In 2007 and 2008 Senator Barack Obama ran for the office of President on a platform of change; "change we can believe in", as he repeatedly claimed.
Many progressives donated money to candidate Barack Obama's campaign, and they voted enthusiastically for Barack Obama in the 2008 election, myself included. The reason why many of us cannot bring ourselves to vote for President Obama this November is that he did not bring that promised change to Washington, in fact, he
Many progressives donated money to candidate Barack Obama's campaign, and they voted enthusiastically for Barack Obama in the 2008 election, myself included. The reason why many of us cannot bring ourselves to vote for President Obama this November is that he did not bring that promised change to Washington, in fact, he doubled down on most of the Bush/Cheney era policies that progressives despised. Progressive policies were never even discussed.
So setting aside what the President says about his agenda on the campaign trail, let's take a look at his record over the last 3 and a half years and some of the reasons why so many progressives are looking for alternatives this coming November.
1) President Obama lets the Republicans frame the debates: President Barack Obama has let the Republicans frame the debates that have occupied our political space. One of the major weapons in a president's arsenal is the bully pulpit, and the preeminent position afforded to define the policy debates and set the stage for our national discourse. Rather than seizing that opportunity for progressive causes, and to undo the damage done by President Bush, President Obama has allowed the Republicans to fight every battle on their own turf. No attempts were made to shift the debate, for example from "healthcare reform" to "Medicare for all". We never heard the other side of the argument; we only heard about private insurance reform and insurance mandates.
The political debate in Congress, on TV and in the news media has shifted substantially to the right and this has continued in no small part because the first Democrat to occupy the White House after George W. Bush made no attempt whatsoever to take to the national stage and reframe our debates from a progressive perspective. Indeed, President Obama did not even attempt to frame the debate at some reasonable center of the political spectrum. Only talk of national security, "job creation" through reduced corporate taxes and reduced regulation, and debt reduction through "entitlement reform". Hardly a progressive to-do list.
For progressives it does not matter whether President Obama is weak and incapable of countering the Republican's rhetoric and agenda, or if he is actually more in tune with Republican ideas than he would like us to believe, the outcomes for progressives are exactly the same. Republican framed debates, Republican inspired legislation, and policies that progressives have been fighting against all of their political lives.
2) It is impossible for Democrats in Congress to oppose bad White House policies: A major problem with having a Democratic President who governs like a conservative is that Democrats in Congress cannot oppose harmful policies that the White House and congressional Republicans support. President Obama has worked closely with Wall Street, lobbyists and multinational corporations to help Republicans implement conservative legislation which has essentially crippled any potential Democratic opposition from the remaining liberal and moderate Democrats. So now when President Obama proposes opening up the Arctic and other very sensitive marine ecosystems to more oil and gas drilling, despite the BP oil spill disaster, it is virtually impossible for moderate and liberal Democrats in congress to do anything other than concede. The oil companies and their lobbyists want it, the Republicans want it and the Democratic President wants it, so it becomes very easy for Democrats in congress to do the wrong thing to avoid a fight with the oil lobby and their own leader. The same is true for elective wars, drone strikes, tax breaks for the rich, cutting Social Security and Medicare, and indefinite detention without trial. How can these things be opposed by liberal congressional Democrats and Independents when President Obama supports them? As long as President Obama is in office progressive causes will be non-starters.
It has been said "Only Nixon could go to China", referring to the fact that it is easier for Republican politicians to do liberal things, and easier for Democratic politicians to do conservative things. Think of how much more Democratic opposition there would have been to NAFTA, killing the Glass-Steagall Act, or ending welfare if a Republican had been president rather than Democrat Bill Clinton. The same is true for President Obama and increased military spending, drone wars, warrantless wiretapping and prosecution of whistleblowers. Because this is not the typical course for a Democrat, there is very little opposition to these ideas within the government. If Romney were president, the opposition level for these harmful policies would undoubtedly increase. Perhaps President Obama will be remembered in a similar fashion with the phrase "Only Obama could have started the global drone wars".
3) Considering the elections in 2014 and 2016: President Obama presided over one of the largest shifts in the makeup of Congress in 2010, with 63 House seats changing from Democrat to Republican, the largest change since 1948. In state legislative races Republicans gained 680 seats, the largest change in history. All of this happened only two years after the country's financial system was nearly destroyed by Republican policies under President Bush. This was clearly due in part to lack of enthusiasm from the progressive base of the Democratic Party resulting from President Obama's rightward shift in policies. President Obama's conservative policies and lack of support for progressive causes gave the base very little reason to come out to vote in 2010, and this low turnout will be repeated in 2012 and 2014 with President Obama in the White House, possibly putting both houses of Congress squarely in Republican hands and continuing the rightward shift in American politics.
This coming election is a great experiment for President Obama and the corporate Democrats - can they effectively ignore their voting base, and then use negative attack ads against Romney to drive enough Democrats out to vote for the lesser of evils? If President Obama wins this election he and his advisors will conclude that their triangulation strategy worked, and that the Democratic base had nowhere else to go. They will take the win as an indication that the base of the party can be used and abused, and will still come out to vote for their pro-corporate, pro-war candidates.
If President Obama loses the election, which seems unlikely, the Republicans will be denied their favorite political target of attack, who also just happens to be their willing compromiser-in-chief, giving them everything they ask for, and more. It may ironically turn out to be a major blow to Republican causes if President Obama loses the election.
4) Moral and ethical issues: President Obama has pursued policies that many progressives find destructive and even immoral. The drastic escalation of the war in Afghanistan, despite the obvious impossibility of creating a stable, secure state there, is at best a major political blunder, and at worst an immoral waste of tens of thousands of human lives while also resulting in immense human suffering and costing untold billions in taxpayer dollars - money that could have been spent in this country. His dramatic expansion of drone strikes, despite the fact that he knows that surgical killing from the skies is another impossible goal, may even constitute a war crime, especially considering that civilian contractors are often involved in the exercise of this deadly force outside of declared combat zones. The civilian deaths caused by these wide-ranging drone strikes cannot be ignored or minimized, and especially alarming are the reports that secondary drone strikes were used to attack rescuers sent to the scenes of previous drone strikes. It is absurdly hypocritical to suggest that these policies were immoral under President Bush, but acceptable in their vastly expanded scope under President Obama because he is a Democrat.
Many other Obama administration policies also raise ethical considerations including tax breaks for the rich while talking about cutting social programs for the middle class and poor. Indefinite detention without trial is clearly anti-constitutional, and to some it certainly crosses critical ethical boundaries as well. Extrajudicial assassinations cross all ethical and moral boundaries.
The Obama administration says they only want to look forward when questioned about Bush administration wrongdoing or Wall Street excesses, but they are more than willing to look backward when prosecuting whistleblowers. The Obama team long ago made the political calculation to snub progressive ideals and go for the money and power on Wall Street and in the military, and give up any pretense of playing to the base. For many progressives a vote for Obama is a vote for policies they find personally abhorrent, and a betrayal of their ethical, moral and political values.
5) Obama's conservative agenda: Senator Obama ran for president on a platform that repudiated Bush administration policies, but President Obama's political agenda can be summed up as a resounding acceptance of and nearly seamless continuation of Bush era policies. This policy continuity is not due to Republican pressure, but instead flows from the White House itself. The Democratic base elected Obama with one thing in mind -- to undo the damage that the Bush/Cheney administration had done to this country, and to reverse those destructive policies. But rather than reverse course, President Obama put his foot on the gas pedal and went full speed ahead. In many cases President Obama has gone further than the Bush administration, for example in the wide expansion of the drone attacks across the greater Middle East and the extra-judicial assassination of people abroad, including American citizens.
In his early 20's Barack Obama wrote "Remember how I said there's a certain kind of conservatism which I respect more than bourgeois liberalism -- Eliot is of this type." Even at a young age it was clear that Barack Obama was no liberal, and in fact had nothing but disdain for "bourgeois liberalism". A comparison of the Obama Administration's policies to previous administrations puts President Obama to the political right of Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and George Bush Sr. It could be argued that some of President Obama's policies are to the political right of Ronald Reagan. The Obama White House has helped derail or undermined most progressive causes in the country, from environmental protection to support for unions and whistleblowers, to ending wars, to the rule of law on Wall Street, cutting unnecessary and wasteful military spending, sensible gun control, and the right of the all accused persons to a public trial by jury. Virtually no progressive cause has escaped unscathed, and no corporate or military cause has gone lacking. As far as President Obama is concerned, he can ignore every progressive piece of legislation, proposed regulation, progressive backed initiative or cause and not worry about suffering the political consequences because most Democrats in the country will vote for the Democratic candidate no matter what harmful things they are doing, or what progressive things they fail to do. It is always difficult to take on the moneyed-interests in Washington, but there is nothing more disingenuous than pledging to bring change to Washington when your real agenda turns out to be lax corporate regulation, expanded defense spending, a very aggressive international defense posture, reduced workers bargaining rights, oil, gas and nuclear power development without environmental protection, prosecution of whistleblowers, spying on Americans, ignoring union concerns, holding people in permanent detention without trial and proposing to cut the social safety net to reduce the deficit.
Ask yourself, how are progressive causes such as environmental protection fairing now after 3 and a half years of President Obama as compared with how well they were doing in 2000, or even 2008? How energized is the progressive base of the Democratic Party? What do you think about the direction that the country is headed in under President Obama? It is very telling of how bad the situation has gotten for Progressives that the only reason Democrats can give you now to vote for President Obama again is that Romney is worse. In reality the differences between them on progressive issues are nil. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are staunch defenders of the idea that Democrats cannot win corporate-funded elections unless they are just as corporate-friendly and war-friendly as the Republicans. Presidents Clinton and Obama cannot coexist in a Democratic party that adheres to the same policies that Elizabeth Warren advocates. Democratic voters are going to have to decide once and for all if they support the corporate wing of the party, or the worker's wing. At this point in history, you can't be both of these things at the same time.
6) Conservative Bush era policies of the Obama administration: The following is a partial list of some of the negative Bush era polices continued or expanded under the Obama Administration:
1) Overall military spending is significantly up since President Bush left office
2) Bank bailouts with no strings attached continued unabated, with no accountability for past actions
3) Greatly expanded war in Afghanistan, threatening war with Iran and Syria
4) Greatly expanded the unmanned drone strikes in Africa and the Middle East and denial that any civilian casualties have occurred
5) Continued and expanded warrantless wiretapping at great taxpayer expense, and refusal to reveal how many citizens are being spied upon
6) Lack of Justice Dept. or other investigations into the financial collapse, foreclosure fraud, etc.
7) Continuation of indefinite detention without trial, now including American citizens after President Obama signed the NDAA into law
8) Lack of vocal support for workers and unions in Wisconsin or Occupy Wall Street and tacit support of military-style police violence against protesters
9) Expanded oil drilling in ecologically sensitive areas, support for more nuclear power plants, not supporting stricter drinking water standards, not properly funding watchdog agencies like the EPA, FDA or USDA
10) Under the Obama administration the FDA has turned its scrutiny inward to investigate FDA scientists who challenged FDA approval of medical devices
11) Prosecution of whistleblowers rather than support, including very harsh treatment of Bradley Manning
12) Federal crackdown on medical marijuana facilities contrary to state law and doctor's and scientist's recommendations
13) Extrajudicial assassinations now including American citizens 14) Continued use of a "state of war", when in fact no war has been declared, to justify actions ranging from pre-emptive wars to drone strikes and targeted assassinations
14) Continued use of a "state of war", when in fact no war has been declared, to justify actions ranging from pre-emptive wars to drone strikes and targeted assassinations
15) President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder proclaimed that courts were not needed to determine which Americans should be targeted for assassination, and that the administration itself could provide "due process"
16) Continued and expanded use of civilian contractors and CIA personnel to perform military activities including drone strikes
17) No attempt at even the most basic, common-sense gun control laws, for example limiting the size of ammo clips or closing the gun show loophole
18) Candidate Obama promised a transparent administration open to scrutiny, but has instead been highly secretive about his meetings with lobbyists and corporations, while simultaneously waging war on whistleblowers
19) The White House was staffed with people from Wall Street. Tim Geithner, one of those involved in the financial collapse, was appointed as Treasury Secretary. Rather than holding Wall Street accountable, President Obama has made those responsible for the financial collapse even more powerful, with substantial influence over his agenda
20) President Obama has made deficit reduction his top priority, and set up the deficit reduction super committee that will make major cuts to social programs at a time when Americans critically need more help, not less
21) Full support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a secretly negotiated free trade agreement like NAFTA which is certain to bring even more pain to American workers
22) Rather than working for peace in the Middle East, President Obama has pursued expanded war across the entire region
23) No attempt to limit corporate campaign funding.
This is not a list of trivial grievances - these are among the most important issues facing our Democracy and the world today.
Summary: If you are a progressive that objected to or perhaps even despised Bush administration policies then you need to ask yourself how much you are willing to compromise your principles based solely on your fear that the Republican is worse than the Democrat. A vote for President Obama is a vote in favor of his Bush era policies, not a vote against Republican campaign rhetoric. There is no "lesser of two evils" checkbox on the ballot, so no one will know that you were holding your nose as you voted. It will be an endorsement of policies you strongly disagree with. The only way to vote against those policies you reject is to not vote for either President Obama or Governor Romney. That means voting for a third party candidate such as Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party or Jill Stein of the Green Party wherever possible - or if no other choice is available, writing in your choice or leaving the presidential box unchecked. There is no other way in this election to vote against the status quo. You are not throwing your vote away if you vote with your conscience. It is imperative to tell the Democrats that you don't agree with the Obama agenda. It is also critically important to help third parties like the Green Party to gain momentum and qualify for federal matching funds.
Voting for the lesser of evils is not a plan for changing our country; it is acquiescence to endless war, unregulated capitalism and a corrupt system whereby corporations control Washington and the News Media. In 2008 President Obama did not campaign on delivering more Bush administration policies -- on steroids - but that is precisely what he did. Now, on the campaign trail once again President Obama is predictably talking about bringing change to Washington and moving forward. Why would any rational progressive think that he really means it this time around? Unrestrained by another run for the Presidency, Barack Obama will be free in his second term to move his agenda even further to the right than he already has, just as Bill Clinton did in his second term. There is no greater audacity I can think of beyond President Obama promising hope and change in his campaign, but instead embracing nearly every Bush/Cheney administration policy despised by progressives, and then expecting progressives to come out to vote for him again.
Governor Romney is as disliked by the far right as President Obama is disliked by the far left, and for good reasons -- they are both wholly owned subsidiaries of corporate America. What this country needs now is a defection on both sides of the political divide, a mass exodus from the corporate-owned parties to alternative parties. On the right there is the Tea Party or Libertarians, and on the left there is the Green Party or the Justice Party. The only way the corporate politicians will get the message is if large numbers of voters opt for alternatives. Much higher than normal vote counts for third party candidates will send a strong message to the Republicans and Democrats that we don't like their policies and most importantly - that they don't have a mandate to continue them. One of these two corporate candidates will win, but we can make sure that their win is dampened by very high turnout for third party candidates. Make your voice heard this November. Don't help give President Obama a "mandate" to continue Bush/Cheney era policies for another four years.