A recent Washington Post-ABC poll of American voters says that 52 percent of them say that they don’t know what the Democratic party stands for today. That’s a pretty long way off what that party used to be in 2008 when Barack Obama first ran for president, and he and the party were the toast of almost everybody in the country.
Then, it was not difficult to figure out what the Democratic party stood for because it was in your face clear what they stood for. It was in your face clear that the Democrats stood with the middle class, the poor, the common man who would otherwise have no representation in government.
They stood for, or at least we’re not ashamed to say that they stood for the people. The party had, or pretended to have, people oriented policies which they touted at every given opportunity. Candidate Obama was seen as the people’s champion because he presented that persona.
The Democratic party was seen as the true party of the people because what they stood for, or the illusion of it, was crystal clear.
Fast forward eight years later, and a majority of Americans say they have no idea what the same party stands for. That puts all sorts of questions in your head: what went wrong? Is it the same party? When and why did the platform change to become so different from what it was just eight years ago when that party swept every election before it?
How did it get to this state where a party that was seen as an ally of the downtrodden is looked upon as a party that stands for nothing? How did the Democratic party lose its way so badly that it today looks more Republican than what the Republican party was in 2008.
Today, Democrats no longer even pretend to be liberal anymore. It has policies that are more right leaning than policies Republicans were proposing in 2008.
Questions, questions, and more questions, so where are the answers? The answer as to how the party got here isn’t very difficult to see, if you paid attention throughout the presidency of Barrack Obama.
The shift towards the right was clear throughout his policies. You could see it in which policies he pursued and which he ignored.
The first sign was when he, having promised universal health care throughout his campaign, trotted out a Republican healthcare plan that was already in practice in Massachusetts, having been instituted by a Republican governor named Mitt Romney.
Even when he promised to make the Republican healthcare plan more acceptable to progressives by adding the public option to it, we later found out that it was only a ruse he played to calm angry progressives who were shocked by his sudden about face and betrayal. That fact became clear when people saw the ease with which he gave up on the public option when Republicans put up a fight, as you would expect them to.
The people, who were taken in by Obama’s charms and promises, expected him to fight a little harder for the things they voted him in to do. They expected the Republicans to put up strong opposition to most of those things because they understood Republicans and what they stand for, but they expected the man they gave their trust and votes to do better. To fight harder than he did when giving up the public option.
It’s even worse when you factor in that the public option was just something they accepted as compensation for losing out on what they really wanted, which was what Obama campaigned on; Medicare for all.
Obama campaigned on Medicare for all but gave them a right wing healthcare system that was little more than a give away to insurance companies. To try to ameliorate the disappointment, he promised to add a public option which would put a progressive face on the plan, but gave up on that at the first objection he got.
Needless to say the people who elected him we’re very mad and disappointed, and let him and his party know all about it during the 2010 midterm elections. Republicans took over control of both houses of Congress, in addition to taking over control in more States and state legislatures.
Even President Obama acknowledged the extent of the losses his party took when he went on national television and said that his party had taken a “shellacking.”
That was just on healthcare, and only the first in a long line of examples of how the Democrats got here where voters can no longer differentiate them from Republicans.
Second sign of the shift was the failure to bring to Justice, the major players in the financial crash the crashed our economy. The economic collapse was a major reason why the Democrats took power from Republicans because they said all the right things about the causes, and what to do, and how to remedy the situation.
Candidate Obama said the banks had become too big to fail, and promised to break them up after the financial and economic system were saved from total collapse. He said it was imperative to break them up in order to forestall the kinds of behaviors that led to the crash. When he left office, the same banks he spoke about breaking up were not only still intact, but had in fact grown bigger than they were before the crash.
Far from keeping his promise to us on that front, Obama and the Democratic party left Americans worse off, and at an even bigger risk of a bigger and more devastating crash happening. The policies they ended up putting in place with the banksters who Obama made the bedrock of his financial and economic policies, gave us the biggest wealth gap in the history of the country. Yes, not even during the great depression was the wealth gap this huge.
The cause was that the policies the criminal banksters crafted for him made sure that over ninety percent of all the wealth created during the recovery which the tax payers paid for, by the way, went to the richest one percent of Americans.
Those two – giving up on universal health care and letting the culprits of the economic collapse get away – were the major policy shifts because they were the ones most responsible for the economic outcome of his presidency on everyday Americans.
There were others, like his failure to close Guantanamo prison after having made a strong promise to do so during his campaign. “The legal framework behind Guantanamo has failed completely, resulting in only one conviction. … The first step to reclaiming America’s standing in the world has to be closing this facility. As president, Barack Obama will close the detention facility at Guantanamo.” He said at the time.
His hardcore supporters will say that it was Republicans who didn’t allow him to close Guantanamo, but On March 8, 2011, Obama issued a new executive order, formally codifying the permanent role of the Guantánamo Bay facility in the administration’s policy of indefinite detention, and as the location for military tribunals.
Obama also joined the GOP in pushing for the renewal of key provisions of the PATRIOT act, and of the law as a whole in 2010. This was after saying this of the act “This is legislation that puts our own Justice Department above the law. When national security letters are issued, they allow federal agents to conduct any search on any American, no matter how extensive, how wide ranging, without ever going before a judge to prove the search is necessary. … If someone wants to know why their own Government has decided to go on a fishing expedition through every personal record or private document, through the library books you read, the phone calls you have made, the e-mails you have sent, this legislation gives people no rights to appeal the need for such a search in a court of law. No judge will hear your plea; no jury will hear your case. This is plain wrong. … We owe it to the Nation, we owe it to those who fought for our civil liberties, we owe it to the future and our children to make sure we craft the kind of legislation that would make us proud…”
After getting rid of the existing, inadequate protections of civil liberties included in the bill, and rejecting all proposed reforms aimed to protect civil liberties, the Senate Judiciary Committee, including nearly all of its Democrats, voted to pass the law at the express urging of the president.
President Obama increased the country’s militarism after railing against it during his campaign. He said this at the rally of Chicagoans Against War in Iraq, October 2002: “What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income, to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression. That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.”
He also said this during a speech at 99th NAACP Convention, July 12, 2008: “If people tell you that we cannot afford to invest in education or healthcare or fighting poverty, you just remind them that we are spending $10 billion a month in Iraq. And if we can spend that much money in Iraq, we can spend some of that money right here in Cincinnati, Ohio, and in big cities and small towns in every corner of this country.”
Yet during his presidency, when America was going through the worst economic crisis since the great depression, Obama’s military spending surpassed that of Reagan and Bush, and was the largest combined budget for the military since World War II. Obama hiked the spending on, and use of, Special Operations forces, secretly deployed them to 75 countries, and extended de facto “secret wars” to Somalia and Yemen. Moreover, he started a full-fledged military campaign in Libya.
The Obama administration worked to deregulate arms exports, so as to widen America’s already dominant market share in the world, and to boost the business of the U.S. arms industry. In October 2010, Obama approved a $60 billion arms deal, the biggest in U.S. history, with the repressive Saudi regime.
President Obama hiked spending on the war on drugs after speaking out against it during his campaign. Obama said this in a speech at Howard University in 2008: “Someone once said that ‘… long minimum sentences for first-time users may not be the best way to occupy jail space and/or heal people from their disease.’ That someone was George W. Bush – six years ago. I don’t say this very often, but I agree with the president. The difference is, he hasn’t done anything about it. When I’m president, I will. We will review these sentences to see where we can be smarter on crime and reduce the blind and counterproductive warehousing of non-violent offenders.”
“We have to think more about drugs as a public health problem… We have been so focused on arrests and incarcerations, interdictions, that we don’t spend as much time thinking about how do we shrink demand.” He also said during a YouTube Q&A in 2011.
He, instead, increased spending on the war with more funds going towards punishment than went to rehabilitation. The disproportionate racial bias in drug law enforcement remained the same during his presidency. He kept the revolving doors between the administration and private prison industry open when he appointed Stacia Hynton as the Director of the U.S. Marshal Service. Prior to her appointment, her consulting firm had as its sole client the GEO Group, the second largest private corrections corporation in the country.
Obama railed against corporate money in politics during his primary fight with Hillary Clinton but changed his mind and accepted lots of it as soon as he won nomination. He said this “In February 2007, I proposed a novel way to preserve the strength of the public financing system in the 2008 election. My plan requires both major party candidates to agree on a fundraising truce, return excess money from donors, and stay within the public financing system for the general election. My proposal followed announcements by some presidential candidates that they would forgo public financing so they could raise unlimited funds in the general election. … If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.” (Midwest Democracy Network Questionnaire, September 2007)
He also this in a campaign commercial during the primaries: “I’m Barack Obama, and I don’t take money from oil companies or Washington lobbyists, and I won’t let them block change anymore.”
He and his team went on to raise more money than than any other political campaign in history after he abandoned his pledge after winning the primary. He portrayed his fundraising success as being from the grass roots, but a vast majority of his funds came from corporations mostly made up of Wall Street players. Subsequently, President Obama’s entire economic team consisted of Wall Street insiders – most notably Tim Geithner, the former NY Fed Chair – and nearly all of them Goldman Sachs alumni: Treasury’s Chief of Staff Mark Patterson, Director of the White House’s National Economic Council Larry Summers, their mentor and Obama advisor Robert Rubin, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Gary Gensler, in addition to many other high-ranking members of the administration.
Obama also railed against trade agreements during his campaign deals. He said this during one of his victory speeches on the Potomac primary night, February 12, 2008: “Trade deals like NAFTA ship jobs overseas and force parents to compete with their teenagers to work for minimum wage at Wal-Mart. That’s what happens when the American worker doesn’t have a voice at the negotiating table, when leaders change their positions on trade with the politics of the moment, and that’s why we need a president who will listen to Main Street – not just Wall Street; a president who will stand with workers not just when it’s easy, but when it’s hard.”
He also said this during a primary debate with Hillary Clinton on MSNBC, February 26, 2008: “We need to use the hammer of potential opt-out as leverage to get environmental and labor standards enforced … I don’t think NAFTA has been good for Americans, and I never have.”
As president, Obama not only threw his full weight behind NAFTA, he began negotiations on another trade agreement, TPP or Trans Pacific Partnership with 11 other countries. The negotiations were so secretive that even elected officials were barred from seeing the draft text of the agreement – while 600 “corporate advisors” were party to formulating it. Leaked drafts of the text indicate that the deal would oblige signatories to change their laws to abide by the TPP, giving corporations an unprecedented level of freedom with issue such as food safety, medicine costs, controlling the internet, and shipping jobs overseas, while gutting regulation on things such as genetically modified foods, tobacco, financial products and transactions.
Obama only reneged from pushing the TPP because he ran out of time, and also found out that it was very unpopular with the people so didn’t want to risk the presidential election for his party.
The list is endless, from his treatment of whistle blowers to the environment, to offshore drilling, to nuclear power. Obama moved right on these issues as soon as he became president, and the people noticed. They might not be able to promptly reel out all these issues every time they’re asked, but they took note as these things happened which is why the Democratic party lost progressives.
When you remember the things Obama did to move the Democratic party to the right during his presidency, it would not be a surprise that Americans can’t figure out what makes that party different from the Republican party, or as the poll put it, ” what the party stands for.”