The Obama We Never Knew

Fresh from his luxurious post-presidency stay on a private island paradise hosted by Richard Branson, one of a multiplicity of billionaires offering the “People’s President” an idyllic respite from his heavy lifting on behalf of said class and a long way from the exuberant promises made to “We the People” in the first blush of victory on November 4th, 2008, media sources reported that Obama was about to embark on a lucrative speaking tour a la both Clintons. Word on the street is that winning a place on his schedule will cost a mega-rich corporation $400,000 — a new record in post-presidential larceny. In the wake of this get-rich-on the coattails of the presidency venture, a little truth-telling seems appropriate. Let’s take a stroll down the last eight years and rehash— the good (very little), the bad (illusions ash-canned) and the ugly (“This man who represents so much to people of color has presided over more wealth destruction of people of color than anyone in American history.” — Damon Silvers, Deputy Chair of Congressional Oversight Panel for TARP)

Listen my children and you shall hear —our 44th President claiming he heard you: There are 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.” What he intended to do about it: “There’s new energy to harness, new jobs to be created, new schools to build, and threats to meet, alliances to repair.”

In a rephrase of former New York Mayor Ed Koch’s (quirky New York city mayor in the seventies) timeless question: How did he do? Depends on who you ask. Ask Obama about that new harnessed energy as one intrepid reporter did in one of his numerous final press conference and here’s what you get: “We cut our dependence on foreign oil by more than half…doubled the production of renewable energy…”

 Ask the US Energy Information Administration and hold onto your hats. US dependence on foreign oil decreased because US oil production growth skyrocketed. 2014 saw the largest growth in over one hundred years. How about the claim that production of renewable energy doubled? Indeed, the production of wind, solar, and geothermal did double. Quibblers might point out that price cuts in wind and solar greatly accelerated the demand. After all, what’s a free market for? Obama didn’t bother to mention that even with increased production the needle barely moved on total US energy demand — still predominantly fossil fuel oriented.

New Jobs to be created…” Obama would claim in his farewell tour that his administration’s untiring efforts to fix the economy had resulted in 11 million new jobs. As is usually the case when Obama throws out a self-serving statistic with that “aw shucks” grin, hold onto your wallets. As two well-respected economists have documented, 95% of those 11 million new jobs are temporary, contractual, or part-time minus health benefits, paid sick leave, vacation time. Not to worry —in the insincere mumblings of another failed man of the people president (Clinton) — Obama gets it, he feels your pain and applauds you for it celebrating “the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.” What he leaves out is the author of all that pain and loss.

“There are mothers and fathers who lie awake at night and wonder how they’ll make their mortgage or pay their doctor bills or save enough for their child’s college education.” (Obama, 2008) Eight years later and they’re still wondering. During the consoler-in-chief’s administration, over five million American families lost their homes, in 2011, 11.6 million home owners were “underwater” (homes worth less than their mortgages). Ah, but you ask, what could Obama have done to make a dent in those heartbreaking losses? Plenty. The easiest solution was to allow strapped homeowner to write-down their mortgages to equal the declining value of their real estate. For once Congress was on board. Written into the $700 billion rescue package, the much-maligned TARP legislation that Congress passed, was specific language to urge the President to use some of the money to “prevent avoidable bankruptcies.” He didn’t do that, choosing instead to rescue the financial institutions whose bad behavior caused the crisis. In the words of one economist: “[Bank bail-outs] got done. Programs to help homeowners never did.” Serving the interests of the banks and billionaires had the expected result —an explosion of inequality —95% of the wealth that grew out of the Obama economic recovery went to the wealthiest 1%, while the middle class suffered an economic tsunami losing more wealth than they had in 100 years.

“Or pay their doctor bills.” Obama’s self-described proudest moment, when he signed the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), turned out to be a big chunk of corporate welfare for health insurance companies, hospitals, and the hedge funds and private equity outfits that own them. The opportunity was there —to enact a health care bill to bring Americans the kind of health care (universal, single payer) that most of the planet’s countries (including Cuba) offer their citizens. That would have meant running afoul of some of Obama’s major backers and future pay masters. No chance of that happening. What “We the People” got instead was a jerry-rigged system that left 29 million people, 9% of the population, uninsured. The “lucky ones” who were able to get some form of insurance had to cope with deductibles and co-pays that increased every year, premiums that in 2017 increased an average of 22%, and a rule that allows insurance companies to charge older adults premiums that are hundreds of dollars more for the same coverage that the young receive. The American way of health care —number one in cost, number thirty-seven in results.

Or save enough for their child’s college education. Many more sleepless nights await you. Obama’s eight years have seen a steady increase in the debt graduates carry with them into their working lives. For the graduating class of 2016, the average debt was a stunning $37,172 up from $35,015 for the class of 2015 and $33,000 for the class of 2014. Kids aren’t necessarily getting poorer, the cost of attending college is getting steeper. Over the past 30 years, average tuition at public four-year colleges has risen more than 250% while family income increased 16%. Obama’s response to those sleep-deprived moms and dads? Unhelpful programs to reduce monthly payments in line with income (thereby increasing the loan balance as interest on unpaid balances keeps ticking upwards) and toothless, unenforced warnings to loan servicers, a remarkably corrupt and thuggish bunch. While most of the world’s countries offer students free or low-cost post-secondary education, the US goes its exceptional way heaping an unaffordable financial burden on over 44 million graduates. (83% of those who attend four-year public institutions)

Let’s go back to those days in 2008 when hope powered our illusions and the rest of the world joined in. Who could doubt we were witnessing a new beginning, a do-over for America. After eight years of economic and environmental malaise, wholesale assaults on civil liberties, endless wars, broken treaty obligations and missteps in virtually every corner of the globe, “hope and change” was the perfect antidote to Bushtopia. Obama was the perfect dream machine. The elites behind the making of this president had made a cunning decision. To back a winner, make Americans fall in love with a gifted orator, a charming charlatan and encourage them to take pride in being color blind. For a people with the odious distinction of racial bigotry sanctified by a Constitution full of pretty words and cloying sentiments that reduced black men to four-fifths of a person, Barack Obama was the savior washing away the stains of a painful and checkered past. If it wasn’t his mesmerizing stump speeches, it was his snazzy media blitz. Those hordes of mostly young people working tirelessly to get out the vote for him added to the image of invincibility.  Election night, November 4, 2008, Obama did his first victory lap in Chicago. Like Hoover, he vowed to fill every American’s pot, not with a chicken but with hope and a change. Something for everyone “young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled.”

We the 99% were the winners, he assured us and it was only right since “[my campaign] was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause.”

 It was his first big whopper. According to the non-partisan Campaign Finance Institute, “[t]he myth is that money from small donors dominated Barack Obama’s finances. The reality of Obama’s fund-raising was impressive, but the reality does not match the myth.” Only 26% of the money he collected for the primary and 24% of the money for the campaign through October 15, 2008, came from donors whose total contribution was $200 or less, putting him in the same league with the Bush 2004 campaign, the 2004 Kerry campaign, even the 2004 McCain campaign.

A campaign fueled by wealth and power and staffed by alums from major financial institutions (Goldman Sachs comes to mind) sets off alarm bells but so faintly few heard and those who did were chastised as “ye of little faith.”

Were we on the left wrong to pin our hopes on this “made” man, a creation of the Business Roundtable, wealthy “liberal” billionaires (think Richard Branson and George Soros), and the banking, finance and health care mega-corporations. Certainly, his domestic contributions left a whole lot to be desired, but what of our relations with the rest of the world, our hopes he would close the Pandora’s box of endless war and shake off our growing reputation as the world’s bully. Like every other part of this presidential nightmare it amounted to spin—Obama’s version versus documented fact. Obama reassured us in his farewell address that our foreign policy —war, war, and more war —was ridding the world of some mighty dangerous dudes. “The global coalition we’re leading against ISIL has taken out their leaders, and taken away about half their territory.  ISIL will be destroyed, and no one who threatens America will ever be safe.”

Reality Asserts Itself:

At what cost? American Special Operations forces are now deployed in 135 countries, 70% of the globe. That’s up from 60 countries when the war-besotted Cheney and Rumsfeld were at the helm. We now have troops fighting, civilians dying and infrastructure destroyed in seven countries (Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan).

And what of those civilians Obama assured us are the reasons the US has become the global cop on the beat: [to protect] “human rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights…” What of the ones who didn’t have a chance to bask in the rights we protected —the civilians who died when our “exceptionally precise and surgical strikes” (John Brennan, Counter Terrorism Czar and CIA Director) mowed down whole families, wedding parties, funeral goers, old women collecting firewood, kids playing games. Obama has that covered “By narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us…we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life.” Tell that to the 400-800 civilians that the Bureau of Investigative Reporting, based on credible evidence, has identified as victims of US “pinpoint” bombing raids. Then again in toting up the number of civilians killed, we don’t really know how many of those we killed labeled “insurgents” are really insurgents. For all we know “they could be cooks” (Richard Armitage, ex-Deputy Secretary of State and a committed war hawk)

Obama’s response “All armed conflict invites tragedy [aka “mistakes happen”} Not to worry, we’re still the greatest: “Almost every country on earth sees America as stronger and more respected today than they did eight years ago.” Once again, verifiable data reveals a murkier picture. True, back in 2008 when Obama won the election, people around the globe felt the same giddy excitement as most Americans. Eight years later, Politico makes it official “How the world fell out of love with Obama.”

Where do we end up with this sad tale of hope eviscerated, change MIA and a political system that moves the masses to vote for the devil they didn’t know over the one they thought they did and another eight years of Obama light.
The question looms —like the flashing lights of a school bus urging caution and consideration — could he have been the change-maker we were expecting, the one who would create the America our Constitution promised “with liberty and justice [and equality] for all?” If he had been courageous of heart and strong of mind. If he had desired to break the mold of all past presidents. If he had really cared about us.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and [if] I took the one less traveled by,
that [would have] made all the difference.
        —Robert Frost “The Road Not Taken”

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