President Barack Obama came to office on a tide of voters eager to see a change in more than just the White House’s occupant. Two years into his presidency — and one day after he launched his 2012 reelection campaign — and even some of his most ardent supporters are having trouble coming to terms with the answer to Sarah Palin’s 2010 question: “How’s that hopey, changey stuff working out?”
Even though Obama clearly leads all of the likely Republican front-runners at this point, the deep dissatisfaction brewing within his core constituency could make the president, and his whole party, uniquely vulnerable in next year’s elections.
Below are five of the biggest campaign pledges Obama failed to keep — for which he’ll likely have to answer before election day 2012.
1. Health care for all
If you’re an American making less than $30,000 a year, chances are you still have trouble seeing a doctor, despite the passage of President Obama’s health care reform plan. In 2007, then-Senator Obama said he wanted to make sure no American is without access to vital medical attention and proposed using revenues from the soon-to-expire Bush tax cuts to fund it. When the campaign laid out their specific plans in 2008, they included a “public option” that would be paid for by the public at large and made available to anyone who could not obtain coverage through their employer or other public program.
Ultimately, the debate in Washington became so heated and rife with disinformation that the administration and its allies in Congress agreed to forgo the public option, using it as a bargaining chip to ensure other proposals, like ending the “pre-existing condition” exclusion in private insurance policies, were passed in the final bill. They also gave in to Republican demands and extended the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, promising to take on the issue again in 2012. In spite of the modest legislative victory of actually getting health reform passed, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that even after all the elements take effect in 2014, over 22 million Americans will still lack access to basic health services.
2. Close Guantanamo
As a symbol of everything that liberals thought to be wrong with the Bush-era, closing the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba should have been an easy target for the new and popular president and his Democratic super-majority in Congress — and, in fact, then-candidate Obama promised to do just that. But as he soon found out, strategic and political calculations have made it almost impossible to shuck.
Today, Obama has turned away from his promise to close the facility and embraced the controversial terror war symbol, ordering the resumption of military tribunals and even moving the accused 9/11 plotters’ trial from a civilian court in New York City to the secret military court at Guantanamo.
3. Defend labor rights
“Understand this,” Obama said during a campaign rally in 2007. “If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I will put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, I’ll will walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America.” (Watch.)
Despite efforts by state-level Republicans in Wisconsin, Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio, Maine, Florida and Indiana to curtail collective bargaining rights, the President has yet to appear at a single protest or picket line.
4. Reform the Patriot Act
Contrary to popular belief, Obama has never actually argued for a repeal of the Bush administration’s sweeping, post-9/11 security initiatives, which were passed with a mandatory “sunset” clause to overrule the concerns of civil libertarians at the time. Instead, Obama has consistently said he favors enhanced judicial oversight and a pullback from some warrantless searches — like the provisions that allow the FBI to access library records without a warrant.
But every time the emergency laws have been due to expire, President Obama has pushed to extend them without any reforms. Most recently, the administration sought an extension of the Patriot Act that was even longer than the one Republicans wanted. They gave it to him and continued the sweeping spy powers through 2013, ensuring that the next extension doesn’t become an election year issue.
5. End the wars
Even as a candidate, Obama maintained that Afghanistan should be “the focus” of Bush’s terror war, and he pledged to make it so. But the president was also swept into power on a wave of anti-war fervor behind his calls to end the occupation of Iraq. Iraq has calmed down quite a bit as U.S. troops steadily stream out of the country, but Afghanistan is more violent than ever amid Obama’s own “surge.”
Even though the president promised his Afghan occupation would conclude in July 2011, military officials have admitted that sometime in 2014 is more likely. Elsewhere, American forces are dropping more bombs on more countries today than at any point during the Bush administration, with continued occupation forces in two massive countries even as they stage aerial bombardments of Pakistan, Libya and Yemen.
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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