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Essay:Is Obama really a lefty?
Is Obama really a lefty? is a question that asks whether or not President Barack Obama's policies (still) align with the core principles of the political left in the USA. The answer to this question and the conclusions drawn from it ought to explain the perceived lack of enthusiasm - enthusiasm that prominently characterised his 2008 presidential campaign - among base voters and traditionally liberal constituencies such as organised labour, anti-war activists, minorities and minority rights groups, young adults and students, progressive politicians, strategists and media figures.
There is an ongoing debate among left of center circles as to whether President Obama's record on central policy issues warrants the support of liberals for his 2012 reelection campaign.
The liberal criticism includes the following issues:
- 1 Fiscal policy (focus on deficits despite unemployment crisis)
- 2 Labour rights
- 3 Immigration
- 4 Environment/Green energy
- 5 Health care reform (in name only)
- 6 Financial reform (in name only)
- 7 Appointing questionable people to key positions
- 8 War on drugs
- 9 Military spending on the rise
- 10 Guantanamo bay/black sites
- 11 Government transparency and accountability
- 12 Imperial presidency
- 13 Civil liberties
- 14 Foreign policy (earning that Nobel Peace prize)
- 15 Slapping own base and pleasing Fox News
- 16 Political spectrum shifts and conclusions
- 17 Footnotes
Fiscal policy (focus on deficits despite unemployment crisis)
Bush tax cuts
During the 2008 campaign Obama promised to end the 2001/2003 Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, yet after the 2010 midterm elections Obama signed a deal with the Republicans in Congress to extend the tax cuts (including a moratorium on the estate tax for millionaires) for two more years. The Democratic Party base was furious with Obama who praised the deal as a display of well-functioning bipartisanship and as an "essential step to recovery...spurring the private sector to create millions of new jobs", effectively accepting conservative framing of tax and budget policy. Liberals started to question President Obama's priorities loudly  especially after it was learned that the Obama administration not only conceded the tax cut extension to the Republicans but had actually pushed for it behind closed doors
Austerity in spite of high unemployment
In late 2010 and early 2011 Obama agreed to a pay freeze for federal employees in order to reduce the deficit. That contrasts with his campaign promise, quote, "I'll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries.". In 2013 the Federal Government under Obama employs more low-wage workers than McDonalds and Wal-Mart combined - often below minimum-wage level. The pay freeze was originally a Republican proposal that was met with heavy opposition from Congressional Democrats. Republicans smelled blood and proposed a budget that would cost up to one million jobs, especially teaching jobs. Even the business press wondered what the real purpose of their proposal was.  During the budget talks in the Spring of 2011 Obama conceded more in spending cuts than Republicans initially demanded and ended up with a deal that cut billions of dollars from programs like heating assistance and Medicaid that help to alleviate poverty. As another government was momentarily looming, senior Republicans feared a repeat of the political disaster that ensued after the 1995 government shutdown. Obama helped them out by accepting the republican metaphor of government having to live within its means just like a family in tough times would have to. Even though the fallacy of equating governments with families collapses on second thought, Obama continues to accept right-wing framing - like fiscal austerity leading to economic expansion - to the dismay of liberals. 
Debt ceiling raise
Since 1980 the amount of new money the United States could legally borrow was raised 39 times without much political opposition. In August of 2011 Republicans saw the upcoming vote on the debt limit as an opportunity to demand further budget cuts. Liberals expected President Obama to take a stand and not grant Republicans another victory. However, he not only agreed to the initial proposals of cutting trillions in public sector spending but also offered more cuts than Republicans demanded. To add to that Obama was given the chance to raise the debt ceiling when the post-midterm election tax cut deal was debated but rejected the idea because he felt "Republicans would behave like responsible adults and raise the debt limit just as they did routinely when their party held the White House." Republicans rushed to prove him wrong and forced Obama to
surrender sign on to cuts in several trillions of dollars to the budget in exchange for a temporary raise in the debt ceiling which prompted liberals to characterise President Obama as a "pushover" and even middle-of-the-road observers woke up to the fact that Obama was hardly a progressive powerhouse.  In the face of all this President Obama once again lauded the Republican leadership for their collaboration and willingness for bipartisan compromise. Top House Republican John Boehner totally agreed with a shit-eating grin: "I got 98% of what I wanted, I'm pretty happy [with the debt ceiling deal]."
The 2011 debt ceiling deal between Obama and the Republicans said that if nothing else is put in place all the Bush tax cuts would expire and a sequester would kick in by the beginning of 2013. The sequester is a series of across-the-board automatic cuts to a couple of social programs and the defense budget. In late fall of 2012 the corporate media and certain corners of the Washington D.C. establishment  drummed up this event to a potential economic tragedy that in case of inaction would lead the country back into a recession. Republicans were adamant to avoid an increase in taxes and cuts to the military so they huffed and puffed a lot to which Obama replied with a willingness to cut a new deal. Throughout December of 2012 Obama seemed again willing to slash Medicare and Social Security as part of a Grand Bargain budget deal in return for modest tax increases. Apparently he hasn't learned anything from the 2010 midterm massacre where Republicans successfully campaigned against entitlement reforms Obama offered them as a compromise in previous negotiations. And although the final deal to avert the fiscal cliff eventually did not contain any cuts to entitlement programs Obama gave away substantial revenue savings and a return to Clinton era tax levels which made certain corners of the D.C. establishment very happy.  Although there were no real spending cuts this time the President has in effect traded away any leverage for the debt ceiling fight that is coming up in the spring of 2013  in favour of a deal even the Senate Democrats, yes those corporatist wimps, hated. Obama initially sought revenue increases up to 1.6 trillion $. The Republicans offered revenue increases of 800 million $. The final deal goes even lower than that (600 million $). Over and over Obama promised not to keep the low tax rates for people earning more than 250,000 $. Not only did he cave on this but the retention of at least 85 percent of the Bush tax cuts led some obervers to rebrand the deal, officially named American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, as the Obama tax cuts When talking about the deal the President promised he won't cede any ground to Republicans on the debt ceiling vote in 2013. That is Obama-speak for "Granny, get your Social Security money, we are coming for it!"
Grand Bargain/Entitlement programs
On several occasions President Obama repeatedly sought for a so-called Grand Bargain that includes cuts to entitlement programs and raises in the eligibility age for these programs along with corporate tax cuts despite overwhelming opposition not only from the Democratic base but also from Independents and Republicans who all prefer raising taxes on the rich over cutting entitlement programs to balance the budget. As the Democratic nominee Obama pledged "I will stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas." In April of 2013 Obama eventually proposed a budget that included a de-facto cut to Social Security via an adjustment of cost of living calculations ("Chained CPI") expecting to be greeted with Republican concessions and praise. Instead they played their usual two-faced game of, on the one hand, denouncing his plan as a "shocking attack on seniors" and, on the other hand, rejecting it on the grounds it contained too little entitlement and spending cuts and that further reform of the tax code (read: tax cuts) were an obligatory ingredient of a budget deal.  So in return for giving Republicans exactly what they asked for a couple of months ago hoping they would concede on increasing taxes, Republicans can now frame Democrats as the party that cuts benefits to seniors (a replay of the 2010 midterm elections) and they continue to give Obama nothing in an attempt to further shift the goalpost.
The business press gave Obama a pat on the back for abandoning the Employee Free Choice Act which would have strengthened workers in their efforts to organise. Obama tried to soothe union anger by telling labour leaders that he will pass EFCA in some form which doesn't take a psychic to sense that if the EFCA passes at all it will have its most substantive and pro-labour provisions gutted.
"Understand this," Obama said during a campaign rally in 2007, "If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I’ll will walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America." Despite efforts by state-level Republicans in Wisconsin, Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio, Maine, Florida and Indiana to curtail collective bargaining rights, the President has yet to appear at a single protest or picket line.
Restructuring of auto industry
The bailout of the big car companies gave President Obama the opportunity to empower the weakened auto worker unions and set the car manufacturing industry on the path to produce modern, energy efficient vehicles while protecting jobs and wages. Instead the UAW under Obama is essentially going to become an arm of the industry tasked with getting the workers to comply with management decisions. The restructuring agreement contains a No-Strike-pledge which basically clips the wings of a union, cuts in pensions and health care benefits - so much for helping the middle class in times of distress - as well as a multi-tiered wage system that is hard to reconcile with Obama's vocal support of core union values expressed at a speech on Labour Day in 2011.
Panama free trade agreement
Free trade agreements have, as predicted by labour rights advocates and acknowledged by candidate Obama in 2008, undermined the American workforce, led to job export into low-wage countries and weakened unions. Yet this record is enough for President Obama to charge ahead and beat the drum for another FTA, this time with Panama, Columbia and South Korea. The State Dept. describes the Panamanian economy as follows: "The Panamanian incorporation regime ensures secrecy, avoids taxes and shields assets from the enforcement of legal judgments. Along with its sophisticated banking services, Panama remains an environment conducive to laundering the proceeds from criminal activity and creates a vulnerability to terrorist financing." Panama is too small as an economy to really have a positive impact on job growth in the United States, the real value of the FTA is strategic and has to do with American geopolitical aims in the hemisphere. For the business community, Panama is a great place to hide their money since it's the second largest tax haven in the world. In 2016 Obama renewed his support for the free trade deal with Panama (as well as Medicare cuts, *sigh*), a day before the biggest document leak in modern history a.k.a. the Panama Papers revealed that everything critics of such trade deals and offshore tax havens argued was inarguably true.
Citizenship for illegal immigrants
Obama did not follow up on his big promise to install something like a Pathway to Citizenship for undocumented workers. Aside from public vows of support, he did not push his own party leaders let alone Republicans to pass the DREAM Act, originally a Republican proposal, which would reward illegal immigrants who served the country or enjoyed academic success with naturalisation..
Instead Obama follows a stricter deportation policy than his predecessor; in his first two and a half years in office he deported more undocumented immigrants than President Bush43 in his eight years in office. Unsurprisingly, the Latino community is not too happy about a Democratic President coming down harder on immigrants than the guy who attempted to extort oil from the country of Mexico in exchange for granting illegal immigrants temporary stay in the US.
Cap and trade
Republicans yelled "Cap'n'tax" a couple of times and Obama went into hiding.
Offshore oil drilling
Shortly before the BP oil spill in the gulf of Mexico President Obama announced the US would expand its offshore oil exploration program. His disastrous timing aside, it's noteworthy that not only liberals warned of the risks stemming from deep sea oil rigs but candidate Obama as well. To avoid paying the price for this strategic blunder, Obama declared a 30-day moratorium on all future offshore oil projects...except that there weren't any new projects coming up in that time-frame. Had he only listened to candidate Obama who denounced offshore drilling as a "stop-gap measure" in his acceptance speech at the 2008 DNC.
As candidate Obama promised to invest 150 billion dollars to create 5 million jobs in the nascent green energy industry over the next ten years. While initial investment efforts were honest if only not broad enough the main reason the green jobs initiative failed so far is President Obama's insistence on not fixing the tanking housing market and cutting government investments to give the deficit skin-deep cuts and hopefully please Republicans along the way. That latter strategy is apparently in need of some fine-tuning.
Health care reform (in name only)
On several occasions including during a special adress to Congress Obama vowed his support for a government-run health insurance program available to anyone that would introduce some change to the dismal health insurance system of the US. The public favoured this provision by 2-to-1 margins in every major poll. But when push came to shove Obama did not fight, as forecasted by some, to have it included in the final bill. Instead he made a deal with the health care industry to kill the Public Option in favour of less industry opposition against his reform initiative. Obama made the deal with lobbyists in a backroom-closed-doors-fashion that he condemned as candidate.
Drug price negotiation
If, by this time, Obama comes across as either naturally timid in his dealings with political opponents or as obsessed with compromise and bipartisanship for the sake of it, let it be noticed how he came down on Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan like a firestorm when the (now former) Senator from North Dakota proposed an amendment to the health care reform bill that would enable the government to negotiate and thus lower drug prices for consumers, just as the Veteran's Administration does. It goes without saying that Obama supported this provision as Senator.
Republican health care reform
Nevermind that Republicans claimed the bill was being shoved down their throats because they had no say in it, during the negotiations in Congress Republicans came up with over 700 inane amendments to the bill that the White House often enough discussed at face value for the sake of appearing bipartisan.  But aside from that Obama himself touts his big legislative achievement as a carbon copy of a plan by the Heritage Foundation, which it is. 
Financial reform (in name only)
Central causes of the crisis remain unreformed
Analysts from Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Gretchen Morgensen and William Black to Yves Smith, Simon Johnson and James Kwak reckon that the Dodd-Frank bill is not enough to prevent another financial crisis from ocurring again. Central issues that caused the 2007-8 financial meltdown like Too Big Too Fail, overleveraging, the non-separation between commercial and investment banking and derivatives have not been seriously adressed.
Mortgage crisis unresolved
As of fall of 2011 housing prices still have not hit rock bottom and millions of Americans are living through a historically unique foreclosure crisis that regularly produces fraudulent behaviour on behalf of the banks and lenders. Although swift and decisive action is needed to rid the economy of this drain, Democrats and consumer groups wonder why the Obama administration is not providing effective help to ailing homeowners ASAP while ailing (and not-so-ailing) banking institutions are accommodated at nearly every level.  A Californian Democrat remarked: "I couldn't wait to get Obama in office because I was sure a Democrat would do a better job," Cardoza said, referring to the foreclosure-relief efforts under the Bush administration. "And, frankly, nothing's happened. The programs that were put in place were abysmal failures." To be fair, it could be said that anything that the government could do with a five trillion dollar mortgage market in shambles would have negligible positive effects by comparison in macroeconomic terms.
Consumer financial protection bureau
Professor Elizabeth Warren came up with the idea to establish an agency whose job it would be to promote fairness and transparency for financial products for consumers. Since fairness and transparency hurts the profits and bonuses of Wall Street, the financial industry lobbied to prevent the appointment of Elizabeth Warren as head of that agency by President Obama. The banks succeeded. As they did on the organisational question how the CFPB should be integrated into the executive branch: Liberals demanded the agency to be independent like the SEC. The industry demanded it be put under the supervision of the Federal Reserve and the Treasury department. So expect the CFPB to become another toothless regulatory tiger.
Appointing questionable people to key positions
Former Clintonites and Republicans return for Act II of the financial crisis
Tim Geither, Larry Summers, Rahm Emanuel and Ben Bernanke are all knee-deep involved in the making of the financial crisis of 2007-8. Geithner and Bernanke were Republicans at some point and featured their incompentence prominently in the run-up to the crisis. Summers single-handedly prevented regulation of derivatives and CDO's as Clinton's treasury chief. Emanuel "oversaw" mortgage bank Freddie Mac which needed a multi-million dollar bailout to survive the crisis. All were installed into central positions in the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve, respectively, to manage the crisis.
Bowing to corporate pressure
Out of fear of appearing unfriendly to business (read: Big business), a charge right-wingers completely pulled out of their asses, Obama installed General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt as jobs czar to head his "Jobs Council of leaders from different industries who are developing a wide range of new ideas to help companies grow and create jobs." GE under Immelt has grown and created jobs, but they are abroad rather than in the USA. By the end of last year, only 134,000 of GE's workforce of 304,000 were based in the United States; the remainder - and 82 percent of the company's profit - were sheltered abroad.
Defending W.'s defenders
Robert Gates is a registered Republican and was defense secretary under George W. Bush. Obama reappointed him thus reinforcing the image of Democrats not being able to run the military. General David Petraeus was a darling of the Bush43 administration and was recently named new CIA chief. That doesn't really speak against further militarisation of main intelligence services.
War on drugs
In the face of rising public support for legalisation of Marijuana and Obama's own statements from 2004 that the War on Drugs has "utterly failed" and Marijuana should at least "be de-criminalised" Obama increased criminal persecution of marijuana use . Yet in 2008 he said he would not waste time and energy of the policing bureaus to chase marijuana users since counterterrorism was of higher importance. The international record shows, as activists have pointed out, that legalisation of minor drugs is more effective in bringing down drug use.
Northern Mexico falls into the darkness
The Government Accountability Office reported the government spent 1.6 billion dollars between 2008 and 2010 to fight drug use and the Mexican drug cartels. However, violence on the Mexican-American border (Ciudad Juarez is now the deadliest city in the world) and demand for drugs went up in the same time.. You would think that quantifiable evidence would be enough to persuade the administration to rethink the whole war on drugs strategy as Obama himself argued in 2004. But when private defense contractors are in the business of making war, and they're making a killing, it seems Obama is not going to reverse policy. During Obama's first three years in office private contractors earned 3 billion dollars in contracts (6.1 billion between 2005 and 2010).
Military spending on the rise
Record Pentagon budget
While federal workers had to take a pay freeze, a de facto tax increase on middle-income people, federal workers and not-so-federal workers at the Pentagon were hammered with an austere 700+ billion dollar budget in 2010 setting a new positive record..
Cutting waste, or is he?
Obama tried to placate critics of his military spending habits by pointing to cuts into wasteful weapons programs. Upon closer look it becomes clear that Gates' department didn't decrease the number of defense programs but increased them in number and overall cost. This charade continues in 2011 and most likely in 2012.
Guantanamo bay/black sites
Despite a public declaration the military prison at Guantanamo Bay be closed, America's most infamous torture chamber and civil liberties graveyard is still operating New military tribunals are already on the way. It is important to understand that, contrary to what apologists would like you to believe, President Obama does not need Congress to shut Gitmo down. His tithering on that issue led to a shift in public perception. When Bush/Cheney established the USA as a country that tortures detainees and holds them indefinitely without trial a majority of US citizens were opposed. Now that Obama's inaction created a bipartisan consensus on turning the rule of law and habeas corpus into phrases instead of principles to abide by the American public has come to accept the existence of an American gulag.
Secret CIA detention facilities
Despite Obama's executive order to close all black sites operated by the CIA and Leon Pannetta's confirmation following three months later that his agency "no longer operates detention facilities or black sites" critics pointed out that the ban only included black sites in regions with "armed conflict" as defined by the administration. This definition exempted black sites used in counter-terrorism operations and accordingly many prisoners held captive in the war on terrorism are considered outside of the president's ban. The executive order allows sites which are "used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis", but actual timeframes remain legally undetermined. You know what comes next: In 2011 the Obama administration admitted to having detained a Somali citizen on a Navy ship for several months.. And you know what comes next: This is the new standard practise of the Somalian CIA chapter.
Extraordinary rendition & enhanced interrogation AKA kidnapping & torture
Despite candidate Obama's proclamation of: "We have to be clear and unequivocal. We do not torture, period. That will be my position as president. That includes, by the way, renditions.” Even the the pronoun "We" in here seems only to be a half-true statement. While a couple of CIA agents are under investigation in Italy, Poland and the UK for their alledged kidnapping practises in 2009, Obama allowed the agency continue its rendition flights of terror suspects to allied nations. Although the widespread use of torture by allied security forces, for instance in Afghanistan, in Iraq and in East Africa, is documented and reported the U.S. to this day turns over detainees to those forces for interrogation. "This", according to the New York Times with regards to torture, “raises serious questions about potential complicity of American officials.” In fact, under Obama the number of renditions has increased and is larger than under Bush43.
Government transparency and accountability
Transparency of departments and agencies
The Obama administration has posted White House visitor logs online. It has made public the once-classified memorandums on torture policies in the Bush43 administration. And it has developed an internal system for archiving its own unclassified e-mail messages. But overall progress on increasing transparency of the works of the executive branch is slow if not slowing down. Furthermore, Obama's tendency to agree to every budget cutting proposal Republicans hurl at him seems to seriously endanger transparency efforts which rely on public funding. In its final years the administration increased its legal expenses to fight Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests to record levels. So much for the “the most transparent administration in history.”
The Department of Homeland Security recently established a giant new database of personal information about US residents including names, birthdays, relationships, biometrics and photographs. The DHS under Obama exempts the database from any privacy or disclosure rules and bars anyone from investigating the nature, use and veracity of the information..
Obama said, "we’ll have [health care reform] negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so the people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents and who is making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies." This promise was broken when the final health care reform bill was put together for passage by Congressional leaders behind closed doors at the urging of President Obama.  
Campaign finance reform
Abandoned. In fact, Obama is attempting to set a new record for campaign contributions.
Secret drone killing program
The White House happily shares its successes with regards to targeted assassinations abroad by leaking favourable details to the press but substantive inquiries into the program that killed US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son are not allowed. Although the judicial branch acknowledges that the "Government's actions' on the face seem incompatible with our Constitution" there is no resistance on legal grounds against the program. In fact, the Obama administration is allowed to keep secret the motivation for all assassinations as well as the legal reasoning behind the program itself.
Presidents Reagan and Bush43 used so-called Signing Statements to alter laws passed by Congress as they saw fit and unchecked by other federal authority. As candidate Obama pledged not to continue this policy due to his sincere belief in the Constitution. You know what comes next: President Obama issued Signing Statements repeatedly.
"The job of White House staff must be to provide confidential advice without the threat of having to testify about that advice before Congress, which is why the general rule has long been that White House staff do not appear before Congress." That statement has not been issued by the Bush43 administration that regularly invoked Executive privilege to avoid the embarrassment of its minions, e.g. Karl Rove, being subpoenad. It was Obama's White House.
State secrets privilege
For years Congress has been trying to curtail the use and the reach of a legal provision called States secrets privilege that the President can use to deny disclosure of documents or other evidence in court cases he or she deems are secrets of the state. Bush43 used this priviledge to throw out entire court cases which was met with opposition from candidate Obama (and colleagues) up until candidate Obama became President Obama.
Secret interpretation of the USA PATRIOT Act
Let's not focus for a second on the fact that Obama actively sought and succeeded in having Congress extend Bush43's USA PATRIOT Act but instead on the administration's secret interpretation of the law that it won't share with the public. Hold here for a second; the executive branch executes a law passed by the legislature in public and it won't disclose how it is going to execute parts of the law. Let's remember how well that worked for Bush43's secret FISA interpretation leading to the warrantless wiretapping scandal.
No prosecution of the crimes of Bush43
During the Bush years, the US government committed some of the most egregious crimes a government can commit. They plainly violated domestic law, international law, and multiple treaties to which the US has long been a party. Despite that, not only has President Obama insisted that these crimes not be prosecuted, and not only has his Justice Department made clear that - at most - they will pursue a handful of low-level scapegoats, but far worse, the Obama administration has used every weapon it possesses to keep these crimes concealed, prevent any accountability for them, and even venerated them as important "state secrets," thus actively preserving the architecture of lawlessness and torture that gave rise to these crimes in the first place. Obama argued from a pragmatical point of view that he needs the political capital to push through much need domestic reforms of health insurance and the financial industry. We know how those went down. So it becomes clear that Obama rather wanted to keep the architecture of lawlessness in place so he himself could use it. This way he not only legitimised Bush's crimes but made them the new norm. Somewhere in Mordor Dick Cheney is happy.
PATRIOT Act extension
The nightmare of every liberal concerned with civil liberties got a comeback under Obama when he urged Congress to grant him an extension of even the more controversial provisions. Do I really need to provide the links of Senator/candidate Obama denouncing the PATRIOT Act? C'mon.
National security letters
NSLs are demand letter issued by investigative agencies of the executive branch without the need for prior suspicion or judicial oversight. By issuing NSLs the executive branch can force the recipient of that letter to release information like telephone and email contacts, transactional records and masked online identities. It can do so without the recepient being allowed to talk about the NSL (gag order). The PATRIOT Act vastly expanded the government's ability to issue NSLs and couple them with gag orders. Between 2003 and 2006 the FBI alone issued up to 200,000 NSL's. The First-Amendment-shredding gag order provision was ruled unconstitutional in a court case and was finally lifted in 2010. The Obama administration used NSLs as if no transition in office occurred and even tried to expand the reach of NSLs. Of course, there is already a record of heavy misuse of NSLs by the FBI piling up.
The ACLU reports that ten years after the September 11th attacks and years after Bush43's warrantless wiretapping scandal, the government is continuing to locate cell phones and listen to conversations of its citizens without their knowledge as if Bush43 had never left office. The controversial provisions were due to expire at the end of 2012 but Obama and the 112th lame duck Congress came to the rescue and renewed FISA with no substantive changes and none of the Democratic outrage that prevailed during the Bush43 presidency. This has in part backfired for the President since it became known that Obama's Department of Justice run by AG Eric Holder recorded telephone data from the news agency Associated Press probably in retaliation for an AP report in May of 2012 including an unapproved leak by a government official.
Indefinite detension/Suspension of habeas corpus
Obama not only kept the Guantanamo bay detention facility open but signed an executive order that established a system of indefinite detention without trial in the facility. This means the government can imprison anyone it deems a danger to national security and hold them captive for as long as it wants to. With the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 Obama just signed this policy extends to US citizens inside the USA - shredding the Fifth Amendment. D'you wanna guess what candidate Obama said about this? Bradley Manning is still enjoying his extended vacation in Kuwait and Virginia. Well, sort of.
National Defense Authorization Acts for 2012 and 2013
The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) allows for the indefinite detention of US citizens by the military inside the US without a trial. It passed the Republican-dominated house with nary a peep of opposition and the Senate with 93-7 in favour. It appeared for a while that the one politician fighting against it was President Obama. It turned out at the end that he was threatening to veto the bill because, apart from being able to assassinate US citizens , he wanted it to grant him even more executive power, not less. According to National security expert Lt.Col. Lawrence Wilkerson this bill is not focused on fighting global terrorism but on protecting the rich in case movements like Occupy Wall Street gain more traction.  In January 2013 Obama signed the NDAA for 2013 into law. Again the law enables the military to indefinitely detain anyone, including US citizens without a trial. Initially the President "threatened" to veto the bill unless Congress strip this unconstitutional provision from it. However, he changed his mind at the last minute or was BS-ing all along.
Profiling people based on race and religion "has become commonplace nationwide", the ACLU reports.. As one might expect, it's Muslims and Arabs that are routinely in the crosshairs of Obama's surveillance agencies. How ironic coming from a man whose race has been the target of racial profiling by law enforcement (Police, DEA) for decades.
Abridging freedom of speech
Ignored by the mainstream media and acknowledged by the Secret Service the president is responsible for the greatest crackdown on the First Amendment since the 1940 Smith Act. On Sep 24th 2010, the FBI raided the homes of anti-war and international solidarity activists in Minneapolis & Chicago, then subpoenaed 14 people to appear before a grand jury for allegedly giving, quote "material support for terrorism." You, the reader, may remember the Citizens Utd. decision of Jan 2010 by the Supreme Court invoking the First Amendment where even mild constraints on the ways corporations can employ their vast resources to flood elections with ads and money have been barred. On July 21st 2010 the same ruling majority joined by Justice JP Stevens ruled in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project that the First Amendment permits Congress to imprison human rights activists for up to fifteen years for giving "material support for terrorism." What constituted "material support" in this case: advising militant organisations on ways to reject violence and pursue their disputes through lawful means! Obama sent Elena Kagan - then Solicitor General and now herself a SCOTUS judge - to the Supreme Court to appeal decisions by lower courts that repeatedly declared the provisions that prohibit speech unconstitutional. At issue was a federal law banning "material support" to "foreign terrorist organizations" even when said "support" consisted of speech advocating peace and human rights. The "material support" law expanded by the PATRIOT Act gives the Secretary of State virtually unchecked authority to place organisations on a "list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs)". The list permits the executive branch to arbitrarily designate organisations or people as criminals without prior judicial proceeding, let alone a criminal conviction. This law effectively turns President Carter, the Washington Post, Rudy Giuliani and the NY Times into criminals for at some point having talked to organisations that were put on that list.  So how rigorous and principled is the application of that list? Saddam Hussein was featured on the list (of terrorist countries) until 1982 - Castro's Cuba was inserted then - so the US could give actual material support to him to fight the Iranian mullah regime. Anyone remember this sweet little get-together? It goes without saying that he committed his worst atrocities after he had been removed from the list, for instance, the gassing of the Iraqi Kurds in northern Iraq. Apropos, a happy belated 100th birthday, Gipper. Now on the basis of the SCOTUS ruling the Obama administration ordered the FBI to raid several homes and offices of anti-war activists, feminist NGO's and social justice advocacy groups in Chicago and Minneapolis.. Pictured: Change you can believe in. In jail. If I were you, the reader, I would think twice about going to Haiti in case you wanna lend a helping hand or just report from there on what's going on.
Foreign policy (earning that Nobel Peace prize)
The Cairo speech and the Arab Spring
In June 2009 President Obama went to Egypt to give a speech at Cairo University to formally introduce himself to the Muslim world and present his foreign policy vision for the Arab region. In essence he gave a ringing endorsement for democracy and human rights in the region. Strangely, in a BBC interview shortly before his grand speech Obama was asked whether he agreed that Egypt's tyrant of the last three decades, Hosni Mubarak, was an autocrat. Obama replied that Mubarak "was a force for stability and good." For some reason, perhaps for those ones here, the people of Egypt did not agree and ousted the "force for good" for good. Exactly around the time Obama delivered his noble words to the Muslim world, the US sold M1A1 tanks and F-16 jets to Mubarak to presumably enhance stability and goodness. Of course, Egyptians already had 1.5 billion reasons to dismiss Obama's actual commitment to democracy in Egypt since the Mubarak regime was the second largest recipient of US foreign aid. All the while it has been crystal clear to virtually the entire world that Mubarak has one of the worst human rights records in the region.
Perhaps Obama's actual level of commitment to democracy abroad can be clarified by looking at a more remote, less monitored region of the world. The central African country of Chad is ruled by Idriss Deby, a fella with disconcerting relations to France and the US. Idriss deby is the kind of
ruthless dictator benign servant of his people who conveniently got rid of a constitutional term limit just in time to serve more terms in office, holds sham presidential elections to ensure a de facto one party state stability in a tumultuous political system, oversees an omnipotent executive branch (worldwide unequalled in corruption and stacked with, literally, familiar folks), and with involvement from Exxon Mobile pocketed millions of dollars from a poverty-relief program to bolster his own the national budget. Now this guy might not be the best candidate to receive US support be it diplomatically or militarily but being an ally in the War on Terror and allowing Exxon Mobile and Chevron to exploit Chad's oil resources apparently had those benefits. So how could Obama be involved with such an ugly guy? Weapons manufacturing giant Lockheed Martin prepared a deal to sell F-16 combat jets and C-130 planes to Chad when negotiations suddenly stalled after a couple of uprisings against Chad's leader-for-life, Deby.
Lockheed asked the Obama administration to help a brother out and the State dept. ordered the US ambassador to Chad to finalise the deal, even though the administration knew Deby would be going to use the arms against pro-democratic rebels! US diplomats argued for several years in (leaked) cables: "Our interests line up in favor of allowing the sale in some form to go forward."
The Obama administration officially endorsed the 2009 Honduran coup d'etat and the sham election held afterward - that guaranteed a US friendly puppet would rule the country - by labeling the manipulated election as "a great celebration of democracy."  It's quite possible that in their decision to support the coup the White House bowed to pressure from - of all people - crackpot/Tea Party puppet master Senator Jim DeMint.
Escalation of the Afghanistan war
Candidate Obama disapproved of the surge strategy that was used in Iraq to decrease the level of violence, but as President Obama increased troop levels in Afghanistan massively by at least 8 brigades after he had promised a maximum increase of 2 brigades. He announced that by mid-2011 the withdrawal would begin so that by 2014 no combat troops would remain. Senior administration officials indicated that the timeline will not be kept and that the occupation might last well to the year 2024. In his Cairo speech Obama pledged "we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there..." This statement is at odds with what is routinely called 'reality'.   At least nine bases will remain to fortify the nascent democracy.  Much else is to be said these days about a Democratic president escalating a war of agression. For instance, that Obama's troop surge led to a record in civilian casualties without making progress on the nation building front or that the increased influx of unregulated private contractors led to bizarre situations like the taxpayer-funded company DynCorp pimping out underage boys to local warlords or that Al-Qaeda is not in Afghanistan any more. For substantive liberal criticism of Obama's war check out RethinkAfghanistan.
Drone strikes in Pakistan and targeted assassinations
President Obama expanded the predator drone strike program targeting Afghanistan and Pakistan. Apart from the obvious legal quarrels that ensue from covert extrajudicial killings the changes Obama made to the drone strike program led to the targeting of dozens of US citizens on foreign soil without due process. The expansion of the program also resulted in more civilian casulaties. Experts are ringing the alarm bells that this development is already starting to backfire.
Withdrawal from Iraq
On the campaign Obama assured his voters that as President he will end the US occupation by the end of 2011 in accordance with the Status Of Forces Agreement. By mid-2011 senior military and intelligence officials indicated that the US will not stick to that timeline and extend the stay of US troops beyond to what President Bush43 agreed to. Perhaps liberals would have known better had they listened to Senator Obama's ideas about continued US military involvement in Iraq. In his 2009 speech at Cairo University President Obama declared "I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources." That statement might only be almost (i.e. not) true; it's true that Obama re-signed a Defense Authorization Act that forbids any funding for permanent bases in Iraq. It's just that the permanent bases that are actually in Iraq right now are not called bases but "enduring presence posts". Problem solved. Hey, you gotta hand it to the guy.
According to the War Powers Act the POTUS requires Congressional authorisation to commit US troops for war in absence of a direct threat to national security. In fact, Senator Obama criticised President Bush43 for overextending the legal grounds for the occupation of Iraq. A few years later progressive Congressman Dennis Kucinich reminded President Obama that he walked on thin ice for drawing the US into another armed conflict without proper legal authorisation by Congress.  Let's not even delve into the oily discrepancy between the actions taken against the Libyan dictatorship and against the Syrian and Saudi Arabian/Bahrainian tyrants smashing popular uprisings in their countries.
Blocking Palestinian sovereignty
"America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own", Obama declared in his Cairo speech . This is in contrast with his inaction on the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory and the pressure the Obama administration put on Palestinian authorities to stall the vote at the UN regarding Palestinian sovereignty.
Slapping own base and pleasing Fox News
Shooting the messenger
All of the issues and criticism mentioned above prompted the Obama administration - in what could be described as a politically suicidal move - to launch attacks against its own supporters. Former WH Chief of staff Rahm Emanuel called liberals "effin' retarded". VP Joe Biden told the Democratic base to "stop whining" and "to buck up". When liberals pointed out that they weren't geared like conservatives who follow Reagan's 11th commandment never to criticise a fellow Republican the administration doubled down and called out the "professional left" for never being satisfied with Obama's achievements and alledged the left likened Obama to Bush43. Since that last point doesn't seem to be too much of a stretch any longer when you actually parse Obama's record on central issues and compare it to Bush's record, one would possibly understand why Obama quipped to Senator Bernie Sanders during a conversation about the Liz Warren-CFPB drama: "...that's the problem with you progressives. You see this glass as half empty." It could be inferred that Obama views himself as a post-ideological, post-partisan bridge builder who through transcending party lines (at any cost) achieves (in his mind) well-balanced compromises. The only problem is that his political opponents haven't really lain down their ideological arms in a similar manner.
Hypogonadal douchebag and walking inferiority complex Andrew Breitbart released a heavily edited video of a speech given by administration official Shirley Sherrod in order to give the impression Obama employed self-declared reverse racists. Before the White House would undertake a serious investigation of that matter it pressured Sherrod to quit her job. Administration officials were reportedly worried the fake(d) controversy was "going to be on Glenn Beck tonight."Do you, the reader, remember Bush43 or Karl Rove worrying about the impact their scandals (not even the fake ones) had on the reporting of liberal media outlets? Yeah, didn't think so.
Obama stood by as Republicans dismantled an important community organising institution that provided much needed help to the poor and the working class. The grounds on which Republicans launched their attacks were, of course as usual, fraudulent. The final bit of irony here: Obama himself had been a community organiser before he entered politics.
Political spectrum shifts and conclusions
I postulate there are three interpretations of Obama's actions which, I presume, are now established to be in large parts incongruent with the core principles of the American left. Some even go so far as to argue that he governs to the right of Ronald Reagan. Hence the original question whether Obama is a lefty appears to be justified and merits discussion.
Obamabots regularly charge liberal critics of Obama with not understanding his mysterious ways. They alledge that Obama accepts Republican framing and policies to make the Republicans look like idiots afterwards in a game of three-dimensional political chess...huh? Seriously, go read some of the stuff on Daily Kos, you will encounter the most mind-boggling rationalisations for Obama's shift to the right. This concept can be safely dismissed since the expected result, Republicans on the retreat, has not come to realisation.
A more cynical interpretation is that Obama is in on the game and actually desires the outcomes of his political battles, like tax cuts for the rich etc. This would mean he consciously lied to his voters on nearly every occasion and acts as some kind of trojan horse for special interests to further the class war that those interests wage on us. Certainly the continuation of the imperialist US foreign policy, albeit chaperoned by gentler rhetoric points in this direction. Nonetheless, this may well stretch too far because it doesn't explain why he would put progressive policy initiatives on the agenda in the first place. If you counter with "well that's part of the deception", well, then anything goes.
Throughout his career Obama is known to have aspired for the role as bridge builder. While this might have worked in his position as Harvard Law Review president where differences between ideological camps needed to be overcome this approach poses problems in the less abstract area of national politics. Here the decisions and compromises translate into large-scale effects for millions of people with billions and trillions of dollars at stake. Very powerful, mostly corporate interests want to make sure those decisions are made in their favour. These interests are mostly in direct opposition to the interests of the general population and stand in ideological contrast to the principles of the political left. They pay the Republican Party (and sometimes conservative or centrist Democrats) to enact their ideas. Due to the fact that electoral success depends largely on the amount of money spent in campaigns these elite interests established a system where increasing loyalty to them tranlates into more campaign donations and thus greater electoral success. Therefore Republicans have every incentive to oppose left-of-center policies as forcefully as they can. It would take at least equal determination and political strength to counter the Republican drive to push for policies that are to the disadvantage of the general population. In comes Obama, a man who never really adopted the philosophy of forcefully standing up for what he believes in, so he could have the outcome of a political battle be in his favour. For success in politics it takes readiness to take risks and potentially suffer losses. Obama climbed the career-ladder by avoiding confrontation and attempting to unite all factions in a debate. He developed an internal drive to seek compromise and give up parts of his own demands during negotiations to display his willingness to achieve results expecting the gesture to be returned out of civility. That may have worked particularly well during his formative years at the University when he dealt with the review of abstract academic concepts. Strangely enough, this notion is underscored by Obama's habits as a poker player as told by former colleagues: He is being described as a "cautious player", "very conservative player", “He wasn’t a bluffer...When Barack was betting, you could pretty much know that he had a hand.”. On the national stage his opponents interpret his willingness to concede and unwillingness to test his opponents (bluff) as inherent weakness that can be further abused to govern the terms of the debate and implement more and more policies that his opponents favour. Whenever Obama concedes a point to accommodate Republicans and shows them "hey, i'm willing to play ball", they instead move the goalpost and declare the newly conceded position as the new starting ground for further negotiations. This is why Republicans end up victorious after negotiations with the White House because often enough the end results look similar to initial Republican demands. All they need to do is draw out the process and wait until Obama crumbles under the growing backlash. Cut-throat capitalist Steve Jobs probably gave the most revealing insight into Obama's political character:
“”"The president is very smart. But he kept explaining to us reasons why things can't get done," Jobs told Isaacson. "It infuriates me."
|—Steve Jobs after meeting with President Obama.|
I conclude that, intellectually, Obama is somewhat sympathetic to the causes of the left but he does not agree with the practical approach that the liberal base prefers, namely to muster up political strength and spent political capital to translate as much of his ideological framework into concrete political reality as possible. That is why Obama failed to shift the political spectrum of Washington back to where it were before the "transformative presidencies" of Reagan and Bush43. Now the political establishment and the mainstream media operate as if special interest policies like high-end tax cuts are the political norm in Washington.
- Bill Maher, Cenk Uygur, Keith Olbermann, Harry Shearer, Jane Hamsher, Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, Paul Krugman
- Congress is notified of the Secretary's intent to designate the organization and given 7 days to review the designation. Upon the expiration of the seven-day waiting period, notice of the designation is published in the Federal Register, at which point the designation takes effect.
- Friedman, Alan. Spider's Web: The Secret History of How the White House Illegally Armed Iraq, Bantam Books, 1993