The Other Side

I have a confession to make.  While I’m going to vote for Obama again, I do not like everything he has done and, even more, am disappointed by some of what he has not done.

That’s not the confession.  I promised some folks months back that I would write a post wherein I take Obama to task the same way I’ve been going to town on the Republicans.  I was sincere when I made the promise, because I had, in fact, winced often these past four years when Mr. Obama has let me down.  Or not me specifically, but my expectations.  And this is a question of spin.

All candidates run on a mixture of core issues and hyperbole.  The nature of the race requires sound-byte, slash-and-burn rhetoric, sweeping generalizations, and occasionally over-the-top characterizations of the opponent and promises too big to keep.  We as voters must walk through all this to determine how much of the hyperbole is simple exaggeration and how much of it is outright lying, slander, or total b.s.  As I say, all candidates do this.  Even after they leave office.  (George W. Bush’s acerbic “Do you miss me yet?” is an example of that, to which my response at the time and still is “You’re kidding, right?”)

Obama campaigned in 2008 on a wide range of issues and made a LOT of promises.  In fact, I believe he holds the record on the number of promises made by a presidential candidate, by a significant factor.  Depending on where he was at the time, he adroitly tailored his message, made the kinds of specific pledges that are ordinarily suicide for a candidate, and won by the biggest landslide since Reagan

In all those promises, inevitably some were going to go by the wayside, some were going to simply stall, others were going to stand as reminders of betrayal when exactly the opposite happened.

But in looking back over the last four years—especially in light of what he came into office having to deal with—I can’t find very much to complain about.

What there is, though, is pretty bad.

Implicitly and otherwise, Obama promised that business as usual in D.C. was going to change.  Of course, anyone who believed this was naive at best, but there were a few things that he could have done something about.  One is lobbyists.  He promised to close the revolving door, that people in government would not be permitted to leave for jobs as lobbyists and come right back.  Well, he sort of tried that, but then proceeded to issue waivers for certain people.

The biggest betrayal to my mind at the time was the selection of his economic team.  One may quibble about this, but I think it fair to say that he had something of a mandate to change the way government dealt with the financial sector.  The appointment of Larry Summers and Tim Geithner, both of whom had been instrumental in the years of deregulation that had led almost directly to the 2007-08 meltdown, signaled a marked turn-around from expectations.  At the time I looked at that and thought “What the hell?”  Talk about putting the fox in charge of the chickens.  (Certainly an argument could be made that these people understood the problem better than anybody else, but you also can’t tell me that there weren’t equally qualified and talented people with no ties to the last 20 years of fiscal irresponsibility and with a vision consistent with what we’d been led to believe was going to happen.  Elizabeth Warren was certainly such a person, but then he didn’t stand by her when she had Congress running scared that she meant business.)

Obama fell down, in my view, by the simple omission of demanding a reinstatement of Glass-Steagall.  Clinton had foolishly signed its repeal, it had worked for 60 years, its destruction allowed everything that followed to happen, and yet we heard nothing.  Instead we have an overly complex mess of rules that form a Rube-Goldberg assemblage of fingers-in-leaks that overburden everyone, Wall Street and regulators alike.  And while I came to support the auto industry bailout, his administration has made a hash of the housing recovery.

But the worst thing is the national security betrayals.  I do not approve of the drone program and I certainly do not like the indefinite detention aspect of the NDAA, which we were led to believe he also felt was a bad law.  Yet he signed the reauthorization and now his justice department is trying to overturn a judge’s ruling that indefinite detention is unConstitutional.  I grant you, this is all inherited from Bush, this is a Cheney construct, but that would seem to me all the more reason to do away with it.  Obama needed to nothing but sit back and let the ruling from bench hold sway, but instead he’s arguing for retention of powers I believed he ran opposed to.

He’s pulled some other stunts.  While I’m not a fan of Big Oil, I actually think the Canadian pipeline should have gone through.  It would have allowed him to stop issuing so many off-shore permits, which have greater possibilities of failure and environmental damage.  For myself, I wanted to see the end of the faith-based initiatives—this is a clear violation of the separation clause and the only thing that might have made it more palatable over what Bush had done would be its expansion to non-christian institutions.  And I’m still waiting for the repeal of No Child Left Behind, which was one of the worst things done on the federal level in education since…I don’t know.

But for all that, I have to confess that I still find him far more acceptable than what is being offered by his opponents, whose only solutions seem to be slash-and-burn spending cuts—except to the military.

So while this post is a complaint, an attempt at fair play, I have to apologize to those to whom I pledge a thorough drubbing.  Even when they make mistakes, I can’t seem to get as pissed at the Democrats right now as I do at the Republicans.  I know that sounds like excuse-making, but there it is.

I’ll try to do better.

Published by Mark Tiedemann