November 1, 2008

Will Barack Obama Be More Like FDR or Bill Clinton?

By In Essays

The latest neocon propaganda reported in the mainstream news media as if it were fact goes like this: Whoever becomes the next president is going to be left with such a huge national debt and budget deficit, he won’t be able to enact any significant social legislation, like universal health care or tax cuts for the middle class or a national renewable energy program, because he won’t have the money to pay for it.

In essence, this is a continuation of the old “starve the beast” idea of right-wing lobbyist Grover Norquist, an idea so stupid and selfish it was raised to apotheosis by the Bush administration and used as its guiding principle for the past eight years, i.e., bankrupt the country by spending an astronomical amount of money on the military/industrial complex while at the same time cutting taxes on the rich. As a result, there would be no money left for social programs because the government would inevitably build up a huge deficit.

“Reagan proved deficits don’t matter,” Cheney was famous for saying when he and Bush first took office. In other words, they had intended from the outset of their administration to drive the country into deficit, just as they had intended all along to invade Iraq. But blowing all the money in the treasury and creating an unending financial sinkhole in Iraq and Afghanistan wasn’t enough for them; they had to run up the national debt to over $10 trillion, squander another $700 billion on Wall Street, and stick the next administration with a half-trillion dollar budget deficit.

Talk about starving the beast! They not only starved it, they gutted it and ground up the bones, creating a very difficult situation for the next president to deal with. So how would he handle it?

In the first debate between Barack Obama and John McCain, milquetoast moderator, Jim Lehrer, dutifully asked the two candidates that very question: What programs would each of them be prepared to cut from his agenda if he becomes president because, you know, like we don’t have any money now.

Both candidates ducked the question, of course. It was expected of McCain. But here’s what liberals were hoping Obama would say. “Well, Jim, here’s the deal: If we ended the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, we’d save a couple of hundred billion dollars a year. And if we not only let the Bush tax cuts expire, but also taxed the upper one percent of the population at a rate that we did prior to the Reagan administration, we would bring in hundreds of billions more.”

At this point, McCain would grow red in the face and start screaming, “You see, he wants to redistribute the wealth! He’s a socialist!” but Obama would wave him off in his professorial manner and continue: “In addition, if we closed all the loopholes in the tax code and forced corporations to pay their fair share of taxes again, like they did in the 1950s and 1960s, we could count on hundreds of billions more. And one more thing– if we cut our bloated military budget in half, we would also save hundreds of billions. All told, Jim, these measures would add trillions of dollars to the U.S. treasury in the next several years, and we not only would have enough money to pay for all kinds of social programs, but we could balance the budget as well.”

But Obama didn’t say that. In fact, if you look at his past record in the Senate, he is not the flaming liberal that the McCain campaign has made him out to be, much less a socialist. For example, Obama deferred to the insurance industry and did not vote for HR 676, the single payer national health care bill that would have given medical coverage to every single American (and saved the country billions of dollars in the process).

In addition, he disappointed his liberal base by supporting the Telecom Amnesty Bill, which not only let large telecom companies off the hook for spying on Americans, but also let George W. Bush off the hook for criminal prosecution. In the same vein, he has supported the Patriot Act and FISA and has come out against impeaching George W. Bush.

Worst of all, it appears as if he is going to take his sweet time to get us out of Iraq (16 months is his current estimate), and not only prolong the war in Afghanistan, another unending, unwinnable guerrilla war like Vietnam, but step it up. He is asking for more troops and has vowed to go into Pakistan if necessary to get bin Laden.

Some insiders say that Obama is just putting on a more hawkish front right now to appeal to a wider range of mainstream voters, but once he gets in office– especially with a Democratically controlled Congress– he will get back to his liberal roots and initiate great social change, just like FDR.

As I recall, this is what a lot of people said about Bill Clinton when he first got elected. As it turned out, Clinton was less like FDR and more like George Bush Senior, giving in to Republicans on NAFTA, welfare reform, and several other issues. He also helped his friends on Wall Street when he signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 (effectively dissolving the Glass-Steagal Act of 1933), which many economists believe was the primary cause of the current economic meltdown in the banking and real estate industries.

So let’s be honest:  Right now we are in desperate times, and the country does not need another Bill (or Hillary) Clinton.  We don’t need someone who’s good at compromising or triangulating or selling the sizzle not the steak.  We need the steak, baby!  We need the real deal, someone like FDR, someone who will take on the ruling elite and transform our sinking economy, our rigged political system, and our unfair tax code.  We need someone who will fight for the middle class and tax the rich again.  In the last 28 years we have seen the greatest redistribution of wealth in history from average Americans to the super rich.


As it stands today, the upper one percent of the population owns over 40% of the net assets of the country, yet the high-income individuals in this elite group pay taxes at a rate of only 35%.  Historically, this is very low. For example, in the 1950s, when we actually had a balanced budget, a growing manufacturing base, and a strong middle class, the tax rate on the upper income bracket was a whopping 90%! And no one– except a bunch of nerdy Ayn Rand acolytes and fanatical libertarians– thought it was class warfare or socialism.  It was simply a progressive income tax designed to promote a strong economy for a majority of Americans.

But those days are long gone.  Today, the super rich (and of course large corporations, many of which pay no tax at all thanks to variety of loopholes) are not sharing the wealth; they are hoarding the wealth. This is the real class warfare. The last time this happened was from 1925-31, when top bracket individuals were taxed at a 25% rate.  And although not all economists agree, many believe that this phenomenon was a major contributing factor to the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Are we on the brink of history repeating itself?

No doubt Obama is keenly aware of this situation, but will he have the balls to cross his rich friends and corporate backers to take the necessary steps to make real change?  To put it another way:  Will he become a “transformational figure” like FDR and make serious changes for the common good, or will he become another smooth-talking compromiser like Bill Clinton and simply tinker around the edges?  Only time will tell.

But if Obama and a Democratically controlled Congress do not deliver on a liberal/progressive agenda in the next four years, there will be hell to pay!  Americans are tired of waiting for reform and tired of being ripped off by the white collar criminals who have been running the country for the past thee decades under the guise of free market capitalism.

The question is, will Obama rise to the occasion and finally give Americans the steak, or will he succumb to the moneyed interests and continue to sell us the sizzle?

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