A normal voting experience for an Amherst student seems to be a case of ordering “the usual.” Even when we open our ballots to unfamiliar candidates, we still order the usual political Happy Meal with all the little (D)s. We probably look right past the (L)s, the (C)s, the (G)s, and non-aligned, only stopping to gag slightly over Romney, Ryan and other (R)s on the menu. In a world of options, we see only two, and even then still only pick the same.
Sometimes, party affiliation becomes the only meaningful difference between the straw men of the American political duopoly. The candidates are often known for little more than their partisan affiliation. Therefore, when a candidate brings a history to the table, we should take advantage of this rare information to make informed decisions as voters. Unfortunately, many seemed interested in anything but real substance during this past presidential election, sucked into empty campaign branding, slogans and imagery instead.
President Barack Obama in the past four years developed his history as a non-legislator; he demonstrated his character and abilities; voters can evaluate the candidate on merits and not rhetoric. Yet do we? Lingering flashbacks of Obama’s campaign marketing five years ago still influence our vision of his “four more years.” The slogans are the same. The promises are the same. The campaign is the same. To the less cynical, Obama stood for many things back in 2008: bolder principles of peace, justice and tolerance. We know it to be true. This message of promise carried so strongly that it alone earned him a Nobel Peace Prize.
If we look at Obama now, we’ll notice that he changed. He disillusioned many and became somebody that we only used to know. He demonstrated his willingness to play politics and tactfully regurgitate populist rhetoric to distract Americans. As Obama continually proves his savvy as America’s top politician, I increasingly fail to see what real principles will march behind him back into the Oval Office come January.
This is a man who believed that Washington didn’t always get it right — that imprisonment, cronyism and special interests shouldn’t be synonymous with government, at least not in America. This is a man who believed not in red states and blue states, but in shared discourse and mutual respect. This is what we all believed. However, if one merely looked beyond the media portrayal of the President however, one can not fail to see that this administration brought the opposite. This article is a warning; a letter to Americans, who all too frequently disregard the most obvious examples at their own peril.
A year before election, Obama made this the center of his campaign pledge: “I am running to tell the lobbyists in Washington that their days of setting the agenda are over. They have not funded my campaign. They won’t work in my White House.” Read any newspaper, however, and you’ll see lobbying in Washington continues unabashedly. Obama insiders receive government grants and special favors, walking in and out of the White House with well-documented and alarming frequency. The President has granted many official exceptions to his White House lobbyist “ban,” while circumventing his own rules by redefining the ban as only for “Federal” lobbyists or those not registered as lobbyists by the Senate. He employs at least a hundred lobbyists in his administration and even hired lobbyists as senior advisers to his campaign. Even before campaign season kicked off, paid lobbyists for “Washington consulting shops or private companies” had raised over $5 million for Obama’s campaign. I won’t say whether lobbying is necessarily good or bad, but fact-checkers acknowledge that his pledge on that front is broken.
In addition to direct lobbying, rampant cronyism persists unaffected. As the biggest winners in Washington, powerful unions win huge cuts from taxpayer bailouts. They receive open support from the Obama administration to intimidate America’s struggling businesses during plant relocations and other desperate attempts to remain competitive. Corporations and contractors with political connections receive generous Department of Energy aid and IRS subsidies — the obviousness of which is obscured by Obama’s façade of “anti-corporate” rhetoric. It’s well-acknowledged that Obama’s handouts to “green” energy were politically connected. His failed experiments at Ener1, Solyndra, Abound Solar and Beacon Power vaporized millions in taxpayer dollars, except for the millions donated right back into his campaign.
Even the not-yet-bankrupt companies still owe their success to having CEOs close to the President. Independence Wind received $120 million from the administration; the company’s owner was Maine’s top Democrat. Brightsource, a solar energy company, lobbied the administration heavily for its $1.6 billion government loan using Joe Biden’s former Chief of Staff. The worst part though is that there’s so much more cronyism behind the lobbying. Not only did Obama appoint Brightsource’s chairman as Commerce Secretary, but the CEO is a fundraiser, donor and friend of the President, and the company’s major stakeholder worked for the Obama administration on energy policy. In keeping with Washington custom, a friend in need means cash received.
Obama rushed to Detroit with such vigor to dump borrowed money into too-big-to-fail car companies, and this too was motivated by raw politics. The great “auto bailout” was Obama’s dream chance to save his Party’s most organized and loyal supporters. He shielded the union from a bankruptcy process which would, and Obama subsidized the union with $26.5 billion in taxpayer dollars, meaning that “the entire loss to the taxpayers from the auto bailout comes from the funds diverted to the UAW.” Even if borrowing money for “bailouts” prevented some layoffs, it was certainly not money well spent: GM today still flirts with bankruptcy while still owing most of its government loans — never mind the horror and precedent of politically-motivated government takeovers. There are so many great, well-managed auto companies making often better-quality cars everywhere across America, but they didn’t get your money because they weren’t feeding the Left’s UAW.
Mixing big government, big business and big labor only generates politics, corruption and collusion. As the hand of government grows larger, interest groups clamor more to influence it; lobbying can only grow worse, and these interests can only become more powerful as rent-seeking becomes more profitable. It’s mind-boggling how we still pray that big business will collude with government less, when we charge the federal government to wade deeper into commercial interests. It’s remarkable how we balk at the unfolding of the corruption that is inherent in Chinese-style State Capitalism, yet continue to vote more State into our capitalism.
The mix is a recipe for decline and corruption that stifles state economies, and Obama mixes in divisive class-based rhetoric to bait and distract Americans into supporting it. For example, after what was a cordial and successful White House meeting with America’s financial leaders, the executives present were shocked when the President turned around afterwards and, in front of the cameras, hurled tactless partisan attacks at the executives. It was two-faced, but most importantly, a decoy. Similarly, Obama hastily endorsed flashy but nonsensical “Buffet Rules” and “millionaire taxes” so as to completely skew the debate and ignore real solutions to the deficit, some of which came from commissions he started. He does this at a time when his leadership consistently fails to address the fiscal cliff’s taxmageddon and the 1,300-day lack of a federal budget — and racking up $5 trillion in debt in the meantime.
Jumping on the bandwagon, the President also seized and politicized Occupy Wall Street with the ease of an experienced showman. Occupy then largely fizzled out as the President’s calculated rhetoric successfully annexed the national movement into the political positioning of his re-election operation. To keep appearing as Mr. Anti-Finance even today, the President bashes private equity while claiming that “this is what this campaign is going to be about” — that is, political positioning. Just like with everything else, when dollars comes calling, he jumps at private Chicago fundraisers to brand private equity as “the best opportunity for long-term economic vitality” and “the creation of jobs,” and sends his N.E.C. head to beg private equity to save hundreds of union jobs at a major oil refinery in swing-state Pennsylvania and to keep East Coast gas prices below five dollars per gallon around election time (he even granted subsidies and looser environmental regulations for the private equity firm and oil corporation involved). Americans are hurting in the Obama Economy, and they’re especially vulnerable to being misled by the bashing of any country or person not suffering alongside them — and the President knows it.
It appears that Barack has learned to skillfully divide and conquer in office. At an alarming pace, his agencies grow bolder and more numerous to arrest or litigate Americans resisting his big-government agenda; on our dime, he has hired hundreds of new special agents and other law enforcement officers for the thousands of rules he levies against households and enterprises. He champions tax-hiking legislation alongside business-strangling regulation, and then spins the rhetoric against his opponents for not supporting “jobs” (read: deficit spending), cornering them with empty bills and perfectly mellifluous names like the J.O.B.S. Act.
Back room deals, legislative maneuvering, the “Louisiana Purchase,” the Nebraska “buyout” — Obama ushered in an ugly era of politics in Washington. Much of it was demanded by the huge effort needed to pass gargantuan partisan bills without a clear voter mandate or even majority public support. Much of it was demanded by a President who needed executive privilege, the classification of documents and the firing of top officials to shield his administration from investigations or public criticism. Such depravity is largely avoidable with good governance, but Obama prefers to play politics instead.
As meaningful is the transparency with which the President approves of his child-bombing in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Obama’s administration still reigns as one of America’s most secretive. Document classification remains at an all-time high, and the administration has gone to great lengths to keep many of its activities hidden. Top officials such as EPA administrator Lisa Jackson use email aliases to keep dirty dealings off-the-record. NGOs even sued the administration to reveal its setting up of non-official, back-channel emails for top officials after it initially refused to release the evidence. The House Science Committee this month demanded that the President explain why “senior Obama Administration appointees” were frequently violating the Federal Records Act, Freedom of Information Act, the Presidential Records Act and “other statutes designed to facilitate transparency and oversight.”
The past four years make evident that his is not benevolent, inspiring nor transparent government. He is not the “Obama 2008” that was marketed to us.
The election news coverage and talking points show how strongly Americans harped back to campaign posters of the President beside empty slogans and appropriated political symbols which don’t deserve the tarnish of his politics (the gay-rainbow splashed with a grinning Barrack is but one sad example). We fail to see billion dollar campaigns for the political positioning and corporate branding they are.
Politics is dirty, and the President makes sure politics reigns supreme on Pennsylvania Avenue. In America we too easily believe politicians work in Washington for us, and not for the same insider connections, power and ego of fat-cats anywhere else in the world. Maybe this naivety is just a symptom of the American electorate’s unique optimism. Even so, despite what faith you may have in Washington politics, Americans this time made the mistake of overlooking the President’s solid four year record.
Given that White House politics hasn’t changed since Obama took the Oath of Office, we would be mistaken to think anything different will come after his second inauguration.