Dear President O-bomb-a,
I was a supporter of you in your first Presidential campaign and took great pride in the election of an African-American person to the presidency of the United States. However, I now reflect that in many ways, that achievement, that breakthrough, was the true high point of your Presidency, and that it has been just a downhill journey of one disappointment, compromise and betrayal after another ever since. A brief list would include:
(1) A response to the financial crisis of 2007-08 that did much to help large banks and financial institutions but little to help the huge number of ordinary people who were losing their houses due to mortgage chicanery on the part of the very banks and financial institutions that you saw fit to provide a lifeline to. Years later now, still little has been to help the common homeowner, and Wall Street is swimming in cash. After years when your administration let Wall Street get off the hook for its past malfeasance and fraud by merely paying fines that though large, were minor business expenses for companies with multi-billion dollar global operations, your team has begun to more aggressively prosecute Wall Street criminals, but this is too little, too late.
(2) An Economic Stimulus program that was too small and too watered-down to do much good. You made it one-third tax cuts, to sweeten the deal for anti-tax Republicans, and hopefully attract their support, but this failed on two levels. It did not attract the Republicans, and it meant less money for public works programs and other such things that could have done much good. To give credit where due, the Stimulus program did help save us going off the cliff altogether in 2009, but our crumbling infrastructure and continuing high rate of unemployment testify to the inadequacy of this program and what has come since. Of course, you are not completely to blame for the incredible level of Republican obstructionism, but I do fault you for how you have responded, or failed to respond to this; see below.
(3) Pro-corporate Health Care Reform. When it came to putting forward a new health care reform, you gave up very quickly on the reform that many Democrats and progressives wanted, a truly national, single-payer plan, on the order of health care systems in Canada or the UK. Showing your tendency to cater to corporate interests, which also was no doubt a factor in your failure to take strong action against Wall Street as noted in item #1 above, you instead put your stamp of approval on a health care reform plan that strongly caters to the needs and wishes of for-profit health care and insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry. More people will now have access to health care insurance, which is a good thing, but leaving health care in the hands of profit-driven health care companies may mean that we will still not be able to achieve any reduction in the soaring costs of health care, because ever-increasing costs also mean soaring profits for these companies. Even if it was truly politically impossible to advance such a program all the way through the process, I wish you had at least started out making a strong case for the benefits of a single-payer program. Then, if you had to cave in to the many and moneyed interests calling for something more pro-corporate and less pro-public, you would have at least helped advance a more comprehensive, more truly public program in the national political conversation, setting a standard that could be a reference point for future conversations and policy discussions. But no. As usual, you demonstrated either a lack of guts or a lack of vision, or perhaps you were just showing us that deep down, you are not really a progressive, a liberal or a Democrat: you are really just a moderate Republican, pro-corporate as much as possible, though with some sensitivity to certain liberal issues such as minority rights, gay marriage, etc.
(4) Failure to educate the public. This to me is perhaps your biggest failing. Nearly every initiative you have advanced has been blocked if not crushed by vehement Republican obstructionism, yet you have failed to explain this to the public, resulting in the public tending to think that the problem is "too much partisanship" and "Washington gridlock" rather than putting the blame where it truly belongs, the ideologically-driven, anti-government extremism of the Republican Party, particularly its Tea Party wing. When you make statements, as you have many times, such as "Washington is broken....we can do better," you make it sound like the Democrats are equally to blame as are Republicans for the current state of affairs in which so little positive is being accomplished. No doubt there is opposition between Democrats and Republicans such that a superficial glance at the situation may cause one to ask, "Why can't both sides compromise? Why can't they get along?" That is however a terrible inadequate analysis of the situation. The Democrats of today are not pushing for anything extreme or radical. They are only standing up for the same kinds of programs that have existed for decades: Food Stamps, unemployment insurance, voting rights, Head Start, public works programs, supports for arts and science. It is the Republicans who are pushing a radical, extreme agenda. They want to either greatly reduce or do away with that same list of programs just mentioned above. This is NEW.
In the pre- Tea Party era, most Republicans accepted the value of at least SOME of those programs, and often worked with Democrats to modify such programs or introduce new ones, like the CHIP (Children's Health Care Initiative Program) that Dems and Repubs worked together on not many years back. But now.... oh my god. The current crop of Republicans are the most wild, extreme, truly RADICAL anti-government Republicans this country has ever seen. This needs to be discussed. This needs to be known. This is not just "Washington Gridlock." This is one side of the table not wanting to negotiate or achieve anything positive, but simply over turn the table and set it on fire. In this respect, the current crop of Tea Party-dominated Republicans are arsonists, willing to burn down every public-oriented program, any and every thing done by the government for the people, in search of their
anti-government utopia. You, Obama, should have educated people about this, but instead, you took the cowardly, mushy approach of declaring Washington "broken" without saying enough about who had done the breaking. In this, as with your refusal to fight for a truly PUBLIC health care system, I see you being more devoted to your own political survival and reputation as Mr. Reasonable, Mr. Above the Fray, than to actually advancing progressive, liberal or democratic causes.
(5) Education reform that is just the Bush policy warmed over with some fresh cheese on top. As an educator, I was very hopeful that with your election, we would have seen a turning away from the Bush era of "No Child Left Behind" so-called "education reform" and its focus on endless testing of students, micro-mananagement of teachers, classrooms and curricula, "accountability" systems which mean huge and expensive growth in bureaucracy rather than more support for low-income school districts. Instead, what you and your Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have given us is NCLB ("No Child Left Behind") on steroids. You fail to grasp the basic point that social, economic and income inequality in our society are the main factors in why students in poor districts perform more poorly on tests. If you really want to improve education and close the achievement gap between rich and poor, white and non-white, for god's sake, look at the many types of inequality that separate these groups and look for ways to lessen that inequality. Anyone with half a brain should not be surprised that kids from poor families, in underprivileged, crime-ridden, poverty-wracked neighborhoods achieve less in school than kids in lily-white, upper-income suburban Shangri-Las. One group of kids grow up in poverty, have little access to books and culture, and suffer malnutrition to boot while other kids get private tutors and therapists, and culturally enriching summer trips to Europe. Who will do better? Hmm..... Is that really so hard to figure out? If you want to equalize the education, equalize the resources and the social circumstances. Ask any fifteen-year old who they would expect to do better in school, rich kids with lots of resources, or poor kids with little, and they can see this.
Oh, but you and Arne and your team of profit-driven, corporate-oriented education experts know better. Your approach is to subject students and teachers to ever more testing, ever more assessment, ever more collection of data, with all of that data then being used to punish teachers, schools and students by closing down schools, laying off teachers, and depriving students of continuity and stability when they do not know from year to year if their schools will be open or closed and if their favorite teachers will still be around. Your and Arne's signature education policy of "Race to the Top" is just "data-driven" bullshit! It only sounds good to those who have swallowed whole the anti-teacher, anti-teachers' union, anti-public education propaganda of groups like the Gates Foundation, the Walmart-based Walton Foundation and the Broad Foundation. Your good pal Arne has ties to these groups, and I guess you must like them too, Mr. President. I guess that is why you show so little support for public education and see so much good in dismantling, privatizing, standardizing and corporatizing it. Oh yes, and kudos too for your great solution to the student debt problem. Letting interest rates fluctuate on the market will really make Wall Street happy and give some nasty surprises down the road to students and their families when they find their loan interest rates changing radically from one year to the next. The Market always knows best, right?
(6) War, Security and Syria. I have previously expressed my regret and anger over your rising use of drones as a supposedly risk-free way of attacking other countries and killing people our National Security people decide deserve to die. I will not rehash all the ways in which that policy is in my view totally misguided. Now, though, we face the prospect of major military action against Syria, in response to the apparent use of sarin gas or other chemical weapons by the regime of Bashar Al-Assad. I have no love for Assad, and I also feel great sympathy for the suffering people of Syria, but I find it extremely sickening that you are putting so much energy into advancing this very questionable rush to war, whose effects are so unpredictable and potentially calamitous, when so many other issues right at home in the USA need attending to. You seem much more concerned with this than the steadily mounting damage being done to our own most vulnerable citizens by things like food assistance to the poor and education assistance for children being cut off by mean-spirited Republicans in Congress. President Obama,you seem to be morphing into President Bush before our eyes.
Beyond the myriad possibilities for very bad things coming out of this so-called "surgical strike," from the deaths of hundreds or thousands more Syrians sure to be caused by our bombing, to possible retaliation attacks by Syrian-sponsored terrorist groups, to greater Russian involvement in order to support their side in the conflict, I come to the inescapable conclusion that you have been totally co-opted by the National Security State--the mind-boggling, multi-billion dollar hugeness of our military forces, defense contractors, national security and surveillance organizations and the many private companies who suck at the teat of national security, and militaristic-minded people and organizations who always see military action as the best, if not only solution to ANY international problem. I fear that our militaristic tendencies have become so entrenched, so financially lucrative and so politically self-sustaining, that any President from now on into the foreseeable future will behave just like you, who I now dub President O-bomb-a the I, but probably not the last. America makes so little effort at real diplomacy, that I am afraid it is really just window-dressing for our military operations. I don;t think we have really tried very hard to bring together the different parties in Syria. Even in the Vietnam War period, there were the Paris Peace Talks. Any equivalent effort today? I am not aware of it.
It is a very sad state of affairs, which leaves me doubtful that America will play any truly positive or creative role in world affairs in coming years. In the last ten or so years, we have seen America provide zero leadership on the most important issue for the survival of the planet, this being Global Warming, which some prefer to call Climate Change. Instead, America seems capable only of pushing for more war, more strikes, more surveillance, more drones... We are like one of our bad "boom--boom--boom blow up the bad guys!" action movies translated into international policy. I just wish I could leave the theatre...
This will be your most lasting legacy, President O-bomb-a. I voted for you in 2008, but I voted for the Green Party in 2012, and if you were running for a third term, which thankfully you cannot, I would vote Green again. America and the world deserve better than a leader who only shows a spine when it comes to attacking other countries and raining down death and destruction.