by Danny Haiphong
Barack Obama has been Wall Street’s ace in the hole his entire presidency. He waged war against Social Security, food stamps and other entitlements and doggedly pursued a “Grand Bargain” with Republicans. Bankers, his main constituency, “were given a get out of jail free card” – plus trillions of dollars in free or dirt cheap money. “Barack Obama was the most effective evil finance capitalism could buy.”
The Obama Legacy Part 2: Economic Policy Wall Street Could Count On
by Danny Haiphong
“Obama Administration’s economic policies were always meant to stabilize and enrich Wall Street at the expense of the working class and poor.”
The 2008 economic crisis sent Washington into a frantic search for a way to forestall popular rebellion. It found the perfect Presidential candidate in Barack Obama. With millions of Wall Street dollars at his disposal to bankroll a masterful marketing campaign, Obama was sold to the masses as the solution to eight years of Republican Party rule. Obama was advertised as the hope and change that the American people could believe in. The first Black President branded himself not as an ally of Wall Street, but as an opponent of the foreclosures, layoffs, and falling wages that had come to characterize American life under capitalist crisis.
In 2008, the Bush Administration responded to the capitalist crash with a bank bailout worth 700 billion dollars. Eight years later, it has been estimated that 4.5 trillion USD was transferred to the top 1 percent of income earners under the Obama Administration. The hope and the change that was sold to the masses amounted to nothing more than a marketing to scam. To cover up this scam, the corporate media devised a narrative that redirected blame toward "Republican obstructionism" and away from Obama. This narrative suppressed how the Obama Administration’s economic policies were always meant to stabilize and enrich Wall Street at the expense of the working class and poor.
Obama was Wall Street's ace in the hole. While the Democratic Party cried foul play on the Republicans, the Obama Administration gave cover to Wall Street bankers. Bankers were given a get out of jail free card despite a Democratic Party majority in the House and the Senate in 2009 and 2010. Token bankers were slapped with fines for fleecing the US population with shark loans and predatory mortgages. Meanwhile, the same banks that threw millions into homelessness, joblessness, and poverty continued to receive tens of billions of dollars in "Quantitative Easing" from the Federal Reserve.
“The Obama Administration created the Simpson-Bowles commission to cut Medicare and Social Security.”
The policy of "Quantitative Easing" stopped officially in 2014, but the Obama Administration never ceased its policy of robbery of the working class. In 2011, Obama proposed a grand bargain with both parties that included 3 trillion dollars worth of cuts in domestic spending over the next decade. In 2012, the Obama Administration celebrated victory over the Republicans by creating the Simpson-Bowles commission to cut Medicare and Social Security. These benefits, historically understood as untouchable, were placed on the chopping block for the first time by the nation's first Black President.
The bi-partisan Sampson-Bowles Commission called for another 2.5 trillion dollars worth of domestic cuts. The commission proposed a cut of 585 billion dollars to Medicare and a readjustment of how cost of living increases are calculated for Social Security benefits. All in all, the Sampson-Bowles commission was never able to fully implement these unpopular domestic proposals, partly because Republicans feared that such a move would hasten the demise of the party. In this way, as Glen Ford reported in 2012, gridlock has been one of the few bright spots of Obama's reign.
Nonetheless, Obama has been able to get away with waging an all out war on the poor with little resistance from his supporters. In his swan song, Obama used his last State of the Union address to celebrate a farcical 5.6 percent unemployment rate. He described the American economy as the most durable in the world. This was a big lie. Not only was Obama describing a sinking capitalist economy that possessed a record low labor participation rate and a real unemployment rate closer to ten percent, but low-wage jobs have comprised the bulk of new job growth in the US under his rule.
“Obama has been able to get away with waging an all out war on the poor with little resistance from his supporters.”
The growing misery and impoverishment of the masses did not hold Obama back from attacking what little the poor has at its disposal to supplement wages. In 2014, Obama signed into law an 8.7 billion dollar cut to food stamps. The law included a new time restrictions for access to benefits for those who do not qualify for disability exemption. Those without disability status must prove they have been looking for work or have their benefits stripped after three months. Millions of people have since lost their food stamps due to the Obama Administration's draconian reforms of this vital social service.
Obama's record as the austerity President can be seen clearly in the condition of the working class and poor in the closing days of his rule. The wealth gap between White America and Black America is wider than it was in the 1960s. Poverty increased every year of Obama's Presidency. One of every two individuals in the US are poor and 80 percent experience "near poverty." Obama, rather than challenge the rule of Wall Street, has played the leading role in enriching the banks at the expense of everyone else.
Perhaps Obama’s most enduring legacy is that few protested his service to Wall Street. Occupy Wall Street made scant mention of him during its peak in 2011-2012. Labor unions were silent throughout the duration of his administration. For much of his rule, Black Americans believed their economic condition was actually improving contrary to material reality. Barack Obama was the most effective evil finance capitalism could buy. His selection into the Oval Office in 2008 and again 2012 set the movement against the crisis of capitalism back immeasurably. When his rule finally ends, expect these lost years to come rushing back to the forefront of political struggle at a rapid pace. The 2016 elections have only been a taste of what's to come.
Danny Haiphong is an Asian activist and political analyst in the Boston area. He can be reached at [email protected]