Barack Obama’s Presidency turns out to have been what neither his supporters nor his opponents expected. A balanced historical view of his performance in office will take a long time to develop, but enough is already known so that intelligent preliminary estimates can now be made: the following is just one historian’s attempt to do this, a year before his Presidency ends.
As with every President, Obama has done some things that are bad, and some that are good. The great question is: how will historians make sense of it all? The challenge is to identify his priorities. We’ll start here with the bad, because his good can’t be understood accurately outside the context of his bad. His priorities drove both, and did not change – and are producing his actual historical legacy, which will be what’s most-remembered about his Presidency.
He was no Abraham Lincoln, whose motives were what he said they were. Republicans cannot criticize him honestly, because many of his actual motives are similar to theirs, and Republicans cannot acknowledge that he’s largely one of them except in his rhetoric (which often contradicts his actions). Many of his actions reflect longstanding Republican policies – against which the Democratic Party had long fought. His legacy will likely be especially long-lasting, not only large.
Obama is a highly intelligent and competent person, and his priorities shaped many of the important changes that have occurred, both in America, and in the wider world, during his Presidency. Unfortunately, as will be demonstrated here, he happens to be also extremely dishonest, and very skillfully so: he’s the most skillful American politician since the time of Ronald Reagan, and perhaps the most deceptive person ever to occupy the White House. Neither the Republican view nor the Democratic view of Obama is realistic, nor can a realistic view of him become constructed by some sort of combination of those two views.
This is why no balanced view of his Presidency is possible which demands that he be interpreted in the light only of his stated goals and priorities. Many of those he not only didn’t achieve, but he actually and intentionally blocked: he didn’t really want them.
One must start with his actions, not with his mere words. The problem in trying to understand the Obama Presidency is to dig deeper than his words, and deeper even than his actions alone, to the actual priorities that produced both. If he were merely a bumbler, instead of a brilliant leader – which he has, in fact, been – then one could reasonably attribute the bad to mere errors on his part. But that’s not the case with him. Obama is actually an extraordinarily effective President.
This is the reason why Obama’s Presidency turns out to have been what neither his supporters nor his opponents expected. His exquisitely subtle and skillfully-applied dishonesty has greatly confused people on both sides. This is also the reason why many of Presidential candidate Obama’s campaign promises – on the basis of which he had won first the Democratic nomination over Hillary Clinton and John Edwards in 2008, and then went on to beat Republican John McCain in the general election – were abandoned by him immediately when he won the election, such as, for example, his first promise about health care (the transcript is here) as he announced it on the morning of 24 March 2007.
Gallup, which provides the most reliable estimates of the percentages of the American public who are insured and who aren’t, headlined on 7 January 2016 «US Uninsured Rate 11.9% in Fourth Quarter of 2015», and they presented a graph showing the comparable figures going back to the First Quarter of 2008 – which turned out to have been the only pre-crash figure in Gallup’s entire series. It also happened to have been the very time when Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the other candidates, were originally introducing their proposals regarding health insurance. So: it’s the real baseline for comparison. The uninsured figure then was 14.6%. That figure rose to 18.0% by the Third Quarter of 2013, when Obamacare ultimately started. Many Americans were deciding then not to renew their existing health insurance policies, in the hope and expectation that better alternatives would soon become available to them in the new system. So, there was an artificial rise while Americans were in that limbo, awaiting the new system. But that rise didn’t produce a new baseline. Instead, it went in the opposite direction from what had been promised, but it was only temporary anyway.
Obama had said, «My commitment is to make sure that we've got universal health care for all Americans by the end of my first term as president… Number one, we're going to have to make sure that everybody is in».
The uninsured-rate is now going up, not down, after having bottomed-out at 11.4% in the Second Quarter of 2015. It rose again to 11.6% by the Third Quarter of 2015, and was next the latest available figure, 11.9%, in the Fourth Quarter of 2015. Whether it will go back up to 14.6% can’t yet be known, and no prediction is being made here.
Obamacare thus increased the insured-rate from the pre-Obamacare norm but it will never be able to reach the other nations’ rate, which is 100%, unless Obamacare becomes replaced, by some form of socialization of either the health-insurance function (such as in France), or else the health-care function itself (such as in UK).
All other advanced industrialized nations have a 0 % uninsured-rate. It’s called socialized health insurance or socialized healthcare; and, in most countries, it is paid for via taxes on everybody, instead of as in America, via corporate-insurance premiums. And the quality of health care is superior in all of those other nations. The US ranked lowest of all nations on «efficiency», as well as in «equity», «healthy lives», and «overall». In other words: the US health-insurance system is atrocious: it robs the public in multiple ways. (But, since the loot is going to private investors, not to the government, the American public consider it to be ‘capitalism’ and thus okay.)
Regarding public-welfare matters, the historical record is clear that democratic socialism is vastly more efficient than is capitalism. Only the US (and the countries that it most fully controls) fails to make the distinction between democratic socialism, such as exists in those other countries, versus dictatorial socialism or «communism», such as had existed in the Soviet Union. Americans are ideologically mind-stuck decades behind reality, in the US-versus-USSR era – the ideological Cold War. Barack Obama knew, when he made his campaign promises, that he wouldn’t challenge the American system; he wouldn’t challenge that misconception, because his billionaire-backers wouldn’t back him if he did that. Least of all would he praise democratic socialism: no billionaire would tolerate his doing that – all of them had gotten where they were via the existing system. Democratic socialism is something they all fear (even though billionaires in some other countries seem to have acclimated themselves to it, at least partially).
So: he simply lied to the public. There is no way «to make sure that we've got universal health care for all Americans» without socializing the health-care or health-insurance function. And Obama is smart enough to have recognized this fact. He was no fool. There is no way that costs will go down and quality go up in American health care, but by democratically socializing this function.
In fact, here is what he told the very pro socialized health-insurance AFL-CIO Civil, Human and Women’s Rights Conference in 2003 (probably on June 30th): «I happen to be a proponent of single-payer universal health care coverage. I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its gross national product on health care, cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that's what Jim’s talking about because: everybody in, nobody out. A single-payer health care coverage, universal health care coverage, that's what I’d like to see. But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately». (See him saying this in the video here.)
During his first year as President, before there was complete certainty that Obama wouldn’t include a «public option» in his plan, Politifact headlined «Obama Statements on Single-Payer Have Changed a Bit», and identified the «Jim» that’s referred to in that 2003 video as «Jim Duffett, director of the Illinois advocacy group Campaign for Better Health Care». And they spoke to him: «‘I've never felt that his core principles for accessible, guaranteed health care for everyone were ever compromised. He's an organizer, and you have to figure out as strategically as you can, how to win,’ he said». All progressives were simply expecting Obama’s plan to include its promised public option – a health-insurance option designed and run with accountability only to the public, none at all to the aristocracy (who own the insurance companies) – something that was overwhelmingly popular with the American community. But Obama never pushed for it. Senator Ted Kennedy wanted to draft that, but Obama refused to allow it.
By the time of 30 May 2007, Obama introduced the plan on which he ran for – and won – the Presidency: «BARACK OBAMA’S PLAN FOR A HEALTHY AMERICA: Lowering health care costs and ensuring affordable, high-quality health care for all». It included: «Specifically, the Obama plan will: (1) establish a new public insurance program, available to Americans who neither qualify for Medicaid or SCHIP nor have access to insurance through their employers, as well as to small businesses that want to offer insurance to their employees». That «new public insurance program» was his public option, and it was the first-mentioned of his plan’s six listed features. He gave it emphasis. And yet Obama blocked that feature from being included at all in the plan that, as President, he handed off to the conservative Democratic Senator Max Baucus to draw up and present to Congress, to win his signature.
Obama knows the score. He’s basically satisfied for America to rank at the very bottom in quality and universality – and at the very top in prices – on healthcare. This combination presents a huge drag on the entire American economy; every company (especially small ones) that operates here pays for it, even when they don’t pay for health insurance for their employees: sick days, disability rates, decreased performance, etc. But all of the big investors, the billionaires, want the profits that derive from the pharmaceutical industry, the medical-products industry, the hospital-industry, etc., which profits gain billionaires far more than sick workers can ever cost them. Anyway, those jobs and sick workers can be replaced cheaper, offshored to places like India – and Obama (especially with his proposed ‘trade’ treaties, TISA, TPP, and TTIP) is the all-time champion at assisting the offshoring of labor to cheaper countries. Obama is an international champion of capitalism, including of the international shell-game that his political opponent Mitt Romney famously profited from at Bain Capital, and that Obama criticized him for during the 2012 campaign. (Romney wasn’t even nearly as skillful a deceiver as was Obama. He generally believed what he was saying.)
Obama lied about several other things regarding his health-insurance plan, such as that he would fight for the inclusion in it of a “public option”, and his promise that his plan wouldn’t include any “healthcare mandate” or penalty to be paid by Americans who refuse to buy health insurance. He abandoned both of those promises as soon as he won the election. He never fought for them. He opposed them. Obamacare does include the individual mandate, and doesn’t include any public option. Obama had campaigned vigorously against Hillary Clinton’s plan because it had included the individual mandate – the requirement to purchase insurance. But as soon as he was elected, he started pushing for the individual mandate to be included in the plan that he assigned to the conservative Democratic Party US Senator Max Baucus (instead of to the progressive Democratic Party US Senator Ted Kennedy) to draft. (Republicans attacked him for its including the individual mandate, the requirement for individuals to purchase health insurance, but the individual mandate had originally been a Republican idea. And it had also been part of the health insurance plan that Obama’s 2012 opponent, Mitt Romney, had introduced in Massachusetts in 2006 and on the basis of which had been constructed the health-insurance proposal that came from each of the three major 2008 Democratic Presidential candidates: Obama, Clinton, and John Edwards. But now, after having produced the ‘Democratic’ plan – minus the public option that all Democrats proposed – Romney was condemning the plan that the ‘Democrat’ Obama passed with support from congressional ‘Democrats’.) This is called “bait-and-switch.” It makes suckers of voters, not people to be served but instead people who are manipulated for the benefit of the real beneficiaries: instead of there being a democracy, there is now a dictatorship via deceits. (Jimmy Carter recently called it an “oligarchy”.)
(to be continued)