The current election, like all elections, is about myths. Arguably the most prominent myth, and the one that legions of potential voters help perpetuate, is that Obama will bring tremendous positive change to America. Rather than acknowledge Obama as simply a well-meaning run of the mill liberal, many newly inspired voters—college students, young professionals, centrists, cross-over conservatives—have come to place their hopes for transcendental reform on the junior senator from Illinois.
For liberals who are sick and tired of the past eight years, such hopes will not be hard to realize if Obama is elected—all he has to do is stick to his liberal ideology and reverse the Bush administration’s policies. But meaningful, transcendental reform in the “national interest” is about more than advocating for a larger welfare state and being the “anti-Bush.” It means tackling the more permanent, deep-seated problems that are hurting America quietly and slowly. Obama is incapable of delivering that kind of change because he hails from a party that puts up too many structural obstacles to real reform, and because he lacks the personal experience to bypass those obstacles.
Take education reform, an issue that is often neglected because it’s under the firm control of teachers unions. Without getting into specific policy details, one can see that there is a cross-spectrum consensus that the current K-12 education system in America is failing. For a country that spends more per pupil than most of its OECD peers and has only increased such expenditures in recent years, the United States lags behind a good chunk of the world in actual educational performance. One reason this is so is that most funding goes toward administration, of which the teachers unions make up a sizable portion. Clearly, any attempt to reduce administrative overhead through reform requires that this status quo either willingly give way or be forced aside. And yet, the Democratic Party is a well-known beneficiary of teacher-union backing and largesse. After being out of power for so long and clearly coveting it now, it is unlikely that a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress will cross one of their major supporters.
Another problem that barely any politician wants to tackle these days is agricultural policy. Libertarians and conservatives oppose the current subsidies regime because it wastefully props up undeserving big farming entities, and environmentalists dislike the energy inefficiency of subsidy-fuelled corn ethanol. America’s agricultural subsidies hurt trade prospects, help impoverish third-world farmers, drain the public purse, and create a larger carbon footprint. A campaign to eliminate these subsidies should be one of the first acts of a presidential candidate committed to real reform. But the agricultural lobby has effectively controlled the public perception of the issue, making subsidy recipients out to be poor, hard-working, “average Americans.” Given the Democratic Party’s populist platform and the current upwelling of populism in America, it is hard to imagine Obama bucking his party to sell a subsidy scrap to middle-America. (Indeed, he voted for this year’s wasteful, $307 billion farm bill.)
It may help to note that there is a host of other valuable but more partisan reforms Democrats are structurally incapable of producing. On our ballooning entitlements budgets, it is hard to see Democrats producing even partial privatization to achieve solvency for Social Security, given their tight-knit relationship with the AARP. On free trade, whose benefits economist Stephen Landsburg claims are backed by a consensus among his colleagues as solid as that “for evolution among biologists,” Democrats will continue to push for protectionism.
All of the reforms listed above require a leader who is unafraid to make the tough but right decision. He or she must be willing to introduce policies that may incur the wrath of his constituents, or party, or both. Obama’s track record on making such tough choices is not reassuring. In his one term in the Senate, he voted the party line 96 percent of the time (while missing 45.9 percent of all votes). The only piece of notable bipartisan legislation Obama introduced was Obama-Lugar, which helped to secure loose nuclear warheads from the Soviet era—far from impressive, given that hardly any voter, party, or powerful special interest would oppose nuclear non-proliferation. On the issues, Obama voted against approving the Central American Free Trade Act. He voted to give $3.5 billion more to farmers, and sponsored legislation that mandated increased use of corn-based ethanol. And he repeatedly voiced his disapproval of social security privatization, opting for the band-aid of raising earnings caps and payroll taxes.
In championing the slogan, “Change We Can Believe In,” Obama’s supporters need to re-examine what kind of change they expect, and whether their candidate can deliver on those expectations. If they acknowledge that real change is about more than just textbook DNC policies, then they should ask why Obama, who hails from a party beholden to status quo interests and has a paper-thin record of bucking those interests, is the right man for the job. Otherwise, they and the other Americans who have been caught up in Obama-mania don’t really believe in change; they believe in Obama himself.
Perhaps the Obama campaign should change its slogan. Right now, “In Obama We Trust” sounds like a better fit.
-Joshua Xiong is a third year University of Toronto international relations major and blogs at Neocon Blues.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire