Let’s get real – President Obama’s not a progressive

Earlier today I shared an interview with Cornel West in which he accused President Barack Obama of posing as a progressive, only to turn out being something decidedly not progressive.

In response to my original post, a couple of folks took to Twitter to condemn West’s comments while defending President Obama’s “progressive” record. Here are the tweets in question.

While there’s no denying that more Americans have health insurance coverage than when President Obama took office, it’s important to remember that key parts of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) were based on proposals made by Republicans in the U.S. Senate in 1993 – specifically the individual mandate, the creation of purchasing pools, standardized benefits, vouchers for the poor to buy insurance, and a ban on denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. A much easier (and much more progressive) alternative would have been a single payer healthcare system that didn’t involve individual mandates, purchasing pools, and vouchers.

So in the interest of reviewing President Obama’s “progressive” record, let’s look at a few key issues on which President Obama has been decidedly NOT progressive.

Judicial Nominees:
Earlier this year President Obama came under fire from members of his own party after he nominated Michael Boggs to a lifetime seat on the federal bench. The nomination of Boggs came under fire over past votes he made as a legislator to keep the confederate insignia on the Georgia state flag, to tighten restrictions on access to abortion and to ban same-sex marriage.

That doesn’t sound like a progressive judicial nominee to me; in fact it sounds a lot like the kind of judicial nominee we could expect from a Republican president.

Domestic Spying:
As president, Barack Obama has continued the Bush-era domestic spying program including demands that telephone companies provide all metadata for phone records originating in the United States for three months.

Perhaps some may consider the use of warrantless wiretapping and domestic spying as being progressive, but I’m not among those people.

Drone Strikes:
In yet another example of President Obama continuing a policy used heavily by President George W. Bush, President Obama admitted to using drones to assassinate American citizens suspected of terrorist activities without affording those American citizens the rights they are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. During his time in office, President Obama has authorized six times more drone strikes than George W. Bush did during his eight years in office.

The use of drone strikes to kill American citizens (and non-American citizens) who are simply suspected (but not necessarily proven) of having engaged in terrorist activities doesn’t strike me as the hallmark of a progressive presidency.

Public Employees & Labor:
As a proud member of a labor union, I can’t help but think President Obama’s record of supporting organized labor has been mixed at best. Affter all, this is the same man who in 2011 opined that public employees needed some “burden sharing” in regards to the benefits they were receiving. As any public employee here in Wisconsin can attest to, the kind of “burden sharing” President Obama was referring has come to pass as a result of the anti-union provisions of Act 10, and the results have not been pretty.

What’s more, at the height of the 2011 protests surrounding Act 10 here in Wisconsin, President Obama was absolutely nowhere to be seen, despite his 2007 campaign promise that he’d “put on a comfortable pair of shoes” and “walk on that picket line” with workers who were being denied their right to organize or collectively bargain. Obama the candidate also stated “workers deserve to know someone is standing in their corner,” but apparently he forgot that statement when workers here in Wisconsin needed someone to stand in their corner against Gov. Walker and Republicans who were hell-bent on destroying Wisconsin’s public employee unions.

Social Security:
Among the proposals in President Obama’s proposed 2014 budget proposed was a change that would have meant a cut in the Social Security benefits of nearly $1,000 a year for an average 85-year-old with smaller cuts for younger retirees.

In my opinion, support for Social Security is the hallmark of a progressive, and I don’t consider proposing cuts to Social Security benefits for those already receiving those benefits to be progressive.

Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility:
On August 2, 2007, candidate Obama promised that “As President, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions.” However, as we near the end of President Obama’s second term in the White House the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility is still open.

Now don’t get me wrong – I absolutely believe President Obama is certainly far more palatable than President McCain or President Romney, but let’s not kid ourselves – President Obama is no progressive. He’s a corporate Democrat through and through, and he’s far more of a moderate than many on the left (and the right for that matter) are willing to admit.


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8 thoughts on “Let’s get real – President Obama’s not a progressive

  1. I am a progressive, liberal, conservative, Democrat. I am NOT a Republican in any sense of the word. I don’t give a fu…dge if anyone dislikes or disagrees with my choices. I do or advocate in what I believe is right, if you will excuse the term, in accordance primarily with my conscience.

    In short, if it hurts people, I oppose it. If it helps people, I support it.

    WTF, we’re all in this together to solve common problem without regard to ideology, religion,or lack thereof, or our ignorance.

    As Ghandi said, “Peace,” or in Latin, Pax vobiscum, or early nineteen century, “have a good day.”

    Whether Obama posed as a Progressive is TOTALLY irrelevant to the ongoing problems and/or the latest current crises. Let’s leave future historians to address that non-issue of today!!!

    IMO, We have far more important issues, challenges, or problems to debate and address.


    1. “I am a progressive, liberal, conservative, Democrat.”..
      Well said Duane.

      Singular labels have always bothered me, because in reality people have some of most if not all of these labels/characteristics contained within.

      I am a progressive, liberal, conservative, independent. (not to be confused with a political party)

      This President or any President is generally shackled into acting as a moderate due to Washington politics.

  2. Zach, thanks.

    Assume this will be huge in the run-up to 2016, so I’ll get on my electoral college soap box early about the crucial difference in Presidential elections when it comes to swing states.

    I voted for Jill Stein (Green) for President in 2012. The only reason I took that risk was because I believed Nate Silver (polling guru) that Obama was going to win Wisconsin. Since in all likelihood, we’re stuck with the electoral college for 2016, it’s a very few voters, in a very few states who will probably end up deciding the election.

    As much of a Republican as President Obama has been, he’s still been good on voting rights. That’s one of those seminal issues. If Romney had been elected, a lot of poor and middle class people would be losing the right to vote.

  3. The context here is this is Frank’s follow up to his bigger Salon article about how disappointed he is in Obama. It’s part of a Salon click-bait the President-failed-Progressives theme to which several writers have now contributed. My biggest frustration with these articles is that Salon’s writers in particular and Progressives in general focus too much on one elected office with a four year cycle. We’re in an election cycle now and could concentrate on getting more Progressives into local, state and congressional offices where policies big and small are developed and implemented. Feeding the liberal-savior myth of the Presidency is unhelpful, lazy, and dangerous to mid-term turnout. (I am criticizing Frank and Salon here, not BB.) But hey, Salon lives another day to post endless stories about the VMA awards and Emmys. So it’s all good.

    1. Emma, I don’t expect this president (or any president, for that matter) to be a “savior.” My main complaint about this president is that he made a series of unambiguous statements that he failed to act on. Granted, some things were beyond his control, but he absolutely could put an end to the use of warrantless wiretaps/domestic spying, and he most assuredly could have done more to stand up for labor, especially considering how hard labor worked to elect him based on the statements of support he made.

      As to your comment about getting more progressives into local, state, and congressional offices, I couldn’t agree more. The only way we’re going to be able to effect the kind of change we want is by electing folks we KNOW will stand up for progressive ideals, instead of projecting our ideals onto candidates who may not actually be progressive.

      1. I tried (but maybe not hard enough) to indicate my criticism is with Frank and Salon. Actually, posting an excerpt on your blog is great as it shows the other side that you don’t have to march lock-step to be a Democrat. Discussion and dissent are allowed. On the subject of whether Obama purported to be a Progressive, I’m indifferent. We all saw what we wanted in 2008 and I personally saw a neo-liberal and centrist. I have my list of disappointments too. I just don’t think anything much changes unless you clear the statehouses and Congress of neo-libs and neo-cons and that means getting out to vote in primaries and mid-terms if not more.

  4. And that he came to the stimulus negotiating table with (R) concessions already in place, and gave away even more.

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