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Obama Is Not Progressive

Originally written for the Progressive Democrats of Hawaii Blog, July 17, 2011

Thinking or hoping otherwise will not make this statement any less true. Barack Obama is not progressive. For my part, I never believed he was and one only need look at his time in office thus far for evidence.

Let’s start with health care, if only because the issue is at, or near, the top of my priority list. While it’s true there are some good things in the Affordable Health Care Act, like extending to 26 the age under which parents can choose to continue to cover their children, or eliminating the ability of insurance companies to deny coverage because of a preexisting condition, there’s no denying that when it’s all said and done, it is little more than a massive handout to health insurance companies.

While on the campaign trail, Obama said he’d prefer a single-payer-type system of health care if he had his choice, but when the debate on health care reform was in full swing in 2009, he denied making any such statement. And while there was some lip service from the White House paid to a “public option” to compete with private insurance, no such option was remotely considered seriously, despite polls which consistently showed a majority of Americans supported such an option.

Locally, Organizing for America (OFA, Obama’s political arm and formerly Obama for America) held a number of events to hear from the community and asked those in attendance to support the President’s plan for health care. And while the vast majority (if not all) of those attending the events were either for a single-payer system, a public option, or both, it was clear that OFA and the President weren’t interested so much in hearing from the public as they were in being able to say they had support for the proposed health care plan among the grassroots. Any such push up from the grassroots, at least here in Hawaii, was ignored in favor of the appearance of support for the proposal Obama was pushing.

Moving to the “war on terror,” I think it’s fair to say, at least, that Obama has been no better than Bush was. As a Senator and Presidential candidate, Obama was against the war in Iraq and promised that, if he became President, he would withdraw troops from Iraq and bring them home. Well, he’s largely failed to do so. While he officially called an end to the Iraq war in 2010, we still have as many as 50,000 troops in the country, not to mention the countless contractors, and it appears the U.S. will, at least for the foreseeable future, maintain a sizable military presence and will continue to spend billions of dollars on the military.

In Afghanistan, Obama has sent more troops to support that war, which is now the longest in U.S. history. And though the “surge” there has ended, we will continue to have over 100,000 troops on the ground.

What’s more, the military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, continues to house numerous prisoners, terrorist suspects, and those who the administration claim are a threat to the country, despite Obama’s insistence during the campaign that we would close the prison facility there and relocate those prisoners to other locations. In face, late last year, Congress included provisions making the closing of the detention facility even more difficult in a defense authorization bill which Obama chose not to veto.

Finally, with respect to the “war on terror,” Obama has kept largely intact the domestic spying program put in place by the Bush Administration. Presidential candidate Obama decried this program and the abuse of executive power in this arena, but President Obama has continued this program and, arguably, has embraced Bush’s view of executive authority.

He isn’t any better on “economic justice.” Obama has been a staunch advocate for the corporate elite, for Wall Street, and for “fair trade.” Under his watch, the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy have been extended, bail-outs were given to the very financial institutions that were the cause of our current economic crisis, while the middle and working classes continue to shrink and sink further into poverty.

Only now, during the debate to raise the country’s debt ceiling, has Obama shown any glimmer of interest in raising taxes on the wealthy and closing tax loopholes for the largest and most profitable corporations. One might take this as a sign that he’s finally beginning to fight for the middle class, but you must keep in mind his proposal also includes deep cuts to social programs like Medicare and Social Security, not to mention that he’s gearing up for reelection and he knows he’ll have a difficult time without progressives standing in his corner.

Finally, I want to just touch on the Citizens United SCOTUS decision. While Obama publicly decried the decision and warned of the damage the unfettered flood of corporate money will cause to our democracy, he’s done nothing (that I’m aware of) in the way of introducing legislation that would begin to address the problem. What’s more, he’s bragged how he plans to raise $1 billion for his 2012 reelection bid; that sounds to me like he’s more interested in taking advantage of this new political reality than he is in correcting it.

I could go on, but I hope you get the point.

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