Publisher's Note — March 21, 2013, 1:37 pm

Obama’s Real Political Program

Vague talk about the middle class, and plenty for big business

This column originally ran in the Providence Journal.

You have to hand it to Barack Obama when it comes to having it both ways: He never stops serving the ruling class, yet the mainstream media, from right to left, continues to pretend that he’s some sort of reincarnation of Franklin D. Roosevelt, fully committed to the downtrodden and deeply hostile to the privileged and the rich.

The president’s double game was never more adroit than during his most recent State of the Union address. Reacting to the speech, the right-wing columnist Charles Krauthammer spoke on Fox News of Obama’s “activist government” beliefs and his penchant for “painting the Republicans as the party of the rich” while portraying himself as the defender of the “middle class, Medicare and all this other stuff.” Meanwhile, the “liberal” New York Times praised his “broad second-term agenda” as “impressive” and blamed the G.O.P. for “standing in the way” of the many liberal reforms that the president supposedly wants to enact to help the poor and the middle class.

Yet the address contained hardly anything progressive: On the contrary, Obama’s proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to only $9 an hour — and not for two years — was a populist parody. Under the president’s proposal, a minimum-wage worker supporting a family of three (two parents, one child) would make $18,720 a year in 2015 — barely above today’s federal poverty line of $18,480 and well short of the 1968 peak, inflation-adjusted, of $21,840 a year, or $10.50 an hour. Combined with Obama’s mosquito bite of an increase in the top marginal income-tax rate to 39.6 percent — restoring Bill Clinton’s top rate would still put it at way less than the Eisenhower-era top rate of 91 percent — the minimum-wage bill insults the many millions of less fortunate people who voted for the incumbent. So much for “activist government” and an “impressive” agenda.

Of course, I don’t take this sort of hyperbolic commentary seriously anymore. If Obama ever had a “philosophy,” it’s about power sharing — that is, sharing parts of his plastic personality with the powers that be — from the Daley brothers in Chicago who advanced his career, to the bankers and hedge-fund mangers who financed his campaigns, to the lobbyists and party barons in Washington who write his legislative proposals. Never has a leading American Democrat (including the dean of “New Democrats,” Bill Clinton) done less to promote “activist government” in support of less-privileged people while getting so much undeserved credit for “trying” to help them.

But as a student of propaganda and politics, I can’t help but remark on how effective Obama has been at muzzling criticism, or even intelligent analysis, from the liberals who should be revolting against him. The other week I was reading the very pro-Obama Nation magazine when I happened upon “Defeatist Democrats.” It was uncharacteristically critical of the Democratic Party and the president. With no byline at the top of the article, I found myself wondering who (now that Alexander Cockburn is dead) in the left-wing weekly’s regular stable would write something as tough as this: “The decay of the Democratic Party can’t be better confirmed than by the actions of its leader.”

Noting that in the 2008 campaign Obama “championed” an increase in the minimum wage to $9.50 “but after winning fell silent” (even though the Democrats had solid majorities back then in both houses of Congress), the article went on to point out that after the 2012 election “Democrats privately blamed Obama for not running with the Congressional Democrats and refusing to share campaign money from the President’s $1 billion stash.” It quoted former Colorado senator Gary Hart as saying that “Democrats don’t know what the party stands for,” and predicted losses in the 2014 midterm elections if the Democrats pursued their strategy of “raising the money and taking care not to offend business interests by talking vaguely about the middle class and ignoring the growing poorer classes that are the Democratic Party’s natural constituency.”

Who was this mystery writer and why wasn’t his name on the magazine’s cover? At the end of the piece I found the answer, and the byline: Ralph Nader, who is among the last national political figures who will call something what it really is. His name wasn’t on the cover because for liberals the Obama dream dies hard.

Lately, besides talking up “deficit reduction” and creating a “thriving middle class,” Obama is pushing an even more ambitious and destructive “free trade” agenda certain to weaken the middle class even more. The ultra-realistic Financial Times reported last month that Obama had put “trade at the heart of” his agenda. This means we will no doubt see lovely bipartisan cooperation between the two enemy parties when there’s real money on the table for their big donors.

Of the proposed deals, the most damaging for American manufacturing and decent factory wages would be the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which if signed would follow on Obama’s 2011 job-killing trifecta — the “free-trade” agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama. More Japanese and other Asian imports would result, but Obama’s cheerleaders in the media blur the debate by touting a supposed manufacturing revival they cutely call “insourcing.” The insourcing “boom” is another administration fraud (see anything written by Alan Tonelson), but it neatly distracts people from the ever-increasing foreign-trade deficit.

Preposterous though it may seem, Republican leaders in Congress, despite their simple-minded obsession with spending cuts, come off like straight shooters by comparison with Obama. As for Obama, well, as one of the president’s former supporters put it to me, “He’s one of them!” But if liberals like the odds for 2014, by all means, they should stay the course. They might well wind up with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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  • http://twitter.com/Ra__ Ra

    That man can sure talk the talk.

    • Pelu Maad

      ….not really……McCain and Romney made him sound better than he is….

  • http://twitter.com/perryloganclone Perry Logan

    Barack Obama is a neocon posing as a centrist Democrat. This best explains his catastrophic Presidency.

    http://youtu.be/_73YlAFwo4Y

    • Pelu Maad

      Catastrophic would have been McCain or Romney…..the Obama presidency is mostly a tragic failure of vision and integrity.

  • http://twitter.com/buddharocket Buddha Rocket

    End the minimum wage.

  • pathman25

    Bravo! This was nicely articulated, Thank you. Emperor’s new clothes don’t ya know.

  • rik

    Obama’s fine. He’s pragmatic even with his own ideals. I felt the same about Clinton and budget hacking. The US is like a flotilla of aircraft carriers steaming ahead and all bound together. You can make no hard turns but when you look back at the wake you see some clear turnings clearly away from the prior direction which was not just uninspired but wrong.

    • Pelu Maad

      Clinton was personally familiar with average Americans. President Obama….not so much….

  • heinrich6666

    This piece is spot on. But there’s more to the picture. As much as the U.S. President is touted as the ‘most powerful man in the world’, he has surprisingly little power. He has to maintain the American empire — since that’s the one thing the grand wizards of the U.S. foreign policy establishment and thus the two political parties agree on. There is no domestic policy since it’s all just a piecemeal apportionment, a feeding at the trough for corporations and special interests. So what you typically see with these presidents is a kind of doubling-down to convince themselves they *are* powerful, like Bush’s pathetic “I am the decider” (when Cheney was in charge the whole time) or Obama’s graceless, even heartless jokes about using drones. These people seek power because they’re in love with their own self-image. Obama is Obama’s biggest fan — in love with his own velvety voice and beautiful smile. But he is not a man of any special character. And so you don’t see any opposition to the establishment. To truly oppose the powers-that-be, you’d have to be a man of principle — i.e. a ‘kook’: a Ron Paul or a Dennis Kucinich. Or for that matter a Ross Perot. These people are rejected, dismissed as kooks in a way that is truly beautiful. We all participate down to our very political instincts. We will never elect anyone with ideas because he/she doesn’t look ‘presidential’ enough.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Bak2DFuture Roger Charlesworth

      I cannot agree that Obama is trying to maintain the American Empire. He may simulate this agenda, but his real agenda, I am sure you know, is to make America subservient to the hierarchy of the NWO, currently the UN.

      • heinrich6666

        Hate to tell you, but the US *is* the NWO. But you are right that the US is just being used by others in order to control the globe. The UN, though, is a pathetic joke controlled by the US.

      • heinrich6666
      • Pelu Maad

        ….LOL…..black helicopter stuff….

  • Varrick

    Yes, Obama gets more credit from ardent liberals than he deserves. But does this mean he is a total fraud as this author suggests. Obama’s stimulus package was more than 20 times as large as the one Clinton tried to pass. And yes, it included lots of unnecessary tax cuts, but you can’t ignore the significance of this achievement. Right after coming to office he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act and expanded CHIP. He’s overseen a dramatic expansion of nutrition assistance. He signed a major arms control agreement and ended the Iraq war. Healthcare, despite all the problems with ACA, is a major achievement, one that eluded all previous Democrats for the previous 60 years, and whose impacts will unfold over many years to come. Maybe a big reason behind why Obama is so obsequious to those with the money is there is no mass movement on the left that is able to push him harder. The fundamental outlines of the American body politic and economy have shifted so far to the right and the wealthy, respectively, that Obama is in a lot of ways a slave to the deck of cards he was dealt. He has had to deal with the most obstructionist minority in decades, a group of politicians who would rather the country’s economy go in the tank than hand a victory to their political opponents.

    • bob2005

      bullshit

    • Pelu Maad

      When was “war” declared in Iraq…..when did we bring ALL our troops home?

  • John Konopak

    But ya gotta admit, Prez. LowBar sher gives good speech!

    • Pelu Maad

      Not really….he just looks good when standing next to the idiot Republicans…

  • Pelu Maad

    Is it just me….or would we be better off if we had an actual “left”….and an actual loyal opposition….rather than center right Dems and batshit insane GOPers….?????

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