Barack Hoover Obama?

The right says he's a socialist. The left says he's selling out the working man. Honeymoon? What honeymoon?

By Andrew Leonard

Published June 22, 2009 10:08PM (EDT)

The cover story for the July issue of Harper's Magazine is "Barack Hoover Obama: The Best and the Brightest Blow it Again." (Not freely available online.) When one headline can conflate responsibility for both the Great Depression and the Vietnam War, you know the honeymoon is way over.

But in these agitated times, the victory parade lasts a nanosecond before the savaging begins in earnest. Two examples, fresh from today's news.

In The Guardian, Kate Sheppard, a political reporter for Grist, complains that Obama isn't aggressively using his bully pulpit to push the need to do something about climate change.

Obama himself has been notably absent from the conversation, when his attention is likely the only voice that could move this issue forward.

The hook for this complaint, astonishingly, is a new report highlighted by the Obama administration's top two science advisors warning us about what is "likely to happen in the near future if planet-warming emissions continue unhindered."

I am baffled. With Steven Chu at the Department of Energy, Lisa Jackson at the EPA, Carol Browner in the White House, Jon Wellinghoff at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and John Holdren and Jane Lubchenco in key science posts, Obama has put together the most progressive group of advisers and cabinet members on energy and environment issues ever assembled. He's already passed a stimulus bill directing around $80 billion into renewable energy, transportation and energy efficiency, and his EPA has already determined that greenhouse gases are a pollutant covered by the Clean Air Act.

I can understand that critics on the left aren't happy with the Congressional negotiation process that is chipping away at the Waxman-Markey energy bill, but the idea that Obama has been "silent" on this issue is simply nonsense. Nine out of ten presidents in his situation, I'd bet, would have decided that during a severe and devastating economic contraction, tackling the political football of climate change would be a huge distraction. But in his first address to Congress he told the nation that he wanted cap-and-trade legislation this year.

Sheppard's dissatisfaction, however, is nothing compared to that expressed by the publisher of Harper's , John MacArthur, in a column for the Providence Journal titled "Obama is a Very Smooth Liar." His blistering attack proves one thing for absolutely sure: The left will be as hard on Obama as it was on Bush.

And that's something to be proud of, I guess. But I still found this passage kind of amazing.

Obama makes like he's a friend of organized labor ... [but] Obama and his banker friend Steven Rattner are liquidating the United Auto Workers even as they liquidate the American auto industry. Robert Reich, Bill Clinton's pseudo-secretary of labor, said as much. "The only practical purpose I can imagine for the bailout is to slow the decline of GM to create enough time for its workers, suppliers, dealers and communities to adjust to its eventual demise," he wrote last month in the Financial Times....

My readers like to warn me about creating false equivalencies between left and right loopiness, but this is case that calls out for direct comparison. The conservative take on Obama's policy towards the automakers is that the the owners of GM and Chrysler's debt are being stiffed in favor of the UAW, in contravention to established bankruptcy law and tradition, et cetera, et cetera.

The truth is both points of view are wrong. The bondholders are doing better than they would be without government action, and so are the workers. To call what is happening a "liquidation" is assinine, and MacArthur and Reich should be embarrassed to make such a claim. Without massive government help, GM and Chrysler would actually be in Chapter 7 liquidation proceedings right now. The collateral damage from a real liquidation would be far worse for working class communities in the Midwest than what is likely to result from the government-organized Chapter 11 bankruptcy restructurings. The argument that one of the most ambitious government interventions in American industry in the history of this country is actually a sellout of the working man is just ludicrous.

It is true, GM and Chrysler may not survive in the long run. To regain profitability in a market that has watched sales of cars and light trucks fall from 17 million a year to barely ten, without offering a lineup of models that makes sense in a high-gas priced future, will be a very dicey proposition. But the Obama administration is at least giving the automakers a chance.

Far be it from me to say: Don't criticize Obama. He's made missteps on civil liberties and gay rights, he's deepening our involvement in Afghanistan with no obvious exit strategy, and he could definitely be more aggressive on the banking front. But to slam him on climate change is crazy, and to argue that taking a majority ownership stake in GM is betrayal of the UAW is breath-taking. There are enough crazies on the right launching wildly unbalanced attacks on Obama every day. Does the left really need to jump in too?

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

MORE FROM Andrew LeonardFOLLOW koxinga21LIKE Andrew Leonard

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Bolivia Environment How The World Works Valentines Day