The existential Obama - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

The existential Obama

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Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. Email him at

Posted: Thursday, July 28, 2011 11:15 am | Updated: 5:21 pm, Thu Jul 28, 2011.

At a private conference in Washington, D.C., right after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, his advisors met with loyalists to shape a course for turning promises of hope into a public-policy agenda.

One person, who had known the new president in Chicago and the agencies that sponsored Obama during his urban organizing days, explained to me that Obama responded to pressure.

People-pressure would turn hope into change. Not more policy papers. After all, the big picture problems had been festering for years, getting interest group indifference, inaction or diversion.

Foreclosures, banking institutions too-big-to-fail, faltering big business, job-loss, and immigration reform among were the big ticket items. U.S. society was increasingly divided between an expanding super-rich and a shrinking middle class. Schools were under-performing. The lag in math and science, in relation to advances made in the developing world, was making our innovation and the workforce less competitive.

Most of all, no important technological advance like Silicon Valley and the computer boom was in the offing like the one that had saved the economy from recessionary times and Bill Clinton's presidency going into a campaign for a second term.

At least for the core Democratic constituencies, there was health-care -- Medicare and Medicaid, or so it seemed -- and unemployment insurance or a pension. In hindsight, they are no longer so safe and secure.

Fast forward a year to November 2009. Bill Moyers reflected in his PBS television program what most people thought, "This is a Rooseveltian moment," he said. His interview guest that night was James K. Galbraith, a formidable academic and the son of the famous economist John Kenneth Galbraith.

Galbraith said Obama's situation was "much more like Herbert Hoover's," Roosevelt's predecessor.

Republican Hoover took office after a landslide win in 1928. He appealed to volunteer efforts to cope with the stock market crash that began the long Depression a year into his presidency. Hoover applied the tools of the past and hoped and prayed for self-correction, but his lack of policy leadership was inappropriate for the times.

President Obama, similarly, has been killing constituent hopes when he has failed to act, depressingly, after promising to become a first responder. Having told Hispanic constituents he would put immigration reform on his first year's agenda, that did not happen. This was an about- face to the Latino constituents who were mostly responsible for putting him over in Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Florida, four crucial swing states.

Today, Obama's favorability ratings have dropped among Latinos. Not having acted on immigration, as he said he would, he lost the leading edge, and the House majority went to the Republicans. His questionable consensus-building (instead of coalition-building) style has allowed the opposition to shape Immigration and other policies.

The inaction has led to more depressing, anti-social Arizona-like SB 1070 anti-immigrant, needlessly punitive measures in such states as Washington, Alabama and Georgia. Consequently, this leads to intentional agricultural workforce disruption.

Out-of-control deportation practices are causing family displacements reminiscent of the 1930s. Willing and brilliant undocumented students are discouraged, even blocked, from attending college, while professional and graduate schools become more dependent on non-resident foreign students.

The situation was bad before. It's worse now, even though undocumented entries into the country have declined.

The nation's problems in Herbert Hoover's time called for a re-visioning and action. But that did not happen until after Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected.

President Obama must be existentially pondering how it's possible for him to advance a re-election campaign after alienating a major core constituency.

A Latino Decisions poll shows that less than 50 percent of Latino voters say they are certain to vote for Obama in 2012, a 17-percent drop from 2008. The question is whether this is enough pressure to make the president act.

It won't be Republicans who defeat Obama, if that were to happen, but Obama himself. Just like Hoover.

Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail him at

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