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Tuesday, 13 November 2012 07:41

President Obama: Decisions, Decisions

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So here we have President Obama back in the Oval Office for another four years.  A resounding victory in both the Electoral College and the popular vote.  One of only four Presidents in the last century to have received 50% or more of the popular vote twice.  We are now being told that all of those confident predictions of “Romney momentum” and a Romney win from the GOP and its echo chambers on the Fox”News”Channel and right-wing talk radio were nothing more than self-delusional distortions of the facts (that the New York Times’ Nate Silver had right there for everyone to see).  

My own prediction of a Romney win was based not on the polls, which I don’t trust too much anyway, but on the assumption that the Rove cheat-the-vote machine was fully geared up and ready to go.  I thought that combined with the massive GOP voter-suppression efforts, especially in Ohio and Florida, I thought that it would swing the election to Romney regardless of what the honest vote total would be.  Then, having seen the now-famous Rove-Fox”News”Channel live, I speculated that the former had simply failed.  A consideration of all the GOP-and-relatives’ hand-wringing and “where-do-we-go-from-here” that is now going will be the subject of my next column.  But in this space we shall briefly consider the choices facing President Obama as he  heads into his second term.

I have never considered the President to be any kind of a left-winger.  Back in December 2007 I said: "As they have done in the past, the center-right Democratic Leadership Council is this time around running what in Standard-Breed (trotters and pacers) horse racing terminology is known as an 'entry.' One owner enters two horses and bettors can bet on the two together.”  The “entry” was of course Obama and Hillary Clinton.  (The DLC no longer formally exists.  But its Republican-lite, or what used to be called “liberal Republican,” policies do and they are held by a number of still-powerful Democrats.  There are contemporary observers who consider Pres. Obama to actually have that sort of politics.) I considered the issue of Obama’s attachment to the DLC and DLC policies again in 2009, and once again following the elections of 2010.  In that column I had cited a leading DLC-er on the results of the 2010 Congressional elections:

“On the day after the 2010 national elections, Evan Bayh, retiring Senator from Indiana, laid out very clearly the current political and policy program of the dominant power in the Democratic Party, the Democratic Leadership Council. The reasons for the Democratic losses around the country, so Bayh told us (paraphrasing in quotes), were that Obama was ‘too far left,’  that he should have ‘pushed jobs,’ not pushed health care reform so hard, and should have taken it easier on Wall Street and the banks. ‘Cut taxes, attack the budget, grab the center’ was the central headline in the piece. Obama has to ‘move to the center,’ needs to ‘reach across the aisle,’ and ‘must learn to work with GOP in order to get things done.’ "

OK, now here we have had Sen. Mitch McConnell announce in December 2010, just after the deathless prose above of ex-Sen. Bayh had appeared, that his number one objective in the Congress was to enable the defeat of President Obama in 2012.  We have had McConnell and Boehner/Cantor push that strategy to the limit, not only on legislation but on appointment confirmations.  On bank regulation they were so aggressive on the possible nomination of Elizabeth Warren to be the first head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which she had virtually invented, that Obama didn’t even bother trying.  (Think that the GOP might be regretting that one, eh Scott Brown?  Duh!)  Nevertheless, contrary to the advice ex-Sen. Bayh was rendering, Pres. Obama, still no radical he, had made it clear that were he to be re-elected any “budget deal” would have to include tax increase for the wealthy.  He also pushed hard on the so-called “women’s issues” that the DLC-ers always want to put on the back-burner.  And he took what can be described in current US politics as a “left” position on the immigration question.  And guess what?  He won!  

Funnily enough, I happened to hear ex-Senator Bayh as the token Democrat (sic) on a Fox”News”Channel post-2012 election wrap-up.  And guess what?  Despite the clear illustration of the GOP tactics and strategy, really for the whole of the Obama Presidency, and despite the early indications that they ain’t budging much, at least for now, there’s ex-Sen. Bayh, on the telly, virtually quoting himself from The New York Times in 2010.    It happens that Sen. Bayh still represents a powerful wing of the Democratic Party.  There’s ex-Sen. David Boren (also an influential DLC-er) saying exactly the same thing.  There are still right-wing “Blue Dog” Democrats in the Congress, Sen.-elect Joe Donnelly of Indiana being one of the new ones.  

At the same time, the liberal/progressive wing of the Congressional Democratic Party is getting stronger too.  First, Harry Reid, with his majority enlarged (when the prediction had been that it would shrink or even disappear), is starting to make some aggressively true Democratic noises.  Then we have newly-elected progressive Democratic Senators like Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin.  The best left-Democrat of them all, Alan Grayson, has been re-elected to the House.  And of course there is still the 75-member strong House Progressive Caucus, led by Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva. In the last Congress they proposed the only responsible, progressive deficit-cutting budget out there.  It received no attention in the mainstream media or from the Obama White House, but this time around, with a reduced GOP majority on the House, and Obama not facing re-election, hey, you never know.

So here we have the Presidential decision to make.  It’s not about a legislative agenda first, a laundry list of nice programs that left-Democrats have always run with in the past, and still do, actually.  It’s about first, which domestic political direction is he going to go in, which political philosophy: DLC or Democratic Progressive Caucus, Clintonian “triangulation” to fend off the liberal wing of his party, or moving forward to re-establish the true Democratic brand, domestically.  The President is not going to change US foreign policy, which first and foremost focuses on the onward march of American imperialism.  But on the domestic side there is a major decision to be made by him.  We will know which choice he has made when we see his bottom line on the upcoming (mis-named) “fiscal cliff” (really a fiscal slope).  We will know which choice he has made when we see what his new cabinet appointments are.  For us political junkies for progressive democracy it’s going to be a very interesting couple of months.


Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for BuzzFlash/Truthout (http://www.buzzflash.com, http://www.truth-out.org/), he is the Managing Editor of and a Contributing Author to TPJmagazine.net.