Obama's Empty Platform: A Look at the Future
For months, Barack Obama relentlessly outlined his presidential platform. The most important component was change, closely followed by hope. But there were some actual policy proposals too—Obama promised a tighter budget, an end to tax cuts for the rich, universal healthcare, a change from “politics as usual,” and a quick end to the war in Iraq.
Experts love to point to September’s economic crisis as proof that one event can completely turn around a presidential race, and leave all the narratives before it wholly irrelevant. It did—before the bailout, McCain and Obama were virtually tied in the polls; after the crisis hit, Obama surged ahead. The worldwide recession might have won Obama the presidency—it certainly helped him a great deal. But it also (along with some other events) meant there is no way that Obama will be able to pass most of the legislation he proposed. The economy may have won Obama the presidency—but it doomed much of what he ran on.
It’s almost impossible to see a way in which Obama will be able to push through nationalized healthcare, at least in his first two years. Universal healthcare would represent a tough and politically risky fight under the best of circumstances (the push for healthcare reform marred Bill Clinton’s first two years, and led to the GOP Congressional takeover in 1994), and Obama will have his hands full with economic matters. And even the Democrats must realize that the government only has so much money—considering that the bailout alone will cost upwards of five trillion, it would be difficult to completely revamp healthcare as well, which would be quite expensive. It’s really hard to see any meaningful healthcare reform happening in an Obama first term.
One of the most remarkable things about the last few years is the way in which the Iraq War has become a defining issue to something only a few of the netroots worry about. The war was a major factor in the 2006 elections, and the early part of the long 2008 campaign. But as the surge started to take its effect, the war dropped out the headlines, and by the time the election rolled around, the economy had taken its place as the key issue.
Now, Obama’s old rhetoric about Iraq—that it was a disaster, an awful mistake—seems dated. Violence in Iraq is down, and the country is approaching a state of relative normalcy (at least for the Middle East). And his new Iraq policy seems to reflect that—while he has never officially changed his old position on leaving Iraq in sixteen months, he hasn’t criticized Bush’s status-of-forces agreement, which would keep troops in Iraq for three more years. Obama ran on a promise to end the war quickly. He won’t, but nobody (except the Democrat party’s left wing) will mind, since there really isn’t much of a war left.
One of Obama’s most used weapons was the accusation that John McCain favored tax cuts for the rich. It was also one of his more effective attacks—many people think, fairly or not, that the rich are especially privileged (which they usually are), and any extra advantage is rarely viewed favorably, particularly when many middle-class people are worrying where their next car will come from.
But there’s one thing stronger for liberals than class warfare, and that is Keynesian economics. And the first thing you learn in Keynesian economics is that tax cuts (and increased government spending) are the prescription for a recession. Obama is a Keynesian.
It goes without saying that Obama probably won’t propose a less costly budget than Bush—and even if he would, the bailout will present enough of a deficit to doom any attempt at even starting to balance the budget.
But perhaps the most laughable Obama promise is the claim that he represents a change from “politics as usual.” To bolster that claim, one of the first appointments Obama made was of Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff. Emanuel, of course, was a high-level advisor to President Bill Clinton.
Obama seems to be getting the rest of his staff from the former Clinton administration as well. He named former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers director of the National Economic Council, and is gave former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson the position of Secretary of Commerce. And, of course, Hillary Clinton will be Obama’s Secretary of State, which would seem to indicate that former Clintonistas will have a great deal of power in the Obama Administration. That’s not exactly “change”.
(Not that Obama deserves blame for reaching out to former Clinton officials—he needs to find advisors for his Cabinet somewhere. But it does underscore the utter emptiness of the “change” message.
Many conservative have pointed out that Obama is extremely liberal. But circumstances (almost) guarantee that the most sweeping of his liberal reforms won’t become law. The bailout is horribly expensive, and dangerously socialistic*, but it will at least keep much of Obama’s platform from becoming the law of the land.
*Yeah, but isn’t the “socialistic” bailout worse than anything Obama is proposing? Maybe, but that isn’t the point here. The point is that Obama’s seemingly radical government won’t actually do any of the things he promised.