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Obama’s presidential legacy: a weakened Democratic Party and timidity of reform

REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Somewhere along the line the Obama realignment collapsed, dead by 2010.

While President Barack Obama has accomplished a lot – far more than often given credit for, and much of it detailed in his State of the Union speech last week – one of his great failings is his inability to restructure the Democratic Party and build a new majority coalition to support his policies. Instead, he leaves the Democratic Party far weaker now than when he was first elected, and his legacy more fragile and timid than it should be.

schultz portrait
David Schultz

Many saw Obama’s 2008 victory as potentially significant. His presidency portended the possibilities of a critical political realignment. He represented generational change as the first Gen X president. It was the passing of the political torch from the boomer presidents, Bill Clinton and George Bush, when he defeated the Silent or Greatest Generation candidate John McCain. He was the first nonwhite president, supposedly the first post-racial one, and his candidacy seemed to bring young people and nontraditional voters into the Democratic Party. His election produced enormous Democratic congressional majorities, and all signs were that he was capable of being a transformative president who would politically restructure the American political landscape.

But then somewhere along the line the Obama realignment collapsed, dead by 2010. Yes, the Affordable Care Act passed, as did Dodd-Frank, the stimulus bill, and a host of other important measures. Yet all of them suffered from the same fate: their sense of timidity. Whenever Obama had a chance to look history in the eye he looked away from making the type of reforms that would do two things: 1) reform that would truly restructure American politics; and 2) reform that would link his reforms to building a new political coalition to support them and be the basis upon which to build a new and future Democratic Party.

Changes, but not transformative ones

The Affordable Care Act is insuring millions of new people, but it is a warmed-over Republican idea largely imitating Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts model. It makes few changes in the basically free-market model for health-care delivery and it does little to address major issues such as cost. Dodd-Frank was a watered-down version of significant Wall Street reform that has been weakened even more by regulatory agencies. Neither of these laws makes transformative changes in health-care insurance or financial regulatory markets, and polls suggest they are largely misunderstood or disliked. In terms of foreign policy and the environment, Obama has made some progress, but it not clear the Middle East or the world is safer now than eight years ago or that he has made the progress toward the green economy he promised. And should a Republican win the White House and retain Congress, many of Obama’s accomplishments may be undone.

Obama leaves the Democratic Party far weaker today than when he was elected. The statistics are chilling. In 2009 there were 257 Democratic House and 58 Senate members; today there are 188 and 44. In 2009 there were 4,082 Democratic state legislators; today there are 3,163. In 2009 55 percent of state legislators were Democrats; today it is only 43%. In 2009 Democrats controlled 27 legislatures and 28 governorships; today it is 11 and 18. No matter what the statistics, the Democratic Party is weaker today than in 2009.

The collapse of the Democratic Party under Obama is even more glaring given that demographic trends potentially suggest a brighter future for the party. Yet there are signs that millennials, the most liberal and largest generation in American history, once excited by Obama in 2008, have disengaged. In a famous 2010 New Yorker cartoon a character exclaims, “Obama has the potential to get a whole new generation disillusioned.” Granted, part of Obama’s problem was Republican intransigence, but he even had problems getting his own party members to follow him.

Party lacks a varsity team

The weakened Democratic Party under Obama explains the 2016 presidential campaign. The choices for the nomination are Hillary Clinton, a candidate from the party’s old establishment, or Bernie Sanders, who is essentially an outsider to the party. Obama has left the Democratic Party without a varsity team of players, and the JV and freshman teams are also thin. This will also make it difficult for Democrats to recruit strong candidates to retake Congress. The weakened Democratic Party at the state level puts reapportionment and election laws in the hands of Republicans, who are using both to further entrench themselves.

What should Obama have done? In his first year in office when he had Democratic majorities he should have enacted policies that made major structural reforms that would have benefited and empowered his voters. He alienated many of his supports by following Bush’s policy of bailing out the banks, but he did little for homeowners. He should have raised and embraced inflation-indexed minimum wage laws, expanded earned income tax credits for working families, and taken bolder moves to address structural income and wealth inequalities. He also could have pushed to support the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have updated the New Deal era National Labor Relations Act. This law would have reinvigorated labor unions. Obama also should have pushed for federal laws on voting, such as outlawing voter identification in national elections, allowing for same day registration, and permitting ex-felons to vote.

Instead of using his political capital, public support, congressional majorities, and a demand for change to adopt real transformational policies, his spent it all on timid reforms that while good, really failed to build the future coalitions and politics he needed to support his legacy for the future. Instead, his biggest accomplishment may be in how he helped sustain the forces to undermine his own legacy.

David Schultz is a Hamline University professor of political science and the author of “Election Law and Democratic Theory” (Ashgate, 2014) and “American Politics in the Age of Ignorance” (Macmillan, 2013). He blogs at Schultz’s Take, where this commentary first appeared. 

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Comments (30)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 01/22/2016 - 09:16 am.

    Mr. Schultz

    If Obama’s 3 major accomplishments are Obamacare, the stimulus and Dodd/Frank the fall of the Democratic party should be a surprise no one. Obamacare was pushed through without support from 1 GOPer, written by the Grubers’ of the world, passed by procedure vote, didn’t save families $2,500 and shockingly you can not keep your Doctor (both known to be lies at the time) and is in the tailspin phase of collapsing under its own weight now. The Stimulus was a pay out for unions, green energy and political favors. 6% went to infrastructure, remember Obama laughing as he said “I guess shovel ready jobs were not so shovel ready”, no one found that funny for a 1 trillion dollar price tag. Dodd/Frank has made it harder to get small business loans (note to Dems it wasn’t the collapse of bad small business loans that caused the 08-09 housing collapse) and turned 10 too big to fail Big Banks into 5 way too big to fail Big Banks. Nothing is running smoother with Dodd/Frank and we have lost small banks and credit unions by the hundreds, further screwing the middle class, which has taken a beating the past 10 years.

    The fall of the Democratic party (lost seats in both Houses and Governships past 7 years) should be expected and we haven’t even hit on the JV ISIS, misreading Arab Spring, racial division growing, black unemployment, middle class losing $3,000 per household, manufacturing jobs disappearing and a number of other issues that will define the Obama’s presidency.

  2. Submitted by Rod Loper on 01/22/2016 - 09:26 am.

    Well said.

    Another factor leading to this outcome was his focus on keeping his own Organizing for America
    going while ceding control of the Democratic National Committee to Democratic Leadership Council and Blue Dog congress types. We have had terrible messaging from the DNC as a result. Debbie Wasserman Schultz exemplifies this failure.

  3. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/22/2016 - 09:56 am.

    Good Analysis

    About my only quibble here is that Obama only had a veto proof majority for about week, and that’s hardly exaggerating. It wasn’t until Al Franken was seated that there were 60 Dems in the Senate. (Why do you think the GOP keep up the court case so long?)

    Obama has always been a corporate Democrat, and corporate Democrats know that the money is coming from Wall Street. He admitted that he preferred a single payer system, but compromised right out of the box to get GOP support. How’d that work out?

    Similarly, Dodd-Frank was a timid piece of legislation. It ballooned to hundreds of pages, and now Wall Street is delaying implementation by fighting tooth and nail over the fine points.

    Expect more of the same from Hillary Clinton.

    Lefties like to comfort themselves with the knowledge that they’ve got a near lock on the White House. But that’s ALL they’ve got. Obama talked about walking picket lines in “comfortable shoes”. But when Scott Walker attacked the middle class in WI, Obama was AWOL.

    The varsity & JV aren’t just thin, they’re practically none existent.

  4. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 01/22/2016 - 10:35 am.

    “Fragile” legacy?

    Based on the Democratic field, I think “frail” would be a better term.

  5. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/22/2016 - 10:36 am.

    It’s a fairly general, but fairly plausible

    …explanation why the Obama presidency has, on the whole, been a disappointment to many who hoped it really *would* bring hope and change to the society. Timidity is an interesting – and perhaps accurate – term to use as a description of why his legacy seems so fragile at this point.

    On the other hand, many of the failures of the Obama years – as capably laid out by Mr. Smith – are far less Obama’s fault than the result of knee-jerk reaction, largely, but not entirely, racist, from a GOP incensed that anyone of color, and with a background as a community organizer (read: agitator) should actually win the nation’s highest office. What’s conveniently left out of the rationale for Republican hostility by those same Republicans is that Obama was legitimately elected, twice, and the failure of some of his initiatives had nothing to do with the policies themselves, but instead was brought about by rigid, often racist but alost always ideologically-motivated attitudes on the part of Republicans like Senate Majority Leader McConnell. When your stated goal is not to make the country better, or to fix the mistakes of the Bush presidency, but simply – and repeatedly – to “make Mr. Obama a one-term President,” then it’s pretty obvious that actual governing is not on the agenda.

    The ACA is a useful example, since it’s essentially a Republican program that guarantees increased business for health insurance companies without necessarily doing anything to improve health care, though that’s been a side benefit of the program because many low-income people who are basically left to die by Republican rhetoric (no *viable* alternative to the ACA has ever been proposed by the GOP) now have at least minimal health care coverage. The fact that it has so far not met expectations has more to do with intractable opposition to it in Congress – more than 50 attempts in the GOP-controlled House to repeal it, without any effort by that same GOP House to provide a meaningful alternative – than to failures in the policy itself. Instead of a workable alternative, the GOP has spent lots of time and money “investigating” Planned Parenthood, and otherwise holding Congressional hearings whose primary purpose seems to have been to once again reduce women to the status of chattel, in the process revealing an astonishing ignorance of science, human reproductive processes, and ethics.

    It’s also been useful, though depressing, to see just how much Obama has proved to be a lightning rod for, if not a resurgence of racism in the society, then a reintroduction of blatant racism into the public forum after years, maybe decades, when it had been suppressed. Some of us, more optimistic than perhaps we should have been, had hopes that the society had moved beyond that, and that perhaps Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy really *was* a movement toward a more tolerant and accepting society, but hostility to Obama appears now to simply have been a political expression of the same attitudes that defend police shootings of unarmed (and in some cases, totally innocent) black men. It’s shameful, or ought to be, but at least the notion that we live in a “post-racial society” has been publicly exposed as a fallacy.

    I’m inclined to agree with Professor Schultz. What has characterized the Obama years domestically has been missed opportunity – timidity – when Obama had the public and the Congressional majority behind him. The desire for bipartisanship – still mysteriously evident from time to time, despite a complete and total lack of evidence of a similar desire on the part of his Republican opponents – has too often taken precedence over changes that really •would* transform the society. Given the malevolence of his opposition, that he has managed to accomplish much of anything is something of a surprise, but I think the Professor is largely correct in suggesting that a part of the Obama legacy will be a weakened Democratic Party, though that, too, is in part due to big mistakes made by others, including DNC leadership, not least of which is making Ms. Wasserman-Schultz the DNC chair. She has managed to alienate many in the party who might otherwise support Obama policy initiatives.

    Obama has been more successful, I think, in foreign policy, where, though not without his own mistakes, he has mostly resisted, and mostly successfully, the saber-rattling of chickenhawks on the right, both in and out of Congress. We aren’t going to have any genuine friends in the Middle East for centuries, having killed many thousands of civilians and soldiers over the past couple decades, and perhaps we never will, but the agreement with Iran is a signature accomplishment, and done without shedding blood. It bears careful watching, of course, as is the case with most agreements of similar nature, but it’s a far cry from, and a much better choice than, the stupidity of invading yet another Middle Eastern country, killing many thousands more innocent civilians, and in the process providing quasi-organizations like ISIS with more propaganda opportunities.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/22/2016 - 11:42 am.

      I’ve never been able to accept the GOP obstruction…

      As the big defeat. He had two years of Democratic control, house and senate, he should’ve run the table, instead of using his majority he “reached out” out the opposition, and the rest is history.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/22/2016 - 12:21 pm.

        The Filibuster Proof Majority

        Lasted far less than a year. To suggest Obama had a majority for two years, given the reality of the filibuster, is either ignorant or disingenuous.

        • Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 01/23/2016 - 09:14 am.

          True but, with hindsight, he squandered that year by trying to build legislative consensus. He somewhat naively thought that by taking a free-market approach to health care reform (one relying on an individual mandate first proposed by the Heritage Foundation and an approach prototyped by a Republican governor in MA) that he could build a bipartisan majority. Little did he know that he faced a Republican party more than willing to put a hole in the Democratic end of the joint lifeboat.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 01/22/2016 - 12:47 pm.

      Insight

      Thanks for the interesting and measured analysis, Ray. I always look forward to your posts as they’re thoughtful and thought-provoking. Keep up the good work!

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 01/22/2016 - 04:07 pm.

      Well said, Ray

      The one thing that almost always runs through the back of my mind as I’m reading your comments is, “And this guy used to agree with the Republican perspective.”

      And, from time to time, I think of that when I’m reading comments of those who agree (so religiously and vehemently) with today’s Republican perspective and, basically, find it depressing from the point of view that today’s Republican thinkers seem to be so far away from whatever it was that turned you off to that kind of rhetoric and “practical approach” to making life better in America.

      There’s no way I can claim to be “unbiased and objective” about it — at heart I’m about as much of an FDR Hoover Dam DFL kind of person as can be found — but something tells me the basics of your views are a rough example of what “true bipartisanship” would look like if someone could wave the magic wand and implement it.

      I’m sure there are aspects of things that would stem from whatever it was that had you leaning Republican in the past that you don’t discuss much (the legitimate place for reasonable, facts-based, fiscal conservatism, for example?) but, to me, those things, combined with your honest perspectives on the broader issues would make an excellent starting point for that bipartisan approach that would be amazingly refreshing, not to mention productive, I’m sure.

      If that makes any sense. . . What I think I mean is there’s no doubt that some aspects of the maybe “more classic Republican approach” are (or were?) valid (can’t realistically expect “the government” to be the solution to everything that moves, for example, or that unlimited government spending would work very well for long), but the way things are today, no one on either side of the juggernaut (but especially those who’ve pledged total allegiance to Grove Norquist and the “conservative ideology, no matter what!”) seems to be able to even think about that kind of thing, let alone discuss or approach it in any kind of practical way.

      Anyway. . . As usual, well said.

  6. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/22/2016 - 10:44 am.

    The Republicans are the perfect opponent–exceedingly objectionable to the point where being the stopper of a bottle of “crazy” is a good substitute for achievement.

    And that is also how a Clinton or Sanders presidency will be judged.

  7. Submitted by Paul Copeland on 01/22/2016 - 11:02 am.

    Expectation Problem

    The dilemma with holding Obama responsible for not enacting transformative laws is that there was never a chance such legislation would pass. Even with the Democratic majorities, the votes simply weren’t there. A minority of Democratic House/Senate members in 2009 would have vooted against transformative legislation and the Republicans would have been unanimous in opposition. The significant but timid measures that became law were the best the President could do. It is no surprise that the collision of political reality with the turn-out-the-base campaign rhetoric of ‘Hope and Change’ left many Obama supporters disappointed and disillusioned.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 01/22/2016 - 12:08 pm.

      As said elsewhere…

      Expectations must be Rational

    • Submitted by jim hughes on 01/23/2016 - 12:12 pm.

      People are perpetually disillusioned with government’s failure to deliver miracles. The reality is that we don’t need “transformational” legislation year after year, we need intelligent management of tough situations and sensible action where it has a chance of working. I think Obama was a good President, I’d vote for him again without hesitation.

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/24/2016 - 12:52 pm.

        Exactly.It’s like steering a

        Exactly.

        It’s like steering a tanker. Pulling the rudder hard one way or the other every couple of years just does nothing but create drift.

  8. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 01/22/2016 - 11:09 am.

    Interesting

    So while he had the chance, Obama should have:

    “… taken bolder moves to address structural income and wealth inequalities.” What does that mean, exactly? ACA is already a wealth distribution scheme, using the inflated insurance premiums of the young and healthy to pay for those who are poorer and sicker, and mandating participation so people have no choice.

    “… pushed for federal laws on voting, such as outlawing voter identification in national elections” … Essentially admitting that not checking for a voter’s legitimacy benefits the democrats.

    It’s true that the republicans now control both houses of congress by a wider margin since 1947, have 51 governors and 39 state legislatures and have a deep bench of young and attractive presidential candidates. But hey, the democrats still have the cities and the school boards. So there’s that.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/23/2016 - 05:40 pm.

      DT Always amazed

      At the single shot, only plausible answer, negativity. True to form every time.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/25/2016 - 09:19 am.

      How it Starts

      ” But hey, the democrats still have the cities and the school boards. So there’s that.” This is how the Republicans began their control of state and, ultimately, federal legislatures: By “getting” cities, school boards, and other local governments. It isn’t wealthy people popping out of the woodwork and deciding that they want to run for office, and it isn’t a bunch of Senators deciding to run for the Presidency because they’re bored, or all their colleagues hate them. It’s years of groundwork and preparation.

      “It’s true that the republicans now. . . have 51 governors . . .” And with that, you lose the right to dredge up the old Republican classic, “Obama said we have 57 states.” Mark this date.

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/22/2016 - 11:50 am.

    Wow.

    I find myself in complete agreement with Mr. Shulz and I’m surprised to see this presented by him. The only thing I would add is that this isn’t so much and “Obama” thing as it is a “Democrat” thing that emerged with the “new” democrats and DLC in the 80s. I’ve been watching the democrats repeat this failure over and over my whole adult life (which began in 1978). This is why despite his general competence I’m left with some disappointments. Frankly If Obama had simply put up a big fight just to get a public option into Obamacare, that would have been huge.

    As it is, I think Hillary would continue the trend of weakening the party, while Sanders, outsider though he may be, could save it. The only thing saving the democrats at this point is the collapse of the republicans, one again they’re lucking out, but how long will that last?

  10. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 01/22/2016 - 11:54 am.

    This analysis basically can be used to support a Bernie Sanders candidacy for President. If President Obama’s weakness has been, in almost all cases, a failure of programmatic and political nerve to take on Congressional resistance, then there is no reason to say that “Bernie is unelectable” because he won’t be able to govern. If Obama had no Congressional support, why should anyone ask Sanders to have such support before the fact of election? If nothing’s going to be done anyway, who cares how far left the presidential agenda is?

    What Bernie Sanders is proposing is a Democratic agenda, with none of the shrinking violet aspects that Obama’s critics now lament. Bernie would go full out, and if he fails, well, there’s no difference from Obama failing. Right? So let’s give him the chance. At least the man has the nerve to do something!

    Hillary Clinton is already a compromiser-before-the-fact (a “Third Way” politician like Bill was). That’s why (pace Schultz) a lot of young people are looking to Bernie Sanders rather than Hillary Clinton: his solutions really address the problems we have.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 01/22/2016 - 02:24 pm.

      Bernie Sanders is going to get a lot of write-in votes

      …if he’s not on the ballot. I might do it myself.

      Hilary Clinton is a very conservative Democrat, as was her husband.

      One can only hope that all those delegates that Mrs. Clinton thinks are all sewn up & in the bag, will at some point assert their independence. The way the party operates, though (see Debbie Wasserman-Scultz), she may have already rigged the result.

      In Mrs. Clinton’s current desperation to trash Mr. Sanders, however, she is making a big mistake. Who is going to love the shrew who savaged our favorite?

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 01/22/2016 - 03:25 pm.

      Sanders coming on strong

      Months before he announced he was a candidate I heard Bernie Sanders talking about how he was trying to gauge whether or not it would be possible for the “revolution” he always talks about to take shape, gain momentum, actually happen, because, he said, that’s what it would take for him to stand a chance. Obviously he figured it could happen and it’s starting to look like he may have been right.

      Yesterday:

      “With only 11 days to go before the Iowa caucuses – and on the heels of a CNN/WMUR poll released that shows Vermont senator Bernie Sanders with a commanding 27-point lead in New Hampshire – a new CNN/ORC poll gave Sanders an eight-point lead over Hillary Clinton in Iowa – 51% to 43%.”

      http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/live/2016/jan/21/us-presidential-election-campaign-live-iowa-new-hampshire-trump-sanders

      CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/19/politics/new-hampshire-cnn-wmur-poll-democrats/

      Last night, Charlie Rose’s two “go-to guys,” Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, had some genuinely interesting takes on the Clinton/Sanders situation that seemed to boil down to how this year could be shaping up to be Hillary’s worst (political) nightmare: A repeat of 2008. If he wins Iowa and New Hampshire the conventional wisdom says she has a “Clinton machine-based firewall” in South Carolina. “But,” they pointed out, “if he wins Iowa and New Hampshire the ‘fluid dynamics factor’ kicks in and sometimes no firewall can withstand a fire that’s fed with the kind of momentum something like that could create.”

      And then there was this, on “The Hill” website, on December 22nd:

      “In blockbuster poll, Sanders destroys Trump by 13 points

      “Stop the presses! According to a new poll by Quinnipiac University on Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) destroys Republican candidate Donald Trump in a general election by 13 percentage points. In this new poll, Sanders has 51 percent to Trump’s 38 percent. If this margin held in a general election, Democrats would almost certainly regain control of the United States Senate and very possibly the House of Representatives.

      “It is high time and long overdue for television networks to end their obsession with Trump and report the all-important fact that in most polls, both Hillary Clinton and Sanders would defeat Trump by landslide margins. In the new Quinnipiac poll, Clinton would defeat Trump by 7 percentage points, which is itself impressive and would qualify as a landslide, while the Sanders lead of 13 points would bring a landslide of epic proportions.”

      http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/presidential-campaign/264023-in-blockbuster-poll-sanders-destroys-trump-by-13

      If Bernie Sanders should actually pull it off and become the nominee, the only thing I would add to his campaign would be a footnote request in each of his speeches something along the lines of, “And when you vote for me vote for your DFL congressional candidates so we can break up the idiotic log jam and do what needs to be done!”

  11. Submitted by Ann Spencer on 01/22/2016 - 01:38 pm.

    Compared to what?

    A few days ago, I posted a comment to Mr. Blacks article discussing U of M political science prof Larry Jacobs’ assessment of Obama’s second term as consequential. I expressed puzzlement at liberal pundits’ persistent portrayal of Obama as a failure in the teeth of the evidence. Mr Schultz’ article is a perfect example of what I meant.

    Did Obama weaken the Democratic Party? Maybe, but consider the incessant drumbeat of negativity and alarmism coming from the GOP during the Obama years. This surely contributed to weakening the Democrats, but in the process the GOP weakened itself even more. A July 2015 Pew poll found a 32% approval rating for the GOP, compared to 48% for the Democratic Party. Check it out here: http://www.pewresearch.org/data-trend/political-attitudes/republican-party-favorability/ The Republican primary process can have done little to enhance the party’s standing since July.

    The public may have appeared to want change in 2008, but at the end of the day they’re afraid of it. This is particularly so in a time of insecurity, which 2008 certainly was. What people really want is change that comes with a guarantee that it will make things better for them. Since that is impossible, and since any significant change inevitably benefits some and potentially harms others, it’s very easy to convince the public to fall back on the maxim “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.” The GOP was masterful at exploiting that.

    Obama hasn’t been perfect, but by and large he accomplished everything he realistically could given the circumstances he faced—and more than most Presidents would have done.

  12. Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 01/22/2016 - 04:38 pm.

    One can say what they want about

    Obama ‘not doing this’ and ‘not doing that’, et. al., but the crux of the issue is the fact that he was constantly buffering Republicans who had made it their goal of disrupting anything and everything that he wanted to do. They openly made that their goal from the beginning on. Non cooperation was and still is their mode. You have people like that in a business and they are gone, fired. In this case they openly disrupted our Government for 8 years and we paid them for it.

  13. Submitted by chuck holtman on 01/22/2016 - 06:39 pm.

    Establishment Republicans and Democrats are similar.

    They each employ a strategy to keep their bases in the fold, while serving the interests of concentrated wealth, i.e., corporatism (though the sectors of wealth that each serves are differentiated and shift over time). The Republican base are those more susceptible to authoritarian appeals and kept in the fold (until recently) by promises to keep them safe against a succession of “others” that threaten. The Democratic base are those more open to values of tolerance and equal opportunity, and who are kept in the fold by a carefully gauged measure of wealth redistribution and careful management of the Overton window to keep them from apprehending the alternative of structural reform that would distribute economic and political opportunity more equitably and greatly reduce the redistributional role of the state.

    It is extremely difficult for a candidate for national or statewide office to gain prominence or succeed if that person isn’t acceptable to corporatist interests (Sanders is the first presidential candidate in my lifetime to test that). The typical Democratic candidate doesn’t consider the alternative; rather, the candidate is someone who has internalized a corporatist frame of reference to the exclusion of all others as a consequence of myriad small incentives and disincentives and of growing up in a society in which the acceptable frame of discourse is very carefully monitored and exposure to non-corporatist alternatives limited, particularly in the echelons where the elite are professionally prepared.

    By the time Obama was a presidential candidate, he had clearly established himself as someone who had thoroughly internalized the corporatist frame of reference. Most on the left whom I knew had no illusions that he intended to be a “transformative” president with respect to structures of economic and political power. We simply rested on the possibility (as there was no alternative) that his campaign strategy of mobilizing voters with a “hope and change” mantra would have an ancillary result of creating a continuing engagement and demand from those whom he had mobilized to which he, and the Democratic establishment, would be forced to respond. It didn’t take long for that small hope to fade.

    So while the Republican will to destruction has created an obstacle to the progress of civilization that probably no other president has faced, and while Obama has a fatal liberal faith in reason and compromise, I don’t think his “timidity of reform” rests principally on those. I think Obama simply looks thru the Overton window as it is, and never realizes that there is a part of the landscape the view doesn’t reveal.

    As attested by the facts the good professor recites, there is no short game to escape the continuing concentration of wealth and all of the disorder and decline that goes with it. There is only a long game (assuming there is time) of demographic change, education and slowly moving the Overton window until enough people understand that the world doesn’t need to be set up solely to enrich the few. Ms Clinton obviously would not make any progress on this long game – like Obama, it wouldn’t enter her frame of thought. And it goes without saying that neither would any Republican candidate.

  14. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/23/2016 - 10:39 am.

    Didn’t make a difference?

    Agree with a number of posters, Ray, Willie, The A part, the bank bail out was a must do, personally didn’t like it, but had to be done, should have done something for homeowners, but guess who hung that up as a non-starter? The B part, Obama has been under constant, vicious, unjustified attack from the right, he could have cured cancer and made world peace, and there still would have been as, Ryan said “we are the opposition”, opposition to what a better/stronger America? They gave “zero” consideration about the country and 100% about their personal agenda’s, the objective appeared as; since we lost the presidency, we will do our best to make sure the country loses, and is punished for their impetuous voting for a mixed blood president. A very convincing 8 years of solid ignorant and arrogant reasons to distrust them 100%, 100% of the time. And then along comes a surprise, Emmer, a potential quasi-rationale thinker in the wilderness, is this a single change in stripes, or a mirage?

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/23/2016 - 12:32 pm.

    BBC interview

    I heard someone interviewed on the BBC or maybe NPR and they had a really nice and concise way of describing Obama: There was the campaign Obama, and the White House Obama. The campaign Obama attracted the left liberals and progressive while the White House Obama left them behind.

    I kept hoping to see the campaign Obama show up in the White House. That said, I still think he was a decent president, best we’ve had in decades actually. But I think we needed a great president.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 01/26/2016 - 03:48 pm.

      A great president

      What would a great president have accomplished in the face of all the spite and fury that the GOP sustained while a Democrat (and not a nice, rich, older white guy, at that!) was president? Seriously, I’m trying to figure out how any of the “lack of greatness” is necessarily Obama’s fault? Sure, he chose to run as a Democrat, but he was BORN with his skin color and name–strike 2 and 3 against him as far as the right side of Congress and their base was concerned.

      Despite the fierce opposition to everything Obama wanted to accomplish from a very vocal minority and an obstinate Congress, consider these things:

      -The US is the fastest recovering major economy in the world, despite its size being a potential hindrance to any change in inertia

      -The rate of uninsured Americans dropped to less than 12% in 2015, after the ACA went into effect. For comparison, in 2000 (before the crash precipitated by 9/11), the rate of uninsured was 13.1%, in 2007 (before the last economic crash), the rate of uninsured was 14.7%, and in the 3rd quarter of 2013 (just before Obamacare went into effect), the rate was 18%

      -Cuban cigars are no longer contraband (assuming you traveled to Cuba to buy them; getting them from anywhere else is still illegal).

      -Iran is on the road to a controlled non-weaponized nuclear future

      Don’t get me wrong, there’s stuff that’s still all kinds of wrong, but he’s a president, not a magician. Personally, I blame his failure to be “great” on being too naive (at first) to realize that the GOP would take America hostage and that they weren’t afraid to pull the trigger rather than negotiate. Given that there was a “whites only” sign on the table, that’s hardly surprising. But it also suggests that Obama couldn’t have been a great president given the current obstacles.

      I will be curious to see what sign is on the table should Hillary or Bernie get elected. It’s easy for Hillary: “no girls allowed.” Bernie: probably “no commies allowed.” They’d actually have to be clever if O’Malley got elected. It’s probably a relief to them that it’s unlikely–being clever isn’t central to their strategy.

  16. Submitted by Jim Million on 01/29/2016 - 04:04 am.

    Retrospection

    Legacy is usually defined well after the fact. More time will better reveal that of Pres. Obama.

    As for right now, it appears many Democrats are prematurely showing symptoms exhibited by Republicans after Nixon’s fall from grace, and also by Democrats after Johnson’s demise.

    We always seem to convince ourselves we need better leadership, when in fact, we really require better management for awhile.

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