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Neither Lincoln nor FDR, President Obama falters as a leader

by Alan Markow, published

If Democrats lose seats as expected in this year's Senate and House elections, they will have earned it. And the blame lies squarely on the President's shoulders. Barack Obama came to office determined to be a new Lincoln. What I believe we needed was a new FDR.

By working so diligently on achieving bipartisanship a la Lincoln (see Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin), Obama diluted the progressive agenda that he had been elected to implement and left his progressive/liberal support base dissatisfied. The White House has consistently argued, and many pundits agree, that this President has achieved a remarkable success rate in passing legislation, including the nation's first health care program. But progressives see it very differently.

In order to gain passage of each legislative milestone, the administration has been forced to water down its initiatives. In the eyes of many liberals, the compromises have seriously undermined the achievements. Here's a review of the problems as seen by liberal Democrats:

1. Health Care Reform: Once the President abandoned the public option, there remained little incentive for private insurance companies to lower prices. No public option combined with a federal mandate for everyone to purchase insurance will result in a windfall to the insurance companies. Progressives believe that these are the very companies that have caused much of the health insurance crisis - raising rates far beyond inflation and denying service or delaying payouts until patients, doctors and hospitals are squeezed into desperation.

2. Financial Regulatory Reform: After a major financial meltdown caused by Wall Street greed, banks and bank executives were left coddled by minimal new regulations and a refusal to eliminate "too big to fail." The bonuses roll on while the average American faces ballooning credit card rates and increasing barriers to consumer loans.

3. Economic Recovery: Many liberal economists such as Paul Krugman believe the stimulus was simply too small to do the job. In their view, Obama had the opportunity to make a seismic shift that would have lowered unemployment and brought about a more rapid recovery. The stimulus should have been at least double what was implemented according to Krugman, but compromise left us with a sluggish recovery that's hard to see and easy to criticize.

4. Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan and Torture: Obama campaigned as the anti-war, anti-torture candidate who would shut down Guantanamo. While the administration quickly made its position on torture clear, it failed to close Guantanamo, maintained the policy of prolonged detention, continued rendition, extended key provisions of the Patriot Act, and pursued an expensive and questionable military adventure in Afghanistan. If the President believes that our actions in Iraq resulted in recruitment boosts for al Queda, then he could have acted to change the game. If he believes that torture is not just wrong, but criminal, then he could have chosen to punish the offenders rather than protecting the Bush administration.

5. DADT and Prop 8: The Obama administration says it is gay-friendly, but it has been frustratingly slow to act on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And despite the changing national landscape and recent court rulings on the issue of same-sex marriage, the President continues to say that marriage is between a man and a woman. He leans right on this issue so he can appeal to moderates. Meanwhile, his gay constituents lose their enthusiasm for Obama and the Democrats.

6. Religious Intolerance: Attacks on Islam have become commonplace in America, and Obama has taken only half steps  in support of the Constitutional and historically crucial right of every religion to practice unfettered in this country. Clearly, the President is afraid of offending the right wing through clear statements on his support for Muslims. Meanwhile, the Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, takes a bold and immutable position in support of the proposed Islamic Cultural Center two blocks from Ground Zero.

To the liberals who supported Obama, he has sold out in an attempt to quiet the right wing noise machine. But it has all been to no avail. The right's distaste for all things Obama has only grown, while the left feels abandoned. It's a recipe for the kind of result that the Democrats can expect in November.

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