Have I reached this point due to his refusal to advocate real financial reform? His caving to the Republicans, and coming up with a health care bill that, whatever its good points, still was a huge reward to the criminals in the insurance business? His unconscionable failure to close Guantanamo, stop illegal detentions and get us the hell out of Iraq and Afghanistan?
These are all gigantic failures which, with his large majorities in Congress (now lost because of his squandering of his power) he could have avoided if he had been willing to use a quarter of the insistence and force that Bush or Reagan used to get our country into its current mess, but they are not the reason why I have no more faith in him. That would be a single remark that Obama made recently, and here it is:
"This notion that somehow I could have gone and made the case around the country for a far bigger stimulus because of the magnitude of the crisis, well, we understood the magnitude of the crisis. We didn’t actually, I think, do what Franklin Delano Roosevelt did, which was basically wait for six months until the thing had gotten so bad that it became an easier sell politically because we thought that was irresponsible. We had to act quickly."
Let me lay out how inexcusable this remark is, from someone who supposedly admires Roosevelt greatly and claims to pattern himself after Roosevelt.
This notion that Roosevelt deliberately let the depression get worse is a right wing fantasy (one of many) designed to prove that Roosevelt was a villain of the depression, not its hero.
Until 1933, presidents were not inaugurated until the March following election day. This is the six months of which this smear refers. Note first of all, that Roosevelt is being blamed here for not doing things when he was not even President. Obama is justifying his inaction as President by citing something Roosevelt did when he had no national position at all.
After the election, Hoover invited Roosevelt to the White House to work out a "bipartisan" strategy to deal with the depression in that six month period. Roosevelt found Hoover to be deeply suspicious of him (Hoover reportedly refused to even look at Roosevelt during the meeting.) Hoover's proposals, in the tradition of Republican bipartisanship, consisted essentially of a demand that Roosevelt publically sign on to the whole of Hoover's economic plans- the very plans that had driven the economy to total ruin, and which Roosevelt had specifically run against. You can pretty well guess what they were- balancing the budget, cutting the debt, help for the banks and the rich, and nothing for anyone else. Roosevelt felt that any attempt to compromise with Hoover was only going to end up entangling his administration in these patently destructive proposals, handcuffing him before he even took office. Unable to accept this, and deeply disturbed by Hoover's refusal to treat him as an equal,* Roosevelt determined that nothing could be gained in concert with the obstinate, and grossly deluded Hoover, and decided to wait until he was in charge to carry on.
Well, there is the six months of which Obama talked. Here is an evaluation of this remark, by Thomas Ferguson, of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute:
"The President was repeating a canard that goes back to the circle of die hards around President Herbert Hoover as he exited the White House in a cloud of bitterness in 1933. In recent years, as a vast campaign against the memory of the New Deal has gathered steam, such claims have gone mainstream."
The most well known current retailer of this lie is Amity Schlaes, a supposed scholar who has devoted her life to spreading a propagandistic right wing rewriting of the twenties and thirties, designed to make people utterly dismiss Roosevelt's massive success. Here's a typical remark from Schlaes:
“But Roosevelt was not interested in cooperation. We will never know all his motives, but it was clear that a crisis now could only strengthen his mandate for action come inauguration in March.”
Now, here is why Obama's remark is so decisive to me: Roosevelt saved the country by refusing to capitulate and accept the standard Republican economic solutions to every problem. Obama must know this, yet here he is, claiming the exact opposite, seeking to create a phony Rooseveltian precedent to justify his endless collapses in the face of his manifest duty to stand up to the banks and Wall Street. Obama calls Roosevelt's refusal to give up on the economic principles that caused people to elect him, "irresponsible." Yet Roosevelt saved the country by sticking to his intentions. What is really irresponsible is for a president to be so weak that he continually collapses and gives the Republicans and the bankers what they want, even though we all know it is wrong. I now see Obama as an empty suit, so lacking in principle and so lacking in strength, that he is ready to sell us to the very people who destroyed our economy, if it is easier than standing up for the truth.
I now see Obama as the opposite of Roosevelt, and if he doesn't change his ways, he is going to give us the opposite result.
*Here is a passage from Arthur Schlesinger: "Hoover, passionately certain that he alone knew how to solve the crisis, could not make out his successor. "He did not get it at all," Hoover was heard to lament; they had spent their time, he later told Stimson, in educating a very ignorant...young man."