It might seem hyperbolic or facetious that a left-leaning blogger would argue that Obama and the Democrats are less trustworthy than Bush and the Republicans. Part of this impression can be done away by me immediately disabusing you of what your first impression may quite reasonably be: I am not saying that Bush or Republicans make better, more desirable leaders than Obama or the Dems. What I am arguing is that Republicans can generally be trusted more than Democrats to do what they say they are going to do. In a nutshell, the reason is that interests of the stakeholders and influencers of the Republican Party (i.e., voters, donors, lobbyists, and party elites) are far more aligned than those of the Democratic Party. As a result, it is far easier for Republicans to walk their talk than it is for Democrats.
Bush, Cheney and the Republicans Were Infinitely More Successful than Obama and the Dems Have Been
Ignoring for a moment how US politics actually works – i.e., the corrupting influences of poorly checked campaign financing, the Wall Street-Washington revolving door, the systemically compromised mainstream press – it would have appeared that Obama had more than everything he needed to see to it that his campaign promises to fruition. He won the Presidency by a healthy margin and had overwhelming popular support. He had the backing of 60 Democrats in the Senate and a similarly strong contigent in the Congress. Furthermore, he had the people and the facts on his side on so many fronts.
The public health insurance option was favoured by a staggering majority of Americans from across the political spectrum, with some polls showing support well into the 70th percentile. Furthermore, it is established fact that the US’ crony capitalist private healthcare system is grossly ineffective at a national level; per capita, Americans pay far more for healthcare services than the rest of the developed world, yet healthcare performance and outcome measures consistently show America to be among the worst in the developed world. Theoretically and empirically, national health insurance programs are more economical, accessible and effective than what is going on in America. What is more, the public option policy was itself a position of compromise – a sort of halfway point between the status quo and full-blown universal healthcare. Despite all of this, Obama failed miserably in realizing this pivotal campaign goal. On second thought, it may not be fair to say that he failed, as failure implies that he actually tried to succeed. He didn’t.
Similar stories could be told about his “efforts” to discontinue the unpopular Bush tax cuts on the very wealthy, and to protect the very popular Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Compare Obama’s “accomplishments” to what the Bush Administration accomplished: the waging of an unpopular, unnecessary war that was based on lies and in defiance of the United Nations; the institutionalization of international crimes of war (e.g., torture); unwarranted spying, searching and seizure, abuse and detainment of American citizens; unpopular tax cuts for the richest Americans; and on and on. What is more, they accomplished this with less popular support both for the administration and for the individual policies, and with fewer Party members in the Senate and the Congress than Obama had. Whereas the Bush Administration was squeezing fluid out of desert rocks, the Obama Administration hasn’t even been able to juice an orange.
Republicans Walk Their Talk; Obama and Dems Flinch and Flounder. Why?
If one did not know about all the corrupting forces in American politics, one may have an opinion of Obama similar to that of Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks. Namely, that Barack Obama is the World’s Worst Negotiator. Now, of course Uygur knows better than this. Obama is not an idiot or a sucker; he merely plays one on TV. And it’s not just Obama. While there have been a handful or two of principled progressive fighters in Washington in recent years – e.g., Bernie Sanders, Russ Feingold, Anthony Weiner (though his Israel stance is markedly less progressive), Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean, Alan Grayson – Obama is constantly surrounded, often as a result of his own choosing, by “Conservative Democrats” (euphemistically labeled corporatist sell-out Democrats whom consistently side with Republican corporatist policies).
Why is it this way? Why is that that Obama is either a fauxgressive or a nogressive – that is, either a fake progressive, or simply a non-fake non-progressive – whom is largely surrounded by other fauxs, nos, sellouts and flame-outs, while on the other side of the aisle, there are Republicans who both talk and play a big game?
Republican Politicians Have An Easier Job Than Their Democratic Counterparts*
*Except if they’re gay. If you’re a Democratic politician and people find out that you’re gay, your career might be over. If you’re a Republican politician, however, you’re going home.
The Republicans have a much easier political game to play than the Democrats. Consider the roles or characters of the two parties. Both parties are capitalist. But the Dems are (supposedly) the party that essentially wants to ensure that everyone is okay, and has an opportunity to “make it” in America. As such, they are (supposedly) the defenders of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and accessible education. When Americans vote for Democrats, it is these sorts of causes that they are advocating for.
The Republicans, on the other hand, are more potently individualistic. They value small government, minimized taxes, every-man-for-himself personal responsibility, and an individual’s fundamental right to his property. They are also exceedingly gungho on having a national defense that exceeds that of the rest of the world combined. This is not simply the politicians and the high-end donors; this is most of the rank-and-file, as well. When an American votes for the Republicans, these are the sorts of causes they are advocating for.
While the two parties cater who distinct but somewhat overlapping ideological/pragmatic niches within the American collective conscience, they co-exist within a common political economic arena. Just as each politician and party needs its votes, they also need their campaigns to be financed. Moreover, they all work within a political system that, top to bottom, department by department, is under at least the partial direction of a collection of bank-rolling, carrot and stick wielding special interests. The individual politicians within each party are also eligible for similar highly lucrative post-office posts working in private industry, lobbying, etc. Lastly, perhaps without exception, every national politician is either wealthy or ultra-wealthy.
While their official party philosophies and campaigns may be pulling them in separate directions, the behind-the-scenes socioeconomic drivers of politics are nearly uniformly pulling them in one direction. That direction is far closer to the Republican Party endgame than that of the Dems. A Democrat has to say progressive things to get the support of the people, but has to do corporatist and economically conservative things to get the equally important support of the Establishment powers (e.g., powerful private lobbies). A Republican, by contrast, has to say that they are going to lower taxes, shrink government, decrease regulations and expand defense, and then they have to go about doing these very same things.
Expect Barack Obama to start sounding more progressive as we approach the 2012 election.