Obama disappoints old guard

For Democrats, Barack Obama’s administration has been bittersweet in that it had promoted liberal values while appealing to corporate money. Whether it is big bankers and financiers or Hollywood’s elite, it has gone to work for the least of these under a very fashionable banner. Wealth disparities grew even though Obama was able to push many issues near and dear to liberals and progressives.

Yet the President has not been able to gain as much traction among the middle and working classes. Its gained some of their votes but it was usually among professionals and service sector workers. In many respects, Obama continues in the tradition of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, being a “new Democrat.”

This message has been uncertain, never truly convincing Obama’s own voting base that he is on their side. During the recall attempt on Scott Walker, which pitted union professionals against attempts to roll back benefits, Obama was conspicuously on the sidelines. He has endorsed the recommendation of Arne Duncan, his secretary of education, who has often brushed aside Obama’s allies in the teachers unions. When it comes to those who feel more pressure and insecurity Obama, like Clinton, might feel “their pain,” but little else.

It was the same with healthcare – Obama opted for the lite version. Eschewing single payer, he chose a system that offered coverage but at a heavy price. Taking on essentially a Republican idea, Obama confused his constituencies and outraged his foes. Politically, it never made much sense.

As with Clinton, Obama advocates a form of therapeutic liberalism which gives you a sucker after a dose of castor oil. On the side, he makes up for it with a bevy of rights issues which at least makes a good contrast with Republicans. Never does the issue of power come up. As with most Democratic elites, the benefits are framed in language better suited for charity than policy.

Unfortunately, Obama can get away with it because Republicans stand at the hard right and refuse to move. But they have largely been able to get away with this stance because Obama’s convictions are not as strong as theirs. He simply is not as progressive as they are conservative.

Obama, like Clinton and Carter before him, wants some corporate-friendly liberalism. Fact is, in its most active form, liberalism is not business elite friendly. Given Republican obduracy, he keeps some progressives but often in not a very satisfied state. It is a coalition of the personally taken with Obama with those who shake their head and go with the next best choice.

This is not sustainable because it ignores what the Democratic party stands for. It believes in equality of law and opportunity. With the present system the higher reaches of authority are largely limited to the well-heeled. For Democrats, it is disconcerting that our representatives often proclaim their love for the “common man” from the foredeck of a yacht.