PASSWORD RESET

Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

US: What happened to Obama’s agenda for change?

A year ago millions of people were rejoicing over the defeat of Bush’s hated Republicans and were looking for Obama to follow through on his promises of change. Fast forward to today, and most people have enormous difficulty naming one clear change that he has enacted.

By Tony Wilsdon, Socialist Alternative (CWI, United States)

After leading Wall Street executives from both parties were named to Obama’s cabinet, the big banks and insurers were handed hundreds of billions in bailouts. In the meantime, millions of workers have been foreclosed out of their homes by banks without the government enacting any serous policy to protect them.

Millions have lost their jobs and their health care, and they are desperately viewing the worst job market in half a century. Poverty is on the rise. Immigrants have faced more ICE raids and deportations. In Afghanistan, the Obama administration has doubled the number of U.S. troops and is debating a further troop escalation, while continuing the bombing of civilian areas.

Health Care

A careful look at Obama’s “signature issue,” health care, illuminates the political character of his administration. Obama promised universal health care on the campaign trail; now he is supporting a bill which is built around protecting the interests of the institutions that are the root cause of our health care problems: the insurance companies.

Many supporters of Obama are trying to understand the scenario as the administration’s plans for health care are being wrecked by conservative Democrats in the Senate. Evidence suggests that President Obama made a deal with insurance lobbyists before the bill was even finalized in the Senate.

A NY Times article on August 12 spelled this out well: “Hospital industry lobbyists, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of alienating the White House, say they negotiated their $155 billion in concessions with Mr. Baucus and the administration in tandem.” The article goes on to explain how Obama also promised not to overturn Bush-era legislation which made it harder for Medicare to use its muscle to force drug companies to reduce their prices.

At the same time, the Obama administration has refused to support the most effective first step in providing quality health care for all in the U.S.: a single-payer system where the government provides one insurance policy that covers everyone. This would eliminate destructive and wasteful insurance companies. This would also be wildly popular. A NY Times poll on September 24 showed that, despite all the confusion thrown up by Republicans in this debate, 64% of the public still support “a government-run health insurance plan as an alternative to private insurers.”

This poses the question: why has the Obama administration not endorsed a comprehensive universal health care plan like the single-payer plan? The answer lies in the corporate nature of the Democratic Party. In the 2008 elections, Democrats received 54% of all election campaign donations made by the corporate health care industry. Obama received the most of any presidential candidate, with $18 million. Democratic Party Senator Max Baucus, who chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee, received 25% of all his 2008 donations from the health industry.

Employee Free Choice Act

Take the number one issue that was put forward by the labor unions: addressing the dictatorship at the workplace, where any individual who attempts to organize unions is fired and victimized. The Employee Free Choice Act, legislation that would give workers more rights to speak out and have a vote on forming a union free from corporate abuse, and threat of retaliation, and intimidation, was supported by Obama and the Democrats during the 2008 election campaign.

Since then, no action has been forthcoming. Also, the key language protecting the right to elect a union is already being gutted from the legislation, which remains stuck in the Democrat-controlled Senate. The angry opposition of corporate America, who see it as a direct threat to their profits and control of the workplace, shows how much it would benefit ordinary working people. Could this be related to the corporate dollars that control the Democratic Party and the corporate control over the leadership of the Democratic Party?

Republicans “Blocking Change”?

Some people have argued that the Democrats are stuck because they do not have a super-majority in the Senate: they point to the threat of Republican filibuster. In fact, Democrats do have a filibuster-proof majority. Even if a number of conservative Democrats tried to block progressive legislation by working with Republicans, a filibuster can be defeated by the majority party if they leave the debated issue on the agenda indefinitely, without bringing other issues to the floor, since each senator is restricted to speaking only twice on each topic. The Democratic majority could just sit out filibuster and then pass the legislation they needed.

But the Democrats don’t do it. The reason is that they are not a party that represents or defends the interests of the majority in America. They are a corporate party masquerading as our friends. They pull this same trick each election, making promises on health care, union rights, war, civil rights, etc., and then not delivering anything meaningful.

Imagine if a political party was willing to ignore the corporate interests and rally the hundreds of millions of working people and poor who are fed up with corporate-dominated politics. This would also cut across the ability of Republicans and the Right to use populist slogans to get dissatisfied voters to support their right wing, extremist corporate agenda. This is what we need, but it’s not going to come from the Democrats.

The Democratic Party leadership’s abandonment of single payer and their abandonment of a powerful public option have stirred sharp debate and questioning of the role of the Democratic Party. This reflects the fact that, in a period of crisis of capitalism, the Democrats cannot deliver lasting reforms. In fact, by accepting capitalism, their role is to protect the interests of corporate America and to attempt to save their system on the backs of the working class and poor.

Without their offering of a progressive sheen, we wouldn’t give the Democrats the time of day. And that’s the last thing big business wants: a sizable political movement outside the two party system that can actually demand fundamental change and can organize a mass movement to achieve it.