How much better off are we because Democrat Barack Obama defeated Republican John McCain for the presidency? What do Americans have to look forward to this year that they did not last year? The departure of a Republican administration and the arrival of a Democratic one ought to mean that sweeping changes in domestic and foreign policy have come to the United States.
The occupation of Iraq ought to be ending. Instead, Obama’s so-called end to war means keeping 50,000 soldiers in Iraq and boosting the Bush Defense Department budget by an additional $20 billion. Of course, the Obama administration Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, was also the Bush administration Defense Secretary. That fact alone doesn’t augur well for any improvement in foreign and defense policy.
If Obama’s recent meetings with foreign leaders were any improvement over Bush efforts, it is only because people all over the world breathed a collective sigh of relief when Marine One carried Bush out of Washington. The press may have supported Michelle Obama’s fashion choices, but her husband came away pretty much empty-handed.
That is because he went carrying the same discredited baggage that Bush used to bring. European leaders may make statements saying that al-Qaeda is run by wicked people, but they won’t commit to sending more troops into America’s quagmire or risking their own economic security with American style stimulus plans that are not needed in countries that actually have safety nets for their citizens.
The lack of improvement in this administration is not confined to foreign policy. The economic collapse that began under Bush is ongoing. The new administration’s policy consists of the same discredited moves that began in the waning days of Republican rule. Billions of dollars have been poured down an endless black hole of welfare to the financial services industry, a policy blessed by then candidate Obama.
Policy changes that might truly help working people, such as single payer health care, are off the table. Legislation that would permit bankruptcy judges to “cram down,” or reduce mortgage loan balances has also not made it onto the Obama agenda.
Obama and congressional Democrats could pave the way for true change with one significant piece of legislation. The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), also known as “card check,” would give workers the right to simply indicate with a check mark their wish to form a union. The simplified process would allow union organizers easy access to workers who would then be able to organize without the threat of employer intimidation and threats of job loss. Increased union representation in the work force would create the benefits and incomes that would prevent Americans from falling victim to the modern day debtor prisons and work place insecurity that are all too common in this country.
Yet the passage of EFCA is certain only in the House, where it won approval last year. Democratic control of the Senate is not sufficient to prevent a Republican veto, and Democratic senators like Dianne Feinstein and Blanche Lincoln have already stated they will not vote for EFCA in its current form. That is to say, it must be watered down and rendered useless by corporate approval before they are willing to support it.
Obama has not given any indication that he will fight for EFCA either. He would have to use his bully pulpit to bring all Democrats along with him and he doesn’t appear to be predisposed to ever fight against corporate interests. If a Democratic president and a Democratically controlled congress can’t assure passage of EFCA, why would it have been so terrible for John McCain to have won? If economic policy consists only of Democratic banksters instead of Republican banksters calling the shots in favor of more failed policy, why is there any cause for celebration?
Democratic victories in 2006 were followed by two years of caving into an extremely unpopular president. Now a Democratic president still refuses to stand up for the interests of working people and for true change in America’s relationship with the rest of the world.
Barack Obama is clearly a very smart, charismatic man. He is smoother and smarter than Bush or McCain, but at the end of the day that matters little if the economy continues failing or if the United States increases its body count in Afghanistan and Pakistan. No one should apologize any longer for pointing out the lack of difference between Democrats and Republicans. This country and the world are in as much trouble in 2009 with Obama as in 2008 with Bush. Our only hope is for citizens to acknowledge these painful facts and seek ways to bring about change themselves. Change certainly won’t come from a president, even of the Democratic Party.