Ken Thomas with the Associated Press has a piece out this week that hits a chord with many Progressives and our despair over how poorly President Obama has failed to take advantage of the political capital he was given in November, 2008 to effect change that only the most extreme elements on the right would actually categorize in the ugliest form of partisan politics.
After eight years of Bush/Cheney policies that ruined the middle class as it favored the very wealthy, Obama was swept into office to not only halt the direction we were going but to turn it ever so slowly back to a more sane approach and to do what it reasonably took to get the economy back on track. Even the most fervent liberal supporter had no delusions that all of the changes we sought would be totally achieved and that some would actually be sacrificed to move us forward. But few of us realized that on the most critical issues of health care, financial reform, entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare and most important, jobs, that we would have someone who it turns out to be something close to the empty suit many on the right accuse him of being.
The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was his recent caving on the debt ceiling issue. Everyone except the Tea Party crowd knew that this was a manufactured crisis the GOP threw up as a smoke screen to cover their lack of effort to create jobs. A recent CNN/ORC poll showed that jobs was and continues to be the top priority for most Americans and that the federal deficit placed about 15 points behind this concern most of this year. Concern about taxes averaged a meager 5% rating over the same period of time. Yet the President failed to take the initiative and drive home this point, rallying his supporters and winning over Independents who provided his victory nearly three years ago.
The same weak attempts were apparent with the health care reform bill, financial reform and ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% last December. In all of these efforts polls constantly showed that voters wanted more than the GOP was offering and what Obama was willing to give away. It’s not that we find fault with efforts to work through important issues like this in bipartisan fashion. This was one of the things we screamed about when the Republicans had control of the three national branches of government most of the first 8 years in this century as they rammed legislation through to satisfy their base. Some give and take is part of the political machinery that makes up this democratic-republican form of government. What we don’t expect is the constant giving and not getting that has become characteristic of the Obama White House.
Like some liberals I don’t believe that Obama is the flip side of a GOP coin. I am cognizant too that many things have been achieved since Democrats gained control of the White House and Congress but most of this has been low-lying fruit and thinned out pretty much to accommodate Obama’s efforts to be bi-partisan. What I am seeing however is that he lacks the courage and determination to take a fight to its apex when he has the support of most Americans behind him. It’s as if he has become obsessed with this notion that it is best to look bi-partisan, even to the detriment of losing his base. He is hooked on a notion that liberals will stay with him simply because they can’t stomach what the Tea Party-controlled GOP offers and that he must show the Independents out there that he is always willing to compromise.
It is true that liberals will not vote against Obama and many of the Democrats in 2012, but as Ken Thomas aptly states, the President can lose essential support from the Progressive camp that could diminish his efforts, making it a tighter race than is necessary.
The president faces no serious primary opponent, and polls show him faring fairly well within his party. Few liberals are likely to support a Republican for president next year.
But angry liberals could refuse to volunteer to knock on doors or make phone calls, a pivotal grass-roots role for a candidate’s base of supporters. Disaffected Democrats could keep their wallets closed, hampering small-dollar fundraising over the Internet. Or they could just stay away from the polls on Election Day.
“They want to love him, but he’s given them little evidence and his rhetoric is running out of steam,” said Princeton professor Cornel West, who campaigned for Obama in 2008 but has become a fierce critic. “We find ourselves between a rock and a hard place. He’s going to need high levels of enthusiasm among his base, and it’s going to be hard to do that with speeches and no real serious actions or policies.”
I think too that Obama also misreads the moderates and Independent voters. Many of those that support the programs that Obama wimped out on were not just liberal Democrats. Many of those polled were working class families of no strong political persuasion who are simply tired of seeing their income shrink while spending cuts hit sectors that affect them more than the higher income groups. Most Independents want the government to be aggressive in regulating the financial industry to prevent another banking failure as it saw in the late summer of 2008. They want health care reform that looks more like Medicare for all than some washed down bill that completely resembled what the Republicans called for in 1994. But most of all, they want to see someone in positions of responsibility do what it takes to get Americans back to work.
As much as you hear about how bad Obama and the Democrats are doing, it is even worse for Republicans. Grumblings from the middle class about how low-income people seem to get more attention from Congress than they do is minor in comparison to their attitudes about how much attention the rich get. Study after study shows that wages for the lower 95% have seen very little increase over the last few decades while those for the top 2% have increased dramatically.
One study put out last summer by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, whose findings are often based on the work of independent, nonpartisan authorities such as the Congressional Budget Office, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the Government Accountability Office, found that the “gaps in after-tax income between the richest 1 percent of Americans and the middle and poorest fifths of the country more than tripled between 1979 and 2007. Their data also conveys the fact that though the rich do technically pay the greater share of taxes in this country, their income has elevated to a point where their after-tax income doubled during this same period, from 7.5 percent to 17.1 percent.
There are other studies out there that also show that the wealthiest do not necessarily reinvest any income increase from tax cuts back into the economy to create jobs and that through legislation that benefits the wealthy, many tax breaks have allowed the wealthiest to pay a lower rate than others who make far less. This disparity and failure to promote a sense of “shared sacrifice” by the rich was brought home recently in an editorial by one of the wealthiest person’s in the world – Warren Buffett.
While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.
These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.
Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.
If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot.
Last year about 80 percent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot. SOURCE
For Obama to think somehow that Independents would side with the GOP and their kowtowing to a mindset that opposes efforts to level the playing field for most Americans and implementing reasonable regulations that keep those who control the wealth and means of production in check from abuses that hurt our incomes, retirement savings and long-term health, simply isn’t in tune with his constituents.
It’s a different day today than it was during the Great Depression. Franklin Roosevelt had an equal or greater control over his messaging than Obama does via the internet and social media outlets of today. Yet this factor can work for Obama as much as it can against him. Many of the claims being made by his adversaries our straw man arguments that are easily knocked over with the facts. Obama needs to connect with Americans much like Roosevelt’s fireside chats did. He needn’t fear that the independents will abandon him if he points out the blatant weaknesses in the GOP and Tea Party talking points.
Obama could stand to emulate the courage of some of his predecessors
By constantly getting the message out that there are those who are defending positions that exclude people of great wealth from shared sacrifice necessary to pay down our debt, blocking efforts to generate jobs and effective health care reform as well as efforts to curb industry practices by some that pollute our air and water as it contributes to conditions that negatively impact our climate, Obama can be seen more as a true leader.
Even in the face of adversity he needs to be seen as the one who is always fighting for those who lack the resources and status to protect themselves and their families. It is the fight that inspires people. Not the ruminations that lack actions. There may still be time left before the 2012 elections to restore the image he presented to voters in 2008 but it will take more than clever, articulate speeches this time to convince many of us to devote our energy and money to his cause this go around.