Blame Obama for Democrats’ Problems

sad obamaYes, George W. Bush and the Republican Party drove the economy into a deep ditch. True, Republican obstructionism weakened the 2009 stimulus package and derailed other key initiatives. And we have all learned how the United States government has a dysfunctional structure that allows a small political minority to prevent any real change other than major tax cuts. But that all being said, Democrats face the loss of the House in November because President Obama spent nearly his entire first year playing “bipartisanship” with those out to destroy him. As much as many of us cheered Obama’s election and still admire many of his skills, the sad reality is that his failure to aggressively push for change in 2009 is the chief cause of the celebrated enthusiasm gap.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why the political environment has so dramatically changed since October 2008. And I’ve concluded that, accounting for all of the factors outside Barack Obama’s control, the bottom line is that he badly damaged the Democratic Party brand through his own actions.

It was not Speaker Nancy Pelosi who played footsy with Republicans and conservative Democratic Senators for much of 2009; nor was it Pelosi or her progressive allies who backed Obama’s decision to escalate the unwinnable war in Afghanistan.

Nor was it progressives who urged Obama to promote bipartisanship with Republicans publicly committed to his failure. In contrast to what occurred during Bill Clinton’s first two years, many progressives were very outspoken in criticizing Obama’s failure to move quickly to create transformative change.

Putting the Left on the Defensive

Obama’s own actions have put the progressive wing of the Democratic Party on the defensive, a position that seemed unimaginable two years ago. He did this in main two ways.

First, because Obama has been under relentless partisan attacks by Republicans and right-wing interests, progressives have spent considerable time defending decisions – like the final version of the health care bill – that they question among themselves. Instead of activists proudly promoting the historic achievement of universal health care, they are left justifying the late 2014 start date, lack of public option and lack of strong cost-control mechanisms.

To be clear, Obama deserves enormous credit for enacting health insurance reform. But the measure did not become a positive symbol of a more activist and humane government, and is not the linchpin for activating the grassroots base for 2010.

Second, Obama’s failure to even attempt to be a transformative President put progressives on the defensive in dealing with the 2008 electoral base. For example, think how immigrant rights activists defended Obama’s inaction on immigration reform before realizing in 2010 that they needed to publicly challenge his failure in order to get his attention.

Or consider how SEIU and the AFL-CIO had to explain to members how the Employee Free Choice Act, said to be among labor’s top priorities, never even came to a floor vote in Congress despite unions spending at least $120 million on the November 2008 elections. As I wrote in September 2009 following Obama’s speech at the AFL-CIO Convention, labor leaders trusted the President to match his positive words with actions; given the President’s failure to deliver, union members are among the group’s most impacted by the enthusiasm gap.

Finally, Obama and his close advisors themselves sought to put progressives on the defensive by attacking a group Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called “the professional left.” As my colleague Paul Hogarth recently observed, no such criticism has been directed at the conservative Democrats “actively colluding with Republicans to hurt the Administration.”

Remember when many of us praised Obama for stating that if he understood that he should be criticized if he did not fulfill his mandate for change? Well, when he got that criticism, he and his close allies took it as disloyalty.

Lessons Unlearned

With Obama in full partisan campaign mode, it would be great to believe that he has stop trying to pacify his sworn enemies. But the evidence is not reassuring.

For example, it’s truly incredible that the Obama Administration is fighting the ruling striking down Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, a policy overwhelming and strongly opposed by the Democratic base. Talk about low-hanging fruit – the court gave Obama an easy way to bring “Change” and he has rebuffed it.

And while I understand the economics of not wanting to halt all foreclosures, why would the Obama Administration publicly resist a nationwide moratorium three weeks before Election Day? Has the President’s team not seen how banks and lenders are pouring campaign money into Republicans?

In recent interviews, Obama insists that he has completed 70% of his campaign agenda. But when the other 30% includes the lack of immigration reform or climate change legislation, ongoing wars, a faltering economy, and nothing close to the major budget transformations that Reagan and George W. Bush accomplished in their first two years, that stated 70% figure holds far less political meaning.

It would be so much easier psychologically if Democrats could blame Republicans and corporate interests for the electoral enthusiasm gap. It’s distressing to think that an historic opportunity for real change in 2009 and 2010 fell victim to self-inflicted wounds, but it is hard to reach a contrary conclusion.

Randy Shaw

Republished with permission from Beyond Chron


  1. Temporarily Anonymous says

    Why don’t all of you talk to Kissinger? He is the one that appointed Obama “the one to carry us into global one world order”?

  2. says

    It’s nice to see that the far right and the far right can agree on one thing. That Barack Obama is to blame for all their problems. I guess that is what the president is supposed to be–the national scapegoat. But it seems to me that anyone trying to second guess the president’s strategy in this way has the burden of proving that a different strategy would have led to different results. And that requires that you prove how you would have gotten 60 votes in the U.S. Senate for any proposal you think should have passed in different form. You have not even tried to meet that burden.

    Rather than blame Obama for the failure of bi-partisanship, why not blame ourselves for not changing the way we conduct politics? The whole premise of the Obama campaign was that we would all try to work together constructively to solve problems, rather than appealing to hate and fear, rather than being divisive. That is what candidate Obama promised; that is what we voted for; and that is what he tried very hard to deliver. Now you are attacking him for sticking to what he promised to try to do during the campaign, instead of accepting responsibility for all of our collective part in trying to defeat it.

    Meanwhile, despite all the criticism, the Obama administration somehow managed to move more progressive legislation through this session of Congress than any that I have seen since LBJ was president.

  3. Bob says

    Come on, haven’t you heard of his attempts to keep ACTA secret from Americans?

    That should tell you how he is nothing but another corporate horse.

  4. Deanst says

    Does any of this matter? They are all owned by the same corporate gods. All of them…

    Don’t look behind the Repub or Dem curtains, you’ll see the same strings on each.

    Divided we have fallen…exactly as seemingly planned.

  5. Curtis says

    You couldn’t be more wrong.

    The reason the Democrats are losing is clear, and it’s the fact that independents and white voters have turned on Obama and the Democrats. The reason they have turned is not because Obama and the Dems have not been aggressive enough pushing their leftist agenda, but just the opposite.

    Observe the recent polling regarding the Obamacare. 50% of the people believe anyone who voted for Obamacare does NOT deserve to be re-elected.

    Obama pushed Obamacare down the throat of the American people when our economy should have been his central focus. Now that the economic recovery is faltering, it’s widely believed that his stimulus, which simply propped up State employees for a year, failed to help the economy.

    His bailout of GM was a disgrace and a perversion of capitalism, and is also widely opposed by a majority of Americans. He sold the bond holders down the river and handed ownership of the company over to the union thugs that are largely responsible for bankrupting the company. Incredible!

    There’s going to be some hard budget cutting decisions that have to be made at the Federal and State level soon. Unfunded pension obligations dwarf State tax revenue. The unions will have to accept a significantly lower standard of living than the one they were promised under false pretenses. Democrats will need to be out of power for this to happen.

    Furthermore, Republicans will have to accept cuts to military spending, so some sort of leverage must remain with the Democrats, so Obama may be re-elected in 2012 to preserve that. The people know these things must be done even if you do not. Clinton won a second term through triangulation, lets see if Obama is really as smart as people think he is and follows in his footsteps.

    The key political word that is going to be used in this decade is AUSTERITY. Government spending MUST be cut at all levels, including social security, medicare, and medicaid. No spending can be called “mandatory” any longer.

  6. says

    Oh don’t worry Randy, the corporate Obama White House, the corporate media and the Blue Dogs will be sure to blame the Progressives for their defeat in November too.

    So what else is new. The real blame goes to a population of non voting, ignorant and apathetic folks who aren’t willing to demand better.

    We progressives haven’t given up, we will continue to stand up, show up, speak out and vote. The difference between us and everyone else but the tea kettle astroturf crowd is that we know the facts and reality of our failure to act responsibly.

      • motto says

        Great Comment Wayne; great column Randy. The point needs to be continually repeated: the left got attacked for insisting on the things that Obama RAN on and PROMISED.

        The conserva-Dems who de-railed the whole thing were never criticized.

        Lastly, let’s not forget that Rahm, on behalf of Obama, cut deals with all the major players in the health care debate to end up with something that the health insurance industry would like and damn the progressives. Remember Obama’s pledge to not negotiate in secret?

        Same old, same old. Obama’s a corporatist. Bought and paid for. Discuss. (Just as he was a Senator.)

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