A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

President Obama's re-election problem

I am sure that I am not the only one who has been receiving the multiple emails asking for political donations. I have not responded to these emails.

I am sorry, President Obama. I am not going to donate to your campaign. I may not even vote for you (my fingers are shaking as I am writing this, given how important my vote is-- at least to me).

Look, I understand that for the past year, you have had a Republican House, led by John Boehner (with Eric Cantor grabbing more and more control of his marionette strings even as we speak). But that's partly your fault.

You entered the presidency with a huge pile of political capital, and you squandered it. I will say that I was very pleased by your signing of the Lily Ledbetter Act as your first bill. You did approve a raise of the tobacco tax. You did sign the renewal of SCHIP, which tries to make sure poor children have access to health care. But you talked about the Hundred Days of FDR, but then you started backpedalling from other principled positions almost immediately. You backflipped on employing lobbyists in the administration. You kept using signing statements. You did not push Congress hard enough and sat on the sidelines while necessary reforms to our financial systems were either papered over or killed outright (I am still steaming over your inability to articulate why Elizabeth Warren is the person to oversee the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was her idea, and which will probably get gutted while you once again stand aside).

You are not a member of Congress. I get that. But you have this asset known as "the bully pulpit" (in the words of Teddy Roosevelt), and even George Bush proved to be a more masterful user of this asset than you, and you have the advantage of being able to speak English.

I would love to see some bipartisan action in our government, and I know that you believe you have been trying to do that. But compromise in which only one side-- yours, supposedly-- does the compromise is just weak. You keep trying to get the Republicans to play with you like a computer nerd trying to hang out at the jocks' table in the high school cafeteria, but you have lost your momentum to pressure them into it. You have also lost the House. As long as you do not specifically highlight again and again and again the class warfare that has been utilized by Republicans for the ultra-rich against the middle class for decades, you will keep losing ground. On the campaign trail you used to be a pretty good speaker. Where did that guy go?

I am a moderately progressive voter. I believe we have a duty to use government for good. I believe we should work for economic justice, transparency in government, and ethical decision-making. I believe that the budget must be balanced through a combination of tax increases and cuts in spending. I believe in raising taxes on companies that cut jobs. I support public education, and high standards and expectations for students. I believe in the right to privacy. I also support the death penalty. I support limitations on illegal immigration through the enforcement of laws on the books, because I believe that illegal workers are not only exploited and endangered thanks to their illegal status but that they drive down wages and working conditions. In a country with nearly 10% unemployment, we do not need to be importing workers. It's that simple.

I am also a teacher. Your education secretary has no real education experience, and "Race to the Top" is certainly not much of an improvement over No Child Left Behind. You and Basketball Boy have not yet admitted that charter schools run by for-profit corporations do not work.

No, I do not feel represented by you.

And I am not the only one. About a month ago, at the Netroots Nation Conference, it became obvious that the White House strategy of depending upon fawning liberal and progressive support while ignoring many of their concerns might have some consequence. Read the opinion piece at the link, please do, but I want to point out this one particularly resonant point:
Pfeiffer didn't really have to submit to this. The White House desperately wants liberal dollars but I can't imagine they're particularly worried about liberal votes. Democrats are never scared of their base, because liberals are terrified of Republicans:

"We can either work together and finish that work that we started in 2008 or we can be relegated back to the sidelines and see what a Republican president ... does to this country," he said at the event, which was streamed online.

He's right! A Republican president will most likely do what the last three Republican presidents have done: Starve the government of revenue, allow industries to capture regulators, launch pointless and bloody foreign misadventures, and threaten to gut the welfare state. I mean, all of those things might be happening now, with a Democrat, but they would happen so much worse with Mitt Romney, probably! So vote Obama again!

But it goes back further than this. In August 2010, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs basically said that liberals who criticized President Obama were on drugs:
"These people ought to be drug tested," Gibbs said. "They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we've eliminated the Pentagon. That's not reality. They wouldn't be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president."

Later in the day, Gibbs put out a statement saying he had spoken "inartfully."

"I watch too much cable, I admit," he said.

Still, the dust-up underscored the tough political position in which the president finds himself. Left and right are unhappy with him, narrowing the political base that Obama needs to pass legislation and avoid losses in the November midterm election.

Until this point, Obama and liberal activists have largely minimized their disagreements in public. But Gibbs' comments could strain the uneasy alliance, ushering in a period where mutual disenchantment is voiced more openly.

The backlash against Gibbs was swift.

Gibbs, who put the "ass" in "political assassination" held on until May of this year, which goes to show something about how out of touch the President really is.

Some liberal blogger famously stated that Obama wasn't liberals' boyfriend anymore. The thing is, President Obama was never my boyfriend. I preferred Hillary Clinton, because I felt that she was the stronger candidate, but I accepted that he won the primary and there was a clear choice between his professed platform and that of Senator McCain. I am not one of these people who lets emotion cloud my judgment regarding political candidates. I understood that it would be hard for President Obama to do many things while he addressed the very real economic problems created by Republican economic policy, especially deregulation and de-funding of government programs. But you lost your fighting spirit almost the moment your hand rested on the Bible and the Chief Justice mangled the oath of office.

Now, at the Netroots Nation Convention, White House Communications director Dan Pfeiffer claimed victory on a number of progressive fronts, but there are some glaring problems that are the root of our discontent.

1. Taking credit for ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." As I recall, this administration has gone to court repeatedly to keep DADT in place while the military has "time" (maybe "all deliberate speed?" Is that vague enough?) to get ready for the eventual day when this administration may finally try to sneak in the extinction of this policy when it may attract the least attention. The policy is still in place. So don't pretend it's gone.

2. Health Care "Reform." Real health care reform is not a give-away to the insurance companies. We don't have a health care system in this country. We have health insurance, which only makes money if it discourages people from getting health care. This vaunted "reform" was the product of massive compromise (read "capitulation") to the very people who then promptly turned around and began denouncing some of their very own demands (hello, Mitt Romney!).

3. Iraq and Afghanistan (oh, and Guantanamo). Still there. Still adding billions monthly to the deficit, since none of this war has been paid for through taxes. And I want to point out that historically, we have made sure that that "shared sacrifice" included the people back home during war by attempting to pay for at least some of the war in question with tax increases. Until these two. No, the very people who screamed that it was our patriotic duty to go to war in 2001 and 2003 also deny that it is our patriotic duty to at least attempt to pay for this war. And President Obama has given them a pass on that.

4. Education. See above.

5. Financial Reform. Again, see above.

6. Economic policy. Do you have one-- one that you really care about enough to fight for it? And economic reform does not happen through compromise. Period.

A while back, Mr. Gibbs made some sort of a comment that the White House didn't need to worry about liberal and progressive backlash against the unfulfilled promises of the Obama Administration, since we have nowhere else to go. Okay, your half-Republican administration has been marginally better than a Republican administration. But is that really much of an accomplishment? Talk about being damned by faint praise.

Here's the thing. My most important political priorities were ignored during the first eight years of this century. But at least I wasn't being constantly asked to pay for that privilege through giving political donations to the people doing it.

I am just about your age, Mr. President. I am not a young adult who cast their first ballot for you caught in a haze of starry-eyed promises-- one who very well may stay home come November of 2012. I will not throw away my franchise. But there is a difference between voting for a candidate in whom I believe while knowing that Electoral College calculus means my vote will not count, and voting for someone who solicits their constituency's money and then openly and gloatingly ignores that constituency.

So, about those donations? During the Republican administrations under which I have lived during my life, I have learned that I can be ignored politically for free. That's the part that you and your advisors and spokesmen didn't figure out. And it may not matter to you. But it matters to me, and my pocketbook.



At 7/19/11, 10:23 PM, Blogger wisconsinscienceteacher said...

I understand your frustration. However, i would caution you that before you don't vote for President Obama, take a look at the Republican vision for America by examining what they are doing in Wisconsin and Ohio. If you want no unions, no social safety nets, corporation in charge, institutionalized misogyny and homophobia and the beginnings of a theocracy then by all means exercise your right and withhold your vote. There is no doubt that President Obama failed to live up to expectations: how could he not? He is just one person and his party is not a monolithic voting block like the Republicans. The solution is to vote for President Obama and elect as many progressives as possible.

At 7/20/11, 12:54 AM, Blogger Jim Connolly said...

I'm feeling a lot of the same frustrations, and wish that another Democratic candidate had stepped up, willing to challenge President Obama for the nomination this election cycle.
I've been getting the same campaign emails, and where I willingly donated in 2008, I delete without reading now. Like you said, I can be ignored for free. Why pay for the privilege?
Odds are I will probably vote for President Obama again- some of the GOP candidates are truly scary (Bachmann and Perry, particularly)- but I can't say I'll be happy, or hopeful, about it.

At 7/20/11, 4:06 AM, Blogger NYC Educator said...

I understand exactly how you feel, and I will certainly not vote for Obama. On the surface he may not look like Scott Walker but his consistent failure to stand for anything enables him and his ilk. His willingness to hire an education secretary who applauds Katrina as the best thing that happened to education in New Orleans, simply because it enabled a corporate takeover, is disgraceful, as was his approval of the RI school that fired its whole staff. Candidate Obama said that he'd put on a pair of comfortable shoes and stand with labor when it was attacked. He said he'd reverse the Bush tax cuts that starved the government of revenue and enabled the current attacks on working people.

Now Social Security and Medicare are "on the table." If the best argument that can be mustered is his opponents are crazier than he is, that no longer merits my vote. I'm tired of being screwed by people whose job it is to represent my interests, and the future interests of my kid. Being insulted for wanting a vibrant middle class is unacceptable.

I really thought Obama would stand for something. If he can't, particularly now, it behooves him to get out of the way. Who needs Neville Chaimberlain negotiating for you?

Not this voter.

At 7/20/11, 6:15 AM, Blogger Mrs. Chili said...

Oh, hear, hear!

I WILL vote for Obama, but not for the same reasons I voted for him in 2008. At this point, he's become the lesser of two evils which, sadly, seems to be how much of my voting career has been decided.

At 7/20/11, 12:04 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

wisconsin: My point is that we are seeing a Republican-lite administration right now. What has Obama done to help unions and especially working people? Nothing, and has openly taken their support for granted.

I live in a Tea-Party mad state, with an embarrassment of a state legislature full of yelping yahoos. And thanks to gerrymandering by said legislature after the last census, I have NO HOPE of electing a progressive to represent me in Congress. I don't even have a hope of electing a "Blue Dog" DINO.

My current "representative" is one of those who portrays anyone who doesn't agree with him as a Godless minion of Satan, and I am not exaggerating.

President Obama is just one man. But he is a man who was elected with a resounding mandate-- at least for a Democrat-- and he not only displayed extreme weakness at crucial moments by not taking on the monolithic Republican juggernaut head-on when he still had some sway on Congress, but fatally misunderstood that the Republicans would rather see this country go down in flames than to try to govern responsibly.

At 7/20/11, 1:41 PM, Blogger NYC Educator said...

It behooves those we elect to actually represent us, rather than working against us somewhat less overtly and belligerently. I used to marvel at people who voted for Nader, but come 2012, I'm likely to vote Green Party if all I'm offered are faux-Democrats. It's a huge mistake to let Democrats think we will vote for them no matter what they do.

Last year I voted for a Green gubernatorial candidate rather than for faux-Democrat Andrew Cuomo, who thinks we need to have working people step up so we can get rid of millionaire taxes.

At 7/20/11, 6:01 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

And Ms. Chili, it's been the story of my life as well.

At 7/21/11, 8:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never expected to like everything Obama did, even though I worked hard for him.
Ad I can't imagine either voting Republican or voting for a 3rd party candidate (same as voting Republican). Keep in mind, people, that only 15% of the country identifies themselvs as liberal, while close to 50% calls themselves conservative. And many of the rest lean conservative. We can't have an all-progressive President until we do a better job of educating and enlisting our fellow voters.

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