Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Where Obama is to the left of his progressive critics

Various pundits and bloggers are constantly trying to define where President Obama fits on our outdated political spectrum. Most village pundits place him in a center/left category, while extremists on the left tend to call him an Eisenhower Republican and those on the right say he's a socialist.

I personally don't waste my time with any of these labels because first and foremost I believe President Obama is a pragmatist. He's adapted himself to the make-up of the Congress he has to deal with and seems to approach every situation with two basic questions: (1) What will work, and (2) What can actually get done.

But when we look at specific policies, there are a few areas where he's actually out-flanked most of his critics on the left. Its been interesting to watch that happen and go completely unnoticed. Usually that's because his critics made an early judgement of who he is (Oh-No's, he nominated Geithner!) and then literally failed to see anything that contradicted their assumptions.

One of the most obvious places this happened was with health care reform. For many progressives, THE ONLY thing they focused on was the public option. And when that wasn't included in the final bill, it simply confirmed their pre-concieved notions about the President.

Of course that meant that the largest expansion of Medicaid in our country's history - to cover an estimated 30 million people - went almost completely unnoticed. But even more importantly, no one paid attention to the medical loss ratios (MLR) that were included, and just recently went into effect. As I've talked about before, MLR's require health insurance companies to spend 80-85% of their premium dollars on direct medical services for their customers. As Rick Unger has written about on a couple of occasions, that is the "bomb" buried in Obamacare that will likely lead to a single payer system.

So while progressive critics were screaming about the public option, President Obama was passing the largest expansion of publicly funded health insurance in decades and setting up a bomb in health care reform that could lead to a single payer system. In other words, what he actually got done was to the left of what his critics on the left were advocating for.

And then there's the issue of civil liberties. I notice that in the last few days both Glenn Greenwald and Chris Hedges have written about this topic and continue to refer to the "endless war" as if it were inevitable. Apparently they can't conceive of a way to end the global war on terror started by Bush/Cheney. I wonder why that is so hard for them to imagine?

As I've talked about here recently, I'm not the only one who is seeing this administration move towards ending that so-called "endless war." David Ignatius said this:

It was easy to miss the impact of Obama’s words: He was declaring that the era that began on Sept. 11, 2001, is over. Al-Qaeda’s top leader is dead, and most of its cadres are on the run; secret peace talks are under way with the Taliban. And across the Arab world, the United States is talking with Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist organizations that a few years ago might have been on terror lists. It’s a process that’s similar to the way Britain ended its long war with Irish terrorists, by engaging in negotiations with the IRA’s “political” wing.

Once again, while President Obama's critics on the left are distracted with their misplaced focus, they're completely missing the story about an end to the endless war and the fact that President Obama has outflanked them on the left.

Of course there are other issues that have gotten almost zero attention - like the administration being on track to fulfill Obama's promise of securing all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. That's the kind of thing progressives used to care about a lot. But it doesn't fit the image too many of the loudest critics have developed about President Obama. So its not worthy of attention.

Let me be clear. I'm not suggesting that we place this administration on the far left of the continuum. What I'm actually trying to say is that those kinds of labels don't fit. And people who made up their minds early about which one to affix to President Obama are missing an awful lot of what he's getting done.

11 comments:

  1. I've been doing some research about the securing of nuclear material around the world and it seems that by and large that project has stalled out and met with rather intense obstruction. I think as long as it was being done under the radar it was working, but as soon as it went public, the wheels started coming undone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that's exactly why the administration actually prefers to keep some of these more progress moves under the table. Can you imagine what the right would be saying if they suggested the MLR were a path towards single payer?

      Delete
  2. And once the "war on terror" is over, isn't the NDAA part on indefinite detention history? I may be wrong, but I don't think so.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bing, bing, bing!!!!

      That's exactly the point I've been making EL.

      http://immasmartypants.blogspot.com/2012/01/way-forward-on-closing-guantanamo.html

      Delete
  3. I have been keeping track of your insights on the signs that we may be seeing the beginning of an end to "endless war." Please continue to share your insights on this subject -- my cautious hope is that we'll begin to see enough tangible evidence over the next few years to relegate Cheney-esque foreign policy to the most publicly-loathed lunatic fringe, where it belongs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can bet I'm going to keep my eye on that story!

      Delete
  4. What incensed me about much of the stuff on the left about the public option, is that the public option wasn't any better from a left perspective than what we now have. I'm in favor of either single payer or national health, straight up: I'm on the left. I've lived in England and seen national health in action, and it works. That said, the way people went gaga over the word "public" as if it was, in fact, single payer, was nuts.

    All forward progress is good. That's what ACA is, huge progress.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It might work, but you still have to pay for it. We need the wealthy to start paying their fair share so we can have the nice things in this country, too.

      Delete
  5. Obama is a pragmatist. Enough said!

    This is where the confusion lies. Obama's critics are confusing his ultimate political goals with his method of achieving them. It also doesn't help that most of his critics are trapped in ideological purity. Ideological purists normally don't see the difference between belief and method.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks for writing this, and for reminding us all of what this White House has actually accomplished. It's annoying to read stuff at places like "Kolossal Orange Satan" that are nothing but fact-free rants about nonsense. If this list still doesn't convince PLers that President Obama really has achieved more progressive goals than the decidedly un-progressive Ron Paul, then there's no hope for them.

    ReplyDelete
  7. The question I've been asking around, one which I have yet to get a good answer on, is exactly who would have the authority to declare over the "war" that was "declared" with the passage of the AUMF? Could Obama do it by executive order once he completes the withdrawal from Afghanistan and declares Al Qaeda a dead organization?

    ReplyDelete