs. For a congressman whose lifetime contributions from the health care industry totaled $5.5 million, this was all in a day’s work. His reward for the heavy lifting killing the public option? In December, 2013, shortly after the good senator announced his retirement Obama named him US ambassador to China.
“Don’t you remember things you once said…you’ve put on quite a show and now I really know that broken words, broken promises cause broken hearts.” [Broken Promises, sung by Red Hurley, 1976]
What happened? How did a public option touted by Obama in so many different venues to so many different audiences — stump speeches, on the 2008 Obama-Biden website, in a 2008 debate in Los Angeles, in a speech to the AMA in 2009, on one of his weekly radio addresses, in statements from his spokespeople and on countless other occasions — go down to ignominious defeat? The signs of another Obama end run around his pre-presidential promises abound. The first presentiment occurred when public option advocates were not allowed a “seat at the table,” the table being fully occupied by Obama donors —advocates for the drug industry, the hospitals, the doctors, and other parts of the profit-driven health industry. As the headline of a liberal journal put it: “Flashback: Obama Repeatedly Touted Public Option Before Refusing to Push for It In the Final Hours” [ThinkProgress 12/22/09]. No strategic use of the bully pulpit here. Confirmation of the administration’s unwillingness to jump on the public option bandwagon came in public statements from both ends of his party. On the right wing end, Joe Lieberman, democratic Senator from Connecticut, whom one watchdog labeled an “insurance puppet” and opponent of the public option claimed he “didn’t really have direct input from the White House” and was never asked specifically to support the public option. As the air seeped out of the public option bubble, the liberal side, according to Senator Russ Feingold, blamed the demise of the public option on the “lack of support from the administration.” In a curious twist, Senator Feingold was one of the elected officials who paid a heavy price for Obama’s broken promises. In 2010, he was defeated in his senate re-election bid by a tea party republican. The Huffington Post ascribed it to the loss of support from independent voters, a major part of Obama’s base, who believed “Obama had not delivered on his message of change.” In 2010, 53% of Wisconsin voters disapproved of Obama’s job performance. Another democrat, Senator Harkin of Iowa, was more circumspect in replying to reporters’ questions on the missing public option “All I can say, I was surprised to hear this [absence of the public option] because I had assumed… the White House was pushing strongly for the public option.”
On December 22, 2009, Obama rewrote history “I didn’t campaign on the public option” [Washington Post]
Obama’s transparency-free administration didn’t start out that way. At least that’s not what his message carriers said. Jon Podesta, transition captain in 2008, vowed that the Obama administration would be “the most open and transparent transition in history.” Not to be outdone, on his first day in office, Obama promised to hold himself to “a new standard of openness.” True to his word in a minimalist way, his office released White House visitor logs and later posted a database showing how the stimulus money was spent.
“It’s unrealistic to think every aspect of the negotiations [on the health care bill] is going to be public” [Dick Durbin, (D) Senate Assistant Majority Leader)
It was all down hill after that. “I’m going to have all the negotiations around a big table…doctors and nurses and hospital administrators, insurance companies, they just won’t be able to buy every chair. We’ll have the negotiations televised on CSPAN…that approach…is what is going to allow people to stay involved in the process.” [Obama speaking at a Town Hall meeting, Chester, VA 8/31/2008] Candidate Obama, echoing Justice Brandeis’ well-known quote on transparency “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” reassured his base there would be no second guessing in his operation “[the special interests] will resist everything we try to do…And the best antidote…is making sure that the American people understand what is at stake. (1/31/2008)
Let the backsliding begin.
On the theory that if a lie is repeated often enough, most people will believe it, Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs in 2009 made two pronouncements: 1) “this president has demonstrated more transparency than any president…” but 2) “I don’t think the president intimated that every decision putting together a health care bill would be on public TV.” Other senators sought to reassure us we didn’t want to see the sausage being made. “Sometimes for people to say what’s really on their minds, it helps to do it outside the public eye.” [Thomas Carper (D) Senate Finance Committee]. In addition to disturbing the public’s delicate sensibilities, big PHARMA’s senior VP had another reason for keeping the negotiations private — the public is too damn stupid: “The average person doesn’t understand our business model.”
So much for promises made and broken, how’s everything else going? A quick rundown reveals the more things change, the more they remain the same.
“As President, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions.” [Obama 8/2/2007]
On January 21, 2009, Obama signed an executive order closing Guantanamo within one year and patted himself on the back: “This is me following through on not just a commitment I made during the campaign, but I think an understanding that dates back to our founding fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard.”
A funny thing happened on the way to shuttering Guantanamo — in an about-face that surprised no one: the administration whiffed – again. Shortly after the executive order was issued, the president’s democratic cronies in control of the House Armed Services Committee prohibited opening a replacement facility in the US. Leading the unsuccessful charge to overturn that law were three democrat congressmen on the House Appropriations Committee – Chairman David Obey, Jim Moran, and the late Jack Murtha.
Fast forward 4 years to May 23, 2013 to a speech at the National Defense University in Washington. In his self-described “change speech,” Obama, trodding a well-worn political excuse path, blamed the “other” party: “As president, I have tried to close Gitmo…before Congress imposed restrictions to effectively prevent us from either transferring detainees to other countries, or imprisoning them in the United States.”
Jim Moran, one of the gang of three fighting for closure, remembered it differently. In an interview with the Daily Beast, he insisted that the White House in the early days of the administration “dropped the ball on closing the controversial military prison by failing to come up with a plan in time, refusing to help House Democrats who were fighting for its closure, and then abandoning the plan altogether and blaming Republicans.” [“How Obama Bungled the Guantanamo Closing”, Josh Rogin, The Daily Beast, 5/23/13] “They left all of us twisting in the wind… The administration could have weighed in more consistently and more aggressively. They pretty much gave up on getting the Congress to act responsibly on the issue. It was politically expedient not to use up chips on this issue… Eventually it wasn’t worth fighting anymore because we didn’t have the White House beside us. [Jim Moran interview with The Daily Beast]
Bottom line: Guantanamo is still open. The only thing that closed? The office that was leading the charge to close Guantanamo.
On the domestic policy front, base-pleasing rhetoric has been replaced by the realities of a center right president “managing expectations.” Who can forget his folksy endorsement of union efforts to fight attacks against collective bargaining?
And understand this: If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, I’ll walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America. Because workers deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner. [Barack Obama, Spartansburg, SC, 2007]
“At time of such insecurity and vulnerability, there has never been a greater need for a strong labor movement to stand up for American workers.” [Senator Obama, AFL-CIO Convention 7/25/2005]
The words may change, but the tune is familiar. Will it be another failed promise taking its place beside Guantanamo, the public option, punishing Bush-era criminals, encouraging whistleblowers, living up to his transparency vow?
In early 2011, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker used the state’s budget deficit to justify his push to rein in collective bargaining by public employees. In response thousands of public employees picketed the capital. The perfect opportunity to grab those comfortable shoes and hop on Air Force One. Not for this president. Instead, on February 16, 2011, he gave this remarkably tepid interview to a local radio program: …[W]hat I’ve heard coming out of Wisconsin, where they’re just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally, seems like more of an assault on unions… I think everybody’s got to make some adjustments, but I think it’s also important to recognize that public employees make enormous contributions to our states and our citizens.”
As a full-throated defense of collective bargaining rights, that doesn’t move the meter. In fact the whole statement, particularly that “adjustments” section seems closer to a full-throated defense of Walker’s union busting tactics. A couple of weeks later, press secretary Jay Carney was asked what happened to Obama’s Spartanburg pledge: “… he made his viewpoints known on the situation in Wisconsin, the need for people to come together… and sacrifice together.” Without a scintilla of presidential support for union members, all the sacrificing has been one-sided – falling squarely on the union members and their collective bargaining rights.
“We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories” [Obama, Inauguration speech, 1/20/2009]
Impossible to leave this tale of raised expectations and dashed hopes, without a turn down memory lane to hear candidate Obama debunk the myth that offshore drilling will solve America’s energy problems: “Off shore drilling will not make a real dent in current gas prices or meet the long term challenges of energy independence.” Right on brother. President Obama saw it differently. On March 31, 2010, Obama and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar held a press conference to announce an aggressive plan for off shore drilling in the Gulf and virtually every other waterway on the US coastline. “We are making decisions based on sound information and sound science,” Salazar crowed. Obama chimed in “this is not a decision I’ve made lightly.”
Did the chickens come home to roost? You betcha. On April 2, 2010, the president was feeling his oats “It turns out by the way that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced.” 18 days later, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded killing 11 workers and sending out geysers of oil. 87 days later, BP managed to stop the flow of oil. By that time the cat was out of the bag to the tune of 4.9 million barrels of oil amounting to 209.8 million gallons of oil. The largest oil spill in US history, it affected 16,000 miles of coastline in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Not to be deterred by this massive insult to the planet, Obama, in campaign mode in 2012, boasted about his energy ‘accomplishments.’ “We opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration and approved more than 400 drilling permits since we put in place new safety standards in the wake of the gulf oil spill.” Does anyone care to bet the ranch on the possibility of another ruinous oil spill?
“I would have liked to see stronger judicial review of national security letters and shorter time limits on sneak and peak searches, among other things.” [Sen. Obama commenting on reauthorizing the Patriot Act in 2006]
Ho-hum. Even further back than his presidential campaigns, in 2002, senate candidate Obama called the Patriot Act “shoddy and dangerous,” and pledged to dump it. In 2005, Senator Obama worried that a provision of the reauthorized Patriot Act would “allow government fishing expeditions targeting innocent Americans.” (He eventually voted for it) On May 27, 2011, President Obama signed a four-year extension of the Patriot Act he had submitted to congress including post-Sept. 11 powers to search business records without a warrant and conduct roving wiretaps in pursuit of ‘terrorists’.
“One-third of voters call Obama the worst president since WW II, 3% more than consider George W. Bush the worst president.” [Huffington Post, 7/2/2014]
A legacy based on false promises, failed initiatives, the squandering of hope, the institutionalizing of injustice and tyranny not only abroad but at home, the abandonment of civil protections to guard against governmental malfeasance and the selling of the country’s natural resources to the highest bidder is not much of a legacy after all.
What became of the president who on January 20, 2009, stood before 250,000 hopeful and joyous citizens and 38 million watching on television certain their time had come and proclaimed “On this day we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recrimination and worn out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.” Did the president who spoke those uplifting words ever exist?
Far more instructive and hopeful to remember the words another Black American leader spoke almost one-half century ago, prophetic in light of the challenges twenty-first century America faces or turns from today: “We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace…and justice… …If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.” [“A Time to Break the Silence, Martin Luther King, Jr. April 4, 1967]
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