Touchy, touchy! Last night, Bernie Sanders declared his virtual tie in the Iowa caucuses as the start of a political revolution — against the media (natch), billionaires and Wall Street (of course), and the political establishment, too. “[T]he people of Iowa have sent a very profound message to the political establishment, to the economic establishment, and, by the way, to the media establishment,” Sanders started off his speech. “Given the enormous crises facing our country, it is just too late for establishment politics and establishment economics.”
Gee, who might the political establishment be, considering who has occupied the White House for the last seven years, and whose Cabinet official felt the Bern last night in Iowa? Hmmmm:
Barack Obama’s allies and White House alumni are none too pleased to be the implicit targets of Sanders’ form of progressive populism. Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere reports that they are angrily defending their status as True Progressives:
“He seems to be talking out of both sides of his mouth,” said Tommy Vietor, an Obama 2008 campaign alum and former National Security Council spokesman. “He knows that Obama’s at a 90 percent approval rating in Iowa. He’s seemingly tempered his language in trying to play up all the work Obama did, but also offering criticisms that aren’t really rooted in the realities of what happened.” …
“What’s frustrating is a very, very, very small minority of progressives hold this point of view, but for whatever reason, they seem to have this giant megaphone,” said Mitch Stewart, who ran Obama’s 2008 operation in Iowa and moved immediately to the president’s reelection campaign. …
“Evaluating the president’s record is not a theoretical exercise—we’ve got numbers we can consider,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Monday, who made a point of reminding people that Sanders had praised Obama’s record standing on the White House driveway just last Wednesday, after his meeting. “And whether it’s the longest job growth streak in history or the lowest growth in health care costs in American history, or the all-time high in renewable energy production in this country, the president’s track record on issues that are important to middle class people in this country or important to Democrats is unimpeachable.”
Asked if that made Sanders voters in Iowa under-informed, misinformed or just plain wrong, Earnest demurred.
Well, fine, except that the person to blame for this isn’t Bernie Sanders. It’s Barack Obama. As I wrote last week at The Fiscal Times, the rise of populism on both sides directly relates to the impossible promises and underdelivery of leadership in both parties. Did they think Sanders’ popularity had something to do with his cool clothing and hip, youthful appearance? Come on, man:
The frustration driving Bernie Sanders’ rise as a legitimate alternative to Clinton can be traced in significant part back to Obama himself. Obama beat Clinton in 2008 for the nomination by posturing himself a break with the Democratic Party establishment, a fresh voice for a more progressive party. He promised to end the Iraq war and win in Afghanistan, take on the “Too Big to Fail” financial institutions, and take action on a broad front of progressive social-justice issues. In September 2011, Obama pitched his rhetoric even sharper and helped promote the Occupy movement as a counter to the conservative Tea Party.
Almost eight years later, most of those promises went unfulfilled. Obama was yanked into openly supporting same-sex marriage by Joe Biden after spending nearly four years “evolving” on the issue. Obamacare passed, but it enabled the biggest insurers to gain a captive market. Dodd-Frank has reinforced “Too Big to Fail,” while not a single Wall Street executive has faced criminal charges for the financial-sector meltdown that helped create the Great Recession. Obama hasn’t passed punitive taxes on the rich as he once championed, and he has made common cause with globalists on trade.
Other than his expansion of the regulatory state, progressives have plenty of reason to feel ignored – which is why they have flocked to Sanders’ populist campaign. Clinton has tried tacking to the Left in the primary without much success, at one time trying to keep arms’ distance from Obama. Suddenly, though, she has chosen to embrace the current status quo, and Obama has in some ways turned his back on 2007-8 to embrace Clinton and the status quo ante. Promising to perpetuate Obama as a policymaker doesn’t make much sense in a primary marked by passionate demands for major change from the present.
Sure, Obama remains a popular figure, but he’s not on the ballot — his Cabinet Secretary is. The fact that Bernie can fight Hillary to a draw in a state where Democrats hold Obama in high regard by attacking the perceived failures of his administration to deliver on its promises says less about Obama and more about how diffident the base feels about its presumptive nominee. Bernie didn’t start the fire; Team Obama did to fire up the base for his 2012 re-election, and now Hillary is reaping the consequences for it — and for her own shortcomings as well.
In short, Obama and his cohort encouraged progressives to become activists for him, and then left them by the wayside after he won. Now that progressives have pitchforks and torches out and are on a purity crusade, Obama’s team is shocked, shocked to see themselves cast as villains. Be careful what you wish for ….