Why Dems should be furious at Obama

Alternative title: The triumphant, tragic presidency of Barack Obama

Historians will look back at the presidency of Barack Obama as one that was both triumphant and tragic.

It was triumphant for the obvious reasons: Obama is a brilliant orator and a decent human being.  He is the first black man to win election to the highest office. He saved America from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, bringing on economic growth that continues until now.

Historians will point to the real, if partial, victories of the Affordable Care Act, re-regulation of Wall Street, and increased environmental regulations.  They  will point to the intractable wars that Obama inherited and to the relentless and almost unanimous wall of opposition from Republicans in Congress and from right wing media.  They will point to the racism and birtherism that he had to face.  They will say that his progressive critics had too high expectations for what he could achieve.

Yet the tragic thing about the presidency of Barack Obama was that he was given a once-in-a-generation opportunity to control the narrative,  expose GOP corruption, establish a strong Democratic majority and save America from the forces of corporatism and militarism.

Obama barely even tried.

A review of the evidence shows that Obama failed to take advantage of the opportunities he had available, with the result that most of his legacy is now being destroyed.

In short, he didn’t fight.

Due to an excess of moderation, idealism, naiveté, and/or cowardice, Obama disheartened his supporters, confused the public about which party would serve their interests,  allowed the Republicans to control the narrative, and facilitated the handover of the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court, and a majority of state legislatures to extremist Republicans.

Specifically, the Democrats lost 900 seats in state legislatures during Obama’s presidency. “At the beginning of Obama’s term, Democrats controlled 59 percent of state legislatures, while now [in early 2017] they control only 31 percent, the lowest percentage for the party since the turn of the 20th century. They held 29 governor’s offices and now have only 16, the party’s lowest number since 1920.” (source: Barack Obama Won The White House, But Democrats Lost The Country: What Happened?

And Donald Trump is now president.

Here’s a particularly outrageous example of Obama’s bad choices. As reported in Politico (Biden: McConnell stopped Obama from calling out Russians), three weeks before the 2016 election, Obama and Biden wanted to inform the American people about Russian interference in the election. But they allowed Mitch McConnell to veto the announcement. About a week later, Obama allowed James Comey to announce that he was re-opening the email investigation against Hillary Clinton.

Biden said he and former President Barack Obama worried that without a united front of bipartisanship, speaking out before the election would undermine the legitimacy of the election and American institutions in a way that would play into the Russians’ larger ambitions.  (source)

This is the same Joe Biden who, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that was holding hearings on the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, decided against allowing women other than Anita Hill to offer testimony about Thomas’s sexual harassment.

Why don’t Democrats fight?

Republicans in Congress had opposed virtually every policy position of President Obama. The Senate threatened filibusters on numerous bills.  In March of 2016, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court;  the Senate, under the leadership of Mitch McConnell, refused to hold hearings on the nomination. Yet three weeks before the 2016 election, Obama and Biden still wanted to be bipartisan and still deferred to Mitch McConnell?!

There are dozens of similar inexplicable cowardice or excessive moderation on the part of Obama. See the list below and this petition.

While writing this article I watched a video of former President Obama’s wonderful speech to students at the University of Illinois. In the speech President Obama eloquently denounces the current occupant of the White House. It brought me to tears to realize that such a brilliant, gifted, sensible, lovable man could be followed in office by such an incompetent, repulsive scoundrel as Donald Trump.

Compare how Obama led to the masterful tactics of Mitch McConnell, who engineered the placement of two Supreme Court justices and then convinced Senate Democrats to allow fifteen more federal judges to be confirmed as a condition for his letting Senators return to their home states to campaign.   Why didn’t Obama fight like that?

If Obama is a closet conservative, then some of his choices make sense. But from a purely political, strategic point of view, many of his choices were just dumb and naive.

In 2008 America was ready for the change that Obama promised.   The economy was in deep recession. Corporate America had come begging to Uncle Sam for bailouts. The war in Iraq — launched on false pretenses —  was going badly.  The war in Afghanistan was unresolved. Wall Street was exposed as corrupt and under-regulated.  Scandals and criminality in the Bush administration and the GOP (Tom DeLay, etc) made Americans yearn for a strong, ethical, populist Democratic leader.

Obama campaigned as such a leader and had a mandate —  certainly in terms of the electoral college vote:  365 to 173.  The popular vote margin was respectable but not overwhelming: 52.9% to 45.7%.

Signs of trouble appeared early after Obama won election. Before his inauguration in 2009, when President-elect Obama was asked by ABC News’ George Stephanopoulo about whether there would be investigations and prosecutions for Bush-era criminality, Obama responded, “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” In 2012 Obama again tweeted: “We don’t look backwards, we look forward.”

Apparently, Obama didn’t look forward far enough. Else he would have foreseen the Republican takeover of the House in 2010 and the election of Donald Trump in 2016.

Obama was a brilliant and inspiring speaker. But, once elected, he barely used his oratorical skills to sway public opinion. His successful campaign organization, Obama For America, devolved into the  ineffective Organizing for America.  He often betrayed his base: progressives, environmentalists, women, labor, educators, and pacifists.

Here’s a partial list of Obama’s betrayals and mistakes:

  • Prosecuting whistle blowers
  • Protecting war criminals and Wall Street crooks
  • Surrounding himself with Wall Street cronies
  • Supporting the charter school movement
  • Bankrupting and weakening the Democratic National Committee and state parties (see below)
  • Continuing the Bush bailouts of Wall Street, not Main Street
  • Failing to support the Employee Free Choice Act, despite union support during his election and his promise to “to fight for the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act”.
  • Appointing conservative judges to the federal courts (“According to a February analysis by the Alliance for Justice, a coalition of environmental, consumer, civil rights, and women’s groups, 70 percent of Obama’s judicial nominees are former corporate attorneys. ” Obama’s Judicial Nominees: Liberals Are Upset With Them, Too).
  • Pushing for strong enforcement of federal marijuana statutes US vows marijuana enforcement regardless of California vote, Medical Marijuana Industry Is Unnerved by U.S. Crackdown
  • Stacking the committee responsible for designing the Affordable Care Act with conservative Democrats, resulting in a health care bill similar to what Republicans had proposed: a gift to the private insurance industry
  • Supporting conservative Democrat Blanche Lincoln against progressive challenger Bill Halter in the Arkansas Senate race; see Biden Sends Fundraising E-Mail For Blanche Lincoln.
  • Compromising early and often on taxation and other issues, in a vain hope to garner Republican cooperation;
  • Compromising with Republicans on extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich; Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said this about the estate tax provision included in the tax cut compromise: “We had the president — George W. Bush — we couldn’t get it done then and we’re getting it done here.”
  • Nominating Jason Furman for Chief of the Council of Economic Advisers; the American Enterprise Institute says of Furman: “He has written on the importance of fiscal discipline, the need to undertake entitlement reform sooner rather than later, the role of international trade in improving living standards, and the benefits of Wal-Mart in boosting living standards for low-income Americans.” (source: Jason Furman would serve with distinction as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers).
  • Promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a neo-liberal “trade deal” that was more about giving power to corporations than about promoting free trade

The above is just a sample of his betrayals. See this petition for a much fuller list.

Under Howard Dean, the Democratic National Committee had pursued a successful 50-state strategy. Obama weakened the DNC and state parties, making sure that most money was fed to his re-election effort and to the re-election campaign of Hillary Clinton. As it says in the Rolling Stone article Can Democrats Fix the Party?

The 50-state strategy devolved under Obama into a presidential-battleground strategy, leaving state parties starved for cash and leadership. “Obama didn’t put resources into local parties unless it was for his re-election effort,” says the former party chair. Making matters worse: Obama tapped ambitious Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz – a favorite of White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett – to run the DNC in 2011. “That congresswoman had no idea what she was doing,” adds the former chair.

Wasserman Schultz went rogue. In a rift with the White House that spilled into a story on Politico, she was criticized for using the DNC as a vehicle for self-promotion, hoping the office would serve as a springboard into House leadership. The White House made overtures to oust Wasserman Schultz, but she dug in, promising an ugly fight that could tar the president as both anti-woman and anti-Semitic. (Wasserman Schultz, who was forced to resign in the aftermath of the Russian hack of the DNC, declined to participate in this story.)

Obama dodged that fight, and instead fostered Organizing for Action, the grassroots group born of his campaigns. “They had a mirror organization that did just their politics, and it weakened the DNC,” says a source in House leadership. “It directed money elsewhere and was not in the interest of the long-term stability [of the party]. It was a selfish strategy.”

In Donna Brazile’s account of her the role in the 2016 campaign, Hacks, the Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns that Put Donald Trump in the White House, she wrote, “Obama left the party $24 million in debt — $15 million in bank debt and more than $8 million owed to vendors after the 2012 campaign…. As I saw it, these three titanic egos — Barack, Hillary, and Debbie [Wasserman Schultz] had stripped the party to a shell for their own purposes.”

A DNC member in Washington State said the same thing to me: Obama left the DNC weakened and broke.

In Land of the free? How Trump Has Put America’s Identity in Peril, Ben Fountain writes

Obama was elected on the shoulders of an incipient movement that he allowed to languish once he became president. It started early, even before he took office. Locked in a runoff for the Georgia senate seat held by a Republican incumbent, the progressive Democratic nominee, James Martin, begged the popular president-elect for help. A Martin win would have given Democrats a crucial 60-vote supermajority in the Senate, but even with the stakes so high, Obama, reluctant to spend any of his considerable political capital, limited his support to a single radio spot. Martin lost, and the template was set.

“Obama’s whole approach was to minimize opposition, rather than to maximize support,” said Martin Ganz, a union organizer and Obama adviser, and so it would go for most of Obama’s presidency. His reluctance to take his case directly to the people, allowing his opponents to control the narrative. His muddying of what were in fact sharp partisan distinctions, including his maddening restraint when it came to the politics of class. His tenderness toward Wall Street, which was hardly reciprocated. His feckless pursuit of common ground with the Republican opposition long after their hardcore obstructionism had become painfully clear. It’s a matter of record that the Republicans’ deliberate, unwavering, freely admitted strategy was to destroy the president by thwarting every single measure he put forward, even those previously supported by the GOP. In fact, even those that originated in the GOP; the Affordable Care Act was based on a plan developed by the hard-right Heritage Foundation.

Such was his practice of the politics of moderation that Obama lost even when he won. The “shellacking” that the Democrats took in the 2010 midterms was due in no small part to Republicans’ successful demonizing of the Affordable Care Act. The popular mobilization that twice elected Obama president might have, with sustained, vigorous support and forceful leadership, matured into the kind of mass movement that creates lasting change.

Obama promised openness on national security matters but instead enforced secrecy.   “Obama’s transparency phase did not last long. His administration secretly subpoenaed reporters’ phone records and brought at least nine leak-related prosecutions, more than all previous administrations combined. ”  (source: the New York Times)

The same New York Times article summarizes the Obama administration legacy on the war on terror:

In all, what Obama left behind was a troubling inheritance — vast, secret and mostly unilateral powers to spy and to kill in the name of fighting the global war on terror, powers that depend more on the good intentions of those who wield them than on any written law. Listening to Obama’s early rhetoric, it was easy to think that he was going to do something to pare those powers back and remove the country from its permanent post-9/11 war footing. The war against Al Qaeda would continue, he said, but with “an abiding confidence in the rule of law and due process; in checks and balances and accountability.” He would pursue “the strongest and most sustainable legal framework,” a legacy “that outlasts my administration, my presidency, that endures for the next president and the president after that.”

But in the end, Obama’s record on counterterrorism was one of continuity, not change. Guantánamo shrank; it did not close. Obama responded to Edward Snowden’s disclosures by throwing his weight behind the National Security Agency. The C.I.A. kept its drones and signature strikes. Efforts that might have been intended to scale back the drone program wound up codifying it; the series of speeches that Obama presented as part of his “framework” — road maps to reform — had the effect of normalizing and putting a humane face on a policy of quasi assassination. During the final months of Obama’s second term came a gesture toward transparency, an executive order requiring the White House to release annually the number of noncombatants killed by drone strikes outside war zones. Their estimates for Obama’s years in office were far lower than those compiled by outside groups.

President Trump has now loosened the rules for drone strikes and used the other powers established by Obama.

The lost opportunity of the Obama administration is particularly painful to behold, because of the damage that was done by his predecessor and that is being done by his successor, and because Hillary Clinton could be president now, had Obama made a few small moves.

A sympathetic assessment is that Obama was a decent man, of moderate temperament.  He was not up to fighting the vicious and relentless forces arrayed against us.  In the end, he and Hillary were swiftboated into defeat.   Her email scandal was minor compared to the scandals around Trump.   But, again, the Democrats let Republicans control the narrative.

I believe the sympathetic assessment is too kind.   It is a mystery to me that a man with such gifts and such an opportunity threw it all away and allowed the Republicans to regain control.

Glen Ford, of Black Agenda Report, wrote an incisive article Psycho-Babbling Obama in 2010 — about the same year I realize that Obama had sold progressives under the bus.    Ford’s devastating words ring true today with even more force:

For two years we watched Barack Obama undercut the left wing of his party at every turn, with a disdain so palpable his minions could not resist insulting leftists in the most juvenile terms. For two years we watched the First Black President facilitate the greatest transfer of wealth in human history – $12 to $14 trillion – to Wall Street, and we watched as he put the U.S. war machine back on the offensive in the world. For two years we heard Obama say over and over again that he had no intention of taking targeted action to help Black and brown communities that had been targeted for destruction by banks. After two years, one would think that folks on the Left would have gotten the idea that Obama is pro-Pentagon, pro-Wall Street, and doesn’t have a transformative bone in his body regarding either race or class. But, for many, the message, however obvious, has not sunk in. Rather than face the fact that Obama is not a friend of the people, leftish commentators insist on conducting a psychological analysis of the president. They seem to be trying to find some quirk in Obama’s personality that can by corrected in time for the Armageddon showdown with the Republicans.

Still unwilling or unable to admit that they were “psyched out” by Barack Obama and his corporate handlers, Lefties search for psychological reasons that the First Black President has been such a disappointment. It’s the failure to fight thing, or the lack of vision thing, or the failure to communicate thing, they say. [But i]t isn’t that Obama has trouble conveying his vision, it’s that his actual vision is unacceptable to progressives. As for his willingness to fight, Obama fought his own left wing, and stomped their butts into the dirt over his corporate health care plan.

It’s hard to be angry at Obama, because he is brilliant and decent. But looking at his record or compromise and accommodation, it’s also hard not to be angry.

Sure, there were many causes of the 2016 election debacle. (Hillary, for her part, had the hubris to think she didn’t need to campaign in the swing states.) As sitting president and head of the Democratic Party, Barack Obama bears a particularly heavy responsibility.


The budget deficit dropped two-thirds during the Obama administration. Forbes: GOP Has Been Playing Us All For Suckers

From PolitFact: “We rate the claim Mostly True.” Barack Obama claims deficit has decreased by two-thirds since taking office

From Forbes: On The Deficit, GOP Has Been Playing Us All For Suckers
The GOP budget and tax plan overwhelmingly benefits the rich.

Just a few months after the tax bill was signed, the GOP-controlled Congress agreed to increase federal spending and the budget deficit by another $130 billion or so.

Think about this. The same congressional Republicans who over the previous eight years wanted everyone to believe they were fiscal conservatives hell-bent on balancing the budget and not increasing the national debt, sponsored, passed and then danced around the fire because of legislation that will result in a permanent $1 trillion deficit and a debt that will soar to close to 100 percent of GDP by 2028.

Hillary was swift-boated: alternate realities and the Republican Propaganda Machine

Amidst all the finger-pointing and self-immolation on the left, we need to acknowledge that the main cause of Hillary’s loss was the formidable propaganda machine of the Republican Party.

And the ignorance, gullibility and hatefulness of so many Americans.

After all, the most shocking thing about the 2016 election is that Donald Trump could win despite his many obvious negatives.

Don't blame Trump: He did everything he could to prove he was unfit to be president

No matter who won the Democratic nomination, a large proportion of Republican voters would have voted for the Republican nominee.

A similar thing can be said for the election of 2004, when George W. Bush won re-election, despite the disaster of the war in Iraq and the scandals and corruptions surrounding his administration.  Even in 2008, 45.7% of voters voted for John McCain.

Of course, Hillary was a perfect target for GOP hatred. Her hawkishness, friendliness to Wall Street, flip-flops, carelessness, and dirty tricks towards Sanders made her vulnerable and suppressed Democratic turnout. But millions of voters believed that Hillary was far worse than she is. The hatefulness towards her was unhealthy.

For this, Trump can thank Fox News, AM talk radio, Breitbart News, and other conservative media outlets, which were able to rouse up their base to a frenzy of hatred of Hillary, of government, and of liberals.  In contrast, Trump was able to escape accountability for his outrageous statements and scandals:  Trump University, Trump Foundation, bankruptcies, shady business dealings, not paying contractors, failure to release tax returns, likely tax evasion, lies during the debates, racist comments, sexual escapades, conspiracy mongering about Obama’s citizenship, denial of established scientific consensus, etc.

On not paying contractors see Donald Trump’s Business Plan Left a Trail of Unpaid Bills, Hundreds Allege Donald Trump doesn’t pay his bills, and Dozens of lawsuits accuse Trump of not paying his bills, reports claim.

Aside from claiming that global climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, Trump has said that vaccines cause autism, that environmentally-friendly light bulbs cause cancer, and that fracking “poses zero health risks” while wind farms are “bad for people’s health”.   He called Obama the founder of ISIS.   The list of outrages goes on and on.

Hillary was swift-boated about her private email server, about the Clinton Foundation, and about Pizzagate. The hatred towards her and bias against her were pathological.

Using a private server was careless, but it was trivial compared to George W. Bush and Trump’s wrongdoings and scandals. “Clinton’s email habits look positively transparent when compared with the subpoena-dodging, email-hiding, private-server-using George W. Bush administration. Between 2003 and 2009, the Bush White House “lost” 22 million emails.” (The George W. Bush White House ‘Lost’ 22 Million Emails)

The Clinton Foundation received a 4 out of 4 rating from Charity Navigator and an A rating from Charity Watch.

Concerning Pizzagate, Nearly 50% of Donald Trump voters believe Hillary Clinton is involved in pedophilia ring: poll.

On numerous matters of fact and policy, conservatives live in an alternate reality. The partisan divide in American politics is as wide as ever.

A CNN/ORC poll taken in 2015 found that 43 percent of Republicans believed that Obama is a Muslim.

According to the Pew Research Center, “Just over a quarter of the public – 28% – says climate scientists have a solid understanding of the causes of climate change. And even fewer, 19%, of adults say the same about climate scientists’ understanding of the best ways to address climate change.” “Consistent with past Pew Research Center surveys, most liberal Democrats espouse human-caused climate change, while most conservative Republicans reject it.”  “Thirty percent of Fox News viewers say that Obama is ‘probably’ or ‘definitely’ not a citizen, and another nine percent say that they do not know. In comparison, only 13 percent of CNN viewers, and seven percent of MSNBC viewers say the same.”

A 2016 survey taken by Yale and George Mason University found that only 47% of Republicans believe in climate change.

“A survey by YouGov found that by December 1, 43 percent of Republicans accepted the [Trump] claim that millions of people had voted illegally in 2016.”  (source)

A 2015 PublicMind poll by Farleigh Dickinson University found:

Overall, 42 percent of Americans believe that U.S. forces found active weapons of mass destruction program in Iraq. Republicans are more likely to hold this belief than Democrats: fifty-one percent of Republicans think it’s “probably” or “definitely” true that an active program was found after the 2003 invasion, with 14 percent saying that it was definitely true.

According to CBS News, “Nearly half of Americans incorrectly think President Obama started the the bank bailout program, otherwise known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), a new poll shows. Just 34 percent of Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center correctly said that TARP was enacted by the Bush administration.”

Democrats’ policy positions play a much smaller role in the outcomes than we’d like to think. What matters most is perception and spin, not substance.

How to explain the toxic hatred of Hillary and liberals?  Partly, it’s misogyny. But I agree with the conclusion of Amanda Marcotte, who says, in Conservatism turned toxic: Donald Trump’s fanbase has no actual ideology, just a nihilistic hatred of liberals, “Trump’s victory was the result of decades of right-wing hate rhetoric, curdling into a totally negative worldview.”

I say all this as a fervent Bernie Sanders supporter who was highly critical of Hillary’s hawkishness and friendliness to Wall Street. I was critical of her but I don’t hate her the way even many progressives do.  I thought she was intelligent and graceful.  I am more horrified by the success of the GOP propaganda machine at polluting peoples’ minds with conspiracy theories, falsehoods, and hatred.

I’m not asking for a pass for Hillary and the DNC. I acknowledge their corruptions and their mistakes. In particular, the Democrats shouldn’t have selected Hillary, given her hawkishness, her ties to Wall Street, the extreme hatred of her by so many people, and the nation’s populist mood. I’m asking for proportional accountability. Hillary, the Democratic Party, the country, and the world will pay a price far out of proportion to her culpability and to the accountability Trump and Republicans received for their many wrongdoings and statements.

Too often, Obama and Hillary were hawks and neoliberal sellouts. So, it’s hard to feel sympathy for them — except that Trump and the Republicans are far worse. My point is: the GOP had great success at exaggerating Hillary’s crookedness while hiding their own. Trump was the Teflon Don, if ever there was one.   In fact, not only was Hillary the lesser-of-two-evils, but she was good on on some issues and moderate on many others.

Republicans fight nasty. They’re masters of dirty tricks and character assassination.

They go low, we go high, they win.

When Trump and the Republicans are tough, they are perceived as strong and bold. When Hillary was tough, she was portrayed as a harridan and a witch.

Democrats, on the other hand, are wimps, compared to the Republicans. In 2008, after eight years of misrule under Bush and the Republicans, Americans were eager for peace and for populist policies. As a candidate, Obama promised change. But once he was in office, Obama turned into a moderate. He tried to be post-partisan.  He compromised early and often. He surrounded himself with Wall Street cornies. He wanted to look forward, so he hid the war crimes of the Bush Administration and the fraud of Wall Street banks from the American people.    As Obama said of himself, “My policies are so mainstream that if I had set the same policies … back in the 1980s, I would be considered a moderate Republican.” Obama’s unwillingness to fight, and to stand up to Wall Street and the defense establishment depressed turnout, angered many voters, and allowed Trump to pursue his populist playbook.

You may argue, with some validity, that Obama needed to compromise to get anything done. But politicians score few points by compromising. Obama should have fought hard for single-payer health care, or at least a public option.   Instead, he allowed Max Baucus and other conservative Democrats to whittle down the Affordable Care Act in a fruitless attempt to win GOP backing. In the end, no Republican voted for it, and we were left with a health care plan designed by the Heritage Foundation and tested by Mitt Romney.

Obama is a great orator and a smart man. He allowed the GOP to steamroll the Democratic Party, who now have lost control of the House, the Senate, the White House, and a majority of state legislatures and governorships.

On the other hand. all those progressives who refused to vote for the lesser of two evils can enjoy the satisfaction of standing up for their principles as we face slashes to the EPA, public education, Medicare, Social Security, worker rights, women’s rights, gay rights, consumer rights, and financial regulations. Plus decades of conservative rule in the Supreme Court. And more tax cuts for rich people. And increased defense spending. And possible wars with China and Iran. And fewer people with medical insurance. I understand where the purists were coming from and rather agree that Clinton and Obama got what they deserved. Still, lesser-of-two-evils is lesser-of-two-evils, and on many issues Hillary was moderate. On women’s rights she was progressive.

But the blame for the election loss spreads far and wide. This article has argued that mostly the blame rests with the GOP propaganda machine, which has polluted peoples’ minds. Here is a fuller list of who and what to blame.

Who and what to blame for Trump's victory

Who and what to blame for Trump, in one image

Who and what to blame for Trump

For a detailed, excellent analysis, see Everything mattered: lessons from 2016’s bizarre presidential election. The election was close, so many groups and people share blame for the outcome.

This Politico article and this facebook video from the Young Turks describe how the Hillary campaign ignored the swing states til it was too late.

By the end of the election, Trump was repeating Bernie Sanders’s talking points about inequality and outsourcing. Obviously he convinced a lot of people that he and the Repugs would help the middle class. Obama barely tried, but even if he had, the Repugs would have obstructed his efforts.

After being criticized on facebook, I am now wondering whether my inclusion of “Clinton Foundation” is a mistake and a succumbing to GOP propaganda.  The Clinton Foundation received a 4 out of 4 rating from Charity Navigator and an A from Charity Watch.    Is the widespread perception that the Clinton Foundation is corrupt justified?  Show the evidence.

Similarly, on the question of whether Putin really did help Trump, it’s unclear whether the CIA. can be believed.

Obama and other reasons for the election debacle

The emerging consensus of commentators is that Trump won because of populist disgust with politics as usual, because of hatred of Hillary,  and because of economic hardship that Trump was able to blame on immigrants, trade deals, regulations, and corrupt elites.  Trump pledged to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C., and people thought Hillary was part of the swamp.

As Thomas Frank says in Donald Trump is moving to the White House, and liberals put him there,

The woman we were constantly assured was the best-qualified candidate of all time has lost to the least qualified candidate of all time. Everyone who was anyone rallied around her, and it didn’t make any difference. The man too incompetent to insult is now going to sit in the Oval Office, whence he will hand down his beauty-contest verdicts on the grandees and sages of the old order.

The Democrats chose a flawed candidate, with high negatives.  Granted, much of the hatred of Hillary is based on myths and exaggerations manufactured by conservative media. But enough of the hatred was justified — by her close ties to Wall Street, by her past votes for the Iraq War, by her hawkishness during the Obama administration, by her past support for the TPP, by the questionable practices of the Clinton Foundation, and by her carelessness with the private email servers — that Republicans could rightfully say that she was corrupt.   Granted, Trump and the Republicans are far worse!!!!  But that made no difference because Fox News and the rest of right wing media have entrapped tens of millions of Americans in an alternate reality in which climate change is unreal and deregulation and tax cuts for rich people will help the middle class.

Few people on the right loved Trump. They were aware of his flaws.  But they hated Hillary even more than Trump.

Much of the Democratic base hated Hillary too. Some of my progressive friends refused to vote for Hillary, knowing well that Trump is probably worse, because they didn’t want to reward her and the DNC for its mistreatment of Bernie Sanders. One friend at work was a Bernie supporter who knew all about how terrible Trump would be. Still, he wouldn’t vote for Hillary. He refused to vote for the lesser of two evils.  He said he felt no sympathy for the Democrats, who courted disaster by their hubris.   (Disclosure: I reluctantly voted for Hillary, as the lesser-of-two-evils.)

Assigning Blame

There’s lots of blame to go around for this debacle. Ignoring both the obvious culprits on the right and the desperate, stupid gullibility of millions of Americans,  who should we blame? In no particular order,

  1. Hillary & Bill Clinton, for hubris, short-sightedness, and corruption;
  2. The DNC, including Debbie Wasserman Schultz, for cheating Bernie Sanders and for serving the corporate elite;
  3. Barack Obama, for serving Wall Street, for compromising early and often, for burdening us with a flawed health care plan designed by conservatives to enrich the insurance companies, for pushing for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and, mostly, for refusing to prosecute Bush administration criminality, while eagerly going after whistle blowers who exposed government corruption, thereby hiding from the American people the extent of GOP corruption;
  4. Elizabeth Warren, for refusing to back Bernie Sanders and for refusing to run (she’ll be 71 in 2020, possibly too old to run);
  5. Bernie Sanders, for calling himself a socialist when, in reality, he’s a social democrat;
  6. Liberals, for their elitism and their insensitivity to religious and cultural minorities (Thomas Frank elaborates on that elitism here);
  7. FBI Director James Comey, for announcing to Congress 10 days before the election that he’s investigating more emails;
  8. Our antiquated and reactionary electoral system, which delivered the presidency to a candidate who lost the popular vote, and which gives greater political power to small, agricultural states;
  9. The greed and elitism of high tech plutocrats such as Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and the titans of Apple and Google, who profited immensely from government-funded research and from government services and protections, but then promoted anti-tax and anti-government policies that gutted education, journalism, the middle class, and the Rust Belt;
  10. The media, for giving Trump free air time, and for failing to refute right wing media’s assault on truth. If you listen to right wing media, you’d think that Obama and Hillary are raving socialists and that climate change is a myth. Half the country lives in an alternate reality.

Don’t Blame Berniecrats, Blame Corporate Dems

Notice that I don’t list Berniecrats in that list.  In 2000, many Democrats blamed Ralph Nader and his supporters for the election of George W. Bush; indeed, had all Nader voters voted for Gore, Bush would have lost.  I am unaware of any concerted effort to blame Sanders and his supporters for Hillary’s defeat.    But there are indications that low turnout, especially among blacks, contributed to Hillary’s loss. From what I have read, too few Sanders voters voted for Jill Stein or Trump to make a difference in the swing states that went for Trump.  Sanders strongly endorsed Hillary, and most Berniecrats apparently voted for her.   As Michael Moore says in his prescient article 5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win,

Stop fretting about Bernie’s supporters not voting for Clinton – we’re voting for Clinton! The polls already show that more Sanders voters will vote for Hillary this year than the number of Hillary primary voters in ’08 who then voted for Obama. This is not the problem. The fire alarm that should be going off is that while the average Bernie backer will drag him/herself to the polls that day to somewhat reluctantly vote for Hillary, it will be what’s called a “depressed vote” – meaning the voter doesn’t bring five people to vote with her. He doesn’t volunteer 10 hours in the month leading up to the election. She never talks in an excited voice when asked why she’s voting for Hillary. A depressed voter.

Besides, even if Berniecrats did abandon Hillary, can you blame them, given how badly the DNC treated Sanders?

By the way, in that article Moore correctly predicted that Trump would win in the Midwest, where disgust with NAFTA and TPP would turn blue collar voters towards Trump, who campaigned there against unfair trade deals and corporate outsourcing.

Elaborating on #1 and #2, and again quoting Frank,

Democratic leaders made Hillary their candidate even though they knew about her closeness to the banks, her fondness for war, and her unique vulnerability on the trade issue – each of which Trump exploited to the fullest. They chose Hillary even though they knew about her private email server. They chose her even though some of those who studied the Clinton Foundation suspected it was a sketchy proposition.

As David Talbot said, “This catastrophe is primarily the fault of the elites who took over the Democratic Party and turned it into a bastion of corporate globalism and permanent war, at the expense of the working people who were once its base. The Clintons — with their self-serving Davos internationalism and Wall Street pandering — were the ultimate symbol of this Democratic Party sellout.”

Though I risk criticism from friends and allies on the left, I want to elaborate on #6.

Liberal Elitism and Gay Marriage

I support gay rights and think that gays should have the right to get married.  But I suspect it was a huge tactical error for Democrats to push this issue.  Gay marriage enrages and disgusts tens of millions of Americans, guaranteeing that they will vote for Republicans.   Far better if the Democrats had spent their political capital on other issues such as (1) cleaning up corruption in D.C., (2) exposing and prosecuting Bush administration criminality, (3) reining in Wall Street, (4) exposing and fixing our unfair tax system that gaping loopholes that favor the rich, (5) ending bad trade deals, and (6) ending our  imperialistic foreign policy.

Politics is like a game of chess. You have to sacrifice some pieces.   We have gay marriage, but now we got Trump. It wasn’t worth the trade.

Besides, is marriage really that wonderful?  Look at the high divorce rates among heterosexuals.

Same with transgender rights.    A worthy cause.  Politically stupid. (A Chinese acquaintance said she voted for Trump because the Democrats favor immigrants and transgender rights.)

On the other hand, even the Supreme Court agreed that gays should marry.  Maybe I’m horribly wrong.  Maybe gay rights is like civil rights for blacks.  Just as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 drove the South into the arms of the Republican Party, gay marriage helped strengthen evangelicals embrace of the GOP.

Notice, too, that I haven’t mentioned abortion rights.  I am unwilling to sacrifice the right to choose. But I point out that with the election of Trump, and with the continued GOP control of Congress, the Supreme Court may overturn Roe versus Wade in the not-too-distant future.

With gay marriage, the Left won the battle but lost the war.

Politics sucks.


On immigration, the sad thing is that Obama has been extraditing  millions of immigrants — something you’re not likely to hear. Immigrants are the ones who may suffer the most from the election of Donald Trump. This is truly a tragedy.   Unfortunately, millions of Americans think undocumented aliens should be extradited. (The same Chinese woman I mentioned above told me she’s angry that illegal immigrants get to stay here for free and go to college, while her son is discriminated against when he applies to elite colleges because he’s Asian.)

Obama’s Culpability

Lastly, I want to elaborate on #3 (Obama’s blame). He’s the leader of the Democratic Party. How much blame does he deserve for the debacle?

Many of my friends are despairing.  One woman says she hasn’t been able to sleep at night.  Another friend has pledged to boycott contact with family members who voted for Trump.  People are scared and saddened.   In fact, this sort of mental anguish has plagued millions of us since 2000.  There was a ray of hope in 2008, but that was soon extinguished when Obama surrounded himself with Wall Street hacks, prosecuted the whistle blowers, protected the Bush criminals, escalated the war in Afghanistan, and pushed through a flawed healthcare act designed by conservatives to enrich the insurance companies. Obama compromised early and often. See this petition for a partial list of Obama’s many sell-outs, too numerous to mention here.

After Obama aided Wall Street, the rural whites correctly saw that the Democratic establishment serves the 1%.  Obama had a chance to break new ground and expose the GOP for what it is. Instead, he foolishly tried to be bipartisan and allowed right wing media to control the narrative.

George W. Bush delivered the G.O.P.’s head on a platter. Obama re-attached it and resuscitated a conservative monster that has roared back into power.  (On this, see Thomas Frank’s Pity the Billionaire.)

Obama back of head

Obama saved the nation from economic collapse but failed utterly at getting credit and at stopping Republicans.  By 2010, Republicans had taken back control of Congress.  Republicans now control a record number of governorships and state legislatures.  In 2017, Republicans will almost certainly repeal Obamacare (Obama’s “crowning achievement”)  and will probably  gut Dodd-Frank.  Trump will appoint a replacement for Scalia and, quite possibly, two or more additional members of the Supreme Court.

At the beginning of the Obama administration, the country was reeling from the disaster of the Iraq War, the recession, and Republican corruption.  Now Republicans have convinced almost half the population that Democrats are to blame for the country’s problems.

As a friend said on facebook, “The same people who elected Obama in the rust belt states are those who elected Trump. It’s the hopey – changey thing.” Obama delivered an economic boom but allowed the GOP to blame him for the country’s problems.

Thus, the prize for blame goes to Barack Obama.  He had a chance to slay the dragon. Instead he helped Wall Street and the Pentagon, while letting the dragon roar back to life. Hillary’s loss is collateral damage.

How Dems help the Repugs

“When your opponent is drowning, the old saying goes, throw him an anvil. Is Hillary Clinton throwing hers—the Republicans—a life raft instead”, as Kerry and Obama did? Wikileaks emails suggest as much. “Rarely has the tragedy of the Democratic Party across these past several decades of Republican radicalization been rendered in such crystalline form.”

Hillary’s GOP Sympathies

Don’t save the Speaker—let him go down with the Trump ship