The tipping point 

Obama, Democrats have abandoned progressivism

The 2012 election season is off to a running start with candidates popping up like mushrooms after our long spring rains. Thanks to a serious imbalance in American politics right now, we will likely see positions drift even farther to the right as the Tea Party and the religious right exerts their pull on already nervous Republicans. Meanwhile, running-scared Democrats will likewise drift farther right since they face no similar, countervailing force from the demoralized Left.

Were one to trace this right-wing revolution in American politics to its recent roots, the inescapable conclusion is that the Tea Party rose to power on one main issue—the mandate in the so-called "health reform" bill, that everyone must buy health insurance. While it's been dubbed "Obamacare" by the opposition, the truth is that it is actually Baucus-care. Obama didn't put the bill together or vote for it. The simple but ugly fact is that the health care debacle was strictly the product of a Congress in which both the House and Senate were controlled by the largest Democrat majorities in decades, which could have and should have delivered a better result to the president's desk.

But it was surely Obama who signed it into law and while doing so claimed it to be something it is not. It is not health care reform, it is health insurance reform and dang little of that. To try and put a fast one over on the American people is always a mistake. History is replete with outstanding examples. Bush's phony excuses for invading Iraq, for instance. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There were no nuclear bomb-making facilities, nor any yellowcake uranium to fuel them. When Obama offered voters a pledge of "change and hope," it was anger at Bush's deception and perfidy that he rode all the way to the White House.

How ironic is it, then, that almost in an instant the coin flipped and suddenly it was Obama on the hook for deception while the ascendant Tea Party rallied? Surely Montanans remember the summer of 2009, when Denny Rehberg ranted across the state at dozens of citizen rallies while Tester avoided constituents like the plague and Baucus was almost physically intimidated in his few public appearances.

Progressives, on the other hand, were given a pig in a poke to try and defend–a health care bill written by and for the insurance industry that would, by law, add tens of millions of new customers and billions of dollars in long-term profits to their corporate coffers. No public option, no single-payer, no assurances whatsoever that costs for the mandated insurance wouldn't soar into the stratosphere.

The Tea Party rallies threw Democrats into a frenzy as they watched their revolution dissolve only a year after it started. Their response, unfortunately, has further empowered the Tea Party and Republicans while alienating even more of their Democratic base. Suddenly, the promises to end the wars became excuses for continuing the wars and even expanding them. Who would have predicted that it would be the Obama administration and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who would not just continue the controversial Predator drone strikes inside Pakistan but send planes, missiles, covert special forces, and more Predator drones to Libya, Yemen, and Somalia? Who would have predicted that the defense budget under Obama would get bigger, not smaller, as the nation plunged into economic collapse?

But that's not the worst of it. Given the opportunity to roll back the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy, Obama instead decided to extend them. As billions of dollars in much-needed revenue was funneled to the top 1 or 2 percent of Americans, millions more were losing their jobs to the recession and their homes to foreclosure. Yet even now, Obama is courting the pirates of Wall Street for campaign donations as they forcefully resist the weak attempts the Democrats have made at reigning in their speculative excesses.

Congress now borrows more than 40 cents on every dollar it spends and faces yet another showdown over raising the national debt ceiling in the coming months. And once again, progressives are left in the virtually indefensible position of supporting more spending while the Republicans and their Tea Party cohorts raise the cry for fiscal responsibility by the federal government–a message that resonates broadly with angry and cash-strapped taxpayers.

Without the trillions lost to the wars and the wealthy, it's Obama who's left with the unsavory task of determining the long-term stability of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. He faces an outraged public led by 78 million baby boomers who have paid into those social programs for their entire working lives and who expect to receive the benefits promised to them when the federal government took the money from their paychecks every week.

If anything will save the Democrats, it will be the excesses of the Tea Party and the Republicans. The calls by their congressional cohorts such as Rep. Paul Ryan to slash or eliminate Medicare, give more tax breaks to corporations, and lower tax rates for the wealthy are already engendering significant public blowback.

But where are the cries to expand the social safety nets in this time of need? Where are the calls to end the wars? Where is the Democratic plan to significantly aid the middle class? The Left seems to have left the debate–or been abandoned by the Democrats. And without that voice, to our peril, we drift ever more to the right, unbalanced and toppling into a morass from which we may never recover.

Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at

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