The Progressive Case Against Voting for Obama

An essay by Matt Stoller (“The progressive case against Obama”), published yesterday in Salon, is the most extraordinary piece of analysis I’ve read in this political season, or in any other. And, as a progressive (and possibly as an erstwhile Obama supporter), I have to say it rocked my world (and I’ve never said that before).

Stoller, a longtime Democratic activist and major fundraiser, makes the progressive case against voting for Obama. For me, this was painful reading: Even though I’ve been aware of many of Obama’s shortcomings, Stoller made me aware of some very serious others.

If nothing else, all liberals and progressives should read this essay so at least we can say that we voted with our eyes wide open.

And if you are inclined to say, “Yeah, but what about women’s rights? At least the choice is clearly in favor of Obama on that issue” Or, “What about the Supreme Court?” … STILL you should read Stoller’s essay.


“Under Bush, economic inequality was bad, as 65 cents of every dollar of income growth went to the top 1 percent. Under Obama, however, that number is 93 cents out of every dollar. That’s right, under Barack Obama there is more economic inequality than under George W. Bush. And if you look at the chart above, most of this shift happened in 2009-2010, when Democrats controlled Congress. This was not, in other words, the doing of the mean Republican Congress. And it’s not strictly a result of the financial crisis; after all, corporate profits did crash, like housing values did, but they also recovered, while housing values have not.”

” … during the transition itself, Bush’s Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson offered a deal to Barney Frank, to force banks to write down mortgages and stem foreclosures if Barney would speed up the release of TARP money. Paulson demanded, as a condition of the deal, that Obama sign off on it. Barney said fine, but to his surprise, the incoming president vetoed the deal. Yup, you heard that right — the Bush administration was willing to write down mortgages in response to Democratic pressure, but it was Obama who said no, we want a foreclosure crisis. And with Neil Barofsky’s book ”Bailout,” we see why. Tim Geithner said, in private meetings, that the foreclosure mitigation programs were not meant to mitigate foreclosures, but to spread out pain for the banks, the famous “foam the runway” comment. This central lie is key to the entire Obama economic strategy. It is not that Obama was stymied by Congress, or was up against a system, or faced a massive crisis, which led to the shape of the economy we see today. Rather, Obama had a handshake deal to help the middle class offered to him by Paulson, and Obama said no. He was not constrained by anything but his own policy instincts. And the reflation of corporate profits and financial assets and death of the middle class were the predictable results.”

I’m not sure how I’m going to vote this time. (UPDATE: It didn’t take much thought to figure this out. See my comment below).

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5 Responses to “The Progressive Case Against Voting for Obama”
  1. Jeff Pelline says:

    If not Obama, then who?

  2. Don Pelton says:

    The trouble with Stoller’s critique as I see it is that he makes the perverse implication that because progressives have an inclination to assume that Obama is a progressive and consequently feel that it is enough to merely vote for him, it would be better to have in office someone we trust less and we would therefore pressure by means of activist movement politics.

    Better would be to vote for Obama and remember that it is not enough to merely vote for him.

    Just as it is not enough to merely vote for new city council members, but never bother to show up at their periodic meetings and speak out on issues.

    FDR asked labor leaders to pressure him (to create a movement) and they did.

    If we vote for Obama (and I will), we need to keep up the pressure on him after the election.

    And we need to pay attention to ideas like Stoller’s to help us remember where to apply the pressure.

  3. Tim Gawne says:

    It should now be apparent that voting for the ‘lesser of two evils’ is a mistake. It let’s you win 50% of the tactical battles, but 100% guarantees that you will lose the war.

    In the early part of the 20th century progressives had principles. If a politician stabbed them in the back they were declared the enemy and progressives would never vote for them even if the other guy was slightly worse.

    William Jennings Bryan lost three times – and his principles triumphed, and eventually even Republicans like Eisenhower embraced the new deal.

    Voting for Obama will not ‘pressure’ him to do anything – on the contrary. It will empower right-wing politicians (R+D alike) that they have nothing to lose by declaring war on working people. And will cut the legs out from under any politician thinking of supporting us.

    If we reward our enemies, and refuse to support our friends, and then one day we wake up and have nothing but enemies, well, are you surprised?

    Stoller hit the nail on the head. What’s wrong with us all, anyhow?

  4. It seems to me obvious that the economic woes started and will continue with the increase in automation and the flow of jobs offshore, and the continuous dumbing down of the American public via poorly funded education and social programs, plus advertising aimed at producing fearful, insecure consumers.

    I have no qualms about voting for Neil deGrasse Tyson for Prexy because both campaigns have already ceded California to Obama, and I want whoever looks at my ballot to know that I want:

    more attention paid to Fukishima, a whole lot more.
    more attention paid to NASA and space exploration.
    and more attention paid to global warming, regardless of the cause.

    I also believe that we need a massive PR job to get kids in school to understand that they become what they have learned, and a rewards program should be set up for those fields in which we need more educated folks. Yes, pay them 10% cash up front, and 90% toward college/voc-ed funds, they pick. The taxpayer can’t afford to rebuild all the vo-ed that has been stripped away over the last 50 years, so having motivated students pay for private training, perhaps even during high school, seems to me to be a good idea.

    BTW, the Nevada County ballot allows room only for a Prexy write-in, and no room for the VEEP as a write-in. For a variety of reasons, I would vote Chris Rock for VEEP. One, he’s remarkable smart and articulate like Tyson, and two, nobody who didn’t like Tyson for racial reasons would even consider bad things, if Chris Rock were the replacement.

  5. Ed Peritz says:

    Any progressive who votes in such a fashion as to allow Romney and Ryan to win, regardless of Stollar’s perspective, is ‘copping’ out.’ Teddy Roosevelt said to Ernst Hanfstaengl–per his memoir–“Remember that in politics the choice is the lesser of two evils.” Those sentiments prevail, I suppose, because no president, constantly bombarded by powerful, diverse, competing vectors of “I wants”, can possibly accomplish all of what “the better angels of their nature,” conceive. And in an age of no compromise fanaticism, I’d say Obama’s done OK.

    A win for the R & R boys, where facts and truth, for them, are whatever blather escapes lips that are mere slaves of greed. And their Oily Magnate supporters and slick handlers know that the words of a dead master of deceit speak ugly truths about victorious tactics: “limit subjects to . . . simple subjects; Political agitation must be primitive; the trouble with other parties . . .they have become too . . .academic;the ordinary man . . . cannot follow.”

    It is not nor will it ever be, the best of all possible worlds. We are not the United States of Disneyland.
    The primary political option today for thinking, progressives, must be what is possible. Stopping the extreme right-wing, backed by Idiot America, is still the goal. Burn that article; we live in a world that will never become paradise.

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