Obama and the Base that Isn't

Email a Friend

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Arianna Huffington and Cornel West took Barack Obama to task for failing to deliver for the people who elected him.

Arianna Huffington, editor in chief of The Huffington Post and author most recently of Third World America: How Our Politicians are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream, says trying to determine who makes up Obama's base is beside the point. She says the president has certainly abandoned the hopes of the middle class and failed to provide real leadership on economic recovery.

He has not made the middle class his priority. He has not brought the same sense of urgency that he brought to saving Wall Street to saving Main Street. Remember that famous weekend when all the political and financial establishment came together and effectively said we can not allow the financial system to collapse. We have never had the same kind of urgency about jobs, about the fact…that we have 26 million people out of work or underemployed.

Huffington says Obama is not taking the struggles of Americans seriously enough and is wasting energy and money on projects that don't help the people who invested hope in his presidency.

He is pursuing an unwinnable war in Afghanistan, which is not winnable but which is absorbing hundreds of billions of dollars that we need to spend here at home to build our nation, to build our infrasture, to help small businesses create jobs. These are very serious matters.

Huffington argued that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - the stimulus- should have been much larger and relied less on tax cuts.

Cornel West, University Professor in the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University and co-host of the radio program Smiley & West says Obama quickly abandoned the base that propelled him to office.

There is no doubt that when Barack Obama chose Geithner and Summers, it was a slap in the face of poor people. It was a slap in the face of working people. It was clear that jobs and homes and crime would be afterthoughts and the first priority would be the investment banks, Wall Street, elites and oligarchs. It was a very revealing move.

Responding to the suggestion that Obama had to court the financial establishment since he was being derided as a radical and socialist, West argues appeasing political enemies is not worth the trouble.

They are going to say it any way...Just straighten your back up and say you know what, bring it on. Yes I defend poor and working people. If that's what you call socialism, then yes I defend them. You remember what FDR said: You economic royalists, you are my enemies. I welcome those kind of enemies because I stand for justice.

Coming out strong for his original agenda would have been better than trying to triangulate decisions and court a hostile opposition.

If he had hit jobs and homes and crime as a priority, it would have nipped the bud of this right-wing populism of Tea Party fellow-citizens who have now seized the center stage and are pushing us off the brink in their right-wing way.

But West says angry Obama supporters should not to abandon him, arguing that the solution to frustration with the slow pace of change is not to return power to the opposing party.

Listen to both conversations on The Brian Lehrer Show.