Opinion » Ted Rall

Where's the Legacy?

Political malpractice and missed opportunities


I'm on book tour promoting The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.

In the book I argue that Barack Obama is America's Mikhail Gorbachev. Like Gorby, The One (Oprah's phrase) is the most progressive, decent and intelligent leader his system is willing to allow to rise to power. Obama's fundamental not-so-badness exposes the fact that the system is the problem. That voting for a better/less-evil leader can't bring about the changes we need, because what the 99 percent view as problems are things that the system views as not merely desirable but necessary.

Among progressives Obama has been a disappointment. Why hasn't the president lived up to the hopes and dreams we invested in him? I don't know what's in Obama's heart. Frankly I don't care. It's all about policies: Either you're for good policies or you're not.

Like most pundits, I tend to focus on the negative. So this week, let's look at Obama's signature accomplishments, the things he actually did get done: health-care reform, his statement of support for gay marriage and the Dream Act Lite, his order that Department of Homeland Security stop pursuing the approximately 800,000 young people who were brought to the United States illegally.

It took three years for this president to do something that brought a smile to my face. So I owe him this: Nicely done, Mr. President. (Sure, it's just a political ploy, a play for the Hispanic vote. But other things Obama should do, but won't--unlimited unemployment benefits, assistance for foreclosure victims, a new WPA--would be popular, too. Pandering to the people is called democracy.)

Yet, it came later than it should. The Dream Act failed in December 2010, after the Republican sweep in the midterms.

I keep thinking back to 2009. Democrats had both houses of Congress. Obama enjoyed a worshipful media. Sky-high public opinion polls. Why didn't he propose the Dream Act then, when it would probably have passed?

Worse than too little and/or too late, Obama's support of gay marriage came so late that by the time he spoke out, gay marriage had become an inevitability.

Less clear but with broader implications was health-care reform. "Have you had enough of Obamacare?" Tim Pawlenty asked a crowd at a pro-Mitt Romney rally. "Yes!" they shouted. But there is no Obamacare. Not yet. Even if the Supreme Court doesn't overturn the administration's biggest achievement, it doesn't go into effect until 2014. After, perhaps, President Romney takes office. What was Obama thinking? If nothing else, wasn't he worried about his historical legacy?

My guess is that he cares less about his legacy or changing things, than political races.

Obama has a few chances left to prove me wrong. He could still close Gitmo. He could also propose a federal law legalizing abortion, forcing the GOP to counter the 77 percent of Americans who told the most-recent Gallup poll that they're pro-choice. It would be a bold move, one that would resolve the decades-long legal limbo. Is Obama incapable of bravery? Of vision? Or is he using the threat of a Romney SCOTUS to threaten women into voting for him?

No one knows. All we can do is consider the president's actions.

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