Thursday, August 30, 2018

What Obama forgot to do and why he was a weak president

In this post I will provide a list of policies that Obama should have done if he had followed really Democratic policies and hadn't sold out to the establishment. Like FDR he should have exposed the crimes of the rich and brought them to justice. Instead he chose for subtle policy changes.

- Obama could in 2008 have ordered investigations in the financial malversations and sent people to jail. He instead for some subtle rule changes accompanied by massive financial aid. As a consequence the financial industry is now more centralized than ever.
- Obama chose to ignore the Clinton Foundation - laying the foundation for the public acceptance of Trump troublesome financial past.
- Obama did nothing to punish the torturers of the Bush era. As a consequence the CIA is now headed by a torturer.
- Obama did nothing to address all the increasingly absurd voting suppression and district meandering schemes. He should have introduced a proposal for reform. He should also have used his position as a pulpit to expose abusive practices. And he should have done so in an explicit way, comparing some states with authoritarian regimes.
- Obama did nothing to reduce the influence of money on politics.
- Obama took some measures to stop government subsidies to fraudulent education institutes. He should have gone much further and prosecuted them as the frauds they were. If Trump had been prosecuted for his fraudulent "Trump University", (ex-)employees and students had been asked to testify and the premises of the institution had been searched for evidence Trump wouldn't be president now. Sure, given the dubious state of the judicial system this might not have resulted in a conviction - but that would only have been an excuse to campaign for stricter laws and against "judges" who are incapable of understanding that justice should be blind.
- Obama did nothing to attack the Koch Brothers. Wouldn't it be time to have a really good look at all the pollution that their companies cause? Sure, these guys can afford judicial fire power that will prolong procedures forever. But in the end the government is the strongest and it can make life very hard for them.
- Obama didn't abolish the Patriot Act.
- With Obamacare he did implement a reform, but only after endless foot dragging and compromising. He erroneously assumed that such an important law needed to be bi-partisan - forgetting that support from a majority of the population is at least as important. Few people understood how the law would work out and as a consequence the Republicans were able to demonize the law. So it was a big mistake to allow endless discussions. The correct strategy would have been to quickly launch a proposal and then to be open to amendments by the Republicans - but without allowing them to delay the introduction.

The consequences of the Obamacare debacle were far reaching. They cost him the midterms and they taught the Republicans that obstruction pays. And then we saw Obama carry on with executive orders. In fact he could have taken back the initiative by looking what the Republican Congressmen wanted. That would have broken Republican unity while helping Obama to look like someone who achieved things. But he never did so and his contact with Republicans was notoriously poor.

A special mention deserves Obama's relationship with Israel and - specially - Netanyahu. As a recent good analysis based on the new book from Ben Rhodes shows, Obama started with a rather balanced policy and then became gradually increasingly pro-Israel under pressure from Netanyahu and Israel lobby. I watched it happen with astonishment. Netanyahu is a classical bully. When you give in to him he will see that as weakness and he will push even harder. In that light I was astonished to see Obama react to Netanyahu's early transgressions with a huge financial support package for Israel. We saw the same thing later when Netanyahu insulted Obama by addressing Congress. Any skillful politician would have found a way to punish Netanyahu - for example by not vetoing some UN resolution or by giving some kind of support to his enemies. Obama did nothing. He kept silent and hoped that the complaints of his supporters would have any effect. But predictably the Congress and the American Jewish lobby became increasing aggressive for pro-Israel policies. Many of them just joined a winning team: what is the point of supporting Obama on a point where you know he won't achieve anything.

We see this same respect for power in many of his policies. He strengthened the secret services and went after journalists and people like Assange. The scene in Michael Moore's new film about the Flint water crisis where he sides completely with the authorities and abandons the people who have to drink polluted water is painful to watch. Despite being the most powerful man on earth he still felt the need to please authorities rather than the responsibility to use his power to make the world a better place.

Sure, the Obama administration did impose quite a lot of fines on companies. But those fines worked just like a cost of business. Companies became a bit more careful but the public expectations didn't change. Obama should have had something like the FDR's Pecora commission of the Senate that exposed financial malversations for the big public in the 1930s and greatly contributed to public support for financial reform. If you want change you shouldn't be shy to say what is wrong with the present situation.

As Rhodes remarks: he doesn't read much and obviously isn't an intellectual. And that made that - although he might sympathize with certain ideas - he didn't have the strength of conviction to make them reality. The vagueness of his ideas made him time and again hesitate.

But intellect isn't the most important thing. He could have hired someone and listened to him. The most important thing is leadership=strength=chutzpah=balls: the ability to go against the stream and win. And that was what Trump was showing. By making politically incorrect remarks and standing for them he showed that he wasn't a pushover. People want leadership and he offered signs of it. And although his actual program turned out to be quite different from what he promised he certainly hasn't been afraid to impose his will.