Feb 24th 2010

Who's to Blame for Stalling Key Parts of the Obama Agenda?

by Robert Creamer

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist and author of the recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on amazon.com.
Those who don't live in the nation's capital may so far have been spared the columnist-generated imbroglio over who is "to blame" for the fact that many of President Obama's flagship initiatives have yet to pass into law.

Many candidates have been nominated: Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Senior Adviser David Axelrod, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, former White House Counsel Greg Craig, Attorney General Eric Holder, and even White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers.

The correct answer: None of the above.

The people who are responsible for the difficulty of making fundamental change within the first year of the Obama Administration don't have familiar names. They are the people who run the huge insurance companies, oil companies and Wall Street Banks.


They are the people who will lose if the rest of America wins. They are the folks whose recklessness and greed caused the collapse of our economy and cost seven million Americans their jobs.

Not surprisingly, these people have not rolled over and played dead when their interests have been threatened. And their ability to protect the status quo has been strengthened by the rules of the U.S. Senate that have empowered some of their chief defenders, such as Joe Lieberman and Mitch McConnell.

They've used their massive financial muscle to mislead everyday Americans. They have been perfectly willing to lie and distort and inflame fear. They are the authors of bogus "death panels" and "government takeovers." They are the source of massive political contributions, and the fear that politicians who cross them will pay a price.They have financed a "populist" uprising on the right.

In short, they have done everything that anyone familiar with American political history would assume they would do. Power surrenders nothing without a struggle.

Change turns out to be harder than a lot of people thought and hoped. But what the hell did we expect. The other side plays hardball.

To beat them, we have to start where we are and get where we want to go. We can't start where we wish we were…or wish our opposition out of existence.

The Obama Administration has been forced to make some compromises. But to their credit they have not trimmed back their ambitious agenda - their goal of transforming the American economy -- to deal with the massive problems they faced from the day they took office.

They have not taken the advice of people like Mark Penn or Dick Morris to focus on amassing small victories. They know that in confronting the challenges that America faces today, small victories are simply not enough. They know that we need bold, transformational change - and if that takes longer than we'd like, that is simply the price we have to pay for our future.

Leslie Gelb, whose article on Rahm Emanuel in the Daily Beast says that "no one I've talked to believes he has the management skills and discipline to run the White House" is just wrong. And he must have forgotten the disciplined, driven way Rahm oversaw the Democratic victory in 2006 to retake the House. Emanuel gets things done, and that is exactly what you need when you're trying to pass a transformative agenda.

David Axelrod is a brilliant crafter of message - and the engineer (along with David Plouffe) of the best-run Presidential campaign in the history of American politics.

Bob Gibbs is exactly the kind of plain-spoken, straight-ahead press secretary that average Americans want to hear. And Valerie Jarrett is an effective - and absolutely loyal -- Senior Adviser. By the way, it's a damned good thing for a President to have some people by his side whose loyalty he need never question.

Has the Obama team made mistakes? Of course. I think they would have done better to take a tougher line with Wall Street, sooner. I'm sure they would admit, in retrospect, that they should have done everything in their power to end Max Baucus' months-long tango with the Republicans that delayed passage of the health care bill until after the Massachusetts disaster. And they might even agree that they should have used the 51-vote budget reconciliation process to do health care reform from the beginning. But then again, hindsight is 20-20.

And let's remember that the record of this Administration for major new initiatives is pretty impressive.

* Saving the economy from complete meltdown - another Great Depression --following the failure of eight years of right wing economic policy and financial risk-taking "gone wild," including his bold rescue of the American auto industry.

* Laying the first layer of a foundation for long-term, bottom-up economic growth by passing the largest economic recovery package in history and a Federal Budget that the Center on Budget Priorities called the most progressive budget in half a century.

* Abandoning the failed Neo-Con foreign policy and changing our relationship with the rest of the world.

* Signing into law measures that had repeatedly passed the Democratic Congress but been vetoed by George Bush - the "Matthew Shepard" bill that expands the definition of hate crimes to include sexual orientation, expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and passing the "Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act" that seriously strengthened the ability of women to seek redress for employment discrimination.

* The Administration and Congress ended a program of wasteful subsidies to private banks that provided student loans using Federal money, and used the savings to greatly expand Pell Grants to college students.

* Executive actions like ending the "Global Gag Rule" that prevented U.S. foreign aid from going to family planning programs that even mentioned abortion - and changes in labor law enforcement that make it easier to organize in the workplace.

* Ending torture.

* Funding stem cell research and generally restoring a respect for science to government.

* Setting and keeping to a schedule to end the American presence in Iraq.

* Putting in motion a legislative agenda that will make major progressive change: providing health care for all, creating clean energy jobs and addressing global warming, overhauling the regulation of the financial sector and beginning to shrink its dominance in the American economy, and passing comprehensive immigration reform.

The Administration's success rate seems low only when measured against its lofty ambitions… and the magnitude of the problems the President inherited last January.
More importantly, second-guessing and backbiting does absolutely nothing to make the change America needs.

Time to suck it up. This is going to be a long slog. The geniuses who write columns and make a living as Monday morning quarterbacks need to get used to the idea that this is a real battle for the future of America, not a reality show.

The financial industry, the insurance giants and the oil companies are going to bite and claw and fight to stop real reform until the last dog dies. Progressives better be ready to do the same.


Robert Creamer's recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," is available on Amazon.com.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Nov 30th 2021
EXTRACT: "So it could well be that, despite the faster spread of the infection, its ultimate health, social and economic impact proves negligible. We simply do not know at this point. But detecting more uncertainty than before, financial markets have reacted with panic. For example, the S&P500 tumbled 2.3% on Friday November 26 only to rise 1.1% on Monday November 29. Most markets gave up between 2% and 4%, which is a pretty substantial one-day fall."
Nov 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "Momentous changes are casting a long shadow on China. The country’s political system will soon undergo a profound reform, pending final approval (a quasi-formality) at next year’s congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC). President Xi Jinping, the Party chairman and the “navigator” of the country, has decided on a new course, abandoning the principle of collective leadership. Xi is leading China away from the path taken by Deng Xiaoping after the terror of the Cultural Revolution, and back toward a system of absolute rule by one person without term limits, as under Mao Zedong."
Nov 25th 2021
EXTRACTS: "”The biggest disappointment in Glasgow was the last-minute watering down of the proposed (and widely supported) agreement to “phase out” the use of coal in energy production. With India providing political cover for China in vetoing this language, the final conference proposal was to “phase down” coal”. ---- “China accounts for more than half of the world’s coal consumption, and has the largest amount of coal-fired generating capacity under construction. Pressed about why his country would not do more in Glasgow to help save the planet, China’s chief negotiator pointed to the commitments in the Communist Party of China’s current Five-Year Plan. So, our future now depends on the CPC’s program. The tragedy for the world is that the Party cannot be phased down, much less phased out, despite the fact that it is a huge threat to the future of all of us.” ------ “To save the planet, robust democratic leadership must be phased up – not phased down, let alone phased out. Rather than merely keeping our fingers crossed and hoping for the best, we should start by calling out the appalling behavior of dictatorships such as China and Russia.”
Nov 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The transitory inflation debate in the United States is over. The upsurge in US inflation has turned into something far worse than the Federal Reserve expected. Perpetually optimistic financial markets are taking this largely in stride. The Fed is widely presumed to have both the wisdom and the firepower to keep underlying inflation in check. That remains to be seen."
Nov 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "S&P projects that companies are planning to install 44 gigawatts of new solar in 2022. The year 2020, despite the onset of the pandemic, saw a record-breaking 19 gigawatts of new solar capacity installed in the U.S. So given the bids out there already, it appears that in 2022 solar installers will more than double their best year ever so far. The U.S. currently has 100 gigawatts of solar electricity-generating capacity, so in just one year we are poised to add nearly 50% of our current total. A gigawatt of power can provide electricity to about 750,000 homes. So the 44 new gigawatts we’ll put in next year have a nameplate capacity that would under ideal conditions allow them to power 33 million homes." ----- "Not only is there a lot of good news on the green energy front but there is good news in the bad news for fossil fuels. S&P finds that coal plants are being retired way before the utilities had expected. Some 29 gigawatts of coal retirements are expected from 2020 through 2025. "
Nov 3rd 2021
EXTRACT: "Zemmour’s way of thinking stems from a tradition going back to the French Revolution of 1789. Catholic conservatives and right-wing intellectuals, who hated the secular republic that emerged from the revolution, have long fulminated against liberals, cosmopolitans, immigrants, and other enemies of their idea of a society based on ethnic purity, obedience to the church, and family values. They were almost invariably anti-Semitic. When Jewish army Captain Alfred Dreyfus was falsely accused of betraying his country in the notorious scandal of the 1890s, they were on the side of Dreyfus’s accusers. ---- Germany’s invasion of France in 1940 gave reactionaries of this kind the chance to form a French puppet-government in Vichy. Zemmour has had kind things to say about the Vichy regime. He also has expressed some doubt about the innocence of Dreyfus. ---- None of these views would be surprising if they came from a far-right agitator like Jean-Marie Le Pen. But Zemmour is the son of Sephardic Jewish immigrants from Algeria who lived among the Muslim Berbers."
Oct 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "performed strongly in last month’s parliamentary and regional elections. Officially, Communist Party candidates took 18.9% of the popular vote for the State Duma (parliament), compared to nearly 49.8% for the Kremlin’s United Russia party. But the Communists refused to recognize the results, insisting that the vote was rigged. And, indeed, some experts estimate that they should have gotten around 30% of the vote, with United Russia taking about 35%."
Oct 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Powell was charismatic in the true sense of the term. Nowadays, this description is too often used to indicate an ability to attract supporters or generate celebrity interest. Internet lists of those who are regarded as charismatic include characters as varied as Adolf Hitler, Bono, Donald Trump, George Clooney, and Rihanna. But the ancient Greeks and Saint Paul used “charisma” to describe values-based leadership infused with a charm capable of inspiring devotion. The Greeks believed that this quality was a gift of grace, while Christian theology regarded it as a power given by the Holy Spirit."
Oct 17th 2021
EXTRACTS: "But property-sector woes are not the only economic danger China faces in 2021-22. The Chinese government’s mounting crackdown on the country’s burgeoning tech sector may pose an even greater threat." ---- "According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company, the share of Chinese urban employment supported by private enterprises more than quadrupled between 1995 and 2018, from just 18% to 87%. The share of exports generated by the private sector more than doubled over the same period, from 34% to 88%. And private-sector fixed-asset investment jumped from 42% to 65% of the total. The message in the data is clear: clamping down on the private sector and threatening innovators is not the way to ensure sustained rapid growth. Chinese entrepreneurs can read the writing on the wall. They understand that their political and regulatory room to maneuver is shrinking, and that the balance has shifted in favor of state-owned firms and public officials. And they understand that this uneasy atmosphere is likely to persist."
Oct 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "We designed a programme that incorporated data from over 300 million buildings and analysed 130 million km² of land – almost the entire land surface area of the planet. This estimated how much energy could be produced from the 0.2 million km² of rooftops present on that land, an area roughly the same size as the UK."
Oct 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "Britain in the 1950s was wedded to the US, acting as a partner rather than leading the charge. Now, while the UK continues to support the US, the influence it has seems negligible. While it may bring comfort to the UK to feel it is a partner to a superpower, being its stooge or subordinate is an unpleasant place to be, no matter how much you tell yourself it values your opinion."
Oct 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "That was then. Now, the Chinese government has doubled down, with President Xi Jinping throwing the full force of his power into a “common prosperity” campaign aimed at addressing inequalities of income and wealth. Moreover, the regulatory net has been broadened, not just to ban cryptocurrencies, but also to become an instrument of social engineering, with the government adding e-cigarettes, business drinking, and celebrity fan culture to its ever-lengthening list of bad social habits. All this only compounds the concerns I raised two months ago. The new dual thrust of Chinese policy – redistribution plus re-regulation – strikes at the heart of the market-based “reform and opening up” that have underpinned China’s growth miracle since the days of Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s. It will subdue the entrepreneurial activity that has been so important in powering China’s dynamic private sector, with lasting consequences for the next, innovations-driven, phase of Chinese economic development. Without animal spirits, the case for indigenous innovation is in tatters."
Oct 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Wartime nostalgia plays an important part in Britain’s instinctive fondness for the special relationship. Like former Prime Minister Tony Blair in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, some British politicians might believe that the United Kingdom is the only European country with serious armed forces and the political will to use them. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, like Blair before him, seems to fancy himself a modern-day Churchill. Unfortunately (or not), Britain’s military power is insignificant compared to what Churchill could command in 1944. Wartime nostalgia has drawn Britain into several foolish American wars, which other European countries were wise to avoid."
Sep 24th 2021
EXTRACTS: "We have found that 47 million American adults – nearly 1 in 5 – agree with the statement that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” Of those, 21 million also agree that “use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency.” Our survey found that many of these 21 million people with insurrectionist sentiments have the capacity for violent mobilization. At least 7 million of them already own a gun, and at least 3 million have served in the U.S. military and so have lethal skills. Of those 21 million, 6 million said they supported right-wing militias and extremist groups, and 1 million said they are themselves or personally know a member of such a group, including the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys." ----- "..... the Jan. 6 insurrection represents a far more mainstream movement than earlier instances of right-wing extremism across the country. Those events, mostly limited to white supremacist and militia groups, saw more than 100 individuals arrested from 2015 to 2020. But just 14% of those arrested for their actions on Jan. 6 are members of those groups. More than half are business owners or middle-aged white-collar professionals, and only 7% are unemployed."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Is it not extraordinary that in a country that claims to be as enlightened and advanced as ours, the combined wealth of three individuals – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett – exceeds the total wealth of the bottom half of Americans? One has to return to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt to find a parallel to the extreme wealth inequality that we see in in America today." ...... "The top tax rate remained above 90 percent through the 1950s and did not dip below 70 percent until 1981. At no point during the decades that saw America’s greatest economic growth did the tax on the wealthy drop below 70 percent. Today it is somewhere around 37 percent. President Biden’s American Families Plan would increase the top tax rate to 39.6 percent – a fairly modest alteration, albeit in the right direction. It is true that there was a time when the top marginal tax was even lower than it is today: in the years leading up to the Great Depression it hovered around 25 percent."
Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."