Wednesday, January 04, 2017

How Obama Traded Away His Legacy

by Gaius Publius

I'm about to say the obvious, but with so many dots getting connected in this post-election, pre-Trump interregnum, I want to connect just these two and let the obvious sink in.

Obama's push for TPP not only cost Clinton the election (among other factors, of course), it very likely cost Obama his legacy — all of it.

Barack Obama has a number of what his supporters call "legacy achievements" — meant positively (I would add a number of inverse-legacy achievements as well) — but chief among them, first in the list, is always the ACA, "Obamacare." Whatever its demerits, and they are many, it did accomplish a narrow task — providing medical insurance, in some form, to millions of Americans who didn't have it before.

That legacy achievement is about to be stripped away, all because Donald Trump, with a fully Republican Congress behind him, has been elected president.

And what caused that Republican takeover of the White House? Again, many factors, but chief among them, in my estimation and in the estimation of a number of writers, is Obama's relentless push to pass TPP even as Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was running to inhabit, in effect, Obama's third term — and even as both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders achieved or nearly achieved unpredicted upsets running against "free" trade economics.

Let that sink in, because it's not going to be said in too many public Democratic places. Obama's relentless push to pass TPP in part cost Clinton the election and in full will cost Obama his signature ("legacy") accomplishment.

Again, you won't hear many Democrats say this, because the "free" trade wing of the Democratic Party is still in charge (of the Party, not the country). And that wing, which includes almost all Clinton supporters in the Party — including Tim Kaine, her choice for vice-president, and including Tom Perez, Obama's "not Keith Ellison" choice for DNC chair — is still in favor of job-killing trade deals. This intra-party dynamic, I predict, will keep them out of power for a generation, unless the Obama-Clinton wing is ousted from party leadership in something like the next six months. That's possible, of course, but it doesn't seem likely to happen.

(And before you say, or hear, that Perez was forced to support TPP because, as Secretary of Labor, his boss supported it, consider that Perez didn't feel as compelled to support his boss's position on the recent UN condemnation of Israeli settlements.)

Supporting my contention is this, written by Lori Wallach, head of Global Trade Watch at Public Citizen, and Murshed Zaheed, political director of CREDO Action. The whole piece is worth a read; they nail it.
TPP: How Obama Traded Away His Legacy

Donald Trump is preparing to wipe President Barack Obama's legacy from existence. The Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank and protections for the environment and immigrants all are set to disappear in no part small part thanks to President Obama himself and his relentless advocacy for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) right through Election Day.

And President Obama still won't face the sorry truth, this week declaring that he would have beaten Trump if he had been the candidate. After years of siding with corporate America to pass various job-killing trade deals over the opposition of congressional Democrats, he announced that it was "nonsense" that anyone should have the view that "Democrats have somehow abandoned the white working class."

Yet in fact, post-election polling and exit polls confirm that Trump flipped decisive states because he connected with voters' fury about job-killing trade deals.

Trump's omnipresent attacks on "rigged" trade deals resonated with communities devastated by mass job offshoring. Polling shows that Americans viewed President Obama's TPP as a corporate power grab that would cost more jobs, lower wages and raise medicine prices.

Trump won Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by 23,000, 11,000 and 68,000 votes, respectively. The number of people in those states certified as having lost jobs to trade since the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, is 78,331, 159,252 and 182,017 under just one government program that captures a fraction of trade-related job loss.
Notice the mention of NAFTA above. People have long memories when it comes to NAFTA, especially people out of work. NAFTA is almost iconic for "Democrat-sponsored job-killing trade deal."

About my comment that Clinton was running for "Obama's third term":
Meanwhile, President Obama's closing argument for Clinton at a Michigan rally the day before the election was to "continue this journey of progress," effectively promising a third term of an Obama presidency that had spent the past two years prioritizing the implementation of a trade deal despised not only by working class Midwesterners, but the entire Democratic Party base.
That clearly didn't sit well with Rust Belt voters.

My own thought about the election, one of them anyway, is this: Voters didn't just vote for "change" in some vague dissatisfied way. Many voters specifically repudiated "Clintonism" — Democratic Party-sponsored neoliberalism — when they voted last November. Evidence for that is this — Clinton's very high unpopularity, which cannot simply be chalked up to 90s-era right-wing smears. Too many younger voters, for whom the 90s occurred in the time of Alexander the Great (or at least Ronald Reagan), repudiated her candidacy as well, especially during the primary.

Why Did Obama Risk His Legacy for TPP?

To answer that, one must connect different dots. Here's two of them, via the New York Times:
With High-Profile Help, Obama Plots Life After Presidency

...The dinner in the private upstairs dining room of the White House went so late that Reid Hoffman, the LinkedIn billionaire, finally suggested around midnight that President Obama might like to go to bed.

“Feel free to kick us out,” Mr. Hoffman recalled telling the president.

But Mr. Obama was just getting started. “I’ll kick you out when it’s time,” he replied. He then lingered with his wife, Michelle, and their 13 guests — among them the novelist Toni Morrison, the hedge fund manager Marc Lasry and the Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr — well past 2 a.m.

Mr. Obama “seemed incredibly relaxed,” said another guest, the writer Malcolm Gladwell. He recalled how the group, which also included the actress Eva Longoria and Vinod Khosla, a founder of Sun Microsystems, tossed out ideas about what Mr. Obama should do after he leaves the White House.

Publicly, Mr. Obama betrays little urgency about his future. Privately, he is preparing for his postpresidency with the same fierce discipline and fund-raising ambition that characterized the 2008 campaign that got him to the White House.

The long-running dinner this past February is part of a methodical effort taking place inside and outside the White House as the president, first lady and a cadre of top aides map out a postpresidential infrastructure and endowment they estimate could cost as much as $1 billion. The president’s aides did not ask any of the guests for library contributions after the dinner, but a number of those at the table could be donors in the future.

The $1 billion — double what George W. Bush raised for his library and its various programs — would be used for what one adviser called a “digital-first” presidential library loaded with modern technologies, and to establish a foundation with a worldwide reach. ...

...Including construction costs, Mr. Obama’s associates set a goal of raising at least $800 million — enough money, they say, to avoid never-ending fund-raising. One top adviser said that $800 million was a floor rather than a ceiling.
There are many more high-dollar names in the article, including these:
So far, Mr. Obama has raised just over $5.4 million from 12 donors, with gifts ranging from $100,000 to $1 million. Michael J. Sacks, a Chicago businessman, gave $666,666. Fred Eychaner, the founder of Chicago-based Newsweb Corp., which owns community newspapers and radio stations, donated $1 million. Mark T. Gallogly, a private equity executive, and James H. Simons, a technology entrepreneur, each contributed $340,000 to a foundation set up to oversee development of the library.
Those two dots, of course, are Obama's post-electoral plans and its price. So, did Barack Obama push so hard for TPP in order to feather Hillary Clinton's electoral nest, the Democratic Party's electoral nest ... or his own post-electoral future?

As a one-time mayor of Chicago, Hizzoner himself, used to say, "Youth wants to know." And so do the rest of us, though the answer seems fairly (as I said in this essay's first sentence) obvious. Hillary Clinton is off to a post-electoral retirement in semi-disgrace; the Democratic Party seems doomed to wander the wilderness for a good long time; and Obama ... he sails into a well-financed, almost golden, future sunset.



  1. Howie always said we'd be disappointed in Obama, that he was never a liberal or progressive.

  2. Anonymous10:28 AM

    Bullshit. Any objective perusal of obamanation's 8 year plowing of America will show his legacy to be just another sinkhole... at the bottom of the one left by cheney/bush, which was at the bottom of the one left by Clinton, which was at the bottom of the one left by Reagan/papabush.

    ACA is a corporate welfare act written by the lobbies to give 30 million more lives over to the whims of corporate health care and pharmaceuticals.
    dodd-frank was written by the bank lobby and is useless, clearly, because no fraud that wall street WANTS to commit is forbidden or encumbered. The only useful part was Warren's Consumer Protection thing which uncovered 2.1 million felonies committed by Wells-Fargo that, as per the legacy, will not be prosecuted. Look for that bureau to be among the first things the Rs whack.
    He kills people (and dozens of innocents who may be nearby) by whim whenever it amuses him.
    He expanded Mideast conflicts and created more.
    He did nothing about rendition and torture, even as he talked about it.
    He did not close g'itmo... woulda only taken an EO. He's the CIC after all.
    He agreed to austerity and offered more (which was not accepted)
    Wasn't KAFTA and one or 2 SAFTAs passed during his admins?
    He had 60 in the senate in 2009 and managed not to do shit with it. In fact, corporate welfare was passed in SPITE of the 60 by performance art (by harriet reid) to keep out the PO that obamanation had vowed to the lobby would NOT BE IN the bill.
    the list goes on and on.

    TPP might be the biggest reason nobody wanted obamanation III (Reagan IX). But $hillbillary was the most pathetic candidate. der fuhrer is a ghastly human being and a toxic waste dump of a candidate, but he DID speak to people that $hillbillary and obamanation clearly have no patience for. But given how ghastly drumpf is, it's hard to imagine ANY democrat losing to that. But $hillbillary did. And given the same advocacy by obamanation, he'd likely lose too.

    So, just dig the legacy pit deeper for that. But it's already nearly bottomless as it is.

    1. OK, one thing I gotta disagree with, "He had 60 in the Senate in 2009,..." There may have been one or two days in 2009 when he had 58, after Al Franken was finally certified in Minnesota and before Ted Kennedy died (how many days was Kennedy able to actually attend the Senate?), but he always had to depend on two Independent Senators, Bernie Sanders and the loathsome, unreliable, Weepin' Joe Lieberman. That's one canard against him I'm sick and tired of hearing. The fact that his people in the Congress were able to overcome even a few filibusters was epic, and the Republicans mounted a unified opposition that had never been seen before.

  3. Anonymous11:51 AM

    TPP was just the latest manifestation of Obama's rightward tilt. Spying on everyone, death dealing drones, continued military expansion, support for fascist regimes everywhere, sequestration, the cat food commission, the grand bargain, bad tax deals regularly with the Republicans, expanded corporate welfare and turning a blind eye to endemic corruption, too big to fail banks, continued support for most corporate mergers leading to monopolies and monopoly prices in many markets, privatization of everything and especially education regardless of the terrible results, continued outflow of well paying jobs to third world countries coupled with expansion of h1b like programs to suppress USA wages, deals with pharma companies to keep prices exorbitant...I could keep going like the energizer bunny. The Drmocratic party as us old timers knew it is gone. Time to bury the dead.

  4. Obama got you to believe he has a legacy he doesn't:


  5. The truth is that people who incline left politically like Obama less the more they know about the actual policy positions and actions he's taken as president. Indeed, the biggest supporters of Obama on the left are the most ill- or misinformed people on the left.
    Obama was just what the doctor ordered in the fall of 2008 as the US was slipping into its worst economic crisis in 75 years: a superficially progressive pol who could give a fantastic "I feel your pain" speech that raised hopes but was devoid of policy prescriptions that threatened the power or wealth of the ruling elite. He pacified millions--and in particular those hit the hardest by the crisis--while he enacted policies that stabilized the system, first and foremost in the interests of the exploiting class that owns the economy and political system in the US.
    Obama supported the multi-trillion dollar bail-out of the investment banks and his Justice Department indicted no Wall Street criminals; meanwhile, working class victims of capital's crisis received virtually no assistance, and certainly no leniency from the criminal justice system.
    Obama has zealously supported the TPP, which if passed would grant massive new powers to the corporate sector at the expense of the working class and environment.
    Obama has expanded drone missile attacks in multiple impoverished countries, killing very large numbers of non-combatants, in the process intensifying anti-American sentiment dramatically, including in chronically unstable, nuclear-armed Pakistan.
    Obama gave a quiet nod to the right-wing coup in Honduras, sold billions and billions in arms to the misogynist Islamist dictatorship in Saudi Arabia, effectively supported Israel's starvation blockade and blitzkrieg of Gaza, oversaw a bombing campaign in Libya that killed thousands and ushered in total chaos, coddled the pro-US clique ruling over Haiti, and has teamed up with the House of Saud to bomb the fuck out of Yemen.
    Obama signed $600,000,000,000 (billion) annual military budgets and just recently approved a 20 year, $1,000,000,000,000 (trillion) upgrade of the US nuclear arsenal while singing the praises of non-proliferation and speaking aspirationally of a world without such weapons when within earshot of bozo liberals who so adore his sweet-nothings.
    Obama presided over a massive expansion of fracking, which, in addition to threatening underground water sources, emits methane, a greenhouse gas.
    Obama opened the Atlantic Seaboard to oil drilling between 2010 and 2016 , ran cover for BP after the Gulf oil spill, and gave the green-light to oil drilling in the Arctic.


  6. Obama took an egregiously long-time to come out in opposition to the XL oil pipeline, effectively wasting the time of environmentalists working against the project.
    Obama stood by as the police brutalized protesters at Standing Rock and spoke of violence occurring at the protests in the language of moral equivalence, effectively supporting the company's and cops' actions, and only put a halt to construction when thousands of military vets, some on record saying they were willing to die for the cause, mobilized to protect the protesters.
    Obama supports the objectively-racist death penalty.
    Obama signed the NSA bill renewing the Patriot Act and oversaw a massive fortification of the surveillance state; under his administration, prosecution of whistle-blowers has increased exponentially.
    Obama has rightly been called the "Deporter-in-Chief" because more deportations have been carried out during his presidency than under any other presidency in American history.
    Obama hardly raised a finger when public sector workers were under attack from stooges of the Koch Bros in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
    Obama did virtually nothing to make it easier for workers to unionize.
    During Obama's presidency the economy has brought record corporate profits, a sky-rocketing stock market, intensified gentrification of major cities, and a bubbly real estate market--while wages have flat-lined and median income has fallen.
    The next time you hear someone on the left defend Obama, ask them to make a substantive defense of the policies and actions he's overseen as president, including the ones mentioned above.

  7. Anonymous3:17 PM

    to all above: fuckin' A bubbah.

    Very well said, one and all.

  8. Anonymous4:30 PM

    I have not read any of the above comments as I write this. So if there are any duplications, it just means that I've been thinking the same things the other commenters have.

    Does anyone remember when Obama had Congressional majorities? Do you also remember how he refused to push anyone in Congress to pass his only real accomplishment, that which is currently under attack by a Republican-dominated government? He expected Congress back then to read his mind, and to see things his way about the sorry excuse for Heritage Institute health insurance reform he wanted. He was too busy thinking that the POTUS jacket he got was so cool and could care less about actually using his office to promote his agenda. Remember that?

    It took him forever to do anything about the lost jobs people needed. In fact, we're still waiting for him to act. Instead, he acted like the "moderate 1985 Reagan Republican" he described himself to Univision in December of 2012 after it was too late for the general public to slap him silly with a Romney win even though Romney was a terrible candidate. Obama instead decided to let the Trickle-down lies of his hero Reagan magically repair the job market by waiting...and waiting,,,and waiting....

    Obama basically did nothing for eight years except suck up to the 1% and lick their boots. Just as I will never call Trump "President", I never once called Obama "president", for he never earned the title in my opinion. He only filled the chair until he was to be replaced.

    So I could give a tinker's dam about Obama's "legacy", for relatives of mine still cannot find jobs which pay enough to support themselves. THAT is Obama's sorry legacy as far as I am concerned, and his LIEbury can rot in hell with him in it.

  9. Anonymous6:22 PM

    As it was happening, I knew his over the top support of TPP was to secure donors for his library, future speaking engagement fees & a funding source for Michele's very own global foundation. I never connected the lost election to it but you're absolutely right. Right about destroying his own legacy too which makes me think he was served a bit of karma. Also makes me wonder if he's been able to connect the dots.

  10. You are too astute and honest, GP. Here's to hoping someone in, and maybe the entire, Professional Left reads and learns from your outstanding work in analyzing politics and trying to get the Democratic Party to come back to its roots.

  11. Anonymous3:48 AM

    Obama understood NAFTA's toxicity enough to campaign against it in 2008, but cared so little toxic effects on Hillary's campaign, on "free trade" labeling of abuses like court-evading "investor-state-dispute-settlement", that:

    1. He was annoyed by Hillary's too-late too-little too-insincere "opposition" to TPP (although Podesta emails show her campaign knew what everybody knew: that Hillary's electability would be increased by expressing stronger and earlier opposition to TPP)

    2. He pressured Dem platform committee members -- including Barbara Lee who is not easily pressured to endorse a lemming rush -- to greatly water down the 2016 platform's anti-TPP plank.

  12. Anonymous2:23 PM

    It was all of the above : creating 5th column Oceaniac economic alliances in support of simultaneously waging wars against Eurasia (Russia) AND EastAsia (China); while neutralizing US' sovereignty and repressing its citizens' rights in order to actually establish a figurehead sovereign Queen HELLary, complete with rump congress, supine courts and of CUR$E, U$ $ubjugated SUBJECT$ ! Thankfully, we The PEOPLE successfully thwarted TPP/TTIP/TiSA; With TRUMP !!

  13. Anonymous6:13 AM

    The Democrap caucus was 60 for almost 2 months before Kennedy died. And after that, as I understand it, the cloture threshold went from 60 to 59 until the R (Brown?) was elected to replace him.

    Your point is kind of my point. With a caucus of 60, you'd think the Democraps could have passed a few nice things, like a PO with ACA. But that was NEVER the goal. In fact their numbers became a burden because when, as intended, they FAILED and REFUSED to do anything progressive, they had to put on performances in which they pretended to want shit but make it seem like the republicans were still in the majority.

    That republicans were still in the majority was truth considering all the fake Democrats in that body. LIEberman was not even the worst. The worst was probably Evan Bayh... but that's subjective. There were no fewer than 8 truly fake Democrats who took turns joining their real team in killing fake cloture votes that the Ds never wanted.

    Obamanation never wanted a PO, and had promised the CEOs and lobbies that there would not be one BEFORE the ACA performances were put on.
    Among other things.