The Clinton Pivot: Obama Sells the Farm

If Barack Obama truly wanted to be a transformative president he would have pushed to break the senatorial filibuster at the very beginning of his term in office.  As a former senator, he knew full well the power and inclination of a senate minority to obstruct all legislative initiatives.

There is not a syllable in the constitution that empowers a minority in the least democratic branch of government with an absolute veto over all legislative action.  That usurpation of power was accomplished by senatorial rules of conduct, which are subject to change by a majority vote at the beginning of each congressional session.

Had the Obama administration been able to lower the filibuster threshold to 55 votes or required senators to hold the floor as they once did or limited its duration to 27 calendar days, the incoming president would have been empowered to usher in an era of progressive change, the very change for which the electorate thought it was voting.  He surely could have passed Medicare-for-all with a ten or twenty-year phase in.  He could have restructured the tax code and fully financed an emerging green economy.  He could have rebuilt the nation’s infrastructure and established an interstate mass transit system, achieving something very close to full employment.

There is no end to what Obama might have accomplished had he been willing to take that first bold step.  With the economy moving again, he might well have reversed his party’s fortune in the mid-term elections.  But that bold president, the one that would have summoned the spirits of Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy, was nowhere to be found.

It was never what Barack Obama had in mind.  It seems he was playing from the Bill Clinton handbook all along.  Even now, as we approach a new session of congress, there is little talk of reforming the filibuster.  With the Republicans taking control of the lower house perhaps we no longer think it important.  But the lower house is closer to the people and closer to the next election.  Any representative who refuses to extend unemployment benefits with the unemployment rate near ten percent will almost certainly guarantee the wrath of his or her constituency and an abbreviated tenure in Washington.  No, the Senate will remain the leading source of obstructionism and the problem should be addressed.  But that is not in the Clinton handbook.

Never was I so reminded of Slick Willy as when Obama with a passion rarely summoned in his presidency challenged his progressive critics to name a single instance where he has failed to keep his word:  “Look at what I promised during the campaign. There’s not a single thing that I haven’t done or tried to do.”

While managing to project himself as an antiwar candidate, he never promised to withdraw all troops from Iraq.  He promised to escalate in Afghanistan and that he has done.

Winning the support of organized labor, Obama promised to sign the Employee Free Choice Act but it never reached his desk.  He never promised to support Fair Trade but he appeared to support labor provisions in Free Trade agreements.  He advocated exacting a price on those who export jobs but it has never made the Obama short list.

He advocated health care as a right rather than a responsibility but he never promised a public option.  He never promised universal healthcare or that health insurance rates would be mediated.  He did oppose an insurance mandate but few have held him accountable on that ground.

From Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to immigration reform and the repeal of the Bush tax cuts, Obama has always chosen his words carefully.  Considered in context, his words are consistent with his actions.  He never claimed to be progressive so he cannot be held accountable for failing to live up to what that label entails.

Obama ran as a pragmatist and he has governed in that fashion.  What he does not seem to understand is that we don’t care how carefully he parsed his words.  We don’t care if we were fooled by our own Audacity of Hope.  We frankly don’t care if he is a man of his word or not.

We are living in hard times and we’d like to know he is out to help us.  If the president truly believes his compromise on tax policy is in the public interest, fine.  Let him state his case.  We respectfully disagree and we’ll state ours.

Obama has made it clear he is not beholden to the left for having rallied to make him president.  Neither are we beholden to him for having done so.  While few of us would argue that he is worse than George W. Bush or John McCain, that’s a little like saying a plunge in freezing water is better than a dip in raw sewage.

From a pragmatic point of view, we could have chosen to rally around Hillary Clinton in the primaries.  Why didn’t we?  Because we knew what to expect from another round of the Clinton administration.  We witnessed Bill Clinton’s pivot to the right after his party lost the mid-term elections.  We witnessed welfare reform and bipartisan agreement on free trade (job exportation) and deregulation, all major Republican initiatives.  Even after winning reelection, Clinton held to the right in a bold attempt to dominate electoral politics by eliminating the left from the equation.  (In the end, he didn’t even have the guts to pardon Leonard Peltier.  Yes, some of us still remember.)

We could not rally around Hillary because she showed no inclination to govern differently than her husband.  We could not support a third-party candidate because the stakes were high and no candidate rose above the level of symbolism.  We rallied to the Obama camp because he was perceived as antiwar and relatively progressive.  It was better to gamble on the unknown than to stake our hopes on the highly improbable.

We did not want another Bill Clinton but it seems that is exactly what we got.  We gambled and lost, but that does not mean we must sacrifice our voices and convictions by continuing to support a president that has not earned it.

The strangest thing about this sudden rightward pivot on tax policy is the urgency with which it was presented, as if the opportunity would be lost once a new congress was seated.  As all must recognize by now this is an overwhelming Republican victory.  (The president’s supporters can produce all the graphs and charts they want.  The Republicans favor all the tax cuts.  The president sold the farm for an extension of unemployment benefits.)  Rushing the proposal through a lame duck congress before the Bush tax cuts expired was not only unnecessary but it also worked against the president’s interest.

Had the tax cuts been allowed to elapse the power would have shifted to the White House and a still Democratic Senate.  A Republican lower house of congress could do absolutely nothing without Democratic consent.  With unemployment near ten percent, there is not a working family in the nation that is not affected.  With every vote against extending benefits, the Democrats could have rolled out ads in every district:  Joe Worker lost his job when his plant was shipped to China.  He took a job as a janitor and was laid off in the Great Recession.  Now he’s lost his unemployment benefits.  Congressman Right says he’s lazy.  What do you say?

As for tax cuts for the middle class, how many times could the anti-tax party say no without losing all credibility?

The Republicans were playing a bluff and either the president was fooled or he did what he intended to do all along:  the Clinton pivot.

The American two-party system functions to the extent that it does by managing a delicate balance between corporate interests and the public good.  When the right goes too far by gutting that part of government that serves the public good, the left assumes power to restore the balance.  When both parties represent essentially the same policies, balance is never restored.  The result is a reversal of centuries of progress, an unraveling of the New Deal and the Great Society, a process that predictably ends with the decimation of Social Security, Medicare, public education, environmental protection, civil rights, labor rights and all regulatory agencies.

It is a prescription for disaster because it favors the rich to the detriment of the middle class.  When the working people can no longer afford to purchase goods and the middle class is impoverished, the system no longer functions.

Barack Obama is no Franklin Roosevelt.  He never intended to be.  He is a pragmatist, a man everyone can love once they get to know him.  He is Bill Clinton without the personal charm.

It’s not all bad.  There is something to be said for intelligence and good management.  There is a reason the crash did not happen on his watch.  Had Clinton been president instead of George W. Bush, I’m certain he would have acted long before the global economy was on the threshold of total collapse.

Nevertheless, the elements creating the conditions that inevitably led to systemic failure were put in place by Bill Clinton.  Unfortunately, Barack Obama shows no inclination to make the necessary corrections.

Jack Random is the author of Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press) the Jazzman Chronicles, Volumes I and II (City Lights Books). The Chronicles have been published by Dissident Voice and others. Read other articles by Jack, or visit Jack's website.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Max Shields said on December 14th, 2010 at 5:16pm #

    Pretty good piece (though I could not bare to vote for the man; he was just far too transparent.)

    As far as was he “fooled” by the Republicans? No. He and his staff (and it was reported regularly) were planning for the transition in the House well before the Nov. election. He was always a Clintonite. The only reason why he provided the other image during the primary was because he needed to differentiate himself from the real deal (Hillary). It was apparent as he “debated” McCain about who had the biggest balls for more war; and then once in took Medicare for All and the Public Option off the table. That’s with a full throttle majority in both houses. Yes, if he was what you wished he was, he would have been someone else. He would have dealt a blow to the filibuster. But that’s not what the duopoly does. It figures…who knows we may want to use it some day; rather than fighting for what is needed – i.e., convictions, not some phony political pragmaticism which is all about getting elected again!!

    He was never more nor less than what he presented. He is a thorough DLCer…he was groomed for it. It’s in his DNA. He is what he is…and now my question to all those who fell for it is What are you going to do about it?

  2. Liberte said on December 14th, 2010 at 6:42pm #

    You lost me at “…Roosevelt and John Kennedy…”

    One, an early communist/zionist puppet dictator, the other, a measured thinker; progressive on issues that warranted change, conservative when traditions were sound.

    But sure, you just go ahead and stuff those two together into one sentence. History has already been polluted past the point of redemption. What’s the harm in one more lie. Well, I suppose it isn’t really a lie, more like a myth.

    Who was it that warned us about myths? Oh yeah, Kennedy.

    Now, if you would like to correct this egregious misrepresentation may I suggest that in the correction you detail the true differences between Obama and Roosevelt. Roosevelt was successful in his propaganda campaign, Obama has not been. Why? Because Roosevelt had the benifit of one way radio broadcasts to disseminate his communist/zionist propaganda, Obama has to compete with websites like this, and jerks like me.

  3. hayate said on December 14th, 2010 at 7:03pm #

    Another article promoting the democratic party and excusing their ziofascism/fascism. Example:

    “Had the Obama administration been able to lower the filibuster threshold to 55 votes or required senators to hold the floor as they once did or limited its duration to 27 calendar days, the incoming president would have been empowered to usher in an era of progressive change, the very change for which the electorate thought it was voting. He surely could have passed Medicare-for-all with a ten or twenty-year phase in. He could have restructured the tax code and fully financed an emerging green economy. He could have rebuilt the nation’s infrastructure and established an interstate mass transit system, achieving something very close to full employment.”

    Obama could have done a whole mess of positive things, had he wanted to. There was nothing stopping him giving a press conference and laying out the facts. He’s never done that. All one gets from this “tel avivian candidate” is regurgitated ziofascist pr marketing crap. Bush sr. did this, and even bucked the aipac crowd over an issue, so obama could have done the same, had he wanted to.

    Saying the man never wanted to do anything progressive, and that progressives just projected their hopes on to him really doesn’t address what went down. For one thing, obama encouraged that support (well, why wouldn’t he to get elected), and for another, and more profound reason, the zionists embedded among progressives promoted him and wrote/said all sorts of bs intended to make people think an obama regime would actually be different than the plugs that preceded it. The article left out that aspect entirely, as most of these irrelevant dem vs rep partisan pieces do. The major no no is criticising the zionist massa, as usual.

    Another example:

    “While few of us would argue that he is worse than George W. Bush or John McCain, that’s a little like saying a plunge in freezing water is better than a dip in raw sewage.”

    Actually obama is worse. One of the things I speculated about when obama was running was that he would be. The reason why is like with clinton in the 90’s, all the opposition to the ziofascist/fascist policies of the obvious nazis (bushes) would fade away when a ziofascist/fascist dem took office (clinton/obama), giving ziofascism, inc. essentially a free ride in the usa. This is exactly what has happened. All the opposition to repulsive and criminal bush policies became support for the very same disgusting crap now that obama is promoting these crimes, just like what happened with clinton in the 90’s. All this dem-rep rivalry is is a “good cop/bad cop” scam to keep the same ziofascist/fascist oligarchs in power. At least with mccain, there would be some goddamn opposition to the ziofascism/fascism, instead of zionist limp noodle suck-ups promoting it because the dems are doing.

    BTW, the analogy at the end of the quote is idiotic, both are raw sewage. Also, jumping into ice cold water can rather invigorating and refreshing. The author should try it sometime. There is nothing about the zionist obama regime and its supporters that is envigorating or refreshing. It’s, and they, are the same foul, disgusting excrement that reps, dems, capitalist oligarchy and zionism have always been.

  4. hayate said on December 14th, 2010 at 7:10pm #

    Liberte said on December 14th, 2010 at 6:42pm #

    One word is all one needs to describe this: wank.

  5. Naturally said on December 18th, 2010 at 11:19am #

    Obama made many campaign “promises” which he has broken. e.g. He promised the most transparent administration ever, but he has indicted more whistle-blowers than all previous presidents put together and is now urging a First-Amendment-defeating prosecution of a journalist who published a whistle-blower: Julian Assange.

    Obama also promised to preserve Social Security, but caucused with Senate Republicans to change Social Security from an independent, self-funded program with a $2.6 trillion surplus — which has never contributed one penny any budget deficit — into just another government expenditure from the general fund of the Treasury (thereby contributing to the deficit). After January 1 Obama will caucus with his Republican allies (like Rep. Paul Ryan) to cut Social Security benefits (the retirement benefits which we’ve all pre-paid with every paycheck we’ve earned throughout our lifetimes) and call it deficit reduction. Yet, Obama will exempt his escalating military spending from any deficit-reducing cuts, thereby taking our retirement benefits to fund his wars.

    Obama is a liar, but Dissident Voice’s attempt to blame Bill Clinton for Obama’s lies is absurd. Obama is not “playing from the Bill Clinton handbook.” Bill Clinton was elected with just a 43% plurality, while Obama had a 53% landslide victory and a clear public mandate for change. Bill Clinton had 57 Democrat-controlled seats in the Senate, while Obama had 60. Yet Clinton managed to raise the highest marginal tax rate from 31% to 39.6% and slash military spending, thereby transforming budget deficits into surpluses, creating 3 times as many new jobs/year as his predecessor and reducing unemployment to a 60-year low 3.8%

    From his relatively weaker position, Bill Clinton came away from the negotiating table with some wins and some losses. By comparison, what has Obama won? Nothing. As Elliot Spitzer recently said (CNN’s “Parker -Spitzer, 12-15-2010): “I’d never seen anybody as effective at lobbying for George Bush’s economic policies as President Obama.”

    Dissident Voice asks why didn’t “we” (meaning the Left) support Hillary in the Democratic primaries? It answers itself with a sexist smear: “because we knew what to expect from another round of the Clinton administration.” In other words, because wives are nothing more than appendages of their husbands. Don’t you know that, Lefties? Hillary always agrees with Bill because she has no mind or her own, right? Sickening.

    Dissident Voice follows it’s misogyny with a bald-faced lie: “Hillary … showed no inclination to govern differently than her husband.” No evidence is offered for that claim because all the evidence is to the contrary: namely her record as a U.S. Senator, a record significantly to the left of Bill’s.

    Dissident Voice next blames Bill Clinton for the collapse of the global economy. No mention of Reagan cutting billionaire taxes from 70% to 28%, and his massive deficit military spending, transforming the U.S. from a lender to a borrower nation. No mention of Reagan’s “starve the beast,” democracy-destroying agenda. No mention of Reagan’s de-regulation “revolution,” and George H.W. Bush’s NAFTA Treaty, and twelve years of Republicans’ success in popularizing the notion that “government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem,” and Reagan’s near-deity status — all of which confronted Bill Clinton when he took office. No mention that Republicans attacked Clinton with smears and show trials, shut down the government, and hypocritically (because George H.W. Bush and many Republicans in Congress were doing the same thing) impeached him for dallying with a girlfriend.

    Dissident Voice’s conclusion: Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Obama are all equally bad. That’s a lie. It’s a lie that’s infused into a larger presentation of standard leftist dogma — which is how people are induced to swallow it, like giving a dog medicine stuffed inside a favorite food.

    Who hates Bill Clinton, fears Hillary Clinton (who came within an eyelash of the presidency), and has both the motive and capacity for creating disinformation? The military-intelligence-security complex and the parasite industries and oligarchs who profit from it. That’s why I consider this site a disinformation operation.