Change Frustration

Hopes for change are turning to disappointment as Congress fails to meet goals for a progressive agenda.

While only 11 percent of Americans have confidence in Congress, Obama is still the most popular politician for good reason. The St. Petersburg Times, which tracks campaign promises, found that Obama kept 91 and made progress on 285 of his 502 2008-campaign promises. Fourteen were “broken,” while 87 are stalled. Of his most significant 25 promises, 20 were kept or remain in process.

Of these significant promises, Obama is on track to ramp down Bush’s Iraq War: He ended the F-22 boondoggle; banned torture; insisted the military policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” end; increased budgets for AmeriCorps and the national parks; and induced Pakistan to control Islamic terrorists. He also ended the Homeland Security pork barrel for states with minimal terrorist threats, his economic stimulus package prevented a deeper depression, and 16 million poor people have Medicaid for the first time.

Intransigent conservatives hold up other progressive policies. The on-going GOP stalemate led Democrats to pass bills with slim margins and delay issues such as immigration reform, global warming, campaign finance reform, and energy policy. The GOP blunted the economic stimulus, reform of the monopoly-controlled healthcare insurance industry, and financial reform.

Americans expect more because they haven’t noticed the extent of the structural transformation after thirty years of laissez-faire capitalism run amok. Economic and governmental restructuring proves difficult to reverse, partly because conservative members of both political parties promoted many of the changes.

Corporate lobbyists are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to prevent or water down reforms. In addition, Democrats gained a majority in Congress in the last election by supporting ultra-conservative candidates in traditionally Republican districts. These interests now demand more conservative programs.

The GOP moves to the right, driving out moderates. They rail against RINOs, or “Republicans in name only,” demand doctrinaire purity, refuse to compromise, and do everything in their power to stymie Obama. They hope voters will forget that the GOP created the economic mess, and become so fed up with infighting that they will avoid the polls at the next election. By counting on staunch supporters-nationalists, anti-abortionists, racists, the old and the wealthy-to vote, they hope to gain a majority in Congress and defeat Obama’s agenda.

Lacking new ideas, the GOP continues to resist change-the House has passed over 300 bills, which the GOP Senate minority will not take up. The party promotes the same policies that got us into the economic mess: no taxes and no regulation. By giving corporations a free reign, they believe that a mythical free economy will solve all of our problems.

Hardy bands of corporate-sponsored fringe groups, plus a supportive Supreme Court, propose taking the country back to 1776. This odd group of libertarians, religious fanatics, tax refuseniks, gun nuts, and gay bashers, support a strict return to their interpretation of the Constitution, and promise to repeal all progressive legislation.

Meanwhile, progressives are disillusioned with a lack of progress. They accuse Obama of: pandering to Wall Street bankers; pitting state school systems against each other to win federal money, promoting merit pay for teachers, and pushing charter schools; backing down on a government-run alternative to monopoly health insurance; and increasing the war effort in Afghanistan. They disagree with Obama’s failure to prosecute war crimes by Bush, Cheney and the CIA; his crackdown on immigration, which exceeds that of Bush; and the dropping of legislation guaranteeing workers the right to organize.

They rail against Obama’s methodical responses and cool exterior, which lack the passion needed to rally public support for overcoming the power of lobbyists in the insurance and banking industries, which each spent over $1 billion to derail reforms.

Despite a myriad of problems, including the greatest man-made environmental disaster in U.S. history, the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, jobs and the economy remain the most important issues for Americans. Over fifteen million Americans are out of work, home foreclosures continue, and job creation lags behind job losses.

Americans resent the rich who are doing well. In 2009, the top 25 hedge fund managers received pay totaling $25 billion, more than they received before the economic collapse. After accepting a bailout, six large banks are increasing their political and economic power, increasing their proportion of asset holdings by 300 percent since the mid 1990’s (now 60 percent of GNP).

In 2008, nine banks receiving TARP funds paid their CEOs $32 billion in bonuses while they continued to engage in high-risk gambles on derivatives and option contracts, resisted oversight, and refused to write-down their losses from bad loans. The economy remains adrift and volatile.

There’s a huge crisis of faith and a lack of confidence in the U.S. Working people, forgotten by the media, are demoralized. They did not benefit from the economic boom, but are paying the price of its failure. Corporate money is hijacking politics, aided by the Supreme Court and the GOP. Resentment grows. While America wallows in the Bush-Cheney Era of reactionary politics, the prospects for progressive change may well slip away.

DON MONKERUD is an California-based writer who follows cultural, social and political issues. He can be reached at