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A Nation Betrayed: An Indictment of the Obama Presidency

Barack Obama was elected President on a tidal wave of enthusiasm in 2008. He proclaimed: While we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us we cant, we will respond with the timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: yes we can. Obama promised a break from the past and a new politics, free from the grip of Wall Street. However, the self-proclaimed candidate of change had broken his word before he had even entered office. He claimed that his campaign was not being funded by Wall Street and few in the media bothered to challenge this claim. The single largest donor to the Obama campaign was Goldman Sachs, and the other top thirteen were a mixture of hedge funds, Wall Street firms, and large corporate law firms with lobbying arms. They had looked at Senator Obamas past voting record and they liked what they saw. He had voted for laws making it harder for people to sue corporations for breaking state hour, wage, and civil rights laws. In return, President Obama would go on to reward his Wall Street allies with large numbers of jobs in the Cabinet and thus become the occupant of the Wall Street White House. Once elected, Obama wasted no time in surrounding himself with advisers from the Bush administration. In reality, he had neither interest in change nor any political backbone; he merely wanted continuity. His inadequate response to the economic crisis was typical. He first appointed Lawrence Summers, an advocate of the deregulation and laissez-faire capitalism that caused the crisis, Director National Economic Council, the body responsible for formulating economic policy. He then announced a stimulus package. This increased growth and reduced unemployment, however its effects were short-lived as it was not big enough. Ignoring advice from large numbers of respected economists, Obama refused to announce a second stimulus package and pursued the same old neoliberal dogma. Far from getting tough on the banks as he had promised during the campaign, Obama launched an attack on business regulations past Republican presidents could only have dreamed of. This itself was bad enough, but Obama combined it with a betrayal of the trade unions that had backed his presidential campaign. The Employee Free Choice Act would have given employees the right to join unions without the lengthy voting procedures and opportunities for management bullying. Unsurprisingly, this outraged the Republicans and other business groups who immediately set out so sabotage the legislation. Obama and the White House, however, did not have the appetite to defend it and in effect allowed it to fall apart. Obama did not contribute to the debate or use the opportunity of a televised address to rally the nation behind it. Instead, he stood back and watched the legislation die a slow and painful death in Congress. Many Obama supporters will now say that at least he created Obamacare. Large numbers of people seem to be deluded enough to believe that Obamacare was some sort of attempt at state universal healthcare. It is nothing of the sort. Instead it is an attempt to make access to private health insurance easier, but it neither provides free insurance to anyone, nor does it ensure everyone is covered. Even after its implementation, 16 million Americans do not have health insurance, and nothing has been done to deal with the arguably larger problem of underinsurance. The vast majority of Americans have health insurance, but large numbers do not have sufficient cover and are left to pay huge costs when things go wrong. Democrats will then argue that the progress that has been made would be reversed by Romney and the modest reforms were the best

Obama could have done in the climate. The first claim on the outside may seem true, Mitt Romney has indeed pledged to repeal and replace Obamacare. However, his proposed replacement is almost identical; it keeps the main provisions but abolishes the individual mandate and gives greater flexibility to individual states. This second claim is equally disingenuous as Obama had a majority in both the House and the Senate. However, he felt the need to make unnecessary concessions to the Republicans before he even reached the negotiating table. He ruled out an expansion of Medicare to the entire population, as it currently only helps the elderly and the disabled. An expansion would have been much fairer and dealt with the underinsured. In fact, he actually cut Medicare funding and unemployment benefits to fund Obamacare, claiming the scheme was in deficit. This is a myth that has been exploited by successive US presidents to allow them to cut the Medicare budget. The scheme is actually several trillion dollars in surplus, but the government routinely borrows money from it to fund skyrocketing defence spending, as borrowing the money normally would be too unpopular. Obama has been making the elderly and unemployed poorer to subsidise private insurance companies and fight wars abroad. The current administrations human rights record makes George Bush look like a liberal and Tony Blair a raving libertarian in comparison. Obama has extended the Patriot Act, allowing the government to seize records about people without their knowledge after receiving permission from a secret court. In addition to this, the government is allowed to conduct surveillance on any citizen, even if there is no evidence or suspicion that they are linked to terrorist groups. The government regularly suppresses the publication of embarrassing stories by claiming they are state secrets. This included stories about the government sending suspects abroad to be tortured as well as telephone and Internet monitoring. The National Defence Authorisation Act allows indefinite military detention without charge to be used against any member of the public; Obama has pledged never to use these powers but there is nothing to stop a future President from doing so. The president has reneged on his promise to close down Guantanamo Bay and under his watch a 15 year-old boy was accused of war crimes and held there, even though his confession was extracted under torture and he was in hospital at the time of the alleged offence. No other democratic country in recent history has authorised the assassination of its own citizens abroad if they were suspected of terrorism. It may seem strange, but there would have been more respect for civil liberties under a McCain administration and almost certainly greater scrutiny of government policy by the press. Many will argue that Barack Obama is the lesser evil, so they have a duty to vote for him to keep Mitt Romney out. In reality, Romney and Obama agree with each other a great deal more than they disagree; this is more of a popularity contest than a battle of ideologies. This means that a vote for either Obama or Romney is a vote for the status quo. America is often depicted as a right-wing reactionary country that is full of rednecks. However, surveys consistently showed majority support for the Occupy Movement. In addition to this, the Tea Party, whether you love them or loathe them, has demonstrated that Americans are capable of radicalism. Although the system is rigged heavily in favour of the two main parties with unbalanced ballot access laws, smaller parties and independents have been known to cause upsets. In the past, Green and Libertarian members have been returned to Congress, the current governor of Vermont is an independent socialist, and in 1999 Jesse Ventura, the candidate for the little-known Reform Party, was elected governor of Minnesota. Most Americans want change and many believe in progressive ideals, but until people begin to take a stand against the system and stop seeing elections as a choice between two authoritarian neoliberals, the mistakes of the past will be repeated. Change will not come from above.