Tuesday, February 9, 2010


President Obama ignored his base in his first state of the union message. It was a speech

aimed at independent voters and intended to mollify the chorus of voices condemning

Washington for not doing more to get the economy moving and creating jobs.

The President threw some bones to those constituencies who formed the backbone of his

fundraising and organizing; but the meat of the speech appeared to be a reaction to what

happened in Massachusetts, when independent voters overwhelmingly voted Republican.

Obama's advisors wanted to stem the political bleeding and convince independents he heard

them and will put healthcare reform, energy policy reform, and financial reform on the back

burner to make way for jobs, jobs, jobs.

The strategy is to shore up political support and limit midterm election losses. The goal

is to win some legislative victories which members of Congress can tout at home and to create

jobs projects which can get the unemployment rate out of double digits. By ignoring his base,

Obama runs the risk of further disillusionment and dispiritedness among the most active of

his supporters in return for attracting independents.

Ironically, the President's speech proved his base was right; and his advisors, former

Clintonistas and Wall Street experts from Goldman-Sachs, et.al., were wrong. From the

beginning of his Presidency, progressive economists and commentators like Paul Krugman,

Joseph Stiglitz, the Progressive Caucus and others proclaimed the economic stimulus package

was too small. They wanted another stimulus aimed at job creation. The President's inner

circle rejected their advice and decided to expend huge political capital on healthcare reform

and hoping the economy would rebound. They were wrong. They advised the President that

the public would not support more spending for jobs and Main Street. They were wrong.

The President allowed the siren song of bi-partisanship to delay healthcare reform. He was

wrong. Despite repeated calls for WPA-type programs to immediately put thousands of

Americans to work, the Obama stimulus package was designed to phase in over a year or

two's time. They were wrong.

The President did present a number of proposals which are both doable and politically

savvy. He wants the biggest banks to pay a fee (tax) based on their profits, the money to go

to create jobs. He wants $30 billion of repaid TARP funds to go to community banks to be

lent to small businesses. Parents would get a $10,000 tax credit to help pay for their

children's college tuition, students who take out loans would not have to pay back more

than 10% of their income in any given year paying the loans back, and the debt would be

retired after twenty years. He promised to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and called for a

website where every member of Congress would have to list any earmarks (special requests

for money).

The highlight for me was Obama taking on the Supreme Court right in front of them.

He criticized their decision to allow corporations to spend unlimited sums on political

campaigns and claimed the decision did great harm to democracy. He called on Congress

to fix it. Supreme Court justices are generally insulated from criticism, particularly regressive

ones; and it was refreshing to see them called out in front of the American people.

The President's attempts to appeal to independents resulted in some terrible proposals

too. He suggested there might be a role to play for offshore oil drilling in his energy policy

and a place for new nuclear power plants. He mentioned "clean" coal which is a euphemism

invented by the coal companies and doesn't exist. At a time when no one has solved the

problem of what to do with spent nuclear fuel rods (where do you store them for the next

thousand years?); suggesting creating more nuclear plants and thus more waste seems foolish

at best and disastrous at worst. At a time when experts will tell you offshore drilling with

all the inherent negative environmental impacts which accompany such actions would barely

dent our energy needs, and at a time when coal and coal-fired energy plants are a large source

of global warming; it is troubling to see the President trolling for independent's votes with

these proposals.

Politically, the President left Republicans with some interesting choices. Will they side

with Wall Street and the big banks in opposing his fee (tax) on the biggest banks? After

bragging that the election in Massachusetts gives them the ability to stop any Democratic

legislation and claiming the results show voters approve of Republican tactics; they are now

forced to offer alternatives or take the heat for just being the party of "no". The only

alternatives Republicans can offer have been rejected by the American people in the past;

so they are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Can the Republicans afford to

oppose a new jobs bill? Can they afford the President and Democrats getting credit for

creating jobs, reducing unemployment, and improving the economy? How will Republicans

vote on taking tax breaks away from corporations who export jobs overseas?

The President promised to take all combat troops out of Iraq later this year; but offered

no specifics on Afghanistan. He still has not defined what a "win" would look like in

Afghanistan, nor did he address any sort of exit strategy.

Appealing to independents and ignoring your base is a dangerous political decision. If

Obama's base does not get revved up and willing to turn out for the midterm elections at a

time when Republican voters are energized, he could split the independent vote but still lose

big because of a downturn in Democratic voters. I am not sure you can tell me what an

independent stands for or believes. They are frightened by huge deficits, but want another

economic stimulus package or jobs bill which will drive up the deficit. Do they want action

in Washington and yet vote in Massachusetts to insure more gridlock? They say they want

deficit reduction but don't seem to care if healthcare is reformed; even though rising health

care costs add billions to the deficit. Obama ignores his base at his own peril and pursues

independents who seem to sway in whatever direction the political winds blow at any given


Overall, the speech had some good progressive elements and boxed in the President's

opponents leaving them with some interesting choices ahead. However, the Afghan war

will be his undoing if he is not careful, and the pursuit of independents could leave him with

a base unwilling to mount the next battle. If unemployment drops out of double digits, if

more Americans are back to work, if the President is in a battle with Wall Street and the

big banks and the Republicans, and if some form of healthcare reform were to pass, he would

be in a much better position come November 2010. If... What do you think? I welcome

your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to lionoftheleft@gmail.com


  1. The bastard Republicans DESERVE to lose elections, but the spineless Democrats, do everything possible to screw it up badly. I voted for President Obama in the primary and general elections, but I want to see more fight in him.

  2. the republicans care about noone but themselves.the rich ones anyways. and they have tricked the republicans who shold not be republicans. these people might agree with with one thing the republicsns approve of like gun control, and these people for that one thing side with the right wing.
    they might not agree with anything else but that one thing.
    but they vote republican.
    that amazes me.
    or even better one, they hate homosexual having the right to marry.
    its so ignorant these people .
    they make me sick to my stomach .
    Mike from Gilroy
    we still love you Bernie. keep up the blog , its wonderful man.