Obama Fails the People on Jobs, Poverty, Education, Peace & Health Care

On election eve last year as the results came in, millions of Americans rejoiced that a new, Democratic administration had been brought into office. Surely, it was thought, Obama will right the wrongs of the terrible 8 years under George W. Bush and he will push a people-oriented agenda as he had outlined in his campaign for the presidency. Obama had spoken thoughtfully and articulately about the need to tackle the economic crisis, to bring transparency to government, to use diplomacy and work together with other nations rather than to just send in the troops abroad, to attack social and economic injustice.

But we have found that as President, Barack Obama began almost immediately to backtrack on his promises. He shifted positions on FISA almost as the election return results came in; he began to appoint lobbyists to his government breaking one of his key campaign promises (and even wanted one of the biggest lobbyists, Tom Daschle, as his head of H&HS); he froze out progressives (like Howard Dean) and favored DLCers like Rahm Emanuel; and, he has continued many of W’s unpopular policies like forced renditions, state secrets in an expansionist American foreign policy that seems to differ little from W’s. Indeed, Obama has failed to replace W’s Republican Defense Secretary with a Democrat and has elevated most of W’s generals including Gen. McCrystal, a man who helped falsify records in the Pat Tillman case and who led human rights abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The election ushering in Obama occurred more than a year ago but if one looks at Obama’s Presidency, little has changed for average Americans. Obama has been a failure especially on the economic front. Rather than usher in immediately a program to create jobs and deal with massive unemployment, Obama’s Timothy Geithner worked with Bush’s Paulson to fashion Tarp: a huge bailout to Wall St. and big banks. Trillions were given to captains of industry and banking without any real oversight and without any detailed study of what should be done (without the need for a summit). Only about a week ago, before leaving on a largely photo-op foreign trip to Asia, did Obama announce that he would hold a White House summit on job creation. It will be held next month so obviously the President feels no urgency to this matter despite the official unemployment rate increasing to 10.2% in October with 17.5% underemployment. Millions of Americans have given up even looking for jobs; countless millions others, rely on part-time jobs to feed their families. No problem–says Obama–I’ll call a meeting on the issue next month. What would the reaction have been in Wall St. and at Goldman Sachs had he dealt with the "financial crisis" in the same way? But Bob Rubin of Goldman Sachs was a big supporter of Obama and the unemployed don’t have Rubin’s bucks to give to Democrats. Hence, no urgency for the jobless while Goldman got and continues to get white glove treatment.

Oh yes, Obama did reappoint Bob Bernake as head of the Fed so I guess that’s some action he took. Bernake on Monday showed how clueless the Obama administration is on the unemployment/jobs situation:

"jobs are likely to remain scarce for some time, keeping households cautious about their spending. As the recovery becomes established, however, payrolls should begin to grow again at a pace that increases over time. Nevertheless, as net gains of roughly 100,000 jobs per month are needed just to absorb new entrants into the labor force, the unemployment rate likely will decline only slowly, if the economic growth remains moderate, as I expect."

Translation: be patient, you deadbeat jobless and job seekers! Obama and his team seems to have forgotten that he was elected by people from the Democratic base, like the unions. Donald Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, and a coalition of other organizations including the NAACP (which has been at war with Obama for most of his administration over his torture policies and "look forward not backward") are calling on the Obama administration to do more to create jobs. According to Democracynow.org:

The groups argue that the $787 billion stimulus program has not gone far enough to fight unemployment.

A large part of that stimulus, after all, was tax cuts. Leading economists months ago warned that it was insufficient. So it is no surprise that Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman followed up his criticisms of the Obama stimulus earlier this year with recent calls for action from Obama on job creation. But it will be interesting to see if Krugman (or Joe Stiglitz, another Nobel Prize winner and critic of Obama’s half measures) even gets invited to the White House jobs conference.

I suspect not since Obama has a history of freezing people out of summits whose views are more forceful and progressive than his: witness his White House conference on healthcare in February at which Obama failed to invite even one speaker in favor of single payer. As Obama backtracked on health care reform, even talking of "insurance reform", he has done the same thing on the economy. Recent pronouncements coming out of his administration sound Hooveresque with Obama’s own announcement of the jobs summit including a statement to the effect that "there are limitations on what the federal government can or should do". Words that could (and likely were) spoken by Ronald Reagan or Herbert Hoover.

Other statements by administration acolytes warn that the administration must cut fiscal spending on domestic programs to get a better handle on the budget deficit. That again is Hooveresque and exactly the wrong approach to take. But it is the approach that Obama’s hesitant and largely Republican thinking economic team, led by the ousted head of Harvard University Larry Summers and the hapless and ineffective Timothy Geithner favor. That was the same team that was willing to give trillions to Wall St. and huge banking firms without any summit and without any oversight.

The depth that the economy has reached is revealed by new data coming out of Obama’s own Department of Agriculture:

nearly 50 million Americans—including a quarter of all children—struggled to get enough to eat last year. The Department of Agriculture found that nearly 17 million children lived in households in which food at times was scarce last year, four million children more than the year before. The government data has startled even anti-poverty advocates. Vicki Escarra, president of Feeding America, said, "This is unthinkable. It’s like we are living in a Third World country.” The total number of Americans going hungry is likely even higher. The report is based on 2008 data when the unemployment rate maxed out at 7.2 percent. Since then the unemployment rate has jumped to over ten percent.

Source: Democracynow.org (link above)

But Obama and his administration have a tin ear for the plight of the jobless, the poor, and hungry. Unlike Goldman Sachs, General Motors and AIG, the unemployed are not too big to fail and the poor don’t write checks to politicians.

A more forceful leader than Obama, Richard Trumka President of the AFL-CIO has lain out a five point jobs plan:

1. Extend the lifeline for jobless workers.
2. Rebuild America’s schools, roads and energy systems.
3. Increase aid to state and local governments to maintain vital services.
4. Fund jobs in our communities.
5. Put TARP funds to work for Main Street.

I would like to add a 6th point to Trumka’s commendable plan: fire Larry Summers, Timothy Geithner and Rahm Emanuel for these key Obama advisors will pour cold water on such proposals: too people-oriented, not helpful to big business, they will argue.

Obama needs a new team of advisors on the economy just as he needs a new team of advisors on Afghanistan. A year after the election and we still have Robert Gates, a Republican, as our Defense Secretary? Is it any wonder that Obama’s foreign policy looks just like W’s? You yourself said it best, President Obama, when during the election campaign you said that only new few faces can bring about change. Absolutely correct and that’s why lots of people voted for you. What happened to that mentality? Gates is a new face? Rahm Emanuel is a new face? Larry Summers is a new face? Was it only pandering for votes, a promise to be discarded like another Obama lie: "I will hold all healthcare meetings in public and televise them live on C-SPAN". If this was a flip-flop it was a size 18E. No, these transcend flip- flops, they were whopper lies told by Obama to pander for votes. Once elected, it’s been politics as usual with the same old faces, including Gates, Summers, Geithner, and Hillary.

Turning to education, Obama again is giving us Republican-corporate leadership with the likes of Arne Duncan. Is privatization really going to save our public schools? And what, anyway, would Obama know about public schools since he only attended expensive private ones in his lifetime: Punahou (Hawaii’s most expensive school); Columbia; Harvard–all the time taking advantage of government programs (like affirmative action which got him in the door) while extolling the virtues of privatism. Where do Obama’s children go to school now? I’m not sure of the fancy name of the school they attend but I’m 100% sure it isn’t a public one. What kind of message does that send the rest of the country, President Obama? What do YOU really know about public schools?

Well, here’s what your failed economic policies are doing to a once great public university system. The UC Board of Regents is contemplating a 32% tuition hike for undergraduates because funds from the state have been cut and because of the economic situation your government has allowed to continue. Moreover, some of UC’s graduate programs will, under the proposals before the Regents, raise tuition by thousands of dollars.

Lora Nader a Professor at UC Berkeley for 50 years explained to Democracynow.org:

Now this debate has been with us as far as the beginning of the country, when Thomas Jefferson and some of the founders pointed out that you can’t have a democracy without public education. So some people disagree, and they say public education is too expensive. You have the profit model of education, or you have the public model of education. The public model says it’s a public good. The private model says it’s a private good. And it’s been going on.

So, 1868 our university was founded, and it was founded as a public good. Everybody over the age of fourteen of moral character could come to the University of California. It was meant to be free. They didn’t achieve that completely. But even in 1952, it was only $28 a semester. So we’ve gone a long way towards not achieving a free public education, although poorer countries than ours have free public education, both in Latin America and Europe.

What has happened in America over the years is not only a gap between the rich and poor that has increased but a gap between the governing/ruling class and its average citizens. We see this now in education where I believe that Jimmy Carter is the last President to have been in a public school and the last to have had his children in the public system (at the high school level at least). Obama has no idea of what public education is or means as he and his wife have been in pampered institutions (Princeton, Harvard) all of their careers. The same gap appears in health care where the governing elite have the very kind of public-funded comprehensive health care system for themselves (publicly funded) that they deplore for the result of the population. I recall a recent study showing that 265 of our Congresspeople are millionaires: they are completely unrepresentative of the people they govern.

What America is seeing now is a link between all of these problems: the wars overseas bleed the public treasury for spending on domestic programs. A ruling elite (which Obama and his party also represent) underfund domestic programs and job creation while spending trillions on Wall St., banks and bombs. Money (the "mother’s milk of politics") has become more and more the key ingredient in getting elected (recall that Obama shunned public funding and spent more to get elected than anyone ever has). Campaign reform has largely gone by the wayside since reform would undercut the flow of money to the politicians in power. And America increasingly becomes divided on economic lines with more and more citizens falling below the poverty line. Almost 50 million Americans struggled to find enough to eat last year, on Obama’s watch.

What really has Obama and his Democratic administration changed? Where is the change that he promised (and now shuns)? Liberals and progressives must unite and support programs like Donald Trumka’s and must challenge politicians (especially Democrats who are only that in name) by use of the primary and by use of selective funding. It is long past time for Obama and his administration to start producing on jobs, health care, poverty, peace and education. Those should be our priorities and not new free trade pacts with more countries that send jobs abroad; not more escalation of wars; not more spending on the Defense Department budget. In short, we need a government of and by Democrats from the Democratic wing of the Democratic party. We need much more than Obama has been willing to provide; we need a fighter for social and economic causes, not a waffler.

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