Obama Presidency : What the Left Should Expect


‘Obama won the presidency with the support of the American left. The antiwar movement was his first national constituency.’
By David P. Hamilton
/ The Rag Blog / November 8, 2008

What the left should expect from Obama’s first term.

We’re all talking about our expectations for the Obama presidency. Given what he has said he supported during his campaign, what exactly should be our principal expectations?

Obama won the presidency with the support of the American left. The antiwar movement was his first national constituency. A year ago, conventional wisdom was that Hillary Clinton was the most likely Democratic Party candidate. However, she was unacceptable to most to the antiwar movement. There followed a winnowing process in which the other Democratic primary candidates were considered for support by the antiwar movement. Obama eventually won that support, his first national constituency.

In the election, Obama won by a margin of roughly eight million votes, many times more than Nader and McKinney combined. Obviously, most of those who consider themselves members of the antiwar movement supported him. Hence, we have justifiable expectations and obviously, what we want has to do primarily with withdrawal from Iraq.

However, now we have a situation where the Iraqi government is on the verge of throwing US troops out of the country anyway by refusing to agree to a status of forces agreement with the US after the UN mandate authorizing US troops there runs out onDecember 31st. Hence, merely pulling US troops out of Iraq is too easy and insufficient and we should demand more.

1.) We want a definitive diminution of American militarism. This should be exemplified by: a.) a much greater reliance on diplomatic negotiations, international organizations and treaties to resolve conflicts between nations (starting with support for the current negotiations between the Karzai government of Afghanistan and the Taliban); b.) the worldwide reduction of US military forces stationed abroad; and c.) a significant reduction of the “defense” budget.

2.) Partial nationalization of the health care industry in order to provide health care as a right to all US citizens.

3.) A very high level of government investment in safe, renewable energy and conservation programs as an alternative to carbon based fuels. This would also be a very large jobs program.

4.) A more progressive system of taxation, i.e., higher taxes on capital gains and upper income brackets, removal of the cap on Social Security taxes, maintenance of estate taxes, a stock transaction tax, closure of offshore tax shelters, etc.

5.) Partial public ownership of “rescued” corporations. If the public bails them out from impending bankruptcy, we should collectively own a corresponding stake in them.

6.) Strong pro-choice/right to privacy appointments to federal courts.

7.) Revocation of the proto-fascist measures taken by the Bush administration, such as the Patriot Act and other domestic surveillance measures. This should include the closing of the prison facility at Guantanamo.

This list could be expanded, but the above demands have all been to some degree endorsed by Obama during his campaign. Basically, we want the expansion of the commons, that which belongs to all of us collectively.

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6 Responses to Obama Presidency : What the Left Should Expect

  1. Mike Hanks says:

    I believe this post is very timely – it proposes the most effective current action to carry forward the gains won in the election.

    The list of issues that are proposed provide a good start on the road to defining what we expect of good government.

    It is said that fools rush in … so let me rush in to contribute a comment (I realize there are wiser fools than I and hope everyone considers this process due diligence and joins in this critical dialog).

    My comment is semantic in nature but has important implications. I wonder if we might characterize our position regarding military policy as “peace” activists rather than “anti war” activists.

    My reasons are these:

    1. If we are against war in all instances and circumstances then we do not take into account that there are those in the world who don’t like us very much and in fact would be pleased to see us dead or at least severely maimed.

    I recall an instance when I was in the 7th grade. It was my birthday, as it is today, and I was in good spirits. In the hall between classes a bully gave me a shove along with several deprecating comments. What a buzz kill! Instantly I was plunged into a confusion of fear, indignation and sense of injustice. Overcoming my first impulse – to run, I invited him to meet me after school. Word got around pretty quickly and a large crowd had gathered at the appointed place. However, once I popped him in the nose, he apologized and the onlookers dispersed. I had no further trouble of that kind – peace prevailed at Queen of Peace Elementary. Had I not taken that course I’m convinced there would have been no peace for me or many others in the school.

    2. If we are for peace then that is our unswerving commitment. It means we exaust every option before returning violence with violence. But there are instances in the affairs of nations, just as in affairs of persons, when that option must remain on the table. There have been times in our history when war was forced upon us. Iraq and Vietnam are not among them but I believe the American Revolution and the war against fascism were. Being for peace and not just against war preserves all the options, however onerous, to achieve that end.

    I am looking forward to examining the points proposed by David in more detail and contributing what I can to the discussion. This is important. It is in solidarity that we prevail. Sorting out our thoughts on the important issues is the next big step.

  2. richard jehn says:

    It is the American way: strike first, then determine if peace is possible. And I object to it.

    Gandhi and Thich Nhat Hanh had the right approach – it is only through living a life of peace that we can bring about peace. By expressing the one-up-manship that is the American way, only resentments and distrust are engendered in those with whom we seek peace.

    It is the arrogance that is uniquely American.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I want to add something to David’s list.

    Voting Rights. I know this will come as a surprise to many of you, but TX does some things right. From Oct 20-31st voters had access to polling sites that were open 7-7, including weekends. These were at courthouses, grocery stores, libraries, etc. You can vote at any location in your county, no matter what precinct you are in. Texans have been taking advantage of this process for many years.

    When I saw the long lines in some states, when I heard from an organizer friend that PA only votes on election day, I was shocked. Rachel Maddow rightly called this a “poll tax” and I’m old enough to remember the actual poll tax we had in TX. You cannot ask working people with small children to pick up, etc. to devote undetermined hours of a workday just so they can can participate in democracy. Also, TX allows felons to vote. I did not realize that this was by state law.

    I was involved with a huge voter registration effort in Travis County. Several people discreetly asked me whether they could vote. If you are “off paper,” have served a sentence and are no longer on probation or parole, you can vote in TX. That should be a national nor (particularly in the nation withthe highest rate of incarceration). And it should be information shared when someone is released from parole and/or probation. Obviously, there are other issues as well – a paper trail (something that we don’t have in TX); no challenges or forced registration purges over inconsistencies between government IDs and voter registration (such as middle initials, etc.).

    I have many other thoughts about this election and the role the left played and can play in advancing a progressive agenda. I wanted to share this one first.

    Alice Embree, Austin MDS

  4. Anonymous says:

    To my surprise, I think most of the stuff in David’s list will happen.

    The one that ought not to happen is drastic immediate shrinkage of the defense budget. The reason that is not realistic is the poor shape in which Bush II is leaving the military.

    Cutting high dollar weapons systems is possible, but Bush leaves a huge need for procurement of off-the-shelf hardware: Hummers, Abrams, Bradleys, workhorse aircraft. Bush broke a lot of stuff and did not replace it.

    The big cut ought to be that we cease anticipating WWIII until and unless there is reason to believe somebody else is. If we take WWIII
    off the table, we need to be capable of supporting Security Council police actions and massive humanitarian aid requirements (e.g., the tsunami) at the same time. If we cut from where we stand right now, I’m not sure that would be possible.

    I don’t think most of America, including the left, has wrapped its collective mind around the level of incompetence displayed by the Bush Administration, such that they have screwed up many things they very well did not intend to neglect.

    This is the administration that put FEMA in the charge of a guy who had nothing going for him but political loyalty and asked people who applied to work with the Iraqi government how they stood on Roe v. Wade rather than whether they spoke Arabic.

    We have been so focused on policy disagreements that incompetence was more or less under the radar.

    Steve Russell

  5. First, I’d like to mention Richard speaks my mind/heart with his input and comment here.

    While I see much good in the article, I did capture one section that I know could possibly lead to a long-term destruction of creativity and prosperity as well as incentive.

    This is that particular entry:

    4.) A more progressive system of taxation, i.e., higher taxes on capital gains and upper income brackets, removal of the cap on Social Security taxes, maintenance of estate taxes, a stock transaction tax, closure of offshore tax shelters, etc.

    Higher taxes on capital gains ultimately will create a ‘why should I even try’ if the more I try to create a financial base that is solid for my small business; fund my retirement plan for myself and my employees, if they’re going to continue to snap it up in taxes.

    “Why should I get a better education and job just so the more I earn; harder I work, the more I’m taxed and the tax money is utilized in ways I have absolutely no say in how it’s spent?” (re higher taxes on higher incomes).

    I would remove both of those suggestions from #4 – I would definitely agree that having off-short tax incentives REMOVED ENTIRELY would definitely bring jobs and opportunity BACK to our citizens.

    Back in the early 1980’s when this concept became popular, it grew as companies clamored not only to put divisions in places where the cost of labor was cheap, but the climate and ‘tourist-like’ atmosphere made it even more lucrative as they started having ‘corporate meetings’ at exotic and alluring get-aways that were in proxmity to one of their established ‘offices/divisions/manufacturing and assembly sites’.

    However, the good that it did do was allow nations that were definitely poverty-ridden, to begin to ‘hope’ for an improved quality of life; reduce hunger, and create a certain demand (and ability to afford) ‘growth’ in those areas.

    So, I think the ‘off-shore’ locations should still remain an option and goal for American-based companies, JUST ELIMINATE ANY TAX CREDIT OR SHELTER FOR THEM. They still get to help toward the economy of those third-world nations; they still get labor at a reduced cost, they still can realize a measure of profit – just not the kind of profits that reward only their share-holders while avoiding their tax responsibility to this country.

    I also believe that being ‘left’ or being ‘right’ is never a good thing; like a metronome that constantly is ‘in motion’ – swinging and tapping out the rhythm. Perpetual motion shouldn’t be the 24/7-365 goal; we all need to STOP and take time to review what we have (or have not) accomplished.

    I’m a person who is slightly left of center; that means I do ‘move’, but I don’t swing; I don’t like bungee-jumping government, nor do I like sit like a door stop politics either.

    We need to count to 3 before jumping or drawing conclusions; none of us who are posting here have had to ‘walk the walk’, and until we wear that hat for a few years and truly are directly involved in much of what we’re remarking about, our opinions can only remain just that – observations, and we’ll probably never have all the inside FACTS that could modify our viewpoints.

  6. To Happy in Nevada: I hold two graduate degrees, one of which I got in Reno, and the tax structure had nothing to do with why I got those degrees.

    I have a pretty broad stock portfolio, and I am 100% on board with repealing the special treatment for capital gains. Ending the special treatment simply means that my income from stock sales will be taxed at the same rate as my other income. Since I am not rich, that’s no big deal.

    It also means that money that comes from money will be taxed at the same rate as money that comes from work. I find it hard to argue against that, and while people do take taxes into account when they play the market it is not the determining factor in deciding whether to get in.

    Steve Russell

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