Obama, Bush, and McCain
Chris Hedges (and some of the other far-left bloggers) are strong on passion but weak on math. He’s convinced that the Obama administration is no different than the Bush administration was or the McCain administration would be. He writes:
There is no major difference between a McCain administration, a Bush and an Obama administration. Obama, in fact, is in many ways worse. McCain, like Bush, exposes the naked face of corporate power. Obama, who professes to support core liberal values while carrying out policies that mock these values, mutes and disempowers liberals, progressives and leftists. Environmental and anti-war groups, who plead with Obama to address their issues, are little more than ineffectual supplicants. Obama, like Bush and McCain, funds and backs our unending and unwinnable wars. He does nothing to halt the accumulation of the largest deficits in human history. The drones murder thousands of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as they did under Bush and would have done under McCain. The private military contractors, along with the predatory banks and investment houses, suck trillions out of the U.S. Treasury as efficiently under Obama. Civil liberties, including habeas corpus, have not been restored. The public option is dead. The continuation of the Bush tax cuts, adding some $900 billion to the deficit, along with the reduction of individual contributions to Social Security, furthers a debt peonage that will be the excuse to privatize Social Security, slash social services and break the back of public service unions. Obama does not intercede as tens of millions of impoverished Americans face foreclosures and bankruptcies. The Democrats provide better cover. But the corporate assault is the same.
Environmental groups, for example, haven’t gotten everything they’ve wanted from Obama. They have a deepwater drilling moratorium. Enforcement of existing regulations has expanded. Tax credits for renewable energies have been extended. Funding for rail has gone up. Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is buried. Superfund cleanup has picked up pace. But the environmental groups haven’t gotten everything. And for Hedges, apparently “85% full” is the same as empty.
Anti-war groups have more to complain about. The Iraq War is drawing down to an orderly conclusion. There’s finally a plan in place in Afghanistan—though the smart money thinks we’ll still be there longer than currently scheduled. Obama’s done pretty much what he said he would do regarding both wars—with a few relatively minor adjustments to respond to actual facts. But since Obama was never a categorically anti-war guy, I can see why the anti-war groups would be unhappy. Of course, they’re also pretty seriously out-voted. Even those of us who really, really don’t like war might balk at a President completely and unilaterally cutting funding for an ongoing military operation, consequences be damned.
Has he done anything to cut deficits? Obama has cut the size of Federal government. He’s restored the estate tax—though not at a level some people would like. He’s put together a bipartisan budget commision whose plan should be seriously considered this year. He’s reinstituted pay-as-you-go (with exceptions for emergencies). And, as anybody whose read the news in the past year has doubtlessly noticed, the deficit is a bigger national concern than it’s been in my memory. This is all during a recession when revenues are down and expenses are up. But he hasn’t solved the problem. So, according to Hedges, he “does nothing.”
Drone attacks are up under Obama. This has killed quite a few civilians in Pakistan and quite a few who are not civilians. Of course, it’s not at all clear that drone attacks result in more civilian casualties than any other form of military action. (But anti-war progressives have a legitimate grievance against obama on Afghanistan.)
Contractors, banks, and so on are still sucking money from the U.S. Treasury—though there’s been efforts to reform all of that. And the Attorney General has gotten a lot more aggressive in prosecuting fraud from those groups. More importantly, the consumer financial protection agency should contribute to a much more sound financial system and prevent future bailouts. It should also reduce the ability of banks to leech off retirees social security payments with excessive overdraft fees and other unearned fees. Military procurement is under serious review. Unnecessary weapons systems have been scrapped. Bailout money has largely been paid back.
Habeas corpus hasn’t been restored—because it was never actually suspended. It was simply ignored. That too has changed—though the underlying issue of how to sort meritorious habeas corpus appeals from frivolous appeals remains intractable. While Congress has effectively thwarted the Obama administration’s efforts to close Guantanamo—the administration made those efforts. It is gradually removing detainees as it can find countries to put them in. And, perhaps most importantly, a credible review process is getting put in place. It’s not a civil libertarian’s dream—but it’s also much better than what Bush had.
The public option is dead. It didn’t have the votes. There was nothing the Obama administration could do on that front.
The reduction of the contributions to individual contributions social security increases the debt—but it creates a much more progressive tax structure. That’s not something for Progressives to complain about. Nobody is going to privitize social security. Bush tried a relatively modest partial-privitization. It didn’t go well for him. And that was before the recession when some people could have believed it was a reasonably good idea.
The tax cut extension deal has taken a lot of heat from the left. I think Obama got a reasonable amount for it—even if it’s still frustrating. But Obama got something for it. Bush or McCain would have extended the tax cuts as an end in itself. Millions of unemployed workers are thankful for that extension.
Obama has interceded in the foreclosure crisis. This is one I know quite a bit about. The Making Home Affordable Program has struggled due to the institutional incompetence of the mortgage servicers—but it’s helped hundreds of thousands of people. It hasn’t worked miracles—but it’s saved a lot of people’s homes.
I’m not sure what Hedges’ deal is. Is he so out-of-touch that he hasn’t seen the tangible differences the Obama administration has made in the lives of real, struggling people? Or is he completely uninterested in the lives of real people, preferring some sort of doomed-too-fail progressive principle that insists on condemning anything short of utopia?
To Hedges’ credit, when he says there is “no major difference” between Bush and Obama, he means it in the sense that a biologist might mean that there is “no major difference” between a pomeranian and an Alaskan Husky. They’re both dogs, right? And if you only care about things on a very vague and abstract level, Bush, Obama, and hypothetical McCain are all dedicated to keeping the United States vaguely similar to how it has been. They’re interested in marginal changes. And, frankly, most of us don’t have too much to complain about. The United States has problems—but most of us are better off than most everybody else. We’re not really in a position to complain about the big picture.
But maybe Hedges wants to transform society into something we wouldn’t recognize. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a bit of racicalism. But … if you’re going to follow Hedges down that garden path, you should at least ask where he’s leading you.