The Myth of Obama Moving to the Left

The line in right-wing media today is that last night’s State of the Union address is a sign that President Obama is moving to “the left.”

The Washington Examiner, for example, is calling Obama’s speech a “leftward lurch.” The Washington Times, meanwhile, says that it shows that the President is embracing a “left-wing” agenda. And over at The Hill, Dick Morris says that we should now expect President Obama to spend the final years of his presidency “selling his new radical left-wing agenda to America.”

There’s no question that many of the policies President Obama unveiled last night in his State of the Union address are without a doubt solid, progressive policies. Free community college, paid sick leave, a minimum wage - these are all bread and butter Democratic issues, and if they were put into place or expanded, our country and our economy would be a lot more prosperous and equal. But they’re not "left-wing" policies. And that language speaks to a bigger problem we have in this country about describing what's "left-wing" or "right-wing."

The left, the real left, is way more radical than President Obama, or anyone in the Democratic Party, for the matter. The real left wants to nationalize industries and redistribute the means of production so that workers control the entire economy. That’s been the case since Karl Marx first published The Communist Manifesto back in 1848, and it’s still the case now. And, just in case you hadn't noticed - the real left is almost totally absent from American political discourse. The last time I had the president of the Communist Party of the United States on my show, they had fewer than a thousand members.

And contrary to what you might hear over at Fox So-Called News, President Obama is not moving in that direction. He does not want to nationalize all industry and he does not want to redistribute all wealth. All he wants to do is tweak around the edges of an out-of-control jungle-capitalism system and put into place changes that will make our economy and body politic a little fairer for working people.

That’s not left-wing, that’s just common sense, and it’s perfectly in line with the main thrust of this country’s political history. It's totally mainstream, and consistently supported by more than half of America - including people of all parties.

From the New Deal until the Reagan Revolution, America has always been a progressive country. Students in many states could go to college for free, there were publicly-owned utilities, the workforce was unionized, and voters - and even presidents - in both political parties largely agreed that the gains of the Roosevelt administration were a good thing. But ever since the Reagan era, American politics has moved drastically to the right, and it’s taken our political discourse with it. Right-wing memes dominate the mainstream media and this makes it almost impossible to talk honestly about what’s really going on when the President calls on Washington to embrace “middle-class economics.”

The truth is that when President Obama says he wants to return to “middle-class economics,” all he’s really doing is trying to take us back to the kind of common sense policies that both parties more or less agreed with until the Reagan Revolution. He’s just an Eisenhower Republican proposing center-right reforms that conservatives in countries like Germany and Sweden would support without even thinking about it.

And what’s really wild is that 59 years ago, “middle-class economics” was the conservative position here in the United States. The 1956 Republican Party platform, for example, called for raising the minimum wage, endorsed equal pay for equal work, supported collective bargaining rights for workers, and even celebrated the GOP’s role in expanding Social Security. Pretty amazing, right?

So to say, as many Republicans are, that President Obama is moving to the left doesn’t just ignore basic ideas about what it means to be right or left-wing, it ignores - or outright lies about - our own history. For much of the 20th century, America was a much more progressive place - at least in terms of how people understand the government’s role in the economy - than it is right now.

The Reagan Revolution changed all this, but now President Obama is moving us ever so slightly back to the centrist progressive vision of government that dominated our politics between 1932 and 1981.

It’s still too soon to tell if this will work, but one thing’s for sure: if we do want to return to the kind of policies that worked so well for so long, we need to call them what they are, and not buy into right-wing memes whose only purpose is to discredit common sense ideas that have been embraced by both Democrats and Republicans. The policies Obama called for last night - with the exception of the TPP - are simply expansions of the American Way.


oneworldatpeace's picture
oneworldatpeace 9 years 21 weeks ago

Hey Thom! I think this is just a head fake by Status Quobama to get the TPP passed with a bargaining chip or two. Maybe he'll throw in keystone and for a grand bargain reduce SS with the Chained price index. What the heck he's got a legacy to worry about getting his kids on the Koch Bros ARK and I REALLY THINK he believes they'll be let on board. Why would he be selling us out unless he had a good reason? Why would he be insuring the furthur erosion of our country to the status of Mexico unless he had a good reason. Right? Does he really think they'll get on board?

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 9 years 21 weeks ago

To hell with today's line in right-wing media that Obama is shifting way to the left. The line in any respectable media should be about the Republican Party's extreme shift to the right being facilitated by the enormous power of big far to the right it falls under the definition of Fascism. Case in point being extreme right wing Tea Party House Rep. from Corning New York, Tom Reed's sponsorship of a Social Security procedural rule which was promptly passed by fellow House Teapublicans. This rule virtually guarantees devastating cuts for some of our most vulnerable citizens.

I'm a little shocked that Obama didn't take advantage and communicate this Republican action to the American public last night. The Democrats need to take this ball and run like hell with it. What a great chance to expose the Billionaire Party's continued descent into darkness.

In addition every poll indicates a very large majority of citizens favor lifting the Social Security payroll cap.......but that would be too much like a functional Democracy.

DHBranski's picture
DHBranski 9 years 21 weeks ago

I think that both the right wing and middle classers would worry less if they are reminded that nothing in the president's speech addressed our poverty crisis. There are no plans whatsoever to aid our truly poor. In fact, a number of Democrats have already agreed to historic cuts in Social Security Disability, pushing the disabled, seriously ill and dying deeper into poverty. These proposed cuts make Bill Clinton's cuts to the disabled poor look very timid in comparison. Note that the president's "middle class economy" agenda is simply a rebranding of "trickle down economics." Nothing new there. One point that remains weird in the current discussion: What do people in general think "middle class" means? By definition, if you're still in the middle class, you're doing great! I know the middle class complained that those who were trying to get back on their feet on some $4k-$5k annual welfare aid were living "better than the middle class," so what constitutes a middle class income today?

DHBranski's picture
DHBranski 9 years 21 weeks ago

Actually, Congress makes the budget decisions, and a number of Dems in Congress are once again aiming at Social Security, specifically Social Security Disability. When Clinton slashed disability aid, liberals (with rare exception, including, Mr. Hartmannn, if I recall correctly) just weren't interested. President Obama was able to get Congress to restore disability benefits, but there have been several cuts since then. Today, it's all about/only about those still in the middle class, the better-off. Meanwhile, middle classers remain oblivious to how the New Deal itself is being cut away one piece at a time.

Johnnie Dorman's picture
Johnnie Dorman 9 years 21 weeks ago

Dick Morris is exactly what his first name is. What he considers to be the far left is what the U.S. was before his oligarch fascist Neo-Republican party got hold of it, around the year 1980.

RichardofJeffersonCity's picture
RichardofJeffer... 9 years 21 weeks ago

Obama's entire speech was about political survival of the Democratic party 2016 with absolutely no substance. Obama is an empty suit with zero credibility left with the American people. Obama's hope, with his State of Union address, was to dazzle the "left" media into regurgitating his disingenuous rhetoric, and feed it back to the public as a "real" progressive message, and it looks like it was affective propaganda, because the media is out there selling this as Obama's return to the left.

Obama will only achieve the objectives he was sent to Washington to fulfill, and those are the objectives of the elite business community. He will be authorized by a Republican Congress with trade authority, and he, like Clinton in the 90's, will sell out the American people to elite business interest.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 9 years 21 weeks ago

Bravo, Richard! And like Clinton, indeed.

What President O'bummer giveth (two years' free college tuition at community colleges, national childcare), President O'bummer taketh away.... with the Trans Pacific Pirate Ship!

RLTOWNSLEY's picture
RLTOWNSLEY 9 years 21 weeks ago

No danger of a move to the Left here in Texas where The GOP has continued their dictatorial rule over the state replacing Tricky Ricky Perry with yet another GOP main stay in a wheel chair, I'm wondering if this was intentionally done to project a vision of Roosevelt in braces to Left leaning Texans. Fresh from a big Wing-Ding in Austin celebrating the return of the fascists, the majority Right Legislature dumped a decades old rule that gave the minority party legislators the ability to at least debate their points of view with their GOP brethren. Texas Democrats actually had to leave the state a few years back and take up residence in a hotel in neighboring Oklahoma to block a vote based on the number of remaining legislators being insufficient to meet minimal quorum requirements. This latest change removes any chance of that happening again. Considering the fact that Texas Democrats actually harpooned their best chance for electing a Democrat governor by their luke warm support of Windy Davis in the last election, one has to come to the conclusion that they are quite happy with their increasing minority role in state politics ! Unusual for a party who had maintained majority status in this state for over fifty years up until 1995 !

RLTOWNSLEY's picture
RLTOWNSLEY 9 years 21 weeks ago

Right on Richard ! Considering that Obama smelled the coffee and, at the last minute, dumped his previous pledge to run with public financing in 08 and then in 12 accepted over a Billion Dollars in campaign funding from God knows who but we can take a pretty good guess. He successfully followed the Neo-Liberal Clintons who aggressively fought to advance the agendas of their Right Wing contributors by passing NAFTA, crippling existing public programs that helped single mothers work their way out of poverty, bungling an effort to pass Single Payer Healthcare Legislation, and signing off on the elimination of the Glass Steagall Act, a move that led to the collapse of the economy just seven years later. When Democrats attempted to take another run at Single Payer Healthcare Obama was their to knife certain Democrat supporters in the back and destroy their political careers with the help of certain GOP state party officials. With friends like Obama and Clinton, none of us need to be concerned about enemies !

tbthomas's picture
tbthomas 9 years 21 weeks ago


I'm a 62-year-old, lifelong Republican voter, living in Portland, Oregon. Actually, after voting against President Obama in 2012 (thus cancelling out the vote I gave him in 2008), I re-registered as an independent.

I don't believe Mr. Obama is "far-Left" either. But I'm going to defer commenting on the psychopathology of our president (as I see it) in hopes of engaging you on a matter I believe is far more important.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Mr. Obama asserted that climate change is the greatest single threat to the security of our nation we face today. While I agree climate change is a serious problem, it's not (IMHO) the greatest threat we face here and now. Our most serious threat is twofold:

1. Failure of the global community of developed nations (primarily, the US and China) to take direct responsibility, and begin collaborating on the containment of the ongoing environmental disaster in Fukushima, Japan.

2. The failure of the President, and both the Democrat and Republican parties, along with the national news media -- to acknowledge the malignancy of our conventional nuclear power industry, and begin decommissioning nuclear power plants in this country, not extending their licenses, as the Obama administration has been doing.

I would qualify item 2 by saying, I do believe we need to give advocates of liquid-salt, Thorium based nuclear power a chance to demonstrate a low-waste, intrinsically safe design which would enable us to utilize that variant of nuclear power generation in the future. But that option may never have a chance to prove itself, given the entrenched crony-corporate interests which generate $billions in profits selling enriched Uranium fuel to existing nuclear facilities. And no segment of our crony-private-sector is more thoroughly protected by Democratic party power-brokers -- the Clintons and Obama being the prime examples.

Having studied the aftermath of Chernobyl, and having monitored the massive amount of factual information, and opinion by credible members of the scientific community on the subject of Fukushima, it's clear to me that disaster-in-progress is, for all intents, out of control. And, it is clear that Hawaii, British Columbia, and the west coast of the United States face a clear and present danger from the continued uncontrolled release of radioactive waste into the Pacific Ocean.

Fukushima is not a theoretical, statistically debatable threat. It's an empirically verifiable, lethal health-hazard to millions of people in the western hemisphere. Worse, it threatens to destabilize the oceanic biosphere around the world, by disrupting the evolutionary balance of every species of organism in our oceans. Even if we may not be able to detect radioactive contamination in species of fish we depend upon for food, at some level of saturation, background levels of radiation in sea water will affect the rapidly growing populations of micro-plankton and algae upon which the entire ocean-based food chain depends. It also threatens to cause mutations in pathogens against which higher species have no evolved immunity, leading to pandemics which devastate, and create a domino-effect on mutually dependent forms of sea-life.

The Japanese government has already acknowledged their inability to contain this disaster by their repeated pleas for help from larger developed nations. And yet, our political leadership, and our news media, refuse to acknowledge the existence of this crisis. Instead, they implicitly ignore it, by focusing exclusively (and very occasionally) on failures by Tepco to "fulfil it's obligation to clean up the mess".

In order to understand the absurdity of this myopia, one need only study the aftermath of Chernobyl, and the monumentally difficult decisions Gorbachev had to make in order to (partially) contain it. I assume you're aware that Chernobyl is by no means fully contained, and is in fact approaching a new crisis point as the original "sarcophagus" continues to deteriorate. Bottom-line: Gorbachev called Chernobyl "a war we must fight and win". And tens of thousands of Soviet citizens lost their lives fighting that war. That western leaders (ours in particular) choose to hide behind the notion that a private electrical utility should be delegated full responsibility for this task, simply testifies to their hypocrisy and political cowardice.

It is also yet another example of a president who poses as a "Progressive", while operating as de-facto "Chairman of the Board" of a conglomerate of crony-capitalists, which include: organized labor, the financial-services industry (racket), the so-called "health insurance" industry, and the conventional nuclear power industry (General Electric in particular).

12 years ago, after studying the facts, and recognizing the incompetence and malfeasance in office of George W. Bush, I vocally and relentlessly opposed him, even though he was the guy I voted for in 2000, and his stated political views generally coincided with mine. Part of that opposition led me to vote for Obama in 2008. When, after several months in office, I recognized that Senator Obama had run his campaign on a fabric of lies, I have opposed him too. What has surprised me (a little) is the fact that so many people in the media (like you), who are intellectually capable of considering the same factual evidence, and recognizing the same demagoguery this man has demonstrated from the day he took office, continue to support him.

That said, since I have noticed your efforts to draw attention to Fukushima, and you do seem to understand the magnitude of the global risks it poses, I hope you will continue to use your influence in the media to elevate this story to the level it requires. And I believe Mr. Obama's assertion on the threat posed by climate change, requires someone on the liberal side of the aisle to call him out for his utterly ineffective actions on that issue, while ignoring the ongoing threat of ecological destruction posed by Fukushima.

In my view: we need a major intervention by the US Army Corps of Engineers, in concert with China (which has significant experience and resources in this area of engineering) to:

1. Contain contaminated ground water by installing a massive coffer dam around the harbor side of the reactors, to prevent further outflow into the Pacific ocean, and route that water into a decontamination facility.

2. Build a ground water diversion structure well behind the damaged reactors, to permanently prevent ground-water from passing through an area of this planet which will, for all intents, be permanently uninhabitable.

What I am suggesting is no more radical than the initiatives taken by the Soviet Union in response to Chernobyl. They did so, because their leader recognized they had no choice. And he accepted the fact that, as in a war, some of the soldiers fighting that war would die. The truth, being painfully demonstrated by the failures taking place in Fukushima, is this:

Unless human beings are willing to either volunteer or be conscripted, to risk their lives repairing a nuclear power facility, no government, nor any electorate, has the moral right to authorize their construction.

It is absolutely unconscionable that western democracies, particularly the one which built the nuclear reactors in Fukushima, has chosen to disavow it's obligation to act in response to this threat, which has the theoretical potential to become an extinction event for mankind. We created this industry, and I find now that what I was told when I was young, and our government was approving these facilities, specifically:

"...that you could shut down a nuclear reactor in seconds, simply by dropping control-rods into the core."

...was a lie, pure and simple, promulgated by those who sought to profit by it. This is a seminal moment in the history of human civilization. And, as Abraham Lincoln wisely pointed out in 1862: "We cannot escape history."

Ted Thomas
Portland, Oregon

mathboy's picture
mathboy 9 years 21 weeks ago

[strikethrough isn't working] Colorado had a female majority in the State Assembly recently. [/strikethrough]

Correction: In 2011, Colorado had 41% of the legislative seats filled by women, the highest of any state legislature ever.

ChristopehrCurrie's picture
ChristopehrCurrie 9 years 21 weeks ago

If President Obama had given his 2015 State of the Union Address (but excluding his dishonest endorsement of the TPP and TTIP initiatives) in his 2014 State of the Union Address and our Democrats in Congress had boldly sought to implement all of those proposals last year, Democrats would now control BOTH houses of Congress. But it required a severe beating in the November 2014 elections to convince President Obama and many of those remaining Democrats in Congress to STOP SUCKING UP TO THE RICH AT THE EXEPNSE OF EVERYONE ELSE!

anarchist cop out's picture
anarchist cop out 9 years 21 weeks ago

As a real far leftist I wish that Obama was moving to the far left but he's only moving to the left-center, which makes me happier - although I would be happiest if he and Congress and would go far left.
It would be good for America but Republicans are showing what they know, that Americans are afraid of a word, "socialism".
Survey research has shown that if the public is asked their opinion on each item of the socialist agenda individually, i.e., universal healthcare and education, full employment at fair pay and with power for workers, power for working people in governance of society, etc., they will overwhelmingly support it. But, if you at any time in that questionnaire mention the word, " socialism ", it's all over, they'll be against all of it.

Byrne's picture
Byrne 9 years 21 weeks ago


Good show yesterday. Couldn't help noticing the familiar graphic that was used!

I can't post the image here, but see:

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