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Liberals Angry Obama Isn't Moving Further Left

Monday, 16 Feb 2009 11:02 AM

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He’s failed to bridge the partisan divide with Republicans, who feel the new administration has gone too far with one of the largest spending plans in U.S. history.

Now President Barack Obama may be facing a revolt on his left flank by liberals who feel he’s not going far enough.

During the past several weeks, they’ve been particularly disappointed at the new president’s willingness to toss aside one of their most important issues: congressional investigations of the Bush administration’s foreign policy.

Others have found that his stimulus package didn’t go far enough: They wanted well over a trillion in stimulus. Social liberals, meanwhile, are irked that he isn’t moving fast enough on issues like stem cell research and abortion rights.

“The candidate who they thought was squarely on their side in policy fights is now a president who needs cajoling and persuading,” Los Angeles Times reporter Peter Wallsten wrote Monday.

Wallsten’s piece includes a laundry list of complaints from the Democrat’s left wing:

  • Stem cell research advocates thought Obama would quickly reverse former President Bush's restrictions on the science. They’re bothered that Obama apparently now wants to act in tandem with Congress, possibly causing a delay.

  • Critics of Bush's faith-based initiative were shocked that Obama, who had promised to end religious discrimination among social service groups taking federal money, is now only calling for a “review” of issue.

  • Obama’s go-slow approach on the issue of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility is perhaps the most irksome positon of all. “Obama's recent moves regarding a lawsuit by detainees have left some liberal groups and Bush critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, feeling betrayed, given that Obama was a harsh critic of Bush's detainee policies when running for office last year,” Wallsten writes.

  • Union officials are frustrated that the administration’s embrace of “Buy American” provisions in the stimulus, which some European allies hinted might start a trade war – was tepid at best. The final provisions in the bill only target countries like China that the United States doesn’t have strong bilateral trade agreeements with.

    "He made very clear promises, and he should live up to them," Arthur Stamoulis, director of the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign, told the Times. "The fact that he's hedging on this is not promising. He's catering much too much to the desires of Republicans who are not going to support the change that voters wanted."

    Thea Lee, policy director of the AFL-CIO, said, "We would like to have him stand more forthrightly behind the positions that he took during the campaign."

    Many liberal economists, including Nobel laureate and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, say the compromise on the size of the stimulus will dilute its impact. They complain that the cuts will dilute its impact at creating jobs.

    Obama has long said his administration will be driven by competence, not political ideology. And White House aides point out that the adminstration has already fulfilled promises such as enacting a labor-backed pay equity law and beginning the process of closing the prison at Guantanamo.

    "Given that we have only been here for three weeks, that is a pretty good start," said White House spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki.

    Business groups so far have been happy with the Obama administration, especially after its performance in the ‘Buy American’ debate.

    "That was an extremely important moment," said John Murphy, vice president for international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the biggest business associations. "The business community is very pleased that the White House stepped in and showed leadership on this issue."

    At the ACLU, Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said his group's disappointment was "deep and unparalleled" after the Justice Department decided to keep in place one of the most controversial legal tactics of the Bush anti-terrorism arsenal: using the "state secrets" doctrine to block lawsuits by detainees.

    And at the American United for Separation of Church and State, officials are very disappointed at what has amounted to only a slight revision of the Bush faith-based initiatives. Many were already reeling over the decision to include evangelical minister Rick Warren in the inauguration ceremonies.

    "People know that this looks like a promise that has been deep-sixed," said Barry Lynn, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

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