Where’s My Change?
“No more fine print; no more confusing terms and conditions.” This is what Barack Obama told a White House gathering of leading credit card issuers this week.
Right afterward, President Obama told the press that “there has to be strong and reliable protections for consumers, protections that ban unfair rate increases and forbid abusive fees and penalties.” This soaring rhetoric places a heavy burden on Mr. Obama to stand up to the giant power of the credit card bosses and their monetized allies on Capitol Hill. Yet he has shown little interest in re-instating a Presidential consumer advisor as did Lyndon Johnson with the formidable Betty Furness and as did Jimmy Carter with the legendary Esther Peterson.
Deep recession times are tough for the nation’s over 200 million consumers. Still, no consumer voice in the White House, though consumer groups asked Mr. Obama to move promptly on this tiny advocacy office months ago.
The corporate chieftains have easy access to the White House and the new President, whether these bosses come on missions demanding power or missions of beggary for bailouts. When will he meet with the leading heads of consumer protection groups with millions of dues-paying members who could give him the base to hold accountable and regulate the democracy-denying, economy-wrecking corporate supremacists?
“Where’s the Backbone?” asked Ruth Marcus, the usually-restrained lawyer-columnist for The Washington Post. On April 15, 2009 she wrote: “When will President Obama fight, and when will he fold? That’s not entirely clear—and I’m beginning to worry that there may be a little too much presidential inclination to crumple.” Ms. Marcus asserts that “for all the chest-thumping about making hard choices and taking on entrenched interests, there has been disturbingly little evidence of the new president’s willingness to do that.” This is the case even with his allies in Congress, never mind his adversaries.
Just four days later, The New York Times weighed in with a page one news article that said President Obama “is well known for bold proposals that have raised expectations, but his administration has shown a tendency for compromise and caution, and even a willingness to capitulate on some early initiatives. —His early willingness to deal or fold has left commentators, and some loyal Democrats, wondering: Where’s the fight?'” Like the Post, the Times gave examples.
It is not as if Mr. Obama is lacking in public opinion support. Overall he has a 65% approval rating. People know he inherited a terrible situation here and abroad from the Bush regime and they want action. Large majorities believe America is declining, that there is too much corporate control over their lives, and that the two parties have been failing the American people.
But the President’s personality is not one to challenge concentrated power. A Zogby poll reports that only six percent of the public supports the financial bailouts for Wall Street. The vast majority of people do not think the bailouts are fair.
The upcoming 100 day mark for the Obama administration is a customary time for evaluations by the politicos, the pundits, and the civic community. While his supporters can point to the pay-equity law for women, more health insurance for poor children, and a $787 billion economic stimulus enactment, the general appraisal by the liberal-progressive intelligentsia is decidedly mixed and gentle with undiluted hope.
Mr. Obama nourishes these mixed feelings. He showed some courage when he agreed, as part of an ongoing court case, to release the four torture memos written by Bush’s Justice Department. Graphic photos of prisoner treatment in Iraq and Afghanistan are to be released next week. Yet Obama came out against a Truth Commission regarding the alleged crimes of the Bush regime and said he would “look forward and not look back.” For Obama that means immunity for anyone from the Bush Administration who may have violated the criminal laws of the land.
It is remarkable to read those oft-repeated words by lawyer Obama. Law enforcement is about looking back into the past. Investigation and prosecution obviously deals with crimes that have already occurred. That’s the constitutional duty of the President.
After 100 days it is far too early to render many judgments about Obama. One can, however, evaluate his major appointments—heavily Clintonite and corporate. One can also look at what he hasn’t gotten underway at all—such as labor law reform, a living wage, and citizen empowerment.
Next Monday, the Institute for Policy Studies (www.ips-dc.org) releases a detailed report card on Obama’s first 100 days titled “Thirsting for a Change.” While The Nation held a panel discussion on April 22 in Washington, D.C., the panelists largely gave Obama the benefit of the doubt so far, and declared that only grassroots mobilizing will move him forward on such matters as “single-payer” health care, corporate abuse, and the demilitarization of our foreign policy and our federal budget.
Panelist William Grieder coined the phrase “independent formulations” to describe the citizen action needed.
It is important to note that a transforming President has to ask for and encourage this pressure from the citizenry, much as Franklin Delano Roosevelt did in the 1930s.