Levellers

Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Brief Reasons Why Obama is a Centrist: Maybe Even Center-Right

To many of my readers, especially overseas, this heading will seem obvious. But I am sharing this in a link on Facebook. I am trying to get beyond the bubbles that the internet and cable news puts people in, especially in the U.S.  Too many people on the Left never read or listen to what those on the Right are saying, and vice versa. So, we have a situation in which most progressives and liberals in the U.S. are currently VERY frustrated with Obama and consider him too cautious–and U.S. conservatives are completely unaware of this. I was just told by two of them that they had never heard ANYONE call him “centrist” before. To them, he is a far left socialist.  To anyone who has studied comparative politics, that’s ridiculous. It shows that they don’t know what a socialist is.

So,  bear with me, Gentle Readers. I will return this weekend to more uplifting topics. But let  me try to get a reality check going and see if I can cut throught the fog created by Fixed Noise/Faux News, Rush Limbaugh and all his imitators, etc.

Why would I call Obama “centrist,” maybe even “center right?”  Well, let’s look at him on the issues.

  • Iraq. Most progressives and liberals are not (unlike me) pacifists, but they are very cautious about what conditions would justify military intervention.  Obama shares that. He opposed going into Iraq when it wasn’t popular to oppose that, in 2002.  However, most progressives for whom Iraq was a MAJOR issue in the 2008 election cycle (like myself) thought we were electing someone who would pull out the troops quickly, within one year. Instead, Obama agreed to the pull-out schedule already negotiated by George W. Bush with Iraq, the so-called “Status of Forces Agreement” which pulls out our troops slowly–so that they won’t be fully out of Iraq until 2011.
  • Afghanistan. Most progressives and liberals (and even a few conservatives like columnist George Will and former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), ) believe military escalation and counter-insurgency is a mistake that will backfire. We believe that  such a strategy of military force  in Afghanistan will turn it into another Vietnam War. We want major aid and diplomacy and the use of non-military tools in nation-building instead. Obama, however, has greatly increased the Afghan war–not a very liberal thing to do.
  • Gitmo. Obama is slowly closing the military prison at Guantanemo Bay, Cuba. But during 2007-8 even George W. Bush said he wanted to close it. (I think Cheney threatened him unless he kept it open,  but I may be just paranoid where Cheney is concerned.) A progressive, however, would want it closed immediately and all “detainees” either tried in REGULAR CIVILIAN courts or released. No third category. We wouldn’t try to turn the prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan into a substitute for Gitmo as Obama appears to be doing. The policies of detention without trial and of “rendition” to third countries are illegal and would stop.  For liberals and progressives, the issue is not just the Gitmo gulag but the illegal policy of indefinite detention without trial.
  • Progressives want everyone who participated in torture to be tried in a court of law, including those at the top. Obama just wants to stop the torture, but let the torturers and their bosses, including Bush/Cheney get away with it–indeed, Cheney,  who was hardly seen during the Bush years ,is on TV defending torture almost every night,  now.   A progressive would let him defend torture  from the defense table at his trial.
  • Progressives want an end to the civil liberties abuses of the Bush admin,–including the policies of warrantless wiretapping. They have continued under Obama and the Obama admin. has defended Bush policies in court.
  • On the banks. Progressives would have nationalized them temporarily, opened their books, cleaned out the bad assets at shareholder (not taxpayer) expense. Those guilty of criminal wrongdoing that led to the recession would be tried for crimes. All banks and wall street firms receiving any govt. aid would have had strict pay caps and any violations would be prosecuted. Obama stabilized the financial system in a way that helped Wall Street more than Main Street.  Centrist or conservative (following Bush), it was anything but progressive. And new laws and regs to keep the banking crooks from doing it to us again have yet to be put in place.
  • On people losing their homes. Obama pushed for refinancing–which has helped about 6% of people in trouble.  Progressives would have repeated the lesson of the Great Depression, bought up the mortgages by federal govt. directly, lowered interest rates and principle to new market value and had people pay off the govt.  This would also help banks be more liquid and get capital back into system, especially to small businesses.
  • On the stimulus. Obama got most of what he wanted from Congress–but it was too small, had too many tax cuts and didn’t get big ticket economic stimulus into the economy in a timely way.
  • On Israel-Palestine. Obama has been surprisingly firm with Israel on not increasing settlements, but has not really pushed hard for a two-state solution or for tearing down the apartheid wall eating up Palestinian land.
  • On the budget. Some good stuff in Obama’s budget, but true progressives would have cut the military budget by at least 20% (we spend more than the next 25 nations combined!), cut farm supports for millionair farmers (redirecting some away from agribusiness to family farms), ending all tobacco price supports. Progressives would have repealed the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy NOW, not in 2011, reinstituted the capital gains tax, the windfall profits tax, and the inheritance (anti-aristocracy) tax on incomes over 1 million.  Would have spent more on education and on green infrastructure (high speed and light rail, etc.) which creates new jobs and helps the environment at the same time.
  • On gay rights. Obama talks pretty progressive. He  opposes civil marriage, but is willing for that to be decided by the states. So, he favors repealing the federal “Defense of [straight]Marriage Act” (DOMA), and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But neither have gotten very far and Obama hasn’t pushed Congress. He favors the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Act–but has not pushed Congress to get them to his desk. So far, the GLBT community and allies such as myself can see Obama talking progressively, but acting cautiously–a repeat of Bill Clinton.
  • On health care. Obama’s plan is nearly identical to one Richard Nixon proposed in 1974. It is NOT socialism, but “mild reform” as a friend of mine puts it. A healthcare bill that DOESN’T tick off the healthcare insurance companies, won’t be worth much.  Progressives would at least have TRIED to get a single-payer Medicare for Everyone system–then the public option that Obama wants would be the compromise.
  • On the Employee Free Choice Act, making it easier to form and join unions. Obama has promised to sign this, but hasn’t pushed hard for its passage.
  • Obama has not made eliminating poverty a major goal–just rebuilding the Middle Class. Progressives would put a major priority on elminating poverty and homelessness.
  • Most progressives are for ending the death penalty. Obama has never said where he stands on this. When in the Illinois Senate, he worked to reform its capital system, but not to eliminate it.
  • Most progressives would like to see some gun control, especially the reinstitution of the ban on assault weapons. Despite the rightwing’s daily cries of “Obama is coming to take away our guns,” there is zero evidence for this. Last year, when the rightwing Roberts Supreme Court ruled that gun ownership was an individual right, overturning 50 years of jurisprudence in that bit of “legislating from the bench,” Obama said from the campaign trail that he agreed with the decision. He nowhere lists any gun control efforts among items on his platform.

These items ought to show why I, and many other progressives, say that Obama is no liberal. At best he is a centrist.

He campaigned like he was Ted Kennedy. He has governed like he is a reincarnation of Gerald Ford.

September 4, 2009 - Posted by | U.S. politics

7 Comments

  1. BHO is catching it from all sides now. Well, he wanted the job. The honeymoon is over-let the games begin !

    Comment by Paul | September 5, 2009

  2. It’s way too early to pronounce on his presidency–and the honeymoon lasted longer than I expected. If he gets a strong healthcare bill passed, his popularity will increase again. The people respond well to accomplishments and to leadership. But every president takes a dip in the polls.

    I could appreciate his presidency and stil judge him to be centrist–that would still be a huge improvement over Bush.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 5, 2009

  3. History is a great leveller of men (and women) Michael….

    Comment by Paul | September 6, 2009

  4. The deficits will block every initiative of Obama’s. Until he is honest about his “95% never seeing a tax hike”, he can do nothing significant.

    As to this wish list, I think it mostly just shows that the country, not Obama, is center or center-right as was always said under Clinton. Obama is being pragmatic and is acting sensibly not wanting to challenge a pissed off, cynical public right now. Obama himself likely has no philosophical difference with progressives, but his hands are tied with unemployment high up through midterms. A foreign policy move which fails (Taliban takes Kabul or Kandahar) would only ensure a disastrous election, so he “stays the course” on most Bush foreign policies. (Things like closing Gitmo or prosecuting torture endorsers just look weak and like he is backing down which Dems can not do).

    Until mid-terms the right is warning what the “real Obama” (a Levellers-lefty which he hides behind a political mask) has the numbers if he chooses to wield them. The right will pounce on all the House dems in repub seats if Obama makes a leftward move.

    Meanwhile strategically he should do things the other party typically wants, but in a Democratic way like Clinton and Bush did, taking away future election weaknesses for his party. Clinton ended welfare, gave us DOMA, and got tough on crime. Bush expanded the Department of Education and the prescription drug benefit. Obama should likewise move on social security reform then work a health care deal after the recession abates and he holds seats in the mid-terms.

    America seems to trust and like when a president works on the other party’s proposals. Probably because it looks like consensus building bi-partisanship. Right now the dems have an accidental mandate. They have the numbers because of sheer repub incompetence, not because America wants them to do anything on your list.

    Comment by stan | September 6, 2009

  5. It’s frustrating. The Republicans may no longer have a “permanent” majority but the Democrats continue to govern as if they were an embattled minority.

    Comment by haitianministries | September 6, 2009

  6. Stan to the contrary, initially polls showed that America was fully behind the Democratic platform–and still 79% favor universal healthcare. But the leadership governing like an embattled minority is a problem that will be self-fulfilling. If they fail to pass this, they will lose in the mid-terms–which will be hard enough if the economy is still sluggish.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 6, 2009

  7. A bit of research reveals that he has always been a centrist. For example when he took over the reigns of the Harvard review after a huge fight, he hired back half of the Federalist (with whom he fought) to the editorial board. Hired a few centrist and fewer leftists. This has always been his “style”

    Bob

    Comment by Bob | September 8, 2009


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