Obama and his constant critics on the hard left

5:00 pm - January 22nd 2013

by Sunny Hundal    

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Last year, just before the American elections, I wrote a long-ish piece explaining why Obama was the most radically progressive President the United States has had in over 50 years.

I laid out how, under the radar, he had pushed huge (and unprecedented in size) programmes to promote his left-wing agenda and challenged the lazy and uninformed notion that he hadn’t done much at all. The typical response from many on the hard-left is summarised as, ‘but why is he not saying this loudly and using his position to shift public opinion?‘ – where is the rhetoric, in other words, to match the words?

As Alex Andreou at the New Statesman points out today, the rhetoric was there yesterday (in spades!):

What is required of a President in his inauguration speech is – have you guessed it yet? – a speech. And it was a bloody well written, brilliantly delivered, historic speech. That is what passed these commentators by, while their own jeering was ringing in their ears. I applaud you for taking him to task over his policy failures. I do the same. But is it too much to ask we start on Tuesday and treat this seminal occasion with the joy it deserves?

The response from many on the hard-left was again an entirely predictable: ‘but where is the action to match the words?‘. This just shows downright ignorance.

There is no one who thinks it is beyond the pale to criticise Obama; I’ve also done so frequently too (accusing me of being uncritical is simply uninformed). I dislike many of his positions on foreign policy, national security and civil liberties and I’ve said so repeatedly.

In fact, when I was given the opportunity to interview the State Department’s Alec Ross, I repeatedly raised accusations Glenn Greenwald has made about clamping down on whistle-blowers and on civil liberties.

But my point is, any appraisal must also take into account the limitations of his office, the limitations of speeches and an acknowledgement that he’s actually done a lot of good.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Foreign affairs ,United States

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Reader comments

With all the high-profile Congressional polemics over America’s national debt issues, this illuminating US brief on YouTube about the constraints of the US Constitution deserves a wider circulation: The Debt Limit Explained

Overall I think people are just ignorant of how the US system of government works. A PM has vastly more influence to get things done or changed quickly than the US president. The presidents office certainly has a bully pulpit but he is not a CEO for the US. Arguably the House Speaker has more power. They would be better making the Speaker a Prime Minister and the president an elected monarch. I think they always wanted a monarch anyway. We could sell them Harry.

Honestly I don’t think many people have said “where the rhetoric”. Frankly, “where’s the action” has been a pretty constant refrain. Richard is right, though, he can’t do that much.

You don’t have to be on the hard left to criticise Obama. Any kind of socialist will find plenty to take issue with. Hopefully one day a socialist party will be able to supplant the Democrats as the recipient of the left of centre vote.

Richard W

“Overall I think people are just ignorant of how the US system of government works. ”

Absolutely. The attempt by the House to impeach Bill Clinton in December 1998 highlighted a fundamental weakness in an executive presidency.

Regardless of whether the charges alleged in the impeachment were well founded, the effect was to stymie American government at a turbulent time in international affairs. I followed the impeachment news closely and the fact is that Clinton was maintaining high poll ratings of about 60pc throughout. There’s little doubt that had Clinton been able to stand again in 2000, he would have been re-elected.

Parliamentary forms of government, as in most west European countries, are usually far more flexible in coping with incapacity. The one exception to that I can recall is the hiatus over Churchill’s succession as PM when Churchill was incapacitated by a stroke in 1953. On reflection, his evident reluctance to hand over the premiership to his long-standing heir-apparent, Anthony Eden, was justified.

It is often overlooked nowadays over what happened when US President Woodrow Wilson (1913-21) was incapacitated by a debilitating stroke in 1919 – his wife covertly ran the presidency until his term of office ran out.

The strange thing is the people who do not have much ground to complain is business and investors. US stock markets returns during his first term have been the second best of any president since WW2. Corporate profits are up 60% and that is the best recovery in profits terms since the Great Depression.

Obama is America’s Blair. Like Blair he will have wasted 8 years in power, and caused the Dem party massive problems for the future. His arrogance that he could negotiate with the crazy loons in the republican party wasted his first 4 years in power.

One of his first mistakes was to get rid of Howard Dean and his 50 state strategy that helped Obama in 2008. That decision cost the dems in the mid terms in 2010. As a result republicans won states in the mid west where republicans have gerrymandered the electoral maps to keep them controlling The House with a 30 majority even though they got a million votes less than the Dems.

Obama promised a vote on single payer healthcare plan, but then caved into to the private health insurance industry. His record on prosecuting whistle blowers is a disgrace for someone who said he would reject the Bush security state. And his drone war is something that makes Bush look like a pacifist. If the Republicans can pull their heads out of their arses and be prepared to let Obama have his grand bargain Obama will give away the farm by negotiating changes to social security that will be disastrous to the very people who voted for him. But they won’t realise until 30 years down the road when they will rely on social security and medicare..

But by then Obama like Blair will be a very rich man living off his corporate speeches.

Chris: “Any kind of socialist will find plenty to take issue with. Hopefully one day a socialist party will be able to supplant the Democrats as the recipient of the left of centre vote.”

Potential “socialist” and declared leftist candidates in American politics haven’t got far.

Upton Sinclair didn’t succeed in his bid to become governor of California and Huey Long, a populist, was assassinated on the steps of the US Senate in 1935, a year before the US Presidential election in which he had declared his intention to run against President Roosevelt. In the event, Roosevelt was easily re-elected to the Presidency. Try the Wikipedia entry on Huey Long for detail of his political career. The movie: All the King’s Men relates.

Sally: Unlike Blair, Obama opposed the Iraq war from the start. Your criticism of him takes no account of the constitutional constraints on US Presidents when in office along with a hostile Congress. Do try the link @1 to the video.

Highly recommended in Wednesday’a FT

Martin Wolf on: America’s fiscal policy is not in crisis

Wolf is saying that the national debt issue is manageable with some tax rises and better control of medical care costs – the supposed crisis is a phoney political fabrication.

8 No restraints made Obama cave in to the private health industry. No restraints made him continue the Bush tax cuts that would have died had he not renewed them. No restraints stopped him from renewing the Bush patriot act. No restraints made him cut deals with wall street so no banks or bankers have gone to jail for their fraud.

No restraints made Obama go after whistle blowers in the way he has. No restraints in how he uses drones to kill without any trial or conviction. Obama turned out to be just another centerist, careerist , dem politician. His fine words turned out to be just hollow bullshit. The only reason he got a second term is the Republicans are batshit insane.

“The only reason [Obama] got a second term is the Republicans are batshit insane.”

The implications of that insight are truly awesome.

In the presidential election last November, 50.6pc of the popular vote went for Obama and 47.8pc for Romney, the Republican candidate.

Evidently, an awful lot of Americans were up for voting the batshit insane ticket.

Try reading this on how the megarich in the US have done under Obama and still maintain that his critics on the left are wrong:


Given those he appointed to run economic policy, probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. He can come out with all the fine words he likes in his speeches; when it comes to policies, FDR he aint.

Personally I saw Obama’s election in 2008 as America’s February Revolution with Obama as Kerensky. A truly amazing event. Since then he’s done some left liberal things but mainly he’s destroyed the US economy to bail out Wall Street and of course has continued the tradition of war criminal Democratic presidents from Truman to Kennedy to Drones. Unfortunately there was no October just another term of dithering so when the Democrats do loose power it will be to a very, very right wing Republican/Tea Party/Fundamentalist/Supremasist government.

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