Daniel L. Feldman

Think you could do better than Obama?

In National Politics on October 17, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Wrestling with my own feelings of disappointment in Obama, I’ve come to some tentative conclusions that I hope will add something useful to the national debate.

It’s not as if when I voted for him initially I suffered under the naïve delusion that he would solve our country’s problems. Those problems would not surrender to quick solutions. Further, from previous experience, I knew he weighed issues quite politically. He would spend political capital cautiously, so he would rarely if ever champion my causes in uphill fights.

However, his performance has been more at odds with my views than I had imagined. On the civil liberties front in particular, his Justice Department has refused to release many of the same documents the Bush administration kept secret, like those relating to Abu Ghraib as well as to domestic surveillance.

From my point of view, his handling of the fiscal crisis still smelled too much like trickle-down economics. I would have like to have seen the federal government temporarily take equity pieces of the big banks, as Germany did,  and sell them off when the federal funds they got to use allowed them to revive. I don’t like letting the big banks continue to borrow at near-zero percent to guarantee their profits from virtually any loans they make, whatsoever, without forcing them to treat underwater homeowners better. Bernanke said the bailout was intended to help the economy, not the banks, but the banks are doing great; the country isn’t.  The public remains all too vulnerable to the banking titans.

I wish the Obama administration had won any of the stronger versions of the health care plan than the one that became law. I have very serious doubts about the wisdom of our commitment to the Karzai regime in Afghanistan. Although Kagan may surprise me, I expect her to be as overly solicitous of corporate power as the so-called liberals she is joining on the Supreme Court bench.

However, I have to remember some of my own comments in the many presentations of Tales from the Sausage Factory I’ve had the pleasure of conducting with Jerry Benjamin over the past few months. In that context, I have frequently explained the failures of the New York State legislature as attributable, at least in part, to the fact that it really does represent us – and we want very contradictory things. We want lots of benefits for ourselves (although the benefits that anyone else gets are of course unjustified, unfair, and wasteful) and we want lower taxes.

Our disappointment with Obama has comparable sources. He faces a deeply divided nation. For every complaint I listed above, the right wing has at least as many, in the opposite direction. Although I suspect that much of the dissatisfaction expressed by Tea Party adherents and sympathizers may stem from some of the same roots, they might not see it that way, and they generally have different remedies in mind. And more people agree with them than with me.  

Obama has to govern this unruly lot.  Notwithstanding the Democratic majority that we have enjoyed in Congress thus far, he almost certainly could not have won support for the agenda I would have preferred. Could I have done better? Could you? Probably not.

The alternatives to Obama would almost certainly be worse. I need to continue to give him my support, and so do you.

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