PARIS: He did nothing for African-Americans, left the poor even poorer, his health care reform was a step backwards, and he may yet let another financial disaster erupt on his watch.
In short, Barack Obama squandered the huge wave of goodwill that gave the United States its first black president, argues the president and publisher of the high-brow and left-leaning US magazine Harper’s.
John R. MacArthur has been making those points all week as he tours Paris to promote his new French-language book L’Illusion Obama that seeks to puncture the myths about the man who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 just a few months after taking power.
MacArthur has also just published The Outrageous Barriers to Democracy in America: Or, Why A Progressive Presidency Is Impossible, an update on a 2008 work that argues that it is next to impossible to beat the money machine and the vested interests that dominate Washington.
“The only question is did Obama squander it (the opportunity for change) or did he know from the beginning that it was impossible. Was it cynical? I hope it wasn’t cynical,” he told AFP.
MacArthur says that Obama’s failure to change US society for the better can best be understood when his time in the White House is contrasted with that of a Democrat predecessor, Lyndon B. Johnson.
Johnson was vice-president and stepped up when John F Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.
Little was expected of this man who was associated with a group of southern Senators who were blocking moves to end racial discrimination against African-Americans, said MacArthur.
“There was total pessimism,” he said, qualifying his praise of Johnson with the remark that his escalation of the Vietnam War was a disaster.
“The first thing he does is get in, take Kennedy’s civil rights bill, which is stalled in Congress, and rams it through. You’ve got the most radical progressive piece of civil rights legislation since the (US) Civil War.
“He does Medicare, he does huge investments in education, in the environment, in the national parks, he’s a real Social Democrat,” said the publisher, whose new French book is a collection of essays he wrote for his own magazine and Canada’s Le Devoir.
Exact opposite of what he promised
Obama, he says, is the exact opposite.
He promised a progressive presidency that would soar above the pettiness of partisan politics, stop the rot of corruption, and clean up campaign fundraising.
But, according to MacArthur, it is now clear, as Obama battles the Republican Mitt Romney for the presidency in next month’s vote, that elite interests remain triumphant in the United States. There has been no new dawn.
“The incredible power of the lobbies, the fund-raising racket, the seniority system in Congress etc etc, patronage, cronyism,” it is all still there, he said.
Obama was clearly not as war-mongering as his predecessor, the Republican George W. Bush, but he escalated the US troop presence in Afghanistan within nine months of coming to power, MacArthur argued.
“He knows it was lost. But he’s thinking tactically: I’ve got to protect my flank against the hawks, the right-wing hawks and the liberal hawks… That was entirely cynical and cost us vast amounts of money.”
The first African-American leader of the United States has done nothing to advance the status of the black community, he said.
“On the contrary, he has done everything he can to convince people he’s not black, he doesn’t want to be seen as black.”
Nor have the poor done any better under his presidency: “The division between rich and poor in our country is at historic levels… You’ve got 15 percent of the people below the poverty line.”
His trademark healthcare reform did nothing to alleviate the plight of the poor and was in fact a “regression because it reinforces the power of the private insurers and puts them at the heart of the system”.
The list of alleged failures to act goes on.
“So we’re not going to raise the top marginal rate on income tax, we’re not going raise the capital gains tax, we’re not going to raise the minimum wage… we’re not going to halt the trading in derivatives.”
That last failure could lead to to another financial disaster like the sub-prime crisis, said MacArthur.
If Obama does get reelected in next month’s vote, could he redeem himself in his second term, and fulfill the wild hopes that were placed in him?
“I doubt it. Even if he wanted to, which I doubt, as he tends to concede, he’s going to be jammed up by the Republican majority in the House (of Representatives). It will be a logjam.”