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Face It Progressives, Obama Was a Lousy President

Photo by Anuj Biyani | CC BY 2.0

Sometime before the end of June this year the Supreme Court will deal a deathblow to public sector unions, declaring that the mandatory collection of dues violates the First Amendment. When that happens, it will be the latest example of yet another loss to progressive politics that  can be attributed to Barack Obama.

It’s time that the left in America admit that Barack Obama was a horrible president when it came to progressive politics. He was simply yet another neo-liberal Democrat who sided with corporate America, ignoring the plight of working class America.

Obama’s political and policy mistakes are more magnified over time.   Granted he did not have a 60 vote filibuster-proof Senate until July 2009 when Al Franken was seated.  But he took office with broad popular support and Democratic control of Congress during a crisis, and could have claimed a mandate and moved a progressive agenda.   He failed to do so.  Yes, he faced a horrible economy but his plans for saving the banks largely helped them and did little for homeowners. In fact, his Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner largely admitted the goal was to make it more orderly for banks to process foreclosures than to save homeowners.   The Troubled Assets Relief Program or TARP, started under  Bush, largely stayed  the same under Obama.  Bailouts of major businesses such as GM might have saved them, but neither the jobs nor the wages for workers rebounded or reappeared.  The boomerang effect of blowing off home owners and workers created the seeds for the emergence of the Tea Party and later the abandonment of working class America for Trump in 2016.

Had Obama pushed the Employee Free Choice Act in 2009 to update the New Deal era National Labor Relations Act the fate of union America might not be where it is today.  Nor might the plight of inequality in America had been as bad if he empowered a new union movement.  Moreover, maybe inequality in America would have been less than today had he pushed hard on changes in the tax code to benefit working class America.  Consider also had Obama in working to pass Dodd-Frank which reformed banking laws he also insisted in reinstating Glass-Steagall which separated commercial from investments banks and which  the  repeal under Bill Clinton led to the mortgage market speculation and crash of 2008.  Or what if he had pushed to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, how might that have changed talk radio and television, including the power of Fox news?  Or had he pushed for a renewal of the assault weapon ban and other gun measures, how many mass shootings might have been prevented?

Consider also had he pushed for a single-payer health care proposal instead of the Heritage Foundation plan he adopted and which was also first supported by Republican Mitt Romney.  There would not have been an individual mandate that Congress would have repealed last December with the tax overhaul.  Or think about how so slow he was initially in filling federal court appointments, his reluctance in endorsing marriage equality, or his hypocrisy   in decrying Citizens United but being the first major presidential candidate to opt out of the public financing system.  Obama could have ordered the SEC to issues rules to require corporate disclosure or shareholder approval of corporate political expenditures, but he did not.  He could have issued procurement rules to limit the ability of government contractors to make political contributions or independent expenditures. Arguably, Obama helped break the regulations on money and politics and did nothing to fix them.

True, Obama could not have passed all the progressive agenda wish list. But the list of what Obama failed to do when he had a chance is enormous.  His presidency is full of could ofs, would ofs, should ofs. He inherited a presidency with some of the largest Democratic majorities in decades at the state and national level, leaving in 2017 the party weaker than it had been in generations. The roots of the regressive conservative Republican-Trump agenda we see today are the product of Obama’s failures and what he did not do. Obama was a horrible president who simply failed to lead a progressive agenda, setting up America for many of the problems today.

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David Schultz is a professor of political science at Hamline University. He is the author of Presidential Swing States:  Why Only Ten Matter.

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