Abandon all hope

One year into Obama’s administration, nothing has changed

No politician in my lifetime has promised more and delivered less than President Barack Obama. I write this shortly before the president’s first State of the Union speech on Wednesday night, but confidently predict that what we’ll hear is just more doublespeak from a man who is apparently bereft of new ideas.

The tea leaves are there for anyone to read. For instance, an anonymous Democratic source has informed the Web site Daily Kos that the president’s speech will focus on “creating good jobs, addressing the deficit, helping the middle class and changing Washington.” Let’s throw out the platitudes and examine the one phrase of substance in that list: addressing the deficit.

In political parlance, addressing the $12 trillion national debt means only one thing: cutting social programs. Lord knows, after the Bush administration’s countless tax cuts for the rich and its profligate spending on wars in the Middle East, society’s safety net is already torn and frayed. No matter. During his State of the Union speech, I fully expect Obama to announce austerity measures so severe they will cause Grover “Drown the Baby in the Bathtub” Norquist to vigorously spank his own monkey.

Economists such as Paul Krugman, Dean Baker and Michael Hudson understand that the national debt is a long-term problem. Far more important in the short run is putting 15 million unemployed Americans back to work. Despite what mainstream media are reporting, the country remains mired in a recession caused not by public debt but by the $8 trillion housing bubble’s implosion, the subsequent collapse of consumer credit and the inevitable decline in consumer demand. What’s required is a federal stimulus package far more aggressive than last year’s $750 billion bill, to get cash in the hands of consumers.

Of course, we’ll have to borrow the money, adding temporarily to the debt, but unless Obama commits to more substantial federal stimulus spending, the economy—and his presidency—will be toast. Problem is, he can’t deliver both stimulus and austerity, and his Wall Street masters are calling for the latter. (As this issue was going to press, the Obama administration proposed a three-year budget freeze, i.e., a massive austerity program.)

One reason Obama has been such a disappointment is that he simply raised expectations too high. Such is not the case with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who rather than participate in the usual democratic process to get elected in 2003, simply paid for his seat, where he will remain ensconced until we’re put out of our misery (presuming Meg Whitman doesn’t succeed him) later this year.

In the meantime, Governor Greenwash continues to demonstrate why he’s the most duplicitous leader to ever assume the throne in California. Here’s the former muscle head basking in adulation at the climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in early December: “We are proceeding on the world’s first low-carbon fuel standards and limiting greenhouse-gas emissions from cars which, by the way, the Obama administration has now just adopted.”

Yet less than a month later, Schwarzenegger demonstrated his commitment to limiting greenhouse-gas emissions by once again attempting to gut the state’s public-transportation budget. According to the California Transit Association, which successfully sued the governor after a similar grab last year, this year’s proposal is even more underhanded:

“Schwarzenegger’s plan would eliminate the sales tax on gasoline and diesel fuels and replace a portion of that revenue source with an increase in the excise tax on fuels, none of which would be allocated to transit. Instead of diverting money from the Public Transportation Account, the proposal would remove the funding stream that is supposed to flow into the PTA in the first place, effectively eliminating state funding for transit.”

In short, the shift in funding would subsidize automobile drivers, who would see gasoline prices reduced, at the expense of public transportation users, many of whom are low-income and will undoubtedly face yet more dramatic fare increases. It’s a mean-spirited, senseless proposal, but I’ve come to expect nothing less from “the people’s governor.”

Was it wrong to expect anything more from Barack Obama? Longtime observers of the political scene understand there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between our two major political parties. That much was clear when Obama shifted his rhetoric toward the center after sewing up the primary nomination in the spring of 2008. At this late date, if the president hasn’t delivered the change you hoped for, you’ve only got yourself to blame, for continuing to believe in him.