2/2 Who Broke The Democratic Party?
In 2008, the candidate Barack Obama spoke to blue-collar America. He seemed to recognize the social damage caused by sixteen years of neoliberal economics that demoted the working class to a permanent underclass. He campaigned on change that would rejuvenate careers and restore dignity. Working Americans in the swing states saw him as a last hope and supported him enthusiastically in the primaries and later in the general election. He had real momentum.
His timidity, when he assumed office with a Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate, cannot be explained rationally. He could have accomplished a lot for ordinary people in those first two years, but he rolled over for a menacing clan of Wall Street investors and bankers, several of whom deserved to be prosecuted if not crucified; for Big Pharma and the health-insurance racket; and for Republicans in Congress. He didn’t even try to attach a public option to the Affordable Care Act. He avoided taking any political risks on behalf of the people who elected him, and they made their disapproval known by punishing him at the polls: his electoral vote count fell from 365 against John McCain in 2008, to 332 against Mitt Romney — the weaker opponent — in 2012.
I admired several of Obama’s diplomatic efforts, especially after the darkness of the Bush-Cheney years, but in terms of domestic politics, his greatest skills were speaking and virtue signaling. He had always wished to see a higher minimum wage. He sincerely hoped for a national infrastructure repair program that could have employed millions. He would have liked to increase the earned income credit and make food stamps available to more Americans. He had every intention of shutting Guantánamo Bay. He spoke in favor of sensible gun control, especially after the Sandy Hook atrocity, and he shed tears. He said lovely things about young Trayvon Martin, a seventeen year old black kid shot dead in Florida on 26 February 2012, but he did nothing.
There was an epidemic of black lives taken through police violence during his second term. I have to point out that Trump’s record here is no worse. This list, while shocking, is not exhaustive; it covers slightly more than two years’ time and there are gaps:
Eric Garner, New York City: 17 July 2014
Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri: 9 August 2014
Ezell Ford, Los Angeles, California: 11 August 2014
Michelle Cusseaux, Phoenix, Arizona: 14 August 2014
Tanisha Anderson, Cleveland, Ohio: 13 November, 2014
Tamir Rice, aged 12, Cleveland, Ohio: 22 November 2014
Natasha McKenna, Fairfax, Virginia: 8 February 2015
Meagan Hockaday, Oxnard, California: 28 March 2015
Walter Scott, North Charleston, South Carolina: 4 April 2015
Freddie Gray, Baltimore, Maryland: 19 April 2015
Quintonio LeGrier, Chicago, Illinois: 26 December 2015
Bettie Jones, Chicago, Illinois: 26 December 2015
Alton Sterling, Baton Rouge, Louisiana: 5 July 2016
Philando Castile, St Paul, Minnesota, 6 July 2016
Deborah Danner, New York City: 18 October 2016
How many of those names did Barack Obama say? I recall hearing only a few. What number of violent deaths did he need to see before he would act? What “sacrifice frequency” for black Americans was required to move him? We still don’t know. As I’ve mentioned before, I recall him speaking on 30 July 2020, eulogizing the late US Representative John Lewis of Georgia. The former president promised us that, one day, “when we do finish that long journey toward freedom; when we do form a more perfect union — whether it’s years from now, or decades, or even if it takes another two centuries — John Lewis will be a founding father of that fuller, fairer, better America.” He sounded ready to condone two more centuries of racial injustice so long as it doesn’t affect him or the people he holds close.
Uncle Barack’s Cabin
He has always seemed progressive, and yet he’s completely out of touch with regular citizens. He’s in the magic kingdom of movie stars and tech billionaires, a luxurious, soundproof envelope where a stunningly tone-deaf Michelle thought it reasonable to whinge about how “unfulfilling” she found her covid-diminished social life, during the very period when the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor had inspired ordinary Americans, black and white, to risk catching a deadly virus just so they could risk catching a police baton upside their heads. 
Barack Obama is a gifted orator; he delivered memorable speeches, but I could never shake the feeling that he was addressing his future biographers first and me second. Certainly he was “presidential” and, back in 2008, I was proud of America for electing him. He never failed to exhibit noble dispositions; yet whenever Republicans in Congress showed the least bit of spine, he yielded. He wasn’t foolish, or selfish, or uncaring, but he never fought for anything or anyone, not even his third Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, because Mitch McConnell had put up his fists. He kept the lid on a federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, including irregular contact between agents of the Russian government and Trump’s campaign personnel and advisors, because the Senate majority leader wouldn’t support him publicly. Every day he handed McConnell his lunch money, and every day McConnell gave him a swirlie regardless.
I think it’s clear that the Hope he was peddling on the campaign trail was false. He was never going to pursue meaningful change. He’s an Establishment Democrat to the core, and yet he moved people. That’s an extraordinary combination, as if Walter Mondale had somehow become exciting. But in terms of tangible results, President Obama came in well below expectations. Perhaps, in his mind, reaching the White House was the accomplishment. Or perhaps he choked under the burden of being a black man at the pinnacle of white society with everyone’s eyes on him all the time: the slightest blunder might have been trumpeted as “proof” of racist myths, so he never took full possession of the office. For eight years he kept the plastic on the sofa cushions, and for that we’ve all been punished: Donald Trump’s 2016 victory was, in part, a rejection of the Obama Administration’s timid domestic agenda, which means that, painful as it might be for some Democrats to acknowledge, “President Trump” is a major part of Barack Obama’s political legacy.
Angering enough Americans to drive half of them toward a showman like Donald Trump is strong evidence that Obama Democrats did the most damage to the Party, although you might wish to read the companion article looking at the Clinton Administration before deciding.
 Poor Michelle