Barack Obama: A Failing Grade as Party Leader

Those who attain the Office of President of the United States become the titular heads of their respective political parties. Although their major responsibility should be to leave office with a better national society and a world less riven by violence and war, presidents should place their own parties in strengthened positions. President Obama is a rarity, as he has seemed to be in almost perpetual warfare with his own Democratic Party.

Obama’s first term disillusioned many Democrats but it also turned off independents and a segment of Republicans who had seen him as a transformative figure when he campaigned for president in 2008. A major factor in this enthusiasm gap was his dropping of the public option from the Affordable Care Act, after frequently describing it as an important component of any reform.

There are other reasons why many of those who had voted for Obama in November  2008, stayed home in the mid-term election in November 2010: he refused to launch an investigation of high crimes and misdemeanors by high officials of the previous administration; he signaled very early in his administration that he would follow the civil liberty policies  of George W. Bush; he failed to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center in one year as he had promised; he failed to pursue any meaningful penalties, including criminal indictments, for those in Wall Street firms, who had done so much to bring about the economic and financal collaspe that hit full force in late 2008; and he had signaled his intent to support cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Besides the foregoing and other betrayals, those debating whether to go to the polls in November 2010 to give Obama a stronger Democratic hand in Congress, could not have been unaware of the fact that the United States was still involved in two wars, even though Obama had promised a much earlier end to the war in Iraq.

President Obama had also alienated many of his stanchest supporters when his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, had blasted those in the “professional left,” whose purist sentiments had allegedly prevented compromises on several of his major priorities. The reigning narrative story after the November 2008 elections was that many of Obama’s 2008 supporters had callously abandoned him, although it was Obama’s actions in office that had enveloped them in gloom, instead of energizing them.

A seminal Obama promise when he first ran for the presidency was that he would end the Bush tax cuts for individuals earning less than $200,000 and multi-member households earning less than $250,000. Yet, at the end of the year 2010, Obama agreed to a two-year extension of all the Bush tax cuts. Two years later, Obama agreed to extend by $200,000 the threshold for preservation of the cuts — an action that the GOP crowed, preserved 84 percent of Bush’s cuts in taxes.

An enduring distinction between Democrats and Republicans is that the former want to preserve Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in their present configurations and the latter want to privatize Social Security, turn Medicare into a voucher program and reduce Medicaid grants to states. President Obama ruptured the distinction between the two parties by trying to reach a “Grand Bargain” with Speaker John Boehner and has continued to express his support for such a deal.

When President Barack Obama unveiled his FY 2014 budget, one component of it was to base Social Security COL increases on “chained” CPI, which is based on the phenomenon that consumers faced with higher prices will switch to lower-priced items. This proposal was a surprise to those not accustomed to Obama’s frequent changes of positions, because he had previously declared that Social Security was off the table. The GOP took a while to get their sea legs stabilized under them on this issue, but they are now assailing Obama for proposing to cut Social Security benefits. Obama was once again speared for his notorious trait of making  crucial concessions before negotiations had even started. And once again, President Obama has hurt his own party in the run-up to the 2014 elections, without getting the GOP leadership in Congress to agree to any tax increases.

AN ADDENDUM: Chained CPI will most severely hurt the seniors most dependent on Social Security benefits. The effect wil be accumulative, as every COL increase will be added to a lower base. The loss of income will be greatest for those who live to a very old age and those who went on lifetime disability at a very young age.

As for the effect on the Social Security trust fund, chained CPI is projected to have savings of only $130 billion over ten years.


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