My Barack Obama Problem

Photo: Pete Souza, Official White House photographerLike many people on the Left, I have become disillusioned with the Obama Presidency. As one of those people who devoted huge amounts of time, money and energy to getting Obama elected, and who cried on election night when his victory was assured, I found myself hoping against hope that there was some redemptive quality to his leadership amidst expansion of foreign wars, attacks on public school teachers, bailouts of banks unaccompanied by serious controls, and a host of other policies that appeared to contradict everything he stood for during his campaign.

Although my heart wasn’t in it, I tried to justify his policies as the result of a powerful congressional opposition that refused to support policies that brought the full power of the federal government behind job creation and income policies designed to ease the pain of the nation’s struggling working class and middle class, along with those long trapped in poverty

But recently, I have started to think that the “real” Barack Obama is not the community organizer pictured in Dreams from My Father or the fierce defender of the middle class that emerged on the campaign trail, but a cynical, ambitious, politician who loves spending time with the rich and the powerful and who has tied his administration’s and his own future to gaining their support.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, after many disappointments, was the image of the President regaling a $2,500 a plate dinner in San Francisco while Occupy Oakland was being attacked by an army of police using tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray and bulldozers. The Obama of
Dreams from My Father would have rushed across the Bay to stand with the Occupiers, but this Obama didn’t so much as give the protesters a second thought. The President was totally relaxed and in his element with the hedge fund and dot com executives, and media moguls, supporting his campaign. THEY, not the Occupiers, were now his real constituency. Not only were they the ones funding his presidential campaign, they were the ones who were going to be employing him after he left the Presidency, assuring that he, and his family would be part of the 1 Percent for the foreseeable future!

As a young man, who like the President, grew up in a lower middle class family and went to an Ivy League college and graduate school, I can understand the lure of great wealth and power to someone who grew up with neither. When you are a talented person from a family of modest means, it can be very heady to be courted by and praised by some of the nation’s smartest, wealthiest and most powerful people. And if you are so talented and charismatic that these people decide to groom you to become one of them, it can definitely persuade you to make compromises that end up affecting your conscience and your social consciousness.

For very personal reasons, I never enjoyed hanging out in the clubs and restaurants and vacation houses of the wealthy as much as the times I spent in neighborhood ball fields, schoolyards, and community centers interacting with working class and middle class people. I keep my feet in both worlds but I consider “the hood” to be my moral compass, the place where I have to go to find out if my life’s mission has any real traction, any real meaning.

But I fear the President is different. The people who come to the White House , whether the professional basketball players who show up at his birthday parties, the talented musicians who come to entertain, or the CEOs and political kingmakers who come to discuss policy, are always a cross session of the most successful people in whatever field they are in. The President never tries to bring in ordinary people to talk to him privately and find out what is going on in their workplaces and neighborhoods. Those are not the people he trusts, those are not the people he is comfortable with; those are not the people he wants to spend time with when he leaves the Presidency

A real cue to the President’s character came when he decided to host an Education Summit. To this event, he invited CEOs of the nation’s largest corporations, and executives in some of the nation’s wealthiest foundations, but not one teacher. This is the real Barack Obama–someone who has left the world he grew up in, and the communities in Chicago he organized in, and who craves the company and advice of people, like himself, who have accomplished great things or accumulated great wealth.

mark naisonIn some ways, he is the perfect President for a country where ambition is honored above loyalty, generosity, and concern for those who have fallen in hard times and where we honor those who have overcome great obstacles to “rise to the top”

But whether he is the right President to lead us through the worst economic crisis in 70 years and stand up for all the people who have lost jobs and homes and hope is another matter entirely

Mark Naison
With A Brooklyn Accent


  1. Tyrannus Evisceratus says

    I am not gonna say I told you so since I was too young to vote 4 years ago, although I did vote to retain my arizona senators and congressman two years ago, because I was impressed with all of them, and I wasn’t gonna let John McCain get thrown out after losing the presidential election(you don’t kick a war hero when he is down).
    I did see it coming though. I told my friends Barrack Obama is not going to be a good president. He is going to get elected and he is going to do what keeps him elected.
    Politics is an expensive game and you pay to play. Barrack Obama took the money and has been pretty much done anything that improves his polls and shyed away from anything that would hurt his poll numbers.
    For republicans he is an obstacle(he is actually pretty helpful on some stuff like killing Osama Bin Laden and keeping the patriot act in place), but for Democrats he must be a pretty big dissapointment.
    He is like Harry Reid, but without the business sense and the union support.

  2. Joe Weinstein says

    Author Mark and commenters Alan8 and Jay L. all offer usable insights.

    Mark has correctly diagnosed the Obama that we have actually and consistently been seeing, hardly the wonderful symbolic promised Obama of 2008. Jay L. has cogently commented on and distinguished among Obama, Gingrich and Romney.

    And, for you wannabe pragmatic voters, Alan8 is in fact the closest to being the true pragmatist,

    Please remember that IN A MASS ELECTION almost invariably EVERY VOTE IS WASTED.
    Unless the two top candidates’ tallies will differ by either 0 or 1 votes – a situation which will have probability de facto nil (I have a math PhD and have ‘done the math’ for typical cases) – your vote will have had NO effect.

    So a more pragmatic question for a would-be voter is what message to use the vote to help send. If you are one of millions voting for a candidate, you send no message. If you are one of maybe just a handful or at most a few thousand voting for a less-popular candidate, your vote might make a small difference in the perceived strength of message sent.

  3. Cheryl Alexander says

    I too am disappointed, but as one who was the first black person (and black woman) to do many of the things I have done in my life, I can sympathize with the first black president. He so wants to disown the image of the angry black man and foster the image of the reasonable compromiser.

    To be fair, he IS running a contest in which any ordinary person who contributes any amount however small can win the prize of being flown to DC to have dinner with him. Ordinary people who have won in the past say he really listened to them and seemed genuinely interested in their stories. I hope I win in the next round.

    I will vote for him again, simply because the alternatives are so unthinkable. Who knows, when he does not have reelection staring him in the face, he may dump the bankers and become the man we elected in 2008.

  4. U.S. Citizen says

    Obama is not a progressive. He is a right of center corporatist–a Clinton corporatist. You might say he is a traitor to his class–in the opposite way that FDR was. Regarding alternatives, I’d like to see the Greens join the progressives in the Democratic Party and help make it the party of the people again. Or, the progressives and labor join forces with the Greens to form a progressive populist party.

  5. Jimbolaya says

    The final straw for me with Obama was his decision not to veto the NDAA (detention act). I had already started to suspect that besides social issues, his policies (and the democratic party’s) were almost identical to his predecessor’s. I waited with a sinking heart for him to veto this treasonous piece of legislation. Instead he had a closed-door session where he made sure it had the teeth in it that he needed and rubber stamped it. I will NOT vote for Obama unless he vetoes that bill. I will not give my vote to any politician that voted “Aye” on that bill. They have violated their oath.

    • Marta says

      I’m so with you on this. Not my vote. Never again will I vote for the lesser of two evils.
      I’m so relieved that progressives are speaking up about Obama’s true face. His actions from the moment he took office have been more than disappointing. His intention to not veto the detention act was a heartbreaking betrayal of basic human rights.

  6. William Huie says

    Thank you Mr. Naison for your article. It is obvious that President Obama is the Bankers President. He is not the President of All of the People, but of Special Interests. We, the People, are not special enough for his heinous. The Drone Wars, the Innocent Lives lost, the Lack of Oversight of Federal Contractors and the Federal Reserve. The special privileges to the those who created the economic crisis. I have gone hungry and on occasion still do, and I work more than 70 Hoursars a week, ando not looke for a single hand out from anyone.

  7. Steve Lamb says

    OK. As we know, President Obama is to say the least, a sell out. The question is, What are the alternatives? Third party candidate? Uh No. If Theodore Roosevelt, as fantastically popular as he was in 1912 couldn’t pull that off, certainly no Green or (God Forbid) Libertarian can.

    So it’s whatever craven servant of the Oligarchs the Rapeublicans run V President Obama who seems to at least have some faint glimmer of decency. I think we have a better chance if we elect Obama and hound him into behaving well, along with a Democratic Congress.

    • Alan8 says

      Steve, voting for a third-party candidate strikes a blow for change EVEN IF THAT CANDIDATE LOSES.

      It sends a message to the Democratic Party that we REJECT their pro-corporate, pro-wealthy agenda. This message is sent even if the candidate loses!

      Also 5% of the vote will get the Green Party matching Federal funds.

      Also having a Green-Party candidate in the running allows them to raise issues the corporate candidates would prefer to cover up, like the bipartisan support for MORE NAFTA-like trade deals, or the bipartisan support for our new police-state law.

      Unconditionally voting Democratic doesn’t work; progressives have been doing that for 30 YEARS and look at the results! The Democratic Party threatens you with the Republicans, takes your votes, then laughs at you and IMPLEMENTS the Republican agenda.

      It’s time to start taking our country back from the corporations: VOTE GREEN!

      • Steve Lamb says


        Well in the 1912 election voting for the 3rd party candidate got you the most regressive candidate elected. Same with the 1980 election. the only time it worked was voting for H. Ross Perot got Clinton elected because it took votes from Bush 1, But in policy, especially in tewrms of exporting jobs overseas and regressive welfare policies, Clinton was probably MORE regressive than Pappy Bush.

        So a gree vote is a double vote for the corpratocracy. Dont do it, its stupid, and believe me I have no great love for the Democratic Party.

  8. Jay says

    I look to a lot more than policy when looking at Presidential candidates. If you look carefully, Gingrich is the mirror image of Obama, only on the right side of the political spectrum. They are both professors. They both believe they have a broader view of the world than the general public. They both beleive that their cause is just and that they know a lot more than the American people. They both cater to “think tanks” and debate issues hours on end with their subordinates who they sometimes despise. They are hard pressed to make a decision and when they do, it is usually for the wrong reason. Neither are worthy of the Presidency and the American people will be completely turned off by such an election. The real loser is democracy and more people will tune out than tune in. These men are not leaders because they don’t know how to generate support from the publc for their respective positions. Neither will get my vote. If it’s Romney, I can live with that because at least he has done something constructive in his life. All Obama and Gingrich have done is pontificate.

    • Alan8 says

      Jay, you look but you do not see: BOTH of them are loyal to the .05%. Also Obama DOESN’T represent the left, despite what your TV tells you.

  9. Alan8 says

    Well, better late than never. You should have gotten a clue when Obama had a Health-Care summit to look at “all the alternatives”, and when doctors representing a single-payer system showed up THEY WERE ARRESTED!

    The Green Party is the non-corporate alternative. It’s taken them the last ten years to get on the ballot in virtually every state because of obstruction from the duopoly. They currently have over 100 members in office that have won their elections at the local level.

    The Green Party represents CITIZENS’ interests: Unions, single-payer, cutting the military budget, pulling out of the corporate trade agreements like NAFTA (and the NEW ONES Obama signed into law!)

    No, the Green Party won’t win the presidency in 2012. But launching a new political party takes multiple elections. The next steps are the state and Federal levels.

    Even more importantly, your Green vote sends a message to the Democrats that their service to the fascism of the .05% (not 1%) is going to cost them votes. And THAT’S something they can’t ignore, like they ignore our petitions and emails.


  10. Nate says

    @Terence his campaign was premised on a simple notion: change. He inspired many of us because we thought he would do something, anything, to change the bourgeoisie military industrial complex and instead he has wholeheartedly embraced it like so many presidents that preceded him. You’re right, he shouldn’t have to redistribute wealth to earn progressive support, but he does have to make an effort and on economic policies and civil liberties he has sorely disappointed may of us.

    The real problem is this: with Obama disappointing and the noxious Republican field, who are progressives left to support?

  11. says

    My aunt Florence turned 100 last week. She’s a died-in-the-wool progressive from the middle west. She asks me, “why doesn’t President Obama end the war against Iraq [he did], why doesn’t he act like FDR [sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t]”, etc. My answer is, “Florence, Obama is the president of the most powerful bourgeois military-industrial capitalist nation in history. We are not a democratic-socialist country, and we are certainly not a socialist country. Of course he has to dine with the bourgeoisie. Of course he can’t mingle with Occupy Oakland [I marched in the General Strike]. Otherwise he would not be president.”

    Who do you think he is, Fidel Castro? And speaking of Fidel, I quote him: “Those who live by illusion will die of disillusionment. ”

    Have we actually ever had a more progressive president than Obama? Really. Stop kvetching. Hang on to Obama and MOVE FORWARD!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *