Saturday, March 6, 2010

Liberals and President Obama

I'm getting very sick of the "Obama needs to move to the center" meme heard from "Washington insiders" and other mindless hacks in both the parties and the media. Let's take a look at just how far to the left Obama has been. I'll go issue by issue. Feel free to suggest issues I forgot in the comments. To determine the "liberal view", I'm drawing on my time canvassing for the Fund, as well as my read of DailyKos, FireDogLake, and other progressive (liberal) publications and actors.

Gay Rights
Liberal Position: Repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, immediately end Don't Ask, Don't Tell, support full marriage rights for gay couples, pass the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes bill, end the ban on HIV positive immigrants to the US.
Obama's record: He's actually been fairly good on this issue. The Matthew Shepherd bill passed, tacked onto a Defense Appropriations bill. Obama quietly ended the HIV ban. A year into his administration, he's started the process of repealing DADT. His movement has been far too slow on DADT for many gay rights advocates, but he's making progress. It looks like this won't happen for about another year, though. While saying he supports the repeal of DOMA, he hasn't put much/any political capital on the line to get it done. And he said repeatedly throughout the campaign that he didn't support full marriage for gay couples. He took the position of giving gay couples most of the same rights, but didn't seem to be able to support gay marriage.

Global Warming
Liberal Position: Either a straight carbon tax, or a cap-and-trade plan with full auction of carbon permits. No subsidies for "clean coal" or nuclear power. Raise gas taxes, emphasis on public transit. Drastically increase gas mileage standards.
Obama's Record: He has supported the ACES act in the House (also known as Waxman-Markey). It has passed the House and is stalled in the Senate (surprise, surprise). The bill has a cap-and-trade program with 15% auction. It has subsidies for clean coal and corn ethanol. It sets a renewable energy standard at 20% by 2020, which is about the bare minimum that needs to be done in order to have an effect on global warming pollution emission. The same comprehensive bill is dead in the Senate.

Right now the two options being discussed are Cap and Dividend, Maria Cantwell's (D-WA) proposal to cap, auction, and give the money back to consumers, or more likely, a scaled back bill with no cap, no tax, no auctioning of permits, just subsidies for renewable energy, explicitly including nuclear power and clean coal. Even ACES was pretty similar to what Senators McCain and Graham wanted to pass before McCain started denying global warming. It has been criticized as more of a giveaway than a meaningful measure to slow the emission of global warming pollution.

Iraq and Afghanistan
Liberal Position: This one is easy. Get out of both. Now.
Obama's Position: Same drawdown in Iraq that W was working on, 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan.

Labor
Liberal Position: Pass the Employee Free Choice Act, ditch the excise tax on "Cadillac plans" in the HCR bill.
Obama's Position: He's done nothing to facilitate the passage of EFCA and has been THE staunchest defender of the excise tax, from all reports.

Health Care
Liberal Position: Single-payer. Medicare for all. Strong public option, if nothing else.
Obama's Position: System of mandates, subsidies, and regulations, no public option, preserving the private insurance system.

Economy
Liberal Position: Much larger stimulus (~$1.4tr) consisting almost entirely of aid to states, unemployment extension, and infrastructure projects. Temporary nationalization, and eventual breakup of the "too big to fail" banks. Extensive regulatory reform, including a consumer protection agency, and tighter regulation on financial instruments like derivatives and mortgage-backed securities. Perhaps a tax on transactions to raise revenue to pay for TARP and possibly slow down the manic pace of trading.
Obama's Position: A smallish stimulus (~$800bn) consisting of nearly half tax cuts. No meaningful financial regulation has been able to pass yet. Obama is fighting hard for the consumer protection agency, though its prospects don't look good. The big banks are still racking up big profits, with an implicit guarantee from the taxpayers. The only "second stimulus" of note has been a very small tax credit for small businesses that hire ne employees.

Civil Liberties (I somehow forgot this the first time around. Even though it's what sparked the post.)
Liberal Position: Close Guantanamo immediately, try all detainees in federal courts, no military tribunals, absolutely no torture, no indefinite detention of detainees.
Obama's Position: Closing Guantanamo is way behind schedule, though not entirely his fault. Indefinite detention is still in play, and he seems to be caving on trying detainees in military tribunals. Torture has been completely outlawed.

This is actually a position where I'm personally disappointed. We're a million times better off than under Bush, but indefinite detention without trial should NOT be an option. We should be trying every detainee in federal courts. Demonstrating our commitment to our ideals of justice makes us MORE safe, not less.

Conclusion
The only issue that he's even come close to the liberal ideal is gay rights, and considering the anger generated by gay rights groups about his lack of leadership on their issues, it's hard even to argue that. The problem is not that Obama is governing from the far left, it's that the right is completely uninterested in compromise. "Governing from the center" would mean completely capitulating to the GOP. Most of his proposals are reasnable compromises. The other side isn't interested in compromising. Any further effort to move to the center would merely be watering down quality legislation for no reason at all. He's not going to attract Republican votes. The "move to the center" refrain comes from people who've bought the right-wing talking point that Obama isn't already there.

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