The Freak Show: The Obama Problem, Business As Usual

The midterm elections are over, and as expected the Republicans made significant gains. Pundits everywhere are pontificating that President Obama has lost his base by not pressing a progressive agenda, as they hoped he would. Others say he was pragmatic, and gave in on a lot of his ideals because he was trying to bring some Republicans into the fold, but erred since they were going to vote as a bloc against anything he presented, no matter what it was.

But the pundits are missing the real issue. I have many friends who were adamant Obama supporters, even going canvassing for him when he was running for president. Have they lost their enthusiasm for him? Absolutely. Does it have anything to do with a not-progressive-enough agenda? Not at all. What is missing is the highly touted and promised “change.”

If you recall, Obama campaigned on changing how business is done in Washington. We were going to see a new kind of governing, one that was practical and efficient. One that used common sense as the basis for a reasonable discourse of ideas, and implementing things in an efficient, well thought out manner. In short, bringing some sanity back to Washington.

But what transpired once he took office was nothing short of business as usual. One of the initial things his administration did was preside over additional bank bailouts, continuing what the Bush administration had started. Now there’s nothing wrong with doing what had to be done, but if he was going to institute change, he would have put some restrictions on the use of the money. Instead, it was given out in just the same manner as Bush did, and as a result much of it went for bonuses to executives. I have friends who work on Wall Street; they made the most they ever made in 2008 and 2009. Even middle managers got large year-end bonuses. No change there.

How about the budgets for the past two years? Filled with the most earmarks and pork we’ve ever had. For both Republicans and Democrats, the budget gave out gobs of money for pet projects, for the home districts of the congressmen whose votes were needed. No change there, just business as usual.

What about the conflicts in the Middle East? Yes, the Iraq war was wound down, but the one in Afghanistan was escalated, so the number of troops abroad has not diminished significantly. Under President Bush, these wars were run haphazardly and half-heartedly, in that we sent volunteers and reserves, we didn’t equip the troops with everything they needed, and we didn’t even pay for the war effort; it was the first time in our history we actually conducted a war effort and passed tax cuts at the same time.

You would have thought “change” would mean that if the war in Afghanistan is really a vital national interest to us, and if it’s worth having our kids fight and die for, that we would conduct it differently. Perhaps actually do whatever it takes to win. But no, it’s being run the same way it was run under Bush. No change there.

Education? We’re in a crisis. The United States used to be the top country in the world when it came to education. Our students were the best in the world, and always ranked at or near the top, especially in math and science. Now we rank between 20th and 40th in the various categories that measure student achievement. How are we handling it in Washington? The same way we always have, by throwing more and more money at it. We now spend more money, adjusted for inflation, than we ever have, and the results aren’t changing. You would think we’d try something different, but no, it’s just business a usual.

And what about the health care reform bill? I knew we were in trouble when Obama said to Congress, “I want a health care reform bill on my desk by mid-August.” By leaving it to Congress, he was asking for trouble. And he got it. The bill was a typical Congressional boondoggle, filled with special deals for certain lawmakers.

Worse, there’s not much in the health care bill that deals with the real problem, the problem of the ever-rising cost of health insurance. How about figuring out why the cost of insurance goes up by seven to 15 percent a year, when hospitals say they aren’t making more, doctors say they aren’t making more, and medical supply companies say they aren’t making more. Is it because the insurance companies are making record profits, and maybe the fact that insurance companies contribute millions to the campaign funds of Congress? By letting Congress write the bill, it was just what you’d expect; a bill that was full of favors and special interests, and one that didn’t deal with the real problem. Business as usual.

Let’s not forget financial regulation, in order to prevent the economy from again going into the tank. It should be simple. Just reinstate many of the regulations that Congress got rid of, starting with President Reagan, through the Clinton years, and then the Bush years, when they pretty much threw them all out. But no, Obama let Congress run with it. And sure enough we have all new rules that have so many loopholes in them we’re practically unprotected against a reoccurrence of our recent disaster.

So let’s look at this as it really is. Thus far, Obama has turned out to be a typical Democratic president. The “change” we all hoped for hasn’t happened. Just business as usual.