It is amazing liberals, like George Stephanopoulos and Kevin Drum, can ask this question with a straight face.
They really believe it.
After two years they still believe that not only is President Obama on the side of the little guy, the working class, or at least small businesses, but they think he is actually active trying to defend them or advance policies to their benefit.
And when faced with the list of his “compromises” longer than my daughters Christmas list (it has become so common place that some even joke that he has compromised into admitting he is a Muslim) they ask that question: what more could he have done?
That’s the wrong question, liberal. The right question is: What has he done?
Has he gone out of his way to exploit his access to the bully pulpit and media to inform us on the problems we face and their complexities? Has he advanced policies to resolve them? Has he called for popular mobilization to defend these policies and to beat back reactionary forces?
Let’s look at a few examples:
- Tax justice
- Healthcare reform
- Economic stimulus
I chose these examples because unlike the Cuban embargo or escalating the illegal and unjustified war in Afghanistan and some other issues, these are supposed to represent issues that the Republicans have “obstructed” their efforts.
When Obama was elected and before he took office the Pentagon advised him to cut military spending. He responded by increasing it. The US is 5% of the population yet we account for 50% of global military expenditures. We use this money to finance over 1,000 foreign bases and to amass a navy and air force that has a global and immediate outreach. It is no wonder the Pentagon is the biggest polluter when excluding whole countries. Even if we reduced our military spending by a factor of ten, that is, from $1 trillion a year to $100 billion, we would still have the highest spending (per capita) than any other country in the world. Again, we could save $900 billion a year and still be number one in spending.
Some folks like to claim our taxes are too high. This is strange when considering that "the Government Accountability Office said 72 percent of all foreign corporations and about 57 percent of U.S. companies doing business in the United States paid no federal income taxes for at least one year between 1998 and 2005" (Reuters) and that the earned income tax rate for the top earners is historically low. They also assert that if we lower taxes or make Bush’s tax cuts permanent then this will help the economy. But this holds no water. If low taxes help then we shouldn’t be in the mess were in. Considering income inequality has grown so out of control that the richest 1% account for nearly 35% of the nations wealth, while the bottom 50% account for 2.5%, then the claim that "tax cuts for the rich will provide businesses with an incentive to create jobs" should seriously be put into question: how much more excess wealth do they need to do it? And in fact, it was during the so-called Golden Age of Capitalism when our economy was at its best. Corporate profitability was up and unemployment was low (around 3%). The middle class was created and expanding and the income rate for the wealthy was more than ninety-percent. Government debt was also at its lowest. It wasn’t until the taxes for the rich were lowered and finance was deregulated and our manufacturing base started being outsourced (this is also a big factor in our trading deficit; have you thanked Wal-Mart for low wages and adding to the trading deficit?) that the economy took a turn for the worse.
Some also attack Social Security as if it is a threat to our economy. With more than half of its recipients relying on the program as their main source of income, one wonders what the economic effect would be if it were gone. Furthermore, the program will not have exhausted its funds, assuming no changes are made, until 2037. But benefits are too low and something must be done. An obvious solution would be to remove the cap. As it stands less than $110,000 of earned income is taxed for the program. This means that someone like Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, sees less than 1% of his income taxed for Social Security while a single-mom working double-shifts at IHOP will see 100% of hers taxed for it. Also, investment income is not taxed at all. So someone like Warren Buffett, who makes most of his income through investment, sees even less of his wealth taxed for the program. Removing the cap and erasing the distinction between investment and earned income would not only assure the program is solvent beyond the foreseeable future but would allow us to increase benefits so recipients can actually afford to live.
And, what about healthcare reform? The problem is we spend twice as much (per capita) than the rest of the developed world yet we are less healthy and don’t live as long. Each year 62% of our bankruptcies are due to medical bills and almost 80% of those were for the insured. And every day over one hundred Americans die from a lack of care. The human and economic toll has created a crisis. We need a single-payer program. Doing so would not only prevent bankruptcies, save lives and cost less but it would give government an incentive to negotiate fair prescription prices.
Lastly, in these times of economic hardships, when income inequality and unemployment is up (as well as profits), but the private sector is unwilling to invest in creating jobs it is the duty of the government to intervene and spend our way out. If it were not for Keynesian policies, we would likely have never survived the Great Depression. When we got out of the Great Depression and we raised the taxes on the rich, our investing was in the Military Industrial Complex; the Pentagon system. While it did get people working it invested in perpetual war, imperialism and militarism. We have the opportunity to invest in society. MIT is making progress in solar technology with funding less than what oil companies get in tax breaks each year. We can invest in creating renewable energy with the same zest as we did with the weapons of war. We can invest in improved social infrastructure, public transportation, education, ecologically-friendly agricultural programs and more. We should be doing this, not buying toxic bank notes while leaving the predatory structures in place. Doing this will require spending, but we can offset that with cuts in corporate welfare and military spending, coupled with tax justice (i.e. increases on the top income earners).
The above is just over one thousand words. How much of it has been uttered by President Obama? How many times has he addressed the country with a similar message? When liberals ask what more can he do we should ask them in return: Is being straight with us and presenting sound resolutions too much to ask? When have we seen him stride up to his bully pulpit or do a personal interview with Matt Lauer where he lays the truth on us and name names of those who are reactionary forces and look into the camera and say,
To the people of this country, here is what we can do and on the website of the White House are existing groups who share this vision. You can join them in struggling for these achievements. You don’t have to do it in support of me or my policies or my political party. What I want is not your allegiance to me but to the values and the programs you need to uphold those values, and I will do what I can with every ounce of my being to deliver it to you, though you may have to take to the streets to protect these values from reactionary, backwards forces. I can’t do this alone.
Is it too much to ask or expect for him to say something along these lines?
If we account for how our political system really works and who it works for (i.e. the Lords of Capital) then the answer is unequivocally yes. But the point is he could be doing more. Why he is not is a different question and the answer is biting the hand that feeds him is not a part of his agenda. This explains why he began having secret meetings with the healthcare industry as soon as he took office, and not single-payer advocates, or why he has consistently sided with the ruling class over the working class. We shouldn’t expect him to call out the Republicans on their position in the class war—because he shares it. We shouldn’t expect him to join ours. We shouldn’t expect him to mobilize us. We shouldn’t expect him to do our job for ourselves.
Our political and economic system—not to mention our gender and cultural relations—is ruled by exploitation and domination. Our leaders speak one language: power. There are two dialects: the power of money and the power in numbers. Considering income inequality it should be obvious that the working class doesn’t have the capital to speak to our politicians. This leaves us with power in numbers. We can vote for politicians. There is nothing wrong with choosing the lesser of two evils, or the path of least resistance, so long as it is coupled with organizing, agitation, disruption—in a word, action. If we disarm our votes, if we lay down our guns of civil disobedience and direct action, if they even sense that our threat of using them is off the table then we have neutered ourselves. I am not talking about violent mobs—though we should be prepared to defend ourselves. I am talking about being organized and being ready to act if necessary to advance and protect our interests. They will have no problems ignoring us and mocking us with their Cat Food Commission calling for scaling back the left hand of the state while leaving the right hand virtually unscathed. They look at us and laugh and say, “Let them eat cat food.”
It’s long past time we put the political and economic leaders in their proper place: the dustbin of history. We need to organize and begin building a new world based on democratic participation in managing our affairs.
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