Norman Solomon: The State of Phony Populism

Norman Solomon in a column published in COMMON DREAMS (January 2014) wasn’t that impressed with President Obama’s performance during his State of the Union gig.


During 2009 and 2010 — when Democrats controlled not only the White House and Senate but also the House — Obama skipped past vital options for working and want-to-be-working Americans. For instance, he never really pushed for the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have helped unions regain footing and halt their downward slide of membership, especially after crackdowns in state legislatures in Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere.

In a huge blow to the largest unionized workforce in the country — U.S. Postal Service employees — the Obama administration did nothing to undo the extreme pension-prefunding rules that were imposed during the last two years of the George W. Bush administration. And now the Obama White House is presiding over waves of privatization of USPS assets and services, with grave consequences for its workers and the public.

In his speech, while Obama presented himself as an ally of federal workers, he neglected to mention something quite relevant: At the end of 2010, he signed a bill that prohibited pay increases for most of the federal government’s civilian employees. The pay freeze had come at his initiative.


It was clear in 2009 that the incoming president would get one major bite of the stimulus apple. Obama chose not to go for a big enough bite. As a tragic result, the job-creating stimulus package was too small and too fleeting to sustain a strong recovery.

But the size of the stimulus was only part of the problem. Obama, it turned out, was not interested in much public investment via government programs. Instead of developing a modern New Deal that would enable public works to create large numbers of long-term jobs, the Obama team routinely funneled the federal spending to private companies.


“The Obama administration seems to have very little concern about poor people and their social misery,” African-American scholar and activist Cornel West said in November 2010. More than three years later, Obama’s record does little to refute such assessments.

Like West, I was a hopeful supporter of Barack Obama during his first campaign for president. In fact, I was an Obama delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention. But his corporate affinities and lack of interest in genuine structural change to the U.S. economy have long since become painfully clear.

On Wednesday, The New York Times headlined a bold-sounding statement from his State of the Union address: “Whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.” But such noble barking from President Obama has rarely had much bite.

Solomon’s point belies the White House hoopla for Obama’s prime time show. The Born Again Liberal started backsliding well before he was finished with his testimony. Brother Barack’s only serious concern is where he will land after his Presidential sojourn ends in 2017 . . . J P Morgan, Morgan Stanley, CitiBank, Goldman Sachs?


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