One year ago, millions of Americans were in the streets cheering the election of Obama as the end of Republican policies and the start of a new era. How quickly these hopes have been dashed. One year after Obama's election, it's hard to identify one positive achievement of his presidency.
Obama's campaign was filled with lofty speeches, and he repeatedly promised to change who controls politics in Washington. He promised that ordinary Americans "will have as much access and influence over the course and direction of our campaign that has traditionally [been] reserved for the wealthy and the powerful."
Almost immediately, Obama packed his cabinet full of Wall Street executives and powerful political figures from previous administrations, both Democrat and Republican. This was followed by another huge bailout for the architects of the financial meltdown – the big banks – with few, if any, strings attached.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration refused to support legislation in the Senate which would have allowed judges to force banks to renegotiate mortgage instruments to give desperate homeowners reduced monthly payments to avoid foreclosure or eviction. This follows his decision the previous year, while in the Senate, to vote against a cap on the interest rates on credit cards.
Matt Taibbi wrote in Rolling Stone, "the aid that Obama has provided to real people has been dwarfed in size and scope by the taxpayer money that has been handed over to America's financial giants" (9 December 2009). This showed the extent to which Obama is beholden to the bankers and financiers who helped fund his election campaign.
This was followed by his decision to offer major concessions to the private hospitals, drug companies, and insurance companies as part of building the framework for his health care reform bill (New York Times, 8 December 2008). For example, Obama stepped in personally to promise drug companies that the government would not use its clout to force down drug prices. This paved the way for the massive handout to private medicine that is at the heart of the Obama-supported health bill recently passed through the House and Senate.
Then came the decision for a 30,000-troop surge in Afghanistan, the failure to support the international treaty to ban land mines and the failure to support the issues dear to the LGBT community. He also failed to address the massive poverty and imprisonment that afflict the African-American community; he refused to enact a powerful jobs program or to seriously fight to protect the environment. And, of course, he put on the backburner promises to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made it easier for workers to form unions at their workplaces.
Millions of working-class and poor people are now forced to grapple with the fact that Obama's promises to be a transformative figure were just that – electoral promises. In the real world, he is the chosen candidate of the Democratic Party. He got there, as every other candidate of the Democratic Party, by proving his loyalty to the big corporate sponsors who fund the party and its candidates. He received more corporate money than any other candidate in 2008.
So what does this tell us about the nature of the Democratic Party? In the Democratic Party, as in the Republican Party, corporate interests consistently trump the concerns of working people and the poor. How else can one explain the policies of the Obama administration on issue after issue? Obama is the current spokesperson for a big business political party.
With the Obama administration stepping back from any progressive promises it made, this alienated its supporters and weakened the powerful majority of Americans who were willing to help push through Obama's promise to break with the agenda of the Republicans.
This left working-class people disarmed and confused. Into this vacuum stepped the right-wing populist spokespersons of the Republicans, distorting the issues, playing on people's fears, hammering away at Obama and attempting to block his agenda by any means necessary.
Democratic Party Fails
Instead of exposing this motley crew and mobilizing the public, the Obama administration sat down to negotiate away one progressive element after another from its legislation. For what? With each concession, Republicans have called his policies "socialist" and "un-American" while demanding more. All these concessions resulted in not one Republican vote in the Senate for the health care bill.
We can now expect apologists for the Democratic Party to blame the American people for not being willing to support Obama's progressive agenda, and to claim that Obama "was forced" to make concessions to the Republicans. The opposite is true. The majority of the public has been consistently to the left of both political parties in the last ten years. They have demanded troops be withdrawn first from Iraq and now Afghanistan, constantly supported a government-run universal health care system, called for fundamental change to protect the environment, and demanded controls be put on Wall Street corruption and hand outs to wealthy CEOs. These are policies neither of the two major parties will touch.
Time and again we have seen the same process. The Republicans get exposed; the Democrats promise change in order to get elected. Once safely in power, they shed promises and reveal their corporate core. Clinton also made promises - and then delivered NAFTA, the WTO, the abolition of welfare, the militarization of the border with Mexico, the bombing of Serbia and inhumane sanctions on the people of Iraq.
Call to Action
It's time to step up and say "enough is enough." We will only get the policies we need by building a powerful movement to demand them. This has always been the way progress has been won in the past. This is the way we forced big business to concede social security, the 40-hour workweek, and civil rights for women and African Americans – not by depending on the voluntary votes of Democrats.
This is the best we can get from Democrats. Their corporate character is there for all to see. In this health care debate their priority has been big business's agenda, making the health care bill "fiscally neutral." They refused to even discuss a single-payer system, which would have provided quality health care for all by eliminating the wasteful insurance companies. Compare this to Obama's statement in a primary debate in 2007: "I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer health care program. I see no reason why the U.S. cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody."
There is massive anger at the economic conditions – humiliation and pain from fighting just to keep our heads above water and our bodies from being forced out on to the streets.
That anger will demand change. We need to channel that anger to build a new political party and a socialist program that stands for working people, not corporate America. That is the only way we can achieve real change.
Tony Wilsdon, CWI USA