Thursday, December 15, 2011

Two Cheers for Obama

Barack Obama is the ultimate dream date heart-breaker. One minute he makes your fondest dreams come true, and then the next he's flirting with your worst enemy right in front of you.

Barack Obama is the best president on gay issues ever, hands down. Far more than any of his predecessors (and more than his successors I fear), he's been out front and in the lead on gay civil rights. Of course it's political calculation, but that doesn't preclude genuine conviction and some courageous leadership. Ending the ban on gays serving openly in the military was a major accomplishment, and in the teeth of a hostile Republican House. He's now out front of Europe on the issue of international recognition for the basic human rights of gays and lesbians.

One of his unsung accomplishments is in the area of education, especially the student loan program. He brought a certain measure of sanity to a program long out of control by taking the profiteers out of it. Tuition hikes are still out of control, but at least some measure of law and order returns to the once very lawless and profitable business of interest, penalties, and fees. Loan repayments are still a huge burden on the young, affecting their decisions about careers (there's a reason why a lot of MDs these days are foreign; most Americans can't afford the quarter million dollar debt load to go to medical school, while other countries see paying the high tuition and expenses as an investment in their best and brightest).

The health insurance reform plan is a lot less than the Medicare-for-all solution that I'd like to see. But, it is the most significant piece of progressive legislation since the Medicare Act of 1965. It will end many of the worst abuses by the insurance and health provider industries. It will make health insurance available for many more people, though not for everyone.

Barack Obama decisively ended the reckless go-it-alone cowboy foreign policy of the second Bush Administration. While the damage is not undone, there is a new and more cooperative approach to the rest of the world that goes a long way toward restoring at least some of the lost authority and power of the USA. Obama deserves credit for ending the Iraq War and drawing a line under the Afghan War.

And yet, he is the whole reason the Occupy movement exists.

Obama, like the rest of the Democratic Party, depends on corporate patronage, and most of it came from Wall Street. That patronage kept him from sensible policies like seizing and breaking up too-big-to-fail banks that even the Reagan Administration used on the collapsing savings and loan industry. Wall Street influence on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue kept post-crash regulatory reforms very minimal and full of loopholes. The SEC remains an emasculated agency. The current reforms are far short of a necessary revival of the Glass-Steagall Act that once forbade banks to gamble with depositors' assets.

That same financial industry influence keeps any real relief for underwater homeowners a very remote prospect.

The House Republicans humiliated the President in last summer's budget battles. He allowed himself to be humiliated with his repeated preemptive surrenders on major budget policies. He nearly lost my support entirely when he offered near unilateral surrender on Social Security and Medicare. I'm willing to delay and even halt progress in the name of political expediency, but I'm not willing to go backward.

Obama's absence on the issue of economic justice is the whole reason for the rise of Occupy Wall Street. That's the problem with being a progressive. The leaders of the Democratic Party are usually in bed with the very people making life miserable for everyone else. As a consequence, the rank and file must take matters into their own hands.

His worst offense of all is his continued expansion of the National Security State begun by Cheney and Company. Obama's decision not to veto a bill mandating the arbitrary detention of American citizens by the military puts the long term health of our democracy in doubt.

On some issues, Obama is another FDR. On most others, he's another Grover Cleveland.

Since it looks like the Republicans are offering us a choice between Gordon Gekko and WC Fields with a back up chorus of assorted crazies, then there is no question who this blog will endorse in the coming election year.

Four more years of the black guy in the White House. We could do a whole lot worse.

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