What Do The American People Want?

The Democrats in Power: Part 1

After more than a year in the White House, President Barack Obama’s high rate of popularity has fallen, perhaps enough to result in serious losses for the Democrats in the November Congressional elections. His 68% approval rating when he entered office fell to 47% by the end of his first year, the lowest first-year-end ranking since that of President Gerald Ford in 1975.

Many independents who voted Democratic in the last election are pulling away. A number of working class voters are looking askance at what they consider the Obama Administration’s inattention to their decades of wage and benefit stagnation, now exacerbated by the Great Recession.

During the campaign many poor and working class families, who are suffering the worst in the recession, evidently took Obama at what appeared to be his word about moving quickly to alleviate their plight. Patience is strained when a worker is jobless or fears foreclosure or must feed a family with the help of a food kitchen. This, too, reduces popular appeal.

A sector of liberal and progressive voters — many of whom were among President Barack Obama’s strongest supporters — are expressing disappointment about his presidency, and consternation regarding the seeming inability of the large Democratic majority in Congress to pass centrist legislation, much less the center-left changes required by the American people.

Columnist Katha Pollitt declared in The Nation March 8 that the liberal base of Obama’s constituency, “pro-choice women, labor, civil rights activists, opponents of war, progressives, leftists, civil libertarians — is demoralized.”

There are several reasons for these developments. One of the most important stems from the 2008 election campaign itself when a not insubstantial portion of the electorate seemed convinced that the first-term Illinois senator would be able to perform the equivalent of political miracles once elevated to the White House.

This is understandable, though it imposes a staggering burden on the anointed miracle-maker, not least when confronted with an utterly destructive Republican opposition in Congress.

After eight years of Bush Administration pandering to the rich, denying climate change, attempting to destroy Social Security, launching wars on false pretenses, justifying torture, and creating conditions for the worst recession since the Great Depression, the majority of the American people were desperate for change.

It seems, however, the changes the people desired went beyond Obama’s cautious, middle-of-the road agenda, and we believe it is a serious factor in the decline of presidential popularity.

Though not clearly articulated, masses of people were demanding change of a transformative nature, not simply replacing Republicans with Democrats, but with new policies to correct old and now staggering problems.

The changes many sought were rational, significant and often progressive:

• Reducing the power of the Wall St. gamblers and the greedy banking system with stronger regulations.

• Reversing the steep decline of better-paying manufacturing jobs.

• Ending the deterioration of Main St. in a program to revive American cities and rural towns.

• Halting the three-decade attack on working class and lower middle class income and living standards.

• Overhauling the educational system to bring American children up to international standards.

• Stopping America’s incessant wars, including the war in Afghanistan.

• Closing the expanding gap between rich and poor by taxing away a large portion of the disproportionate wealth and assets of the top 5% of the population.

• Legislating a single-payer healthcare system, which Obama at one time supported until his presidential ambitions dictated otherwise.

• Strengthening civil liberties after the Patriot Act and other erosions of democratic freedoms under the Bush Administration.

The election-year recession with its high unemployment and housing foreclosures compounded the popular desire for substantive solutions from the post-Bush White House.

Candidate Obama was more than obliging to multitudes of Democrats and independents seeking change, adopting the concept of “change” as his principal campaign pledge to the voters, encouraging ever-increasing crowds of supporters in their repeated chants for “Change We Can Believe In,” and “Yes We Can,” meaning Obama can bring about the changes America needs.

At the same time, though he explained some of the programs he sought, Obama never defined the “change” he would deliver or commit himself and the Democratic Party to the visions of change in the minds of many millions of voters. The campaign did little to discourage Democratic and independent voters from thinking that their extensive hopes for change, for turning an historic corner in America, would be fought for and attained when the party dominated the White House and Congress.

Actually, the Democratic Party and Obama had no intention of governing other than from the political center/center-right, and well understood that many of the changes sought by the electorate were of a center-left orientation that would be sidelined after the party assumed power. Obama views himself as a non-ideological pragmatist, whose strategy for legislative success seems based on creating programmatic unity between the political center and the right — a methodology that usually succeeds, when it succeeds at all, in producing legislation that is right of center.

Most of the political left understood this from the beginning and entertained few illusions about the political goals and limitations of today’s Democratic Party. Of course the Democratic Party and the president are superior to the right/far-right Republican opposition, but that is not the issue. The issue is whether or not there will be progressive legislation in the next three or seven years. Judging by the performance of the Democratic-controlled Congress and White House so far the answer is negative.

Many liberals and progressives during the campaign had hopes Obama might govern, at minimum, from the center/center-left. Certain prominent progressives fostered this illusion by depicting Obama as a closet progressive, implying he might turn out to be the reincarnation of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

FDR was not a progressive in many ways but he understood what American capitalist society needed at a time of potentially existential economic and social crisis, and fought for it without concern that the right wing despised him. He wore their contempt like a merit badge, because he recognized that the Republican obstructionists of the time were placing their petty class interests ahead of the national interest, and with it the fate of the socioeconomic system to which they subscribed.

In a related issue, covert and less frequent overt racism is indeed a factor pertaining to Obama’s declining popularity, and must be condemned. The March 6-10 issue of The Economist suggests that “bigotry cannot explain, however, why Mr. Obama’s approval rating among white Americans has fallen since he took office, from roughly 60% to 40%. As the president pointed out in September: ‘I was actually black before the election.'” The publication continued:

Democrats have a Caucasian problem. It is not new: no Democratic presidential candidate has won the white vote since Lyndon Johnson [42 years ago]. Mr. Obama actually did better among whites than John Kerry did [in 2004]. But in the past year white voters have become grumpier, and this is especially true of white males. There is even talk of a repeat of 1994, when a surge of “angry white men” helped Republicans take over both chambers of Congress.

Sixteen years ago, it was blue-collar white men who were the angriest. This year, too, they are smarting…. Two-thirds of the jobs destroyed since it began belonged to blue-collar men. Black men have been worse affected than whites, but their loyalty to Mr. Obama and his party is unshakeable. Not so for white men, whose unemployment rate was a comfortable 3.9% in 2006 and still only 6.8% when Mr Obama was elected, but is now a painful 10.3%.

Although the two ruling parties remain ensconced in a conservative cocoon to one extent or another, much of the electorate that supported Obama in 2008, whether or not it identified as such, advocated a number of center-left survival programs. Even a number of rightists, as well as many other Americans, are angry at Wall St., the big banks, and the ultra-generous government bailouts to the millionaires primarily responsible for the recession.

The Obama Administration, which essentially turned its national economic policy over to the same “experts” who helped bring about the recession (Summers, Geithner, et al.), finally directed a few critical remarks to Wall St. and the bankers after — not before — the masses of people expressed their acute indignation about their huge bonuses and privileged treatment by the government. The White House criticism was tepid and largely for show.

As an example of the center-left views of a large sector of the American adult population I will quote a few paragraphs from an article by Paul Street, available on ZNet titled, “What’s the Matter With the Democrats”. Quoting a variety of public opinion polls he pointed out that:

• “71% of Americans think that taxes on corporations are too low, ((Gallup Poll, April 2007.)) 66% of Americans think taxes on upper-income people are too low ((Gallup Poll, April 2007.)) and 62% believe corporations make too much profit ((Pew Survey 2004. ))

• “77% of Americans think there is too much power concentrated in the hands of a few big companies (Pew Survey 2004), 84% think that big companies have too much power in Washington (Harris Poll 2007), and two-thirds think that ‘big business and big government work together against the people’s interests’ ((Rasmussen Reports, 2009. ))

•”A majority of American voters think that the United States’ ‘most urgent moral question’ is either ‘greed and materialism’ (33%) or ‘poverty and economic injustice’ (31%). Just 16% identify abortion and 12% pick gay marriage as the nation’s ‘most urgent moral question’ (Zogby, 2004). Thus, nearly two-thirds (64%) of the population think that injustice and inequality are the nation’s leading ‘moral issues’ ((Katherine Adams and Charles Derber, The New Feminized Majority (Paradigm, 2008): p.72.))

• “Just 29% of Americans support the expansion of government spending on ‘defense.’ By contrast, 79% support increased spending on health care, 69% support increased spending on education, and 69% support increased spending on Social Security ((Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, Global Views, 2004. ))

• “69% of Americans think it is the responsibility of the federal government to provide health coverage to all U.S. citizens (Gallup Poll, 2006) and 67% ‘think it’s a good idea [for government] to guarantee health care for all U.S. citizens, as Canada and Britain do, with just 27% dissenting’ ((Business Week, 2005. ))

• “59% of Americans support a single-payer health insurance system ((CBS/New York Times poll, January 2009.)) and 65% of Americans respond affirmatively to the following question: ‘Would you favor the government offering everyone a government-administered health insurance plan — something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and over get – that would compete with private health insurance plans?'” ((CBS-New York Times, September 23, 2009.))

The center/center-right government of President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate majority leader Harry Reid rejects these popular views as being too “left.”

(Continued in Part 2)

Jack A. Smith is the editor of the Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter. He can be reached at jacdon@earthlink.net. Read other articles by Jack.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Rehmat said on March 20th, 2010 at 3:08pm #

    Barack Obama was elected to have a “change of color” in the White House and not the “change in country’s policies” – national or foreign. In fact, Obama’s one-year record show that he is following Bush’s failed policies in every field – foreign, economic, blind support of Israel, healthcare, crime and of course the bogus “War on Terror (read War on Muslims). But, with his past record and his over-majority Zionist administeration – only fool would have believed in his election slogan of “Yes we can”.

    On March 10, 2010 – a meeting of ‘collaborating minds’ was held at the US Senate office building in Washington. The meeting was sponsored by the US Senators, led by Senator Carl Levin (member of “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby”) and organized by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). The participants included Congressmen Anna Eshoo, Mike Honda and Keith Ellison, professors Shireen Hunter (Georgetown University), Scott Lucas (University of Birmingham, UK), Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak (University of Maryland), Juan Cole (University of Michigan) and Muhammad Sahimi (University of Southern California) – and of course former US ambassador to NATO, Robert E. Hunter, now a Senior Advisor at the famous Zionist think tank RAND. The discussions were moderated by Neil MacFarquhar (New York Times) and Dr. Trita Parsi, president of NIAC.

    The above list shows what kind of submissions, discussions and recommendations would have taken place other than Israeli wish of a regime-change in Tehran.


  2. Charlie said on March 20th, 2010 at 5:23pm #

    An interesting and thoughtful article, but I think it misses a fundamental aspect of American politics. America has the government it richly and thoroughly deserves.

    We live in a nation that has enshrined instant gratification as a moral absolute and, as a result, ignorance has become a virtue. Politicians and voters alike make important decisions on the basis of bumper-sticker-level thought processes and hot-button issues–guns, gay marriage, immigration, etc. Knee-jerk, mindless, jingoistic claptrap passes for political discourse, and the voters take sides based on emotions and impulse rather than knowledge, contemplation, and investigation. A corporate-owned media adds its intellectually bankrupt propaganda to the mix, and, poof, the greatest nation on earth has become the dumbest nation on earth.

    We are a culture of the uncultured. We adore politicians who offer idiotically simple solutions to complex problems and who deliver those solutions wrapped in feel-good rhetoric that’s long on sentiment and short on substance.

    Why do you think politicians lie? Why do you think they simply say what they have to say to get votes? It’s not because they’re pathological liars or even because they are immoral hacks. It’s simply because they know their audience, and their audience largely consists of people who desperately want to be spoon-fed the pablum of easy answers and quick solutions. Those voters would rather be disappointed in Obama than put in the hard work and thinking required to make actual changes in this country. Now they can blame him for not getting what they wanted instead of wondering how they could have been stupid enough to vote for him.

    When will Washington change? When the voters demand it, but I’m not holding my breath. Can you imagine what our government would be like if Americans gave as much attention to electing a President as they give to a football game or “American Idol” or the indiscretions of Tiger Woods? I suspect we’ll never know.

  3. Proudhon or Bust said on March 20th, 2010 at 10:23pm #

    obama wasn’t so much as “elected” (even though the constant use of the slogan “chance” didn’t hurt any) as much as he was [placed] into office to both [distraction] as much of our attention (with his “color”) as much as possible away from all that’s been going on, which had begun not long before him, [and] and of course the most [obvious] Reason can be seen in how he has done little more than act as a “spokesperson” for the insurance companies and any other member of the capital elite–in [that] respect I’m sure that he has an extremely high rating among [those] people……..

  4. beverly said on March 21st, 2010 at 1:44pm #

    So Kathy Pollit says Obummer’s liberal base is demoralized? Ms. Pollit is as much to blame for that as Obummer. With few exceptions, Pollit and The Nation rag were cheerleading for Obama from day one. Just as indy journalists on this site, Counterpunch, Black Agenda Report, et al knew the real 411 on the man, Pollit and her cronies knew the same. Perhaps if Pollit & Co. did less fawning and more critical commentary and factual reporting the liberal base would be more informed and emboldened to call out Obama and his party and demand better treatment. NOW, Pollit does the disappointment, I had no idea whine. Spare me, bitch, you are no better than Iraq war propagandist/NYT twit Judith Miller.

    As for the electorate expecting political miracles, is it too much to ask for the president to TRY to push for policies he claimed to support and that the gullible masses in turn believed? Take health care. If the president can wield backroom deals, twist arms, and make threats to pass a bad bill, he can do the same to pass a good bill. Instead, Obummer chooses the former, allowing drug and insurance industries to write bill that will enrich them further w/o providing affordable, quality care to everyone. LBJ got enacted civil rights legislation and Medicare in times that were more turbulent than now. Back then, those things were considered political miracles but they came to fruition.

    Take #2: Jobs. We need jobs big time. Why didn’t Obama’s first stimulus package include a massive public works initiative? Roads, schools, housing, childcare, afterschool/summer student enrichment activities, home care worker subsidies to increase pay and training of one of the few fastest growing employment sectors, in patient drug treatment facilities instead of imprisoning potheads/crackheads/alcoholics, hospitals, clinics – all of these are needed and would provide millions of jobs and tax revenue for states. The timing was perfect. He was new to the office and had most of the public behind him. The economy sucked. Even those not behind him would not turn down a job if they were in need of one. Being the leader of the big dog in the free world means one has to believe in miracles and fight like hell to affect them.

    Mr. Smith writes: “Of course the Democratic Party and the president are superior to the right/far-right Republican opposition, but that is not the issue. ” Would things really be that much different under McCain than Obama right now? No strings attached bank bailout. Continued Iraq occupation w/loophole-filled exit strategy that insures US will find or manufacture some chaos/reason we must remain indefinitely. Ratcheted up action in Afghanistan using same Bush lies/rhetoric as justification. US still taking orders from Israel. Joe/Jane Lunchpail (and Joe/Jane briefcase too) getting poorer while the number of billionaires has increased in this depression, er. recession. Privatization reving up nicely as tax dollars go to rogue bankers and charter schools. Torture? Renditioning? Indefinite detention? Assault on civil liberties? Still going strong under a Democratic president w/a Democratic majority in Congress. The only difference is the Democrats do these things with a smile and p.c. bromides; the Republicans just do it. AND, as Mr. Smith admits that it appears even down the road, the Dems will not move toward more progressive, just policies. So spare me sir, the tired lesser of two evils line.

    As for covert and overt racism against Obama, who cares? Obama will go out of his way to appease the same racists who hate him while throwing those will would literally eat his excrement for breakfast under the bus. As for all the black folks who still defend him 24/7, they need to get over their acute case of ethnoitis. Black folks have seen enough Head Negroes in Charge – from mayors to preachers to grandstanding race hustlers to the Congressional Black Caucus who do squat to advance their concerns. Black people need to wake up and smell reality. Obama and the Democrats only want their vote. Once in power, get lost suckers. If they keep voting politicians in who screw them over – and make NO demands/raise no ruckus on said politicians – then black folks – and other races who do same – deserve to be screwed royally.

  5. Max Shields said on March 21st, 2010 at 1:56pm #

    Obama thought all he needed to be was the first “black” president. The rest is as beverly aptly lays it out.

  6. dan e said on March 21st, 2010 at 2:33pm #

    beverly I love you:)

    What a shame, I was all ready to enjoy a “Forty Years Reunion” with Jack A Smith who I read weekly for a number of Civil Rts era years & whose byline I haven’t come across since the advent of Irwin Silber at the Guardian. But that “of course Obama & the Dems are superior” line ruined that impulse in a hurry.
    If Kim is around, I’d like to suggest that ‘beverly’s rap be reprinted & posted as an article, perhaps revised & expanded some? A lot of her formulations are just classic IMO. Some are even classic as my Spring 2008 campaign button: Run Tom Run:)

  7. Don Hawkins said on March 21st, 2010 at 2:43pm #

    As Climategate and other transgressions of fundamental scientific procedure by global warming alarmists continue to unfold, it becomes increasingly clear that a great deal of what’s been called “climate science” isn’t science at all. It’s ideological propaganda, often religious (but certainly not Biblical), masquerading as science. Written by E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D. Right Side News

    But certainly not Biblical you can’t make this kind of stuff up and I just watched on c-span the House march most of the Republicans up to the Mike to strongly disagree with the bill. My first thought was they seemed to be over dressed. Do I have a PH.D, no but I see things. Maybe am to far left.

  8. Don Hawkins said on March 21st, 2010 at 3:18pm #

    New evidence has emerged that underscores the global climate threat and the need for an effective climate bill. These are just the 10 most startling global warming facts we learned in 2009.

    Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are higher today than at any time in measurable history.

    A study published in the journal Science reports that the current level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere — about 390 parts per million — is higher today than at any time in measurable history — at least the last 2.1 million years. Previous peaks of CO2 were never more than 300 ppm over the past 800,000 years, and the concentration is rising by around 2 ppm each year.

    2000-2009 was the hottest decade.
    The World Meterological Organization reported that 2000-2009 was the hottest decade on record, with 8 of the hottest 10 years having occurred since 2000.

    2009 will end up as one of the 5 hottest years.
    2009 will end up as one of the 5 hottest years since 1850 and the U.K.’s Met Office predicts that, with a moderate El Niño, 2010 will likely break the record.

    Arctic ice cover – already perilously thin – is vulnerable to further melting.
    The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that while a bit more summer Arctic sea ice appeared in 2009 than the record breaking lows of the last two years, it was still well below normal levels. Given that the Arctic ice cover remains perilously thin, it is vulnerable to further melting, posing an ever-increasing threat to Arctic wildlife, including polar bears.

    The Arctic summer could be ice-free by mid-century — sooner than scientists expected.
    The Arctic summer could be ice-free by mid-century, not at the end of the century as previously expected, according to a study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    The East Antarctica ice sheet – thought to be colder and more stable that the West – is also shrinking.
    Recent observations published in the highly respected Nature Geosciences indicate that the East Antarctica ice sheet has been shrinking. This surprised researchers, who expected that only the West Antarctic ice sheet would shrink in the near future because the East Antarctic ice sheet is colder and more stable.

    Climate changes are already observed in the United States and are projected to grow.
    The U.S. Global Change Research Program completed an assessment of what is known about climate change impacts in the U.S. and reported that, “Climate changes are already observed in the United States and

    …are projected to grow.” These changes include “increases in heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost
    , lengthening ice-free seasons in the ocean and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt, and alterations in river flows.”
    Slight changes in the climate may trigger abrupt threats to ecosystems.
    According to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey, slight changes in the climate may trigger abrupt threats to ecosystems that are not easily reversible or adaptable, such as insect outbreaks, wildfire, and forest dieback. “More vulnerable ecosystems, such as those that already face stressors other than climate change, will almost certainly reach their threshold for abrupt change sooner.” An example of such an abrupt threat is the outbreak of spruce bark beetles throughout the western U.S. caused by increased winter temperatures that allow more beetles to survive. By Environmental Defense on 03/21/2010

    Let’s see what we see with our own eye’s by November. It becomes increasingly clear that a great deal of what’s been called “climate science” isn’t science at all. It’s ideological propaganda, often religious (but certainly not Biblical), masquerading as science, oh really.

  9. Don Hawkins said on March 22nd, 2010 at 5:58am #

    What do we know so far? Is it to late for the Arctic yes it is as right now there should be no ice up there rate. How about the other end of the planet no not yet some parts yes. Are weather patterns now changing yes. Could we go get the oil and gas in the Arctic in a few years yes but probably a few minor problems and getting the oil and gas the least of our thinking. How many years to try about 6 and after that it becomes much harder. Is there still time maybe not for some major changes but with knowledge and focus we still can slow this down. Could a meteor hit the Earth yes could jellystone cause a few problems yes let’s try anyway. A meteor we could deal with with knowledge jellytstone no but after two years the people who did make it might have a better chance if we all didn’t live in call call now land. What’s up with the poles are they shifting it appears so and have done a few times before takes many years and again if we didn’t live in call call now land a better chance for all of us that’s all of us. I’ll bet you thought this was over oh no unless they can turn off the Internet. Yes the old worldwide web an amazing invention and could be very helpful. Man these next few months boring this will not be and let’s say we don’t try well boring this will not be. In a few years we will say we are going to the store there will only be one called the store will that happen no. When is the next climate summit in December in Mexico.