Froma Harrop: President Obama’s lonely road

Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop

Americans were perilously close to losing their right to health care when the Supreme Court offered a reprieve. Few were more grateful than the conservative politicians who had been railing against the Affordable Care Act while praying they would not have to face the political consequences of its collapse.

For progressives, guaranteed health coverage is a political triumph, the greatest addition to the social safety net in decades. And Obamacare would not have happened without the man it was named after.

All this makes the current left-wing revolt against President Obama so hard to fathom as well as so unfair. Many on the left are now branding Obama as a toady of big business interests uninterested in the struggles of working Americans. Their stated reason? His support of a trade agreement among Pacific Rim countries.

This is the president who led the country out of the most frightening economic crisis since the Great Depression. He saved the American auto industry — and by extension the industrial Midwest — from collapse. And he did it against an impenetrable wall of right-wing opposition. For several terrifying months, a government bailout of Detroit was by no means a certainty.

But that was five minutes ago. What has he done for us lately?

Obama’s political skills are notoriously weak. He has not been a great reacher-outer to egos on either the left or the right. Wish it were otherwise, but backslapping is never going to be part of the Obama package.

Foes of a Trans-Pacific Partnership argue that it would ignore environmental and labor standards. Actually, it would impose rules that did not exist before. They say it would let companies sue governments. Actually, they already can (though it almost never happens).

And they portray this accord as hastening the loss of American blue-collar jobs to low-wage countries, such as China. Actually, the purpose is to help its 12 members compete with China.

Fast-track authority to negotiate this deal was eventually passed, thanks to Republican votes. But the mutiny against Obama by his erstwhile allies has left him a diminished presence on the world stage.

No magic wand will bring back the 1960s, when American factories could employ huge numbers at handsome wages. Global competition and computerized manufacturing are here to stay.

The fairest way to address today’s reality is to have the economic winners help those not winning. That means programs preparing Americans for the good jobs there are. It means enhanced economic security for those experiencing job loss or stagnant wages (Obamacare again).

Does anyone — other than Obama’s sternest Republican critics — recall his success in raising taxes on the well to do? Under Obama, the average federal tax rate on households in the top 1 percent has gone up over 6 percentage points. The rich are paying higher taxes on investment income and for Medicare. And the top income tax rate is now 39.6 percent, up from 35 percent.

Yet some on the left now engage in the kind of Obama conspiracy-against-us talk that has characterized the right.

“The government doesn’t want you to read this massive new trade agreement,” liberal crusader Sen. Elizabeth Warren writes in her blog. “It’s top secret.”

Oh? Every word will be revealed for congressional approval or rejection.

Compare that with the recent statement by a blond yakker out of the Fox News factory that Obamacare had been “negotiated in secret.” The Affordable Care Act had fewer secrets than Kim Kardashian.

Obama now looks gaunter and grayer than the youthful senator elected in 2008. That tends to happen to presidents after years of political battle. For Obama, though, the road to the finish line has been especially lonely.


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