January 19, 2009
What to expect from the Obama administration on domestic issues
On the eve of Barack Obama's inauguration, I want to muse on what we might see in the coming years.
There has been considerable hand-wringing amongst some liberal supporters of Obama about the people he has selected so far for his administration, since many of them are warmed over Clintonites and other establishment types. But I have not been really surprised. As I have said repeatedly, Obama is a cautious and centrist politician. He is definitely not a progressive, even though some progressives read into his words and campaign more than what he actually said he stood for. The willingness of so many people across the political spectrum to think that Obama represents them is probably a measure of how fed up they are with Bush. Obama is seen as not-Bush and that is enough for them.
I expect Obama to continue the bipartisan practice of being servile to Wall Street financial interests because they are the true rulers of the economy. It will be interesting to see if he can resist the efforts of those who are using the bailout of the auto industry to achieve their long-standing goal of destroying unions, even though the unions are not the cause of the auto industry's troubles.
I do not expect him to push for real changes like a single-payer universal health care system, even if such proposals are advanced by members of his own party, like Congressman John Conyers and his House Bill 676 which calls for just such a sensible plan.
H.R. 676, also called the United States National Health Insurance Act, is a bill to create a single-payer, publicly-financed, privately-delivered universal health care program that would cover all Americans without charging co-pays or deductibles. It guarantees access to the highest quality and most affordable health care services regardless of employment, ability to pay or pre-existing health conditions.
The benefits over the plan over the current wasteful, inefficient, and positively cruel system that actually profits from denying needed health care should be obvious to anyone. (See my earlier series of posts on this topic.) But this bill will be strenuously fought by the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries and some physician group lobbies because they make huge amounts of money from the current system. It will also be opposed by those who have no idea of how such a system operates in places in France and have been completely brainwashed into thinking that the 'free market' system works best for everything (despite the evidence of the collapse of the unregulated financial sector) and that it will mean they will have no choices in their doctors and hospitals or that they will have long waits to see a doctor. I cannot see Obama or the Congress, most of whom have been bought by these lobbies, taking any action in furthering bill 676 unless there is huge public pressure on them.
As readers of this blog know, I supported Obama over McCain in the last election. But as soon as he is inaugurated, I will immediately become one of his critics. It is nothing against him personally. He seems like a nice person, to the extent that one can infer the nature of public figures. But as someone once said, it is very hard to figure out what a politician really thinks and it is not worth the effort to do so. What a politician may want to do and what he or she actually does are not the same.
All elected officials need to have pressure put on them constantly in order to get them to do the right thing and to counterbalance all the pressure they receive from the moneyed interests that normally control them. So I disagree with those who say that we should leave Obama alone at least for awhile and not criticize him because to do so is to give ammunition to his enemies. As Glenn Greenwald points out:
Politicians, by definition, respond to political pressure. Those who decide that it's best to keep quiet and simply trust in the goodness and just nature of their leader are certain to have their political goals ignored. It's always better -- far better -- for a politician to know that he's being scrutinized closely and will be praised and supported only when his actions warrant that, and will be criticized and opposed when they don't. (emphasis in original)
Just because Obama is sympathetic to a particular policy does not mean that he will push for it on his own. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said to a group of people who were appealing to him to act on a deeply felt cause "I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it."
So my hopes for an Obama administration have never been very high and his appointments so far have not caused me to change my mind about what to expect. But he is a realist and pragmatist and such people, given the circumstances, can sometimes be pushed to take radical steps that they are not temperamentally inclined to simply because they do not rule out sensible policy options purely on ideological grounds.
The best we can hope for from an Obama administration are some sensible actions on some domestic issues. To get us out of the economic troubles, he is correctly pushing for spending on big projects to repair and improve the nation's infrastructure, actions that will at least create jobs and improve everyone's lives by uplifting the environment and providing better services. Even though it will increase the deficit and the national debt in the short and intermediate term, at least we will have some public good to show for it. This is definitely better than the stupid Bush policy of sending people checks (even to those who don't need them) and encouraging them to spend it on expensive baubles like flat-screen TVs. Unfortunately Obama seems to be caving in to Republican pressure to give tax cuts to those who don't need it.
I do expect Obama to take some positive steps on policies to create sustainable alternative energy sources, on increasing conservation measures, and on the environment because I think in those areas the public has come a long way towards those views and he can count on their support.
So there is some hope on a few sectors on the domestic front. On foreign policy, things don't look so good, as I will discuss tomorrow.
POST SCRIPT: Don't let the door hit you on your way out
As George W. Bush leaves office with deservedly the lowest approval rating of any president (22%) since Gallup started measuring it 70 years ago, David Letterman lists his top ten Bush moments.