Why President Obama has more bite than bark
President Obama’s compromise on the debt ceiling increase unleashed a simmering anger from the left wing base of his own party. It’s altogether quaint that Congress can engage in reckless economic policies for three decades, only to brand the president’s unwillingness to let the country default on its debt as traitorous and inexcusable.
A narrative has been written that President Obama’s not quite tough enough to represent the interests of his constituents, prompting another debate on the president’s inability to hold his ground against the ill-tempered Republicans and alpha male conservatives. Financial collapse wasn’t a fair price to pay for respect; liberals favored testosterone over diplomacy.
But if the right wing platform is so devoid of logic, the left side of the aisle has been historically pedestrian in its alleged disapproval.
The 2001 Bush tax cuts easily passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 240-154 and 58-33 in the Senate with bipartisan support. The Democrats didn’t filibuster what they now consider an unjust handout to the rich and force the GOP to use reconciliation; instead they just complained on Sunday talk shows with breathtaking indifference, putting on a well orchestrated show of opposition.
Where was the indignation when President Clinton signed the Commodities and Futures Modernization Act of 2000 that deregulated derivatives, paving the way for the reckless trading in credit default swaps that almost collapsed the stock market? Phil Graham authored the legislation, but 181 out of 208 House Democrats voted for it. One could easily reach the conclusion that backbones were out of season.
The Graham-Leach Bill abolished the Glass Steagall Act that separated commercial and investment banking activities, altering the landscape of the capital markets through deregulation. Bill Clinton defenders accurately point out that his veto would have been overridden, but the act passed the Senate on a 90-8 vote, with notable left wing stalwarts John Kerry, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer and Tom Daschle all supporting the initiative.
The Democrats have repeatedly acquiesced on GOP initiatives, from the war in Iraq to the Patriot Act, from No Child Left Behind to Welfare Reform, only to label President Obama as spineless. It strikes as odd, if not altogether treacherous, that after years of caving in to one conservative demand after another, President Obama’s own party would accuse him of lacking the intestinal fortitude to fight for the middle class.
For what it’s worth, of the $858 billion tax cut compromise, only $81 billion can be attributed to families making more than $250,000 — another $68 billion went to estates valued at over $5 million. The legislation offered $463 billion in income tax cuts to middle class households, $56 billion in unemployment benefits and $111 billion for a payroll tax holiday. Who could imagine that procuring over 80 percent in middle class benefits from an $858 billion bill would be so perilous for a Democratic president?
Lost in the senseless examination of President Obama’s manhood is the inconvenient fact that not since the Great Society legislation of the 1960’s has any Congress passed more laws affecting more Americans than in Obama’s first two years of office, that while steely eyed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton failed to pass health-care reforms in the early 1990s, the current president got it done.
The merits of the GOP’s policies are not on trial; they could very well be the elixir of working class woes. To pretend, however, that the Republican and the Democratic parties have different objectives, or that their representatives maintain opposing interests, is inconsistent with their respective voting records on important pieces of legislation. By all accounts, the Democrats abetted many of the GOP policies with a familiar process described by Malcolm X as “sticking a knife in a man’s back nine inches, pulling it out six inches and calling it progress”.
The debt ceiling debate was a false argument, meant to distract the American public from a two party political system, who like the right and the left hand, serve the exact same purpose, albeit from a slightly different angle. Progressives would be wise to ignore their political soothsayers and recognize that everyone has a hustle, time seldom keeps secrets and the mainstream Democrats sold them out a long time ago.