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Excerpt: "Now that he doesn't have to worry about re-election, goes the argument, Obama has nothing to lose, and so he'll finally get to work on his real agenda."

President Obama speaks in front of a large crowd of supporters. (photo: Greg Wahl-Stephens/AP)
President Obama speaks in front of a large crowd of supporters. (photo: Greg Wahl-Stephens/AP)

A Left Turn in the Second Term?

By Socialist Worker

30 January 13


he era of liberalism is back," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned on the day after President Barack Obama's inauguration address. "We the government" was the headline of the Wall Street Journal editorial that sounded the alarm about the president "laying down a marker that he has no intention of letting debt or deficits or lagging economic growth slow his plans for activist, expansive government."

But if the fear factor was high among conservatives, the corresponding jubilation among many liberal commentators was even higher about a speech that took a swipe at social-safety-net-shredder Paul Ryan's complaints about a "nation of takers" and that invoked key struggles for justice of the past, including the LGBT rights movement, with the phrase "through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall."

The official start of Obama's second term in office, and especially his address on the steps of the Capitol, brought an old myth back to the surface - that Barack Obama is really a progressive at heart, even a radical. Now that he doesn't have to worry about re-election, goes the argument, Obama has nothing to lose, and so he'll finally get to work on his real agenda.

But the stark truth is that we know Barack Obama's "real agenda" well - because he's been pursuing it relentlessly during four long years of cutbacks and one-way compromises with Republicans. Hoping Obama will transform into a fighting progressive during his next four years is wishful thinking - pure and simple.

The only way to challenge austerity and conservatism in mainstream politics is a political mobilization from outside official Washington.

Was Obama finally revealing his true radical self on Inauguration Day?

Referring to rumors that superstar Beyoncé mouthed the words to a pre-recorded "Star-Spangled Banner," Salon's Andrew O'Hehir wrote of Obama, "The star of last Monday's big show was also lip-synching, in a sense, mouthing the lyrics to greatest hits from the songbook of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. It sounded great, especially to those of us who voted for him despite grave misgivings. But was it real?"

An even better question: Was it even that radical?

"Obama's address was firmly in the mainstream - of both the country and the Democratic Party, which has absorbed the lessons of its post-1968 defeats and synthesized into its core the New Democratic values of the Clinton era," Kenneth Baer, a former Obama administration official, wrote in the Washington Post.

"The speech sounded so robustly liberal not because the president or his party has changed but because the Republican Party has, moving far outside the norms of American political thought ... Defending the idea of a social safety net to guard against the vagaries of life is hardly radical."

Consider one of Obama's most talked-about sound bites: Referring to former Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's statements, Obama argued that so-called "entitlement programs" like Social Security and Medicare "do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great."

That's hardly a radical concept. Opinion polls have consistently showed that a majority of people oppose cutting or "reforming" programs like Social Security and Medicare. In an August 2012 Associated Press-GfK poll, 53 percent of respondents said they would rather see taxes raised to stop Social Security benefits from being cut for future generations, compared to 36 percent who said they would want benefits cut instead.

If it seemed like a refreshing change of pace for Obama to go after the right-wing policies of Republicans like Paul Ryan, that's because he barely ever did during his first four years in the White House, and then only when he was running for re-election.

When it really mattered - during the debate over the health care law a few years ago, or raising the debt ceiling in 2011, or the deal on the fiscal cliff at the beginning of January - Obama and the Democrats compromised and compromised again, allowing Republicans to shift the mainstream debate further and further to the right.

The net result is that working-class Americans are facing worse austerity and declining living standards - and it was the Obama administration that made it all possible, despite the president's occasional speeches to the contrary.

Another example of the gap between rhetoric and reality: Obama's much-talked-about commitment to "respond to the threat of climate change." But during its first four years, the Obama administration did the opposite - it adopted policies that will lead to further ecological devastation, such as expanding oil drilling and promoting the use of coal and nuclear power.

Then there's immigrant rights. Obama promised in his speech to "find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity." Yet the deportation of undocumented immigrants increased over the record of the previous Republican administration.

Some issues weren't mentioned in Obama's address, just as they haven't been for the last four years. The fact that the first Black president could give his inaugural speech on Martin Luther King Day and say nothing about the racism that is rife in U.S. society - from the resegregation of public schools to the mass incarceration of African Americans to acts of racist violence like the murder of Trayvon Martin - says a lot about what to expect out of the next four years.

The commentators who speculate about whether Obama has an opportunity to push a progressive agenda in his second term are asking the wrong question. The fact is that Obama doesn't have such an agenda now, nor has he ever had one.

Obama is a leader of the Democratic Party - "history's second-most enthusiastic capitalist party," to quote conservative author Kevin Phillips. The Democrats' highest priority has always been to fulfill the agenda of Corporate America, but all the more so under Obama, who sees an opportunity for his party to elbow aside the Republican's right-wing fanatics and crackpots and become the main party of big business.

There has to be some differences between the two parties in a two-party system, or no one would bother to vote in the "world's greatest democracy." But the difference are narrow, when they exist at all - and typically more about style than substance. Thus, the Republican claim that "entitlement" programs enable poor people to take advantage of the rest of us - while the Democrats claim that we all need to join in the "shared sacrifice" and "tighten our belts."

In the end, the goals of the two parties are much closer than they seem to be at face value - make workers pay for the crisis - and the differences between them are usually about how to accomplish them.

Obama isn't unique among Democrats. In 1992, Bill Clinton swept into the White House with promises of "change" after 12 years of Republican rule. During his first term, he left behind a trail of broken promises - but claimed that his hands were tied by Republican bullies like Newt Gingrich. That was the excuse for Clinton to sign "compromise" legislation that gutted the welfare system for poor families in 1996.

Clinton won re-election to a second term, thanks to the support of organized labor and women's and civil rights organizations. We heard the same hopes back then that Clinton would show his true progressive leanings in a second term - but he did even less to meet the demands of the Democrats' liberal base than the first four years.

Any concessions Barack Obama has made to that base - like finally "changing his mind" and declaring his support for marriage equality, or issuing an executive order that established some of the provisions of the DREAM Act for immigrant youth - have been the result of protest. The dedicated organizing of immigrant rights and LGBT activists deserve the credit for shifting public sentiment against discriminatory laws, not anything Obama did.

Now, we have turn up the heat on a number of fronts.

After winning his first term four years ago, Obama told his supporters, "For 18 long months, you have stood up, one by one, and said, 'Enough,' to the politics of the past...You have shown what history teaches us - that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn't come from Washington. Change comes to Washington."

Over the last few years, struggles from below - from the uprising against Scott Walker in Wisconsin to the Occupy Wall Street movement across the country, and from the strikes and struggles of teachers and activists to save our schools to the protests against low-wage employers like Wal-Mart and McDonalds - have shown the potential for a fightback to erupt quickly and sometimes unexpectedly.

All these struggles underline the importance of building a left-wing opposition for the long haul - and the kind of independent political organizing that can challenge the bipartisan assault on working people. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+15 # SMoonz 2013-01-30 15:56
It all boils down to placing blame on a passive populace that settles on the mediocrity of choosing the lesser of "two evils" when in fact both sides are exactly the same.
+7 # nice2blucky 2013-01-30 16:58
This is what I expect from a progressive site: honest reflection and fact-based commentary that doesn't blindly accept sophistic excuses and argument that "has logic to it" -- for example, voting for the lesser of two evils -- rather than actual logic, from premise through conclusion.

Lose the dreamy cheerleader garbage that is so pervasive from entrenched Democratic PARTY surrogates, apologists, and those naive lemmings whose contributions consist mainly of having identified the so-called greater evil, parroting party talking points, and clicking a red thumb of disapproval.

The end result is consistently getting worse and worse.

Bring accountability for failure to exact real change. Focus on Primary Elections -- the only elections with real choice. And vote your consciences; vote for the candidate that best reflects your views.

Still time to wake up.
+21 # 666 2013-01-30 17:39
finally, a voice of reason!!! where are the obamanauts? they must have quit reading at the 4th paragraph. That's OK, you keep shilling for obama and the gop (sic!), it'll all be better one day. just click your ruby slippers together.
+24 # Allen 23 2013-01-30 20:21
Looking at it historically, the solution has to be a break from the officially-appr oved mechanisms. It must have the form of a broad movement based on the interests of the bottom 80-90% of the population, rather than on the interests of the top 1%. It has to be what they call “radical” politics — something that big business and the media are definitely not going to like.

The 2 parties are really just a mechanism of social control. They’re not a way for the people to express their will; they’re a way for rulers to control the people — partly by making them believe that they (the peeps) have some say (which they don’t). Building a movement to oppose this takes time. But its sine qua non is political consciousness — the type that socialists understand & try to cultivate; and that the big-business parties & media try to suppress & eradicate.
+6 # WestWinds 2013-01-30 23:48
#Allen23: Exactly. But why are people so reluctant to make the moves that will get them what they want? What makes the South keep voting against its own best interests? I can only think that it's salesmanship and Clinton handed the NeoCons the best selling tool out there; the TV. It's disgusting.
+18 # Allen 23 2013-01-30 20:23
Oh, and hat's off to RSN for putting such a good piece out there.
+2 # WestWinds 2013-01-31 00:12
Yah, it's about time RSN got fair and balanced.
+6 # WestWinds 2013-01-30 23:37
For anyone who thinks that BHO hasn't been doing his agenda all along, they need some serious retooling.

The reason he gave away the Solar industry to the Chinese instead of creating jobs here at home is because he is committed to endless war. We can't use Solar energy to run tanks, drones, planes and other motorized vehicles; they run on oil converted to gasoline. And oil + war creates a renewable cash flow source; the wet dream of every industrialist.

The "War on Terrorism" is the generic; a nameless, body-less, cloud of an illusion that is waved around to scare people and keep the war machinery going. And so it is incumbent upon the foot soldiers of the industrialists to make sure we keep creating wars all over the world. Man, what a scam!
+6 # grandma lynn 2013-01-30 23:52
We need a progressive party to support a progressive party candidate. No Democrat, now, will be able to overcome the corporate indebtedness that Obama has secured for the corporations. Certainly a Hillary campaign or a Kerry campaign or a Biden campaign will not step out of the Obama shoes, because it all did help Obama get re-elected. The new candidate would want to repeat that, being bought by the corporate money machine.
+2 # WestWinds 2013-01-31 00:12
>>"All these struggles underline the importance of building a left-wing opposition for the long haul - and the kind of independent political organizing that can challenge the bipartisan assault on working people."
-3 # Rick Levy 2013-01-31 00:12
Just a note about immigrant rights. Only legal immigrants have and deserve them. The gate crashers don't.
0 # EPGAH3 2013-01-31 18:59
Actually, I wonder HOW deportations "increased" when Obama CUT the Border Patrol's budget. Easiest answer I can come up with is that he keeps "Catch&Release" -ing the same group of foreign thugs over and over, letting the rest slip on by. Otherwise, how could they be the fastest-growing bloc of anti-American voters in America, gaining enough clout to DEMAND we teach their failed culture instead of ours, and even another Amnesty.
The first 8 failed to stem the tide of illegals...Anyo ne read Einstein's definition of insanity?
+2 # Smokey 2013-01-31 06:40
Welcome "Socialist Worker"! It's nice to have you with us.

I may disagree with the "Socialist Worker" on lots of points, but I respect the publication and its writers and editors. I know that they're concerned about racism and economic justice.

With some of the yuppie publications that present themselves as being "progressive," I'm not sure what they represent or want.
-3 # sandyclaws 2013-01-31 07:56
The easiest job in the world is to be a critic. When was the last time President Obama put up a piece of legislation and passed it all by himself without the house and senate. You remember those folks. Did Obama stop jobs for main street? Seems to me that was the Republicans. What about jobs for returning veterans? Nope that was republicans also. Seems to me that you are leaving out critical players here. And yes I am not happy with some of the things done and not done. I am not happy with what our government system has become. Our elected representatives are supposed to be voting the peoples minds, not telling the people what they are going to do for the corporations. All the money that was lost from the economy really wasn't lost at all. It can be found in the offshore accounts of the 1%. Did you think those trillions just disolved? Who caused this? It's "we the people". People have to work at a democracy and we aren't willing to do that. There are some people that just walk into the voting booth and look for the "R" and mark it. They expect to be told what to do. We as a nation have been willing to be enslaved by the 1%. Don't kid yourself, that's what it is.You talk of changing the system. It has already been changed with "citizens united" and other such things, We need to change back to the way it was when the rich paid 91% tax. How can anybody be stupid enough to believe that Social Security needs to be cut when it's not even part of the equation. CHANGE BACK!
+2 # 6thextinction 2013-01-31 12:28
All of us who agree with the last two paragraphs of this article must actively take part in that "independent political organizing that can challenge the bipartisan assault on working people" or things will only get worse.

How to do that? Grass roots--talk to your family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc. to build your own strength, and then join with other activist groups. It's been done repeatedly throughout history. Just commit yourself to action--every week, month, season, year--and keep going. It's the only thing that will bring change.
+2 # Dave45 2013-02-01 00:35
It is a pleasure to read a thoughtful, objective critique of Mr. Obama, a critique that is not beholden to the mainstream political patter that comes to us regularly from supporters of both parties. As the article suggests, Mr. Obama has never been a progressive--no t even during his first presidential campaign. He only begins to sound progressive when somebody puts a mike in his hand. Even when he has had the opportunity to attempt to make good on a mildly progressive promise, he has refused seriously to back progressive causes. As I believe Noam Chomsky has remarked, Mr. Obama does not appear to have a moral compass. I am puzzled that so many people still have hopes that Mr. Obama will support progressive, humanitarian causes and programs. As a leopard cannot change its spots, so one whose foreign policy initiatives include unconstitutiona l "kill lists" and whom Wall Street has firmly in its hip pocket can hardly be expected to move much beyond the insipidly liberal tokenism of his first term. Quite simply, he doesn't have it in him.

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