George W. Bush was “elected” without a mandate and was successful in promoting a regressive agenda that ballooned the national debt, eviscerated the Constitution, and widened the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. Barack Obama was elected by an overwhelming mandate and so far has been generally unsuccessful in promoting a progressive agenda that would reduce the debt and strengthen the middle class.
September 11 gave George W. Bush the political capital to impose his draconian agenda. This figure shows how Bush’s popularity surged after 9/11 and then went downhill steadily thereafter. Despite this plunge, Bush was able to push through his Reaganesque agenda – debt-increasing tax cuts for the wealthy, illegal torture in the name of national security, and two unnecessary and unpaid-for wars. He had the advantage of a friendly press (including the propaganda arm of his party – Fox News), hate-filled conservative talk radio, and a rubber-stamp legislature during the first six years of his tenure.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, has had only limited success, mainly because of many of the same right-leaning forces that propelled the Bush agenda. Despite the fact that the Republicans are abusing the filibuster, the President was able to get weakened health-care and financial reform bills through Congress. Yet, the promise of progressive change still eludes us. We still have “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, two wars that are killing American soldiers and increasing our national debt, Guantanamo, no debt-reducing single-payer Medicare for all, lack of transparency in government, a barely-effective too-small stimulus package, and lack of unemployment insurance for millions of Americans. It seems like Republicans get their way whether they are in the majority or the minority.
The same Barack Obama who clawed his way to the top by defeating Hillary Clinton and John McCain is now governing with timidity. His attempts at bipartisanship only result in weakened legislation and very limited and spotty support from Republican legislators.
Don’t get me wrong. The nation is orders of magnitude better off with Barack Obama than it would be if John McCain and Sarah Palin had won in 2008. But we ought to be doing much better.
Some pundits opine that the reason for Obama’s timidity is that he doesn’t want to be perceived as an angry black man. Yet, much of the progress in the 1960s was helped along by “angry black men”. Maybe that’s what the country needs today to get us out of the stagnant cesspool that was left to us by Mr. Bush.