Saturday 16 December 2017

Johann Hari: The real reason Obama has let us all down

Is Barack Obama a politician whose actions should be judged soberly, or a figure from a feel-good fairytale to be revered from afar?

For two years now, most of the good people who wanted him to beat John McCain -- as I did -- have watched his actions through a distorting haze of hoping for the best. So when Obama set us all up for another global crash by refusing to reregulate the banks, we looked away.

When Obama set us all up for more terror attacks by trebling the troops in Afghanistan and launching an air war on Pakistan that is swelling the ranks of jihadis, we didn't want to hear it.

When Obama set us all up for environmental disaster by refusing to put the brakes on his country's unprecedented and unmatched emissions of climate-destabilising gases, we switched channel.

And when a week from now he is beaten at the mid-term elections -- after having so little to show the American people -- by a group of even more irrational Republicans, we will weep for him.


This is not primarily a question of individual failings, but of the endemic corruption at the core of American politics.

The facts are not hidden. If you want to run for national office in the US, you have to raise huge sums of money from corporations and very rich people to pay for the adverts and the mailings that get you on the ballot and into office.

These corporations will only give you money if you persuade them that you will serve their interests once you are in power.

In the Land of the Fee, Obama was brought to power by the "donations" -- actually investments -- of Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, IBM, Morgan Stanley, General Electric, and others. So it is unsurprising that his presidency has largely served their interests, which are very different from our interests.

The corporations are getting massive returns on their investment in Obama. Two-thirds of them pay no federal tax on their income. These corporations get to veto any law that would eat into their short-term profits, like a freeze on kicking Americans out of their homes while the banks' dodgy and probably illegal boom-time mortgages contracts are clarified.

The fact that corporations have this power over what the US government can do means Obama -- or any other president -- is unable to approach a problem by asking: how do I fix this? Instead, he has to ask: how can we get corporations to consent to a small cosmetic gesture that will appease public anxiety and anger about this problem?

The healthcare "reform" trumpeted as Obama's greatest achievement illustrates how this works. The biggest problem with US healthcare is that squatting between a doctor and his patient are the bloated insurance companies whose job is to turn down any claim from a sick person they possibly can, in order to maximise their profits.

Some 45,000 Americans die every year as a result. Obama had within his grasp a way of taming these corporations and saving the lives of all these people. It was called the public option: a government-run healthcare insurance programme that would guarantee affordable care to all American citizens. It was supported by 61pc of Americans. But it would cut into corporate profits -- so Obama's outgoing chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel, said its defenders were "f***ing retards" and the administration killed it.

Instead, Obama pursued the polar opposite approach. He guaranteed the healthcare companies that he would never use the bargaining power of the government to force their prices down.

Contrary to the glib stereotype, Americans aren't stupid, and they can see what is happening. They know the people who caused the crash are fatter than ever, while the people who had nothing to do with it take the pain, and Obama is left calling this farce progress.

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