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Where's the legacy? Missed opportunities under Obama

COMMENTARYIn The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt, I argue that Obama is America's Mikhail Gorbachev.Like Gorby, The One (Op


Ted Rall
by Ted Rall

In The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt, I argue that Obama is America's Mikhail Gorbachev.

Like Gorby, The One (Oprah's phrase) is the most progressive, decent, and intelligent leader his system is willing and able to allow to rise to power. Like the reformist of perestroika, Obama's fundamental not-so-badness—coupled with his ineffectiveness? cluelessness? conservatism?–exposes the fact that the system is the problem.

Voting for a better or less evil leader can't bring about the changes we need, because what the 99% view as problems, such as unemployment, underemployment, the growing gap between rich and poor, are things that the system views as not merely desirable, but necessary.

Among progressives it's a given that Obama has been a disappointment. People keep asking me during the book tour: Why? Why hasn't the president lived up to the hopes and dreams we invested in him? It’s true the Republicans have blocked him at every turn, but he doesn't seem to try.

I don't know what's in Obama's heart. Frankly, I don't care. It's all about policies: either you're for good policies, or you're not. If you are, you fight for them with everything you've got.


Obama's signature accomplishments, the things he actually did get done, include healthcare reform, his statement support for gay marriage, and last week's ‘Dream Act Lite,’ an order for Department of Homeland Security to stop pursuing young people who were brought to the country illegally.

It took three years for this President to do something that brought a smile to my face. So I owe him this: Nicely done, Mr. President. Yet, like so many of his more positive acts, it came later than it should, and it should have been built to last. The Dream Act failed in December 2010, just after the Republican sweep in the Congressional midterm elections. It would have passed if not for the craven "nay" votes of five Democratic senators spooked by the election results.

Sure, Obama’s move is a political ploy for the Hispanic vote. Yet, other things the president should do, but won't—unlimited unemployment benefits, assistance for foreclosure victims, a new WPA-style jobs program—would be popular, too.

I keep thinking back to 2009. Democrats had both chambers of Congress and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Obama enjoyed a worshipful media and sky-high public opinion polls. If the president proposed the Dream Act then, it probably would have passed.

Was Team Obama guilty of political ineptitude in 2009, or just too focused on healthcare? We don't know. There were, after all, more deportations of illegal immigrants under Obama than under President George W. Bush.

Worse than too little, too late, Obama's announcement in support of gay marriage came so late that it might as well not have happened at all; by the time he spoke out, gay marriage had become a historical inevitability.

Like the Homeland Security directive on illegal immigrants, the president’s position on gay marriage came as exciting, positive news to millions of people. But it could have been handled earlier, proactively, and—not incidentally—paid bigger dividends to the president's re-election effort.

Less clear but with broader implications was healthcare reform. "Have you had enough of Obamacare?" Tim Pawlenty asked a crowd at a pro-Mitt Romney rally. "Yes!" they shouted. Yet, much of Obamacare has not gone into effect yet. Even if the Supreme Court doesn't overturn the Obama administration's biggest achievement, Romney has promised to repeal it.

My guess is that Obama cares less about his legacy, or changing things, than the political horse race. He likes winning as an individual more than he cares about changing the world.

Obama has a few chances left to prove me wrong. He could still close Gitmo by executive order. He could also propose a federal law legalizing abortion given that 77% of Americans agree with its legality, according to the latest Gallup poll. It would be a bold move, and one that would resolve the decades-long legal limbo that has left abortion rights in the hands of the Supreme Court.

Is Obama incapable of bravery? No one knows. All we can do is consider the president's actions.

Ted Rall is a columnist, cartoonist, author and independent war journalist. He is the winner of numerous awards and a Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His new book is The Book of Obama: How We Got From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.