Obama is Not a “Radical,” Not a “Socialist, Not even a “Transformational Figure”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is calling President Barack Obama “the most radical president in American history.” Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour calls Obama “the most liberal president ever.” The conservative inteligencia consistently brand the President a Socialist. In actuality, Obama’s legislative program is less transformative and less liberal than many of his predecessors and, in reality is the “antithesis” of Socialism. In fact, bona fide Socialists like Brian Patrick Moore, the 2008 presidential nominee of the Socialist Party USA call Obama “an insult to Socialism.”
Put into an historical context, the modern presidency would be unrecognizable to the architects of the office. The original concept of the American Presidency was known as the President of the Continental Congress of the United States. This was largely a ceremonial office. Its occupants, beginning with Peyton Randolph in 1774, were members of the Continental Congress elected by their colleagues to preside over Congressional sessions. The powers were so limited that Henry Laurens resigned the post in 1788 because he concluded he could wield more power as a rank-and-file member of the body.
The framers of the U.S. Constitution granted the Presidency more powers than the original presidency, but the office was designed to have constricted powers as enumerated in the U.S. Constitution. George Washington had a limited concept of the presidency. He only vetoed legislation he thought unconstitutional and rejected calls to award him the title “His High Mightiness.” Thomas Jefferson thought the President should simply follow the opinion of his constituents.
The first true radical to occupy the White House was Andrew Jackson. He challenged the precedent of a limited presidency. President Jackson transformed the office from an enforcer of laws viewed by many as subservient to the Congress to a “tribune of the people.” Jackson broke the presidential tradition of vetoing only laws he thought unconstitutional. In fact, he vetoed more legislation than all of his predecessors combined, and made the office more partisan by inaugurating the spoils system where political appointees are selected based on partisan political considerations.
In 1921, President Warren G. Harding transformed the country and the political mindset after the progressive era, which saw an increase in government spending, foreign interventions, and the power of the presidency. Harding brought down the top tax rate from 77% to 46%, concomitantly moderating government spending and paying off debt. Harding also established a policy of neutrality abroad.
The two most activist and transformative liberal presidents in U.S. history were Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson. Obama’s modest proposals on Health Insurance, job stimulus, and bank bailouts pale in comparison to the legislative agenda of FDR and LBJ. In his first term, FDR transformed the role of government from a limited purpose entity with an aversion to social spending to an expansive social safety net. He signed legislation establishing the Social Security System, took the nation off the gold standard, reformed the banking system, and establishing a Public Works Administration for the unemployed.
In his first two years in office, Lyndon Johnson signed legislation disallowing racial discrimination in public places and outlawing voter discrimination based on race. In addition, LBJ undertook a massive effort to eradicate poverty. He also signed legislating creating Medicare and Medicaid.
While the Right tries to effectuate a master narrative of Barack Obama as a radical socialist intent on redistributing the wealth from the rich to the poor, the Liberal and Socialist communities do not view Obama as a kindred spirit. Though less reported, the opposition to Obama from the Left is as vociferous as from the Right. Brian Patrick Moore, who ran for President in 2008 as the nominee of the Socialist Party USA, views Obama as a “corporate lackey” and more of a Republican than a Democrat. Moore opposes the Health Insurance Reform legislation recently signed by Mr. Obama, bank bailouts, and expansion of the military, and the troop surge strategy in Afghanistan. Moore thinks Obama is anathema to everything Socialists stands for. He is offended when he hears Obama called a radical or a Socialist. Moore calls such comparisons “an insult to Socialism . . . Obama is a corporate lackey owned by interest groups and supports programs that benefit the status quo and protects the powerful capitalist system.”
While some on the Right view the Health Insurance plan signed by Obama as the incarnation of radical change, Moore believes the legislation is “a corporate giveaway.” He laments the fact that government subsidies will be allocated to private profit-making Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO’s). Moore and his ideological brethren support the nationalization of health insurance, and elimination of the 1,600 health insurance companies. Moore favors Medicare for all, which would include comprehensive, dental and mental health. “Obama is supporting and empowering a broken system. He’s giving the HMO’S power.”
Moore extends his distaste for Obama over his support for bailouts for the financial industry. The Socialist position is that the banks should not retain their decision-making power. “Instead of giving them a bailout, we should have nationalized the banks and established an independent commission made up of citizens, economists and accountants who will work through cooperatives, credit unions and state-run banks.”
On the historical trajectory, Mr. Obama is not a radical ideologue, but rather a pragmatic devotee of the status quo. Obama is an establishmentarian proposing modest changes. It is fair to argue that the recently signed health insurance legislation is too expensive, intrusive, and unconstitutional (the constitution has no provision allowing the federal government to force citizens to purchase a particular product or service). It is fair to argue that Obama’s bailout purloins money from responsible citizens to irresponsible corporations. It is rhetorical hyperbole to extrapolate that Obama is a radical socialist or even a transformative figure. Compared to the action of his predecessors, Obama is hardly a Transformational Figure, a Radical, or a Socialist.
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Rich Rubino is the Managing Editor of www.politicsdmz.ning.com.
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Filed Under: Newt Gingrich 2012
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